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George Washington

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George Washington
Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg
George Washington painting by Gilbert Stuart, March 1797
1st President of the United States
In office
April 30, 1789[a] – March 4, 1797
Vice President John Adams
Preceded by office established
Succeeded by John Adams
Senior Officer of the United States Army
In office
July 13, 1798 – December 14, 1799
Appointed by John Adams
Preceded by James Wilkinson
Succeeded by Alexander Hamilton
In office
June 15, 1775 – December 23, 1783
Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army
Appointed by Continental Congress
Preceded by office established
Succeeded by Henry Knox
Delegate to the Continental Congress
from Virginia
In office
May 10, 1775 – June 15, 1775
Preceded by office established
Succeeded by Thomas Jefferson
Constituency Second Continental Congress
In office
September 5, 1774 – October 26, 1774
Preceded by office established
Succeeded by office abolished
Constituency First Continental Congress
Personal details
Born (1732-02-22)February 22, 1732
Popes Creek, Colony of Virginia, British America
Died December 14, 1799(1799-12-14) (aged 67)
Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.
Cause of death Epiglottitis and hypovolemic shock
Resting place Washington Family Tomb, Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.
Political party None
Martha Dandridge (m. 1759)
Parents Augustine Washington
Mary Ball Washington
Awards Congressional Gold Medal
Thanks of Congress
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance  Kingdom of Great Britain
 United States
Service/branch Kingdom of Great Britain Colonial Militia
 United States Continental Army
 United States Army
Years of service 1752–58 (British Militia)
1775–83 (Continental Army)
1798–99 (U.S. Army)
Rank Colonel (British Army)
General and Commander-in-Chief (Continental Army)
Lieutenant General (United States Army)
General of the Armies (promoted posthumously: 1976, by an Act of Congress)
Commands Virginia Colony's regiment
Continental Army
United States Army

George Washington (February 22, 1732[b][c] – December 14, 1799) was a soldier, farmer, and statesman, and served as the first President of the United States. Since the late 1780s, Washington has been known as the "Father of His Country" by compatriots. He was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and presided over the 1787 Constitutional Convention. As a leading Patriot, Washington was among the nation's Founding Fathers.

Washington was born to a moderately prosperous family of slaveholders in colonial Virginia and had early opportunities in education which he used to advantage. He learned mathematics and quickly launched a successful career as a surveyor and land investor. He joined the Virginia militia and fought in the French and Indian War. The Second Continental Congress made him commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775. Washington's strategy and command of the army combined with a French alliance led to the surrendered of the British during the Siege of Yorktown. He also fought against the Iroquois nation, a British ally. His devotion to American Republicanism impelled him to decline further power after victory, and he resigned as commander-in-chief in 1783. He was unanimously chosen to lead the Constitutional Convention in 1787 which devised the new Federal government.

Washington was unanimously elected as President by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. He promoted and oversaw the implementation of a strong, well-financed national government. He remained impartial in the fierce rivalry between two cabinet secretaries, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, though he adopted Hamilton's plans to establish the payment of public debts, a national bank, a seat of government, and a tax system. When the French Revolution plunged Europe into war, Washington assumed a policy of neutrality to protect American ships—although the Jay Treaty of 1795 created an alliance with Great Britain. He set precedents still in use today, such as the Cabinet system, the inaugural address, the title "Mr. President", and a two-term limit. In his Farewell Address he gave a primer on civic virtue, warning of partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.

After inheriting slaves at age eleven, Washington engaged and prospered in the slave trade most of his life but eventually became troubled with its practice; in his 1799 will he freed all his slaves. Washington is renowned for his religious toleration; his personal religion and devotion to Freemasonry have been debated. Upon his death, he was famously eulogized as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen". Scholarly and public polling ranks him among the top three Presidents in history, and he is honored by countless monuments, public works, place names, stamps, and currency.

Early years (1732–1752)

George Washington was born February 22, 1732, the first child of Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball Washington, at Wakefield on their Popes Creek Estate in the Colony of Virginia. He was a common subject of the British Empire at that time, under the reign of George II.[3]

Washington was descended primarily from English gentry of Sulgrave, England through his great-grandfather John Washington who immigrated to Virginia in 1656 and began accumulating land and slaves, as did his son Lawrence and his grandson Augustine. George's father was a planter[4] and the Justice of the Westmoreland County Court.[5] In Washington's youth, his moderately prosperous family was among the members of Virginia's "country level gentry" of "middling rank".[6]

Raised in the rich open farmlands of Virginia's Tidewater region, Washington's childhood was described as "roving and unsettled".[7] He was one of seven surviving children of Augustine's two marriages, including older half-brothers Lawrence and Augustine from his father's first marriage to Jane Butler Washington, and full siblings Samuel, Elizabeth (Betty), John Augustine, and Charles.[8] Three siblings died before adulthood: sister Mildred at age one, half-brother Butler in infancy, and half-sister Jane at age 12.[9]

When Washington was 3, the family left Popes Creek and moved to Epsewasson, a 2,500-acre plantation that his father purchased on the bluffs of the Potomac River. When he was six, his family then moved to Ferry Farm in Stafford County, Virginia near Fredericksburg.[10] He spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm, which was the alleged location of the Parson Weems cherry tree fable. His father died of a sudden illness in April 1743 when George was 11, and he was kept under the care of his 35-year-old mother Mary.[11] His half-brother Lawrence inherited the Epsewasson plantation from their father and changed the name to Mount Vernon in honor of his commanding officer Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. George inherited Ferry Farm and 10 slaves, although his mother controlled the farm until well after George attained adulthood.[12]

Without his father, Washington relied on other men for guidance, including Lawrence.[12] He also grew up under the wing of the powerful Fairfax family,[13] as Lawrence had married Ann Fairfax, daughter of William Fairfax, a wealthy Virginia plantation owner.[14] William Fairfax's son George was a close friend and associate of Washington.[15] His wife Sally was also a friend of Washington, as well as an early romantic interest, and they maintained correspondence when she moved to England with her father.[16]

The death of his father deprived Washington of the formal type of education his older brothers received at England's Appleby Grammar School.[17] He was tutored for two or three years by various masters, including Mr. Hobby, his father’s former tenant; he also attended the Fredericksburg school of Anglican clergyman James Mayre.[18] His initial education totaled seven or eight years, while he lived with different relatives in the Mount Vernon area in Virginia. By early adulthood he was able to write with precision and considerable force.[19] He was taught mathematics, trigonometry and surveying by school master Henry Williams, and had a natural talent in draftsmanship and map making.[20] He was an avid reader and purchased books on military affairs, agriculture, and history, and enjoyed popular novels.[21] An appointment for him in the Royal Navy was rumored when he was 15, but his mother rejected the idea.[22]

In 1751, Washington made his only trip abroad when he traveled with Lawrence, to Barbados, in the hope that the climate would be beneficial to Lawrence's tuberculosis.[23] During the trip, Washington contracted smallpox which immunized him but left his face slightly scarred.[24] Lawrence's health continued to decline and he returned to Mount Vernon, where he died on July 26, 1752, and George suffered the loss of this surrogate father.[25] Washington eventually inherited Lawrence's Mount Vernon estate after the deaths of Lawrence's wife Ann and their daughter.[26]

Colonial surveyor and land investor

Washington was introduced to surveying through school exercises followed by practical experience in the field. He began his professional career in 1749 at age 17 when he received a commission and surveyor's license from the College of William & Mary,.[21][d] Two days after becoming licensed he joined a survey party organized by his neighbor George William Fairfax to lay out large tracts of land belonging to Fairfax in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western Virginia.[28] He recorded the events in his diary A Journal of my Journey over the Mountains. He completed his first survey in less than two days and was consequently able to purchase land in the Shenandoah Valley, the first of his many land acquisitions in western Virginia. He was appointed Surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, and he recorded his first encounter with Indians on March 23 when his surveying crew met a war party of 13 returning from a battle.[29]

Washington also surveyed land in Western Virginia for the Ohio Company, a land investment firm funded by Virginia investors. The new Lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie took notice of him thanks to brother Lawrence's position as commander of the Virginia militia. In October 1750, Washington resigned his position as an official surveyor, though he continued to survey professionally for two more years. By 1752, he had completed close to 200 surveys on numerous properties totaling more than 60,000 acres, and he continued to survey at different times throughout his life.[30] He also made land investments, and occasionally accepted land in lieu of cash for his survey work. During his lifetime he acquired over 70,000 acres of land, in what would later be seven different states plus the District of Columbia. It took Washington 25 years to expand his Mount Vernon estate from 2,000 acres to 8,000 acres.[31] While the Federal City that would bear his name was being built, Washington bought more parcels of land to spur development. Rather than sell multiple lots to large investors, Washington sold individual lots to middle income investors, believing they were more likely to make committed improvements.[32]

Personal life

Washington grew to be over six feet at an early age, and was considerably taller than his contemporaries.[33][e] He had a slim waist, a broad chest, and long strong arms. He had piercing grey-blue eyes, fair skin, and light reddish-brown hair. It is often assumed he wore a wig, as was then the fashion, but instead, he had his hair powdered.[35] He had a rugged and dominating presence, that commanded respect from his male peers.[33] He was not known as a debater and was often silent in company.[36]

Beginning at an early age, Washington suffered from dental problems throughout his life.[37] By the time he became president he lost all but a single tooth.[38] He had several sets of false teeth made, which he went through during his presidency; contrary to some accounts, none were made of wood. Dental problems left him in constant pain, for which he took laudanum.[39]

Washington became a very skilled horseman early in life and it improved his hunting, a favorite hobby. Jefferson called him "the best horseman of his age", and other American and European observers praised his riding. Later in life his two favorite horses were named Blueskin and Nelson, both gifts.[40] Washington was an excellent dancer, and he also attended the theater frequently and included Shakespearean references in his letters.[41] He drank in moderation and precisely recorded gambling wins and losses. He was averse to the excessive drinking, gambling, smoking, and profanity that were common in colonial Virginia. He grew tobacco but he eventually stopped smoking and considered drunkenness a man's worst vice. He was glad that post-Revolutionary Virginia society was less likely to force guests "to drink and to make it an honor to send them home drunk".[42]

Colonial military career (1752–1758)

Washington Expeditions 1753–1754
Washington's map accompanying his Journal to the Ohio (1753–54)
Major George Washington 1754

The death of Washington's brother Lawrence left vacant his position as Adjutant General. Washington decided to give up surveying, begin a soldier's life, and pursue the position, inspired by Lawrence's service with Admiral Edward Vernon.[43] He was assigned in December 1752 to the less-prestigious Southern District of the Colony of Virginia by Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie, but then William Fitzhugh resigned as the Northern District adjutant and Washington successfully lobbied for it. In February 1753, Dindwiddie appointed him to the rank of Major at an annual salary of 100 pounds, then appointed him as British military ambassador to the French officials and Indians as far north as Erie, Pennsylvania.[44] Washington was just 21.

