George Washington


George Washington



‘a young Virginian in the backwoods’ (Horace Walpole)



Background and Childhood 2

Orphaned 2

Surveyor 2

Virginia Militia 3

Service in Seven Years’ War 3

Fort Duquesne 3

Marriage and Plantation 4

Political Career 4

First Continental Congress 5

Second Continental Congress 5

Revolutionary War 5

Logistics 5

Hostilities 5

Saratoga & French Alliance 6

Yorktown 6

Treaty of Versailles, 1783 7

Constitutional Convention 7

President 8

First term 8

Whiskey Rebellion 8

Indian Rights 9

Party Politics 9

Second term 9

Jay Treaty 9

End of his Presidency 9

Retirement 10

Background and Childhood

George Washington could trace his family’s presence in North America to his great-grandfather, John Washington, who migrated from England to Virginia. (12) The family held some distinction in England and was granted land by Henry VIII. (12) Much of the family’s wealth was lost during the Puritan revolution and in 1657 George’s grandfather, Lawrence Washington, migrated to Virginia. (12) Little information is available about the family in North America until George’s father, Augustine, was born in 1694. (12) Augustine Washington was an ambitious man who acquired land and slaves, built mills, and grew tobacco. (12) For a time, he had an interest in opening iron mines. (12) He married his first wife, Jane Butler and they had three children. (12) Jane died in 1729 and Augustine married Mary Ball in 1731. (12) George Washington was born on February 22nd, 1732, (1,2) at Pope’s Creek (5,10) in Westmoreland County, (1,4) in the British colony of (11) Virginia. (1,3) He was the son of (3,6) Augustine Washington (11) a moderately (6,12) prosperous (3,7) planter (3,6) and slaveowner, (6) and his second wife, Mary Ball Washington. (11,12) George was the eldest of Augustine and Mary Washington’s six children, spent much of his childhood at Ferry Farm, a plantation near Fredericksburg, Virginia. (11) Not much is known of his childhood, and later biographers manufactured anecdotes to fill in the gap. (12) Among these are the stories that Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac (12) and after chopping down his father’s prize cherry tree, he openly confessed to the crime. (9,12) It probably never happened. (9)


His father died when George was just 11 years old, (9,11) so he owned slaves himself from the age of 11. (6) Fortunately, George had an older brother named Lawrence who (9,11) had been educated in England (11) and took good care of him. (9,11) OR George helped his mother manage the plantation. (11) Few details about Washington’s early education are known, although children of prosperous families like his typically were taught at home by private tutors or attended private schools. (11) It is known that from age seven to fifteen, George was home schooled and studied with the local church sexton and later a schoolmaster in practical maths, geography, Latin and the English classics. (12) OR Lawrence served as Washington’s mentor, (11) and taught him (9) the morals, manners, and body of knowledge (8) requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman. (8,9) Lawrence also made sure that (9) he was educated in the basic subjects like reading and math. (6,9) It’s believed he finished his formal schooling at around age 15. (11) Much of the knowledge he would use the rest of his life was through his acquaintance with backwoodsmen and the plantation foreman. (12)


Washington had shown an aptitude for mathematics. (11) As a teenager, (7,8) aged 16 (7,8) he worked as a surveyor. (3,4) He took measurements of new lands, mapping them out in detail. (8,9) He pursued two intertwined interests: military arts and western expansion. (8) He helped survey (8) OR travelled with a party surveying (12) Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. (8) He did this successfully, and his surveying expeditions into the Virginia wilderness earned him enough money to begin acquiring land of his own. (11) At the age of 17, (7) aided by Lord Fairfax, (12) he was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, his first public office. (7,12) For two years he was very busy surveying the land in Culpeper, Frederick and Augusta counties. (12) In 1751, Washington made his only trip outside of America, when he travelled to Barbados with his older half-brother Lawrence (1718-52), who was suffering from tuberculosis and hoped the warm climate would help him recuperate. (11) Shortly after their arrival, George contracted smallpox. (11) He survived, although the illness left him with permanent facial scars. (11)

