Unnamed File 59

1st President of the United States : George Washington (1789-97)

George Washington became an exceptional military and peace time political leader and helped create the framework for modern American government.
Since the birth of the United States of America, George Washington has has been known as “The Father of the Country”. He was the Commander-in-Chief during the Revolutionary War who also became its Commander-in-Chief as the country’s first President.
The American form of government can be considered also a great American invention or experiment. Being a brand new form of government protocols needed to be worked out. As Washington was the first president and served for eight years many of those protocols initiated in those years of his administration would evolve and be embellished rather than simply changed.
For example two terms of office was not a law, but rather a practice unchanged for close to a century and a half and only then under the exigent circumstances of war when Franklin Delano Roosevelt won unprecedented third and fourth terms.

Early Years

Washington’s family arrived in Virginia in the mid-17th century and although they were respected in the community they were not among the upper crust of the Virginia ruling class.
He was born on February 22, 1732, the first child born to Augustine Washington from his second marriage to Mary Ball Washington. He had two older brothers, one of which, Lawrence doted on his younger sibling.
In April 1743, when Washington was eleven, his father died after being out on a ride in inclement weather. Times proved difficult for Mary Washington and her ambition to have young George educated in England had to be set aside, as such Washington received not much more than an elementary education.
In 1748 he was introduced to Lord Fairfax, one of the most powerful men in the Virginia Colony by his brother Lawrence. Fairfax was in the process of surveying his lands in western Virginia and due to young Washington’s mathematical skills he was employed as a surveyor. The following year he would go into business for himself.

First Military Service

At the beginning of the French and Indian War, Washington was not only defeated at a small fort he had constructed, but in action had ended up killing a French envoy. If one follows his early military career his experience gave no signs that he would become a great military commander or civilian leader later in life.

Not a Business Success

After his short military career he devoted his attention to his home and farming life. Due to trade restrictions imposed on the colonies his ventures into raising tobacco were virtually abandoned by the mid-1760s and his home plantation became more diversified and aimed at self-sufficiency.

Early Political Life

As with many Virginians with close ethnic and financial ties to England, George Washington was not among the first to embrace the notion of separation from the mother country. However as events and tensions escalated in the early 1770s, Washington identified more with the faction which wanted to do battle not with weapons but through economic reprisals. In 1774 he was elected to the First Continental Congress.
On his way to the Second Continental Congress he was made aware that he might be chosen as military commander. Despite some of his earlier misadventures he was still considered an able leader, he was well liked, and represented one of the key colonies, Virginia.

Revolutionary War

During the Revolutionary War which ensued he proved to be an able commander and strategist. Throughout the years of hardship he gained the admiration and respect of at his troops. With the defeat of the British at Yorktown a young nation with an uncertain future was began to emerge.

The New United States and the Presidency

When the Articles of Confederation failed to provided a sufficiently effective government the states moved toward a new form of constitutional government. Again, Washington was called upon to chair that Convention.
When the states finally ratified the Constitution, Washington was the logical choice to become president. He is the only president to ever be elected unanimously by the Electoral College.
During his eight years in office he saw the passage of the Bill of Rights, the rise of political parties (which grieved him), and the admission of two new states outside of the original thirteen, Tennessee and Kentucky.
In a world dominated by monarchs, Washington chose not be be king or even to rule as an elected official until his death, but rather to give up power and retire to his home Mount Vernon.

Sources:

Flexner, James Thomas (1994) Washington: The Indispensable Man. Back Bay Books. ISBN 0316286168.
Smith, Carter (2005). PRESIDENTS: All you need to know. Irvington, New York: Hylas Publishing. ISBN 1592581234.

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