The US Constitution never established a presidential cabinet—the delegates to the Constitutional Convention explicitly rejected the idea. So how did George Washington create one of the most powerful bodies in the federal government?
On November 26, 1791, George Washington convened his department secretaries—Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Henry Knox, and Edmund Randolph—for the first cabinet meeting. Why did he wait two and a half years into his presidency to call his cabinet? Because the US Constitution did not create or provide for such a body. Washington was on his own.
Faced with diplomatic crises, domestic insurrections, and constitutional challenges—and finding congressional help lacking—Washington decided he needed a group of advisors he could turn to. He modeled his new cabinet on the councils of war he had led as commander of the Continental Army. In the early days, the cabinet served at the president’s pleasure. Washington tinkered with its structure throughout his administration, at times calling regular meetings, at other times preferring written advice and individual discussions.
Lindsay M. Chervinsky reveals the far-reaching consequences of Washington’s choice. The tensions in the cabinet between Hamilton and Jefferson heightened partisanship and contributed to the development of the first party system. And as Washington faced an increasingly recalcitrant Congress, he came to treat the cabinet as a private advisory body to summon as needed, greatly expanding the role of the president and the executive branch.
Winner of the 2019 Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award in Institutional History
How American Colonial Ideals Shaped Command, Discipline, and Honor in the U.S. Armed Forces
In the summer of 1775, a Virginia gentleman-planter was given command of a New England army laying siege to British-occupied Boston. With his appointment, the Continental Army was born. Yet the cultural differences between those serving in the army and their new commander-in-chief led to conflicts from the very beginning that threatened to end the Revolution before it could start. The key challenge for General George Washington was establishing the standards by which the soldiers would be led by their officers. What kind of man deserved to be an officer? Under what conditions would soldiers agree to serve? And how far could the army and its leaders go to discipline soldiers who violated those enlistment conditions? As historian Seanegan P. Sculley reveals in Contest for Liberty: Military Leadership in the Continental Army, 1775–1783, these questions could not be determined by Washington alone. His junior officers and soldiers believed that they too had a part to play in determining how and to what degree their superior officers exercised military authority and how the army would operate during the war. A cultural negotiation concerning the use of and limits to military authority was worked out between the officers and soldiers of the Continental Army; although an unknown concept at the time, it is what we call leadership today. How this army was led and how the interactions between officers and soldiers from the various states of the new nation changed their understandings of the proper exercise of military authority was finally codified in General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s The Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, first published in 1779. The result was a form of military leadership that recognized the autonomy of the individual soldiers, a changing concept of honor, and a new American tradition of military service.
Perhaps no other person could ever achieve the preeminent position in American history and culture occupied by George Washington. Born in 1732, Washington’s life–long commitment to self-improvement and discipline helped him become a legend in his own lifetime. Whether as a statesman, military man, or America’s first president, Washington created a legacy that has scarcely diminished in over two centuries. Yet the passage of time and the superlatives reserved for Washington have knit together and made it difficult to find the real man. Historian and editor John P. Kaminski has amassed an extraordinary body of quotations by and about George Washington that brings us closer to the essence of this great leader. This collection paints an intricate picture of the man who Henry 'Lighthorse' Lee of Virginia eulogized as: "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."
"I never mean (unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure and imperceptible degrees."—George Washington, September 9, 1786
No history of racism in America can be considered complete without taking into account the role that George Washington—the principal founding father—played in helping to mold the racist cast of the new nation. Because General Washington—the universally acknowledged hero of the Revolutionary War—in the postwar period uniquely combined the moral authority, personal prestige, and political power to influence significantly the course and the outcome of the slavery debate, his opinions on the subject of slaves and slavery are of crucial importance to understanding how racism succeeded in becoming an integral and official part of the national fabric during its formative stages.
