George Washington

Portrait of George Washington

George Washington (February 22, 1732 - December 14, 1799) was the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797, the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He presided over the convention that drafted the current United States Constitution and during his lifetime was called the "father of his country." Widely admired for his strong leadership qualities, Washington was unanimously elected President in the first two national elections. He oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality in the French Revolutionary Wars, suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, and won acceptance among Americans of all types. Washington's incumbency established many precedents still in use today, such as the cabinet system, the inaugural address, and the title Mr. President. His retirement from office after two terms established a tradition, which was unbroken until 1940.

Washington married to Martha Dandridge on January 6, 1759. The couple had no children.

Life Edit

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, the son of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary Ball. He was born on their Pope's Creek Estate in Westmoreland County in Virginia. He was of primarily English gentry descent, especially from Sulgrave, England. His great-grandfather, John Washington, emigrated to Virginia in 1657 and began accumulating land and slaves, as did his son, Lawrence Washington, and his grandson, George's father, Augustine. Washington spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg. Lawrence Washington inherited another family property from his father, a plantation on the Potomac River, which he named Mount Vernon, in honor of his commanding officer, Admiral Edward Vernon. Born into the provincial gentry of Colonial Virginia, his family were wealthy planters who owned tobacco fields and slaves, which he inherited. He owned hundreds of slaves throughout his lifetime.

In his youth, he became a senior British officer in the colonial militia during the first stages of the French and Indian War. In 1775, the Second Continental Congress commissioned Washington as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution. In that command, Washington forced the British out of Boston in 1776, but was defeated and nearly captured later that year when he lost New York City. After crossing the Delaware River in the middle of winter, he defeated the British in two battles, retook New Jersey, and restored momentum to the Patriot cause in the Battle of Trenton.

Crossing the Delaware

Washington Crossing the Delaware, December 25, 1776

His strategy enabled Continental forces to capture two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. Historians laud Washington for the selection and supervision of his generals, preservation and command of the army, coordination with the Congress, with state governors and their militia, and attention to supplies, logistics, and training. In battle, however, Washington was repeatedly outmaneuvered by British generals with larger armies. After victory had been finalized in 1783, Washington resigned as commander-in-chief rather than seize power, proving his opposition to dictatorship and his commitment to American republicanism.

Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which devised a new form of federal government for the United States. Following unanimous election as President in 1789, he worked to unify rival factions in the fledgling nation. He supported Alexander Hamilton's programs to satisfy all debts, federal and state, established a permanent seat of government, implemented an effective tax system, and created a national bank. In avoiding war with Great Britain, he guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade by securing the Jay Treaty in 1795, despite intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. Although he remained nonpartisan, never joining the Federalist Party, he largely supported their policies. Washington's Farewell Address in 1797 was an influential primer on republican virtue, warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars. He retired from the presidency in 1797, returning to his home and plantation at Mount Vernon.

Death and Legacy Edit

Washington married Martha Washington on January 6, 1757 at their plantation. The two never had any children, but they cared for the children from her previous marriage and Washington's nieces and nephews.

On December 12, 1799, Washington spent several hous inspecting his plantation on horseback, in snow, hail, and freezing rain; later that evening he ate his supper withoutb changing from his wet clothes. The following day, he awoke with a severe sore throat and became increasingly hoarse as the day progressed. Yet he still rode out in the heavy snow, marking trees on the estate that he wanted to cut. The following morning, he awoke with severe difficulty breathing and almost completely unable to speak or swallow. Washington died at his home at 10 pm on December 14, 1799 at the age of 67.

Throughout the world, men and women were saddened by Washington's death. In France, First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte ordered ten days of mourning throughout the country. On December 18, a funeral was held at Mount Vernon, where his body was interred.

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