What starts out as a hagiographic testimony to George Washington matures into the thorough treatment readers expect from prolific history writer Unger (John Quincy Adams, 2012, etc.).
After the ratification of the Constitution and election of Washington as president, both he and Vice President John Adams found there was little for them to do. Adams, at least, had the Senate to preside over, but the first president’s strength and eminence gave him the power to build a strong executive branch from a strictly ceremonial post. The author focuses on the seven pillars of the office and elaborates on the near disasters that the young country faced. Without Washington’s drive and insistence on resolution, civil war was a near certainty. He developed and solidified the prerogatives not defined in the Constitution: executive appointments, foreign policy, military affairs, government finances, federal law enforcement, presidential proclamation and executive privilege. Washington felt his Cabinet should reflect the geographic and political diversity of the United States, but regional differences threatened its effectiveness. Southern states-rights supporters butted heads with the Northern Federalists, and cooperation was nonexistent as both Hamilton and Jefferson fed vitriol to the newspapers they controlled. Rivals making up his Cabinet may have worked for Lincoln, but not even Washington’s strength could force these men to collaborate. Hamilton’s bank and the assumption of the states’ war debt caused the first rift, and only its unqualified success quieted that storm. The threat of war with France during the Genet affair, the Whiskey Rebellion and the discord in his Cabinet would have daunted a less forceful man.
A highly focused book concentrating on a small but significant part of the evolution of American government.