The British government had ordered Dinwiddie to guard British territorial claims in the Ohio River basin, protecting trade activity with the Indians and others in the various settlements.[21] He ordered Washington to deliver a letter in late 1753, asking French commander Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre at Fort Le Boeuf to vacate the Ohio Valley, and offering him a safe escort to Lake Erie. Washington was also to make peace with the Six Nations.[45]

Washington and six frontiersmen reached the Ohio River that November, but the French had withdrawn. He met with Tanacharison ("Half-King") and other Six Nations Iroquois chiefs at Logstown and secured their support against the French if needed, and then continued 60 miles (97 km) and met the French at Venango—but the letter was refused. Washington then reached Fort Le Boeuf and delivered the letter to its commander, who replied that Dinwiddie should send his demand to the Major General of New France in its capital at Quebec City.[46] Washington’s diary of the expedition was printed by William Hunter according to Dinwiddie’s order, giving Washington name recognition in Virginia and England;[47] it also helped him obtain a commission to raise a company of men.[48]

French and Indian War

An engraved depiction of Lieutenant Colonel George Washington's evening council at Fort Necessity

In 1753, the French military advanced into the Ohio Country, territory claimed by the British colonies of Virginia and Pennsylvania. The competing stakes led to the French and Indian War (1754–62) and contributed to the start of the global Seven Years' War (1756–63). And Washington‘s first battle experience ensued in 1754.[49]

On March 15, 1754, Dinwiddie commissioned Washington, at age 20 as a Lieutenant Colonel in the newly formed Virginia Regiment and sent him on his second Ohio Country expedition to safeguard construction of a fort at Pittsburgh. He set out on April 2 with 150 men, and received news en route that a French force had driven out colonial traders and begun construction of Fort Duquesne. Tanacharison and a few warriors discovered a small detachment of French troops east of Uniontown, Pennsylvania led by Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, so Washington built an entrenched camp at Great Meadows which he called Fort Necessity. He then led his unit and their Mingo allies in an ambush against the French on May 28 in the Battle of Jumonville Glen.[47] There are discrepancies, but primary accounts indicate that the battle lasted about 15 minutes. Jumonville was killed and most of his party were taken prisoner or killed, and Tanacharison nicknamed Washington the "Town Destroyer".[50][51]

In July 1754, the French responded by attacking Fort Necessity in a ten-hour battle which ended in Washington's only surrender and the return of his force to Virginia—but only after he signed a falsely translated surrender document saying that he had "assassinated" Jumonville,[52][53] and this mistranslated false confession became the pretext to blame him for starting a war.[52] Historian Joseph Ellis concludes that the episode demonstrated Washington's bravery and initiative, as well as his inexperience and impetuosity.[54] Upon his return to Virginia, Washington refused to accept a demotion to the rank of captain, and resigned his commission.[55]

Washington's expedition into the Ohio Country had international consequences. The French accused him of assassinating Jumonville according to the surrender document, and they further claimed that Jumonville was only on a diplomatic mission.[54] Both France and Great Britain were ready to fight for control of the region and both sent troops to North America in 1755; war was formally declared in 1756.[56]

Braddock expedition and disaster (1755)

19th-century engraving of Major-General Braddock's death in the Battle of the Monongahela

In 1755, Washington became the senior American aide to British General Edward Braddock on the ill-fated Braddock Expedition. This was the largest British expedition to the colonies, intended to expel the French from the Ohio Country, and its first objective was the capture of Fort Duquesne.[57] Washington sought an appointment as major from Braddock, but he did not gain approval from London and instead became a staff volunteer. The pace of the troops began to slow as the march proceeded, and he recommended that Braddock split the army into two divisions—a primary column and a second, more lightly equipped mobile offensive "flying column".[58]

In the Battle of the Monongahela, the French and their Indian allies ambushed Braddock's divided forces, and the general was mortally wounded. The British suffered devastating casualties and retreated in panic, with two-thirds killed or wounded, but Washington rallied his forces in an organized retreat—though he was suffering from a fever and headache. He had two horses shot from beneath him, and his hat and coat were bullet-pierced. His conduct under fire redeemed his reputation among critics of his command in the Battle of Fort Necessity.[59] However, he was not included by the succeeding commander Colonel Thomas Dunbar in planning subsequent force movements, possibly as a result of his recommendation to form the flying column offensive.[60]

Commander of Virginia Regiment (1755-1757)

On August 14, 1755, Dinwiddie rewarded Washington with a commission as "Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces now raised in the defense of His Majesty's Colony" and gave him the task of defending Virginia's frontier. The Virginia Regiment was the first full-time, non-British military unit formed by the colonies, and he was ordered to "act defensively or offensively" as he thought best.[61] He happily accepted the commission; the coveted red coat of officer rank, however, continued to elude him. Dinwiddie urged the British military to incorporate the Virginia Regiment into its ranks without success.[62] Washington was convinced that Braddock would have recommended him for a commission in the British army, so he appealed to Braddock's successor Lord Loudoun.[63]. Lord Loudoun refused Washington's request but did agree to transfer responsibility for Fort Cumberland from Virginia to Maryland,[63] and the unsuccessful encounter with the British general unnerved Washington.[64]

Washington was in command of a thousand soldiers, and emphasized discipline and training. He led his men in costly campaigns against the Indians in the west; his regiment fought 20 battles in 10 months and lost a third of its men. However, Virginia's frontier population suffered less than that of other colonies as a result of his strenuous efforts, and Ellis concludes that "it was his only unqualified success" during the French and Indian War.[65]

Forbes expedition and retirement (1758)

Engraving depicting the British arrival at the remains of Fort Duquesne

In 1758, Colonel Washington participated in the Forbes Expedition after petitioning for the assignment with its commander John Forbes and Colonel Thomas Gage, but he was again disappointed when he was assigned to merely oversee construction of a road connecting Fort Fredrick and Fort Cumberland,[verification needed] in preparation for the advance on the primary objective of Fort Duquesne.[66]

Washington was only involved in one battle during the expedition, which did little to help his reputation. Forbes had devised a plan for an assault on Fort Duquesne and assigned Washington to lead one of three brigades used in the initial assault. Washington was the only colonial officer among the British forces. Forbes was alerted to an enemy reconnaissance party in the area and sent Colonel George Mercer and a contingent of several hundred Virginians to investigate. When "hot firing" was heard in the distance Washington's unit responded, but they found themselves in a friendly-fire incident when reinforcements also arrived, each contingent thinking that the other was the French enemy and resulting in minor casualties. This was the fourth time Washington had his military aspirations foiled by unfortunate circumstances. For the final assault on the fort Forbes assembled 2,500 men and promoted Washington to brevet brigadier general to head the operation. Shortly thereafter the fort finally fell in November.[67] The British did score a strategic victory by gaining control of the Ohio Valley when the French finally abandoned the fort, but Washington retired from his Virginia Regiment commission in December 1758 and did not return to military life until the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775.[68]

Lessons learned

Washington never gained the commission that he sought in the British army but, through his observations and conversations with professional officers, he acquired military, political, and leadership skills which proved invaluable during the American Revolution.[69][70] Historians ascribe his support of a strong national government and a vigorous executive to his frustrations with officials in these and later interactions.[71][72][f] He developed a distinct preference for regular troops over undisciplined militia, even though his command was limited during this war to smaller and more rural forces than during the Revolution.[74][75]

Religion, Enlightenment, and Freemasonry

Washington's family was affiliated with the established Anglican Church of Great Britain; he was baptized as an infant in April 1732.[76][g] In 1762 Washington served as a vestryman and as church warden for both Fairfax Parish in Alexandria and Truro Parish, a post he maintained for twenty-two years.[78] While at Mount Vernon, Washington and Martha attended Pohick Church and Christ Church.[79] He devoted private time for prayer before breakfast.[80] Washington's church attendance was sometimes irregular. He recited prayers standing, rather than kneeling, and was not known to have taken communion, as Martha did. He commonly used impersonal terms such as "Providence" and "Destiny".[81][h][i] There is no record of Washington referring to the divinity of Jesus Christ, leading some historians to assume he was a Deist.[84] Washington believed a divine power hovered over battlefields, was influential in both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, that Providence was protecting his life, and was involved in North American politics.[84] Washington avoided evangelistic Christianity, or hellfire and brimstone speech, due to his personal dignity not to flaunt his religion.[85]

Uncommon for his times, Washington, exhibited religious toleration, while he attended services of different denominations, and suppressed anti-Catholic celebrations in the Army.[86] Washington permitted Jews, Muslims, Christians of any denomination, and atheists to work at Mount Vernon.[84] While president he saluted twenty-two major religious sects and gave speeches on religious toleration.[84] Washington harbored no contempt of organized Christianity and its clergy, and quotes him as saying: "being no bigot myself to any mode of worship".[87] Washington was educated in and adhered to the Anglican-Episcopal church, while he believed in the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, with no indifference to other forms of Christianity.[88]

Historians have emphasized that Washington was deeply rooted in the ideas, values, and modes of thinking in the Age of Enlightenment. Higginbotham maintains that Washington was a self-made hero and a man of his age who embraced Enlightenment values more seriously than most of his contemporaries.[89] In 1793, Washington proclaimed "We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition."[90]

Like many activists in the Enlightenment in Europe and the colonies, Washington, along with Christianity, embraced Masonic doctrine and participated in the Freemasonry movement. Masonry, in the late 18th century, was a socially acceptable institution, while Washington often saluted their lodges, and practiced Masonic rituals.[91] A new Masonic lodge was established in Fredericksburg,in September 1752 and he was initiated two months later as one of its first apprentices. Within a year, he progressed through its ranks to become a Master Mason, and eventually was the highest ranking Mason in the United States.[92] Although Washington had a high regard for the Masonic Order, his personal lodge attendance was sporatic. He was attracted by the movement's dedication to the Enlightenment principles of rationality, reason, and fraternalism. The American lodges did not share the anti-clerical perspective of the controversial European lodges.[93] In 1777, a convention of Virginia lodges asked him to be the Grand Master of the newly established Grand Lodge of Virginia, but he declined due to his commitment leading the Continental Army. In 1788, he was named Master in the Virginia charter of Alexandria Lodge No. 22.[91]

Marriage and civilian life (1759–1774)

Colonel George Washington
Provincial Troops, Virginia Regiment, by Charles Willson Peale, 1772

On January 6, 1759, Washington, at age 27, married the wealthy Martha Dandridge Custis, aged 28 and widow of Daniel Parke Custis. The marriage ceremony took place at the Custis mansion. Martha was intelligent, gracious and experienced in managing a planter's estate, and they made a harmonious marriage.[94] The couple raised her children from a previous marriage, John Parke Custis and Martha Parke (Patsy) Custis, and they later raised grandchildren Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis. They had no children together; his 1751 bout with smallpox may have made him sterile, but he grieved privately over not having his own children.[95] They moved to Mount Vernon near Alexandria where he took up life as a successful planter of tobacco and wheat and emerged as a political figure.[96]

Washington’s marriage also made him one of Virginia's wealthiest men and increased his social standing. He acquired control over Martha’s one-third dower interest in the 18,000-acre (73 km2) Custis estate, worth approximately $100,000, and he managed the remaining two-thirds on behalf of Martha's children.[97] He also acquired 84 slaves through the marriage, brought to Mount Vernon from the estate.[98]

Dinwiddie had promised land bounties in 1754 to the soldiers and officers who volunteered during the French and Indian War,[99] and Washington prevailed upon Governor Lord Botetourt who fulfilled Dinwiddie's promise in 1769–70.[100] Washington received title to 23,200 acres (94 km2) where the Kanawha River flows into the Ohio River in West Virginia;[101] he also bought additional land, doubled the size of Mount Vernon to 6,500 acres (26 km2), and increased its slave population to more than 100 by 1775.[102]

