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George Washington

Order 1st President
President from April 30, 1789 – March 3, 1797
Vice President John Adams
Preceded by None
Succeeded by John Adams
Born February 22, 1732
Westmoreland, Virginia
Died December 14, 1799
Mount Vernon, Virginia
Political party None (1789-93) Federalist Party (1793-1797)
Spouse Martha Custis Washington
Signature [[Image:{{{signature}}}|128px]]
George 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 became the first President of the United States, an office to which he was elected unanimously twice, and remained in from 1789 to 1797. Washington first gained prominence 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.

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Early life
French and Indian War: 1754-1763
American Revolution: 1774-1783
Home in Virginia 1783-1787
Presidency: 1789-1797
Retirement and death
After his death
Personal qualities
Public offices held

Early life - Contents

According to the Julian calendar, Washington was born on February 11, 1731; according to the Gregorian calendar, which was adopted during Washington's life and is used today, he was born on February 22, 1732 ( Washington's Birthday is celebrated on the Gregorian date.) At the time of his birth, the English year began March 25 ( Annunciation Day, or Lady Day), hence the difference in his birth year. His birthplace was Popes Creek Plantation, on the Potomac River southeast of modern-day Colonial Beach in Westmoreland County, Virginia.Washington's parents Augustine Washington (1693– April 12, 1743) and Mary Ball Washington (1708– August 25, 1789) were of British descent and were slave-owning planters in Virginia, but they were not nearly as wealthy as the neighboring Carters and Lees. Washington spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm in Stafford County, near Fredericksburg and visited his Washington cousins at Chotank in King George County. The death of Augustine Washington left the family in difficult circumstances and prevented young George from receiving an education in England.
Grant Wood's 1939 painting pokes gentle fun at Parson Weems' tale of Washington's childhood
Grant Wood's 1939 painting pokes gentle fun at Parson Weems' tale of Washington's childhood
An early biography of Washington by Parson Weems, who met Washington and interviewed people who knew Washington as a young man, included a story about his honesty as a child. In the story, he wanted to try out a new axe, so he chopped the bark of his father's cherry tree; when questioned by his father, he admitted responsibility and uttered the famous words: "I can't tell a lie.” The story first appeared in 1800 in Weems's biography (titled "Life of Washington") [2]. Indeed, strict integrity was a hallmark of Washington's life.He was home schooled and was also trained as a surveyor, obtaining his certificate from the College of William and Mary. He surveyed the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia for Lord Fairfax, a distant relative, and retained a lifelong interest in western lands, particularly the areas reached from the Potomac River as his thinking was that this water source was the central entrance for oceanic ships. His only foreign trip was a short visit to Barbados [3] in 1751, during which he survived an attack of smallpox although his face was scarred by the disease. He was initiated as a Freemason in Fredericksburg on February 4, 1752. On brother Lawrence's death in July 1752, he rented and eventually inherited the estate, Mount Vernon, in Fairfax County (near Alexandria).

