George Washington and the Origins of the American Presidency

By Mark J. Rozell; William D. Pederson et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1

George Washington: Reluctant Occupant, Uncertain Model for the Presidency

BYRON W. DAYNES


INTRODUCTION

In looking at the presidency of George Washington, the one question that needs to be asked by political scientists is, Can we learn anything about the modern presidency by examining the presidency of George Washington, or will the net effect be negligible?

The answer, as one might expect, is unclear. Evidence from the records of the Constitutional Convention and other early documents is imprecise. While the Framers respected Washington as an outstanding leader among them, his leadership attributes were highly unusual. For example, he appeared uncomfortable in possession of power, 1 wished to remain out of the focus of attention, 2 and did not seek position 3 ; in fact, he even resisted attending the Constitutional Convention because of conflicting loyalties he felt as a leader in the Society of Cincinnati—an elite society of retired revolutionary officers—that was meeting in Philadelphia at the same time. He came to the convention only at the insistence of Edmund Randolph, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, who recognized Washington’s importance and prominence among his political peers. Once there, he was appointed by his colleagues to preside over the convention, despite his initial hesitation. While he said very little in the debates and discussions and made a point of giving up his position whenever the convention broke into a ‘‘committee of the whole,’’ his mere presence was extremely important, as he became the acknowledged model for what an exemplary president might become. 4

Those same persons who saw Washington as an eminent presidential model, however, structured Article II of the Constitution in such a way

-3-

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