George Washington

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Template:Otherpeople Template:Infobox President George Washington (February 22 1732December 14 1799) was the successful Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), and later became the first President of the United States, an office to which he was elected twice. (1789-1797).

Washington first gained prominence as an officer during the French and Indian War, as a leader of colonial militia supporting the British Empire. After leading the American victory in the Revolutionary War, he refused to lead a military regime, returning to civilian life at Mount Vernon. In 1787 he presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the current U.S. Constitution, and in 1789 was the unanimous choice to become the first President of the United States. His two-term Washington Administration set many policies and traditions that survive today. After his second term expired, Washington again voluntarily relinquished power, thereby establishing an important precedent that was to serve as an example for other future republics.

Because of his central role in the founding of the United States, and his enduring legacy, Washington is often called the "Father of his Country". Scholars rank him with Abraham Lincoln among the greatest of presidents.


Early life

According to the Julian calendar, Washington was born on February 11 1731; according to the Gregorian calendar, which was adopted during Washington's life and is used today, he was born on February 22 1732 (Washington's Birthday is celebrated on the Gregorian date.) At the time of his birth, the English year began March 25 (Annunciation Day, or Lady Day), hence the difference in his birth year. His birthplace was Pope's Creek Plantation, south of Colonial Beach in Template:USCity.

Washington was part of the economic and cultural elite of the slave-owning planters of Virginia. His parents Augustine Washington (1693–April 12 1743) and Mary Ball (1708–August 25 1789) were of British descent. He spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm in Stafford County, near Fredericksburg and visited his Washington cousins at Chotank in King George County. He was home schooled and was also trained as a surveyor (obtaining his certificate from the College of William and Mary). He surveyed the Shenandoah Valley for Lord Fairfax, a distant relative, in western Virginia and retained a lifelong interest in western lands. His only foreign trip was a short visit to Barbados in 1751. He survived an attack of smallpox, although his face was scarred by the disease. He was initiated as a Freemason in Fredericksburg on February 4 1752. On brother Lawrence's death in July 1752, he rented and eventually inherited the estate, Mount Vernon, in Fairfax County (near Alexandria).

French and Indian War and afterwards

File:Washington 1772.JPG
This, the earliest portrait of Washington, was painted in 1772 by Charles Willson Peale, and shows Washington in uniform as colonel of the First Virginia Regiment

At twenty-two years of age, George Washington fired some of the first shots of what would become a war between colonial powers. The trouble began in 1753, when France began building a series of forts in the Ohio Country, a region also claimed by Virginia. This was part of an overall strategy by the French to destabilize the American frontier with the support of the indigenous population, and tie up British military forces in the American colonies. Robert Dinwiddie, the governor of Virginia, had young Major Washington deliver a letter to the French commander, asking them to leave. The French refused, and so in 1754 Dinwiddie sent Washington, now promoted to lieutenant colonel in the First Virginia Regiment, on another mission to the Ohio Country. There, Washington and his troops ambushed a French Canadian scouting party. After a short skirmish, Washington's American Indian ally Tanacharison killed the wounded French commander Ensign Jumonville. Washington then built Fort Necessity, which soon proved inadequate, as he was compelled to surrender to a larger French and American Indian force. The surrender terms that Washington signed included an admission that he had "assassinated" Jumonville. (The document was written in French, which Washington could not read.) The "Jumonville affair" became an international incident and helped to ignite the French and Indian War, a part of the worldwide Seven Years' War.

Washington was released by the French with the promise not to return to the Ohio Country for one year. Washington was always eager to serve in the British Army, which had a low regard for colonials. His opportunity came in 1755, when he accompanied the Braddock Expedition, a major effort by the British to retake the Ohio Country. The expedition ended in disaster at the Battle of the Monongahela. Washington distinguished himself in the debacle—he had two horses shot out from under him, and four bullets pierced his coat—yet he sustained no injuries and showed coolness under fire in organizing the retreat. In Virginia, Washington was acclaimed as a hero, and he commanded the First Virginia Regiment for several more years, although the focus of the war had shifted elsewhere. In 1758 he accompanied the Forbes Expedition, which successfully drove the French away from Fort Duquesne.

