George Washington (February 22, 1732  - December 14, 1799) is the Chief of General Staff of the Continental Army during the War of Independence (1775-1783) before being the first president of the USA ( 1789-1797). Born in Pope's Creek in the British colony of Virginia, he is one of the wealthiest planters in the region on his area of Mount Vernon. Through his participation in the Seven Years' War (1754-1763), he quickly became famous on both sides of the Atlantic and is interested in political issues. His commitment to the American Revolution as well as his reputation will lead him to the post of commander of U.S. troops the he organizes and leads to the final victory on the mainland, with the help of French. After the conflict, he participated in drafting the U.S. Constitution and is by far the the prefer candidate for the first presidential election. During his two terms, George Washington shows his qualities as a skilled administrator, despite internal difficulties and the war in Europe. He left his mark on the country's institutions and national history.|
Regarded as one of the founding fathers of the USA by the Americans, George Washington has been the subject of numerous tributes since the late eighteenth century: his name was given to the capital of the USA, a state north-west of the Union, and many sites and monuments. His likeness appears on the ticket and a dollar coin as well as the 25-cent coin. His birthday is a federal holiday in USA.
George Washington is a direct descendant of a the first French who emigrated to Virginia in America, a Huguenot from the island of Ré, called Nicolas Martiau (1591-1657), who arrived on the Francis-Bonaventure ferry on May 11, 1620, five months before the arrival of the Mayflower pilgrims. This French ancestor had exercised the function of military engineer, judge of peace and deputy of the local assembly of Jamestown, where he was elected representative of the peninsula of Pamunkey. In 1631, 150 years before the decisive battle of Yorktown during the American War of Independence Nicolas Martiau had acquired a land on which his descendant would engrave his name, in 1781 in "York-town" in a battle against British troops.
His parents, Augustine and Mary Ball Washington, were part of the cultural and economic elite planters of Virginia, in the south of the thirteen colonies. The father was a farmer but also a judge at the court of Westmoreland County, he was first married to Janet Butler who died in 1729 and with who he had three children: Lawrence, Augustine Jr. and Jane. He married Mary Ball in 1731 who gave him several children, including George Washington who was the eldest. In 1735, the family moved into a house on the planting of Little Hunting Creek, which would thereafter become Mount Vernon. Three years later, she moved again to Ferry Farm, a plantation located on the Rappahannock River, where George Washington spent much of his youth.
He received a careful education, that of the wealthiest upper-class planters in the South and learned good manners, morality and knowledge that a gentleman of this era could receive. He probably attended a local school or was taught by a tutor. He was gifted in mathematics and familiarised himself with the basics of topography. But, on the other hand, he never learned Latin or ancient Greek, not even any foreign language. He left school at 15 without pursuing any further education.
He was only 11 years old when his father died and his half-brothers inherited most of the land. His older brother, Lawrence Washington, worked on the Little Hunting Creek plantation and renamed it thereafter "Mount Vernon" in honour of the English Admiral Edward Vernon. He took charge of the education of George and it is thanks to him that he started to be interested in the company of Ohio who claimed territories in the West of the Appalachians. George Washington inherited the planting of the Rappahannock where he lived with his mother, brothers and sisters, but the income from this land could not maintain a train of aristocratic life.
By the age of 16, George Washington became a surveyor on the properties of Lord Fairfax, and charted the lands to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The remuneration of this work allowed him to acquire land in the Shenandoah Valley.
In December 1752, after the death of Lawrence Washington, George inherited the area of Mount Vernon, he also replaced his half-brother in the Virginia militia for the post commander. On November 4, 1752, at age 21, he became master of Freemasons of the housing of Fredericksburg.
In fall 1753, George Washington was sent by the governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, in the Ohio Valley, which was the scene of colonial rivalry between the British and French. He was instructed to provide a message to Fort Le Boeuf, demanding the withdrawal of the French from the region of the current Pittsburgh. Faced with a refusal, Washington attacked and killed a group of 30 scouts led by Joseph Coulon de Jumonville (Battle of Jumonville Glen).