Virginia Militia

In the early 1750s, France and Britain were at peace. (12) However, the French military had begun occupying much of the Ohio Valley, protecting the King’s land interests and fur trappers and French settlers. (12) But the border lands of this area were unclear and prone to dispute between the two countries. (12) George’s military career began with his involvement with the (4) Virginia militia (4,6) which he joined in December (11) 1752 (7,11) at the age of 20. (7) Washington showed early signs of natural leadership and (12) A few years later, (8,9) shortly after Lawrence’s death, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Robert Dinwiddie, appointed George to a leadership position with the Virginia militia, (8,9) even though he had no previous military experience. (11) He become an officer, (8,10) adjutant with a rank of major. (12) He was by now six feet tall, which was very tall for the 1700s. (9) On October 31st (12) 1753 (10,12) In 1753, as an officer in the British Army, (10) he was sent by Dinwiddie (4,12) the British governor of Virginia (4,10) on a notorious mission (4) to Fort LeBoeuf, at what is now Waterford, Pennsylvania (12) on the river Ohio. (6,10) He had to deliver a message to the French from Governor Dinwiddie (4,12) to warn the French to remove themselves from land claimed by Britain. (10,12) The French politely refused and Washington made a hasty ride back to Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capitol. (12) He almost lost his life on the return trip home after he fell from a raft into the icy waters of the Allegheny River. (4) He took an active part in the operations related to (10) OR fought the first skirmishes of what grew into (8) the Seven Years’ War between French and English (1756-1763). (10), the French and Indian (3,6) OR Seven Years’ (5,7) War (1754-63). (3,5) Dinwiddie sent Washington back with troops and they set up a post at Great Meadows. (12) Washington’s small force attacked a French post at Fort Duquesne (12) killing the commander, Coulon de Jumonville, (10,12) and nine others and taking the rest prisoners. (12) This is held against him by the French, who describe it as an ‘assassination’1. (10) The French and Indian War had begun. (12) The French counterattacked and drove Washington and his men back to his post at Great Meadows (later named “Fort Necessity”) (12) After a full day siege, Washington surrendered and was soon released and returned to Williamsburg, promising not to build another fort on the Ohio River. (12) Though a little embarrassed at being captured, he was grateful to receive the thanks from the House of Burgesses. (12) Washington was given the honorary rank of colonel (12) OR lieutenant colonel (8) and joined British General Edward Braddock’s army in Virginia (12) in 1754. (8) OR in 1755. (12)

Service in Seven Years’ War

Fort Duquesne

In 1755, he was an aide to General Edward Braddock (8) in his disastrous expedition against Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh). (10) During the encounter, the French and their Indian allies ambushed Braddock, who was mortally wounded. (12) Washington narrowly escaped death (8,9) and escaped injury when four bullets ripped his coat (8,12) and his horse (9) OR two horses (8,12) were shot out from under him. (8,9) Though he fought bravely, he could do little to turn back the rout (12) and led the broken army back to safety. (10,12) In August 1755, (12) Washington was made commander of all Virginia troops (6,12) at age 23. (12) His experience during the war was generally frustrating. (12) He was sent to the frontier to patrol and protect nearly 400 miles of border with some 700 ill-disciplined colonial troops and a Virginia colonial legislature unwilling to support him. (12) It was a frustrating assignment. (12) His health failed in the closing months of 1757 and he was sent home with dysentery. (12) He gained the rank of colonel, (10,12) acquiring in the process a distaste for the snootiness of the British officers. (10) A few months (10) OR Three years later, in 1758, (12) Washington returned to duty on another expedition to capture Fort Duquesne, (12) and took his revenge by participating in the taking of the fort. (10,12) It was a major victory for the British who captured Fort Duquesne and controlled the Ohio Valley. (12) A friendly fire incident took place killing 14 and wounding 26 of Washington’s men. (12) Washington published an account of his war experiences which acquired immediate popularity (10) giving him a reputation for bravery. (7) He became famous on both sides of the Atlantic, (5) when his name was mentioned in the London Gazette. (11) Several years later, he was given command of the Virginia militia forces due to his heroism. (4,11) He applied for a commission with the British Army but was turned down. (12) In December (12) 1758, (4,12) he resigned his commission (4,11) and returned to Mount Vernon disillusioned. (12) He became interested in politics. (5)

