May 5, 2006

History of George Washington

By Dr. Frank J. Collazo


George Washington Profile

George Washington (1789-1797)

1st President of the United States

Vice President: John Adams


Demographic Data:

Born:  February 22, 1732, Pope's Creek, Virginia

Nickname:  "Father of His Country"

Education:  Equivalent of an elementary school education

Religion:  Episcopalian

Marriage:  January 6, 1759, to Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802)

Children:  None

Career:  Soldier, Planter

Political Party:  Federalist

Writings:  Writings (39 vols. 1931-1944), ed. by John C. Fitzpatrick

Died:  December 14, 1799, Mount Vernon, Virginia

Buried:  Family vault, Mount Vernon, Virginia

Introduction:  Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was the successful Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, and later the first President of the United States, an office to which he was twice elected unanimously (unanimous among the Electoral College) and held from 1789 to 1797.

Washington first served as an officer during the French and Indian War and as a leader of colonial militia supporting the British Empire. After leading the American victory in the Revolutionary War, he refused to lead a military regime, though encouraged by some of his peers to do so.  He returned to civilian life at Mount Vernon.


In 1787 he presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the current United States Constitution and, in 1789, was the unanimous choice to become the first president of the United States.  His two-term administration set many policies and traditions that survive today.  After his second term expired, Washington again voluntarily relinquished power, thereby establishing an important precedent that was to serve as an example for the United States and also for other future republics.


Because of his central role in the founding of the United States, Washington is often called the "Father of his Country."  Scholars rank him with Abraham Lincoln among the greatest of United States presidents.


Washington Roots:  The story of the Washington family begins with William, who settled at Washington in northeast England some time before 1180.  William, descended from the younger son of an ancient noble house, became the founder of another great line, which, after varied fortunes produced the first President of the United States of America.


Lawrence Washington, born c. 1500, the eldest son of John Washington of Warton, Lancashire first settled at Sulgrave with his second wife Amy, the third daughter of Robert Pargiter of Greatworth, near Sulgrave.  His former wife, Elizabeth, died childless and Robert Washington his eldest son, born to Amy in 1544, inherited Sulgrave Manor with about 1250 acres.


In 1568, Robert's Wife Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Lawrence, who later married Margaret, daughter of William Butler, of Tyes Hall, Cuckfield, Sussex.  He died on 13 December 1616 in his fathers' lifetime.


The Reverend Lawrence Washington was born in 1602, the fifth son of Lawrence and Margaret.  He was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he graduated with a B.A. in 1623.  He became rector of Purleigh, Essex, a wealthy living, in April 1633.  That summer he married Amphyllis, daughter and co-heiress of John Twigden, of Little Creaton, Northamptonshire.  Their eldest son John was born the following spring.


In 1643, Parliament ordered the living of Purleigh to be sequestered, and he was ejected. The Civil war was in progress and he was accused as a "Malignant Royalist."  He became greatly impoverished, and Amphyllis and their children made their home with her stepfather at Tring (her mother had re-married after her father's death).  John Washington was about 19 when his father died in poverty in 1654/5.  Two years later, his mother died intestate and was buried at Tring.  When John came of age, soon afterwards, he went to London.  He married and sailed for Virginia in 1656.  Unfortunately his wife died, and in 1658 he married again, this time to Anne, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Nathaniel Pope JP, of The Cliffs, an early settlement on the northern neck of Virginia near the Potomac. The wedding present from his father-in-law was a 700-acre estate at Mattox Creek, where their eldest son Lawrence was born in 1659.


Lawrence Washington inherited Mattox Creek Farm from his father.  In 1685 he was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and in about 1686 married Mildred, daughter and co-heiress of Colonel Augustine Warner of Warner Hall.  Lawrence made his will on 11th March 1698 and died soon after, leaving his wife with three children, John, who was nearly seven, Augustine, age three, and Mildred, a baby.


Augustine came of age in 1715 and with an estate of 1700 acres, married Jane, the 16-year-old heiress of Major Caleb Butler JP on 20 April the same year.  He was married for the second time on 6 March 1730 to Mary Ball, then an orphan age 23.  Their first-born, on 22 February 1732 was George, who became the first president of the United States of America.

The Family Tree is depicted in Attachment E.

Early Life:  Young George seems to have received most of his schooling from his father and, after the father’s death in 1743, from his elder half-brother Lawrence.  The boy had a liking for mathematics, and he applied it to acquiring a knowledge of surveying, which was a skill greatly in demand in a country where people were seeking new lands in the West.  For the Virginians of that time the West meant chiefly the upper Ohio River valley.  Throughout his life, George Washington maintained a keen interest in the development of these western lands, and from time to time he acquired properties there.

George grew up a tall, strong young man, who excelled in outdoor pursuits, liked music and theatrical performances, and was a trifle awkward with girls but fond of dancing.  His driving force was the ambition to gain wealth and eminence and to do well whatever he set his hand to.

His first real adventure as a boy was accompanying a surveying party to the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia and descending the Shenandoah River by canoe.  An earlier suggestion that he should be sent to sea seems to have been discouraged by his uncle Joseph Ball, who described the prospects of an unknown colonial youth in the British Navy of that day as such that “he had better be put apprentice to a tinker.”  When he was 17 he was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, the first public office he held.

In 1751 George had his first and only experience of foreign lands when he accompanied his half-brother Lawrence to the island of Barbados in the West Indies. Lawrence was desperately ill with tuberculosis and thought the climate might help, but the trip did him little good.  Moreover, George was stricken with smallpox.  He bore the scars from the disease for the rest of his life.  Fortunately this experience gave him immunity to the disease, which was later to decimate colonial

troops during the American Revolution.



Lawrence died in 1752.  Under the terms of his will, George soon acquired the beautiful estate of Mount Vernon, in Fairfax County, one of six farms then held by the Washington family interests.  Also, the death of his beloved half-brother opened another door to the future.  Lawrence had held the post of adjutant in the colonial militia.  This was a full-time salaried appointment, carrying the rank of major, and involved the inspection, mustering, and regulation of various militia companies.


The Exercise of a Schoolboy:  George Washington, sometime before the age of 16, transcribed Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation. (Original errors in numbering have been corrected; original spelling is unchanged.)   The rules are outlined in Attachment “F”.


Personal Attributes:  Washington was long considered not just a military and revolutionary hero, but also a man of great personal integrity, with a deeply held sense of duty, honor and patriotism.  He was upheld as a shining example in schoolbooks and lessons, as courageous and farsighted, holding the Continental Army together through eight hard years of war and numerous privations, sometimes by sheer force of will.  And, at War's end, taking affront at the notion he should be King, and after two terms as President, stepping aside.


Recent years have seen schools and authors focus more on his weaknesses: his ownership of the family plantation and its slaves, and his role in the French and Indian War. Traditionally, students have been taught to look to Washington as a character model more even than war hero or founding father.  To them, Washington was notable for his modesty and carefully controlled ambition.  It is true Washington never accepted pay during his military service with the Continental Army and was genuinely reluctant to assume any of the offices thrust upon him.  When John Adams recommended him to the Continental Congress for the position of general and commander in chief of the Continental Army, Washington left the room to allow any dissenters to freely voice their objections.  In later accepting the post, Washington told the Congress that he was unworthy of the honor.


However, it should be remembered that Washington was human, and an ambitious one at that.  He ensured that during the Continental Congress he arrived and was always present wearing his old colonial uniform so as to make it clear to all that he was deeply interested in commanding the continental troops.  Congress actually made him the commander of the continental army before they authorized an army for him to command.  In reality, no one else could have ensured that the southern colonies would assist the northern ones unless Washington was part of the equation.  Aside from a few other less endearing leaders, Washington was likely, overall, the only choice that would achieve this.


It is often said that one of Washington's greatest achievements was refraining from taking more power than was due.  He was conscientious of maintaining a good reputation by avoiding political intrigue.  He had no interest in nepotism or cronyism, rejecting, for example, a military promotion during the war for his deserving cousin William Washington lest it be regarded as favoritism.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."


Washington and Slavery:  Historian’s perceptions of Washington's stand on slavery tend to be mixed.  In his treatment of slaves Washington was typical of his time and place--his slaves worked from dawn until dusk unless injured or ill, and they were whipped for running away or for other infractions.  Plantation records indicate that his slaves were often poorly clothed and housed--according to one eyewitness they lived in "miserable" huts and another wrote that "it was the sense of all his neighbors that he treated them with more severity than any other man."  Although Washington never made any public statement about slavery or the treatment of slaves, it is clear that as he progressed in life, he became increasingly uneasy with the "peculiar institution," and historian Roger Bruns wrote: "As he grew older, he became increasingly aware that it was immoral and unjust."


According to historians such as Clayborne Carson and Gary Nash, Washington's professed hatred of slavery was offset by his denial of freedom to even those slaves, like William Lee aka "Billy Lee", who fought with Washington for eight years.  Lee lived at Mount Vernon as a slave, although his wife was a free woman from Philadelphia, named Margaret Thomas.  Although some historians claim that it is not known whether she lived with him on the plantation, most sources indicate that she did not. Billy Lee was the only slave freed outright in Washington's will. 


According to one of his most notable biographers, Joseph Ellis, Washington possessed no moral anxiety over owning slaves.  According to Ellis, Washington talked and thought about his slaves as "a Species of Property," very much as he described his dogs and horses.  The view by this historian might suggest that Washington's professed love of liberty would not extend out to those who worked on his plantation.