On 27 May 1754, he didn’t do anything to prevent the execution of that officer. The French protested to have been ambushed, saying that they had come under the protection of the white flag and status of emissaries to issue a summons for the withdrawal of the lands of King Louis XV of France. Washington justified himself by saying mistook them for spies rather than emissaries. Claude de Contrecoeur responded by sending a detachment of 500 men to capture Washington and gave the command to Louis Coulon de Villiers, the brother of Jumonville. He imprisoned Washington at Fort Necessity, but freed him after obtaining a confession, claiming to have signed a paper in French that he had not understood. The death of Joseph de Jumonville caused a scandal in France and the English, Horace Walpole, even said "this discharge driven by a young Virginien in the undergrowth, American started to burn the world" [ref. necessary]. Established in ground flood and too weakly defended Fort Necessity proved unnecessary: July 3, Washington had resign (Battle of Great Meadows) and negotiated his return to Virginia, leaving the French masters of the valley. These operations constituted the first skirmishes of the Seven Years' War (1754-1763). They were made famous in London and Williamsburg and helped to publicize George Washington.
In 1755, George Washington was the assisstant of General Edward Braddock. He was commissioned to conduct an expedition to dislodge the French from the region of Ohio. Although having no official position in the chain of command, Washington managed to maintain a certain order in the rearguard action during the Battle of the Monongahela. According to biographer Joseph Ellis, Washington would have shown his courage in the battle, and permit to avoid a disaster. He saw three horses killed under him and his coat was pierced by four bullets. He showed his calm by converting a debacle in an organized retreat. This garnered him the nickname of "Hero of the Monongahela."
During the autumn 1755, Washington received the mission of defending the western border with a small troupe, which allowed him to strengthen his experience as commander. In 1758, he participated in the expedition led by the General John Forbes who got the French out of Fort Duquesne. Once the English assured success in the Ohio Valley, he returned to his area of Mount Vernon and edited and printed the story of his mission, which consolidated his reputation.
On 6 January 1759, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, the widow of one of the richest Virginians. She had two children (John Parke Custis and Martha Parke Custis) that he adopted and who died before the end of the century. The ceremony took place on the land of Martha, at White House. The marriage allowed Washington to increase his land. The couple never had children, because of the supposed infertility of George Washington.
Before the American Revolution, Washington devoted himself to his area of Mount Vernon seeking to improve its agricultural production: he experienced new seeds, fertilizers, crop rotations, tools (he develops a new plough). He worked to select animals and crossed donkeys and mares, which earned him the nickname of "father of American mules".
He also exploited of fisheries on the Potomac River on which he had installed mills]. The main commercial crop of his farm was tobacco, which was exported to England. Washington had dozens of farm workers and 150 to 274 slaves. He extended his domain significantly on purchases. He maintained a kind of aristocratic life on his property: he bought nice furniture, brought the best wines in Europe for his cave, acquired the pure-blood horses and organized lavish receptions. He took part in the debates of the House of the Bourgeois of Virginia in Williamsburg starting 1758, that’s when he was first elected to the Assembly. During this period he also held the post of judge of the Fairfax County court in Alexandria (1760-1774).
Like other growers in Virginia, he was struck by the economic measures imposed by the English metropolis and couldn’t stand the rules imposed by London and the monopoly of English merchants. In 1769, he presented the proposal of his friend George Mason calling for a boycott of English products until the repeal of the Townshend Acts.
