He decided to write about Washington while writing a biography of Alexander Hamilton 10 years ago. During the Revolutionary War, Hamilton served as an aide-de-camp to Washington. In February 1781, he quarreled with the commander in chief over Washington’s reluctance to grant him a field command. Resigning his position in protest, Hamilton wrote to a friend that the great man would “for once at least, repent his ill-humour.”
“I was really quite startled by that statement,” Mr. Chernow remembers, “because it made the ill-humor sound habitual. I said to myself, ‘Is Hamilton saying the father of our country is this moody, irritable boss?’”
He was. Washington, in fact, had “a colossal temper.” He largely tamed it by the time he became president in April 1789, but on occasion it slipped the leash. In August 1793, for instance, Washington went wild when, in the midst of his attempt to keep America neutral in a war between Great Britain and France, he saw a pro-French newspaper cartoon of him being guillotined like Louis XVI.
Jefferson, who observed the resultant bedlam, recorded that the president “got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself” and shouted “by God he had rather be in his grave than in his present situation.”
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