"Mr. President": George Washington and the Making of the Nation's Highest Office
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In a revealing new look at the birth of American government, “Mr. President” describes Washington’s presidency in a time of continual crisis, as rebellion and attacks by foreign enemies threatened to destroy this new nation. Constantly weighing preservation of the Union against preservation of individual liberties and states’ rights, Washington assumed more power with each crisis. In a series of brilliant but unconstitutional maneuvers he forced Congress to cede control of the four pillars of executive power: war, finance, foreign affairs, and law enforcement.
Drawing on rare documents and letters, Unger shows how Washington combined political cunning and sheer genius to seize ever-widening powers, impose law and order while ensuring individual freedom, and shape the office of President of the United States.
. . we may bid adieu to all government in this country. . . . Nothing but anarchy and confusion can ensue. . . . If the minority . . . are suffered to dictate to the majority . . . there can be no security for life, liberty or property.”7 Then, in one of the defining events in the creation of the U.S. presidency, Washington startled his countrymen by ignoring constitutional limits on presidential powers and ordering troops to crush tax protests by American citizens—much as the British government
the unanimous wish of your country.”49 One of Washington’s friends in London was more blunt: “The happiness and prosperity of the thirteen United States depend on your acceptance of the President’s chair. . . . Allow me to add that it is the general opinion of the friends to the new government that if you decline being at the head if it, it never can or will take effect.”50 On February 4, 1789, presidential electors in ten states voted unanimously for George Washington as first President of the
discounts. The new paper would carry a lower face value than the paper it replaced, but would make up the difference with discounted options for “real” estate of unquestioned value. The property component would establish faith in the government’s ability to repay the new certificates, because the government owned millions of acres of land in the western wilderness, and, in an agrarian nation, land was far more valuable than money. Paper currency could be spent only once; its value was finite,
able to calm the mutineers, appealing to them not to discard the “time, blood, and treasure” they had invested in the war. The British, he said, had “distressed millions, involved thousands in ruin, and plunged numberless families in inextricable woe.” Calling the enemy “wantonly wicked and cruel,” he rallied the army behind him and marched them southward to Virginia, where they joined a French army under General Rochambeau and encircled British forces at Yorktown. With a French fleet lurking
violation of “the alliance which binds the two peoples.” After repudiating the treaty with America, the French government sent warships to attack American shipping. In the course of the year, French ships captured and sold more than three hundred American ships and their cargoes, without compensating owners. The French executed many of the captured American seamen on the spot and tossed the rest into chains in the forbidding Bordeaux prison. Just as American affection for France was cooling,