In this volume, Forrest McDonald admits that George Washington was no executive genius, and notes that a number of his advisers and cabinet members were considerably more important in formulating programs and policies than he was. Nevertheless, he maintains that, but for Washington, the office of president might not exist today. McDonald asserts that Washington's reputation as a man of integrity, dignity, candor, and republican virtue was well-deserved, and that he contributed best by serving as a symbol.
The book covers the central concerns of Washington's administration: a complex tangle of war debts; the organization of the Bank of the United States; geographical and social factionalism; the emergence of strong national partisan politics; adjustments in federal-state relations; the effort to remain neutral in the face of European tumult; the opening of the Mississippi River; and the removal of the threat of Indians and British in the Northwest Territory. McDonald also describes the rivalry between Washington's two most important department heads, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.