The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington

Written by Brad Meltzer Josh Mensch
Review by Jeanne Greene

Americans tend to think independence was our destiny, ordained by the size of the colonies and distance from Great Britain. Anyone familiar with the war fought from 1775 to 1781, however, knows it was a near thing. The seeds of failure might have been planted in George Washington, a young man apparently without a purpose, who gave up surveying to apply for his dying half-brother’s former military position. Why? To please his brother? Or prove his equal? We can’t know; but, as Meltzer says, the Army changed Washington. He identified with his soldiers. He suffered their hardships, shortages, freezing weather; and he never gave up on their goals. Congress recognized in him the leadership required to win the war and made Washington commander of the Continental Army.

Loyalists soon realized we could not win the war without him. The authors focus on powerful New Yorkers like Gov. William Tyron; Major David Davis, the Surgeon General of the Continental Army; and soldiers within the Colonial command. With every humiliating British failure, they redoubled their efforts to capture or, perhaps, kill Washington. The authors describe the treasonous plots brewing in the voice of a novelist—with cliffhangers, exclamations, and, one suspects, exaggeration—but sound research coupled with the popular authors’ names should find a large audience.