Marriage and Plantation

From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, he (8) returned to farming on (4,7) his lands around (8) his home, Mount Vernon, (4,5) a plantation he had inherited from his half-brother. (7,9) It was located in Virginia on the Potomac River. (9,11) George Washington did not have wooden teeth, but did wear dentures made from ivory. (9) He devoted himself to a busy and happy life. (8) He worked six days a week, often taking off his coat and performing manual labour with his workers. (12) He was an innovative and responsible landowner, breeding cattle and horses and tending to his fruit orchards. (12) He grew a variety of crops, including wheat and corn, bred mules and maintained fruit orchards and a successful fishery. (11) He implemented the rotation of crops, managed livestock and keeping up with the latest scientific advances. (12) He experimented with new crops and methods of land conservation. (11) He loved the landed gentry’s life of horseback riding, fox hunts, fishing, and cotillions. (12) While he kept over 100 slaves, he was said to dislike the institution, but accepted the fact that slavery was the law. (12) He became a large landowner, (9) eventually expanding his single 2,000 acre farm to (4,11) five farms (11) with 8,000 acres (4,11) He owned, as was normal, many slaves. (10) This made him one of the richest planters in the area. (5) At the end of the war, (10) OR In the middle of the war (HN) He married (2,4) a widow (8,9) Martha (2,4) Dandridge (8,9) Custis, a rich widow, (4,7) in 1759. (2,7) OR later in 1758. (4) George and Martha had no children of their own. (9,11) He became a devoted stepfather (11) to Martha’s two children from her former marriage. (9,11) He was a member of the Anglican Church and the Freemasons, and he urged tolerance for all religions in his roles as general and President. (6)

Political Career

Though the British Proclamation Act of 1763 — prohibiting settlement beyond the Alleghenies — irritated him and he opposed the Stamp Act of 1765, Washington did not take a leading role in the growing colonial resistance against the British until the widespread protest of the Townshend Acts in 1767. (12) His letters of this period indicate he was totally opposed to the colonies declaring independence. (12) However, by 1767, he wasn’t opposed to resisting what he believed were fundamental violations by the Crown of the rights of Englishmen. (12) By that time Washington had experienced at first hand the effects of rising (11) taxes imposed on American colonists by the British, (7,11) and came to believe that it was in the best interests of the colonists to declare independence from England. (11) Washington and his fellow planters, were upset with unfair treatment they were receiving; (8,9) they felt exploited by British merchants and hampered by (8) the British government (9) by the regulations (8) and unfair taxes (7) they imposed. (8) He therefore became involved in politics (4,9) as they began to argue and fight for their rights. (9) He was elected into the Virginia House of Burgesses. (4,7) As the quarrel with the mother country grew acute, he moderately but firmly voiced his resistance to the restrictions. (8) In 1769, Washington introduced a resolution to the House of Burgesses calling for Virginia to boycott British goods until the Acts were repealed. (12) After the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774, Washington chaired a meeting in which the Fairfax Resolves were adopted calling for the convening of the Continental Congress and the use of armed resistance as a last resort. (12)

First Continental Congress

He was selected as one of Virginia’s representatives to the First Continental Congress (4,7) in Philadelphia (11) in 1774, (4,7) OR March 1775. (12) Here the insurrection of the American colonists against the London government broke out. (10) The Congress was a group of representatives from each colony (9) who supported the colonial cause. (7)