As a respected military hero and landowner, he held local office and was elected to the Virginia provincial legislature, representing Frederick County in the House of Burgesses for seven years beginning in 1758.[102] In the election that year, he plied the voters with 170 US gallons (640 l) of rice punch, beer, wine, hard cider, and brandy while he was away serving on the Forbes Expedition.[103] He won election with roughly 40 percent of the vote, defeating three other candidates with the help of several local elites. He rarely spoke publicly in his early legislative career, but he became a prominent critic of Britain's taxation and mercantilist policies in the 1760s.[104]

A mezzotint of Martha Washington based on a 1757 portrait by Wollaston

Washington lived an aristocratic lifestyle, and his favorite activities included fox hunting, dances and parties, the theater, races, and cockfights. He also was known to play cards, backgammon, and billiards.[105] Like most Virginia planters, he imported luxuries and other goods from England and paid for them by exporting his tobacco crop. By 1764, a poor tobacco market left him ₤1,800 in debt.[106] He bolstered his solvency in the mid-1760s by diversifying, paying more attention to his finances, and reducing imported luxuries. He changed Mount Vernon's primary cash crop from tobacco to wheat, and he further diversified operations to include flour milling, fishing, horse breeding, hog production, spinning, and weaving.[107] In the 1790s, he erected a distillery for whiskey production which yielded more than 1,000 US gallons (3,800 l) a month.[108]

In the fall of 1770, Washington inspected the bounty lands in the Ohio and Great Kanawha regions, promised to French and Indian War veterans. He secured the appointment of William Crawford to make a survey of the lands, who gave Washington the best acreage on the tract. Washington told the veterans that their land was hilly and unsuitable for farming, and agreed to purchase 20,147 acres; while many veterans were happy with the sale, others felt they had been duped.[109]

Washington's step-daughter Patsy Custis died in his arms on June 19, 1773 after suffering from epileptic attacks for five years. The following day, he wrote to Burwell Bassett: "It is easier to conceive, than to describe, the distress of this Family..."[110] He cancelled all business activity and was not away from Martha for a single night for the next three months.[111] Patsy's death enabled him to pay off his British creditors, however, since half of her inheritance passed to him.[112]

Washington became a political figure and soon emerged as a leader among the social elite in Virginia. From 1768 to 1775, he invited some 2,000 guests to his Mount Vernon estate, mostly those whom he considered "people of rank". His advice regarding people who were not of high social status was to "treat them civilly" but "keep them at a proper distance, for they will grow upon familiarity, in proportion as you sink in authority".[113] He became more politically active in 1769, presenting legislation in the Virginia Assembly to establish an embargo on goods from Great Britain.[114]

American Revolution

Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y.C., July 9, 1776
Johannes Adam Simon Oertel 1859

Washington played a leading political and military role in the American Revolution. Feelings of indifference towards England began when Washington was passed over for a commission in the British Army in 1755.[115] In 1763, Washington was upset by a Royal Proclamation that banned American settlement West of the Alleghany Mountains, to protect the British Fur trade.[116] In 1765, to pay for the French and Indian War, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, the first direct tax on the colonies that was enacted without colonial representation. Washington felt that penalizing colonists for a war they had fought in was unfair. In 1767, Washington disregarded the earlier 1763 royal edict, and by an agent, secured 25,000 acres of the King's best lands, kept in secret.[117] He openly opposed outlawing the printing of paper money by the colonies and criticized the adverse effects of British trade policy on the colonies. In a heated letter to London, Washington protested against the Stamp Act and the exceedingly low prices the colonists received for tobacco and other goods. He also threatened to produce goods domestically instead of being forced to pay inflated prices for second rate goods from London. He feared London's policies would "set the whole country in flames".[118]

In March 1766, Parliament repealed the unpopular Stamp Act, but it passed the Declaratory Act, that asserted the laws of Parliament were binding on all its colonies.[119] In 1767, Washington helped to lead the widespread colonial protests against the Townshend Acts. In May 1769, he introduced a proposal drafted by George Mason which called for Virginia to boycott English goods until the Acts were repealed; Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts in 1770.[120]

Washington regarded the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774, issued as punitive measures for the Boston Tea Party, as "an Invasion of our Rights and Privileges",[121] He also said that Americans must not submit to acts of tyranny since "custom and use shall make us as tame and abject slaves, as the blacks we rule over with such arbitrary sway".[122] In July 1774, George Mason arrived at Mount Vernon with a list of resolutions which he and Washington worked on overnight to refine. The next day they were presented to the Fairfax County committee, Chaired by Washington, which adopted the Fairfax Resolves calling for a Continental Congress, among other things.[123] In August, he attended the First Virginia Convention where he was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.[124] On July 4, 1776 the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence from Britain, afterwards Patriots attacked symbols of monarchy, and toppled an equestrian statue of George III in New York City, five days later.[125]

Revolutionary War (1775–1783)

General George Washington
commander of the Continental Army

The war with Great Britain began after the initial Battles of Lexington and Concord near Boston in April 1775. On June 14, the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army, Samuel Adams and John Adams nominated Washington as supreme commander, and he was unanimously elected the next day.[126][127][128] Washington appeared at the Congress, poised for war in a military uniform.[129] He declined a salary in his acceptance speech but received reimbursement of expenses for which he fully accounted.[130] On August 23, King George III proclaimed that rebellious American colonists were traitors.[131] The American colonists were divided between the Patriots, who broke from the King and his Parliament, and the Loyalists, who wanted to remain under the protection of the King and his Parliament.[132]

The Patriot Continental Congress chose capable subordinate officers to aid Washington, including Major General Artemas Ward, Adjutant General Horatio Gates, Major General Charles Lee, Major General Philip Schuyler, Major General Nathanael Greene, Colonel Henry Knox, and Colonel Alexander Hamilton.[133] Washington was impressed by the enthusiasm of Colonel Benedict Arnold and gave him the responsibilities of invading Canada. He also engaged Brigadier General Daniel Morgan with whom he had served in the French and Indian War.[134]

On July 2, 1775, Washington inspected his new army at Cambridge, Massachusetts and was astonished to find a ragtag assembly of undisciplined, poorly sheltered, and badly outfitted soldiers.[135] He immediately initiated reforms; he drilled soldiers and imposed strict discipline, including fines, floggings, and incarceration. [136] He ordered his officer staff to familiarize themselves with their recruits so as to understand the military duties best suited to them, to respect civilians, and to read military manuals.[137] He removed cowardly or incompetent officers, and told Congress that it was a "most necessary Work".[138]

In January 1776, Washington started with new recruits, since soldiers left the Army after their enlistments expired.[131] By mid-January, his army was half-strength at 9,600 men, and the colonial militia that fought in the French and Indian War was summoned to fill in the gaps.[139][j] The new British commander at Boston was General William Howe, but he did not attack during this time—which was probably fortunate for Washington and the burgeoning Continental Army.[141]

Quebec, Boston, and Long Island

Washington at Dorchester Heights, by Gilbert Stuart 1806

In September 1775, Washington sent staff officer Arnold and 1,000 troops to Canada to assist in General Richard Montgomery's siege of British-held Quebec and to secure the northern flank.[142] Quebec was reinforced by 7,000 British troops, and the American siege collapsed, forcing the Continental Army to make a hasty retreat.[143]

Later that month, an impatient Washington called a council of war and proposed an attack on the besieged British Army in Boston.[141] Most of his generals were appalled, believing that Howe's army, supported by the British Navy, was firmly entrenched and would inflict high casualties.[144] In late 1775, Washington sent staff officer Knox to Fort Ticonderoga for gunpowder and cannons, and he returned in February 1776 with 59 cannons and 14 mortars. The night of March 4, Washington secretly fortified Dorchester Heights with the cannons, and the British awoke the following morning to see them aimed at Boston.[145] British general William Howe refused to attack Washington, believing that he would suffer high casualties similar to Bunker Hill a year before,[145] and he evacuated 10,000 troops and 1,100 loyalists from Boston on March 17.[146] Washington then moved his Army to New York City, correctly predicting that the British would return and attack in full force.[147][145]

General Howe resupplied in Nova Scotia, then headed for New York City which he considered the key to securing the continent, while a massive British flotilla carried thousands of troops. His army landed unopposed on Staten Island on July 2, and British ships continued to arrive from England and Carolina for a siege of the city.[148] Howe's troop strength totaled 32,000 well-trained soldiers, including 8,000 Hessians, while Washington's troop strength consisted of 23,000 soldiers, 19,000 of whom were raw recruits and militia.[149] On August 22, Howe landed 20,000 troops at Gravesend, Brooklyn and approached Washington's fortified position; Washington chose to fight despite the objections of his generals.[150] Washington had received false information that Howe's army had only 8,000 to 9,000 troops.[151] On August 27, Howe assaulted Washington's flank and inflicted 1,500 Patriot casualties, while the British suffered 400 casualties.[152] Washington and his generals decided to retreat, and he instructed General William Heath to make available every flat-bottomed riverboat and sloop in the area. General William Alexander held off the British Army, allowing the Continental Army’s retreat. In little time, Washington's army safely crossed the East River under the cover of darkness to Manhattan Island without loss of life or materiel, although Alexander was captured by the British.[153]

Battle of Long Island
Alonzo Chappel 1858

General Howe was emboldened by his victory at Long Island and sent a dispatch addressed to "George Washington, Esq." attempting to negotiate peace. Washington declined the overture and demanded that he be addressed as a General and recognized as a fellow belligerent, not as a "rebel". He was concerned that his men would be hanged if they were captured as rebels, and he believed it his duty to insist that his men and the newly established United States be recognized with proper diplomatic protocol. The attempts at negotiation failed.[154]

The British navy bombarded unstable earthworks on lower Manhattan Island that had been constructed by the Patriots.[155] Washington considered abandoning the island, including Fort Washington, but he heeded the advice of Generals Greene and Putnam to defend the fort. They were unable to hold it, however, and Washington abandoned the fort in spite of General Lee's objections; his army retired north to White Plains.[156] However, with Howe in pursuit, he was unable to secure that position and was forced to continue the retreat across the Hudson River to Fort Lee to avoid encirclement. Howe was then able to assume the offensive; he landed his troops on the island on November 16, surrounded and captured Fort Washington, and inflicted high casualties on the Americans. Washington was responsible for the decision to delay the retreat, but he also faulted the Congress and Nathaniel Greene. Loyalists in New York considered Howe a liberator and had spread a rumor that Washington had set fire to the city.[157] The morale in the Patriot army was at its lowest ebb, as General Lee was captured by the British while having an affair with his mistress.[158]

Crossing the Delaware

Washington Crossing the Delaware December 25, 1776
Emanuel Leutze 1851[k]

Washington's defeated and demoralized Patriot army retreated into northeast New Jersey, reduced to 5,400 troops.[160] Howe broke off pursuit on December 14, delayed his advance on Philadelphia, and set up winter quarters in New York.[161] Washington crossed the Delaware River, while Lee's replacement John Sullivan and 2,000 troops joined him in Pennsylvania.[162] The future of the Continental Army was in doubt due to lack of basic supplies, expiring enlistments, and desertions. Washington was disappointed that many New Jersey residents were revealed to be Loyalists, or simply skeptical about the prospect of Independence.[163] Howe had split up his British Army and posted a Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey to hold western New Jersey and the east shore of the Delaware.[164]

