Stephen H. Browne is Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences and Advisor for the Rhetoric Minor at Penn State University. This interview is based on his forthcoming book, The Ides of War: George Washington and the Newburgh Crisis (University of South Carolina Press, 2016).
JF: What led you to write The Ides of War?
SB: The Newburgh crisis had always seemed a pivotal but under-appreciated moment in the revolutionary experience. Because it was resolved through the person and the speech of George Washington, it begged for treatment by a scholar in rhetorical studies and early America. It was my great fortune to be in a position to tell a story with all the drama, poignancy, color, and historical richness one could reasonably ask for. So I did!
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Ides of War?
SB: My central thesis holds that the Newburgh crisis represents a classic confrontation between the rival claims of military and civil authority. Washington, I argue, was the only man living who possessed the character, power, and rhetorical resources capable of resolving that crisis to lasting effect.
JF: Why do we need to read The Ides of War?
SB: Well, if you will forgive the immodesty, I might suggest several reasons. First, it provides the fullest and most detailed treatment of this crucial episode to date. Second, it offers a multi-disciplinary examination of both its historical and rhetorical importance. Third, it corrects conventional views of Washington as reticent, averse to speech, and uneasy with the English language. None of this is true. Fourth, it is just a great story. Trust me on this!
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
SB: My graduate training and work thereafter have been housed in departments other than history; early on, however, I latched onto the idea that no one discipline owns the subject, and, recklessly perhaps, invited myself to the feast. Far from feeling like a pariah, I have been blessed by a welcoming, instructive, and challenging host of historians ever since.
JF: What is your next project?
SB: My next book project is currently underway and is tentatively titled ‘Beloved Country’: George Washington and America’s First Inauguration. It seeks to tell the story of GW’s trip from Mount Vernon to NYC; features the parades, parties, and rituals of national affirmation that attendant to the journey; and punctuates the narrative with a full-scale treatment the inaugural address.
JF: Thanks Stephen!