Washington, George, 1732-1799

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1732
Death 1799
Birth 1732-02-22
Death 1799-12-14
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

George Washington (b. Feb. 22, 1732, Westmoreland County, Va.-d. Dec. 14, 1799, Mount Vernon, VA) was the first president of the United States, serving from 1789 to 1797.

Washington came from a family of farmers and landowners. He had little education but showed an aptitude for mathematics. He used this talent to become a surveyor. At 15, Washington took a job as assistant surveyor on a team sent to map the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia. In his early 20s, Washington joined the Virginia militia, a citizen army that fought on the side of the British in the rivalry between the French and the British over the Ohio territory. He commanded a troop that was sent to guard a British fort at the head of the Ohio River. In 1754, Washington''s men confronted a French scouting party in southern Pennsylvania, killing ten of the enemy. Expecting retaliation, the militiamen took refuge in the hastily built Fort Necessity. They were soundly defeated by a French and Indian force, giving the French control of the Ohio valley. This incident was the beginning of the French and Indian War (17541758) between Britain and France. After the war, Washington returned to Virginia to become a tobacco planter in 1758. The following year, he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow with two children. The couple had no children of their own.

After winning the French and Indian War, the British had to find a means to pay their war debts. They did so by passing tax laws that hurt the colonists. These burdensome laws levied taxes on nearly everything: tea, paper, stamps, books, glass, and so on. The colonists sent representatives to the Continental Congress, where members protested the British tax laws. Washington served as a member of the Virginia delegation to the congress (17741775). In 1776, the congress issued the Declaration of Independence. The colonies were soon at war with Great Britain, fighting for their freedom.

The Revolutionary War began when the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in April, 1775. Washington was chosen to lead the Continental Army. But his troops were poorly trained, poorly supplied, and ill prepared for war. As a result, they lost many of the early battles against the British. For much of the war, Washington''s troops were in retreat. But he held his army together, and eventually the tide turned. In 1781, with the aid of the French, Washington defeated the British army at Yorktown, Virginia, in the final battle of the war. Washington was hailed as a national hero.

In 1787, Washington was chosen to preside over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. In 1789, he was unanimously elected president by the newly created Electoral College. As president, Washington faced many challenges. The country was new, and setting up a new government was demanding. In addition, Washington wanted to arrange treaties with Native Americans living along the western frontier (Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee). The country needed a monetary system and a national bank. Last but not least, it was important to establish friendly relations with Great Britain so that the new country had a market for its goods and raw materials. Many of Washington''s ideas about government still prevail today. He believed that a president, unlike a king, should hold office for a limited period of time.

Washington selected a group of advisors to help him run the country. Today, these advisors are known as the Cabinet. One of Washington''s advisors was Alexander Hamilton. He served as the first secretary of the treasury and set up the first monetary system. Hamilton also borrowed money to pay off the country''s staggering war debt. One way to raise money to pay off the national debt was to levy taxes. In 1794, Washington approved a tax on liquor. Pennsylvania farmers, who turned their rye crop into whiskey, refused to pay the tax. This led to the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington sent 15,000 troops to Pennsylvania to keep the peace and put down the rebellion. This firm action helped establish the authority of the federal government.

To the west of Pennsylvania, the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin) were opened for settlement. Washington sent General Anthony Wayne to deal with any problems that might arise with the Native Americans living there. A series of forts were built to protect white settlers from attacks by Indians, who were unhappy about losing their land. Eventually, many of the Native American people were forced to sign away their lands and move west of the Mississippi.

In 1794, Britain and United States found themselves on the brink of war. The British were interfering with U.S. ships and trade. In 1795, President Washington sent John Jay to England to negotiate a treaty. The pact with Great Britain came to be called Jay''s Treaty. Not everyone was pleased because the treaty failed to secure neutrality for American ships on high seas. The British were allowed to seize American ships if they suspected them of carrying supplies to Britain''s enemies. But the treaty narrowly avoided going to war again with Great Britain, which would have been a financial disaster to the new nation.

Upon retiring from the presidency, Washington returned to his estate at Mount Vernon where he died on December 14, 1799.

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