Washington learned of the complacency of Howe and his Hessian mercenaries, and he was facing desperate conditions and diminishing numbers, so he gathered with his generals on Christmas Eve at the home of Samuel Merrick and devised a plan to cross the icy Delaware at night and surprise the British and Hessian garrison encamped there. By sundown, stormy weather was increasing and a light rain began to fall. Washington crossed the river in advance and staked out an area on the New Jersey shore where his troops would land. He ordered a 60-mile search along the Delaware for barges, particularly Durham boats,[l] for troop and supply transport across the river, and he directed destruction of other vessels that could be used by the British. He also ordered some of the boats to be hidden away in creeks for future use.[166] However, his plan was on the verge of failure around midnight, with serious delays by the artillery at the point of departure. On the night of December 25–26, 1776, he led his army across the Delaware, with 18 pieces of artillery, struggling with rapid currents, and ice hindering their way. Washington divided his forces into three groups, and two of them failed to make it across the river.[167]

Trenton and Princeton

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776
John Trumbull 1786-1828

The American troops crossed the next morning in heavy sleet and snow; scouts reported the location of the Hessian forward positions about one mile from Trenton in New Jersey. Washington divided his army into three groups and rode about giving words of encouragement to his men: "Soldiers keep by your officers. For God's sake, keep by your officers." He stopped briefly and was given food and drink at a nearby home while his senior officers gathered for a council of war. Moving on, the three divisions divided at the Birmingham crossroads, with General Nathanael Greene's division taking the upper Ferry Road and General John Sullivan's advancing on River Road.[168] In coordinated effort Washington advanced on Trenton in a surprise attack at about 8 a.m., still dark from heavy cloud cover. He personally led the charge, aided by Major-General Henry Knox and his artillery, and captured some 850 prisoners[169] with Hessian Colonel Johann Rall being mortally wounded during the short battle.[170]

Washington’s Trenton victory was followed by another over British regulars at Princeton on January 3, with only forty Americans killed or wounded while the British forces suffered 273 killed or captured.[171][172] American Generals Hugh Mercer and John Cadwalader were already present and being driven back by the British, then Mercer was mortally wounded. Washington arrived at the scene and rallied Mercer's and Cadwalader's men to counterattack, with Washington out front advancing to within thirty yards from the British line.[173] The other British troops retreated after making a brief stand, some evacuating Princeton and others taking refuge in Nassau Hall. Alexander Hamilton brought three cannons, and began firing at the building where the British were held up. Washington's troops charged, and the British put out the white flag of surrender; 194 soldiers walked out of the building and laid down their arms.[174] The other British retreated to New York City and its environs, which they held until the Treaty of Paris (1783).

The depleted Continental army took up winter headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey after their victory at Princeton, rather than retreating to Pennsylvania; this allowed Washington to disrupt British supply lines and drive them from parts of New Jersey. He later admitted that the British could easily have defeated his thinly guarded encampment if they had counter-attacked before his troops were dug in.[175]

Washington's victories were pivotal for the revolution and wrecked the British strategy of showing overwhelming force, then offering generous terms. Henceforth, the Americans would negotiate for nothing short of independence.[176] These victories alone were not enough to ensure ultimate Patriot victory, however, since many soldiers did not re-enlist or deserted during the harsh winter. Washington and Congress responded with increased rewards for re-enlisting, and punishment for desertion, which effected greater troop numbers for subsequent battles.[177]

Brandywine, Germantown, and Saratoga

Belligerents at the Battle of Saratoga

In February 1777, Washington, encamped at Morristown, New Jersey, became convinced that smallpox inoculation was required to prevent the destruction of his Army—by some accounts this drastically reduced deaths by the disease.[178] That summer, British General John Burgoyne led a major invasion army south from Quebec, planning to sever rebellious New England. But in a strategic blunder, General Howe in New York took his army south to Philadelphia instead of going up the Hudson River to join Burgoyne near Albany. Meanwhile, Washington rushed to Philadelphia to engage Howe, while closely following the action in upstate New York, where the patriots were led by General Philip Schuyler and his successor Horatio Gates. The ensuing pitched battles at Philadelphia were too complex for Washington's less experienced men and they were defeated.[179]

At the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Howe outmaneuvered Washington and in two-weeks' time marched unopposed into the American capital at Philadelphia. Washington's army unsuccessfully attacked the British garrison at Germantown in early October. Washington's loss at Philadelphia prompted some members of Congress to consider removing him from command. Termed the Conway Cabal, they failed after Washington's supporters rallied behind him.[180]

Meanwhile, during the Saratoga campaign to the north, Washington's strategy improved the situation for Gates' army. Washington was most concerned about the movements of General Howe and was aware that Burgoyne was also moving south toward Saratoga from Quebec. In July Washington took some risks and sent reinforcements north commanded by Major General Benedict Arnold, his most aggressive field commander, and Major General Benjamin Lincoln. After two attempts to take Bemis Heights, Burgoyne, beyond the reach of help from Howe, was trapped and was forced to retreat to Saratoga and ultimately surrendered after the Battles of Saratoga. The British defeat at Saratoga led to Howes' resignation, and command departure, in May 1778. This was a major turning point militarily and diplomatically — the French responded to Burgoyne's defeat by entering the war, allying with America and expanding the Revolutionary War into a worldwide affair.[181]

Washington and Gates were rivals and the former was concerned that Gate's victory was going to given impetus to his critics.[182] Biographer Alden relates, "it was inevitable that the defeats of Washington's forces and the concurrent victory of the (Gates') forces in upper New York should be compared." The zealous admiration of Washington waned, with John Adams giving him little credit. [183]

Valley Forge

Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge
John Ward Dunsmore 1907

Washington's army of 11,000 went into winter quarters at Valley Forge north of Philadelphia in December 1777, and in six months suffered thousands of deaths. Most were from disease, compounded by lack of food and proper clothing, poor shelter, and the extreme cold. Historians’ estimates range from 2,000 to over 3,000 men lost.[184] The British were comfortably quartered in Philadelphia and paid for their supplies in sterling. In contrast, Washington had difficulty procuring supplies with depreciating American paper currency, and the woodlands were soon exhausted of game. By February Washington was faced with the task of maintaining morale and discouraging desertion.[185]

Washington had repeatedly petitioned the Continental Congress for badly needed provisions but with no success. Finally, on January 24, 1778, five Congressmen came to Valley Forge to examine the conditions of the Continental Army. Washington expressed the urgency of the situation, exclaiming, "Something must be done. Important alterations must be made." He also recommended Congress take control of the army supply system, pay for its supplies, and promptly expedite them. In response to Washington's urgent appeal, Congress gave full support to funding the supply lines of the army, which also resulted in reorganizing the commissary department that controlled gathering the supplies for the army. By late February, there were adequate supplies flowing throughout camp.[140]

Washington recruited regulars and assigned training to Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, whose incessant drilling soon transformed Washington's army into a disciplined fighting force.[186] Washington's army had endured the winter many feared would dissolve it. Washington's birthday was publicly celebrated for the first time that winter.[187] The next spring, a revitalized army emerged from Valley Forge.[188] von Steuben was promoted to Major General for his effort and became Washington's chief of staff for the remainder of the war.[189]

Monmouth and Sullivan expedition

Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth
Emanuel Leutze 1851–1854

In May 1778, the Continental Congress ratified the Treaty of Alliance with Louis XVI, King of France, that allied the French military and navy with America to defeat the British.[190] The British evacuated Philadelphia for New York in June 1778, and Washington summoned a council of war with Generals Lee, Greene, Wayne, and Lafayette. He chose a partial attack on the retreating British at the Battle of Monmouth; the British were commanded by Howe's successor, General Henry Clinton. On June 28, absent Washington's knowledge, Lee and Lafayette moved with 4,000 men and bungled their first attack. After sharp criticism, Washington relieved Lee and continued fighting to an effective draw in one of the war's largest battles. Nightfall came and the British continued their retreat to New York, where Washington moved his army outside the city.[191] Monmouth was the last major battle Washington fought in the north; he discovered it was best to protect his army than to keep the British from occupying towns, which rarely had anything to offer the British army.[192]

In the summer of 1779 Washington and Congress decided to strike the Iroquois warriors of the "Six Nations" in a campaign to force Britain's Indian allies out of New York, which they had used as a base to attack American settlements around New England.[193] In June 1779, the Indian warriors joined with Tory rangers led by Walter Butler and slew over 200 frontiersmen, using barbarities normally shunned, and laid waste to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.[194] In August 1779, prompted by massacres and numerous attacks on American civilians, Washington ordered General John Sullivan, to lead a military operation and effect "the total destruction and devastation" of all Iroquois villages, and to take their women and children as hostages. Those that managed to escape fled to British protection in Canada.[195] Sullivan later reported that the expedition had been accomplished, referring to the Iroquois as "inhuman barbarians".[196]

Hudson River and Southern battles

Belligerents on the Hudson River

Washington went into quarters at Morristown during the winter of 1779–1780, which brought the army’s worst suffering of the elements during the war. The temperatures fell to 16 below zero, the New York Harbor was frozen over, and snow and ice covered the ground for weeks, with the troops again lacking provisions for a time as at Valley Forge. In late 1779, Clinton moved his forces south to Charleston for an offensive against the patriots led by Benjamin Lincoln. After his success there, Clinton returned victorious to New York. Congress replaced Lincoln with Gates, despite Washington's recommendation of Greene. Gates failed in South Carolina, was replaced by Greene, and the British seemed to have the South in their grasp. Despite this news, Washington was encouraged when he learned in mid-1780 that Lafayette had returned from France with additional naval assets and forces.[197]

West Point plot and treachery

A page from the Culper Ring's codebook, listing the men whom Washington gathered to be agents

Washington had worked hard to develop a successful espionage system to detect British locations and plans. In 1778, he ordered Major Benjamin Tallmadge to form the Culper Ring to collect information about the British in New York.[198] Washington was usually mindful of treachery, but he ignored incidents of disloyalty by Benedict Arnold, his admired and trusted Continental Army officer, who had distinguished himself in many battles.[199]

Arnold had recently been wounded in battle and was unable to ride horseback and command an army in combat, so Washington appointed him to the position of military governor of Philadelphia on June 18, 1778.[200] Arnold, enticed by his loyalist-leaning wife Peggy Shippen, met with Philadelphia merchant Joseph Stransbury in early May 1779.[201] Stransbury was told that Arnold wanted to defect to the British, and he relayed Arnold's message to British spymaster John André in New York on May 10.[202] Historians have noted several possible reasons for Arnold's treachery: his anger at losing promotions to junior officers and the repeated slights from Congress;[203] his war profiteering, for which he faced court martial; and his indebtedness.[204] There is no indication that Arnold's decision to betray his countrymen was prompted by the British.[205]

During the summer of 1780, helped by his wife, Arnold began his plot of treason, supplying André with sensitive information intended to compromise Washington and capture West Point, a key defensive position above New York on the Hudson River.[206] By August, after repeated requests from Arnold, Washington appointed him commander of West Point.[207] On September 21, Arnold met André on the banks of the Hudson and gave him the plans to take over the garrison, which André hid in his boot.[208] Two days later, André was captured on the Hudson by militia forces who discovered Arnold's plans. Colonel Alexander Hamilton sent reinforcements to keep West Point secured. While expecting Washington to arrive at the home of his personal secretary Richard Varick, Arnold took flight on horseback, made his way to the awaiting sloop on the Hudson, and escaped.[205] Upon receiving the news, an outraged Washington immediately recalled all the commanders under Arnold at key positions around the fort as a precaution against any complicity on their part; however, he did not suspect Arnold's wife at this time.[209] Washington assumed personal command of West Point and worked earnestly into the night reorganizing the order of command and strengthening defensive positions. British General Clinton had lost the element of surprise, gave up hope, and never attempted to capture the fortress.[210]

Arriving in New York, Arnold was paid £6,315 by Clinton, became a senior British commander, and fought the patriots in Virginia and Connecticut.[211] André was tried by a military court for spying and was sentenced to death. Washington offered to return him to the British in exchange for Arnold, but Clinton refused. André then asked Washington to be executed by firing squad. Washington was inclined to grant his wish, but he changed his mind under pressure to make an example of the enemy spymaster. André was hanged in Tappan, New York on October 2, 1780.[212]

Victory at Yorktown

Siege of Yorktown
Generals Washington and Rochambeau give last orders before the attack.

