George Washington Biography
|George Washington, by-name Father of His Country1 (February 22, 1732 - December 14, 1799) was an American general and Commander-in-Chief of the colonial armies in the American Revolution (177583) and subsequently first president of the United States (178997).
He was born on February 11, 1731 (old style) (February 22, 1732 new style). His birthday is celebrated on the Gregorian (new style) calendar date. Also note that the English year began on March 25 (Annunciation Day, or Lady Day) at the time of his birth, hence the difference in his birthyear.
Washington was part of the economic and cultural elite of the slave-owning planters of Virginia. His parents Augustine Washington (1693 - April 12, 1743) and Mary Ball (1708 - August 25, 1789) were of English descent. As a youth, he was trained as a surveyor and helped survey the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.
Washington was commissioned in 1754 as a colonel in the Virginia Militia and built a series of forts in the western frontier of Virginia. He accompanied the Braddock Expedition of the British Army during the French and Indian War. During the Battle of the Wilderness near the Monongahela he had three horses shot out from under him. He showed his coolness under fire in organizing the retreat from the debacle. Washington then organized the First Virginia Regiment, which saw service through the war; Washington later left the Regiment to serve in the House of Burgesses.
Following his military service, in 1757 he married Martha Dandridge Custis, the wealthy widow of Daniel Parke Custis. The newlywed couple moved to his estate Mount Vernon where he took up the life of a genteel farmer. He became a member of the House of Burgesses. He was initiated as a Freemason in Fredericksburg, Virginia, on 4 February 1752.
Washington Crossing the DelawareDuring the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress appointed Washington as commander-in-chief of the newly-formed Continental Army on June 15, 1775. He assumed command on July 3. After successfully driving the British out of Boston, Washington lost the Battle of Long Island in 1776 and retreated to Valley Forge, outside of British-held Philadelphia, where the American forces recovered. On December 25, 1776, Washington led the American forces crossing the Delaware to attack Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey. The successful attack built morale among the pro-independence colonists.
Washington retained an army in being throughout the Revolution, keeping British forces tied down in the center of the country while Generals Gates and Benedict Arnold won the battle of Saratoga in 1777. This victory led to French recognition of the United States.
In 1781, Washington, commanding both American and French forces, besieged General Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia. The British surrender there was the effective end of British attempts to quell the Revolution. In 1783, by means of the Treaty of Paris, the Kingdom of Great Britain recognized American independence. As a result, on November 2 of that year at Rocky Hill, New Jersey General Washington gave his "Farewell Address to the Army". Then at Fraunces Tavern in New York City on December 4, General Washington formally bid his officers farewell.
General George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Army to the Congress, which was then meeting at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, on December 23, 1783. This action was of great significance in establishing civilian rather than military rule, leading to democracy rather than potential dictatorship.
After the war, he presided over the American Constitutional Convention in 1787.
He farmed roughly 8,000 acres (32 km²). Despite the large amount of land he owned at the time, he was considered "land poor" and never had much cash on hand. In fact, he had to borrow £600 to relocate to New York City, then the center of the American Government, to take office as president.
Washington was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States on February 4, 1789. To date he is the only person ever unanimously chosen by the electoral college in a presidential election (a feat he duplicated in 1792). He was inaugurated in New York City on April 30, 1789.
His election as president was a disappointment to his wife, the first First Lady of the United States, 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 1791, the Federal government imposed an excise tax on whiskey. This tax was highly unpopular on the American frontier, and in July, 1794, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, a Federal marshal was attacked by a mob and a regional inspector's house was burned. On August 7, 1794, Washington called out the militias of several states and led a force of 13,000 to suppress the unrest. The event has gone down in history as the "Whiskey Rebellion".
Washington held the first Cabinet meeting of any US President on February 25, 1793.
In 1793, the revolutionary government of France sent diplomat Citizen Genet, who attempted to turn popular sentiment towards American involvement in the war against Great Britain. Genet also 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. Genet's activities forced Washington to ask the French government for his recall.