Second Continental Congress

After the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the political dispute between Great Britain and her North American colonies escalated. (12) He played a similar role in (7,9) the Second Continental Congress (7,8) which assembled in Philadelphia (8,12) in May (8,12) 1775 (7,8) into an armed conflict. (12) He travelled to the Congress dressed in a military uniform, indicating that he was prepared for war. (12) When the British refused to change (9) the American Revolution began in earnest. (11) The Americans decided to go to war. (9) Washington was elected Commander in Chief of (7,8) the colonial armies (1,3) OR Patriot forces (2,6) OR the Continental Army (3,4) OR Insurgent Troops, (10) at the suggestion of John Adams, (10) in May (9) OR on June (7,10) 15th (10,12) 1775. (7,9) As was his custom, he did not seek out the office of commander, but he faced no serious competition. (12) Washington was the best choice for a number of reasons: he had the prestige, military experience and charisma for the job and he had been advising Congress for months. (12) Another factor was political. (12) The Revolution had started in New England and at the time, they were the only colonies that had directly felt the blunt of British tyranny. (12) Virginia was the largest British colony and deserved recognition and New England needed Southern support. (12)

Revolutionary War


On July 3rd, 1775, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, he took command. (8) General Washington did not have an easy task. (9) Political considerations and force of personality aside, he was not necessarily qualified to wage war on the world’s most powerful nation. (12) His training and experience were primarily in frontier warfare involving small numbers of soldiers. (12) He wasn’t trained in the open-field style of battle practiced by the commanding British generals. (12) He had no practical experience manoeuvring large formations of infantry, commanding cavalry or artillery, or maintaining the flow of supplies for thousands of men in the field. (12) He had a ragtag army of ill-trained (8,9) undisciplined (10) and ill-equipped (10,11) colonial farmers (9) to fight trained British soldiers. (8,9) They lacked food, ammunition and other supplies, sometimes even going without shoes in winter. (11) With these he embarked upon a war that was to last six gruelling years. (8) Washington formed and organised the Continental army (5,7) setting up systems to feed, clothe and equip his soldiers. (7) Washington served as a general (1) and commander-in-chief (1,3) during the American Revolution (1,3) OR American Revolutionary War. (2,3)


The war began in 1775. (3) Washington proved to be a better general than military strategist. (10,11) His strength lay not in his genius on the battlefield but in his ability to keep the struggling colonial army together. (11) He realized early that the best strategy was to harass the British. (8) He reported to Congress, “we should on all Occasions avoid a general Action, or put anything to the Risque, unless compelled by a necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn.” (8) Ensuing battles saw him fall back slowly, then strike unexpectedly, (8) but his early military fortunes were mixed. (7,9) He was courageous and determined and often smart enough to keep one step ahead of the enemy. (12) He had an early victory in March 1776 by placing artillery above Boston, on Dorchester Heights, forcing the British to withdraw. (12) Washington then moved his troops into New York City. (12) But in June, a new British commander, Sir William Howe, arrived in the Colonies with the largest expeditionary force Britain had ever deployed to date. (12) In August 1776, the British army launched an attack and quickly took New York City in the largest battle of the war. (12) Washington’s army was routed and suffered the surrender of 2,800 men. (12) He ordered the remains of his army to retreat across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. (12) Confident the war would be over in a few months, General Howe wintered his troops at Trenton and Princeton, leaving Washington free to attack at the time and place of his choosing. (12) On Christmas night, 1776, Washington and his men won a victory when they crossed the Delaware River (9,12) and attacked unsuspecting Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, forcing their surrender. (12) A few days later, evading a force that had been sent to destroy his army, Washington attacked the British again, this time at Princeton, dealing them a humiliating loss. (12) The famous crossing of the Delaware River at Christmas was a victory. (9) He bravely resisted the English forces. (10) He was able to give his soldiers the direction and motivation to keep going, even when losing battles. (9,11) Over the course of the gruelling eight-year war, the colonial forces won few battles but consistently held their own against the British. (11) General Howe’s strategy was to capture colonial cities and stop the rebellion at key economic and political centres. (12) He never abandoned the belief that once the Americans were deprived of their major cities, the rebellion would wither. (12) In the summer of 1777, he mounted an offensive against Philadelphia. (12) George Washington moved in his army to defend the city and was defeated at the Battle of Brandywine. (12) Philadelphia fell two weeks later. (12)