Washington's army went into winter quarters at New Windsor in 1780 and suffered again for lack of supplies. Washington prevailed upon Congress as well as state officials to come to their aid with provisions. He sympathized with their suffering, saying that he hoped that the army would not "continue to struggle under the same difficulties they have hitherto endured, which I cannot help remarking seem to reach the bounds of human patience".[213]

French King Louis XVI allied with Washington and Patriot American colonists.

In July 1780, 5,000 veteran French troops led by the comte de Rochambeau arrived at Newport, Rhode Island.[214] French naval forces then landed, led by Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse, and Washington encouraged Rochambeau to move his fleet south, to launch a joint land-naval attack on Arnold's troops.[215]

In December 1780, British General Clinton sent Benedict Arnold, now a Brigadier General in the British Army, with about 1,700 troops to Virginia to capture Portsmouth and spread terror throughout the state. Washington responded by sending Lafayette south with a small army to counter Arnold's efforts but the effort was generally ineffective.[216] At first Washington hoped to bring the allied fight to New York drawing off British forces from Virginia, and to end the war there, but Rochambeau advised de Grasse that Cornwallis in Virginia was the better target. Admiral de Grasse followed this advice and arrived off the Virginia coast. Washington immediately saw the advantage created, made a feinting move with his force towards Clinton in New York, and then headed south to Virginia.[217]

Bolstered by $20,000 in French gold and troops, Washington's Continental Army delivered the final blow in 1781, after a French naval victory allowed allied forces to trap a British army in Virginia, preventing reinforcement by Clinton from the North.[218]

The surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781 marked the end of major fighting in North America.[219] Washington took great satisfaction at the surrender, but displayed no outward sign.[220] Cornwallis failed to appear at the official surrender ceremony, claiming illness, and sent General Charles O'Hara as his proxy; Washington then had General Benjamin Lincoln accept the surrender in his place.[221] American slaves were returned by the British Army to their American owners, including Washington, who retained two house slaves, Lucy and Esther.[222]

Demobilization and resignation

Decisive combat had ended but not the war, with a treaty of peace months away. In addition to their powerful fleet, the British still had 26,000 troops occupying New York City, Charleston, and Savannah. The French army and navy departed, so the Americans were on their own in 1782–83. The American treasury was empty, and unpaid soldiers, restive to the point of mutiny, forced an adjournment of the Congress from Philadelphia to Princeton. Washington dispelled unrest among officers by suppressing the Newburgh Conspiracy in March 1783, and Congress promised the officers a five-year bonus.[223] Washington later submitted a formal detailed account of about $450,000 in military expenses that he advanced to the army in his tenure. It was allegedly vague concerning large sums, and included wife Martha's expenses incurred in visits to his headquarters, as well as his agreed compensation.[224]

With the peace treaty initially ratified in April 1783, a Congressional committee under Hamilton was arranging a peacetime army. On May 2, 1783, Washington submitted the Army’s position to the Committee in his Sentiments on a Peace Establishment.[225] The Committee’s proposals were defeated in Congress by three votes, in May 1783, October 1783, and April 1784. [226]

In the Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States. Washington disbanded his army and gave an eloquent farewell address to his soldiers on November 2.[227] On November 25, the British evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took possession. Only a few trusted members of Congress, including Thomas Jefferson, knew of Washington's decision to resign his commission as Commander-in-chief. At Fraunces Tavern on December 4, after leading the Continental Army for eight and a half years,[228] Washington bade his officers farewell, and resigned his commission on December 23, 1783.[229] In the Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House he gave a brief statement to the Continental Congress, saying "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping."[230] Historian Gordon S. Wood concludes that "The greatest act of his life, the one that gave him his greatest fame, was his resignation as commander in chief of the American forces."[231] King George III called Washington "the greatest character of the age" because of this.[232]

Washington made an exploratory trip to the western frontier in 1784 and inspected his land holdings that had been earned decades earlier for his service in the French and Indian War.[233] There he confronted squatters, including David Reed and the Covenanters; they vacated, but only after losing a court decision heard in Washington, Pennsylvania in 1786.[234] He also facilitated the creation of the Potomac Company, a public–private partnership that financed a canal that linked the Potomac River with the Ohio River. He was elected president of the company, for which he proselytized extensively. It served as a model for large-scale canal-building but technical and financial challenges rendered it unprofitable.[235]

Commentators have likened Washington to Roman aristocrat and statesman Cincinnatus who also commanded the his army only until the enemy had been defeated. Thereafter, he returned to cultivating his lands instead of seeking political power.[236] Lord Byron's Ode to Napoleon famously lionized Washington as "the Cincinnatus of the West".[237]

Constitutional Convention and presidential election

Signing of the U.S. Constitution
by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940. Washington, presiding officer, stands at right.

After the War Washington had little desire to involve himself in the political matters of the nation. Valuing Washington's influence, however, James Madison earnestly attempted to persuade him to attend the Constitutional Convention. When Shay's rebellion broke out in Massachusetts Washington was finally convinced that he could no longer ignore political matters and the looming unrest that threatened the stability of the Union and appeared at the convention as a delegate from Virginia. During the summer of 1787; he was unanimously elected as its president.[238] He was critical of the Articles of Confederation for the weak central government it established, referring to them as no more than "a rope of sand" to unite the new nation.[239] Washington's view for the need of a strong federal government developed from his early years of frustration with British officials and his experience at Valley Forge when the Continental Congress was unable to provide for the military. The general populace, however, did not share Washington's desire for a strong federal government binding the states together, fearing it would become overbearing as the British Parliament they had just overthrown.[240]

Washington was reserved during the debates, though he joined in voting, and lent his prestige to the good will and work of the other delegates.[241] After a couple of months, Washington told Alexander Hamilton, "I almost despair of seeing a favorable issue to the proceedings of our convention and do therefore repent having had any agency in the business."[242] Following the Convention, his support convinced many to vote for ratification. He unsuccessfully lobbied anti-federalist Patrick Henry, saying that "the adoption of it under the present circumstances of the Union is in my opinion desirable;" he declared that the only alternative would be anarchy. Nevertheless, he did not consider it appropriate to cast his vote in favor of adoption for Virginia, since he was expected to be nominated president under it.[243] The new Constitution was ultimately ratified by all thirteen states. Washington and Madison then retired to Mount Vernon for four days to review the transition to the new constitutional government.[244]

The delegates to the convention designed the presidency with Washington in mind, allowing him to define the office once elected. He thought that the achievements were monumental when they were finally completed.[242][m] The delegates counted slaves to represent three-fifths of the population, that increased Southern representation in the House and Electoral College. The slave trade would continue unabated for 20 years, while slaveowners, such as Washington, could retrieve runaway slaves in free states. In Massachusetts, an anti-slavery state, Washington was criticized for being a slave owner.[247]

The state electors, under the new Constitution, voted for the President on February 4, 1789; while the official vote-counting was delayed until Congress achieved a quorum in New York, Washington suspected most Republican electors had not voted for him.[248] Congress reached a quorum on April 6, and Washington was elected President, unanimously winning the majority of every legally eligible state's electoral votes, while John Adams received the next highest vote total, and was elected vice president.[249]

Presidency (1789–1797)

President George Washington
Gilbert Stuart 1795

The Constitution provided that the Inauguration be held March 4, but it was delayed by the Congress’ failure to timely conclude the official vote count. Washington received notification of his election and departed from Mount Vernon on April 23.[250]

At the age of fifty-seven, Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, taking the first presidential oath of office at Federal Hall in New York City.[251][n] He arrived in a coach led by militia and a marching band, followed by statesmen and foreign dignitaries in the first inaugural parade; an estimated crowd of 10,000 people attended.[253] As Washington was administered the oath by Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, he was given a thirteen-gun salute.[254] Returning to the Senate Chambers, he read a 1,200–word speech, asking that an "Almighty Being" bless the "important revolution".[255] He declined a salary in his speech, but Congress later set an annual salary of $25,000. He accepted the amount to defray costs of the presidency.[256] Washington was aware that everything he did set a precedent, and he 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.[257][o] To that end, he preferred the title "Mr. President" over more majestic names proposed by the Senate.[258]

Washington had planned to resign during his first term, but his overwhelming support and admiration inspired him to remain in office.[259] He was an able administrator and established many precedents for the presidency, including messages to Congress and the cabinet form of the executive branch.[260] He established a tolerance of opposing views, despite fears that a democratic system would lead to political violence, and he conducted a smooth transition of power to his successor.[261] He was an excellent delegator and judge of talent and character; he talked regularly with department heads and listened to their advice before making a final decision.[262]

During his first term in office, Washington had to contend with major problems. The old Confederation had lacked the powers to handle its workload. It had weak leadership, no executive, a small bureaucracy of clerks, a large debt, worthless paper money, and no taxing power.[263] The United States was not completely unified; North Carolina and Rhode Island had not formally joined the Union, and the status of the independent Vermont Republic was uncertain. Washington was tasked with assembling a nascent executive department; he relied on Tobias Lear for advice selecting its officers.[264] At this time Great Britain refused to relinquish its forts in the American West.[263] Additionally, the United States Army was minuscule and the United States Navy had not materialized.

