George Washington

In office
April 30 1789 – March 4 1797
Vice President John Adams
Preceded by (none)
See President of the United States, in Congress Assembled
Succeeded by John Adams

In office

Born February 22, 1732(1732-02-22)
Westmoreland County, Colony and Dominion of Virginia, British America
Died December 14, 1799 (age 67)
Mount Vernon, Virginia, United States
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Martha Dandridge Custis Washington
Occupation Farmer (Planter), Soldier (General)
Religion Anglican/Episcopal

George Washington (February 22, 1732December 14, 1799)[1][2] was a central, critical figure in the founding of the United States of America, as well as the nation's first president (1789–1797).[3] Before becoming one of the major founding fathers of the nation, as well as president, Washington led the Continental Army to victory over the Kingdom of Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

Washington was seen as symbolizing the new nation and republicanism in practice.[4] His devotion to civic virtue made him an exemplary figure among early American politicians.[4][5] During Washington's funeral oration, Henry Lee said that of all Americans, he was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Scholars consistently rank him, together with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, as one of the top three U.S. Presidents.


Due to his military experience, charisma, leadership of the patriot cause, and political base in Virginia, the Second Continental Congress chose him, in 1775, as the commander-in-chief of the American revolutionary forces. In 1776, he forced the British out of Boston, but, later that same year, was defeated, and nearly captured, when he lost New York City. However, he revived the patriot cause by crossing the Delaware River in New Jersey and defeating the surprised enemy units. As a result of his strategy, Revolutionary forces captured the two main British combat armies, first at Saratoga in 1777 and then at Yorktown in 1781. Negotiating with Congress, the colonial states, and French allies, he held together a tenuous army and a fragile, nascent nation amid the threats of disintegration and failure. Following the end of the war in 1783, Washington retired to his plantation on Mount Vernon.

Alarmed in the late 1780s at the many weaknesses of the new nation under the Articles of Confederation, he presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution in 1787. In 1789, Washington became President of the United States and established many of the customs and usages of the new government's executive department. He sought to create a great nation capable of surviving in a world torn asunder by war between Britain and France. His Proclamation of Neutrality of 1793 provided a basis for avoiding any involvement in foreign conflicts. He supported Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's plans to build a strong central government by funding the national debt, implementing an effective tax system, and creating a national bank. When rebels in Pennsylvania defied Federal authority, he rode at the head of the army to authoritatively quell the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington avoided the temptation of war and began a decade of peace with Britain via the Jay Treaty in 1795; he used his immense prestige to get it ratified over intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. Although he never officially joined the Federalist Party, he supported its programs and was its inspirational leader. Washington's Farewell Address was a primer on republican virtue and a stern warning against involvement in foreign wars.

Early life

Washington presents message at Fort Le Boeuf in 1753

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 (February 11, 1731, O.S.),[2] the first son of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary Ball Washington, on the family's Pope's Creek Estate near present-day Colonial Beach in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

In his youth, Washington worked as a surveyor of rural lands and acquired what would become invaluable knowledge of the terrain around his native state of Virginia.[6] Washington embarked upon a career as a planter and in 1748 was invited to help survey Baron Fairfax's lands west of the Blue Ridge. In 1749, he was appointed to his first public office, surveyor of newly created Culpeper County,[7] and through his half-brother, Lawrence Washington, he became interested in the Ohio Company, which aimed to exploit Western lands. After Lawrence's death in 1752, George inherited part of his estate and took over some of Lawrence's duties as adjutant of the colony.[8]

As district adjutant, which made him Major Washington at the age of 20 in December 1752, he was charged with training the militia in the quarter assigned him.[9] At age 21, in Fredericksburg, Washington became a Master Mason in the organization of Freemasons, a fraternal organization that was a lifelong influence.[10][11]

In December 1753, Governor Robert Dinwiddie sent Washington to assess French military strength and intentions, and to deliver a message to the French at Fort Le Boeuf in present day Waterford. The message, which went unheeded, called for the French to abandon their development of the Ohio country, setting in motion two colonial powers toward worldwide conflict. Washington's report on the affair was widely read on both sides of the Atlantic.

French and Indian War

The earliest known portrait of Washington, painted in 1772 by Charles Willson Peale, showing Washington in uniform as colonel of the Virginia Regiment.

In 1754, Dinwiddie sent Washington to drive out the French. With his American Indian allies led by Tanacharison, Washington and his troops ambushed a French scouting party of some 30 men, led by Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. [12] Washington and his troops were overwhelmed at Fort Necessity by a larger and better positioned French and Indian force. The terms of surrender included a statement that Washington had assassinated the scouts and their leader at the Battle of Jumonville Glen. Released by the French, Washington returned to Virginia, where he resigned rather than accept demotion.

In 1755, Washington joined British General Edward Braddock in a major effort to retake the Ohio Country. While Braddock was killed and the expedition ended in disaster, Washington distinguished himself as the Hero of the Monongahela. [13] While Washington's role during the battle has been debated, biographer Joseph Ellis asserts that Washington rode back and forth across the battlefield, rallying the remnant of the British and Virginian forces to a retreat.[14]

In fall 1755, Washington was given a difficult frontier command in the Virginia mountains. In 1758, he took part in the Forbes Expedition, which successfully drove the French from Fort Duquesne. Later that year, Washington resigned from active military service and spent the next sixteen years as a Virginia planter and politician.[15]

Between the wars

A mezzotint of Martha Dandridge Custis, based on a 1757 portrait by John Wollaston.

