We know him as the first president of the United States, and as an honored general, but what else should we know about him? I think it is important to discuss his early life, what led up to his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and his life as the first U.S. president.
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George Washington (no middle name, as they were not used until the early 19th century) was born in Virginia on February 22, 1732 into a middle-class family, being the eldest of six children of Augustine and Mary Washington. His father built the plantation house George lived in in the 1720s. However, his father died when George was 11 years old, and he inherited the plantation, along with ten slaves (Mount Vernon). Not much is known factually about the first president’s childhood, but what is known for sure is that between the ages of seven and fifteen, he was home schooled and studied with a church sexton and then a schoolmaster for math, geography, Latin, and English classics. He was said to have learned much from backwoodsmen and a plantation foreman. In his teens, he became an expert in growing tobacco, stock raising, and surveying (Biography).
Though George was proud of his farming abilities, and eventually took over all of the Washington estate when his brother, Lawrence, died of tuberculosis in 1752, he was appointed as a major in the Virginia militia after having experience as an official surveyor (Biography). Being given the position of major without previous military experience attests to his leadership skills and natural physical ability. He fought in the French and Indian War, and was so successful as a major that he was eventually given the position to lead the entire militia of Virginia. But it almost seemed like his military exploits were at an end when he resigned, and returned his hometown, being elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses until 1774 (History).
His life seemed to be settling down. He married a wealthy widow with two children, Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802), and extended his land from 2,000 acres to an 8,000 acres plot with five farms. He had corn, wheat, and fruit grown on his plantation; in addition, he bred mules and had a lucrative fishery. But by the late 1760s, with the rising taxes set on Americans by the British, he was engrossed in the effort to declare independence from England. He became a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774 in Philadelphia, and by the time the second Continental Congress convened, he was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army (History).
It is said that despite his troops having a lack of supplies and being poorly trained, his main quality was inspiring optimism in the face of defeat. He is credited to holding together the Continental Army through the grueling eight years of the Revolutionary War. Having a stalemate for many years, by October of 1781, with the aid of French allied troops, the Continental Army captured many troops under British general Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805). This victory ensured the end of the Revolutionary War. Subsequently, George was heralded as a national hero (History).
With a peace treaty between Great Britain and the U.S. signed in 1783, Washington went back to Mount Vernon to do his duty as a farmer. But when, in 1787, he was sent to attend a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and be the leader of the committee to create a new constitution, his leadership was noted once again. The delegates believed he was the most suitable man for the job of America’s first president (History).
He was rather reluctant about being appointed to this demanding post, as he wanted to resume a quiet life as a farmer. However, public demand for him being the first president was so overwhelming that he eventually gave into the opinion of the masses. The first U.S. presidential election was in 1789, and he won in a landslide, his closest rival being John Adams. A 57-year-old Washington was inaugurated as president on April 30, 1789 in New York City, as the capitol was not built at the point. During his presidency, he lived in New York and Philadelphia (History).
Most people take this for granted, but at the time of Washington’s presidency, the U.S. had only 11 states and only four million people occupying it. Also, there was no concept of what the president should do in his position. Washington knew that his tenure would be an example for future presidents, so he did his best to govern in a fair and prudent manner. In terms of foreign policy, he tried to create positive relations with other countries, but remained neutral in international conflicts. In regard to domestic governance, he is noted for appointing the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, signing a bill to establish the first national bank, and setting up a presidential cabinet. He vied for diverging views within his cabinet, but was alarmed with the signs of partisanship, starting from Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (History).
After two terms as president, he resigned (there was no law at that time about the limit of terms). He retired to his family farm, leaving with a farewell address, stating that the U.S. should build upon its success domestically and not to be too concerned with foreign involvement. After successfully managing his farmlands for three years, he got a throat infection and Washington passed away on December 14, 1799 (History).
Named “Father of the Nation,” George Washington began life as a middle-class son of a plantation owner, became an accomplished farmer and surveyor, developed into an honored military and political genius, and was elected as the first U.S president with little opposition. His presidency is an example more modern presidents should follow, with his fairness, integrity, and prudence, especially in dealing with foreign powers, sans the holding of slaves.
Washington, G. (2017). George Washington – U.S. Presidents – HISTORY.com. [online] HISTORY.com. Available at: http://www.history.com/topics/us-presidents/george-washington [Accessed 6 Oct. 2017].
Biography.com. (2017). George Washington. [online] Available at: https://www.biography.com/people/george-washington-9524786 [Accessed 6 Oct. 2017].
George Washington’s Mount Vernon. (2017). Key Facts. [online] Available at: http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/key-facts/ [Accessed 6 Oct. 2017].
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