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George Washington Biography


Lesson Plans | Quotes | Facts

George Washington, who was sworn in as president on April 30, 1789 and remained president until March 4, 1797, was not merely the first one ever to serve as President of the United States under our written Constitution, but was also a first in other important ways. 

In his funeral oration to Congress, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee described the recently-deceased Washington as “First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Indeed, Washington had been the commanding general of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. His presiding over the Philadelphia meetings that resulted in the Constitution had given inestimable support to the struggle for its ratification. He had been the head of the executive branch of the American government at the beginning of the “more perfect Union,” and in exercising that function had established precedents in the practice of the presidency that have persisted from his day to our day. In addition, for his fellow citizens he had been the preeminent American personage of his time, the one most esteemed, most relied-upon and most beloved by that people which had ceased to be British and had, “in the Course of human events,” become Americans.

George Washington was born into the planter gentry of the Virginia colony. His family, and Washington himself, were plantation-owning slaveholders. As the modern perspective on slavery as an unmitigated and unforgivable evil has become ever more firmly established, his luster, like that of other slaveholders in America's history, has dimmed, notwithstanding other qualities and characteristics more to his credit. Washington's fame has also declined since his birthday, formerly celebrated as a national holiday on the anniversary of his February 22nd birth, was largely folded into the more diffuse event, usually referred to as Presidents Day, celebrated on the third Monday in February. Nonetheless, he is ordinarily considered, along with Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as among the three best American presidents.

George Washington distinguished himself as a colonial officer attached to the British army in the French and Indian War. Disappointment in his quest for a regular officer's commission in the British army joined a personal motive to his patriotic fervor for the cause, first of the rights of Americans as British subjects, and ultimately, of American independence. As the American Revolutionary War began, he presented himself in military uniform to the nascent governing body, the Continental Congress, and was given overall command of the American forces.

The Americans were underdogs, fighting against the most formidable military power in the world, Great Britain. The Revolutionary War lasted from 1775 to 1783, including many reverses, but at last, Washington led his forces to victory. After the war, he declined to leverage the political capital that his successful war leadership had brought him by taking control of the government, but instead returned to his Virginia home, Mount Vernon, and to private life. It has been claimed that when told that Washington would do this, British king George III said, “If he does that he will be the greatest man in the world.” There was a reprise of this self-restraint, when, after two terms as president, Washington again retired to Mount Vernon, establishing a two-term limit to the presidency. This stood as customary until the third term of Franklin Roosevelt and subsequently became constitutional law, in the twenty-second amendment.

George Washington, loving stepfather to the children of his wife, regretted never siring any children of his own. But his immensely consequential, perhaps indispensable, role in establishing the United States of America, has earned him the appellation, “father of his country.”

 

 

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George Washington President first president of the united states innaugural address Washington's presidency

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