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- In 1787, the confederation of the 13 American states was descending into disarray. The coffers were empty, New York and New Jersey were in a dispute over duties charged on goods crossing state lines, farmers in Massachusetts were rebelling, and Spain and Britain were encroaching on American territories in the west. The Federal Convention was called to address the problems of governing the young republic under the existing Articles of Confederation. The convention responded by framing the document that became the United States Constitution. The convention delegates elected George Washington, the hero of the Revolutionary War, to be the convention's president. The artist Charles Willson Peale decided to use the convention to sell printed engravings of a new portrait of the general as part of his portrait series of the authors of the Revolution. Peale’s previous attempts to sell prints of the nation’s leaders had proved disappointing and this one fared no better. Although it was not a commercial success, this portrait is considered historically important. Depicting the leader of a nation in crisis, it is one of the few portraits of Washington that bears no trace of a smile.
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