George Washington was introduced to Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow who was living at White House Plantation on the south shore of the Pamunkey River in New Kent County, by friends of Martha when George was on leave from the French and Indian War. George only visited her home twice before proposing marriage to her 3 weeks after they met. George and Martha were each 27 years old when they married on January 6 1759 at her home, known as The White House, which shared its name with the future presidential mansion. The newlywed couple moved to Mount Vernon, where he took up the tuckahoe life of a genteel planter and political figure. They had a good marriage, and together, they raised her two children by her previous marriage to Daniel Parke Custis, John Parke Custis and Martha Parke Custis, affectionately called "Jackie" and "Patsy".[16] George and Martha never had any children together—an earlier bout with smallpox followed, possibly, by tuberculosis may have left him sterile.[17] Later the Washingtons raised two of Mrs. Washington's grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis ("Nelly") and George Washington Parke Custis ("Washy") after their father died in 1781.[18]

Washington's marriage to a wealthy widow greatly increased his property holdings and social standing. He acquired one-third of the 18,000 acre (73 km²) Custis estate upon his marriage, and managed the remainder on behalf of Martha's children. He frequently purchased additional land in his own name, and was granted land in what is now West Virginia as a bounty for his service in the French and Indian War. By 1775, Washington had doubled the size of Mount Vernon to 6,500 acres (26 km²), with over 100 slaves. As a respected military hero and large landowner, he held local office and was elected to the Virginia provincial legislature, the House of Burgesses, beginning in 1758.[19]

Washington first took a leading role in the growing colonial resistance in 1769, when he introduced a proposal drafted by his friend George Mason which called for Virginia to boycott imported English goods until the Townshend Acts were repealed. Parliament repealed the Acts in 1770. Washington also took an active interest in helping his fellow citizens. On September 21, 1771 Washington wrote a letter to Neil Jameson on behalf of Jonathan Plowman Jr., a merchant from Baltimore whose ship had been seized for exporting non-permitted items by the Boston Frigate, and requested his help toward recovery of Plowman's ship.[20] Washington regarded the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774 as "an Invasion of our Rights and Privileges". In July 1774, he chaired the meeting at which the Fairfax Resolves were adopted, which called for, among other things, the convening of a Continental Congress. In August, he attended the First Virginia Convention, where he was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.[21]

American Revolution

Portrait of George Washington in military uniform.

After fighting broke out in April 1775, Washington appeared at the Second Continental Congress in military uniform, signaling that he was prepared for war. Washington had the prestige, the military experience, the charisma and military bearing, the reputation of being a strong patriot, and he was supported by the South, especially Virginia. Although he did not explicitly seek the office of commander and even claimed that he was not equal to it, there was no serious competition. Congress created the Continental Army on June 14; the next day, on the nomination of John Adams of Massachusetts, it selected Washington as commander-in-chief. Washington assumed command of the American forces in Massachusetts in July 1775, during the ongoing siege of Boston. Realizing his army's desperate shortage of gunpowder, Washington asked for new sources. British arsenals were raided (including some in the West Indies) and some manufacturing was attempted; a barely adequate supply (about 2.5 million pounds) was obtained by the end of 1776, mostly from France.[22] Washington reorganized the army during the long standoff, and forced the British to withdraw by putting artillery on Dorchester Heights overlooking the city. The British evacuated Boston and Washington moved his army to New York City.

Although negative toward the patriots in the Continental Congress, British newspapers routinely praised Washington's personal character and qualities as a military commander.[23] Moreover, both sides of the aisle in Parliament found the American general's courage, endurance, and attentiveness to the welfare of his troops worthy of approbation and examples of the virtues they and most other Britons found wanting in their own commanders. Washington's refusal to become involved in politics buttressed his reputation as a man fully committed to the military mission at hand and above the factional fray.

Washington crossing the Delaware River depicted by Emanuel Leutze.

In August 1776, British General William Howe launched a massive naval and land campaign designed to seize New York and offer a negotiated settlement. The Continental Army under Washington engaged the enemy for the first time as an army of the newly-declared independent United States at the Battle of Long Island, the largest battle of the entire war. This and several other British victories (despite some American victories at the Battle of Harlem Heights and elsewhere) sent Washington scrambling out of New York and across New Jersey, leaving the future of the Continental Army in doubt. On the night of December 25, 1776, Washington staged a counterattack, leading the American forces across the Delaware River to capture nearly 1,000 Hessians in Trenton.

Washington was defeated at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. On September 26, Howe outmaneuvered Washington and marched into Philadelphia unopposed. Washington's army unsuccessfully attacked the British garrison at Germantown in early October. Meanwhile Burgoyne, out of reach from help from Howe, was trapped and forced to surrender his entire army at Saratoga. As a result of this battle, France entered the war as an open ally of the Americans, turning the Revolution into a major world-wide war. Washington's loss of Philadelphia prompted some members of Congress to discuss removing Washington from command. This episode failed after Washington's supporters rallied behind him.[24]

Depiction by John Trumbull of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis's army at Yorktown

Washington's army encamped at Valley Forge in December 1777, where it stayed for the next six months. Over the winter, 2,500 men (out of 10,000) died from disease and exposure. The next spring, however, the army emerged from Valley Forge in good order, thanks in part to a full-scale training program supervised by Baron von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian general staff. The British evacuated Philadelphia in 1778 and returned to New York City. Meanwhile, Washington remained with his army outside New York. He delivered the final blow in 1781, after a French naval victory allowed American and French forces to trap a British army in Virginia. The surrender at Yorktown on October 17, 1781 marked the end of fighting. Though known for his successes in the war and of his life that followed, Washington only won three of the nine battles that he fought.[25]

Depiction by John Trumbull of Washington resigning his commission as commander-in-chief.

