The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

Lindsay Chervinsky – George Washington University

The Constitution does not mention the cabinet and yet, the department secretaries are some of the most powerful positions in the country, and every president has governed with a cabinet. Where does it come from? In this course, Professor Lindsay M. Chervinsky explores how George Washington created the cabinet to provide the support and advice he needed in moments of crisis. Chervinsky shows how Washington molded the cabinet based on his Revolutionary War experience, and then left long-lasting precedents that continue to guide his successors in the 21st century. This story is one that every citizen should know, as modern presidents are still mostly guided by norm and custom—which all trace back to Washington.



Professor Chervinsky’s Recommended Readings

The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, by Lindsay M. Chervinsky

Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Black Cabinet, by Jill Watts

Theodore Rex, by Edmund Morris


Discussion Questions

  1. How do the words (or lack of words) in the Constitution shape the creation of the cabinet?
  2. How do George Washington’s previous experiences influence his presidency?
  3. What are the key cabinet precedents that Washington left to his successors?
  4. What do you think makes for a successful cabinet?