Born: February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia
14, 1799 in Mount Vernon, Virginia
Married to Martha Dandridge Washington
On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal
Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of office as the first
President of the United States. "As the first of every thing,
in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent," he wrote
James Madison, "it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents
may be fixed on true principles."
Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, he learned the morals,
manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia
He pursued two intertwined interests: military arts and western expansion.
At 16 he helped survey Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. Commissioned
a lieutenant colonel in 1754, he fought the first skirmishes of what
grew into the French and Indian War. The next year, as an aide to Gen.
Edward Braddock, he escaped injury although four bullets ripped his coat
and two horses were shot from under him.
From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution,
Washington managed his lands around Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia
House of Burgesses.
Married to a widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, he devoted himself to a
busy and happy life. But like his fellow planters, Washington felt himself
exploited by British merchants and hampered by British regulations. As
the quarrel with the mother country grew acute, he moderately but firmly
voiced his resistance to the restrictions.
When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May
1775, Washington, one of the Virginia delegates, was elected Commander
in Chief of the Continental Army. On July 3, 1775, at Cambridge, Massachusetts,
he took command of his ill-trained troops and embarked upon a war that
was to last six grueling years.
He realized early that the best strategy was to harass the British.
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." Ensuing battles saw him
fall back slowly, then strike unexpectedly. Finally in 1781 with the
aid of French allies--he forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Washington longed to retire to his fields at Mount Vernon. But he soon
realized that the Nation under its Articles of Confederation was not
functioning well, so he became a prime mover in the steps leading to
the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. When the new Constitution
was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington President
He did not infringe upon the policy making powers that he felt the Constitution
gave Congress. But the determination of foreign policy became preponderantly
a Presidential concern. When the French Revolution led to a major war
between France and England, Washington 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. Rather, he insisted upon a neutral course until
the United States could grow stronger.
To his disappointment, two parties were developing by the end of his
first term. Wearied of politics, feeling old, he retired at the end of
his second. In his Farewell Address, he urged his countrymen to forswear
excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions. In foreign affairs,
he warned against long-term alliances.
Washington enjoyed less than three years of retirement at Mount Vernon,
for he died of a throat infection December 14, 1799. For months the Nation