In March 1783, Washington used his influence to disperse a group of Army officers who had threatened to confront Congress regarding their back pay. The Treaty of Paris (signed that September) recognized the independence of the United States. Washington disbanded his army and, on November 2, gave an eloquent farewell address to his soldiers.[26] On November 25, the British evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took possession. At Fraunces Tavern on December 4, Washington formally bade his officers farewell and on December 23, 1783, he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief, emulating the Roman general Cincinnatus, an exemplar of the republican ideal of citizen leadership who rejected power.

Washington's retirement to Mount Vernon was short-lived. He was persuaded to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, and he was unanimously elected president of the Convention. He participated little in the debates involved (though he did vote for or against the various articles), but his high prestige maintained collegiality and kept the delegates at their labors. The delegates designed the presidency with Washington in mind, and allowed him to define the office once elected. After the Convention, his support convinced many, including the Virginia legislature, to vote for ratification; the new Constitution was ratified by all 13 states.

Presidency: 1789–1797

The Washington Cabinet
Office Name Term
President George Washington1789–1797
Vice President John Adams1789–1797
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson1789–1793
Edmund Randolph1794–1795
Timothy Pickering1795–1797
Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton1789–1795
Oliver Wolcott1795–1797
Secretary of War Henry Knox1789–1794
Timothy Pickering1795–1795
James McHenry1796–1797
Attorney General Edmund Randolph1789–1794
William Bradford1794–1795
Charles Lee1795–1797
Postmaster General Samuel Osgood1789–1791
Timothy Pickering1791–1795
Joseph Habersham1795–1797

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1795.

The Electoral College elected Washington unanimously in 1789, and again in the 1792 election; he remains the only president to receive 100% of electoral votes. John Adams was elected vice president. Washington took the oath of office as the first President under the Constitution for the United States of America on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall in New York City although, at first, he had not wanted the position.[27]

The First U.S. Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of $25,000 a year—a large sum in 1789. Washington, already wealthy, declined the salary, since he valued his image as a selfless public servant. At the urging of Congress, however, he ultimately accepted the payment. A dangerous precedent could have been set otherwise, as the founding fathers wanted future presidents to come from a large pool of potential candidates - not just those citizens that could afford to do the work for free.

Washington attended carefully to the pomp and ceremony of office, making sure that the titles and trappings were suitably republican and never emulated European royal courts. To that end, he preferred the title "Mr. President" to the more majestic names suggested.

Washington proved an able administrator. An excellent delegator and judge of talent and character, he held regular cabinet meetings to debate issues before making a final decision. In handling routine tasks, he was "systematic, orderly, energetic, solicitous of the opinion of others but decisive, intent upon general goals and the consistency of particular actions with them."[28]

Washington reluctantly served a second term as president. He refused to run for a third, establishing the customary policy of a maximum of two terms for a president which later became law by the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution.[29]

Domestic issues

States admitted to Union
North CarolinaNovember 21, 1789 12th state
Rhode IslandMay 29, 1790 13th state
VermontMay 4, 1791 14th state
KentuckyJune 1, 1792 15th state
TennesseeJune 1, 1796 16th state

Washington was not a member of any political party, and hoped that they would not be formed out of fear of the conflict and stagnation they could cause governance. His closest advisors, however, formed two factions, setting the framework for the future First Party System. Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton had bold plans to establish the national credit and build a financially powerful nation, and formed the basis of the Federalist Party. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, founder of the Jeffersonian Republicans, strenuously opposed Hamilton's agenda, but Washington favored Hamilton over Jefferson.

In 1791, Congress imposed an excise tax on distilled spirits, which led to protests in frontier districts, especially Pennsylvania. By 1794, after Washington ordered the protesters to appear in U.S. district court, the protests turned into full-scale riots known as the Whiskey Rebellion. The federal army was too small to be used, so Washington invoked the Militia Law of 1792 to summon the militias of Pennsylvania, Virginia and several other states. The governors sent the troops and Washington took command, marching into the rebellious districts.[30] There was no fighting, but Washington's forceful action proved the new government could protect itself. It also was one of only two times that a sitting President would personally command the military in the field: the other was after President James Madison fled the burning White House in the War of 1812. These events marked the first time under the new constitution that the federal government used strong military force to exert authority over the states and citizens.

Foreign affairs

A statue of George Washington in the Place d'Iéna, Paris, France

In 1793, the revolutionary government of France sent diplomat Edmond-Charles Genêt, called "Citizen Genêt", to America. Genêt issued letters of marque and reprisal to American ships so they could capture British merchant ships. He attempted to turn popular sentiment towards American involvement in the French war against Britain by creating a network of Democratic-Republican Societies in major cities. Washington rejected this interference in domestic affairs, demanded the French government recall Genêt, and denounced his societies.

