Col. George Washington Provincial Troops, Virginia Regiment, oil on canvas painted by Charles Willson Peale, 1772, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.
‘George Washington (February 22, 1732[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. As one of the leading patriots, he was among the new nation’s Founding Fathers, and served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He presided over the 1787 convention. He also came to be known as the “Father of His Country.”
Washington was born into Colonial Virginia gentry to a family of wealthy planters, vested with tobacco plantations and slaves which he later inherited. He was variously educated and learned mathematics and surveying which he put into practice. Shortly after joining the colonial militia at the start of the French and Indian War he became a senior Virginian officer. He grew in his opposition to Britain’s rule by its Parliament, which allowed no representation from the American colonies yet began to levy direct taxes on them. In 1775, the Second Continental Congress made him commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolution. Washington drove the British out of Boston in 1776, but was defeated and lost New York City. He crossed the Delaware River in mid-winter and defeated the British in two battles, retook New Jersey, and restored momentum to the Patriot cause. Washington’s strategy, field command, development of the army, and alliance with the French all combined to defeat British forces in every theater, climaxing with the allied victory at the Siege of Yorktown. Historians attribute Washington’s success to his mastery of military command on the job and his respect for civilian control of the military through his coordination with congressional and state officials.
Once victory was in hand in 1783, Washington resisted further power and resigned as commander-in-chief, affirming his devotion to American republicanism. He was unanimously chosen to lead the Constitutional Convention in 1787 which devised the new Federal government. He was also admired for his strong nationalist leadership qualities and was unanimously elected as president by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. As president, he worked to unify rival factions in the fledgling nation. But by 1794, Congress was divided between rival parties founded by two of his cabinet secretaries: Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party. He remained non-partisan, never joining the Federalists but largely supporting their policies. He adopted Hamilton’s programs to satisfy federal and state debts, establish a permanent seat of government, implement an effective tax system, and create a national bank.
In securing the Jay Treaty of 1795, Washington avoided another war with Great Britain and guaranteed a decade of peace and profitable trade, despite intense opposition from the Democratic-Republicans. He oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality during the French Revolution, suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, and won wide acceptance of the new Federal government among Americans. Washington’s incumbency established many precedents still in use today, such as the U.S. Cabinet system, the inaugural address, and the title “Mr. President”. His retirement from office in 1797 after two terms established a traditional two-term limit to the presidency which was eventually made formal policy. Washington’s Farewell Address was an influential primer on civic virtue, warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars. Upon his death, Washington was famously eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. Scholarly and public polling consistently rank him among the top three presidents in American history, and he has been depicted and honored in numerous monuments, public works, currency, and other dedications to the present day.