In 1774, George Washington was elected by the first convention of Virginia to serve as delegate to the First Continental Congress. He was part of seven representatives from the VA Second Continental Congress in May 1775. On June15th, on a proposal by John Adams, the Continental Congress unanimously appointed him commander in chief of the Continental Army established the day before, he had to take charge of it for more than eight years. However, if Washington had a certain prestige and field experience, he never led thousands of men. On July 2sd, 1775 in Cambridge in Massachusetts, he found himself at the head of an army not prepared, diverse, small and poorly equipped. He strengthened discipline and improved regiments’ hygiene. He reorganized the officer corps. He read the pamphlets of Thomas Paine to give the soldiers some courage. He faced the British army, the famous "red jackets", composed of 12 000 trained soldiers, which led him to order the recruitment of free blacks.
In March 1776, after a long siege, the British evacuated Boston and retreated to Halifax in Canada. Washington then walked to New York to prepare for the probable offensive of Britain. Troops from William Howe, parking on the Atlantic Ocean, took the city after the Battle of Long Island (August 1776). The American officer managed to save his forces retreatinf further north: he suffers another defeat at White Plains and then on November 16, 1776, the surrender of Fort Washington marked the decline of the Continental Army who had to take refuge in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
But instead of crushing the remains of an American army in full decomposition, General William Howe decided to take his winter quarters, defended by two outposts in Trenton and Princeton. On Christmas evening, the forces of Washington crossed the Delaware and won the battle of Trenton, and a few days later the battle of Princeton. These two defeats, which occasioned few losses on the English side, however, marked a turning point, of which Washington quickly realized the scope: the enthusiasm aroused by these successes in the American public should be exploited, especially as the France of Louis XVI had just come in the conflict alongside the insurgents. In 1777, Washington was unable to prevent William Howe to capture Philadelphia, where the city where the US Congress met, and suffered two setbacks (battles of Brandywine and Germantown). The U.S. Army spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, north of Philadelphia, in appalling conditions: 2 500 men on 10 000 died because of cold and epidemics.
In 1778, English general Henry Clinton, who had replaced William Howe, Philadelphia evacuated Philadelphia to protect New-York against a French maritime attack. During the Battle of Monmouth (June 28, 1778) Washington took a setback to British forces as they left Freehold Court House. Supported by French reinforcements, he crushed the army of Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. In 1782, Washington created the medal of "Purple Heart" that is, even today, the distinction given to U.S. soldiers wounded in combat. In 1783, The Treaty of Paris was signed, which restored peace and recognized the independence of the USA.
In March 1783, Washington prevented a military plot prepared by officers who threatened the Congress to establish a dictatorship (conspiracy of Newburgh). On November 2, Washington gave an eloquent farewell speech to his soldiers. On 23 December 1783, he formally presented his resignation as a general at a Congress meeting in Annapolis and gave up any ambition to have access to public affairs, as did Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus in antiquity: he preferred to devote himself to his Mount Vernon plantation.
George Washington became president of the Potomac Company, responsible for improving navigation on the Potomac River. He noticed the blocking of new American institutions and spoke in his correspondence with James Madison the need for a strong Constitution. He put forward the rivalry between Virginia and Maryland about navigation on the Potomac and brought a convention in Annapolis in 1786. He was chosen as delegate of Virginia and then as president of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, convened to reform the Articles of Confederation. He presided at the same time the committee drafting the Constitution. It did not really participate in the discussions but intervened to win the ratification of certain federal states, including Virginia. Once the constitution passed, he was elected on March 4, 1789 unanimously by the electoral college as the first President of USA. On 30 April 1789, from Federal Hall in New York, a city chosen to serve as provisional capital, he officially took up his duties as Executive Chief. In paying loyalty oath on the Bible, he inaugurated a tradition which still exists today, even if it is no longer practised on April 30 but on the January 20th following the election. Washington was at the height of his popularity and became president of a veterans association, society Cincinnati.
George Washington was the president of USA for two terms, which means a period of eight years of power. He had to cope with financial difficulties arising from the war of independence and had to assert the position of the new nation in international relations. During his first term (1789-1793), the president worked to make the executive branch and the federal government stronger. For this, he assembled around him a team of men who had made their proves during the revolution: Alexander Hamilton worked at the Treasury Department, Thomas Jefferson was his Secretary of State, Henry Knox's was Secretary of the War, Edmund Randolph was at Justice and John Adams was his vice president. James Madison was one of his major advisers.