To normalize trade relations with Britain, remove them from western forts, and resolve financial debts left over from the Revolution, Hamilton and Washington designed the Jay Treaty. It was negotiated by John Jay, and signed on November 19 1794. The Jeffersonians supported France and strongly attacked the treaty. Washington and Hamilton, however, mobilized public opinion and won ratification by the Senate by emphasizing Washington's support. The British agreed to depart their forts around the Great Lakes, the Canadian-U.S. boundary was adjusted, numerous pre-Revolutionary debts were liquidated, and the British opened their West Indies colonies to American trade. Most importantly, the treaty avoided war with Britain and instead brought a decade of prosperous trade with Britain. It angered the French and became a central issue in political debates.

Supreme Court appointments

George Washington appointed the following Justices to the United States Supreme Court:[31]

Farewell Address

A bust of Washington by Giuseppe Ceracchi.

Washington's Farewell Address (issued as a public letter in 1796) was one of the most influential statements of American political values.[32] Drafted primarily by Washington himself, with help from Hamilton, it gives advice on the necessity and importance of national union, the value of the Constitution and the rule of law, the evils of political parties, and the proper virtues of a republican people. In the address, he called morality "a necessary spring of popular government." He said, "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle" – making the point that the value of religion is for the benefit of society as a whole.[33]

Washington's public political address warned against foreign influence in domestic affairs and American meddling in European affairs. He warned against bitter partisanship in domestic politics and called for men to move beyond partisanship and serve the common good. He called for an America wholly free of foreign attachments, saying the United States must concentrate primarily on American interests. He counseled friendship and commerce with all nations, but warned against involvement in European wars and entering into long-term "entangling" alliances. The address quickly set American values regarding religion and foreign affairs.

Retirement and death

Mount Vernon

After retiring from the presidency in March 1797, Washington returned to Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. He devoted much time to farming and, in that year, constructed a 2,250 square foot (75-by-30 feet, 200 m²) distillery, which was one of the largest in the new republic, housing five copper stills, a boiler and 50 mash tubs, at the site of one of his unprofitable farms. At its peak, two years later, the distillery produced 11,000 gallons of corn and rye whiskey worth $7,500, and fruit brandy.[34][35]

In 1798, Washington was appointed Lieutenant General in the United States Army (then the highest possible rank) by President John Adams. Washington's appointment was to serve as a warning to France, with which war seemed imminent.

On December 12, 1799, Washington spent several hours inspecting his farms on horseback, in snow and later hail and freezing rain. He sat down to dine that evening without changing his wet clothes. The next morning, he awoke with a bad cold, fever and a throat infection called quinsy that turned into acute laryngitis and pneumonia. Washington died on the evening of December 14, 1799, at his home aged 67, while attended by Dr. James Craik, one of his closest friends, and Tobias Lear, Washington's personal secretary. Lear would record the account in his journal, writing that Washington's last words were Tis well.

Modern doctors believe that Washington died from either epiglottitis or, since he was bled as part of the treatment, a combination of shock from the loss of five pints of blood, as well as asphyxia and dehydration. Washington's remains were buried at Mount Vernon. To protect their privacy, Martha Washington burned the correspondence between her husband and herself following his death. Only three letters between the couple have survived.

After Washington's death, Mount Vernon was inherited by his nephew, Bushrod Washington, a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the United States Bicentennial year George Washington was posthumously appointed to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States by the congressional joint resolution s:Public Law 94-479 on January 19, 1976, approved by President Gerald R. Ford on October 11, 1976, with an effective appointment date of July 4, 1976. This made him the highest ranking military officer in U.S. history.


The statue of Washington outside the Federal Hall National Memorial in New York City, looking on Wall Street

Congressman Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade and father of the Civil War general Robert E. Lee, famously eulogized Washington as:

First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting…Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues…Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.

Lee's words set the standard by which Washington's overwhelming reputation was impressed upon the American memory. Washington set many precedents for the national government and the presidency in particular.

As early as 1778, Washington was lauded as the "Father of His Country"[36]

He was upheld as a shining example in schoolbooks and lessons: as courageous and farsighted, holding the Continental Army together through eight hard years of war and numerous privations, sometimes by sheer force of will; and as restrained: at war's end taking affront at the notion he should be King; and after two terms as President, stepping aside.

Washington manifested himself as the exemplar of republican virtue in America. More than any American he was extolled for his great personal integrity, and a deeply held sense of duty, honor and patriotism. He is seen more as a character model than war hero or founding father. One of Washington's greatest achievements, in terms of republican values, was refraining from taking more power than was due. He was conscientious of maintaining a good reputation by avoiding political intrigue. He rejected nepotism or cronyism. Jefferson observed, "The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."[37]

Monuments and memorials

Washington on Mt. Rushmore

Washington is commemorated on the U.S. quarter.

Washington is also commemorated on the Dollar Coin

Today, Washington's face and image are often used as national symbols of the United States, along with the icons such as the flag and great seal. Perhaps the most prominent commemoration of his legacy is the use of his image on the one-dollar bill and the quarter-dollar coin. Washington, together with Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, is depicted in stone at the Mount Rushmore Memorial. The Washington Monument, one of the most well-known American landmarks, was built in his honor. The George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, constructed entirely with voluntary contributions from members of the Masonic Fraternity, was also built in his honor.[38]

Many things have been named in honor of Washington. Washington's name became that of the nation's capital, Washington, and the State of Washington, the only state to be named after an American (Maryland, the Virginias, the Carolinas and Georgia are named in honor of British monarchs). George Washington University and Washington University in St. Louis were named for him, as was Washington and Lee University (once Washington Academy), which was renamed due to Washington’s large endowment in 1796.

