The Presidents of the USA



George Washington
He was the victorious commander in chief of the American and French forces in the American Revolution, the presiding officer at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and the first President of the United States.

Born Feb. 22, 1732, Westmoreland County, VA
Education schooling through age 15
Military service ♦ Adjutant, South VA District, 1752
♦ Lt. Colonel and colonel, Virginia Regiment, 1754
♦ Commander of VA Military, 1755-58
♦ Commander in chief of the Continental Army, 1775-83
Previous public office ♦ Surveyor, Culpeper County VA, 1749-51
♦ Virginia House of Burgesses, 1759-74
♦ Justice of the peace, Fairfax County, Va., 1760-74
♦ First Continental Congress, 1774
♦ Second Continental Congress, 1775
♦  Presiding officer, Constitutional Convention, 1787
DiedDec. 14, 1799, Mount Vernon, Va.
picture of George Washington

Early Life

George Washington was born on one of six plantations owned by his father, Augustine Washington, who died in 1743, leaving the family 10, 000 acres and 50 slaves. Thereafter George was raised by his half-brother Lawrence, who was 14 years his senior, at the Epsewasson plantation at Little Hunting Creek, which Lawrence renamed Mount Vernon. His schooling ended at age 15, when he became a plantation supervisor and land surveyor. After Lawrence married a daughter of Colonel William Fairfax, one of the largest and most powerful landowners in Virginia, George was invited to survey Fairfax lands in the Shenandoah Valley, receiving 550 acres in compensation. Between 1749 and 1751 he was surveyor of Culpeper County.

In 1752, after Lawrence died, George inherited the 2, 500-acre estate (with its 18 slaves) at Mount Vernon, becoming a very rich man at age 20.

Early Military Career

Washington gained soon some prominence in public affairs. In February 1753 he was named a major and adjutant of the Virginia Militia.

Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie appointed the 21-year-old Washington to warn the French moving into the Ohio Valley against encroaching on English territory. Dinwiddie then commissioned Washington a lieutenant colonel with orders to dislodge the French at Ft. Duquesne, but a superior French force bested the Virginia troops. This conflict triggered the French and Indian War, and Great Britain dispatched regular troops under Gen. Edward Braddock in 1755 to oust the French. Braddock appointed Washington as aide-de-camp.

Later in the year, after Braddock's death, Dinwiddie promoted Washington to colonel and made him commander in chief of all Virginia troops. Throughout 1756 and 1757 Washington pursued a defensive policy, fortifying the frontier with stockades, recruiting men, and establishing discipline. In 1758, with the title of brigadier, he accompanied British regulars on the campaign that forced the French to abandon Ft. Duquesne which was renamed Fort Pitt.

In 1759 Washington resigned his commission with the rank of brigadier general and married a widow named Martha Dandridge Custis, who had two children by her previous marriage and plantations of 15, 000 acres. Washington resumed tobacco farming, served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and was a justice of the peace. He began opposing British colonial policies, particularly the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which discouraged settlement in the West (where Washington owned land in the Ohio Valley), and the Stamp Act of 1765, which taxed imports. After the governor disbanded the House of Burgesses for protesting the Stamp Act, Washington played a major role in their unauthorized meetings at Raleigh Tavern in 1770 (when it drew up resolutions calling on people not to import British goods, so that they would not pay the hated stamp tax) and in 1774 (when it called for a meeting of a continental congress). He was a delegate to the First Continental Congress of 1774, where he declared, “I will raise one thousand men, subsist them at my own expense, and march myself at their head for the relief of Boston.”

On June 15, 1775, the Second Continental Congress named Washington commander in chief of the Continental Army.

The Revolutionary Years

Washington assumed command of his volunteers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on July 3, 1775, shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill. He forced the British to evacuate Boston in March 1776 and concentrate their forces in New York. Washington was defeated at the Battle of Long Island in August and at the Battles of Manhattan and White Plains. He retreated into New Jersey and then into Pennsylvania.

On Christmas night, 1776, he crossed the Delaware River and defeated British forces at Trenton, New Jersey. Then he captured Princeton and Morristown. But British reinforcements forced his withdrawal, and he was defeated at Brandywine Creek and Germantown, leading to the loss of Philadelphia. The Conway Conspiracy, a plot to replace Washington with General Horatio Gates, the hero of the Battle of Saratoga, went nowhere, as Congress reaffirmed its support for the beleaguered commander. Washington's forces regrouped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in October 1777. Three thousand of his troops deserted.