Washington's goal at the outset of his military career had been to secure a commission as a regular British officer—rather than staying a mere colonial militia officer. The promotion did not come, and so in 1759 Washington resigned his commission and married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow with two children. Washington adopted her two children, but never fathered any of his own. The newlywed couple moved to Mount Vernon where he took up the life of a genteel farmer and slave owner. He held local office and was elected to the provincial legislature, the House of Burgesses.

By 1774 Washington had become one of the colonies' wealthiest men. In that year, he was chosen as a delegate from Virginia to the First Continental Congress. Although the American Revolution had not yet devolved into open warfare, tensions between the colonies and Great Britain continued to rise, and Washington attended the Second Continental Congress (1775) in military uniform—the only delegate to do so. He strongly supported independence.

American Revolution

Main article: American Revolution

The Continental Congress needed to select as commander in chief of its newly formed Continental Army a natural leader with a commitment to the cause, suitable military experience, a commanding personality, and a base in a major colony. Washington was the unanimous selection, and was selected on June 15 1775. The Massachusetts delegate John Adams suggested his appointment, citing his "skill as an officer... great talents and universal character." He assumed command on July 3.

During his first great military triumph Washington drove the British forces out of Boston on March 17, 1776, by stationing artillery on Dorchester Heights. The British army, led by General William Howe, retreated to Halifax, Canada. Washington moved his army to New York City in anticipation of a British offensive there. In August the British invaded in overwhelming numbers and Washington led a clumsy retreat that almost failed. He lost the Battle of Long Island on August 22 but managed to move most of his forces to the mainland. However, several other defeats sent Washington scrambling across New Jersey, leaving the future of the Revolution in doubt.

On the night of December 25 1776, Washington staged a brilliant comeback. He led the American forces across the Delaware River to smash the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington followed up the assault with a surprise attack on General Charles Cornwallis' forces at Princeton on the eve of January 2, 1777, eventually retaking the state of New Jersey. The successful attacks built morale among the pro-independence colonists.

In summer 1777 the British launched a two-pronged attack, with Burgoyne marching south from Canada while Howe attacked the national capital of Philadelphia. Washington moved south but was badly defeated at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11. An attempt to dislodge the British, the Battle of Germantown, failed as a result of fog and confusion, and Washington was forced to retire to winter quarters at the miserably inadequate Valley Forge. In the face of high rates of disease Washington insisted on vaccinations to protect the soldiers from smallpox, which probably stem impact of that deadly disease over the harsh winter.

Washington stood steadfast, demanding supplies from Congress. His men recovered their morale despite the harsh winter conditions. A new system of drill and training was established by Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who had served on the Prussian general staff. Von Steuben improving the army’s fighting capabilities so that it could match the British in the field. Washington attacked the British army moving from Philadelphia to New York at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28 1778, a drawn contest, but the British effort to disrupt the national government had failed. Burgoyne’s invading army, meanwhile, was captured at Saratoga in October, giving the British a crushing defeat. It now seemed likely that the British would never re-conquer the new nation, and France signed a formal alliance with the U.S.

After 1778 the British made one last effort to split apart the new nation, this time focused on the southern states. Rather than attack them there, Washington's forces moved to West Point New York. In 1779 Washington ordered a fifth of the army to carry out the Sullivan Expedition, an offensive against four of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy which had allied with the British and attacked American settlements along the frontier. There were no battles but at least forty Iroquois villages were destroyed and the hostile Indians moved permanently to Canada. In October, 1781 American and French forces and a French fleet trapped General Cornwallis at Yorktown in Virginia. Washington quick-marched south, taking command of the American and French forces September 14, and pressed the siege until Cornwallis surrendered. It was the end of significant fighting, though British forces remained in New York City and a few other places until the final peace was ratified in 1783.

In March 1783, Washington learned about a conspiracy that was being planned by some of his officers who were upset about back pay in the Continental Army's winter camp at Newburgh, New York. He was able to defuse this plot. Later in 1783, by means of the Treaty of Paris, the British recognized American independence. Washington disbanded his army and on November 2 at Rockingham House in Rocky Hill, New Jersey and gave an eloquent farewell address to his soldiers. A few days later the British evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took possession of the city; at Fraunces Tavern in the city on December 4, he formally bid his officers farewell.