After the Revolution, Washington told an English visitor, "I clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our union by consolidating it on a common bond of principle."  The buying and selling of slaves, as if they were "cattle in the market." especially outraged him.  He wrote to his friend John Francis Mercer in 1786, "I never mean ... to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees."  Ten years later he wrote to Robert Morris: "There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see some plan adopted for the abolition of slavery.”


In Washington’s portrait as President, Washington was mindful of the risk of splitting apart the young republic over the question of slavery.  He did not advocate the abolition of slavery while in office but did sign legislation enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory, writing to his good friend the Marquis de la Fayette that he considered it a wise measure.  Lafayette urged him to free his slaves as an example to others—Washington was held in such high regard after the revolution that there was reason to hope that if he freed his slaves, others would follow his example.


Lafayette purchased an estate in French Guiana and settled his own slaves there, and he offered a place for Washington's slaves, writing, "I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America if I could have conceived thereby that I was founding a land of slavery."  Washington did not free his slaves in his lifetime, but included a provision in his will to free the slaves upon the death of his wife.  Mrs. Washington did not wait on this and instead freed the Washington slaves on January 1, 1801.  Billy Lee was the only slave freed outright upon George Washington's death.


One of Washington's slaves, Oney Judge Staines, escaped the Executive Mansion in Philadelphia in 1796 and lived the rest of her life free in New Hampshire.


Religious Beliefs:  Washington's religious views are a matter of some controversy.

There is considerable evidence that indicates he, like numerous other men of his time, was a Deist—believing in God but not believing in revelation or miracles.  As a young man before the Revolution, when the Church of England was still the state religion in Virginia, he served as a vestryman (lay officer) for his local church.  He spoke often of the value of prayer, righteousness, and seeking and offering thanks for the "blessings of Heaven."  He sometimes accompanied his wife to Christian church services; however, there is no record of his ever becoming a communicant in any Christian church, and he would regularly leave services before communion—with the other non-communicants.


When Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, mentioned in a weekly sermon that those in elevated stations set an unhappy example by leaving at communion, Washington ceased attending at all on communion Sundays.  Long after Washington died, asked about Washington's beliefs, Abercrombie replied: "Sir, Washington was a Deist!"  Various prayers said to have been composed by him in his later life are highly edited.  He did not ask for any clergy on his deathbed, though one was available.  His funeral services were those of the Freemasons at the request of his wife, Martha.


Washington was an early supporter of religious pluralism.  In 1775 he ordered that his troops should not burn the pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Night.  In 1790 he wrote to Jewish leaders that he envisioned a country "which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance . . . May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Military Career:  Washington seems to have been confident he could make an efficient adjutant at the age of 20, though he was then without military experience.  In November 1752 he was appointed adjutant of the southern district of Virginia by Governor Robert Dinwiddie.

First Mission:  During the following summer, Virginia was alarmed by reports that a French expedition from Canada was establishing posts on the headwaters of the Ohio River and seeking to make treaties with the Native American peoples.  Governor Dinwiddie received orders from Britain to demand an immediate French withdrawal, and Major Washington promptly volunteered to carry the governor’s message to the French commander.  His ambition at this time was to secure royal preference for a commission in the regular British army, and this expedition promised to bring him to the king’s attention.

Washington took with him a skillful and experienced frontiersman, Christopher Gist, together with an interpreter and four other men.  Reaching the forks of the Ohio, he found that the French had withdrawn northward for the winter.  After inconclusive negotiations with the Native Americans living there, who were members of the Iroquois Confederacy, he pressed on and finally delivered Dinwiddie’s message to the French commander at Fort Le Boeuf, not far from Lake Erie. 

The answer was polite but firm: The French were there to stay.  Returning, Washington reached Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia, to deliver this word to the governor in mid-January 1754, having made a hard wilderness journey of more than 1600 km (1000 mi) in less than three months.  With his report he submitted a map of his route and a strong recommendation that an English fort be erected at the forks of the Ohio as quickly as possible, before the French returned to that strategic position in the spring.

Dinwiddie, who was himself a large stockholder in companies exploiting western lands, acted promptly on this suggestion.  He sent William Trent with a small force to start building the fort.  Major Washington was to raise a column of 200 men to follow and reinforce the advance party.

Promotion:  This was Washington’s first experience with the difficulties of raising troops while lacking equipment, clothing, and funds.  Apparently he thought his efforts worthy of some recognition and successfully applied to Dinwiddie for a lieutenant colonel’s commission.  He left Alexandria, Virginia, early in April with about 150 poorly equipped and half-trained troops.

First Encounter of George Washington in Battle with French Troops:  Before he had advanced very far, Washington received news that the French had driven Trent’s men back from the Ohio forks.  He did not turn back, but pushed on to establish an advanced position from which, when reinforced, he hoped to turn the tables.  He set part of his men to work building a log stockade, which he named Fort Necessity.  On May 27, 1754, he surprised a French force in the woods and routed it after a short battle.  The French commander, Ensign Joseph Coulon, Sieur de Jumonville, was killed in the clash, and Washington took prisoners back to Fort Necessity.  He had won his first victory.

Washington Surrender at Jumonville:  The French, on hearing of Jumonville’s death, sent out a larger force.  Unfortunately for Washington, these troops reached Fort Necessity before he had received either the men or the supplies he expected from Virginia.  On July 3 the fort was attacked by the French and some Iroquois who had allied with them, beginning what would be called the French and Indian War (1754-1763).  The fort did not have the soldiers or arms to hold out.  However, the French offered surrender terms that were not humiliating: The Virginians were to abandon the fort and withdraw to their own settlements, leaving two hostages for good faith. Washington’s papers and journal were taken, and he was to sign a surrender document.  Washington accepted the terms on July 4 after the surrender document was translated for him and did not appear to contain any offensive statements.

Back in Williamsburg, Washington had become famous.  The victory over Jumonville was applauded, and he was not blamed for surrendering his fort to superior forces.  The expedition was written up in a British magazine and thereby came to the attention of the king, George II.  The magazine quoted Washington as saying that he found “something charming” in the sound of the bullets whizzing past his head at the Jumonville skirmish.  At this the king remarked, “He would not say so if he had been used to hearing many.”

Repercussions:  There were two repercussions that caused Washington some regrets. First, he found that his translator had been mistaken.  An accurate translation of the surrender document showed it to contain the phrase “assassination of Sieur de Jumonville,” implying that Washington had killed the French commander dishonorably.  Secondly, the French published a translation of Washington’s journal. But it was heavily edited and the emphasis changed to make it appear that the French soldiers were merely on a diplomatic mission.  Representatives of King George inquired into the matter but were satisfied that Washington had acted correctly.  He was not held to account for the mistake of his translator.

Aide de Camp:  Washington had succeeded in getting the king’s attention, but he did not get the royal commission he hoped for.  The king’s military advisers, while admitting his “courage and resolution,” believed that officers in the British regular army were better qualified to lead troops against the French.  Later in 1754, the Virginia military was reorganized in accordance with that opinion, now made policy: Regular army officers coming from Britain would now have command over officers who held colonial commissions.  This meant that Washington might find himself reporting to officers he outranked and whom had less experience than he had.  Finding that possibility intolerable, he resigned his commission.  However, a strong British force under Major General Edward Braddock arrived early in 1755 with orders to drive the French from Fort Duquesne, which they had built at the forks of the Ohio. Washington’s local military reputation was such that Braddock invited him to join the staff as a volunteer aide-de-camp.

The advance was slow, and the British soldiers were not at their best in forest warfare.  On July 9, 1755, the column was surprised and routed by the French and their Native American allies, only 11 km (7 mi) from Fort Duquesne.  The British troops, in Washington’s words, were “immediately struck with such a deadly Panick that nothing but confusion prevailed amongst them.”  Braddock was mortally wounded.  Washington did his best to try to rally the regulars and to use a few Virginia troops to cover the retreat.  His coolness and bravery under fire enhanced his reputation.

Militia Commander:  The western frontier of Virginia was now dangerously exposed, and in August 1755, Governor Dinwiddie appointed Washington commander in chief of all the colony’s troops, with the rank of colonel.  For the next three years, Washington struggled with the bitter and endless problems of frontier defense.  He never had enough resources to establish more than a patchwork of security, but he acquired valuable experience in the conduct of war with the logistical and political problems peculiar to American conditions.  In the fall of 1758 he had the satisfaction of commanding a Virginia regiment under British General John Forbes, who recovered Fort Duquesne from the French and renamed it Fort Pitt.

With Virginia’s strategic objective attained, Colonel Washington resigned his commission and turned his attention to the quieter life of a Virginia planter.  In January 1759 he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a charming and wealthy young widow.

Virginia Farmer:  As a farmer, Washington showed eager interest in improving the productivity of his fields and the quality of his livestock.  He read all available works on progressive agriculture and constantly experimented in crop rotation.  He invested in new implements and used new methods and fertilizers.  He found that planting only tobacco, the chief cash crop of Virginia, did not pay.  It was too dependent on the weather, the state of the British market, and the honesty of the British agents who managed the overseas end of the transactions.  He developed fisheries, increased his production of wheat, set up a mill and an ironworks, and taught his slaves cloth-weaving and other handicrafts.

Washington Matured in Society and Politics:  During his years as a gentleman farmer, Washington matured from an ambitious youth into the patriarch of the Washington clan and a solid member of Virginia society.  He remained somewhat shy and reserved throughout his life.  He was sensitive and emotional, with a violent temper that he usually held firmly in check.  But most of all he was a man of great personal dignity.  His connection with the wealthy and powerful Fairfax family, through his half-brother Lawrence’s marriage, perhaps as much as his own energies, made him a wealthy landowner and, from 1759 to 1774, a member of the House of Burgesses, the lower chamber of the Virginia legislature.  In all, as Washington prospered and his responsibilities grew, his character was enriched and grew to keep pace.

