Lindsay M. Chervinsky. The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution. Belknap Press, 2020. x + 416 pages. Hardcover, $29.95.

AuthorHolm, Michael
PositionArticle 7

Americans' fascination with the Revolutionary Era and the reliance on the Founding Fathers for guidance appears endless. The steady stream of books, articles, and shows that continues to emerge in academia and popular culture, as well as the role the nation's origins continues to play in political discourse, is evidence of this. Historian Lindsay Chervinsky's The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, is an interesting addition to the scholarship on the Early Republic and its long-term influence.

Chervinsky focuses on George Washington's leadership performances during the Revolutionary War and his presidency. Her core argument is that Washington's experiences commanding the Continental Army informed his presidential management style and government organization. She concludes that Washington's bureaucratic constructions left an enduring imprint on the organization and power of the Executive branch, especially during times of domestic and international crises. This ambitious agenda succeeds only partially because the author struggles to establish a clear intellectual trajectory. At times, this reads like a book on presidential management style, at times as a biography of Washington and his cabinet, and at other times simply as a series of vignettes into the Early Republic. As a result, it never quite satisfies on any of these fronts.

The book works best when Washington's interactions with advisors are in focus. Chervinsky effectively illustrates how he created networks of close aides upon whom he could rely for expert counsel. As she points out, since the Constitution provided neither guidance nor institutions to aid presidential governance, any bureaucratic design rested with Washington. The result was that not only did he draw heavily on his experiences with the familiar military command structure, Washington also brought into government confidantes who had served him well in the War. The book's coverage of Washington's resourceful management style is especially impressive. Chervinsky clearly and effectively explains how, depending on circumstances, the first president at certain times demanded written, and therefore documented, advice from cabinet members, and in other moments relied on extensive meetings with advisors in smaller groups or one-on-one. This includes interesting discussions of Washington's awareness not to create institutions that mirrored their British aristocratic counterparts; an outcome...

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