Washington and slavery

For most of his life, Washington operated his plantations as a typical Virginia slave owner. In the 1760s, he dropped tobacco (which was prestigious but unprofitable) and shifted to wheat growing and diversified into milling flour, weaving cloth, and distilling brandy. By the time of his death, there were 317 slaves at Mount Vernon.

Before the American Revolution, Washington expressed no moral reservations about slavery, but, by 1778, he had stopped selling slaves without their consent because he did not want to break up slave families.

In 1778, while Washington was at war, he wrote to his manager at Mount Vernon that he wished to sell his slaves and "to get quit of negroes", since maintaining a large (and increasingly elderly) slave population was no longer economically efficient. Washington could not legally sell the "dower slaves", however, and because these slaves had long intermarried with his own slaves, he could not sell his slaves without breaking up families.[39]

After the war, Washington often privately expressed a dislike of the institution of slavery. Despite these privately expressed misgivings, Washington never criticized slavery in public. In fact, as President, Washington brought nine household slaves to the Executive Mansion in Philadelphia. By Pennsylvania law, slaves who resided in the state became legally free after six months. Washington rotated his household slaves between Mount Vernon and Philadelphia so that they did not earn their freedom, a scheme he attempted to keep hidden from his slaves and the public and one which was, in fact, against the law.[40]

Washington was the only prominent, slaveholding Founding Father to emancipate his slaves. He did not free his slaves in his lifetime, however, but instead included a provision in his will to free his slaves upon the death of his wife. It is important to understand that not all the slaves at his estate at Mt. Vernon were owned by him. His wife Martha owned a large number of slaves and Washington did not feel that he could unilaterally free slaves that came to Mt. Vernon from his wife's estate. His actions were influenced by his close relationship with the Marquis de La Fayette. Martha Washington would free slaves to which she had title late in her own life. He did not speak out publicly against slavery, argues historian Dorothy Twohig, because he did not wish to risk splitting apart the young republic over what was already a sensitive and divisive issue.[41]

Sullivan Expedition

Although rarely discussed, Washington was held in high disregard by the local Native American population, who referred to him as "Town Destroyer" after his actions in many Iroquois villages. The Iroquois sided with the British in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. In a letter from May 31, 1779, George Washington sent instructions to Major General John Sullivan, in Alexander Hamilton's handwriting, that Sullivan was "to lay waste all the [Iroquois] settlements around with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country many not be merely overrun but will not by any means, listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected."[42] His reasons for doing this were "because whites were scared of Indians".[43] "Our future security will be in their inability to injure us... and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them...When we have effectually chastised them we may then listen to peace and endeavor to draw further advantages from their fears."[42] This "chastisement" included skinning the bodies of some Indians "from the hips downward, to make boot tops or leggings." Ten years later, an Iroquois man told Washington to his face that "to this day, when that name [Washington] is heard, our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers."[44]

Religious beliefs

Washington was baptized into the Church of England.[45][46] In 1765, when the Church of England was still the state religion,[47] he served on the vestry (lay council) for his local church. Throughout his life, he spoke of the value of righteousness, and of seeking and offering thanks for the "blessings of Heaven."

In a letter to George Mason in 1785, Washington wrote that he was not among those alarmed by a bill "making people pay towards the support of that [religion] which they profess," but felt that it was "impolitic" to pass such a measure, and wished it had never been proposed, believing that it would disturb public tranquility.[48]

His adopted daughter, Nelly Custis Lewis, stated: "I have heard her [Nelly's mother, Eleanor Calvert Custis, who resided in Mount Vernon for two years] say that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother [Martha Washington] before the revolution."[49] Historians and biographers continue to debate the degree to which he can be counted as a Christian, and the degree to which he was a deist.

He was an early supporter of religious toleration and freedom of religion. In 1775, he ordered that his troops not show anti-Catholic sentiments by burning the pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Night. When hiring workmen for Mount Vernon, he wrote to his agent, "If they be good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mohammedans, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists."[50] In 1790, he wrote a response to a letter from the Touro Synagogue, in which he said that as long as people remain good citizens, their faith does not matter. This was a relief to the Jewish community of the United States, since the Jews had been either expelled from or prejudiced against in many European countries.

Personal life

Though Washington had no children, he did have two nephews. Bushrod Washington became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and Burwell Bassett was a long-time congressman in both Virginia State and United States government.

In 1796, Gilbert Stuart painted this famous portrait of Washington from life, and then used the unfinished painting to create numerous others, including the image used on the U.S. one-dollar bill.

Washington suffered from problems with his teeth throughout his life. He lost his first tooth when he was twenty-two and had only one left by the time he became President.[51] The hippo ivory was used for the plate, into which real human teeth and also bits of horses and donkeys teeth were inserted.[51] Dental problems left Washington in constant discomfort, for which he took laudanum, and this distress may be apparent in many of the portraits painted while he was still in office, including the one still used on the $1 bill.[51]

As a young man, Washington had red hair.[52]

One of the most enduring myths about George Washington involves him as a young boy chopping down his father's cherry tree and, when asked about it, using the famous line "I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet." In fact, there is no evidence that this ever occurred. It was part of a book of stories authored by Mason Weems who was trying to humanize Washington and endow him with great moral fortitude.

Famous quotations

Statue of George Washington, with a medallion of his French ancestor Nicolas Martiau, born in Ile de Ré, France (Ernest Cognacq Museum, 2007).

"Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses."

"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."