Saratoga & French Alliance

In the late summer of 1777, the British army sent a major force, under the command of John Burgoyne, south from Quebec to Saratoga, New York, to split off the rebellion in New England. (12) But the strategy backfired, as Burgoyne became trapped by the American armies led by Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold, at the Battle of Saratoga. (12) Without support from Howe, who couldn’t reach him in time, he was forced to surrender his entire 6,200 man army (12) in October 1777. (7) The victory was a major turning point in the war as it encouraged France to openly ally itself with the American cause for independence. (7,11) Although Washington’s fortunes did not immediately improve, with French military and naval assistance the tide began to turn. (7) Through all of this, Washington discovered an important lesson: The political nature of war was just as important as the military one. (12) Washington began to understand that military victories were not as important as keeping the resistance alive. (12) Americans began to believe that they could meet their objective of independence without defeating the British army. (12) On the other hand, British General Howe clung to the strategy of capturing colonial cities in hopes of smothering the rebellion. (12) He didn’t realize that capturing cities like Philadelphia and New York would not unseat colonial power. (12) The Congress would just pack up and meet elsewhere. (12) The darkest time for Washington and the Continental Army was during the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. (12) The 11,000-man force went into winter quarters and over the next six months suffered thousands of deaths, mostly from disease. (12) But the army emerged from the winter still intact and in relatively good order. (12) Realizing their strategy of capturing Colonial cities had failed, the British command replaced General Howe with Sir Henry Clinton. (12) The British army evacuated Philadelphia to return to New York City. (12) Washington and his men delivered several quick blows to the moving army, attacking the British flank near Monmouth Courthouse. (12) Though a tactical standoff, the encounter proved Washington’s army capable of open field battle. (12) For the remainder of the war, George Washington was content to keep the British confined to New York, although he never totally abandoned the idea of retaking the city. (12)


Over the course of six years George led the army to victory over the British. (9) The alliance with France had brought a large French army and a navy fleet. (12) Washington and his French counterparts decided to let Clinton be and attack (12) British General Charles (11,12) Cornwallis, (8,11) at Yorktown, Virginia. (12) He led the allied campaign which besieged Yorktown. (6) Facing the combined French and Colonial armies and the French fleet of 29 warships at his back, Cornwallis held out as long as he could, but (12) on 19th (7,12) OR 17th (9) October (7,9) 1781, the British army (7,8) surrendered at Yorktown. (7,8) This ended the fighting. (6,9) The success was obtained in good part (10,12) thanks to the French. (5,7) Washington had led his men to victory over the British (2,3) and their allies, (2) and become a national hero. (3,11) George Washington had no way of knowing the Yorktown victory would bring the war to a close. (12) The British still had 26,000 troops occupying New York City, Charleston, and Savannah and a large fleet of warships in the Colonies. (12) By 1782, the French army and navy had departed, the Continental treasury was depleted, and most of his soldiers hadn’t been paid for several years. (12) A near mutiny was avoided when Washington convinced Congress to grant a five-year bonus for soldiers in March 1783. (12) By November of that year, the British had evacuated New York City and other cities and the war was essentially over. (12) The Americans had won their independence. (12)

Treaty of Versailles, 1783

Peace talks began in Paris (7) and the war ended in 1783, (3) when a treaty was signed in 1783 (3,7) at Versailles. (10,11) Once victory was in hand, in 1783, Washington formally bade his troops farewell (12) and resigned as commander-in-chief, (6,11) declining further authority and power out of his devotion to republicanism. (6) He longed to retire (8) OR did retire (10,11) to his plantation at Mount Vernon, (8,10) intent on resuming his life as a gentleman farmer and family man. (11) For four years, George Washington attempted to fulfill his dream of resuming life as a gentleman farmer and to give his much-neglected plantation the care and attention it deserved. (12) The war had been costly to the Washington family with lands neglected, no exports of goods, and the depreciation of paper money. (12) But Washington was able to repair his fortunes with a generous land grant from Congress for his military service and become profitable once again. (12)