In the field of home affairs, the Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton tried to resolve the budget crisis and reduce the country's debt. On 25 February 1791, Washington signed the decree establishing a federal bank. It is also at this time that they chose to build the federal capital in the District of Columbia: the president chose a site on the Potomac and entrusted the French architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant with the task of drawing plans for the city. During the work, the government moved from New-York to Philadelphia in 1790. Washington laid the first stone of the Capitol in 1793, but died before the work is finished.
The Indian wars continued after the independence: the U.S. military faced the Miamis, in early 1790 and the Americans of the Northwest Territories. The British and Spanish hampered the American expansion to the West. Madison and Jefferson challenged the policy pursued by Hamilton. Faced with these difficulties, Washington initially wanted to withdraw from political affairs. However, under pressure from his Cabinet and Thomas Jefferson who came to convince him all the way to Mount Vernon, he finally agreed to submit to a second term (1793-1797).
When war broke out between revolutionary France and Britain (1793), the president decided to remain neutral (neutrality proclamation, 22 April 1793) while pending the strengthening of the country. According to him, the entry of USA in the conflict would have been a disaster for trade and finance. The country's future depended on economic growth and expansion to the west. The principle of neutrality would mark the American foreign policy for many decades. George Washington didn’t listen either to Thomas Jefferson who was Francophile nor to Alexander Hamilton who was favourable to the English.
In 1794, the president was confronted to the Whisky Rebellion which started among producers in the west, dissatisfied with taxes that were lifted on spirits. Washington led himself the armed militia who stopped the rebellion. There were no violent clashes and the executive came out stronger from this crisis.
With the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, eleven native american nations abandoned their rights in Ohio and Indiana. The same year, commercial navigation on the Mississippi was finally opened to the Americans.
In 1794, George Washington sent John Jay, president of the Supreme Court in Britain in order to resolve all outstanding disputes arising from the war of independence. The Treaty of London ratified in 1795, permit to ease tensions with the former metropolis and to lay the foundations for new trade relations between the two countries. The treaty yet unsatisfied Republicans and a part of the US population. The press criticized John Jay and the president after the signing of the agreement. These critics confirmed him in his choice not to seek a third term.
In September 1796, with the help of Alexander Hamilton, Washington wrote his speech of his ending mandate sent to the American nation and in which he warned of the dangers of partisan divisions. Published in a newspaper of Philadelphia, the document called fort neutrality and union in the country and announced the Monroe Doctrine. On the institutional level, it called for strict respect for the Constitution. Washington left the presidency in March 1797 and was replaced by John Adams. He established the custom of a maximum of two terms which became a constitutional rule by the 22nd amendment voted in 1947. It was under the presidency of Washington that the federalist party and the Democrat-Republican Party were born.
After his second term as president, George Washington retreated on his land at Mount Vernon. He continued to nurture his farm and built a large distillery that produced whisky and brandy. In 1798, the second U.S. President John Adams appointed him general-lieutenant at the head of a provisional army to be lifted in case of French invasion. For several months, Washington devoted himself to organizing the officer corps. But he refused to assume a public role and rejected the proposal to become President again.
On 12 December 1799, Washington had an inflammation of the throat that made his breathing difficult; he died two days later in the presence of his wife, his doctors and his personal secretary Tobias Lear. He was 67 years. He was buried at Mount Vernon four days after his death. His wife Martha Washington burned all correspondence of the couple but three letters. After the death of George Washington, the young American nation mourned for several months.
Doctors now believe that Washington died of a throat infection and that the treatment he has suffered, a bleeding, caused a shock, asphyxiation and dehydration. He is buried in the family cemetery at Mount Vernon.