Although badly supplied, the troops who stuck it out during the harsh winter emerged from Valley Forge in the spring of 1778 as a disciplined army with superb morale. And the French had decided to help the Americans. With the British withdrawing from Philadelphia and regrouping in New York to await the arrival of a French fleet, Washington won the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. He then surrounded and kept British forces in New York at bay while other military units fought in the South and won in the North west. But in 1780 there were new defeats: Charleston, South Carolina, fell and General Gates lost the Battle of Camden. Some troops mutinied when rations were cut.

n 1781 Washington's forces feigned preparations for an attack on New York. He and the French general Rochambeau secretly went south to face the British in Virginia. They joined up with another French general who was commanding American troops, the Marquis de Lafayette, and lay siege to the British. The arrival of a French fleet in the midst of the Yorktown campaign of 1781 forced British general Lord Charles Cornwallis to surrender his 8, 000-man force on October 19, 1781. This defeat ended the war.

Washington then took his army to Newburgh, New York, to await the articles of peace, which were signed in November 1782, to become effective January 20, 1783. On March 15, 1783, Washington quelled a mutiny by senior officers who wished to disperse Congress and name Washington as an American king. His refusal to join the “Newburgh mutiny” and his insistence on preserving civil government made him the most influential political figure in the country.

Washington retired from the army on December 4, 1783, bidding farewell to his officers at Fraunces' Tavern in New York City. He resumed farming at Mount Vernon and toured the lands Congress had given him in the West. In 1785 Mount Vernon was the setting for a conference between representatives from Maryland and Virginia, who settled issues involving navigation on the Potomac River. That meeting led to the Annapolis Convention of 1786, which, in turn, called for a new constitutional convention for the following year.

In 1787 James Madison and others prevailed upon Washington to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and on May 25 he was named presiding officer. His participation ensured the success of the enterprise, especially because Washington played the key role in ensuring ratification of the new constitution by Virginia.


By unanimous vote of the electoral college on February 4, 1789, Washington was elected the first President of the United States. On April 30, he was inaugurated on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. He refused to accept a salary as President.

Washington had several goals for his Presidency. The first was to establish precedents, or set examples, that would preserve a republican form of government after his term of office. He also aimed to put the finances of the nation on a sound footing, to normalize relations with the British, and to develop the frontier. The methods that he and his Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, devised to achieve these goals created divisions within his administration.

The President generally supported Hamilton in his plans for industrialization, assumption of the states' revolutionary war debts, creation of a national bank, protective tariffs on imported goods to help U.S. industry, excise taxes on whiskey to raise revenue, and strict neutrality in the wars between Great Britain and France. Hamilton was opposed on many of these policies by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who proposed closer relations with the French and disagreed with Hamilton's revenue measures, his idea of a national bank, and his plans to industrialize the nation.

Near the end of his first term, Washington accepted Jefferson's resignation. Washington was reelected by a unanimous vote of the electoral college in February 1793. He then allowed Hamilton to raise revenues through a whiskey excise tax. When Western farmers rebelled against paying the tax, Washington and Hamilton used military force to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in the summer of 1794. Washington cemented the alliance with Great Britain with Jay's Treaty, ratified in 1795.

Washington's strong government secured the West as well: the new frontier state of Kentucky was created in 1792, and Tennessee joined the Union in 1796.

Washington's second term was dominated by foreign-policy considerations. Early in 1793 the French Revolution became the central issue in American politics when France, among other actions, declared war on Great Britain. Determined to keep "our people in peace, " Washington issued a neutrality proclamation, although the word "neutrality" was not used. His purpose was "to keep the United States free from political connections with every other country, to see them independent of all and under the influence of none. In a word, I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others."

In Washington's first term, an opposition began to make itself heard, and in his second term, the outlines of the first party system, composed of the Democratic-Republican and Federalist parties, became clear. Washington never understood the need for political parties, seeing something sinister in them. Fatigued and somewhat discouraged, he retired to Mount Vernon after he left the presidency.


Washington retired after his second term at the age of 64, publishing a farewell address to the nation on September 17, 1796, that warned of the perils of “foreign entanglements” and of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” in domestic affairs. On July 4, 1798, in the midst of a crisis with France, Congress named him commander in chief of the Army of the United States, but he never took actual command of forces. For the last years of his life he pursued agricultural interests at Mount Vernon and enjoyed his family, especially Martha's grandchildren, two of whom he adopted after the death of their father. He died of pulmonary complications suffered during a snowstorm on December 14, 1799. In Philadelphia, one of his officers, Henry Lee, gave the famous eulogy, “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”.

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