Constitutional Convention

Since independence, the young republic had been struggling under the Articles of Confederation, a structure of government that centered power with the states. (12) But the states were not unified. (12) They fought among themselves over boundaries and navigation rights and refused to contribute to paying off the nation’s war debt. (12) In some instances, state legislatures imposed tyrannical tax policies on their own citizens. (12) Washington was intensely dismayed at the state of affairs, but only slowly came to the realization that something should be done about it. (12) Perhaps he wasn’t sure the time was right so soon after the Revolution to be making major adjustments to the democratic experiment. (12) Or perhaps because he hoped he would not be called upon to serve, he remained noncommittal. (12) But when Shays’ rebellion erupted in Massachusetts, Washington knew something needed to be done to improve the nation’s government. (12) In 1786, Congress approved a convention to be held in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. (12) He realized that the Nation under its Articles of Confederation was not functioning well, (8,12) so he became a prime mover in the steps leading to (8) OR In 1787, he was again called to the duty of his country, (11,12) and was unanimously (12) elected president of (7,10) the Constitutional Convention of 1787. (3,6) Among others, such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, Washington had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t amendments that were needed, but a new constitution that would give the national government more authority. (12) Washington headed the committee (11) which drafted the constitution (5,11) and has been called the “Father of His Country”. (6) He only spoke once during the proceedings, but he lobbied hard with his fellow delegates in the after hours for major changes in the structure of government. (12) In the end, the Convention produced a plan for government that not only would address the country’s current problems, but would endure through time. (12) After the convention adjourned (12) Washington used his immense influence to persuade the states to ratify the resulting constitution, (7,12) His reputation and support for the new government were indispensable to the Constitution’s ratification. (12) Opposition was strident, if not organized, with many of America’s leading political figures — including Patrick Henry and Sam Adams — condemning the proposed government as a grab for power. (12) Washington succeeded, (8) but even in his native Virginia, it was ratified by only one vote. (12) Thus was agreed the new (3,6) Constitution (5,10) for the federal government, (3,6) He was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. (2,5) His impressive leadership there convinced the delegates that he was by far the most qualified man to become the nation’s first president. (11) At first Washington balked. (11) He wanted to, at last, return to a quiet life at home and leave governing the new nation to others. (11) But public opinion was so strong that eventually he gave in. (11)


He fought an election (5,6) on January 7th, 1789 (11) against John Adams, one of the leaders of the War of Independence, (10) and was unanimously chosen by the (5,6) 69 members of the (10) Electoral College (5,6) to be the first president of the United States. (1,2) John Adams (1735-1826), who received the second-largest number of votes, became the nation’s first vice president. (11) Washington resigned himself to leaving Mount Vernon. (10) He became President on 30th April (2,8) 1789. (1,2) Standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street (8) in New York, (8,10) the provisional (10) capital of the federation (9,10) (because Washington, DC, wasn’t yet built (11)) he took his oath of office. (8) At first he declined the $25,000 salary Congress offered the office of the presidency, for he was already wealthy and wanted to protect his image as a selfless public servant. (12) However, Congress persuaded him to accept the compensation to avoid giving the impression that only wealthy men could serve as president. (12) In the first year of his presidency his mother died. (11) In the second year the capital was (9) moved to Philadelphia (9,11) Pennsylvania. (9)