French and Indian War: 1754-1763 - Contents

This, the earliest portrait of Washington, was painted in 1772 by Charles Willson Peale, and shows Washington in uniform as colonel of the First Virginia Regiment.
This, the earliest portrait of Washington, was painted in 1772 by Charles Willson Peale, and shows Washington in uniform as colonel of the First Virginia Regiment.
At twenty-two years of age, Washington fired some of the first shots of what would become a war between colonial powers. The trouble began in 1753, when France began building a series of forts in the Ohio Country, a region also claimed by Virginia. This was part of an overall strategy by the French, with the support of the indigenous population, to destabilize the American frontier and tie up British military forces in the American colonies. Robert Dinwiddie, the governor of Virginia, had young Major Washington deliver a letter to the French commander, asking them to leave. After the publication of Washington's accounts of this tale appreared in local newspapers, he became a legend. The French refused, and so, in 1754, Dinwiddie sent Washington, now promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the First Virginia Regiment, on another mission to the Ohio Country. There, Washington and his troops ambushed a French Canadian scouting party. After a short skirmish, Washington's American Indian ally Tanacharison killed the wounded French commander Ensign Jumonville. Washington then built Fort Necessity, which soon proved inadequate, as he was compelled to surrender to a larger French and American Indian force. The surrender terms that Washington signed included an admission that he had "assassinated" Jumonville. (The document was written in French, which Washington could not read.) The "Jumonville affair" became an international incident and helped to ignite the French and Indian War, a part of the worldwide Seven Years' War.Washington was later released by the French, on parole, with his promise not to return to the Ohio Country for one year.Washington was always eager to serve in the British Army, which, on the other hand, had a low regard for colonials. His opportunity came in 1755, when he accompanied the Braddock Expedition, a major effort by the British to retake the Ohio Country. The expedition ended in disaster at the Battle of the Monongahela. Washington distinguished himself in the debacle—he had two horses shot out from under him, and four bullets pierced his coat—yet he sustained no injuries and showed coolness under fire in organizing the retreat. In Virginia, Washington was acclaimed as a hero, and he commanded the First Virginia Regiment for several more years, although the focus of the war had shifted elsewhere. In 1758, he accompanied the Forbes Expedition, which successfully drove the French away from Fort Duquesne.Washington's goal at the outset of his military career had been to secure a commission as a regular British officer—rather than staying a mere colonial militia officer. The promotion did not come, and so, in 1759, Washington resigned his commission and married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow with two children. Washington adopted her two children, but never fathered any of his own. The newlywed couple moved to Mount Vernon where he took up the life of a genteel farmer and slave owner. He held local office and was elected to the Virginia provincial legislature, the House of Burgesses.

American Revolution: 1774-1783 - Contents

Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze, 1851 , Metropolitan Museum
Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze, 1851 , Metropolitan Museum
In 1774, Washington was chosen as a delegate from Virginia to the First Continental Congress, convened in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, the British government's punitive closure of Boston Harbor, and the annulment of legislative and judicial rights in Massachusetts. After fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, Washington appeared at the Second Continental Congress in military uniform—the only delegate to do so, signaling his interest in becoming commander of the colonial forces. Washington was the unanimous selection, on June 15, 1775. The Massachusetts delegate John Adams suggested his appointment, citing his "skill as an officer... great talents and universal character." He assumed command of the American forces at Cambridge, Massachusetts on July 3.Washington drove the British forces out of Boston on March 17, 1776, by stationing artillery captured at Ticonderoga on Dorchester Heights, overlooking Boston and its harbor. The British army, led by General William Howe, retreated to Halifax, Canada. Washington moved his army to New York City in anticipation of a British offensive there. In August, the British invaded in overwhelming numbers and Washington led a clumsy retreat that almost failed. He lost the Battle of Long Island on August 22 but managed to move most of his forces to the mainland. However, several other defeats sent Washington scrambling across New Jersey, leaving the future of the Revolution in doubt.On the night of December 25, 1776, Washington staged a brilliant comeback, the Battle of Trenton. He led the American forces across the Delaware River to smash the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington followed up the assault with a surprise attack on General Charles Cornwallis' forces at Princeton on the eve of January 2, 1777. The successful attacks built morale among the pro-independence colonists.In summer 1777, the British launched a three-pronged attack, with Burgoyne marching south from Canada while Howe attacked the national capital of Philadelphia. Washington moved south, but was badly defeated at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11. An attempt to dislodge the British, the Battle of Germantown, failed as a result of fog and confusion, and Washington was forced to retire to winter quarters at the miserably inadequate Valley Forge.The winter of 1777-1778 was seen as the low point for the Continental Army (and as a result, for the Revolution as a whole), due to their string of crushing losses, and their wretched living conditions. Washington, however, stood steadfast, demanding more supplies from Congress. His men recovered their morale despite the harsh winter conditions. A new system of drill and training was established by Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who had served on the Prussian general staff. Von Steuben's task was to improve the army’s fighting capabilities so that it could match the British in the field. As a result, Valley Forge proved to be a watershed for the fledgling Continental Army which emerged more battle ready than when they first encamped.Washington attacked the British army moving from Philadelphia to New York at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, a drawn contest, but the British effort to disrupt the national government had failed. Burgoyne’s invading army, meanwhile, was captured at Saratoga in October, giving the British a crushing defeat. It now seemed likely that the British would never re-conquer the new nation, and France signed a formal alliance with the U.S.After 1778, the British made one last effort to split apart the new nation, this time focused on the southern states. Rather than attack them there, Washington's forces moved to West Point in New York. In 1779, Washington ordered a fifth of the army to carry out the Sullivan Expedition, an offensive against four of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy that had allied with the British and attacked American settlements along the frontier. There were no battles, but at least forty Iroquois villages were destroyed and the hostile Indians moved permanently to Canada. In 1781, American and French forces and a French fleet trapped General Cornwallis at Yorktown in Virginia. Washington had quick-marched south, taking command of the American and French forces on September 14, and pressed the siege until Cornwallis surrendered on October 17. It was the end of significant fighting, though British forces remained in New York City and a few other places until the final peace was ratified in 1783.In March 1783, Washington learned about a conspiracy planned by some of his officers who were upset about back pay in the Continental Army's winter camp at Newburgh, New York. They were plotting a coup against the Continental Congress. He was able to convince them (through use of theatrics) that he had suffered equally or more than they. He was thus able to instill loyalty, and thus end the plot.Later in 1783, by means of the Treaty of Paris, the British recognized American independence. Washington disbanded his army and on November 2 at Rockingham House in Rocky Hill, New Jersey, gave an eloquent farewell address to his soldiers. A few days later the British evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took possession of the city; at Fraunces Tavern in the city on December 4, he formally bade his officers farewell.

