The Life of George Washington
The First President
George Washington is remembered for leading the United States to victory in the American Revolution and as the first President of the United States.
George Washington’s Childhood
George Washington was born in 1732 to a family of Virginia planters. During his childhood he was taught the morals, manners and the body of knowledge that were considered essential for an 18th Century gentleman farmer.
As Washington grew, his two principle interests, the military arts and the expansion of the American frontier became intertwined. When Washington was 16 he helped to survey the Shenandoah Valley for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. In 1754, he received the commission of Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army. He fought the opening skirmishes of what would eventually be called the French and Indian Wars. In 1755, Washington continued to see action. He was not injured, but while serving with General Edward Braddock, musket balls tore his clothes on four different occasions and Washington’s horse was shot from under him twice.
Washington and the American Revolution
From 1759 to 1776, Washington tended to his farm, Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In the intervening years, he also married Martha Dandridge Custis. Like many of his fellow planters, Washington felt that he was being exploited by British merchants and the regulations that protected them. As relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became more strained, Washington became an advocate for resistance to British trade practices.
During the Second Continental Congress in May, 1775, Washington was made Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. His army existed virtually in name only. His men were poorly trained and many had to be convinced to reenlist once their terms of service were completed. Washington advised Congress that the best strategy, given the woeful state of the American Army, was to harass the British. “We should on all Occasions avoid a general Action…unless compelled by a necessity.”
In the six years of combat that followed, Washington adopted a strategy of slow withdrawls and hit and run raids where the British were weak or where American forces were not expected. With the assistance of the French Army, Washington was able to force Lord Cornwallis to surrender at Yorktown in 1781, bringing the American Revolution to an end.
After the end of the war, Washington had hoped to retire to Mount Vernon and tend to his land in peace. However, it was clear to Washington that the Articles of Confederation were making it very difficult for the American government to function properly. He began to advocate for a Constitutional Convention, which was convened in 1787. When the constitution was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously declared George Washington President of the United States.
As President, Washington chose not to infringe on the policy making ability of Congress. However, the ability to set foreign policy was placed firmly in the hands of the President. When Britain and France went to war following the overthrow of the French monarchy in 1789, Washington chose to ignore the recommendations of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, choosing a neutral course. He believed that the United States needed time to grow before it could become a player on the world stage.
As time wore on, Washington became more and more dissatisfied with the country’s move toward partisan politics and decided not to seek a third term. In his farewell address, he cautioned against excessive party spirit and the dangers of regionalism as well as long-term alliances.
Washington only enjoyed three years of retirement before his death following a throat infection on December 14, 1799.
“George Washington” The White House. The United States Government. Jan.26/09.
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- February 1, 2009 / 11:34 pm
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