Secretary of State - Thomas Jefferson (1790-1793), Edmund Randolph (1794-1795), Timothy Pickering (1795-1797)
Secretary of War - Henry Knox (1789-1794), Timothy Pickering (1795), James McHenry (1796-1797)
Secretary of the Treasury - Alexander Hamilton (1789-1795), Oliver Wolcott, Jr. (1795-1797)
Attorney General - Edmund Randolph (1789-1794), 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
John Jay - Chief Justice - 1789
John Rutledge - Chief Justice - 1795
Oliver Ellsworth - Chief Justice - 1796
James Wilson - 1789
John Rutledge - 1790
William Cushing - 1790
John Blair - 1790
James Iredell - 1790
Thomas Johnson - 1792
William Paterson - 1793
Samuel Chase - 1796
Is he really the first President?
Some people wonder why the leaders in the intervening time period between the American Revolution and the signing of the United States Constitution are not recognized as the President of the United States.
Some people argue that the Presidents of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation should be retroactively recognized as the true first Presidents of the United States. Politically, the positions are different in that one was the leader of a Congress that controlled a loose confederation and the other leads a true federal government. Given this, virtually all historians believe that the positions are not the same and therefore the first President is George Washington.
Admirers of Washington circulated an apocryphal story about his honesty as a child. In the story, he wanted to try out a new axe and chopped down his father's cherry tree; when questioned by his father, he gave the famous non-quotation: "I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree." The story first appeared after Washington's death in a naive "inspirational" children's book by Parson Mason Weems, who had been rector of the Mount Vernon parish. See also George Washington's axe for an elaboration of this story.
Because of Washington's involvement in Freemasonry, some publicly visible collections of Washington memorabilia are maintained by Masonic lodges. The museum at Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City includes specimens of Washington's false teeth.
George Washington was plagued throughout his adult life with bad teeth, losing about 1 tooth a year from the age of 24. In his later years he consulted a number of dentists and had a number of sets of false teeth (but none of wood). For a more or less definitive chronicle of his struggles see George Washington's Teeth, Madeleine Comora and Deborah Chandra, illustrated by: Brock Cole, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003, hardcover, ISBN 0374325340.
At his time of death, Washington last held the rank of major general, appointed by John Adams in anticipation of a possible war with France. Over the years, many military officers outranked him. In 1976, President Gerald Ford posthumously appointed George Washington as General of the Armies of the United States, and specified that he would always outrank all officers of the Army, past and present.
Modern day doctors now believe that Washington died from either a streptococcal infection of the throat, or, since he was bled as part of his treatment, a combination of shock from the loss of blood, asphyxia, and dehydration. He was buried in a family graveyard in Mount Vernon.
George Washington was one of the few early American Presidents who was not a total follower of any one specific Christian denomination. He professed a strong belief in God, but did not necessarily believe that God intervened in the world through supernatural miracles. His informal religious beliefs were sometimes described as Deism; although he attended, and served as a lay officer of, an Episcopal Church of which his wife was a devout member.
Washington was an early supporter of religious pluralism. In 1790 he wrote that he envisioned a country "which gives bigotry no sanction...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." This letter was seen by the Jewish community as a significant event; they felt that for the first time in millennia Jews would enjoy full human and political rights.
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 the siting of the White House. At this time, the future site of the capital was a swamp, and Washington remained largely marshland well into the 19th century. The capital was placed in the South, rather than in the major towns of the North, as a compromise during the writing of the United States Constitution in order to get Southern votes for important compromises.
Washington also selected West Point, New York, as the site for the United States Military Academy.
Washington State in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. is also named for him, the only state named for a president.
Numerous ships of United States Navy have been named USS George Washington in honor of the man, or USS Washington in honor of the state named in honor of the man.
His image is on the one dollar bill and the quarter-dollar coin.
|George Washington Resources