Wednesday, March 25, 2015

David S. & Jeanne T. Heidler's "Washington’s Circle"

David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler have collaborated on books about the early American republic, the Antebellum period, and the Civil War, including Encyclopedia of the War of 1812 and the award-winning Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Social, Political, and Military History, which received the Society for Military History’s Distinguished Book Award. They are the authors of Henry Clay: The Essential American; Old Hickory’s War: Andrew Jackson and the Quest for Empire; The War of 1812; Manifest Destiny; Daily Life in the Early American Republic: Creating a New Nation, 1790-1820; and The Mexican War.

Jeanne Heidler is Professor of History at the United States Air Force Academy where she is the senior civilian member of her department.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Washington’s Circle, the occasion is George Washington’s first annual message, an event now called the State of the Union. As with everything under the new constitutional government, we see a precedent-setting situation: the act of delivering the annual message and the congressional reaction to it. Readers have a brief contextual explanation of the changing protocols for this occasion over a long span of different presidencies, but mainly they have the tangible example of how everyone was trying to balance the ideal of republican government with the necessity of creating viable executive authority. Here is how that is treated:
Washington did not relish having to deliver the speech, but he wanted to communicate his views to Congress in person. He did so every year of his presidency and his successor John Adams continued the practice. The third President, Thomas Jefferson, preferred to send his message in written form to Congress, but only partly because he loathed public speaking. By the time Jefferson was president, the annual message had fallen into disfavor for resembling the king’s address from the throne to Parliament, and every president after Jefferson followed his precedent until Woodrow Wilson revived the personal appearance. Wilson saw nothing untoward in addressing Parliament from the throne.

Washington did, but he was working from a different set of circumstances, one of which was the need to establish his office as a coequal branch of government. At 11:00 AM on January 8, with considerable ceremony, the President of the United States left his residence in his cream colored carriage. At its front rode two secretaries atop Washington's matching white stallions. Tobias Lear sat in the carriage with Washington, and the President's nephew Robert Lewis rode his horse behind it. Chief Justice Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox followed, each in a separate carriage. When Washington arrived at Federal Hall, the doorkeepers of the House and Senate escorted him into the Senate chamber. Members of the House and Senate stood when he entered and remained standing until he sat down in John Adams’s ornate chair. Washington's retinue filed in to stand at the rear of the chamber throughout the address. Washington stood to give his speech. Congressmen and Senators stood as well. In a departure from their behavior at the inaugural address, they remained standing throughout the address. The government was changing before their very eyes.
This description illustrates at least two main themes developed throughout the book, and we tried to do this by showing the situation rather than telling about it. Washington’s effort to enhance the prestige of the presidency with the appurtenances we describe becomes controversial as the narrative progresses. The peculiar change marked by the legislature standing during Washington’s address is noted as a break from the first inaugural when members had taken their seats after the president’s entrance. That had been done to drive home the point that the man coming before them was at most a chief among equals. The conflicts developing both within and between the branches of government are foreshadowed, and the depth of the disagreement is only thinly veiled as it emerges over matters of principle as well as policy in the pages that follow.
Learn more about the book and author at David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler's website.

My Book, The Movie: Washington’s Circle.

--Marshal Zeringue