"I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an 'Honest Man.'"

"The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered... deeply, ...finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people."

"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience."

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow grow, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."

"Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

See also

References: biographies

  • Buchanan, John. The Road to Valley Forge: How Washington Built the Army That Won the Revolution (2004). 368 pp.
  • Burns, James MacGregor and Dunn, Susan. George Washington. Times, 2004. 185 pp. explore leadership style
  • Cunliffe, Marcus. George Washington: Man and Monument (1958), explores both the biography and the myth
  • Grizzard, Frank E., Jr. George! A Guide to All Things Washington. Buena Vista and Charlottesville, VA: Mariner Publishing. 2005. ISBN 0-9768238-0-2. Grizzard is a leading scholar of Washington.
  • Hirschfeld, Fritz. George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal. University of Missouri Press, 1997.
  • Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. (2004) ISBN 1-4000-4031-0. Acclaimed interpretation of Washington's career.
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. (1994) the leading scholarly history of the 1790s.
  • Ferling, John E. The First of Men: A Life of George Washington (1989). Biography from a leading scholar.
  • Fischer, David Hackett. Washington's Crossing. (2004), prize-winning military history focused on 1775-1776.
  • Flexner, James Thomas. Washington: The Indispensable Man. (1974). ISBN 0-316-28616-8 (1994 reissue). Single-volume condensation of Flexner's popular four-volume biography.
  • Freeman, Douglas S. George Washington: A Biography. 7 volumes, 1948–1957. The standard scholarly biography, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. A single-volume abridgement by Richard Harwell appeared in 1968
  • Grizzard, Frank E., Jr. George Washington: A Biographical Companion. ABC-CLIO, 2002. 436 pp. Comprehensive encyclopedia by leading scholar
  • Grizzard, Frank E., Jr. The Ways of Providence: Religion and George Washington. Buena Vista and Charlottesville, VA: Mariner Publishing. 2005. ISBN 0-9768238-1-0.
  • Higginbotham, Don, ed. George Washington Reconsidered. University Press of Virginia, (2001). 336 pp of essays by scholars
  • Higginbotham, Don. George Washington: Uniting a Nation. Rowman & Littlefield, (2002). 175 pp.
  • Hofstra, Warren R., ed. George Washington and the Virginia Backcountry. Madison House, 1998. Essays on Washington's formative years.
  • Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: A Military Life. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-6081-8.
  • Lodge, Henry Cabot. George Washington, 2 vols. (1889), vol 1 at Gutenberg; vol 2 at Gutenberg
  • McDonald, Forrest. The Presidency of George Washington. 1988. Intellectual history showing Washington as exemplar of republicanism.
  • Smith, Richard Norton Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation Focuses on last 10 years of Washington's life.
  • Spalding, Matthew. "George Washington's Farewell Address." The Wilson Quarterly v20#4 (Autumn 1996) pp: 65+.
  • Stritof, Sheri and Bob. "George and Martha Washington"
  • Wiencek, Henry. An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. (2003).

Further reading

The literature on George Washington is immense. The Library of Congress has a comprehensive bibliography online, as well as online scans of diaries, letterbooks, financial papers and military papers. Notable works not listed above include:

Primary sources

Scholarly studies

  • Achenbach, Joel. The Grand Idea: George Washington's Potomac and the Race to the West. 2004. 384 pp.
  • Bickham, Troy O. "Sympathizing with Sedition? George Washington, the British Press, and British Attitudes During the American War of Independence." William and Mary Quarterly 2002 59(1): 101-122. ISSN 0043-5597 Fulltext online in History Cooperative
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. (1994) the leading scholarly history of the 1790s.
  • Estes, Todd. "The Art of Presidential Leadership: George Washington and the Jay Treaty" Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 2001 109(2): 127-158. ISSN 0042-6636 Abstract: As protests from treaty opponents intensified in 1795, Washington's initial neutral position shifted to a solid pro-treaty stance. It was he who had the greatest impact on public and congressional opinion. With the assistance of Hamilton, Washington made tactical decisions that strengthened the Federalist campaign to mobilize support for the treaty. For example, he effectively delayed the treaty's submission to the House of Representatives until public support was particularly strong in February 1796 and refocused the debate by dismissing as unconstitutional the request that all documentation relating to Jay's negotiations be placed before Congress. Washington's prestige and political skills applied popular political pressure to Congress and ultimately led to approval of the treaty's funding in April 1796. His role in the debates demonstrated a "hidden-hand" leadership in which he issued public messages, delegated to advisers, and used his personality and the power of office to broaden support.
  • Ferling, John. Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution. Oxford U. Press, 2000. 392 pp by leading scholar
  • Fishman, Ethan M.; William D. Pederson, Mark J. Rozell, eds. George Washington (2001) essays by scholars
  • Gregg II, Gary L. and Matthew Spalding, eds. George Washington and the American Political Tradition. ISI (1999), essays by scholars
  • Harvey, Tamara and O'Brien, Greg, ed. George Washington's South. U. Press of Florida, 2004. 355 pp. essays by scholars on the region, esp. Virginia
  • Leibiger, Stuart. "Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic." U. Press of Virginia, 1999. 284 pp.
  • McCullough, David. 1776 2005. 386 pp. very well written overview of the year in America
  • Miller, John C. The Federalist Era, 1789-1801 (1960), political survey of 1790s.
  • Muñoz, Vincent Phillip. "George Washington on Religious Liberty" Review of Politics 2003 65(1): 11-33. ISSN 0034-6705 Abstract: Article argues GW articulated a much narrower definition of religious liberty than Jefferson or Madison. Although GW believed in religious freedom, he counseled that its exercise must be limited by the duties of republican citizenship. He viewed religion and morality as indispensable parts of both a political system and an involved citizenry. Religion, therefore, deserved the support of those in government. At the same time, however, he wrote that the expression of religion should be free from government hindrance unless it interfered with the duties of citizenship.
  • Peterson, Barbara Bennett. George Washington: America's Moral Exemplar, 2005.
  • Schwarz, Philip J., ed. "Slavery at the Home of George Washington." Mount Vernon Ladies' Assoc., 2001. 182 pp.
  • Washington, George and Marvin Kitman. George Washington's Expense Account. Grove Press. (2001) ISBN 0-8021-3773-3 Account pages, with added humor; GW took no salary but he was repaid all his expenses
  • White, Leonard D. The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History (1956), thorough analysis of the mechanics of government in 1790s