First term

The two terms that Washington served as president were peaceful times. (9) The United States was a small nation when Washington took office, consisting of 11 states and approximately 4 million people, and there was no precedent for how the new president should conduct domestic or foreign business. (11) Realizing that the way he handled the job would impact how future presidents approached the position, (3,8) he handed down a legacy of strength, (3) integrity (3,11) fairness, prudence (11) and national purpose: (3) as he wrote to James Madison: “As the first of everything, everything in our situation will serve to establish a precedent … it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles.” (8) He established many roles and traditions of the President of the United States that still stand today. (6,9) He set numerous precedents that have endured, such as the cabinet advisory system, the inaugural address, and the title “Mr. President”. (6) Washington’s administration was not without its critics who questioned what they saw as extravagant conventions in the office of the president. (12) During his two terms, Washington rented the best houses available and was driven in a coach drawn by four horses, with outriders and lackeys in rich uniforms. (12) After being overwhelmed by callers, he announced that except for the scheduled weekly reception open to all, he would only see people by appointment. (12) Washington entertained lavishly, but in private dinners and receptions at invitation only. (12) He was, by some, accused of conducting himself like a king. (12) However, ever mindful his presidency would set the precedent for those to follow, he was careful to avoid the trappings of a monarchy. (12) At public ceremonies, he did not appear in a military uniform or the monarchical robes. (12) Instead, he dressed in a black velvet suit with gold buckles and powdered hair, as was the common custom. (12) His reserved manner was more due to inherent reticence than any excessive sense of dignity. (12) He left his mark on institutions. (4,5) He helped build and guide the formation of the actual US Government from the words of the Constitution. (9) He laid the foundations for the role of a president during his first term. (4) He nominated the first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, John Jay (1745-1829), signed a bill establishing the first national bank (11) He formed the first presidential cabinet (9,11) which included his friends Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State) and Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury). (9,11) During his presidency he showed great ability as an administrator. (5) He delegated authority wisely and consulted regularly with his cabinet listening to their advice before making a decision. (12) He promoted and oversaw implementation of a strong, well-financed national government. (6) He faced huge challenges in welding together the individual states to establish a new nation, and creating a government for that nation. (7)

Whiskey Rebellion

In 1791, Washington signed a bill authorizing Congress to place a tax on distilled spirits, which stirred protests in rural areas of Pennsylvania. (12) Quickly, the protests turned into a full-scale defiance of federal law known as the Whiskey Rebellion. (12) Washington invoked the Militia Act of 1792, summoning local militias from several states to put down the rebellion. (12) Washington personally took command, marching the troops into the areas of rebellion and demonstrating that the federal government would use force, when necessary, to enforce the law. (12)

Indian Rights

His administration established several peace treaties with Native American tribes and approved a bill establishing the nation’s capital in a permanent district along the Potomac River. (12)

Party Politics

He believed that divergent views were critical for the health of the new government, but (11) he was distressed (7,11) by internal conflicts (5,6) such as the fierce rivalry between (6,7) his two closest advisers (7,11) Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. (6,7) Jefferson and Hamilton disagreed strongly on the role of the federal government. (10,11) Hamilton pursued a bold policy to strengthen the US economy and the power of the central state. (10) He introduced new taxes to strengthen the federal power. (11) Jefferson argued against this, in favour of States’ Rights. (10) To Washington’s disappointment, the dispute led to the emergence of political parties. (7,10) Washington’s friend James Madison formed (10) the group of Democratic-Republicans supporting Jefferson against Hamilton and the “federalists”. (7,10) Washington remained impartial (6) and did not infringe upon the policy making powers that he felt the Constitution gave Congress. (8)

Second term

He served two terms. (3,4) He had wanted to retire after his first term, (7) but was once again elected (6,10) unanimously by the Electoral College (6) in 1792 (7) OR 1793. (10) Foreign policy was a Presidential concern, (8) and this preoccupied him in in his second term. (4) In foreign matters, he supported cordial relations with other countries, (11) realizing that the weak, young nation could not succumb to Europe’s political intrigues. (12) These were peaceful times. (9) OR There was a war situation following the French Revolution in Europe. (5) When the French Revolution plunged Europe into war (6) OR when war broke out between Britain and France (7,8) in 1793 (7,12) he favoured a position of neutrality. (11) He refused to accept entirely the recommendations of either his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who was pro-French, or his Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who was pro-British. (8) George Washington accredited the French ambassador, (10) and succeeded in maintaining American neutrality (6,7) until the United States could grow stronger. (8) He proclaimed it without consulting the Senate or the House of Representatives, neither of which was in session. (10) He thus extended the presidential prerogatives to the detriment of the legislative power. (10) He normalised diplomatic relations with Britain. (7)

