George Washington

George Washington
Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg
George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797
1st President of the United States
In office
April 30, 1789 [a] – March 4, 1797
Vice President John Adams
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by John Adams
Senior Officer of the U.S. Army
In office
July 13, 1798 – December 14, 1799
Appointed by John Adams
Preceded by James Wilkinson
Succeeded by Alexander Hamilton
Commander-in-Chief of the
Continental Army
In office
June 15, 1775 – December 23, 1783
Appointed by Continental Congress
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Henry Knox ( Senior Officer of the Army)
Delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Virginia
In office
May 10, 1775 – June 15, 1775
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Thomas Jefferson
Delegate to the First Continental Congress
from Virginia
In office
September 5, 1774 – October 26, 1774
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Personal details
Born (1732-02-22)February 22, 1732
Bridges Creek, Colony of Virginia, British America (present-day Virginia, U.S.)
Died December 14, 1799(1799-12-14) (aged 67)
Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.
Cause of death Epiglottitis and hypovolemic shock
Resting place Washington Family Tomb, Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.
Political party None
Spouse(s) Martha Dandridge (m. 1759) [1]
Parents Augustine Washington
Mary Ball
Awards Congressional Gold Medal
Thanks of Congress
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance Kingdom of Great Britain
United States of America
Service/branch Colonial Militia
Continental Army
United States Army
Years of service 1752–58 (British Militia)
1775–83 (Continental Army)
1798–99 (U.S. Army)
Rank Colonel ( British Army)
General and Commander-in-Chief ( Continental Army)
Lieutenant General ( United States Army)
General of the Armies (promoted posthumously: 1976, by an Act of Congress)
Commands Virginia Colony's regiment
Continental Army
United States Army
Battles/wars

George Washington (February 22, 1732 [2] [b] [c] – December 14, 1799) was an American statesman and soldier who served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797 and was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and later presided over the 1787 convention that drafted the United States Constitution. He is popularly considered the driving force behind the nation's establishment and came to be known as the " father of the country," both during his lifetime and to this day. [3]

Washington was born into the provincial gentry of Colonial Virginia to a family of wealthy planters who owned tobacco plantations and slaves, which he inherited. In his youth, he became a senior officer in the colonial militia during the first stages of the French and Indian War. In 1775, the Second Continental Congress commissioned him as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution. In that command, Washington forced the British out of Boston in 1776 but was defeated and nearly captured later that year when he lost New York City. After crossing the Delaware River in the middle of winter, he defeated the British in two battles ( Trenton and Princeton), retook New Jersey, and restored momentum to the Patriot cause. His strategy enabled Continental forces to capture two major British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. Historians laud Washington for the selection and supervision of his generals, preservation and command of the army, coordination with the Congress, state governors, and their militia, and attention to supplies, logistics, and training. In battle, however, Washington was sometimes outmaneuvered by British generals with larger armies, yet was always able to avoid significant defeats which would have resulted in the surrender of his army and the loss of the American Revolution.

After victory had been finalized in 1783, Washington resigned as commander-in-chief rather than seize power, proving his commitment to American republicanism. [4] Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787, which devised a new form of federal government for the United States. Washington was widely admired for his strong leadership qualities and was unanimously elected president by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. Following his election as president in 1789, he worked to unify rival factions in the fledgling nation. He supported Alexander Hamilton's programs to satisfy all debts, federal and state, established a permanent seat of government, implemented an effective tax system, and created a national bank. [5]

In avoiding war with Great Britain, he guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade by securing the Jay Treaty in 1795, despite intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. He oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality in the French Revolutionary Wars, suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, and won wide acceptance amongst Americans. [6] Washington's incumbency established many precedents still in use today, such as the cabinet system, the inaugural address, and the title Mr. President. [7] [8] His retirement from office after two terms established a tradition that lasted until 1940 and was later made law by the 22nd Amendment. He remained non-partisan, never joining the Federalist Party, although he largely supported its policies. Washington's Farewell Address was an influential primer on civic virtue, warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.

He retired from the presidency in 1797, returning to his home and plantation at Mount Vernon. Upon his death, Washington was eulogized as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen" by Representative Henry Lee III of Virginia. [9] He was revered in life and in death; scholarly and public polling consistently ranks him among the top three presidents in American history. He has been depicted and remembered in monuments, public works, currency, and other dedications to the present day.

