Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Robert A Gross


The sudden death of George Washington at his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, on December 14, 1799, plunged America into a prolonged period of national mourning. It is the central argument of this study that, although often overlooked by historians, the national mourning for George Washington from December 14, 1799 through February 22, 1800, represented a major event in the civic culture of the Early Republic that consolidated and crystallized the image of Washington and shaped him into an enduring symbol of the nation that was to become central to the American memory. The study compiles a comprehensive history of the national mourning for Washington by documenting over 400 funeral processions and memorial services held around the nation during the winter of 1799--1800. These public mourning rituals are also analyzed in terms of cultural performance in their social, political, and religious contexts. In addition, one of the products of the study is a contemporary biographical sketch of the character and achievements of Washington compiled from the prose portraits of him that were central to nearly all the eulogies delivered during the period of national mourning. The study is based on an extensive examination of printed materials from the mourning period. Nearly 300 Washington funeral eulogies delivered throughout the country were located. The second major source of printed materials for this history of the national mourning for Washington was found in the complete runs of 42 American newspapers published between December 1799 through the national day of mourning proclaimed by President John Adams for February 22, 1800, the sixty-eighth anniversary of Washington's birth. During the national mourning for Washington in 1799--1800, vast numbers of Americans of all classes and regions, under the aegis of national, state, and local authorities, participated in official activities designed to mark his passing. Through such commemorative events, they paid tribute to Washington, expressed gratitude for his services, and acknowledged and submitted to God's will in the death of their beloved and venerated hero. They also pursued secular agendas as clergymen, Freemasons, the Society of the Cincinnati, military officers, and Federalist political elites all vied for key roles in shaping and directing the national mourning for Washington.



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