''Mr. President'': George Washington and the Making of the Nation's Highest Office by Harlow Giles Unger | Paperback | Barnes & Noble

"Mr. President": George Washington and the Making of the Nation's Highest Office

by Harlow Giles Unger

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Although the framers gave the president little authority, George Washington knew whatever he did would set precedents for generations of future leaders. To ensure their ability to defend the nation, he simply ignored the Constitution when he thought it necessary.

In a revealing new look at the birth of American government, “Mr. President”


Although the framers gave the president little authority, George Washington knew whatever he did would set precedents for generations of future leaders. To ensure their ability to defend the nation, he simply ignored the Constitution when he thought it necessary.

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the early days of his presidency, Washington found himself bored and idle, yet as acclaimed historian Unger (John Quincy Adams) reveals in this fast-paced chronicle of Washington’s presidency, circumstances soon arose that would allow him to define and shape the executive office. Following the Revolution, the new republic lacked political and economic structure; but when Washington and others proposed scrapping the Articles of Confederation and replacing them with a constitution that would frame the contours of a federal government and its powers, he faced a different kind of fight than he had with the British. Nevertheless, as he led the young nation through numerous struggles—tax revolts, attempts by foreign powers to overthrow the government, and frontier wars with Indians—he established “seven pillars of power” that would define the American presidency: “the power to control executive appointments, foreign policy, military affairs, government finances, and federal law enforcement, along with the power to legislate by presidential proclamation and to issue secret fiats under the cloak of executive privilege.” After three years in office, Washington had “transformed the office of the president from that of an impotent figurehead to one that commanded almost as much power as the British king he had overthrown... at Yorktown.” (Nov.)
From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly, 9/16/13

“[A] fast-paced chronicle of Washington’s presidency.”

Washington Times, 11/13/13

“[A] thoroughly researched and delightfully written book…Adds a much-needed new dimension to the Washington portrait…A real thriller of a tale that Mr. Unger has told with skill and authority.”

New York Journal of Books, 10/29/13

“With ‘Mr. President’ Harlow Giles Unger gives our precious American history the backbone it deserves and reveals more of Washington the man than Washington the demigod…Mr. Unger has the ability to not let his scholarship weigh down his story. History can be yawn inducing, but Mr. Unger puts his arm around us as if he is a travel companion telling a story—our story—with the pacing of a solid novel…Mr. Unger has objectively stripped away the mythological haze surrounding one of our most important founding fathers.”

San Francisco Book Review/Sacramento Book Review, 11/11/13

Mr. President explores both the birth of our nation’s government and Washington’s continual influence over the role of the president in domestic and foreign affairs, offering some truly enlightening insight into the earliest days of the U.S. government…Washington’s political savvy and foresight have never seemed more impressive than they do in Unger’s hands…As eye-opening as it is fascinating.”

InfoDad.com, 11/14/13

“Unger’s book is essentially a tracing of the roots of what we now call the ‘imperial presidency,’ which most people believe to be a purely modern phenomenon—attributed by many to Franklin D. Roosevelt, for example. But Unger convincingly argues that this is not so: the seizing and exercise of powers not given to the president by the Constitution dates back all the way to the nation’s first chief executive… It is genuinely fascinating to follow Unger’s tracing of so many supposedly modern ‘presidential excesses’ to the nation’s first president: this book really does shine a new light on social and political conflicts that continue to this day.”

The Heartland Institute (Somewhat Reasonable blog), 11/2/13

“[An] excellent book.”

Roanoke Times, 12/1/13

“Unger leaves the reader with the understanding that the United States has benefited—perhaps even survived—because George Washington set the standard for performance and leadership.”

Bookviews blog, December 2013

“We owe Harlow Giles Unger, a prodigious historian, a debt of gratitude for the latest of his more than twenty books…Don’t miss out [on] the pleasure and knowledge this book imparts.”

 Milwaukee Shepherd-Express, 1/22/14

“A readable essay on Washington’s character and temperament, focused on how, after winning the war against Britain, he was determined not to lose the peace.”

WomanAroundTown.com, 2/13/14
“If, like me, you love reading American History, then you must be familiar with the work of Harlow Giles Unger…one of our country’s leading authorities on our Founding Fathers, as demonstrated in “Mr. President”.”

Choice, April 2014
“Unger supports his analysis of Washington and the birth of the ‘imperial presidency’ through the use of a rich collection of primary and secondary sources. Readers interested in George Washington, the Constitution, the presidency, or the tumultuous 1970s will find Unger’s book of interest. Recommended.”

Kirkus Reviews
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.

Product Details

Da Capo Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

A veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian, Harlow Giles Unger is a former Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at Mount Vernon and the author of twenty books, including six biographies of America’s Founding Fathers and three other histories of the early republic. He lives in New York City.

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