Washington’s perspective broadened, and he became involved in the protests of Virginians against the restrictions of British rule. He became yearly more convinced that the king’s ministers and British merchants and financiers regarded Americans as inferior and sought to control “our whole substance.” His wartime experience had given him ample evidence of the contempt felt by British military men for colonial officers. Now he began to see the deepening division between the true interests of the American people and the view held of those interests in Britain. As a member of the House of Burgesses he opposed such measures as the 1765 Stamp Act, which imposed a tax on the colonies without consulting them, and he foresaw that British policy was moving toward doing away with self-government in America altogether.

Washington’s anti-British feelings were strengthened by the introduction of the Townshend Acts in 1767.  These acts imposed more unpopular taxes.  His voice joined in Virginia’s decision in 1770 to retaliate by banning taxable British goods from the colony.  His belief in the colonies’ right of free action resounds in his words written to Virginia statesman George Mason: “... as a last resource ...Americans should be prepared to take up arms to defend their ancestral liberties from the inroads of our lordly Masters in Great Britain.”

Political Leader:  By 1774, when the spirit of American resistance was well developed, Washington had become one of the key Virginians supporting the colonial cause.  He was elected to the First Continental Congress, an assembly of delegates from the colonies to decide on actions to take against Britain.  Although he did not enter much into debate, his viewpoint was uniformly sound and acceptable.  However, he knew that more than paper resolutions would be needed to safeguard American liberties, and he spent the winter of 1774 and 1775 organizing militia companies in Virginia.

When Washington attended the Second Continental Congress in May 1775, he appeared in the blue and buff uniform of the Fairfax County militia.  These colors were later adopted for the army of the colonies, called the Continental Army.  As he entered the hall, the country was already ringing with the news from Massachusetts, where the battles at Lexington and Concord had been fought, and the only British army in the colonies was besieged in Boston by the militia of the surrounding towns.

General of the Continental Army:  On June 15, 1775, the Continental Congress unanimously elected George Washington as general and commander in chief of its army.  He was chosen for two basic reasons.  First, he was respected for his military abilities, his selflessness, and his strong commitment to colonial freedom. Secondly, Washington was a Virginian, and it was hoped that his appointment would bind the Southern colonies more closely to the rebellion in New England.  Congressman John Adams of Massachusetts was the moving spirit in securing the command for Washington.  He realized that, although the war had begun in Massachusetts, success could come only if all 13 colonies were united in their protest and in their willingness to fight.

On June 25, 1775, Washington set out for Massachusetts, and on July 3, he halted his horse under an elm on the common in Cambridge, drew his sword, and formally took command of the Continental Army.  In his general order of the following day, Washington’s emphasis was on unity: “... it is to be hoped that all distinction of colonies will be laid aside, so that one and the same spirit may animate the whole, and the only contest be, who shall render, on this great and trying occasion, the most essential service to the common cause in which we are all engaged.”  To this high ideal of unity in a common cause, Washington remained unswervingly loyal through many trials and disappointments.  Indeed, he was to become the living symbol of a national unity that at times seemed to have little actual substance.

Building an Army that was Disorganized and Undisciplined: Washington found his army in high spirits due to the heavy losses inflicted on the British troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17.  He was pleased at what had been done toward entrenching the semicircular American front, but he was appalled at the disorganization and lack of discipline among his soldiers and the officers’ ignorance of their duties.  Also, he soon realized that the term of service of most of his men was soon to expire, producing for him the double task of trying to train one army while raising another to take its place.

Washington began at once to impress these difficulties on Congress, pointing to the need for longer terms of enlistment.  He asked for better pay, which alone could induce men to enlist for the necessary term.  Almost immediately he came up against Congress’s fear that a standing army would bring with it the peril of a military dictatorship.  The legislators only gradually understood that the immediate peril of political dictatorship by the king’s ministers was much more real than a possible future threat of a military dictator.

However, Washington did the best he could with the available means.  He took stern measures to restore discipline.  Insubordination and desertion were punished by flogging with the cat-o’-nine-tails.  A few deserters, especially those who repeated the offense, were hanged.  The worst problem of supply was the shortage of gunpowder.  It hampered all of Washington’s plans for months, and appeals to neighboring colonies brought little help.

Siege of Boston:  Meanwhile, the only British army in North America remained cooped up in Boston throughout the winter.  There was no real fighting, but Washington was preparing a surprise for Sir William Howe, the British commander. During the winter 50 heavy cannon from the captured British Fort Ticonderoga in northern New York were dragged by sled to Boston.  In a brilliant move, Washington mounted the cannon on Dorchester Heights, which commanded the city.  Howe, recognizing that his position was untenable, evacuated the city by sea on March 17, 1776.  From there the British went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Howe awaited reinforcements from across the Atlantic.  The rebellious American colonies were, for the time being, entirely free of British troops.

Appeal to Congress:  Amid much public praise and rejoicing, Washington arrived in New York City, which was the obvious objective of the British forces now gathering in Nova Scotia.  Having seen to the immediate measures necessary for the defense of that city, he proceeded to Philadelphia with the aim of persuading Congress to rectify the enlistment situation.  This time he came in the bright glow of victory, which gave authority to his arguments.

Congress not only authorized three-year enlistments for the future, but also voted bounties for the enlistees.  In addition, a permanent Board of War and Ordnance was created to deal with military matters in place of the makeshift committees that had previously held this responsibility.  However, these measures, although wise, proved of no immediate help to Washington in meeting what was then his chief military problem: the forthcoming British attack on New York City.

Battle of Long Island

:  British ships carrying the first units of Howe’s army of 20,000 arrived in New York Bay on June 29, 1776, and the troops began landing on Staten Island.  By mid-August the British force, which included German mercenaries (soldiers serving merely for the pay), had increased to more than 30,000, backed by a powerful naval squadron.  Howe moved slowly, and this gave Washington time to gather a considerable force of militia from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Even so, his total strength was not more than 18,000, and at least half of these had little or no training.

Washington feared that Howe’s opening move might be to send ships straight up the Hudson River to land a strong force behind the city.  However, the British general chose to begin his operations by landing on Long Island.  The only American fortifications there were at Brooklyn Heights, covering the approaches to the East River and Manhattan Island.  Some 9000 American troops, about half of Washington’s total force, were on Long Island when 20,000 British and German troops began landing at Gravesend Bay on August 22.  About 4000 of the Americans were deployed well in front of the Brooklyn Heights fortifications to observe and delay the enemy’s progress.

During the next 24 hours, working desperately against time—for at any moment the British warships might block his line of retreat—Washington gathered all the barges, boats, and small craft he could and assigned men from Colonel Glover’s Massachusetts regiment to operate them.  During the night of August 29, under Washington’s personal command and direction, the entire American force on Long Island, with all its stores, artillery, and equipment, was ferried across the East River to Manhattan without a single casualty.

Battle of Trenton:  On December 13, 1776, Major General Charles Lee was captured in New Jersey by a British patrol.  The command of his troops passed to Brigadier General John Sullivan, who immediately marched south to join Washington.  This raised the commander’s total force to about 6000.  Thus reinforced, Washington planned a victory that would electrify the entire country.  The British had pulled back most of their troops to winter in New York City, leaving scattered garrisons of German mercenaries in New Jersey.  These German troops were called Hessians because most of them were hired from the German state of Hessen-Kassel.  The nearest of these Hessian garrisons to Washington’s camp was at Trenton and consisted of about 1200 men.  Washington decided to capture this force and set the morning of December 26 for the attack.  He was reasonably sure that lonely troops in a foreign land would have had much alcohol to drink to celebrate Christmas Day and would still be groggy from the effects.  This was a good time to surprise them.

On December 25, despite a raging storm, Washington led his small army of 2500 across the ice-clogged Delaware.  The surprise was complete.  The Hessians’ scattered attempts at resistance collapsed in minutes, and the garrison at the next post fled in haste on receiving the news.  Washington was able to re-cross the Delaware with his prisoners and booty without interference.  But he considered Trenton only a beginning because he now received fresh troops that doubled the size of his forces. These were Pennsylvania militiamen who had been induced to extend their enlistments after Washington pledged his own money to cover their pay.  On December 29, with 5000 men, he again crossed the Delaware.

Battle of Princeton:  Washington’s objective now was to force the British to withdraw from New Jersey altogether and to station his army in a secure position in the hills near Morristown, New Jersey, on the flank of the British route to Philadelphia.  Attacked at Trenton by a British force under General Charles Cornwallis, he withdrew during the night of January 2, 1777.  He then circled around the British flank and, near Princeton, severely defeated three British regiments marching to reinforce Cornwallis.  Washington then again eluded the main body of British troops and moved north to Morristown.  By attacking Cornwallis’s supply lines, he forced the British to retreat to New York City.  Thus the British were compelled to abandon all but a small corner of New Jersey to American control. 

Capture of Philadelphia:  Howe wasted the first six months of 1777 on feeble skirmishing in northern New Jersey.  Washington met this with bold action.  Then, in July, when British General John Burgoyne was deep in the wilderness of northern New York state and fully committed, Howe loaded 14,000 troops aboard ship and sailed for Philadelphia, leaving Burgoyne to face inevitable disaster.