The successful end of the War for Independence in 1783 brought George Washington face-to-face with a fundamental dilemma: how to reconcile the proclaimed ideals of the revolution with the established institution of slavery. So long as black human beings in America could legally be considered the chattel property of whites, the rhetoric of equality and individual freedom was hollow. Progressive voices urged immediate emancipation as the only way to resolve the contradiction; the Southern slave owners, of course, stood firm for the status quo. Washington was caught squarely in the middle.
As a Virginia plantation proprietor and a lifelong slaveholder, Washington had a substantial private stake in the economic slave system of the South. However, in his role as the acknowledged political leader of the country, his overriding concern was the preservation of the Union. If Washington publicly supported emancipation, he would almost certainly have to set an example and take steps to dispose of his Mount Vernon slaves. If he spoke out on the side of slavery, how could he legitimately and conscientiously expect to uphold and defend the humanistic goals and moral imperatives of the new nation as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? His was a balancing act that became more and more difficult to sustain with the passing years.
Relying primarily on Washington's own words—his correspondence, diaries, and other written records—supplemented by letters, comments, and eyewitness reports of family members, friends, employees, aides, correspondents, colleagues, and visitors to Mount Vernon, together with contemporary newspaper clippings and official documents pertaining to Washington's relationships with African Americans, Fritz Hirschfeld traces Washington's transition from a conventional slaveholder to a lukewarm abolitionist. George Washington and Slavery will be an essential addition to the historiography of eighteenth-century America and of Washington himself.
George Washington’s childhood is famously the most elusive part of his life story. For centuries biographers have struggled with a lack of period documentation and an absence of late-in-life reflection in trying to imagine Washington’s formative years.
In George Washington Written upon the Land, Philip Levy explores this most famous of American childhoods through its relationship to the Virginia farm where much of it took place. Using approaches from biography, archaeology, folklore, and studies of landscape and material culture, Levy focuses on how different ideas about Washington’s childhood functioned—what sorts of lessons they sought to teach and how different epochs and writers understood the man and the past itself.
In a suggestive and far-reaching final chapter, Levy argues that Washington was present at the onset of the Anthropocene—the geologic era when human activity began to have a significant impact on world ecosystems. Interpreting Washington’s childhood farm through the lens of “big” history, he encourages scholars to break down boundaries between science and social science and between human and nonhuman.
A well-disciplined army was vital to win American independence, but policing soldiers during the Revolution presented challenges. George Washington’s Enforcers: Policing the Continental Army examines how justice was left to the overlapping duties of special army personnel and how an improvised police force imposed rules and regulations on the common soldier. Historian Harry M. Ward describes these methods of police enforcement, emphasizing the brutality experienced by the enlisted men who were punished severely for even light transgressions. This volume explores the influences that shaped army practice and the quality of the soldiery, the enforcement of military justice, the use of guards as military police, and the application of punishment.
Washington’s army, which adopted the organization and justice code of the British army, labored under the direction of ill-trained and arrogant officers. Ward relates how the enlisted men, who had a propensity for troublemaking and desertion, not only were victims of the double standard that existed between officers and regular troops but also lacked legal protection in the army. The enforcement of military justice afforded the accused with little due process support.
Ward discusses the duties of the various personnel responsible for training and enforcing the standards of behavior, including duty officers, adjutants, brigade majors, inspectors, and sergeant majors. He includes the roles of life guards, camp guards, quarter guards, picket men, and safe guards, whose responsibilities ranged from escorting the commander in chief, intercepting spies and stragglers, and protecting farmers from marauding soldiers to searching for deserters, rounding up unauthorized personnel, and looking for delinquents in local towns and taverns.
George Washington’s Enforcers, which includes sixteen illustrations, also addresses the executions of the period, as both ritual and spectacle, and the deterrent value of capital punishment. Ward explains how Washington himself mixed clemency with severity and examines how army policies tested the mettle of this chief disciplinarian, who operated by the dictates of military necessity as perceived at the time.
Winner of the 1998 Best Book on the Revolution published in 1998 by the Board of Governors of the American Revolution Round Table | Named 1999 Honor Book by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.
