The first American President (George Washington), who appointed a Cabinet of four people (Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson; Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton; Secretary of War, Henry Knox; and Attorney General, Edmund Randolph) to advise and assist him in his duties. As Ellis (2004) shows, Washington entered office with the full support of the national and state leadership. He had to start up the daily functioning of a national government. Washington surrounded himself with a sophisticated team of consultants and supporters and successfully delegated most of the responsibility for the conduct of their offices to those trusted colleagues, of whom Alexander Hamilton was most powerful. The cabinet soon polarized between Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Washington's restraint regarding the Supreme Court and slavery (he favored some form of gradual emancipation), and his absence from public support for some of Hamilton's financial plans, allowed him to develop both a nation and an office that appeared above the day-to-day political battles.
Washington played a leading role in the decision to locate the permanent national capital in the District of Columbia. He played the central role in setting foreign policy, opting for neutrality in the wars between France (an official ally) and Britain (the leading trading partner). Washington believed America's future interests did not depend on Europe but on the American people and the western lands. In these and other instances, Ellis (2004) concludes, Washington's work led to a restrained but effective use of the power of the executive office and the foundations for a strong national government. Wood (1992) argues The basis of Washington's stature was his character, which epitomized 18th-century republican ideals of a man of virtue. Washington's deep commitment to disinterested public service and a grave civility decisively shaped the character of the presidential office.