Washington could not expect to keep Howe out of Philadelphia, but for the sake of morale he would not give up the city without a fight.  In a defensive battle at Brandywine Creek on September 11 a turning movement by Cornwallis rolled up Washington’s right flank, but American Major General Nathanael Greene’s division fought a stout rear-guard action to cover the withdrawal of the defeated units.

Germantown:  On October 5, Washington made a surprise attack on the British at Germantown, west of Philadelphia, and gained initial successes that could not be maintained because of fog, confusing orders, and stout British resistance.  But Washington’s boldness in launching this attack so soon after his defeat at Brandywine Creek produced a favorable effect both at home and in France.  The news of Brandywine and Germantown reached Paris in December and gave the French government ministers enough confidence in Washington to recommend to King Louis XVI that he sign a treaty of alliance with the United States.  Soon afterward came news that Burgoyne had surrendered at the Battle of Saratoga, and the French king’s lingering doubts were overcome.

Valley Forge:  Howe’s army passed the winter in fairly comfortable quarters in Philadelphia.  Washington’s army wintered under conditions of extreme privation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where they could observe any move Howe made.  It was during this winter that a coalition of Congress members and discontented officers tried to replace Washington with General Horatio Gates, in a scheme known as the Conway Cabal.  However, the cabal’s end result was to establish Washington’s influence in the Continental Congress on a stronger foundation than before.

Alliance with France:  On May 1, 1778, Washington heard the news that transformed the nature of the war: A treaty of alliance had been signed between the United States and the king of France.  Washington’s reaction was immediate: “If there is war between France and Britain, Philadelphia is an ineligible situation for the Army under Sir William Howe.”  This remark is the first definite evidence of the idea taking form in Washington’s mind: to catch a British army in a situation where it could be hemmed in by a superior land force, with its escape or reinforcement by sea cut off. Washington did not know it, but blockading the British army in Philadelphia was exactly the enterprise that the French admiral the Comte d’Estaing, already at sea, had in mind. 

General Sir Henry Clinton, who took control of the British forces when Howe resigned that spring, was forewarned of the aim of the French fleet and withdrew his men and equipment to New York City.  Washington ordered an attack on the retreating British at Monmouth, New Jersey, on June 28, 1778, but the attack failed because of the perfidy of General Charles Lee, who had been released and had resumed his command.  Lee ordered his troops to retreat, an action that was revealed many years later as part of a plan of betrayal that he had agreed to with the British while they held him prisoner (see Monmouth, Battle of).

Savannah, Georgia was Lost :  During 1779, Washington strengthened the positions that held the main British army in New York City.  He also sent a strong expedition to lay waste the land of the Iroquois, whose British-incited raids on the frontier had become intolerable.  But there was little he could do to stem British successes in the south.  Savannah, Georgia, was lost in 1778 and Charles Town (now Charleston), South Carolina, in 1779, and Cornwallis had 5000 troops in the South to “reduce the Carolinas to the King’s obedience.”

Yorktown Victory:  The victory at Yorktown was one of Washington’s greatest triumphs.  He had been forced to check his strong urge for a “vigorous offensive” until the second French fleet arrived.  This happened in the late summer of 1781, and Washington with great energy coordinated a sea and land operation against Cornwallis’s force that trapped it in the city.  With the British surrender on October 19, Washington obtained the victory he hoped would end the war.  The following March the House of Commons, a chamber of Britain’s Parliament, declared its unwillingness to support the war in America.

End of Hostilities:  Washington’s judgment, patience, and soldierly fortitude had established the military foundation on which U.S. independence was to be erected. However, his duties as commander in chief were not yet ended.  Although hostilities had virtually ceased by April 1782, Washington knew that the British king, George III, had yielded to the wishes of the House of Commons reluctantly.  He was most anxious that there should be no visible relaxation of American vigilance while the peace negotiations dragged along their weary course.  “There is nothing,” he wrote, “which will so soon produce a speedy and honorable peace, as a state of preparedness for war.”

Washington rejected, with anger and abhorrence, a suggestion, which had some support in the army, of establishing a monarchy with himself as king.  In March 1783, with Congress still dawdling, anonymous letters appeared calling a meeting of officers.  Washington promptly broke this up by calling a meeting on his own authority.  He begged the officers to do nothing “that would tarnish the reputation of an army which is celebrated throughout Europe for its fortitude and patriotism.”  His appeal averted what might have been serious trouble.

Return to Mount Vernon:  Peace was officially proclaimed on April 19, 1783, but not until November 25, as the last British boats put off to the ships, did Washington’s troops enter New York City.  On December 4, Washington took leave of his principal officers at Fraunces Tavern and departed at last for home and the peace and quiet of a planter’s life.  He stopped at Annapolis, Maryland, where Congress was temporarily meeting, to take his leave of the civilian power he had always so meticulously obeyed and to surrender his commission as commander in chief.  He reached Mount Vernon on Christmas Eve of 1783.  There he hoped ardently, as he wrote in a letter at the time, to remain “a private citizen, under the shadow of my own vine and my own figtree [and] move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my fathers.”

At Mount Vernon, Washington found himself confronted by financial problems.  After eight years of relative neglect, Mount Vernon needed much rebuilding and there was little capital to do it with.  During the dark war years of 1778 to 1780, Washington had refused pay for his services and had unhesitatingly poured almost all of his private fortune into the purchase of loan certificates issued by Congress to finance the war.  This paper was of dubious value, either then or later.  But he made no complaint and firmly refused offers of a grant or other stipend from Congress.

Devoting Time to the Farms:  Washington spent a busy summer in 1784 devoting himself to his farms, making improvements on his mansion, and entertaining countless visitors, some uninvited and unwelcome.  Then in the fall he visited his lands in the Ohio River valley, where he held more than 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres).  He found some of his property settled by squatters, who refused to move, and he could not reach his holdings near the mouth of the Kanawha River because of Native American unrest.  On his return journey he looked over the terrain of the region where the Potomac River’s headwaters are nearest those of the Monongahela. This investigation reflected his interest in creating a system of canals and portages that would give access, through the mountains, to the broad Western lands.

Potomac Waterways:  At Mount Vernon again in October 1784, Washington became absorbed in this new project.  A combination of waterways and roads connecting the Potomac with the Ohio valley would benefit the nation by hastening settlement of the western lands, increasing trade, and binding the settlers closer to the United States.

Washington asked the Virginia legislature to pass measures providing for a company managed jointly with Maryland to make the Potomac navigable.  The legislature complied with Washington’s request and appointed him as Virginia’s representative in negotiations with Maryland.  After conferences at Annapolis he had the satisfaction of seeing his proposal embodied in identical bills passed by the two state legislatures to create the Potomac Company, complete with an appropriation of money to get the plan under way.  Washington’s own careful preparation, and rough but effective surveys of the region of the headwaters, had played an important part in achieving this agreement in little more than three months.

Mount Vernon Conference:  The Potomac Company laws were immediately followed by an agreement between Virginia and Maryland assuring freedom of navigation on the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay on a basis of complete equality.  The commissioners who met at Alexandria, Virginia, to draft the details of this pact were greeted by Washington and invited to adjourn to the quiet comfort of Mount Vernon.  There, in March 1785, they signed the agreement.  It included, apparently at Washington’s suggestion, a provision for annual consultations between representatives of the two legislatures to deal with commercial questions.”

Shay’s Rebellion:  Washington was shocked over news of Shays’ Rebellion, an insurrection led by debt-ridden farmers against the government of Massachusetts in 1786.  A letter from his old comrade Henry Knox, now secretary of war, indicated that the federal government was almost helpless to deal with the insurrection. Washington wrote to Madison at Richmond urging that Virginia make haste to set a good example in seeking a stronger central government.  “Without some alteration in our political creed, the superstructure we have been seven years raising at the expense of so much blood and treasure, must fall.  We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion.”

Constitutional Convention:  At Philadelphia, Washington was elected president of the convention.  In the weary days of labor and successive crises that followed, he made little public contribution to the debates.  He kept scrupulously to the impartiality he believed was the duty of the presiding officer.  Off the floor, however, it was otherwise.  His deep concern for the future of the nation was somehow conveyed not only to his fellow delegates, but also to the country at large.  “To please all is impossible,” Washington wrote, “and to attempt it would be vain.”  To New York delegate Governor Morris he said, “If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work?  Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.  The event is in the hands of God.”  On September 17, 1787, the convention’s work was done.  The completed Constitution of the United States received the formal signatures of the delegates, and the convention adjourned.

Ratification:  The next day Washington started for home, bent once more on quiet withdrawal from the turmoil of public life, but already disturbed by suggestions that he and only he could fill the new office that the Constitution, when ratified, would create; that of president of the United States.

Ratification by nine states was required before the new government could be organized, and Washington, whatever his qualms about the presidency, threw himself with vigor into the struggle.  He was convinced that the Constitution was the best that could be hoped for at the time, and his anger was roused by those, especially in his own Virginia, who wanted to call a new convention and start all over again.  He was startled to find, from many sources, that the most appealing argument in favor of the Constitution was simply that George Washington had signed and approved it.  To Washington himself the issue was simple.  The choice lay between ratification of the proposals of the convention, or “a continued drift toward ruin.”  He hammered home this point at every opportunity.  Through the spring and early summer of 1788 the struggle dragged on in 13 state capitals.  In June the great decision became final when New Hampshire produced the ninth and decisive ratification of the Constitution.

