George Washington Dealmaker-In-Chief: The Story of How the Father of Our Country Unleashed the Entrepreneurial Spirit in America by Cyrus A. Ansary (Lambert Publications, LLC, 2019)
Few writers on George Washington have examined his economic vision for the new American nation. Cyrus A. Ansary sets out to do just that. He argues that Washington, as the first president of the United States, possessed “a long-term economic vision” for the new nation and put in place an “entrepreneurial society” that encouraged inventors and industrialists. “It was,” Ansary says, “our first President who painstakingly laid the foundation for the entrepreneurial society to take root in America.” He more than adequately proves his thesis.
Ansary, an international lawyer, financier, educator, and philanthropist, is well qualified to write on Washington and the entrepreneurial spirit, having managed a sovereign wealth fund and established his own merchant banking firm. He also possesses a degree in economics.
Ansary sets out to describe the experiences of Washington’s “formative years” and explain “how they influenced his vision for the strategic economic development of the United States.” He also lays out the “the step-by-step process” that Washington put in place to fulfill his vision. Furthermore, Ansary believes that scholars have failed to link “Washington the capitalist with Washington the President,” and he argues that Washington’s early “commercial experiences” were “crucial contributions to his enduring economic legacy.”
He makes several bold claims about Washington and the economy of the early United States. He asserts that in the absence of “the economic infrastructure” Washington implemented during the course of his presidency “the great experiment in the republican form of government might well have had a different outcome.” He recognizes that others – such as John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Robert Morris – participated in the “economic revolution.” But he sees Washington as the “impresario” of the great project who conceived it, organized it, and oversaw it (at least through its first eight years).
Ansary organizes his book into four thematic parts, together “designed to supply the reader with a cohesive view of Washington’s strategic economic blueprint for the country.” Part one focuses on the perils Washington faced upon assuming the presidency and the events that led the country to a “deeply troubled” economic posture after the Revolution. Ansary looks at Washington’s youth and his entrepreneurial projects as an adult for clues to as to how he formulated his economic vision. In this part, he also analyzes the components of Washington’s personal wealth, which he describes as “the fruit” of his “entrepreneurial labors.” He concludes that “despite being taken away from his highly absorbing business activities for long periods of government service, George Washington nonetheless became one of the most successful businessmen in early America.”
In part two of his book, Ansary details Washington’s experiences under British colonial rule “both culturally and commercially,” including British policies and mercantilism, the influence of chartered trading companies, the influence of English brokers, and the impact of the colonists’ being required by Parliament to use British currency.
Part three first looks at Washington’s exposure to the political and economic theories of Scottish and English thinkers, including John Locke and David Hume. Then, Ansary examines how Washington set about ensuring the entrepreneurial spirit had the means to thrive in the new United States. “His program called for him to put in place the requisite infrastructure and governmental mindset to transform the society into a nationwide entrepreneurial environment.” During his administration, the first president, Ansary asserts, put in place “an entrepreneurial architecture rooted in the hard realities and experiences of his own professional life, and tailor-made for the struggling new nation.” In the final chapter of this section, Ansary details the several executive and legislative measures that Washington “spearheaded” to accomplish his economic vision.
In the largest section of his book – part four – composed of seven chapters, Ansary describes Washington’s actions, policies, and initiatives as the first president of the United States. He looks at, among other things, Washington’s opposition to debtor’s prison, his role in eliminating barriers to entry into business, and his support for copyrights and patents. He dedicates a chapter to the deal making and compromise that lead to the passage of the Residence Act – to establish a location for the national capital – and the Funding Act, in which the federal government assumed the state debts from the Revolution. Ansary writes that “In achieving passage of the Funding Act, the [Washington] administration had created a new, vibrant, and thriving environment for domestic debt.” In one of his most interesting chapters, “The Center of the Union,” Ansary examines Washington’s central supervisory role, under the Residence Act and “An Act for Establishing the Temporary and Permanent Seat of Government of the United States,” in the immensely complex task of creating the Federal City on the Potomac River – the city that became Washington, D.C. He rightly concludes that because of the “series of misunderstandings, misadventures, and mistakes” that ensued between the parties involved – the commissioners for the Federal City, the proprietors of the land, the designers and builders, and the investors in the city’s development – “only the President’s determination kept the project alive and functioning.” In this part of the book, Ansary also examines Washington’s role in establishing the judiciary, and he details the complex foreign policy issues with which Washington had to contend.
Ansary’s book is very well researched; his 845 endnotes extend across 69 pages. He also provides an extensive and very useful bibliography. George Washington Dealmaker in Chief provides a look at the father of our country from a new perspective and is well worth reading for the insights Ansary gives us into Washington’s economic vision and his crucial role in founding the entrepreneurial society that has enabled the United States to become the economic giant of the present day.