George Washington and James Madison

I am working my way through Ron Chernow’s terrific new biography of George Washington.  From a constitutional perspective, it’s interesting to reexamine how the Framers tried to figure out the practices of the new Government in 1789.  For instance, Washington came to the Senate in person a couple of times to complain or ask questions about some items of legislative business.  In effect, he was treating the Senate as the King treated the Privy Council, but quickly abandoned that model.  I was also charmed by the image of Washington going on a fishing trip with Jefferson and Hamilton in 1790. (My nominee for “smartest fishing boat” of all time.)  And I did not know that Washington became gravely ill in 1790 and that John Adams nearly became President then.  (That would have been a disaster.  No matter what David McCullough and Paul Giamatti say, that guy was a ridiculous pain-in-the-neck with almost no political skills.)

My favorite story, though, was that James Madison drafted Washington’s First Inaugural, drafted Congress’s reply to the Inaugural, and drafted Washington’s reply to the reply!  Do you feel lazy now?  I sure do.

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5 Responses

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    [[it’s interesting to reexamine how the Framers tried to figure out the practices of the new Government in 1789. For instance, Washington came to the Senate in person a couple of times to complain or ask questions about some items of legislative business.]]

    I haven’t red Chernow’s book, so this is just conjecture on my part … but maybe Washington entertained the quaint notion that the Executive and Legislative branches were partners in the business of governance, and that the best way to work together was actually to work together.

    [[My favorite story, though, was that James Madison drafted Washington’s First Inaugural, drafted Congress’s reply to the Inaugural, and drafted Washington’s reply to the reply!Do you feel lazy now? I sure do.]]

    Yeah, I heard that boy could really write. And just think, he did that without a word processor, or even a Correcting Selectric.

  2. Ariel says:

    As for fishing party awards, that trio certainly beats out the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club… Although that group, too, opened a can of legal worms!

  3. AJ says:

    You don’t get to be president with almost no political skills.

  4. Joan Conway says:

    President Dwight Eisenhower tried to make Congress his equal partner, but Congress bowed out of it, because they have to get re-elected and were off campaigning much of the time. Congress just was committed enough.

  5. Can’t wait to get into Chernow’s new Washington biography. Yes, Madison did a lot of ghost writing for Washington and was his point person in Congress during Washington’s first term. He also drafted Washington’s speech for leaving office after his second term. (drafted at end of first term when Washington wanted to leave.) But as Jefferson and Madison geared up their new political party, and came into increasing conflict with Hamilton, Washington and Madison moved further apart and Washington no longer relied on him.(Republican Party, later morphed into Democratic Republican, finally to Democratic Party; Current Republican party arose in decade before Civil War.)

    As to Adams, it’s true he often rubbed people the wrong way but he was a skilled politician, helped move the Continental Congress toward accepting disolving relationship with England, and during his own presidency, managed to avoid war with France despite pressure to do so. He lost a second term in a hotly contested election of 1800 when the tied vote in the Electoral College was thrown into the House of Representatives which finally chose Jefferson after many votes and lots of backroom maneuvering.

    Washington and Adams both believed that the president should stay above the political fray. All of them believed in the separation of powers and checks and balances as committed republicans (little r)and Washington was always checking to make sure he wasn’t setting up monarchical precedents.