Elections of 1789

:  Under the terms of the Constitution, the formal election for president was done by electors, who were collectively called the Electoral College. Each elector was to vote for the two persons he considered most qualified; the winner would be the president, and the runner-up would be the vice president.  The electors themselves were chosen January 7, 1789, by the direct vote of the people in some states, and by the legislature in other states.  The electors met in each state on February 4 and unanimously voted for George Washington, who thereby became president. 

Their second choice, far from unanimous, was John Adams of Massachusetts.  This pleased Washington because he had feared that the vice presidency might go to Governor George Clinton of New York, who favored drastic amendment of the Constitution.  Washington, considering these amendments dangerous, had allowed word to go out that votes for Adams would be agreeable to him because he considered Adams to be a “safe man” and a strong supporter of the Constitution. Also, Washington still had a lingering hope that, after getting the new government well started, he might resign from office and hasten home to Mount Vernon.  He could not reconcile this hope with his conscience unless a man he considered safe was next in line of succession.

“My movements to the chair of government,” he wrote to Henry Knox, “will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of execution .... I am sensible that I am embarking the voice of the people and a good name of my own on this voyage; but what returns will be made for them, Heaven alone can foretell.”  Washington’s state of mind was probably not improved by the embarrassing fact that he had to borrow $600 from a wealthy neighbor to pay a few pressing debts and meet the expenses of his removal to New York City, where the seat of government was still provisionally maintained.

In mid-April Congress sent Washington official notice of his election as president. His journey northward was one continuous triumphant progress.  On April 30, 1789, Washington took the oath of office on the portico of Federal Hall, on Wall Street, New York City, in the presence of Vice President Adams, both houses of the newly organized Congress of the United States, and an enormous throng of cheering townsfolk.  Immediately thereafter he delivered his inaugural address to Congress, a short and modest effort that contained only one specific political suggestion.  He suggested that, while Congress must decide how far it would go in proposing amendments to the Constitution, its members “would carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of a united and effective government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience.”

Constitutional Amendments:  Washington knew that there was a widespread wish to add a Bill of Rights to the original Constitution, specifying in plain words the inalienable rights of individual citizens, and this he approved.  But he also knew that an attempt might be made to bring forward amendments eliminating the clauses that gave Congress power to levy taxes, including customs duties on imports, and to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states.  These provisions had been hotly debated in the convention, and although adopted, were bitterly disliked by such powerful political figures as Clinton and Virginia statesman Patrick Henry.  To Washington, however, they provided the means of regaining fiscal stability and restoring the national credit, and were therefore indispensable.

Feeling as strongly as he did on these points, it is significant that Washington should have used such restraint in letting Congress know of his sentiments.  He held himself in check because he was resolved above all else not to overstep the limits of his branch of government, the executive, as established by the Constitution.  He scrupulously respected the independence of the legislative and judicial branches of government.  He was especially anxious to set no precedents that would start a dangerous trend toward monarchy or any form of dictatorship, but at the same time he was determined to be a strong president, not merely a figurehead.

If Washington entered on his first days as president with anything like a basic political philosophy, it perhaps was developed from his dealings with Congress during the war.  He learned to keep a balance between the views and interests of the propertied class, naturally conservative in its tendencies, and the more liberal outlook of the farmers and artisans who made up the bulk of the population.  His own background, both political and economic, inclined him to the conservative viewpoint. He was aware of this tendency and tried to give recognition to more liberal points of view as he set about organizing the executive branch.

First Session of Congress:  Under the Constitution, Congress moved slowly at first, with long debates on most subjects and a tendency to be jealous of its prerogatives. But a satisfactory tariff (tax on imports) bill, promising to provide the government with an adequate source of revenue, came to Washington for signature in June. Congress also called on the executive branch to submit to the next session a plan for disposing of the national debt.  The controversial decision on the location of the permanent seat of government was also postponed to the next session, and ten constitutional amendments, to be known as the Bill of Rights, were approved for consideration by the states.  None of these were objectionable to the president.

By September, as the session was drawing to a close, bills had been passed establishing the three executive departments represented in the president’s Cabinet: State, Treasury, and War.  Provision was also made for a federal judiciary comprising a Supreme Court of one chief justice and five associate justices, and 13 district courts. An attorney general was to be the government’s principal law officer.  Here were Washington’s first really important appointments, and he chose with care.  Typically, although he had some preliminary discussions and had his mind pretty well made up, he made no specific offer until the offices legally existed.

Cabinet:  For his immediate circle of advisers, Washington sought to maintain a balance between liberals and conservatives.  The Cabinet members, who were the heads of their departments, were called secretaries.  As secretary of the treasury he chose Alexander Hamilton, whose views on government finance Washington fully approved.  As secretary of war his unhesitating choice was his faithful friend Henry Knox, who had held that appointment under the Confederation.  Both these men had conservative views: For liberal balance, Washington offered the post of attorney general to Edmund Randolph of Virginia.  Randolph, a lawyer of high repute, had performed brilliantly as one of the leaders in the Constitutional Convention, but refused to sign the finished document because he thought it “insufficiently republican” in tenor.

Later, however, he supported ratification.  The remaining choice, that of secretary of state, troubled Washington.  He knew that another well-tried friend, John Jay of New York, who had handled foreign affairs under the old government, wanted, and expected to be asked, to continue in that task.  However, the wealthy Jay would have overbalanced Washington’s advisers to the conservative side, with resultant criticism and difficulties.  To resolve the dilemma, Washington nominated Jay as chief justice of the Supreme Court and left the State Department post vacant for the time being.  He was awaiting the return home of his fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson, who was at that time U.S. diplomatic representative to France.

Although Washington did not know Jefferson intimately, Jefferson’s fame as the drafter of the Declaration of Independence had given him national prestige.  More importantly, Washington foresaw U.S. foreign policy as based on continued French support against the British, and Jefferson’s five years in Paris provided the right background for guiding such a policy.  Also, it was well known that Jefferson had pronounced liberal leanings in domestic affairs.  Thus, the political equilibrium of the executive branch would be maintained.

Foreign Policy:  The first session of the 1789 Congress saw two important foreign policy precedents established by President Washington.  He had thought of his constitutional power to negotiate treaties “with the advice and consent of the Senate [the upper house of Congress]” as perhaps requiring him to appear personally before the Senate to seek such advice before starting to negotiate a treaty.  He tried this procedure once, in connection with a proposed treaty with the Creek nation.  But the senators argued over every little detail, and Washington went away muttering that he would never try this again.  He concluded instead that it was better for the chief executive to carry through the delicate process of treaty negotiation first, and then submit the finished product for the Senate’s advice and consent.  This procedure has been followed ever since.

Also, Washington initiated the convenient practice of using nonpermanent executive agents, who did not require confirmation by the Senate, in the conduct of informal or preliminary negotiations with foreign powers.  In the first use of this method, Washington requested Governor Morris, then traveling in Europe, to sound out the view of the British ministry regarding a commercial treaty with the United States.

Social Activities:  He received visitors only by appointment except at two receptions each week for those who desired merely to pay their respects.  He made no visits himself.  Mrs. Washington held a weekly reception of her own, at which the president usually appeared for a time.  There was some objection to the ceremony the president thought appropriate to his office.  His use of six cream-colored horses to draw his carriage on occasions of ceremony, the servants in his hall with powdered hair, and his elaborate dinners were all criticized as exhibiting monarchical tendencies.  For the support of his establishment the president had a salary fixed by Congress at $25,000 a year.  Determined to make no profit from public service, Washington saw to it that expenses slightly exceeded this sum.

National Finance:  When Congress reconvened in January 1790, by far the most important business was the financial plan submitted by Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton.  It called for the paying of arrears in interest on the national debt and the funding of the principal.  It also proposed the assumption by the national government of the war debts of the individual states.  Payment of the foreign debt was to be supported by negotiating new loans abroad at lower interest rates.  Revenue from higher tariffs on some items and an excise tax on spirits distilled in the United States would meet the interest on the domestic debt.

Illness:  In the spring of 1790, Washington was felled by a severe cold and then by influenza.  For several days it was thought that he could not live.  The illness and the anxiety it caused throughout the country underlined Washington’s importance to the new nation.  Abigail Adams, wife of the vice president, wrote: “It appears to me that the union of the states and consequently the permanency of the government depend under Providence upon his life.  At this early day when neither our finances are arranged nor our government sufficiently cemented to promise duration, his death would ... have ... the most disastrous consequences.”

Location of the Permanent Seat of Government:  At the time of Washington’s illness the question of the location for the permanent seat of government arose again and became entangled with the debate over Hamilton’s proposed financial legislation. The result was perhaps the first example in congressional history of the practice of logrolling.  This expression came from the frontier and originally referred to the help that settlers gave each other in building their log cabins.  Jefferson helped Hamilton by lending support to Hamilton’s financial proposals, and Hamilton in turn supported Jefferson’s efforts to locate the seat of government on the Potomac River.

The seat-of-government proposal was passed in July 1790.  Philadelphia was to serve as the capital until 1800, when a federal district on the Potomac would be established. The finance bill, a simplified form of Hamilton’s original draft, but embodying its essential features except for the excise tax on whiskey, came to Washington for signature on August 2.  Washington was pleased with both accomplishments and with the teamwork developed by his Cabinet members on these issues.

Establishment of the First Bank:  In December 1790 he submitted a proposal for the chartering of a national bank with a capital stock of $10 million.  A dispute immediately arose over whether Congress had the power to charter a bank.  The text of the Constitution did not say so explicitly, and the argument was heated.  Along with the bank proposal, Hamilton asked again for an excise tax on distilled spirits, the production of which was rising rapidly.  The bank bill won final passage in February 1791, amid protests by opponents that it was unconstitutional. 

