Although the framers gave the president little authority,
Washington knew whatever he did would set precedents for generations of his
successors. To ensure their ability to defend the nation, he simply ignored the
Constitution when he thought it necessary and reshaped the presidency into what
James Madison called a “monarchical presidency.” Modern scholars call it the
A revealing new look at the birth of American government, “Mr.
President” describes George Washington’s assumption of office in a
time of continual crisis, as riots, rebellion, internecine warfare, and attacks
by foreign enemies threatened to destroy the new nation. Drawing on rare
documents and letters, Unger shows how Washington combined political cunning,
daring, and sheer genius to seize ever-widening powers to solve each crisis.
In a series of brilliant but unconstitutional maneuvers,
Washington forced Congress to cede control of the four pillars of executive
power: war, finance, foreign affairs, and law enforcement. Then, in the absence
of Congress, he sent troops to fight Indian wars, crush tax revolts, and put
down threats of secession by three states.
Constantly weighing preservation of the Union against
preservation of individual liberties and states’ rights, Washington assumed
more power with each crisis. Often only a breath away from reestablishing the
tyranny he pledged to destroy in the Revolutionary War, he imposed law and
order across the land while ensuring individual freedom and self-government.
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