  1. ^ George Washington had no middle name.
  2. ^ a b The birth and death of George Washington are given using the Gregorian calendar for more details.
  3. ^ Under the Articles of Confederation Congress called its presiding officer "President of the United States in Congress Assembled." He had no executive powers, but the similarity of titles has confused people into thinking there were other presidents before Washington. Merrill Jensen, The Articles of Confederation (1959), 178-9.
  4. ^ a b Stazesky, Richard C. (February 22, 2000). "George Washington, Genius in Leadership". The Papers of George Washington. Alderman Library, University of Virginia. Retrieved 2007-10-07. 
  5. ^ Garrity, Patrick (Fall, 1996). "Warnings of a Parting Friend (US Foreign Policy Envisioned by George Washington in his Farewell Address)." The National Interest, No. 45. Retrieved on October 6, 2007.
  6. ^ At the time Virginia included West Virginia.
  7. ^ "Washington As Public Land Surveyor: Boyhood and Beginnings". George Washington: Surveyor and Mapmaker. American Memory. Library of Congress. Retrieved on May 17 2007.
  8. ^ "George Washington: Making of a Military Leader". American Memory. Library of Congress. Retrieved on May 17 2007.
  9. ^ Sparks, Jared (1839). The Life of George Washington". Boston: Ferdinand Andrews. p. 17. Digitized by Google. Retrieved on May 17 2007.
  10. ^ Tabbert, Mark A. (January 29 2007). "A Masonic Memorial to a Virtuous Man". Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry. Retrieved on May 17 2007.
  11. ^ Washington Daylight Lodge #14 (2006). "Commemoration of George Washington’s Birthday". Retrieved on August 21 2007.
  12. ^ Fred Anderson, Crucible of War (Vintage Books, 2001), p. 6.
  13. ^ On British attitudes see John Shy, Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence (1990) p. 39; Douglas Edward Leach. Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces and Colonial Americans, 1677-1763 (1986) p. 106; and John Ferling. Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution (2002) p. 65
  14. ^ Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. (2004) ISBN 1-4000-4031-0.
  15. ^ For negative treatments of Washington's excessive ambition and military blunders, see Bernhard Knollenberg, George Washington: The Virginia Period, 1732–1775 (1964) and Thomas A. Lewis, For King and Country: The Maturing of George Washington, 1748–1760 (1992).
  16. ^ Martha married Daniel Parke Custis on May 15 1750 when she was 18. Daniel died on July 26 1757. Martha had four children with Custis:
    • Daniel Parke Custis: Daniel was born in 1751. He died when he was 3 in 1754.
    • Frances Parke Custis: Frances was born in 1753. She died when she was 4 in 1757.
    • Martha Parke Custis ("Patsy"): Patsy was born in 1756 and died when she was 17 of an epileptic seizure on June 19 1773. She is buried at Mount Vernon.
    • John Parke Custis ("Jacky"): Jacky was born on November 27 1754. He died at Yorktown at 26 years of age on November 5 1781 of "camp fever" (typhoid fever) while he was serving as an aide to George.
  17. ^ John K. Amory, M.D., "George Washington’s infertility: Why was the father of our country never a father?" Fertility and Sterility, Vol. 81, No. 3, March 2004. (online, PDF format)
  18. ^ George and Martha had seven grandchildren from Martha's biological children.
    • Baby girl Custis, died in 1775.
    • Eliza Parke Custis was born on August 21 1776 at Mount Airy Plantation in Maryland. She married an Englishman, Thomas Law, on March 21 1796 at her mother and stepfather's home, Hope Park Plantation, Virginia.
    • Martha Parke "Patty" Custis was born on December 3 1777 at Mount Vernon. On January 6 1795, she married Thomas Peter at her mother and stepfather's home, Hope Park Plantation, Virginia.
    • Eleanor "Nelly" Parke Custis. She was born on March 21 1779. She married Lawrence Lewis, George's nephew, on February 22 1799 at Mount Vernon. She died in 1852.
    • George Washington "Washy, Wash, or Tub" Parke Custis. He was born on April 30 1781. He remained at Mount Vernon after his mother's second marriage. He died in 1857.
    • Two set of twins died at birth.
  19. ^ Acreage, slaves, and social standing: Joseph Ellis, His Excellency, George Washington, pp. 41–42, 48.
  20. ^ John C. Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799
  21. ^ Washington quoted in Ferling, p. 99.
  22. ^ Orlando W. Stephenson, "The Supply of Gunpowder in 1776," American Historical Review, Vol. 30, No. 2 (January 1925), pp. 271-281 in JSTOR
  23. ^ Bickham, Troy O. "Sympathizing with Sedition? George Washington, the British Press, and British Attitudes During the American War of Independence." William and Mary Quarterly 2002 59(1): 101-122. ISSN 0043-5597 Fulltext online in History Cooperative
  24. ^ Fleming, T: "Washington's Secret War: the Hidden History of Valley Forge.", Smithsonian Books, 2005
  25. ^ Wuhl, Robert. Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl. HBO Films, 2006
  26. ^ George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 3b Varick Transcripts. Library of Congress. Accessed on May 22, 2006.