With the bill presented to him for signature, Washington now had to decide the question.  He consulted his advisers, and this time Jefferson and Hamilton locked horns.  Jefferson asserted that the bank bill was unconstitutional because the Constitution nowhere vested Congress in plain words with power to charter a bank.  Hamilton’s opposing view was vigorously expressed: The Constitution did give Congress wide powers in such matters as taxation, payment of the public debt, coining of money, and regulation of commerce.  To Hamilton a national bank was essential for the effective exercise of these powers.

Washington signed the bill in February 1791, creating the first Bank of the United States.  The excise bill was passed on March 1 and also approved.

Foreign Relations:  The French Revolution, which had begun in 1789, soon brought on the general European conflict known as the French Revolutionary Wars.  American sentiments were deeply divided.  The Hamiltonians generally supported Britain while the Jeffersonians sided with America’s ally, France.  In North America not only were the British constantly at work stirring up trouble and distributing arms to Native Americans on the northwestern frontier, but their allies, the Spanish governors at New Orleans, kept close contact with the southwestern Native American peoples and intrigued with various American adventurers who dreamed of wilderness empires.

Washington realized that the United States was still too weak to risk war if it could honorably be avoided.  Most Americans resented British hostility.  Washington hoped for eventual conciliation with Spain, expansion of trade with the Spanish West Indies, and free navigation of the Mississippi River.

France was a special case.  By the wartime treaty of 1778, France and the United States were allies.  But France was now in the throes of revolution, and its future was uncertain.  Moreover, by 1792, the excesses of the revolutionary party in France seemed likely to result in war between France and Britain.  For Washington this situation was complicated by strong partisan enthusiasm among many Americans for the cause of the French Revolution.

Growth of Faction:  On Washington’s 60th birthday, which was marked by nationwide celebrations, he seems to have hoped that he was about to enter on his last year in public office.  He sought to persuade himself that the deepening differences between his two principal advisers, Jefferson and Hamilton, did not imply personal animosity, though he had to admit that these differences were fundamental, representing basically differing philosophies of government.  This realization troubled Washington all the more because in his own concept of federal government public servants should work in amity for the public good, whether in the executive branch or in Congress.

He regarded partisan contests, which he called faction, with horror.  However, during 1792, Washington became convinced that faction was becoming an established element of American political life and that his two chief advisers had to be regarded as rival leaders whose political differences could not be reconciled.  The Hamiltonians evolved into the Federalist Party, and the Jeffersonians organized what was to become the Democratic-Republican Party.

Re-election:  As the 1792 election drew near, the President’s advisers were unanimous in their opinion that the times were too perilous for the nation to risk a transfer of the executive power to a new president.  Washington must be president for a second term.  About this time an event occurred that caused him to agree.  He vetoed a plan to reapportion seats in the House of Representatives because, he believed, it was unconstitutional.  It favored the Northern states over the Southern and, although Washington carefully avoided any mention of this in listing his objections, a congressional uproar resulted that was divided along sectional lines.

Washington told Jefferson that he was anxious over this growing tendency of the North and South to part ways on political matters.  He expressed fear that this might eventually bring about the dissolution of the Union.  Jefferson’s answer was firm: “North and South will hang together if they have you to hang on.”  Washington saw himself as an impartial administrator whose enormous personal popularity could be used to channel sectional feeling into a trust in the federal government.  Therefore he could not allow himself to do what he most wanted to do: publish a farewell address and retire from public life.  Instead he said nothing on the subject, with the inevitable result that he was again the unanimous choice of the electors in the 1792 presidential election.  Adams was again elected vice president.

Second Term as President

:  On March 4, 1793, in a brief ceremony, Washington was inaugurated for his second term of office.  Just two weeks after the inauguration, news reached Philadelphia of the execution in France of King Louis XVI.  Two weeks later came the word that Washington had feared: Revolutionary France had declared war on Britain, Spain, and the Netherlands.

George Washington wanted to maintain neutrality and stay out of the war triggered by the French and to maintain a strict neutrality to prevent “the citizens from embroiling us with either France or England.”  As Washington must have foreseen, his advisers did not agree.  The result was uneasy compromise.  American neutrality was proclaimed in a document that did not actually use the word.  The new diplomat would be received.  The treaties stood, but they should be cautiously interpreted.  A storm of criticism beset these decisions from every quarter.

Violation of Neutral Rights:  In late August 1793 a dispatch arrived from the American diplomat in London, Thomas Pinckney.  It informed Washington of a British order in council of June 8, 1793, that directed British warships to seize cargoes of grain or flour bound for France in neutral ships.  This was, from the British viewpoint, a perfectly logical act.  To Americans, however, the British order was an outrageous invasion of neutral rights.  When the news spread, angry mobs demonstrated near Washington’s house in Philadelphia.  However, these riots ended with the a house in Germantown for his temporary use and carefully considered whether he had the constitutional right to ask Congress to meet in any place other than that appointed by law.

Threat of War:  In the spring of 1794 the danger of war with Britain increased. British warships were seizing all neutral vessels trading with the French West Indies, and Washington approved a 30-day embargo on all sailings from U.S. ports to avoid further encounters.  However, a report soon came that the British government had rescinded the order affecting trade with the French West Indies.  This dangerous situation had produced one desirable result: Congress agreed to authorize the construction of six frigates.  These were the first additions to the navy since the revolution.

Tensions still ran high, and a constructive effort to preserve the peace seemed urgent. Washington resolved to send a special envoy to London to try to find some basis of agreement with the British ministers.  His choice fell on Chief Justice John Jay.  There were immediate protests from Jeffersonians, and Secretary of State Randolph insisted that Jay should not be empowered to negotiate a commercial treaty. Washington stood firm and left Jay free to use his own judgment, though he himself seems to have laid strong emphasis on securing British agreement to evacuate the northern frontier posts.

Jay sailed from New York on May 12, 1794.  A week later came news that the British commander at Detroit, one of the posts in question, had sent troops to erect a fort on the Maumee River in northwestern Ohio.  Farther south, the frontier difficulties followed familiar patterns: Kentuckians were clashing with the Spaniards in the Mississippi River Valley, and Georgian squatters were pushing ever deeper into territory that by treaty belonged to the Creek.

Whiskey Rebellion:  Bad news also came from western Pennsylvania, where three of Genêt’s democratic societies had become focal points of rebellion over the excise tax on whiskey.  Officers collecting the tax met with increasing resistance.  The house of the district inspector of excise was burned, and gatherings of armed people took place.  Washington could not “suffer the laws to be trampled upon with impunity, for there is an end to representative government.”  He saw the threat of western uprising as “the first formidable fruit of the democratic societies.”

Governor Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania reported that the state could not muster enough militia to suppress the rebellion.  Washington therefore summoned the militias of New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, providing a total force of some 15,000.  When these troops moved into the affected area, resistance immediately collapsed.  The Whiskey Rebellion was over by the end of November.

The Battle of Fallen Timbers:  Meanwhile, Washington was cheered by the news that Major General Anthony Wayne won a decisive victory over a coalition of northwestern Native American peoples at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, near the present site of Toledo, Ohio, on August 20, 1794.  This battle and the systematic devastation of their fields and villages that followed broke the power of these nations for a generation.

Jay’s Treaty:  As Congress adjourned in March 1795, Washington was still anxiously awaiting word from Jay.  Unofficial word from ship captains and travelers indicated that a treaty with Britain had been negotiated.  Speculation in Jeffersonian newspapers about the terms of the treaty proclaimed it a sellout of U.S. interests. When Washington received the text of Jay’s Treaty, together with Jay’s bleak statement that “to do more was not possible,” he realized that the treaty would be exceedingly unpopular. 

Viewed in terms of meeting U.S. hopes, its only real accomplishment was a firm promise to evacuate the northwestern forts by June 1, 1796.  But, in Washington’s view, the treaty accomplished his basic purpose in sending Jay to Britain.  It provided solid insurance against a disastrous war with Britain if only the Senate could be induced to ratify it.  Its concessions to British maritime policy were heavy, but, with Wayne’s victory, the treaty consolidated the U.S. hold on the great Northwest Territory.  Improved relations with the world’s greatest sea power in turn provided assurance of American commercial prosperity and preservation of Hamilton’s structure of national credit.

On June 8, 1795, Washington called the Senate into special session to consider the treaty.  After 16 days of fierce debate behind closed doors, the treaty was approved by a vote of 20 to 10, exactly the two-thirds majority needed.  Meanwhile the country was swept by a violent outburst against the treaty as its provisions became known.

Randolph’s Apparent Betrayal:  But all of this was unimportant compared to the terrible blow that now befell Washington.  It came without warning, on his return to Philadelphia from a brief visit to Mount Vernon.  He was confronted by Secretary of War Timothy Pickering and Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr., with what seemed irrefutable proof that Secretary of State Randolph, his lifelong friend, had been secretly seeking money from the French diplomat Joseph Fauchet in return for using his influence against Jay’s Treaty.

Washington decided that he must sign the treaty at once, before bringing Randolph’s guilt or innocence under examination.  He signed it on August 18, 1795, against Randolph’s strong objections.  The next day he presented Randolph with the evidence against him in the presence of Pickering and Wolcott.  Randolph resigned, angrily proclaiming his innocence.

