Monday, October 12, 2009

Washington: First in War, Peace -- and Accounting

This article by Joel Achenbach in the Oct. 12 edition of The Washington Post is an interesting read and fits nicely with our ongoing look at the rise of capitalism, the tessellation of the plane and Enlightenment revolutionary doctrines. The most pertinent passage is quoted below:

As thoroughly researched as the life of Washington has been, his career as a warrior and statesman has largely overshadowed his entrepreneurial history. He was the CEO, in effect, of a farming, manufacturing and real estate operation that by the end of his life encompassed more than 50,000 acres of field and forest. Farms, fisheries, weavers, smithies, a grist mill, a distillery -- these were just part of the Washington empire.

Washington came of age as a backcountry surveyor of relatively modest means. His business sensibilities, innovative thinking and willingness to take chances are all part and parcel of his evolution as a revolutionary.

By the end of his life, Washington was one of the richest men in the nation he had helped create. But he knew the frustrations of doing business in a land that lacked banks, roads and industry, where there was little capital, and where he had to depend on transatlantic commerce using information moving at the speed of a sailing ship. Washington was so cash-strapped in 1789 that he had to borrow money from a neighbor in order to travel to his presidential inauguration.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Daurade.

    The thrust of the article you referenced was the idea that finacial records are a largely ignored historical source.

    I did a bit of digging into Pynchon's sources for "Mason & Dixon" and found some points where he must have been looking at some financial records. It was tough (too tough for me) to track back to the actual documents that Pynchon found.

    Anyhow, it's interesting to see this notion take hold.

    And god bless the foax with the patience to find, archive, link, interpret, and make meaning of this data.

    That's pure science.

    Some people fear that science is the enemy of poetry. Sometimes I feat the opposite.

  2. Yeah, it also fits nicely into those posts about Washington the Mason and Surveyor---the land grab, etc. Notice he had to borrow money to get to his 1st inauguration but had an empire at the time of his death.

    Being President was very, uh, enriching.

    But yeah, forensic accounting is an idea whose time has come. History gets a little more concrete than the poetic meanderings of romatics and purveyors of the "great man" worldview....

    On the other hand, I once read a bio of Baudelaire and it read like a summary of his checkbook over several years. Enlightening but a tad dull.


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