1st President of the United States (#1)
Terms: 2 (1789-1797)
Political Party: None
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 in Pope’s Creek, Virginia. Pope’s Creek Plantation was his father’s property. They moved away from there when George was 3 to Little Hunting Creek Plantation, another family property on the Potomac River (now known as Mount Vernon). Shortly thereafter, they moved once again to yet another plantation called Ferry Farm, where George spent the remainder of his youth and developed his knowledge of agriculture.
His father, Augustine Washington, died when George was just 11 years old. At that time, George inherited Ferry Farm, along with 10 slaves. His slave ownership would grow to over 300 throughout his life.
Not much is know about George’s early childhood. One thing that most of us have learned is the story about chopping down the cherry tree and owning up to it to his father because, as he stated it, “I cannot tell a lie.” Only that never happened. It was a myth created by Washington’s first biographer after George’s death. Likewise, he never threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River.
We know that George was intent on learning manners and proper etiquette and wanted to always present himself as a true gentleman in civil society. At the age of 16, he wrote out all of the 110 Rules of Civility from his school book in order to learn them and put them to memory. The rules included such things as:
- RULE NO. 2 When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered.
- RULE NO. 6 Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
- RULE NO. 7 Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.
- RULE NO. 13 Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexteriously upon it if it be upon the Cloths of your Companions, Put it off privately, and if it be upon your own Cloths return Thanks to him who puts it off.
- RULE NO. 50 Be not hasty to beleive flying Reports to the Disparag[e]ment of any.
You can view all of these rules here (mountvernon.org).
At the age of 14, Washington wanted to join the British Navy. However, his mother, Mary Ball Washington, did not allow it. Instead, he became a surveyor, and at the age of 17 he was appointed as the county surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia.
Washington’s early military experienced involved conflicts with the French encroaching on land claimed by Virginia. Land that is now Western Pennsylvania in the Pittsburgh area. At the age of 21, then Major Washington was sent to deliver a message to the French to vacate. The journey was long and hard and almost resulted in Washington drowning. The French did not heed the warnings and Washington was sent back a few months later to drive the French out. In the process, a controversy occurred that resulted in Washington and his men killing some French soldiers, including a commander. Washington and his men then retreated to Fort Necessity where the French surrounded them and forced a humiliating surrender by Washington. As a condition of the surrender, Washington was required to admit to assassinating the French commander. The incident instigated the French and Indian War.
During the French and Indian War, Washington gained the reputation of a fierce, brave warrior who led his men thusly. However, he desperately desired a royal commission in the British Army. As a colonial provincial officer, he never received the level of respect that the royal officers received and that weighed heavy on him. Fortunately for us, he never received the royal commission. For if he had, things may have turned out very different for our nation. I bet that King George wished he had that decision back.
Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759. From a previous marriage, Martha had two surviving children, John “Jacky” Parke Custis and Martha “Patsy” Parke Custis. They had no children of their own together.
Washington held his first position in public office when he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758 and held office until 1775, first representing Frederick County and then elected in Fairfax County.
General George Washington
Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in 1775 to lead America in our fight for independence in the American Revolutionary War against Great Britain. Victory against the most formidable military in the world was in no way a certainty. In fact, Washington experienced set back after set back in losing way more battles than he won. At times, the situation seemed extremely dire. However, through Washington’s strong leadership and ability to motivate his men (he was often leading the battles on the front line) and his unending perseverance, he chalked up some major turning-point victories such as the battles at Trenton and Princeton. The victory at Yorktown in 1781 led to the successful conclusion of our quest for independence, ending the war officially in 1783.
Upon completing his task of delivering liberty to America, Washington could have claimed the title of King and ruled for life. However, in one of the greatest examples of virtue and leadership in the history of the world, Washington instead tendered his resignation to the Continental Congress and headed back to his home at Mount Vernon, content to live out the remainder of his life in private.
America wasn’t ready to move forward without Washington’s leadership. In 1787, he was convinced to serve as the President of the Constitutional Convention. It was believed that the efforts to create such a new Constitution and form of government required someone of Washington’s impeccable reputation and trustworthiness to give it the utmost credibility. Of course, that strategy paid off very well. Upon the completion of the Constitution, George Washington was the first to sign it.
When it came time to choose the first President of the United States, it was essentially a no-brainer. Washington was the obvious choice and he easily won the Electoral College vote unanimously (and no other President has done so ever since, except for Washington once again in winning his second term).
As you can imagine, President Washington’s first term was spent literally building the government infrastructure from scratch, both figuratively and physically.
Read Washington’s first State of the Union Address (mountvernon.org)
For example, Washington didn’t come into office with a vacancy on the Supreme Court…rather, he came into office with an empty Supreme Court. Congress soon pass legislation to create a Supreme Court that consisted of 6 Justices and Washington had the job of appointing all of them. John Jay (who wrote some of the Federalist Papers with Hamilton and Madison) was named the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. During his Presidency, Washington appointed a total of 10 Supreme Court Justices.
Washington was also very involved in planning and designing what would be the new capital city and Presidential residence, although he never resided in the city that bore his name or in the White House. Washington spent his Presidency first in New York City and later in Philadelphia, while Washington, D.C. was being built.
Washington’s Second Inaugural Address (mountvernon.org) was the shortest inaugural speech of any U.S. president, only 135 words.
President Washington was keenly aware of all of his actions as setting precedent for future Presidents to follow. Once again, his virtue and leadership shone brightly. After his second term of office, he could have easily continued on to a third term and more. However, he opted to not seek reelection, setting the precedent of a President self-limiting to only two terms (this was later codified in the Constitution in the 22nd Amendment after FDR broke that unwritten rule).
Washington’s Farewell Address (mountvernon.org)
Return to Mount Vernon
Upon setting our great nation on the proper path, in March of 1797, George Washington finally retired to his home at Mount Vernon to live out the remainder of his life.
Washington died at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799 due to an infection in his throat. Prior to his death, Washington made arrangement in his will to free all of his slaves.
*Much of the biographical information is based off of information from the website of George Washington’s Mount Vernon (mountvernon.org).
Readers please note: The information presented here is intended to provide a brief, basic glimpse of George Washington’s life and merely scratches the surface. Please consider this a work in progress that will be refined and added to each time we rerun the Presidential Series on TheNewsBlender. We encourage your active participation in this effort by posting in the comments particular aspects of Washington’s life that you would like to see added, such as favorite quotes, stories, events and additional resources for information on Washington. Please provide your resources when submitting such content. We can’t promise all submissions will be included, but do promise all will be considered.