Later that year Fauchet found out why Randolph had left.  He protested that Randolph had done nothing dishonest and that his report to his government, from which the suspicion of betrayal had come, had been misunderstood.  But this was not enough to remove the cloud of suspicion, and Randolph never again held federal office.  He returned to his successful law practice and continued to be a leading figure in Virginia.  His name was not completely cleared until after his death in 1813.

Treaty with Spain:  On February 22, 1796, Washington received the Treaty of San Lorenzo, concluded with Spain by Thomas Pinckney the previous October.  By the terms of this document the Spanish government granted U.S. citizens unrestricted use of the Mississippi River “in its whole breadth, from the source to the ocean,” with a privilege of tax-free export of goods through the port of New Orleans.  Spain also made a satisfactory agreement on the boundaries of West Florida and promised to discourage Native American raids on the frontier.  This complete reversal for Spanish policy was a diplomatic triumph.  Delivered to the Senate on February 26, it was approved by unanimous vote on March 3.

Treaty with Algiers:  Washington was less happy over the conclusion of a treaty with the dey of Algiers.  Algiers was one of the Barbary States, which had practiced piracy against ships on the Mediterranean Sea for nearly 300 years.  The dey had held ten captured American sailors for ransom since 1785.  The treaty accomplished the release of American captives and bound the dey to cease attacks on American shipping in the Mediterranean.  However, it subjected the United States to the humiliation of paying a ransom of $800,000 for the prisoners and an annual tribute of $24,000 as the price of continued security against piracy.  When some in Congress saw in this an excuse for suspending work on four of the six new frigates, Washington declared grimly that he regarded the paying of bribes to pirates as a national degradation that could only be removed by sufficient naval armament.

Northwestern Treaty:  Still another treaty that was ready for submission to the Senate was the one concluded by General Wayne with the Shawnee, Miami, and other Native American peoples of the northwest.  In it the tribes gave up their long-maintained claim to the Ohio River as their eastern boundary and opened vast areas of Ohio and southern Indiana to white settlers.

Congressional Intervention:  As Jay’s Treaty approached its last congressional hurdle, the appropriation of the necessary funds for its implementation, the Jeffersonian majority demanded that Washington submit to the House of Representatives (Congress’s lower chamber) copies of Jay’s instructions and all related correspondence.  To avoid setting a precedent, Washington replied, “It is perfectly clear to my understanding that the assent of the House of Representatives is not necessary to the validity of a treaty .... A just regard to the Constitution and to the duty of my Office ... forbids a compliance with your request.”

Debate on the appropriations dragged on until April 29.  On that day the question was voted on by the House sitting as the committee of the whole, with the result a tie, 49 to 49.  The deciding vote of the chairman, Frederick Muhlenberg, himself a Jeffersonian, carried the measure.

Farewell Address:  Although Washington did not announce it publicly until September 1796, he was determined that under no conditions would he allow his name to be put forward for a third term.  He had guided his country for eight years, averted the danger of a ruinous war, opened the economic gateways of the West, and established precedents that would prove true bulwarks of the Constitution.  It was time for the transfer of power, by constitutional means, to other hands.

Washington embodied the reasons for his decision not to run again, together with much thoughtful advice to his fellow citizens, in his famous Farewell Address.  Parts of the address were written by Hamilton and Madison, and there is no doubt that both were of great help to the president in preparing it.  But in its final form it represents the thoughts and character of George Washington.

... it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness .... The name of American, which belongs to you in our national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations .... The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government .... Let me ... warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally .... A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume ....
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports .... Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.  In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.  As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit .... Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all ....  The nation which indulges toward another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave .... The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.

Last Years:  Washington attended the inauguration of President John Adams on March 4, 1797, and left Philadelphia two days later for Mount Vernon.  There he wrote to an old friend that he did not intend to allow the political turmoil of the country to disturb his ease.  “I shall view things,” he said, “in the light of mild philosophy.”

But he did not always adhere to this resolve.  He strongly opposed the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, which were an attempt to limit federal powers in line with Jefferson’s beliefs.  These resolutions seemed to Washington a formula for the dissolution of the Union.  In that year also, he accepted the nominal command of the army should the undeclared hostility with France develop into open war.  The last journeys of his life, in 1799, were to the army camp at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), and to Philadelphia to consult on army matters.

Early on the morning of December 14, 1799, Washington awoke with an inflamed throat.  His condition rapidly worsened.  He was further weakened by medical treatment that included frequent bloodletting.  He faced death calmly, as “the debt which we all must pay,” and died at 11:30 that night.

In the national mourning that followed, many tributes were paid to Washington. President Adams called him “the most illustrious and beloved person which this country ever produced.”  Adams later added: “His example is now complete, and it will teach wisdom and virtue to magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age but in future generations as long as our history shall be read.”

George Washington Quotes:


"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force."


"I conceive that a knowledge of books is the basis on which all other knowledge rests."


"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."


"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."


"I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man."


"Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go."


"Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge.  In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either.  No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States."


"I am just going.  Have me decently buried and do not let my body be into a vault in less than two days after I am dead.  Do you understand me? . . . 'Tis well." (Washington's last words)


"Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth."


"My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth."


"As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible."


"Shift that fat ass, Harry.  But slowly, or you'll swamp the damned boat."  (Washington to General Henry Knox while entering the boat that was to cross the Delaware River)


"Precedents are dangerous things; let the reins of government then be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the Constitution be reprehended: If defective let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled upon whilst it has an existence."


"I walk on untrodden ground.  There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent."


"There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy."


"To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."


"Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company."


"It is easy to make acquaintances but very difficult to shake them off, however irksome and unprofitable they are found after we have once committed ourselves to them.  Be courteous to all but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence; true friendship is a plant of slow growth."


"As the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first to be laid aside when those liberties are firmly established."


"Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of international error, I am, nevertheless, too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors . . ."


"There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery].  But there is only one proper way and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by legislative authority; and for this, as far as my suffrage will go, shall never be wanting."


"Relying on its [Congress'] kindness in this, as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man who views it in the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations, I anticipate, with pleasing expectations that retreat in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government—the ever-favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labours, and dangers."

"Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness." 



George Washington stood almost six feet three and had red hair.


A popular belief is that Washington wore a wig, as was the fashion among some at the time.  He did not.  He did, however, powder his hair, as represented in several portraits, including the well-known unfinished Gilbert Stuart depiction.


It has been suggested in the journal "Fertility and Sterility" [14] that Washington had no children because he was sterile, most probably resulting from a case of tuberculosis; he seemingly contracted it from his brother who later died from tuberculosis when he went to Barbados at age 19.  His wife Martha had four children from a previous marriage (two died before they were four, the others died at age 16 and 28, respectively.  Due to Mrs. Washington having four children of her own, it is generally assumed that she was capable of having more children.  However, childbirth was extremely difficult in Washington's day and any labor could cause irrevocable damage to a mother's ability to have more offspring. 


Mrs. Washington also suffered a case of the German measles shortly after her marriage to George Washington.  Either the difficult birth of her last child, Patsy, and or the German measles could have comprised Mrs. Washington's fertility.  The Washingtons, however, were surrounded by children.  In addition to Mrs. Washington's son and daughter, two of her four grandchildren where raised by George and Martha Washington and many nieces, nephews, and custodial wards came under the care of the Washington couple.  The children of Mount Vernon include: John Parke Custis (son), Martha Parke Custis (daughter), Amelia Posey (ward), Frances Bassett (niece), George Augustine Washington (nephew), Harriot Washington (niece), Eleanor Parke Custis, (granddaughter), George Washington Parke Custis (grandson), and George Washington Lafayette (ward/son of the Marquis who lived with the Washingtons during the French Reign of Terror).


A number of younger men were essentially surrogate sons to the childless Washington, including Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette, Nathanael Greene, and George W. P. Custis, Washington's step-grandson.  George Washington Parke Custis' daughter Mary would eventually become the wife of General Robert E. Lee.


Washington was a cricket enthusiast and was known to have played the sport, which was popular at that time in the British colonies.  Through his father's family, Washington was a direct descendant of King Edward III and William the Conqueror of England.  A cousin of George Washington was Lt. General Jakob Freiherr Von Washington Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.


One story about Washington has him throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac River. He may have thrown an object across the Rappahannock River, the river on which his childhood home, Ferry Farm, stood. However, the Potomac is over a mile wide at Mount Vernon.


Grew hemp, a common crop at the time used for fiber production, specifically to make rope.


Washington's teeth were not made out of wood, as usually said.  They were made out of teeth from different kinds of animals, specifically elk, hippopotamus, and human.  One set of false teeth that he had weighed almost four ounces and were made out of lead.


In the first Presidential inauguration, Washington took the oath as prescribed by the Constitution.  Before taking his oath of office, a local Masonic Bible was hurriedly borrowed on which to take the oath.  Upon completing the oath, Washington leaned over and kissed the Bible.


While Washington did not accept pay while the Commander of the Continental Army, he did claim expenses.  He provided Congress with a complete expense account which, after some grumbling, Congress paid in full.


An attempt was made to kidnap George Washington while he was commander-in-chief of the army during the American Revolution.  The governor of New York, William Tryon, and the mayor of New York City, David Matthews, both Tories, were involved in the plot, as was one of Washington's bodyguards, Thomas Hickey.  Hickey was court-martialed and hanged for mutiny, sedition, and treachery, on June 28, 1776.


Washington was a Freemason.  He participated in the laying of the cornerstone of the Capitol Building as a Mason, was Master of Alexandria Masonic Lodge and was buried with Masonic honors.  He was even suggested for the position of General Grand Master of Masons in America (which he did not pursue).  It is generally accepted that if he would have taken the position that the individual state grand lodges would have united into one Grand Lodge of the United States.


