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George Washington: Death

It was a suitably grand final statement. Death came quickly, and painfully, but not all that unexpectedly. Washington was in the habit of riding around his grounds every day to inspect his holdings. On 12 December 1799, he refused to let an ice storm change his routine. The next day he caught a cold and, by evening, it took a turn for the worse. Doctors were called in. They bled him and drugged him, but to no avail. His cold turned into a throat infection, which ultimately proved fatal. On 14 December 1799, between ten and eleven at night, George Washington passed away.

Mourning was epic and widespread. In the United States, soldiers wore black armbands and towns staged memorial ceremonies. In France, Napoleon ordered ten days of national mourning. As Richard Henry Lee famously declared before the assembled houses of Congress: "The founder of our federate republic—our bulwark in war, our guide in peace, is no more! Oh, that this were but questionable! Hope, the comforter of the wretched, would pour into our agonizing hearts its balmy dew. But, alas! there is no hope for us; our Washington is removed forever! . . . First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none."14

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