  27. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). "Washington's First Administration: 1789-1793". The Oxford History of the American People, Vol. 2. Meridian. 
  28. ^ Leonard D. White, The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History (1948)
  29. ^ After Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented four terms, the two-term limit was formally integrated into the Federal Constitution by the 22nd Amendment.
  30. ^ {{cite web last=Hoover|first=Michael|url= Whiskey Rebellion|accessdate=2007-10-19|date=|publisher=United States Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau
  31. ^ "Supreme Court of the United States". About The Court: Members of the Supreme Court (1789 to Present) (PDF). Retrieved on May 31, 2007.
  32. ^ Matthew Spalding, The Command of its own Fortunes: Reconsidering Washington's Farewell address," in William D. Pederson, Mark J. Rozell, Ethan M. Fishman, eds. George Washington (2001) ch 2; Virginia Arbery, "Washington's Farewell Address and the Form of the American Regime." in Gary L. Gregg II and Matthew Spalding, eds. George Washington and the American Political Tradition. 1999 pp. 199-216.
  33. ^ "Religion and the Federal Government". Religion and the Founding of the American Republic. Library of Congress Exhibition. Retrieved on May 17 2007.
  34. ^ "George Washington's Distillery". 
  35. ^ Fund, John (February 20, 2007). "George Washington, Whiskey Entrepreneur". The Wall Street Journal. 
  36. ^ He has gained fame around the world as a quintessential example of a benevolent national founder. Gordon Wood concludes that the greatest act in his life was his resignation as commander of the armies—an act that stunned aristocratic Europe. Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), pp 105-6; Edmund Morgan, The Genius of George Washington (1980), pp 12-13; Sarah J. Purcell, Sealed With Blood: War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America (2002) p. 97; Don Higginbotham, George Washington (2004); Ellis, 2004. The earliest known image in which Washington is identified as such is on the cover of the circa 1778 Pennsylvania German almanac (Lancaster: Gedruckt bey Francis Bailey).
  37. ^ "Jefferson to Washington April 16, 1784". Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Retrieved 2006-09-05. 
  38. ^ "". 
  39. ^ Slave raffle linked to Washington's reassessment of slavery: Wiencek, pp. 135–36, 178–88. Washington's decision to stop selling slaves: Fritz Hirschfeld, George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal, p. 16. Influence of war and Wheatley: Wiencek, ch 6. Dilemma of selling slaves: Wiencek, p. 230; Ellis, pp. 164–7; Hirschfeld, pp. 27–29.
  40. ^ Two slaves escaped while in Philadelphia: one of these, Oney Judge, which Washington had signed into law, but this was not done so as to avoid public controversy. See Wiencek, ch. 9; Hirschfeld, pp. 187–88; Ferling, p. 479.
  41. ^ Twohig, "That Species of Property", pp. 127–28.
  42. ^ a b Fitzpatrick, John C (1931–1944). "Instructions to Major General John Sullivan". The writings of George Washington from the original manuscript sources, 1745–1799. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  43. ^ Derrick Jensen, The culture of make believe
  44. ^ Stannard, David E (1992). American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World. Oxford University Press. p. 120. ISBN 0-195-08557-4. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  45. ^ Family Bible entry
  46. ^ Image of page from family Bible
  47. ^ Colonial Williamsburg website has several articles on religion in colonial Virginia
  48. ^ "George Washington to George Mason, 3 October 1785, LS". Library of Congress: American Memory. Retrieved 2006-09-05. 
  49. ^ Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, 1833
  50. ^ "". 
  51. ^ a b c Mitchinson, J: "The Book of General Ignorance
  52. ^ {{cite web |url= |title=Taking a New Look at George Washington |accessdate=2007-09-28 |last=Homans |first=Charles |date=2004-10-06

External links

Definitions from Wiktionary
Textbooks from Wikibooks
Quotations from Wikiquote
Source texts from Wikisource
Images and media from Commons
News stories from Wikinews
Learning resources from Wikiversity
Political offices
New title President of the United States
April 30, 1789¹ – March 4, 1797
Succeeded by
John Adams
Honorary titles
New title Oldest U.S. President still living
April 30, 1789 – December 14, 1799
Succeeded by
John Adams
Notes & References
1. Washington's term as President is sometimes listed as starting on either March 4 or April 6. March 4 is the official start of the first presidential term. April 6 is the date on which Congress counted the electoral votes and certified a winner. April 30 is the date on which Washington took the oath of office.
NAME Washington, George
SHORT DESCRIPTION 1st President of the United States, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army
DATE OF BIRTH February 22, 1732(1732-02-22)
PLACE OF BIRTH Colonial Beach, United States of America
DATE OF DEATH December 14, 1799
PLACE OF DEATH Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, United States of America

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