On the morning of November 20, 1776, General Charles Cornwallis overran patriot positions at Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The attack threw George Washington's army into turmoil. Thus began an American retreat across the state, which ended only after the battered rebels crossed the Delaware river at Trenton on December 7. It was a three-week campaign that marked the most dramatic and desperate period of the War for Independence. In The Long Retreat, Arthur Lefkowitz has written the first book-length study of this critical campaign. He adds compelling new detail to the narrative, and offers the most comprehensive account in the literature of the American retreat to the Delaware and of the British pursuit. What emerges is a history misconceptions about the movements of the armies, the intentions of their leaders, and the choices available to rebel commanders and their British counterparts. Lefkowitz presents a patriot military pounded into desperate straights by the forces of the Crown, but in the end more resilient and wily than most previous scholarship has allowed. If brought low over November and December of 1776, Washington's battalions were still a force to reckon with as they pulled away from the advancing British. Despite serious losses in material and personnel, Washington managed to keep his units operational; and even while making mistakes, he sought to consolidate patriot regiments and longed for a chance to counterattack. The Christmas night riposte at Trenton, a dramatic reversal of fortune in any case, stemmed from measures the rebel Commander-in-Chief had initiated even as he completed his retrogade across New Jersey. How all of this came about emerges and crisp narrative of The Long Retreat. It is the definitive book on a crucial chapter in the history of American Arms.
The Potomac Canal: George Washington and the Waterway West is a history of a new nation’s first effort to link the rich western agricultural lands with the coastal port cities of the east. The Potomac Canal Company was founded in 1785, and was active until it was overtaken by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company in 1828. During its operation, the canal system was used to ship flour from mills in the foothills of Appalachia to the tidewater of the Chesapeake, where the flour was shipped to the Caribbean as trade for sugar and other goods. This trade soon became the basis of agricultural wealth in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle and throughout the Appalachian Piedmont. Coal was also shipped via the canal system from the upper reaches of the Potomac River to workshops at Harpers Ferry and beyond. This industrial trade route laid the foundation for what would eventually become the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
Living history is one of the most popular, and accessible ways for people of all ages to step back in time. From Colonial Williamsburg, to Mount Vernon, to signs along roadways identifying George Washington stopping points, living history continues to be an accessible way to learn about cultural, historical and political practice in early America.
In Surveying Early America: The Point of Beginning, An Illustrated History, award-winning photographer Dan Patterson and American historian Clinton Terry vividly and succinctly unpack the profession of surveying during the eighteenth century. Over 100 full color photographs exclusively shot for the book depict authentic and historically accurate reproductions of techniques and tools through the use of American reenactors from the Department of Geographer, which provide an interpretive look at surveying as a primary means to building the American nation.
Through the lens of Patterson’s camera and Terry’s narrative, readers see what Washington saw as he learned his trade, explored the vast American wilderness, and occasionally laid personal claim to great expanses of land. Readers are visually and intellectually immersed in the historically accurate details of the surveying practices of George Washington, Virginia’s first surveyor and his team.
Step-by-step, readers learn how early America, in particular the east to the Ohio River Valley was initially divided and documented. Terry characterizes both the profession and methods of land measurement and surveying in British colonial North America—techniques that did not substantially change until the invention of GPS technology 200 years later. Along the way Terry details the various tools of the trade early surveyors used.
Photographer Dan Patterson, working with the Department of the Geographer, restages Washington’s actual expeditions during his time with the Geographers to the Army, the technical staff department consisting of American and French soldiers, whose work in the field supported the Continental Army. Patterson brilliantly displays the processes and instruments Washington used 260 years ago.
Together Ohio based photographer and author team up to create a single story, expanding the understanding of primary source material for general readers and those with a passion for early American history.
The 2002 revelation that George Washington kept slaves in his executive mansion at Philadelphia's Independence National Historical Park in the 1790s prompted an eight-year controversy about the role of slavery in America's commemorative landscape. When the President's House installation opened in 2010, it became the first federal property to feature a slave memorial.