Home in Virginia 1783-1787 - Contents

George Washington by John Trumbull, painted in London, 1780, from memory
George Washington by John Trumbull, painted in London, 1780, from memory
On December 23, 1783, General Washington resigned his commission as Commander in Chief of the Army to the Congress of the Confederation, which was then meeting at the Maryland State House in Annapolis. This action was of great significance for the young nation, establishing the precedent that civilian elected officials, rather than military officers, possessed ultimate authority over the military. Washington firmly believed that the people are sovereign and that no one should ever come to power in America because of military force, or because of birth in a noble family.At the time of Washington's departure from military service, he was listed on the rolls of the Continental Army as "General and Commander in Chief." (See Retirement, death, and honors section below for more on this topic.)Although the nation was at peace in the late 1780s, Washington worried that the fledgling nation had such a weak central government that it could not survive a future war. He therefore endorsed plans to create a new constitution. His support guaranteed it would happen and he presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. For the most part, he did not participate in the debates involved, but his prestige was great enough to maintain collegiality and to keep the delegates at their labors. He adamantly enforced the secrecy adopted by the Convention during the summer. Many believe that the Framers created the Presidency with Washington in mind. After the Convention, his support convinced many, including the Virginia legislature, to support the Constitution.Washington farmed roughly 8,000 acres (32 km²). Like many Virginia planters at the time, he had little cash on hand and was frequently in debt, even though he owned much land. He eventually had to borrow 0 to relocate to New York, then the center of the American government, to take office as president.

Presidency: 1789-1797 - Contents

George Washington was elected unanimously by the Electoral College in 1789, and remains the only person ever to be elected president unanimously (a feat which he duplicated in 1792). As runner-up with 34 votes, John Adams became Vice President-elect. The First U.S. Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of ,000 a year—a significant sum in 1789. Washington was perhaps the wealthiest American at the time; his western lands were potentially valuable--but no one lived on them as yet. He declined his salary. It was part of his self-structured image as Cincinnatus, the citizen who takes on the burdens of office as a civil duty. Washington attended carefully to the pomp and ceremony of office, making sure that the titles and trappings were suitably republican and never emulated European royal courts.Washington's election was a disappointment to Martha Washington, the First Lady, who wanted to continue living in quiet retirement at Mount Vernon after the war. Nevertheless, she quickly assumed the role of hostess, opening her parlor and organizing weekly dinner parties for as many dignitaries as could fit around the presidential table.

In the beginning of his term, he met individually with his advisors, but, by 1791, held regular cabinet meetings. Washington had to referee between the Treasury's Alexander Hamilton, who had bold plans to establish the national credit and build a financially powerful nation, and Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who usually opposed him. Hamilton won most of these battles and, after Washington denounced the Democratic-Republican societies as dangerous, he was hailed as the leading figure in the new Federalist Party. Jefferson did win the location of the new national capital, which would be located in the South, in what was soon named "Washington, District of Columbia".In 1791, Congress imposed an excise tax on distilled spirits, leading to protests. By 1794, after Washington ordered the protesters to appear in U.S. district court, the protests turning into full-scale riots, and outright rebellion. On August 7, Washington invoked the Militia Law of 1792 to summon the militias of Pennsylvania, Virginia and several states. He raised an army of militiamen, and marched at its head into the rebellious districts, making him the only sitting US President to march at the head of a column of troops. There was no fighting, but Washington's forceful action proved the new government could protect itself. In leading the military force against the rebels Washington became the only president to personally lead troops in battle while commander-in-chief. It also marked the first time under the new constitution that the federal government had used strong military force to exert authority over the states and citizens.The United States had acquired title to the Northwest Territory from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, but the American Indians who lived there were not consulted. Violence often resulted, the largest conflict being the Northwest Indian War, in which the Indians won victories until being defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.In 1793, the revolutionary government of France sent diplomat Edmond-Charles Genêt, who attempted to turn popular sentiment towards American involvement in the war against Great Britain. Genêt was authorized to issue letters of marque and reprisal to American ships and gave authority to any French consul to serve as a prize court. Genêt's activities forced Washington to ask the French government for his recall.The Jay Treaty, named after Chief Justice of the United States John Jay who was sent by Washington to London to negotiate an agreement, was a treaty between the United States and Great Britain signed on November 19, 1794 that attempted to clear up some of the lingering problems of American separation from Great Britain following the American Revolutionary War. The Treaty was strongly attacked by supporters of France, led by the Jeffersonians, but Washington, supported by Alexander Hamilton, obtained its ratification by Congress. The British had to clear out of their forts around the Great Lakes. It remained in effect until the War of 1812. Alexander Hamilton used Federal patronage to set up a national network of friends of the Administration. This developed into a full-fledged party, with Hamilton the key leader. The Federalist party elected John Adams president in 1796. Washington himself spoke often against the ills of political parties, and thus never declared his support one way or another. He did, however, support Hamiltonian politics over Jeffersonian, but never made a statement to that effect. Washington was more or less not a member of any party in existence at that time.Washington had to be talked into a second term of office as President, and very reluctantly agreed to it. However, after two terms, Washington refused to run for a third term in office. By refusing a third term, Washington established a firm, but unwritten rule of a maximum of two terms for a U.S. president. It was broken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, but after his death was formally integrated into the Federal Constitution by the 22nd Amendement. Washington's Farewell Address (issued as a public letter) was the defining statement of Federalist party principles and one of the most influential statements of American political values. Most of the Address dealt with the dangers of bitter partisanship in domestic politics. He called for men to put aside party and unite for the common good. He called for an America wholly free of foreign attachments, as the United States must concentrate only on American interests. He counseled friendship and commerce with all nations, and warned sternly against involvement in European wars. Long-term alliances should be avoided, but he said the 1778 alliance with France had to be observed. The Address quickly entered the realm of "received wisdom." Many Americans, especially in subsequent generations, accepted Washington's advice as gospel and, in any debate between neutrality and involvement in foreign issues, would invoke the message as dispositive of all questions. Not until 1949 would the United States again sign a treaty of alliance with a foreign nation.At John Adams' inauguration, Washington is said to have approached Adams afterwards and stated "Well, I am fairly out and you are fairly in. Now we shall see who enjoys it the most!" Washington also declined to leave the room before Adams and the new Vice President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, establishing the principle that even a former president is, after all, only a private citizen.

Major presidential acts
  • Signed Judiciary Act of 1789
  • Signed Indian Intercourse Acts, starting in 1790
  • Signed Residence Act of 1790
  • Signed Bank Act of 1791
  • Signed Coinage Act of 1792 or Mint Act
  • Signed Fugitive Slave Act of 1793
  • Signed Naval Act of 1794

Administration and Cabinet
The Lansdowne portrait of President Washington by Gilbert Stuart
The Lansdowne portrait of President Washington by Gilbert Stuart
President George Washington 1789–1797
Vice President John Adams 1789–1797
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson 1789–1793
Edmund Randolph 1794–1795
Timothy Pickering 1795–1797
Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton 1789–1795
Oliver Wolcott, Jr. 1795–1797
Secretary of War Henry Knox 1789–1794
Timothy Pickering 1795–1796
James McHenry 1796–1797
Attorney General Edmund Randolph 1789–1793
William Bradford 1794–1795
Charles Lee 1795–1797
Postmaster General Samuel Osgood 1789–1791
Timothy Pickering 1791–1795
Joseph Habersham 1795–1797

Supreme Court appointments
As the first President, Washington appointed the entire Supreme Court, a feat almost repeated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his four terms in office (1933–45). Washington appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
  • John Jay - Chief Justice - 1789
  • James Wilson - 1789
  • John Rutledge - 1790
  • William Cushing - 1790
  • John Blair - 1790
  • James Iredell - 1790
  • Thomas Johnson - 1792
  • William Paterson - 1793
  • John Rutledge - Chief Justice, 1795 (an associate justice since 1790)
  • Samuel Chase - 1796
  • Oliver Ellsworth - Chief Justice - 1796

States admitted to the Union
  • North Carolina (1789)
  • Rhode Island (1790)
  • Vermont (1791)
  • Kentucky (1792)
  • Tennessee (1796)

Retirement and death - Contents

Constantino Brumidi's 1865 fresco The Apotheosis of Washington is found in the rotunda of the United States Capitol
Constantino Brumidi's 1865 fresco The Apotheosis of Washington is found in the rotunda of the United States Capitol
After retiring from the presidency in March 1797, Washington returned to Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. He established a distillery there and became probably the largest distiller of whiskey in the nation at the time, producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey and a profit of ,500 in 1798.During that year, Washington was appointed Lieutenant General in the United States Army (then the highest possible rank) by President John Adams. Washington's appointment was to serve as a warning to France, with which war seemed imminent. While Washington never saw active service, upon his death one year later, the U.S. Army rolls listed him as a retired Lieutenant General, which was then considered the equivalent to his rank as General and Commander in Chief during the Revolutionary War.Within a year of this 1798 appointment, Washington fell ill from a bad cold with a fever and a sore throat that turned into acute laryngitis and pneumonia and died on December 14, 1799, at his home. Modern doctors believe that Washington died from either a streptococcal infection of the throat or, since he was bled as part of the treatment, a combination of shock from the loss of blood, asphyxia, and dehydration. One of the physicians who administered bloodletting to him was Dr. James Craik, one of Washington's closest friends, who had been with Washington at Fort Necessity, the Braddock expedition, and throughout the Revolutionary War. Washington's remains were buried at Mount Vernon.

After his death - Contents

Congressman Henry Light Horse Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade, famously eulogized Washington as "a citizen, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."Washington set many precedents that established tranquility in the presidential office in the years to come. His choice to peacefully relinquish the presidency to John Adams, after serving two terms in office, is seen as one of Washington's most important legacies.He was also lauded posthumously as the " Father of His Country" and is often considered to be the most important of Founding Fathers of the United States. He has gained fame around the world as a quintessential example of a benevolent national founder. Americans often refer to men in other nations considered the Father of their Country as "the George Washington of his nation" (for example, Mahatma Gandhi's role in India).Washington was ranked #26 in Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history. He is generally regarded by historians as one of the greatest presidents.Even though he had been the highest-ranking officer of the Revolutionary War, having in 1798 been appointed a Lieutenant General (now three stars), it seemed, somewhat incongruously, that all later full (that is, four star) generals in U.S. history (starting with General Ulysses S. Grant), and also all five-star generals of the Army, were considered to outrank Washington. General John J. Pershing had attained an even higher rank of six-star general, General of the Armies (above five star—though the most stars Pershing actually ever wore were four). This issue was resolved in 1976 when Washington was, by act of Congress, posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies, outranking any past, present, and future general, and declared to permanently be the top-ranked military officer of the United States.

Monuments and memorials
Washington is commemorated on the U.S. quarter.
Washington is commemorated on the U.S. quarter.
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.Because of Washington's involvement in Freemasonry, some publicly visible collections of Washington memorabilia are maintained by Masonic lodges, 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).
Tourists pose under the statue of Washington outside the Federal Hall Memorial in lower Manhattan, site of Washington's first inauguration as President
Tourists pose under the statue of Washington outside the Federal Hall Memorial in lower Manhattan, site of Washington's first inauguration as President
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 of 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
  • 1759–75: Resigned from active military service
  • June 1775: Commissioned General and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army
  • 1775–81: Commands the Continental Army in over seven major battles with the British
  • 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
  • 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.

Personal qualities - Contents

Washington was long considered not just a military and revolutionary hero, but 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 as restrained: at War's end taking afront 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 reliance on the family plantation and its slaves; his role in sparking the French and Indian War. Yet the grandparents and great-great-grandparents of today's students were taught of 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. He 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 always an ambitious man. 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
Historians' perceptions of Washington's stand on slavery tend to be mixed. Although he advocated humane treatment of his slaves, according to an eyewitness, his slaves lived in "miserable" huts, and were often poorly clothed, according to plantation records. 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, 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 it is said by some historians that it is not known whether she lived with him on the plantation, [4] most sources indicate that she did not. [5] [6]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 [Federal] 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." [7] [8] 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 gradual abolition [of slavery]." [9] [10]
Washington portrait
Washington 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.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 [11].

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!" His adopted daughter, Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, and several others have said, however, that he was, indeed, a Christian. 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."

Public offices held - Contents

  • 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

Trivia - Contents

  • 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 [12], as represented in several portraits, including the well-known unfinished Gilbert Stuart depiction.
  • It has been suggested in the journal "Fertility and Sterility" [13] 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 which makes it unlikely that she was infertile (two died before they were four, the others died at age 16 and 28, respectively. Two (of four) grandchildren where raised by George and Martha Washington).
  • 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 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. George Washington's Royal descent {for reference only}
  • 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. Also silver dollars did not exist then.
  • Grew hemp, a common crop at the time used for fiber production, specifically to make rope. [14]
  • 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 [15]. One set of false teeth that he had weighed almost three pounds and were made out of lead.
  • In the first Presidential inauguration, Washington took the oath as prescribed by the Constitution but added several religious components to that official ceremony. Before taking his oath of office, a local Masonic Bible was hurriedly borrowed on which to take the oath; Washington added the words “So help me God!” to the end of the oath, and then leaned over and kissed the Bible.
  • While Washington did not accept pay while the Commander of the Continential 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.
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