Jay Treaty

He later signed the controversial Jay Treaty. (6,12) At the urging of Alexander Hamilton, Washington disregarded the US alliance with France and pursued a course of neutrality. (12) In 1794, he sent John Jay to Britain to negotiate a treaty (known as the “Jay Treaty”) to secure a peace with Britain and clear up some issues held over from the Revolutionary War. (12) The action infuriated Thomas Jefferson, who supported the French and felt that the US needed to honour its treaty obligations. (12) Washington was able to mobilize public support for the treaty, which proved decisive in securing ratification in the Senate. (12) Though controversial, the treaty proved beneficial to the United States by removing British forts along the western frontier, establishing a clear boundary between Canada and the United States, and most importantly, delaying a war with Britain and providing over a decade of prosperous trade and development the fledgling country so desperately needed. (12)

End of his Presidency

He felt it was important that the president not become powerful or rule too long, like a king, and stepped down from the presidency after 8 years. (9) He was becoming unpopular and was strongly criticised by the Republican-Democrats. (10) Wearied of politics, feeling old, (8) he retired at the end of his second term. (8,9) and refused a third term. (4) His Farewell Address (5,8) on 19th September 1796, (10) urged the new nation to maintain the highest standards domestically. (11) It strongly warned against political partisanship, sectionalism, (5,8) ‘excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions’. (8) He warned against involvement in foreign wars (6,11) and long-term alliances. (8,10) The address is still read each February in the Senate to commemorate Washington’s birthday. (11) He left office on 4th March (2) 1797. (1,2) His last official act was to pardon the participants in the Whiskey Rebellion. (12) Since then only one president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, has served more than two terms. (9)


He retired to (4) his Virginia plantation (3,7) known as Mount Vernon. (1,3) Washington returned to Mount Vernon and devoted his attentions to making the plantation as productive as it had been before he became president. (11) More than four decades of public service had aged him, but he was still a commanding figure. (11) A few months later, the danger of war with the French Directory regime led him to assume the supreme command of the armies again. (10) Once the danger receded, he left the presidency to his former rival John Adams and returned to Mount Vernon. (10) Less than three years after leaving office, (3,8) In December 1799, (11) he caught a cold (7,11) after inspecting his properties in the rain. (11) OR in a driving snowstorm. (12) When he returned home, he hastily ate his supper in his wet clothes and then went to bed. (12) The next morning, on December 13, he awoke with a severe sore throat and became increasingly hoarse. (12) He retired early, but awoke around 3 a.m. and told Martha that he felt sick. (12) The cold developed, (11,12) and he was soon very sick with (9) a throat infection (2,8) specifically epiglottitis and hypovolemic shock. (2) He died, (1,2) on the night of (11,12) December 14th, 1799, (1,2) at Mount Vernon (3,5) at the age of 67. (3,11) The news of his death spread throughout the country, plunging the nation into a deep mourning. (12) Many towns and cities held mock funerals and presented hundreds of eulogies to honor their fallen hero. (12) When the news of this death reached Europe, the British fleet paid tribute to his memory, and Napoleon ordered ten days of mourning. (12) He was buried at Mount Vernon, which in 1960 was designated a national historic landmark. (11) At the time of his death he owned some 300 slaves. (11) He had become increasingly troubled by slavery (6,11) and in his will he ordered that his slaves to be freed (6,9) after his wife’s death. (11) For months the Nation mourned him. (8) All criticism was forgotten. (10) In 1800 a hagiography by Mason Locke Weems made him a national myth. (10) He was famously eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. (6) Washington has been widely memorialized by monuments, (5,6) art, (6) places (5,6) stamps, (6) and currency. (5,6) He gave his name to the eventual capital, (5,9) although he never served as president there. (9,11) He gave his name to Washington State, and to numerous sites and monuments. (5) His face appears on the 25 cent piece and on the dollar note. (5) He has been consistently ranked by scholars among the four greatest American presidents. (6)

1 Washington was heavily criticized in Britain for the incident. British statesman Horace Walpole referred to the controversy surrounding Jumonville’s death as the ‘Jumonville Affair’ and described it as “a volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America that set the world on fire”


[bibliography of sources available upon request]

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