Cabinet and executive departments

Washington and His Cabinet
Left to right:Washington, Knox, Hamilton (standing), Jefferson, and Randolph

Congress created executive departments during Washington's first months in office in 1789, including the State Department on July 27, the Department of War in early August, and the Treasury Department on September 2. The President also received two additional officers without departments: the Attorney General and Postmaster General. Washington appointed Richmond lawyer Edmund Randolph as Attorney General and Samuel Osgood as Postmaster General. He also appointed fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson to be Secretary of State and Henry Knox as Secretary of War. Finally, he appointed Alexander Hamilton to head the Treasury Department.[254] Washington's cabinet eventually developed into a consultation and advisory body, although this was not mandated by the Constitution.[265]

During Washington's administration, the President was given broad powers for removing officials in the executive branch. Congress passed a bill sponsored by James Madison that gave the President the power to remove public officials whose appointments mandated Senatorial approval. In 1789, Vice President John Adams cast the deciding vote in the Senate against a bill that would have mandated senatorial consent for the removal of Senate-confirmed federal and cabinet appointments. The bill had been sponsored by Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay.[266]

Washington's cabinet members were known for their dissension, forming rival parties with sharply opposing views, most fiercely illustrated between Hamilton and Jefferson.[267] Jefferson described his relationship with Hamilton as being "daily pitted ... like two cocks". Knox almost always sided with Hamilton, while Randolph tried to remain neutral but tended to side more with Jefferson, his fellow Virginian. Washington restricted cabinet discussions to topics of his choosing, without participating in debate. He occasionally requested cabinet opinions in writing, and he expected his department heads to carry out his decisions without complaint. Hamilton played an active role advising Congress, including written reports and using influence over congressional committee leaders.[263]

Domestic issues

The President's House in Philadelphia was Washington's official residence from 1790 to 1797

Washington was not aligned with a political party and opposed their formation, fearing conflict that would undermine republicanism.[268] His closest advisors formed two factions, however, setting the framework for the future First Party System. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton had plans to establish the national credit and to build a financially powerful nation, and he formed the basis of the Federalist Party. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was the founder of the Jeffersonian Republicans, and he strenuously opposed Hamilton's agenda. Washington favored Hamilton's agenda, which went into effect and became law. Hamilton's fiscal recommendations created bitter controversy during Washington's presidency.[269]

To encourage national unity, Washington, on October 3, 1789, with his signature, proclaimed November 26, 1789 to be the first Thanksgiving. Washington said "it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor." On his appointed Thanksgiving day, Washington fasted while visiting debtors in prison, providing prisoners with food and beer.[270]

Compromise of 1790 and National Bank

The most pressing fiscal problem of the new administration was the public credit of the United States. On January 14, 1790, Hamilton submitted a report to Congress on the matter. Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson then reached the Compromise of 1790 in which Jefferson agreed to Hamilton’s debt proposals in exchange for the movement of the nation’s capitol to the South, near Georgetown on the Potomac River.[269] This settled a deadlock in the Congress, and the terms were legislated in the Funding Act and the Residence Act, both of which Washington signed into law on August 4. Congress authorized the assumption and payment of the nation’s debts, and provided funding through customs duties and excise taxes.[271]

Hamilton created more controversy among Washington's Cabinet members when he advocated the establishment of the Bank of the United States. Although Madison and Jefferson objected, the bank easily passed Congress and the law was presented to Washington for signing on February 14, 1791. Washington sought advice from his cabinet; Jefferson and Randolph strongly opposed the new bank constitutionally, while Hamilton believed it was within the authority of the government's enumerated powers. Washington sided with Hamilton and signed the legislation on February 25; however, the rift between Hamilton and Jefferson widened and became openly hostile.[272]

Under Washington, the young American nation experienced its first financial crisis in March 1792 when federalists under Hamilton used large loans to gain control of U.S. debt securities, causing a run on the new national bank.[273][p] By mid-April the markets returned to normal.[275] Jefferson believed Hamilton was part of the scheme, in spite of latter's efforts to ameliorate, and informed Washington who found himself in the middle of a feud.[276]

Hamilton-Jefferson feud

Jefferson and Hamilton, bitter rivals

Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, staked out diametrically opposed political principles. Hamilton believed in a strong national government that needed a national bank and foreign loans to function, while Jefferson believed the government should be primarily under the direction of the states and the farm element, and deeply resented the idea of banks and foreign loans. This difference was the cause of continued disputes and infighting between the two, much to Washington's dismay.[277] In 1791, Jefferson and Congressman James Madison encouraged revolutionary poet Philip Freneau to form the National Gazette, a newspaper to counter the pro-Hamilton press.[278] A few weeks later, Hamilton demanded that Jefferson resign if he could not support Washington.[279] Rather than respond publicly, Jefferson told Washington that Hamilton's fiscal system would lead to the overthrow of the republic.[280]

Washington pleaded with his two secretaries by letters to stop the open warfare for the sake of the nation, but Hamilton and Jefferson politely ignored the president's advice.[281] Washington reluctantly reversed his decision to retire after his first term, when it became clear this would be essential in minimizing party strife, but the feud continued after his reelection [280] Jefferson's political actions, his support of Freneau's National Gazette,[282] and his attempt to undermine Hamilton nearly led Washington to dismiss him from the cabinet; Jefferson ultimately resigned his position in December 1793, and was thereafter forsaken by Washington.[283] The feud between Hamilton and Jefferson led to the well-defined Federalist and Republican parties. By 1794, party affiliation was necessary for election to Congress.[284]

Washington remained aloof from congressional attacks on Hamilton, but he did not write a public statement to protect him. The Reynolds Affair embarrassed Hamilton, but Washington held him in "very high esteem" and viewed him as the dominant force in establishing federal law and government.[285]

Whiskey Rebellion

In March 1791, Alexander Hamilton promoted and Congress imposed an excise tax on distilled spirits to help pay the national debt; grain farmers strongly protested in frontier districts, especially the westernmost counties of Pennsylvania, saying they were unrepresented and were unfairly shouldering too much of the debt. Threats and violence against tax collectors escalated into full-scale defiance of federal authority in 1794, known as the Whiskey Rebellion. The federal army was too small to meet the task, so Washington invoked the Militia Act of 1792 to summon militias from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey.[286] The governors sent the troops, with Washington taking initial command. He subsequently named Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee as field commander to lead the troops into the rebellious districts. The rebels dispersed and there was no fighting. Washington's forceful action demonstrated that the new government could protect itself and its tax collectors. This represented the premier instance of the federal government using military force to exert authority over the states and citizens[287] and was the only time that a sitting U.S. president personally commanded troops in the field. Washington justified his action against "certain self-created societies" whom he regarded as "subversive organizations" that threatened the national union. He was not disputing their right to protest, but insisted that their dissent should not take the form of flagrant violation of federal law. Congress overwhelmingly agreed and extended their congratulations to him, with only Madison and Jefferson expressing their indifference.[288]

Indian affairs

Battle of Fallen Timbers
The Ohio Country was ceded to America in its aftermath.

Washington's most pressing problem at the start of his presidency was the British occupation of forts in the Northwest frontier[289] and their concerted efforts to turn Indians against American settlers. British were also protecting their interests in the Canadian fur trade, while Indian tribes also warred with each other over hunting ground. Washington as early as 1789 told General Arthur St. Clair, first governor of the Northwest Territory, that he preferred a peace treaty with the hostile Indians of the Ohio Country. Tribes of Indians formed a confederacy led by Little Turtle and other chiefs and were conducting numerous attacks and depredations against settlers and roamed largely uncontested throughout the territory. In 1790 Washington sent Brigadier General Josiah Harmar to control the situation, but he was defeated twice and forced to withdraw.[290]

Using guerrilla warfare the Indian Confederacy was an effective force against the sparsely manned American army, comprised mostly of undisciplined militia, some with their families along. In 1791, with the encouragement of General Knox, who disliked militias, Washington sent St. Clair from Fort Washington on an expedition to restore peace in the territory. On November 4, St. Clair's forces, despite Washington's warning of surprise attacks, were ambushed and overwhelmingly defeated with few survivors. Outraged over the brutality and the manner in which captured survivors, including women and children, were executed, Washington was prompted by Knox and others to re-augment and form a new army that didn't rely on state militias.[291] Congress vindicated St. Clair's management of the battle, however, to restore the Army's reputation, Washington forced St. Clair's resignation and replaced him with Revolutionary War hero General Anthony Wayne, who instructed his troops in Indian warfare tactics. So determined to instill the discipline in the new army that was lacking under St. Clair, Wayne sometimes shaved, branded or whipped soldiers to sharpen their performance,[292] while three men were executed.[293] On August 24, 1784, Wayne defeated the Northwest Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and the Ohio Country was opened up for American cession.[294] Uniquely for the time, Washington equated killing Native Americans to that of whites; and he desired a policy to protect their property, and integrate Indians into American culture.[295]

Foreign affairs

In April 1792, the French Revolutionary Wars broke out between Great Britain and its allies and revolutionary France; Washington, with cabinet approval, declared America’s neutrality. The revolutionary government of France sent diplomat "Citizen Genêt" to America. He was welcomed with great enthusiasm and began promoting the case for France, using a network of new Democratic Societies in major cities. He even issued French letters of marque and reprisal to French ships manned by American sailors so that they could capture British merchant ships. Washington denounced the societies and demanded and received the French recall of Genêt.[296]

   John Jay
Negotiator of the Jay Treaty

Hamilton formulated the Jay Treaty to normalize trade relations with Great Britain, remove them from western forts, and resolve financial debts remaining from the Revolution;[297] John Jay negotiated and signed the treaty on November 19, 1794. Jeffersonians supported France and strongly attacked the treaty. Washington listened to both sides, then announced his support for the treaty, mostly because it avoided war with Britain.[298] However he was deeply disappointed, claiming that its provisions were overwhelmingly on the side of Great Britain.[293] The treaty mobilized public opinion and secured ratification in the Senate by June the following year.[299] Washington was not immune from Republican criticism after he signed the Jay Treaty and was subjected to the worst and most frequent criticism he had ever experienced during the war and as president.[300]

The British agreed to depart from their forts around the Great Lakes, and the United States-Canada boundary had to be modified. Numerous pre-Revolutionary debts were liquidated, and the British opened their West Indies colonies to American trade. Most importantly, the treaty delayed war with Great Britain and brought a decade of prosperous trade. Jefferson claimed that the treaty angered France and only "invited rather than avoided" war.[301] Relations with France deteriorated after the Jay Treaty was signed, leaving succeeding president John Adams with the prospect of war.[302] Two days before Washington's term ended, the French withdrew from their embassy in America.

Second term

Washington remained popular approaching the Election of 1792; Alexander Hamilton strongly urged a reluctant Washington to run for a second term. Washington's silence about this upon his return to Mount Vernon, in October 1792, was considered an acquiescence and consent for his being the only viable candidate to assume the presidency during this unstable period. On February 13, 1793 the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington president for a second term. John Adams was reelected Vice President by a vote of seventy-seven to fifty.[295][q]

Criticized by the National Gazette and political adversaries over his birthday celebration and for appearing as a "monarchist", Washington kept a low profile, arriving at his inauguration in plain form and alone in a simple carriage. The second inauguration was held in the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia, on Monday, March 4, 1793. The presidential oath of office was administered to Washington by Associate Justice William Cushing This was the first inauguration to take place in Philadelphia, the nation's capital at this time. After the swearing in ceremony Washington maintained his low profile and delivered the shortest inaugural address on record.[304]

In 1793, Washington signed the Fugitive Slave Act which allowed slave owners to cross state lines and retrieve runaway slaves.[305] He also signed into law the Slave Trade Act of 1794, which limited American involvement in the Atlantic slave trade.[306] Before returning to Mount Vernon, Washington was concerned that under a Pennsylvania law his slaves residing in Philadelphia would become free, having lived in that state for the required amount of time. However, he used the law as a legal means to manumit a number of his slaves and did so in a manner that kept the matter hidden from history until the mid 20th century.[307][r]

Washington appointed Oliver Wolcott, Jr. as Secretary of the Treasury in 1795, replacing Alexander Hamilton who resigned in the aftermath of the whiskey rebellion for which he was criticized, wishing to return home to his wife who suffered a miscarriage in his absence. The affair strengthened Washington's bond with Hamilton while it distanced him from Knox.[308]

In the months that led up to the end of his presidency, Washington was relentlessly assailed by his political foes and a largely partisan press, accusing him of being ambitious and greedy. Washington pointed out that he had taken no salary during the entire war and risked his life in numerous battles. He came to regard the press as an erosive and disuniting force that spread numerous falsehoods, referring to them as "diabolical". This also had a great influence in his Farewell Address, which expressed how troubled he was by the years of infighting and character assassination by much of the press.[309]

Farewell Address

Washington's Farewell Address (September 19, 1796)