Washington was considered to be the finest horseman of his day.  One of his favorite horses was named Nelson.


George Washington loved ice cream, and reportedly spent approximately $200 on it during the summer of 1790.  He reportedly owned the first ice cream freezer in the colonies.


The most famous man of his day, George Washington received hundreds of guests to his home every year.  In 1798, 677 visitors passed through Mount Vernon.  Washington compared his home to a "well-resorted tavern."


George Washington was referred to as General Washington and not President Washington once he retired from the executive office.  General was the title he preferred and protocol dictates that there is only one President.  All former Presidents return to their previous highest-ranking title.


Mrs. Washington burned the correspondence between her husband and herself following his death.  Only three letters survived, two addressed from General Washington to Mrs. Washington and one from Mrs. Washington to the General.


He had a huge distillery which produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey in one year.


Monuments and Memorials:


Washington is commemorated on the U.S. quarter.


Washington's bust on Mt. Rushmore.


Tourists pose under the statue of Washington outside the Federal Hall Memorial in lower Manhattan, site of Washington's first inauguration as President.  Today, Washington's face and image are often used as national symbols of the United States, along with the icons such as the flag and great seal.  Perhaps the most pervasive commemoration of his legacy is the use of his image on the one-dollar bill and the quarter-dollar coin.  The image used on the dollar bill is derived from a famous portrait of him painted by Gilbert Stuart, itself one of the most notable works of early American art.


Washington, together with Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, were chosen by President Calvin Coolidge to be depicted in stone at the Mount Rushmore Memorial.


Because of Washington's involvement in Freemasonry, some Masonic lodges maintain publicly visible collections of Washington memorabilia, most notably, the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.  The museum at Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City includes specimens of Washington's false teeth (contrary to the widespread myth, they were not wooden; see the trivia section below).


The capital city of the United States, Washington, D.C., is named for him.  The District of Columbia was created by an Act of Congress in 1790, and Washington was deeply involved in its creation, including choosing the site for the White House.  The Washington Monument, one of the most well-known landmarks in the city, was built in his honor.  The George Washington University, also in D.C., was named after him, and it was founded in part with shares Washington bequeathed to an endowment to create a national university in Washington.


The only state named for a president is the state of Washington in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.


Washington selected West Point, New York, as the site for the United States Military Academy.  The United States Navy has named three ships after Washington; the one currently serving is a Nimitz Class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, commissioned on July 4, 1992.


Other examples include the George Washington Bridge, which extends between New York City and New Jersey, and the palm tree genus Washingtonia is also named after him.


Summary Military Career:


1753:  Commissioned a Major in the Virginia Militia.

1754:  Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia Militia.

1754:  Led abortive expedition to Fort Duquesne, later served as aide to General Edward Braddock.

1755:  Promoted to Colonel and named Commander of all Virginia Forces.  Commissioned a Brigadier General later that year.

1759–1775:  Resigned from active military service.

June 1775:  Commissioned General and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army

1775–1781:  Commands the Continental Army in over seven major battles with the British.

19 January 1976:  Approved by the United States Congress for promotion to General of the Armies.

11 October 1976:  Declared the senior most U.S. military officer for all time by Presidential Order of Gerald Ford.

13 March 1978:  Promoted by Army Order 31–3 to General of the Armies with effective date of rank July 4, 1776.

December 1783:  Resigns commission as Commander in Chief of the Army

July 1798:  Appointed Lieutenant General and Commander of the Provisional Army to be raised in the event of a war with France.

14 December 1799:  Dies and is listed as a Lieutenant General (r) on the U.S. Army rolls.


Public Offices Held:


Surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia.

Distinguished himself as General Braddock's aide-de-camp in the French and Indian War, 1755.

Named commander in chief of the Virginia militia, 1755.

Elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1759.

Unanimously chosen commander in chief of the Continental Army, June 1775.

Masterminded the American victory at Yorktown, October 1781.

Unanimously elected President of the Constitutional Convention 1787.

Unanimously elected President of the United States twice, 1789 and 1792.




  1. 1731 by the Old (Julian) Calendar, 1732 by the New (Gregorian) Calendar.  The New Calendar was adopted by Great Britain and the colonies in 1752.  To bring the calendar in line with the solar year, it added 11 days and began the new year in January rather than March. Tobias Lear, secretary to Washington, to Clement Biddle, February 14, 1790, on the new calendar and Washington's birthday.


  1. The text of Cornwallis' letter is reproduced in annotation in the transcription linked to this document.  Washington closes his letter to Jefferson with a full history of Benedict Arnold's defection to the British.  George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, October 10, 1780:  News from America, or the Patriots in the dumps. 1776 Dec. 1


  1. (See below on the mutiny of the New Jersey Continentals January 20.)  George Washington to Anthony Wayne, January 3, 1781.  George Washington to Henry Knox, January 7, 1781. 


  1. George Washington on horseback during the Battle of Princeton.  Photograph of painting by John Trumbull from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Springfield, Mass.: Taber-Prang Art Co., c1900. Reproduction #: (b&w) LC-USZ62-469.




















Aquaint by Francis Jukes from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. London: Pub'd by F. Jukes, 1800. Reproduction #: (b&w) LC-USZ62-1237. 


George Washington, Engraved by John Rogers after C.W. Peale, from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. [ca. 1860].  Reproduction#: (b&w) LC-USZ62-112547. 


Life of George Washington - The citizen Wedding of George Washington and Martha Custis.  Lithograph from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Paris: Lemercier, c1853. Reproduction #: (b&w) LC-USZ62-3914. 


George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland, [1802?] 1 print. from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.  Cromek, R. H. (Robert Hartley), 1770-1812, engraver.  Reproduction #: (b&w) LC-USZ62-96229. 


Death of General Montgomery at Quebec. c[between 1900 and 1912] 1 negative. Trumbull, John, 1756-1843, artist. from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.  Reproduction #: (b&w)LC-D416-701. 


George Washington, General Orders, November 5, 1775.  George Washington to Philip Schuyler, November 5, 1775.


(Johann von Ewald, Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal (New Haven and London: 1979). 


George Washington's letterbook copy of Benjamin Lincoln's April 21, 1780, letter to Sir Henry Clinton expressing a willingness to discuss terms of surrender of Charleston. George Washington Papers. 


Surrender of Lord Cornwallis [between 1900 and 1912] 1 transparency.  Trumbull, John, 1756-1843, artist from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Reproduction #: LC-D415-50235 (color glass transparency).


George Washington, General Orders, April 18, 1783, "Cessation of Hostilities.


George Washington to Guy Carleton, April 21, 1783, "Cessation of Hostilities.”


George Washington, Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States, November 2, 1783.


George Washington to Henry Knox, January 5, 1785. 


Washington's general orders of November 1, 1777, report the court's favorable decision.


George Washington Letters:  George Washington to Lafayette, December 31, 1777. George Washington to Patrick Henry, February 19, 1778.  George Washington to Patrick Henry, March 28, 1778.


Detail of Convention at Philadelphia, 1787.  Elkanah Tisdale (b. 1771).  Engraving in A History of the United States, 1823.  Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.  Reproduction #: (b&w) LC-USZ62-92869.


George Washington, full-length portrait, standing on bunker.  Engraving by Laugier from Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. c1839.  Reproduction #: (b&w) LC-USZ62-14094.


Picture Credit:  Marquis de Lafayette (1779) by Charles Wilson Peale, Washington and Lee University (top); Independence National Historic Park, Philadelphia (bottom).


Bibliography: Bernier, Olivier, Lafayette: Hero of Two Worlds (1983); Buckman, Peter, Lafayette: A Biography (1977).


Gerson, Noel B., Statue in Search of a Pedestal: A Biography of the Marquis de Lafayette (1976).


Gottschalk, Louis R., Lafayette Comes to America (1935; repr. 1974), Lafayette Joins the American Army (1937; repr. 1974), Lafayette and the Close of the American Revolution (1942; repr. 1974).


Lafayette between the American and French Revolution (1950; repr. 1974), Lafayette in the French Revolution, through the October Days (1969), and Lafayette in the French Revolution: From the October Days through the Federation (1973).


Horn, Pierre, Marquis de Lafayette (1989); Idzerda, Stanley J., et al., eds., Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790, 4 vols. (1977-81).


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The Washington Monument, web site:


The Apostheosis of George Washington, web site:


Indian Prophecy – “He Cannot Die in Battle,” web site:


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George Washington’s Remarkable Vision, website:


Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, web site:


Washington Family, web site:


Biography of George Washington, the first President of the United States. (1789-1797), web site: 


George Washington Biographical article covering both his military and presidential career, web site:


The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia. The Papers of George Washington, a grant-funded project established in 1969 at the University ...

web site:


The house and garden where George Washington lived, web site:


The Life of George Washington online version of a biography originally published in 1808.  Historian David Ramsay, who authored the book, was a contemporary of Washington, web site:


From Revolution to Reconstruction: Presidents: George Washington ...USA-project, presidents-area, biographical data of George Washington (1732-1799), web site:


History of George Washington, Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.


First Inaugural Address, George Washington, Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.


Martha Washington, Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.


Mount Vernon Family Home, Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.


Valley Forge Battle, Microsoft ® Encarta ® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation.  All rights reserved.


The Exercise of a Schoolboy, Washington, George.  Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation: a Book of Etiquette.  Williamsburg, VA: Beaver Press, 1971, © 2006 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, web site: URL:


George Washington, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, web site: