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The Presidency of George Washington (American Presidency Series)
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 1, 2002
"The Presidency of George Washington" is exactly what its title implies. It is the story of the Washington Administration. It is not a biography of George Washington, nor is it even a book which revolves totally around George Washington. It is the story of the people, issues and events which made up the administration of George Washington.
The book starts out with an introduction into the United States of 1789. The regions and interests, as well as the political alignments, which supported and opposed the adoption of the Constitution are explained in some detail. The economy, trade, finance and the neighboring powers of Spain and England all laid the background for America's experiment with its new Constitution.
The first task facing Washington was the establishment of the National Government. While reading this book we come to understand just how little guidance he had from the Constitution. Many of the practices which we take for granted derive, not from the Constitution, but from precedents established by Washington and his successors. The title of address for the President and the role of the heads of the executive departments, which were to become the cabinet, were among the first issues to be addressed. The role of the Senate in granting "advice and consent" on foreign policy matters had to be defined. An early trial occurred when President Washington appeared in the Senate to present his proposals and ask for advise and consent. After this awkward exercise, the practice was established that the executive would formulate policies and negotiate treaties, which would then presented for advice and consent.
The power of removal of executive officers also had to be refined. It was presumed by some that any officer who required Senate confirmation for appointment, also required Senate consent for removal. It was the Washington Administration which established the principle that executive officers could be removed by the President without Congressional approval. This was an issue which was to be resurrected during the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.
Beyond organizational problems, the towering challenge facing the administration was that of finance. The debts of the Continental Congress and the states raised a myriad of issues. Should debts be paid? Should the debts be paid at par? Should payment be made to the bearer, who had often bought the bonds at a discount, or should some or all of the payment be made to the original lender? Should the national government assume the debts of the states? All of these issues had important consequences to the credit worthiness of the government. The assumption of state war debts had unequal impacts, depending on whether the individual state had serviced its debt or let it accumulate. Ultimately the Hamiltonian proposal to assume the war debt of the states and to pay the holders of the bonds was adopted, with the concession of the location of the national capitol in the South to win necessary support.
An issue which would remain controversial until the Administration of Andrew Jackson was the establishment of the Bank of the United States. One of the main reasons for the establishment of the bank was the dearth of banks in the country capable of handling federal deposits.
The domestic issues confronted by the administration introduced the spirit of party into the Administration. The differing views and personalties of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson brought contention into the administration. It was their personalties, particularly that of Hamilton, which came to be the heart of the Administration, even more than that of Washington himself.
The second term was to be dominated by foreign entanglements and a domestic insurrection. The advancement of the French Revolution and its wars with the powers of Europe brought European problems to America. The continuance or renunciation of America's treaty, made with Royalist France, was a hotly debated issue, as was the ratification of a later treaty with Britain. Acceptance of the Jay Treaty with Britain was, ultimately, decided in a reaction to alleged official corruption. In America's first encounter with Islamic Terrorism, raids against American shipping in the Mediterranean by Barbery Pirates, resulted in, again after heated debate, the establishment of the U.S. Navy.
1794 saw resistance to federal taxation on whiskey erupt into the Whiskey Rebellion. The assertion of Federal authority lead to the raising of the militia for the suppression of the rebellion. The declaration of the Rebellion and its suppression may have had more to do with Hamilton's desire to crush his political opponents and brand them as traitors than it did with any actual insurrection.
Washington's ultimate gift to the nation was his retirement and transfer of power to an elected successor at the conclusion of his second term.
This book is recommended to anyone desiring an understanding of the personalities who made up our first national administration, the challenges which confronted them, their responses to those challenges and their legacies to our country.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2012
Believe the title. This book is about the first Presidency; not the man elected. There is very little written about George Washington; however, there is wonderful detail written about the political environment during the start of our new constitutional nation. This period's context is frequently glossed over to get to the historical characters and ramifications of their actions. McDonald explains that this period of economic, domestic, and national politics was just as complex and nuanced as our own current politics; certainly, not as so simple as the grade-school myths portray.

Personally, I liked the information that was provided, it was refreshing and informative. However, it was not an easy read. Can a full explanation of the national debt be "an easy read?" Several times, I found myself taking a time-out to digest what I had just read. Fortunately, this only fueled my interest and desire to understand. If you prefer a linear history book or enjoy the "story" in history, this might not be the book for you.

Pete
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2012
This is the 3rd book I've read from MC Donald. What I love about his writing is his unapologetic bluntness. He writes about the Founding Fathers a politicians and not worshiped as hero's as so many popular historians do. McDonald gets deep into the political issues that divided the Founders into Federalist and Republicans and as a result you see these men not too different then the politicians of today or any era. He does a remarkable job of illustrating Washington's navigation skills through the squalls of our country's first presidency and in only 183 pages.
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