In Upon the Ruins of Liberty, Roger Aden offers a compelling account that explores the development of this important historic site and how history, space, and public memory intersected with contemporary racial politics. Aden constructs this engrossing tale by drawing on archival material and interviews with principal figures in the controversy-including historian Ed Lawler, site activist Michael Coard, and site designer Emanuel Kelly.
Upon the Ruins of Liberty chronicles the politically-charged efforts to create a fitting tribute to the place where George Washington (and later, John Adams) shaped the presidency while denying freedom to the nine enslaved Africans in his household. From design to execution, the plans prompted advocates to embrace stories informed by race, and address difficulties that included how to handle the results of the site excavation. As such, this landmark project raised concerns and provided lessons about the role of public memory and how places are made to shape the nation's identity.
While Attacking the Irish at Stony Point and Paulus Hook, George Washington Prepared a Bold Plan to End the War in New York City
Despite great limits of money and manpower, George Washington sought to wage an aggressive war in 1779. He launched the Sullivan–Clinton campaign against Britain’s Iroquois allies in upstate New York, and in response to British attacks up the Hudson River and against coastal Connecticut, he authorized raids on British outposts at Stony Point and Paulus Hook. But given power by Congress to plan and execute operations with the French on a continental scale, Washington planned his boldest campaign. When it appeared that the French would bring a fleet and an army to America, and supported by intelligence from his famed “Culper” spy network, the American commander proposed a joint Franco-American attack on the bastion of British power in North America—New York City—to capture its garrison. Such a blow, he hoped, would end the war in 1779.
Based on extensive primary source material, Washington’s War 1779, by historian Benjamin Lee Huggins, describes Washington’s highly detailed plans and extensive preparations for his potentially decisive Franco-American campaign to defeat the British at New York in the fall of 1779. With an emphasis on Washington's generalship in that year—from strategic and operational planning to logistics to diplomacy—and how it had evolved since the early years of the war, the book also details the other offensive operations in 1779, including the attacks in upstate New York, Stony Point, and Paulus Hook. Although the American and French defeat at Savannah, Georgia, prevented Washington from carrying out his New York offensive, Washington gained valuable experience in planning for joint operations that would help him win at Yorktown two years later.
Winner of the 2005 Thomas Fleming Award for the Best Book in American Revolutionary War History
Finalist for the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Writing Award
After two years of fighting, Great Britain felt confident that the American rebellion would be crushed in 1777, the "Year of the Hangman." Britain devised a bold new strategy. Turning its attention to the colonial frontiers, especially those of western New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, Britain enlisted its provincial rangers, Tories, and allied warriors, principally from the Iroquois Confederacy, to wage a brutal backwoods war in support of General John Burgoyne's offensive as it swept southward from Canada in an attempt to cut the colonies in half, divert the Continental Army, and weaken its presence around British-occupied New York City and Philadelphia.
Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga sent shock waves through the British command. But the efforts along the frontier under the direction of Sir John Johnson, Colonel John Butler, and the charismatic Mohawk leader, Joseph Brant, appeared to be impairing the American ability to conduct the war. Destroying Patriot settlements and farms across hundreds of miles of frontier, the British and Indian forces threatened to reduce Continental army enlistment, and more importantly, precious food supplies. Following the massacres at the well-established colonial settlements of Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and Cherry Valley, New York, the Continental Congress persuaded General George Washington to conduct a decisive offensive to end the threat once and for all. Brewing for years, the conflict between the Iroquois and colonists would now reach its deadly climax.
Charging his troops "to not merely overrun, but destroy," Washington devised a two-prong attack to exact American revenge. The largest coordinated American military action against American Indians in the war, the campaign shifted the power in the east, ending the political and military influence of the Iroquois, forcing large numbers of loyalist to flee to Canada, and sealing Britain's fateful decision to seek victory in the south. In Year of the Hangman: George Washington's Campaign Against the Iroquois, historian Glenn F. Williams recreates the riveting events surrounding the action, including the checkered story of European and Indian alliances, the bitter frontier wars, and the bloody battles of Oriskany and Newtown.