Washington had planned to retire after his first term as President, who then had James Madison prepare the draft of his Farewell Address. After his second term he dug up the original draft and had Alexander Hamilton work on the wording, the sentiment and theme of the address being Washington's.[310] Before Washington actually read his Farewell Address to Congress he had tended to every punctuation and detail. He summoned David Claypool, publisher of the American Daily Advertiser, gave him the manuscript and asked that it be published in the American Daily Advertiser where it appeared on September 19, 1796. Claypool passed it on to three other Philadelphia newspapers who also published the Address.[311]

Donning a black velvet robe, with his dress sword at his side, a politically weary and tired Washington had to work up the energy for his final address to Congress. Arriving at the House of Representatives on December 7 he was received by "...the largest assemblage of citizens..." in the crowded gallery.[312]

Washington's Farewell Address proved to be one of the most influential statements on republicanism.[313] It stressed the necessity and importance of national union, the value of the Constitution, the rule of law, the evils of political parties, and the proper virtues of a republican people. He referred to morality as "a necessary spring of popular government". "Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason, and experience, both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."[314]

Washington's address warned against foreign alliances and their influence in domestic affairs, and against bitter partisanship in domestic politics. He also called for men to move beyond partisanship and serve the common good, [315] stressing that the United States must concentrate on its own interests. He counseled friendship and commerce with all nations, but advised against involvement in European wars which was largely embraced by John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.[316] The address, however, did not quell bi-partisan politics, but only served to aggravate them, setting the tone for the coming 1796 election, with Washington lending his support to John Adams.[315]


Washington as farmer at Mount Vernon
by Junius Brutus Stearns, 1851

Washington was born into a world accustomed to slavery, and he fully embraced it until the American Revolution;[317] his ownership of African slaves spanned most of his lifetime. In 1799, there were 317 slaves living at Mount Vernon; he owned 124 outright, and held 153 in his wife’s dower interest. Although he privately spoke of freeing his slaves, he enjoyed the prosperity that slavery brought him and his family.[318][98] He also knew slavery was a divisive issue that threatened the nation's unity, so he never publicly challenged it.[319]

Washington shared prevailing slaveholder views that slaves were ignorant and dishonest. While he was Commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, his views moderated under the influence of anti-slavery aides and officers.[320] By 1784, he still had 255 slaves working on his five plantations. Washington refused to separate slave families by sale. He became troubled by his slaveholding, knowing future generations would judge him harshly for it.[321]

There are differing reports about Washington's treatment of his slaves. A visiting dignitary once said Washington treated his slaves "far more humanely" than other Virginia slave owners.[322] A visiting farmer once said of Washington and his slaves that "it was the sense of all his neighbors that he treated them with more severity than any other man".[323]Though he allowed whippings of both male and female slaves for idleness, stealing or fighting, Washington opposed severe punishment on other grounds, and discouraged excessive discipline by overseers, some of whom were slaves themselves.[324][98][325] Washington required that a warning be given to first offenders before resorting to whipping, which also required his written permission, although the practice wasn't always enforced, due to his prolonged absences from Mount Vernon.[326] Washington several times sent unruly slaves to the West Indies to work in hard labor. Other methods of discipline were used that included "admonition and advise", cash payments, and material incentives.[325]

Washington sometimes personally cared for ill or injured slaves, and provided physicians and mid-wives.[327] By the Revolutionary War he had all his slaves inoculated for smallpox.[328] While his slaves were often poorly clothed and housed, they received two hours off during the work day for meals, shorter work days in the winter months, and time off on Sundays, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.[329][330] Because Washington never separated slave families without their consent, and because of a high birth rate, his manager James Anderson noticed that there were nearly 300 slaves at Mount Vernon, but only 100 were needed for profitable employment.[331] By the 1780s Mount Vernon was said to be "a retirement home and child-care center", causing the plantation to run a deficit.[332]

Washington, while president, continued to closely supervise Mount Vernon, and wrote weekly letters to his slave overseers.[333] In 1796, Washington ordered Secretary of Treasury Wolcott to capture Martha’s fugitive slave Ona Judge. [334] Judge twice escaped capture, and refused to return to Mount Vernon, although she remained a fugitive. [335]

During the summer of 1799, he resolved his personal struggle with slaveholding by making a new will, which directed all 124 slaves he owned outright to be freed upon the death of his wife Martha.[336] He was among the few slave-holding Founders to do so.[337] From his death bed, Washington directed the burning of his 1775 slave will, while he kept the later abolition will which was probated after his death, and finalized his wish to discourage slavery.[338] In addition to granting freedom to his slaves, Washington provided that old and young freed people be taken care of indefinitely; younger ones were to be taught to read and write and placed in suitable occupations. He also stipulated that none of his freed slaves be forced to leave Virginia, "under any pretense whatsoever". Martha freed Washington's slaves on January 1, 1801. Historian John Ferling said Washington's will was "an act of atonement for a lifetime of concurrence in human exploitation."[336]

Retirement (1797–1799)

Washington retired from the presidency in March 1797 and returned to Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. He devoted much time to his plantations and other business interests, including his distillery, which produced its first batch of spirits in February 1797.[339] His plantation operations were only minimally profitable.[30] His lands in the west (Piedmont) yielded little income because they were under attack by Indians, and the squatters living there refused to pay him rent. Washington attempted to sell off these holdings but failed to obtain the price that he desired. Meanwhile, he was losing money at Mount Vernon due to an excess of unproductive slaves, some of which originally belonged to Martha, which they declined to sell in order to keep families intact.[340]

Once in retirement, Washington became an even more committed Federalist. He was vocal in his support of the Alien and Sedition Acts, and convinced Federalist John Marshall to run for Congress, to weaken the Jeffersonian hold on Virginia.[341]

Prompted by tensions with France, Washington grew restless of retirement and wrote to Secretary of War James McHenry offering to organize Adams' army.[342] By 1798, when French privateers began seizing U.S. ships, relations with France had deteriorated resulting in the Quasi-War. President Adams offered Washington a commission as lieutenant general on July 4, 1798, and as Commander-in-chief of the armies raised for service in that conflict. He accepted and served as the Commanding General from July 13, 1798 until his death 17 months later. He participated in planning for a Provisional Army to meet any emergency but avoided involvement in details. He delegated most of the work to Hamilton, a major general, including active leadership of the army. No French army invaded the United States during this period, and Washington did not assume a field command [343][s]

Most Americans assumed that he was rich because of the well-known "glorified façade of wealth and grandeur" at Mount Vernon;[344] nearly all of Washington's wealth was tied up in land and slaves. Historians estimate that this estate was worth about $1 million in 1799 dollars, equivalent to about $19.9 million in 2014.[345]

Final days

On Thursday, December 12, 1799, Washington inspected his plantation on horseback, in snow, hail and freezing rain; that evening he ate his supper without changing from his wet clothes, so he could join his guests without making them wait. The next day the weather worsened with heavy snow, and with a sore throat, he trudged toward the Potomac to mark some trees for clearing. That evening he complained also of chest congestion and hoarseness, but he remained cheerful. Some time around 3 a.m. that Saturday, he suddenly awoke with severe difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing.[346] He was a firm believer in customary bloodletting; he had used it for ailments of slaves. He ordered estate overseer George Rawlins to remove nearly a pint of his blood.[347] Three physicians were also summoned, including his personal physician Dr. James Craik, along with Dr. Gustavus Brown and Dr. Elisha Dick. Craik and

Published regulations for the funeral procession in honor of Washington (in New York City)
The original Washington family vault

Brown thought that Washington had “quinsey" or "quincy", while Dick thought that the condition was a more serious "violent inflammation of the throat".[348] By the time the three physicians finished their treatments and bloodletting, half or more of his blood content was removed over the course of a few hours.[346][t] Dick recognized that the bloodletting and other treatments were failing, and he proposed performing an emergency tracheotomy as a last-ditch effort to save Washington's life. Few American doctors were then familiar with this procedure and the other two doctors disapproved.[350] Washington finally instructed doctors Brown and Dick to cease their attempts to save his life and leave the room, while he assured Doctor Craik, "Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go".[351]

Washington's illness and subsequent death came swiftly and unexpectedly.[352] His final instructions were, "Have me decently buried, and do not let my body be put in the vault in less than three days after I am dead."[338][u] In his journal, Washington's personal secretary Tobias Lear recorded his last words as "'Tis well." With Martha calmly composed at the foot of his bed, at the age of 67, Washington died peacefully without further struggle five hours later at home around 10 p.m. on Saturday, December 14, 1799.[354] Funeral arrangements were made by Washington's Masonic lodge of Alexandria. When news of Washington's death reached Congress, which was in session, they immediately adjourned for the day, and the next morning the Speaker's chair was shrouded in black.[355]

The funeral was held on December 18, 1799, at Mount Vernon, where his body was interred. Cavalry and foot soldiers lead the procession, while six Colonels, all of whom had served under Washington during the revolution, served as the pallbearers. The actual funeral service was restricted mostly to family and friends. Congress chose Henry Lee III to deliver the eulogy, a Continental Army officer and loved by Washington. Word of Washington's death traveled slowly; church-bells rang in the various cities, and many places of business closed when word finally arrived.[356]

Throughout much of the world, people admired Washington and were saddened by his death. In the United States, memorial processions were held in major cities. Martha Washington wore a black mourning cape for one year. In France, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered ten days of mourning.[357] Ships of the British Royal Navy's Channel Fleet lowered their flags to half mast to honor his passing.[358] To protect their privacy, Martha burned the correspondence which they had exchanged; only five letters between the couple are known to have survived, two letters from Martha to George and three from him to her.[359]

Subsequent diagnoses

The diagnosis of Washington's illness and the immediate cause of his death have been subjects of debate since the day he died. In the days immediately following his death, Craik and Dick's published account stated that they felt that his symptoms had been consistent with cynanche trachealis, a term of that period used to describe severe inflammation of the structures of the upper airway. Even at that early date, there were accusations of medical malpractice, with some believing that Washington had been bled to death.[350] Various modern medical authors have speculated that Washington probably died from a severe case of epiglottitis complicated by the given treatments (all accepted medical practice in Washington's day), most notably the massive deliberate blood loss, which almost certainly caused hypovolemic shock.[v]


The Washington family tomb at Mount Vernon
The sarcophagi of George (right) and Martha (left) Washington at the present tomb's entrance

Washington was buried in the old family vault at Mount Vernon, situated on a grassy slope covered with juniper and cypress trees. It contained the remains of his brother Lawrence and other family members. The decrepit vault was in need of repair, prompting Washington to leave instructions in his will for the construction of a new vault.[363]

In 1830 a disgruntled ex-employee of the estate attempted to steal Washington's skull.[364] The next year the new vault was constructed at Mount Vernon to receive George and Martha Washington's remains, along with those of other relatives.[365] A joint Congressional committee debated the removal of President Washington's body from Mount Vernon to a crypt in the Capitol in early 1832. The crypt had been built by architect Charles Bulfinch in the 1820s during the reconstruction of the burned-out capitol after the British had set it afire in August 1814, during the Burning of Washington. Southern opposition was intense, antagonized by an ever-growing rift between North and South. Congressman Wiley Thompson of Georgia expressed the Southerners' fear when he said, "Remove the remains of our venerated Washington from their association with the remains of his consort and his ancestors, from Mount Vernon and from his native State, and deposit them in this capitol, and then let a severance of the Union occur, and behold the remains of Washington on a shore foreign to his native soil."[366]

