An elegant study on the shaping of the first presidency through the excellent people he chose to serve with him.
The Heidlers (Henry Clay: The Essential American, 2010, etc.) create a fully fleshed portrait of the first great Founder by comparison to and contrast with the many complicated personalities he had around him. Summoned out of his happy retirement in Mount Vernon to preside as the first president of the fledgling American government, because, in the compelling words of former aide Alexander Hamilton, “a citizen of so much consequence as yourself…has no option but to lend his services if called for,” Washington was painfully aware of creating appropriate precedents. These included resisting a pompous title, not appointing his relatives to office, paying for his own personal comfort and maintaining a rather kingly formality. Washington was well-served by those loyal subordinates, including his wife, Martha, who burned all but four letters written between them, thus leaving little clue to their relationship aside from the fact that she provided a perfect, “stoic” complement to his gravity and taciturnity; his closest adviser and fellow Virginian James Madison, who helped Washington write his inaugural address and acted as the president’s “indispensable bridge between budding executive wishes and developing congressional policy”; the irrepressible John Adams, who was deadly bored by the office of vice president but cast the important deciding vote in the first Senate to allow presidential prerogative in choosing the Treasury secretary; and Hamilton, who would, by his sheer brilliant brazenness, wield ambitious economic plans for the new republic. Moving the capital from New York to Philadelphia, quelling sectional differences and confronting the first foreign policy crisis with England, Washington relied on a host of other unsung colleagues, including Henry Knox, Edmund Randolph and Tobias Lear.
A fluid work of historical research and engaging biography.