Early life (1732–1753)

Washington's birthplace

George Washington was the first child of Augustine Washington (1694–1743) and his second wife Mary Ball Washington (1708–1789), born on their Pope's Creek Estate near present-day Colonial Beach in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was born on February 11, 1731, according to the Julian calendar and Annunciation Style of enumerating years then in use in the British Empire. The Gregorian calendar was adopted within the British Empire in 1752, and it renders a birth date of February 22, 1732. [10] [b] [c]

Washington was of primarily English gentry descent, especially from Sulgrave, England. His great-grandfather John Washington immigrated to Virginia in 1656 and began accumulating land and slaves, as did his son Lawrence and his grandson, George's father Augustine. Augustine was a tobacco planter who also tried his hand in iron-manufacturing ventures. [11] In George's youth, the Washingtons were moderately prosperous members of the Virginia gentry, of "middling rank" rather than one of the leading planter families. [12]

Six of George's siblings reached maturity, including older half-brothers Lawrence and Augustine, from his father's first marriage to Jane Butler Washington, and full siblings Samuel, Elizabeth (Betty), John Augustine, and Charles. Three siblings died before adulthood: his full sister Mildred died when she was about one, his half-brother Butler died in infancy, and his half-sister Jane died at age twelve, when George was about two. His father died of a sudden illness in April 1743 when George was eleven years old, and his half-brother Lawrence became a surrogate father and role model. William Fairfax was Lawrence's father-in-law and the cousin of Virginia's largest landowner Thomas, Lord Fairfax, and he was also a formative influence. [13] [14] William Fairfax's son, George William Fairfax, was a close friend and associate of Washington. [15] His, wife, Sally, was also a friend of Washington and an early romantic interest. While no evidence exists of a sexual affair between the two, Washington wrote Sally love letters even after she had married. [16]

Washington's father was the Justice of the Westmoreland County Court. [17] George spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm in Stafford County near Fredericksburg. Lawrence Washington inherited another family property from his father, a plantation on the Potomac River at Little Hunting Creek which he named Mount Vernon, in honor of his commanding officer, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. George inherited Ferry Farm upon his father's death and eventually acquired Mount Vernon after Lawrence's death. [18]

The death of his father prevented Washington from an education at England's Appleby School such as his older brothers had received. He achieved the equivalent of an elementary school education from a variety of tutors, as well as from a school run by an Anglican clergyman in or near Fredericksburg. [20] [21] There was talk of securing an appointment for him in the Royal Navy when he was 15, but it was dropped when his widowed mother objected. [22]

In 1751, Washington traveled to Barbados with Lawrence, who was suffering from tuberculosis, with the hope that the climate would be beneficial to Lawrence's health. Washington contracted smallpox during the trip, which left his face slightly scarred but immunized him against future exposures to the dreaded disease. [23] Lawrence's health failed to improve, and he returned to Mount Vernon where he died in the summer of 1752. [24] Lawrence's position as Adjutant General (militia leader) of Virginia was divided into four district offices after his death. Washington was appointed by Governor Dinwiddie as one of the four district adjutants in February 1753, with the rank of major in the Virginia militia. [25] During this period, Washington became a Freemason while in Fredericksburg, although his involvement was minimal. [26]

Surveyor

Washington's introduction to surveying began at an early age through school exercises that taught him the basics of the profession, followed by practical experience in the field. His first experiences at surveying occurred in the territory surrounding Mount Vernon. His first opportunity as a surveyor occurred in 1748 when he was invited to join a survey party organized by his neighbor and friend George Fairfax of Belvoir. Fairfax organized a professional surveying party to lay out large tracts of land along the border of western Virginia, where the young Washington gained invaluable experience in the field. [27]

Washington began his career as a professional surveyor in 1749 at the age of 17. He subsequently received a commission and surveyor's license from the College of William & Mary [d] and became the official surveyor for the newly formed Culpeper County. He was appointed to this well-paid official position thanks to his brother Lawrence's connection to the prominent Fairfax family. He completed his first survey in less than two days, plotting a 400-acre parcel of land, and was well on his way to a promising career. He was subsequently able to purchase land in the Shenandoah Valley, the first of his many land acquisitions in western Virginia.

For the next four years, Washington worked surveying land in Western Virginia and for the Ohio Company, a land investment company funded by Virginia investors. He came to the notice of the new lieutenant governor of Virginia Robert Dinwiddie, thanks to Lawrence's position as commander of the Virginia militia. He was hard to miss; at over six feet, [e] he was taller than most of his contemporaries. [30] In October 1750, Washington resigned his position as an official surveyor, though he continued to work diligently over the next three years at his new profession. He continued to survey professionally for two more years, mostly in Frederick County, before receiving a military appointment as adjutant for southern Virginia. By 1752, Washington completed close to 200 surveys on numerous properties totaling more than 60,000 acres. He continued to survey at different times throughout his life and as late as 1799. [27] [30]

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