The marble sarcophagus that the body of General Washington now rests in was erected in 1837. On October 7, 1837 George Washington's remains, still in the original lead coffin, were placed within a marble sarcophagus designed by William Strickland and constructed by John Struthers.[367][368] The sarcophagus was sealed and encased with planks while an outer vault was constructed around it.[367] The outer vault contains the sarcophagi of George and Martha Washington, the inner vault contains the remains of other Washington family members and relatives.[365]

Historical reputation and legacy

The Constable-Hamilton Portrait by Gilbert Stuart

George Washington's legacy endures among the most influential in American history, being Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and a hero of the Revolution, and subsequently the first President of the United States.[w] Congressman Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade, famously eulogized Washington, "First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen".[369] Lee's words became the hallmark by which Washington's overwhelming reputation was impressed upon the American memory, with biographers hailing Washington as the great exemplar of republicanism. He set many precedents for the national government, and the presidency in particular, and as early as 1778 was called the "Father of His Country".[370][371][x] Congress proclaimed Washington's Birthday a federal holiday in the United States.[373] Describing his personality, biographer Douglas Southall Freeman concluded, "the great big thing stamped across that man is character." By character, says David Hackett Fischer, "Freeman meant integrity, self-discipline, courage, absolute honesty, resolve, and decision, but also forbearance, decency, and respect for others." [374]

Washington became an international icon for liberation and nationalism, as the leader of the first successful revolution against a colonial empire. The Federalists made him the symbol of their party but, for many years, the Jeffersonians continued to distrust his influence and delayed building the Washington Monument.[375] On January 31, 1781, he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[376]

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 Public Law 94–479 passed on January 19, 1976, with an effective appointment date of July 4, 1976.[233] This restored his position as the highest-ranking military officer in U.S. history.[y]

The most popular childhood story about Washington is that he "chopped down" his father's favorite cherry tree and admitted the deed when questioned: "I can't tell a lie, ..."[378] The anecdote was first reported by biographer Parson Weems, based on the posthumous memories of people who knew him as a child.[379] However, Weems never asserted that the tree was actually "chopped down", but that the young Washington instead had merely removed some of the tree bark (referred to as "barking") with his hatchet.[z] Weems' account of the incident has never been proven or disproven.[381]

Monuments and memorials

Washington Monument, Washington, DC

Many places and entities have been named in honor of Washington. His name became that of the nation's capital Washington, D.C. The state of Washington is the only state to be named after a United States president.[382]

Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are depicted in stone at the Mount Rushmore Memorial. The Washington Monument was built in his honor and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia was constructed between 1922 and 1932 with contributions from the Freemasons.[383]

After Washington's death, Congress authorized a memorial in the national capital, but the decision was reversed when the Democratic-Republicans took control of Congress in 1801. The Democratic-Republicans were dismayed that Washington had become the symbol of the Federalist Party.[384] Construction of the 554 foot memorial didn't begin until 1848. It was completed in 1885. There are many other "Washington Monuments" in the United States, including two well-known equestrian statues, one in Manhattan and one in Richmond, Virginia. The first statue to show Washington on horseback was dedicated in 1856 and is located in Manhattan's Union Square.[385]

The George Washington Bridge, is named in his honor. Several naval vessels are named in Washington's honor, including the USS George Washington (CVN-73).[386]

Statues, monuments, and sculptures


The serious collection and publication of Washington's documentary record began with the pioneer work of Jared Sparks in the 1830s in Life and Writings of George Washington (12 vols., 1834–1837).[387] The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799 (1931–44) is a 39 volume set edited by John C. Fitzpatrick who was commissioned by the George Washington Bicentennial Commission. It contains over 17,000 letters and documents and is available online from the University of Virginia.[388] The definitive letterpress edition of his writings was begun by the University of Virginia in 1968, and today comprises 52 published volumes, with more to come. It contains everything written by Washington or signed by him, together with most of his incoming letters. Part of the collection is available online from the University of Virginia.[389]

George Washington's personal annotated copy of the "Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America" from 1789 includes the Constitution of the United States and a draft of the Bill of Rights. It was sold on June 22, 2012, at Christie's for $9,826,500 (with fees added to the final cost) to The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. This was the record for a document sold at auction.[390]

Postage and currency

George Washington appears on contemporary U.S. currency, including the one-dollar bill and the quarter-dollar coin (the Washington quarter). Washington and Benjamin Franklin appeared on the nation's first postage stamps in 1847. Since that time, Washington has appeared on many postage issues, more than all other presidents combined.[391]

Washington's victory over Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown was commemorated with a two-cent stamp on the battle's 150th anniversary on October 19, 1931.[392] The 150th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution with George Washington as presiding officer was celebrated with a three-cent issue on September 17, 1937, adapted from the painting by Julius Brutus Stearns.[393] Washington's presidential inauguration at Federal Hall in New York City was celebrated with a three-cent issue on its 150th anniversary of April 30, 1939.[394]

Selected issues
Washington, general issue of 1862, 24c
issue of 1862
Washington-Franklin Issue of 1917, 5c
Washington-Franklin, issue of 1917
Washington at Prayer, Valley Forge, issue of 1928, 2c
Washington at Valley Forge, issue of 1928
President, Constitutional Convention,issue of 1937 3c
Washington as President of the Constitutional Convention, issue of 1937
Selected currency
quarter dollar
Washington on the 1928 dollar bill

Gallery of paintings

See also: Complete gallery of Washington portraits


See also


  1. ^ March 4 is the official start of the first presidential term. April 6 is when Congress counted the votes of the Electoral College and certified a president. April 30 is when Washington was sworn in.
  2. ^ Old style: February 11, 1731
  3. ^ Contemporaneous records used the Julian calendar and the Annunciation Style of enumerating years, recording his birth as February 11, 1731. The provisions of the British Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, implemented in 1752, altered the official British dating method to the Gregorian calendar with the start of the year on January 1 (it had been March 25). These changes resulted in dates being moved forward 11 days, and an advance of one year for those between January 1 and March 25. For a further explanation, see Old Style and New Style dates.[2]
  4. ^ Washington received his license through the college, whose charter gave it the authority to appoint Virginia county surveyors. There is no evidence that he actually attended classes there.[27] This lucrative appointment was due to his connection with the prominent Fairfax family, through his brother Lawrence.
  5. ^ His height was variously recorded as 6 ft (1.83 m) to 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m), although he registered 6 ft 3½ in when measured for his coffin.[34]
  6. ^ Ellis and Ferling, for example, point to his negative experiences dealing with the Continental Congress during the Revolution, and Don Higginbotham places Washington's first formal advocacy of a strong central government in 1783.[73]
  7. ^ There are claims that Washington requested to be baptized again, in the Baptist tradition, by complete submersion in the Delaware River, by a Baptist chaplain, John Gano; but there is no corroborating evidence Gano was then at Valley Forge beyond claims of Gano's family.[77]
  8. ^ Washington regularly left services before communion with the other non-communicants (as was then the custom). At a Philadelphia church while President, he ceased attending communion Sundays after being admonished by a rectorfor not setting an example by receiving communion.[82]
  9. ^ Washington grew indifferent with the established Church of England's form of worship and refrained from using the term God, substituting terms frequently used in Enlightenment doctrine such as The Creator or The Almighty in his correspondence and as Commander in Chief during the Revolution.[83]
  10. ^ In June 1776, Congress initially attempted to direct the war effort with the committee known as "Board of War and Ordnance"; this was succeeded by the Board of War in July 1777, which eventually included members of the military.[140]
  11. ^ This painting has received both acclaim and criticism.[159] See Emanuel Leutze article for details.
  12. ^ Durham Boats were built for the Durham Iron Works to carry iron ore, lumber, or grain on the upper Delaware.[165]
  13. ^ Starting in 1774, fourteen persons served as President of the Continental Congress, but bore no relationship to the presidency established under Article II of the Constitution. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress called its presiding officer "President of the United States in Congress Assembled", but this position had no national executive powers.[245][246]
  14. ^ There has been debate and controversy over whether Washington added "So help me God" to the end of the oath.[252]
  15. ^ Washington wrote to James Madison: "As the first of everything in our situation will serve to establish a precedent, it is devoutly wished on my part that these precedents be fixed on true principles." Washington to James Madison, May 5, 1789, cited by Unger, 2013, p. 76.
  16. ^ Hamilton's former Treasury assistant, William Duer, had misappropriated $200,000 in Treasury funds that enabled him to speculate on securities, which triggered a financial crisis. Unable to repay the $200,000, Duer was arrested, prosecuted and sent to debtor's prison by the New York District Attorney, with Hamilton's blessing.[274]
  17. ^ Washington refused to run for a third term in 1796, establishing the tradition of two terms for a president, which was solidified by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.[303]
  18. ^ The affair was inadvertently discovered by historian James T. Flexner in a letter of July 3, 1796, as he was making routine checks through Washington's correspondence.[307]
  19. ^ He was the only former President who later served as an presidential appointee until 1921, when President Warren G. Harding appointed former President William Howard Taft as Chief Justice of the United States.
  20. ^ The first account of Washington's death, by Drs Craik and Brown, published in The Times (of Alexandria) on December 19, 1799 - can be found in The Eclectic Medical Journal (1858)[349]
  21. ^ There is discrepancy among historians as to the number of days that lapsed: Betts, 2013, claims two days passed, Chernow, 2010, claims it was three.[353]
  22. ^ Modern experts (including Drs Wallenborn in 1999,[360] Cheatham in 2008, [361] and Vadakan in 2005[362]) have concluded that Washington most probably died from acute bacterial epiglottitis complicated by the administered treatments. These treatments included multiple doses of calomel (a cathartic or purgative), and extensive bloodletting (2.365 total liters of blood taken, almost half of a normal adult's blood volume).
  23. ^ Historians Jay A. Parry and Andrew M. Allison declare that Washington "was the dominant personality in three of the most critical events in that founding: the Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, and the first national administration. Had he not served as America's leader in those three events, all three likely would have failed. And America as we know it today would not exist." Parry, 1991, p. xi.
  24. ^ The earliest known image in which Washington is identified as the Father of His Country is in the frontispiece of a 1779 German-language almanac, with calculations by David Rittenhouse and published by Francis Bailey in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Der Gantz Neue Verbesserte Nord-Americanische Calendar has Fame appearing with an image of Washington holding a trumpet to her lips, from which come the words "Der Landes Vater" (translated as "the father of the country" or "the father of the land").[372]
  25. ^ In Portraits & Biographical Sketches of the United States Army's Senior Officer,[377] William Gardner Bell states that Washington was recalled back into military service from his retirement in 1798, and "Congress passed legislation that would have made him General of the Armies of the United States, but his services were not required in the field and the appointment was not made until the Bicentennial in 1976, when it was bestowed posthumously as a commemorative honor." How many U.S. Army five-star generals have there been and who were they? states that with Public Law 94–479, President Ford specified that Washington would "rank first among all officers of the Army, past and present. "General of the Armies of the United States" is associated with only two people... one being Washington and the other being John J. Pershing.
  26. ^ Weems' actual story, first published in 1806, reads:
    (excerpt) "One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it."[380]
  27. ^ (from left to right): George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington, Eleanor Parke Custis, Martha Washington, and an enslaved servant, probably William Lee or Christopher Sheels


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Military offices
New creation Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army
Succeeded by
Henry Knox
as Senior Officer of the U.S. Army
Preceded by
James Wilkinson
Senior Officer of the U.S. Army
Succeeded by
Alexander Hamilton
Political offices
New office President of the United States
Succeeded by
John Adams