The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

Harvard Univ. Apr. 2020. 432p. ISBN 9780674986480. $29.95. POL SCI
The Constitution provided little detail concerning presidential advisers or the relationships among governmental branches. Chervinsky (White House Historical Assn.) traces the evolution of the cabinet from British history through George Washington’s presidency, explaining how experimentation, personalities, internal and international crises, loyalty and betrayal, and political partisanship impacted not only the development of Washington’s advisory body, but foreign and domestic policies as well. Chervinsky explains how, by the middle of his first term, Washington’s practice of seeking advice from his departmental secretaries mirrored his military experience; he sought to foster a familial relationship and a sense of common mission. Group discussions, written opinions and answers to questions, advice from official and personal advisers, and news from publications and his personal information network informed him as he ultimately formulated his own decisions. Chervinsky ably demonstrates how Washington’s and his cabinet’s interpersonal relationships, concern for administrative and personal reputation and the stability of the republic, and caution for establishing precedent affected deliberations and policies.
VERDICT This informative, accessible overview of the factors and events that contributed to Washington’s legacy of precedent-setting use of advisers and the assertion of strong executive authority while maintaining harmony with the other branches will be of interest to readers at all levels.
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