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This book, The Trailblazers: Chief Executives Who Transformed the Constitution, presents a summary view of American history over the first forty years under the United States Constitution. During this time many events took place and a few distinct personalities added their personal touch in determining the destiny of the United States. Each of these early chief executives left a legacy although, as always, it has been subject to vast interpretations according to one's individual viewpoint. However, the collective...
This book, The Trailblazers: Chief Executives Who Transformed the Constitution, presents a summary view of American history over the first forty years under the United States Constitution. During this time many events took place and a few distinct personalities added their personal touch in determining the destiny of the United States. Each of these early chief executives left a legacy although, as always, it has been subject to vast interpretations according to one's individual viewpoint. However, the collective existence of this nation speaks volumes for each of their particular influences during their time at the helm. The trail that they blazed has enabled the Presidency to undergo great change as each succeeding chief executive has added power and substance to the office.
The first elected Constitutional President of the United States, George Washington, came into being when he took office on April 30, 1789. Since his time we have had over forty different personalities who have occupied the office with the transference of power passing to the successor in an orderly manner-even in the midst of our civil war. A lot of credit must be given to the system of government that we have in which the executive role-the ultimate authority and enforcement figure-is assumed in a simple ceremony that only involves an oath of office to be administered to that person. This smooth transition of power is due in large part to the manner in which Washington established the handing over of the Presidency to his successor.
This book of the early chief executives covers a period of 40 years, from 1789 to 1829, during which 20 Congresses convened and adjourned. The trailblazers, starting with George Washington, transformed the country from mere words that stated the intent of the Constitution into a system of government with a firm foundation. In the process, these trailblazers expanded the scope of the Presidency and added to the existing precedents that were established through the Articles of Confederation under the guidance of the chief executives of the Continental Congress. In this effort, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams made their contributions in a decided manner. In the process, they greatly strengthened the core of the central authority-a necessary force in keeping the nation together as a single continuing union.
George Washington set many of the precedents under the United States Constitution as the first chief executive under the new government. He put down a rebellion, worked for strong financial institutions, expanded the implicit powers of the President, and was at the helm when the New York Stock Exchange was formally established. His strong leadership set the tone of the office of the Presidency, including its elevated social status and its accessibility to the citizens of the country.
John Adams, as the first intellectual in the office, promoted the judicial evolution and in the process created a stronger national government. His abilities as a statesman kept a lid on what could have erupted into a full-scale war between America and England when the young nation was ill prepared to fight again. Although his support of the Alien and Sedition statues went against the grain of freedom, he was still able to fend off another rebellion and keep the country together in its infant years. He also promoted a strong military preparedness and sought to improve the caliber of both the army and the navy.
Thomas Jefferson became the first President from the opposition party-the Democratic-Republicans-and in doing so set the precedent for a peaceful transfer of power from one party to another. Under his term, the country doubled in size due to the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. He also took actions that were for the most part in line with a very narrow interpretation of the presidential powers under the Constitution. He was nevertheless successful in keeping America out of the war between France and England.
James Madison guided the nation during perilous times caused by the War of 1812 against Great Britain. Having been the main person behind the formulation of the Constitution, he was a believer in very limited government and opposed building up either the army or the navy. He acted with one eye towards maintaining states' rights and the other eye towards a very strict interpretation of the Constitution, both of which served to strengthen the freedom under the government. Thus, he did not act in a manner that threatened civil liberties and refused to assume extraordinary powers-even though a war was going on.
James Monroe started a new era in foreign policy for America with the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine-a policy intended to prevent European interference with or colonization of the newfound democracies that were being established in the Western Hemisphere. In domestic affairs he acted to resolve the partisan conflicts that were at the heart of much strife in America. However, he largely ignored the growing controversy over the slave issue, a divisive effect that later contributed to the Civil War.
James Quincy Adams started the trend towards massive public works projects by the government, even though he was opposed by the Federal Congress on many of these. He also opposed slavery although his support of a protective tariff increased the existing tensions between the North and the South. As another gifted intellectual and extraordinary diplomat, he tried to strengthen the central government through efforts in promoting national transportation and in the control of public lands by the government.
The importance of these trailblazers, the early chief executives of the United States, is that in the performance of their duties each displayed an inherited sense of the importance of the United States as a nation of destiny. Somehow, each of them rose above the petty politics to strive for what each considered as best for the country in terms of the general good. These early chief executives helped shape the Presidency-and in doing so greatly contributed towards the creation of the most successful democratic system of government on earth. Each of them should be acknowledged for their individual contributions of social, political and economic transformations that have enabled the people of this nation to enjoy an unprecedented freedom unparalleled by any other form of government in the world.