Activities between Revolution and Presidency

George Washington by John Trumbull, painted in London, 1780, from memory

On December 23 1783 General George Washington resigned his commission as Commander in Chief of the Army to the Congress, which was then meeting at the Maryland State House in Annapolis. This action was of great significance for the young nation, establishing the precedent that civilian elected officials, rather than military officers, possessed ultimate authority. Washington was a firm republican, believing that the people are sovereign and that no one should ever come to power in America because of military force, or because of birth in a noble family.

At the time of Washington's departure from military service, he was listed on the rolls of the Continental Army as "General and Commander in Chief." (See Retirement, death, and honors section below for more on this topic.)

Although the world was at peace in the late 1780s, Washington worried that the fledgling nation had such a weak central government that it could not survive a future war. He therefore endorsed plans to create a new constitution. His support guaranteed it would happen and he presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. For the most part he did not participate in the debates involved, but his prestige was great enough to maintain collegiality and to keep the delegates at their labors. He adamantly enforced the secrecy adopted by the Convention during the summer. Many believe that the Framers created the Presidency with Washington in mind. After the Convention, his support convinced many, including the Virginia legislature, to support the Constitution.

Washington farmed roughly 8,000 acres (32 km²). Like many Virginia planters at the time, he was frequently in debt and never had much cash on hand. In fact, he had to borrow $600 to relocate to New York, then the center of the American government, to take office as president.

In 1788–1789, George Washington was elected the first President of the United States. The First U.S. Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of $25,000 a year—a significant sum in 1789. Washington, the wealthiest individual in the nation at the time and whose wealth (all of it in land that could eventually be sold) by some estimates exceeded $500 million in current dollars (as of 2005), refused to accept his salary.


Main article: Washington Administration

George Washington was elected unanimously by the Electoral College in 1789, and remains the only person ever to be elected president unanimously (a feat which he duplicated in 1792). As runner-up with 34 votes, John Adams became Vice President-elect.

In 1791 Congress imposed an excise tax on distilled spirits, leading to protests. By 1794, after Washington ordered the protesters to appear in U.S. district court, the protests turning into full-scale riots, and outright rebellion. Washington raised an army, and marched at its head into the rebellious districts. There was no fighting, but Washington's forceful action proved the new government could protect itself.

After two terms, Washington issued his "Farewell Address" (actually a letter), and refused to run for a third term in office. This precedent of two terms was only to be broken successfully by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940 and 1944.


President George Washington 1789–1797
Vice President John Adams 1789–1797
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson 1789–1793
  Edmund Randolph 1794–1795
  Timothy Pickering 1795–1797
Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton 1789–1795
  Oliver Wolcott, Jr. 1795–1797
Secretary of War Henry Knox 1789–1794
  Timothy Pickering 1795–1796
  James McHenry 1796–1797
Attorney General Edmund Randolph 1789–1793
  William Bradford 1794–1795
  Charles Lee 1795–1797
Postmaster General Samuel Osgood 1789–1791
  Timothy Pickering 1791–1795
  Joseph Habersham 1795–1797

Supreme Court appointments

As the first President, Washington appointed the entire Supreme Court, a feat almost repeated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his four terms in office (1933–45). Washington appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

Major Presidential Acts

States admitted to the Union

Farewell Address

Washington, like many of his contemporaries, did not believe in political parties, and saw them as fractious agencies subversive of domestic tranquility. When political parties began forming during his administration, and in direct response to some of his policies, he failed to comprehend that parties would be the chief device through which the American people would debate and resolve major public issues. It was his fear of what parties would do to the nation that led Washington to draft his Farewell Address.

Washington's Farewell Address[1][2] was the defining statement of Federalist party principles and one of the most influential statements of American political values. Alexander Hamilton made major suggestions for Washington's draft, as did John Jay. It was not a speech but a public letter issued in September, 1796.

Two-thirds of the Address is devoted to domestic matters and the rise of political parties, and Washington set out his vision of what would make the United States a truly great nation. He called for men to put aside party and unite for the common good, an "American character" wholly free of foreign attachments. The United States must concentrate only on American interests, and while the country ought to be friendly and open its commerce to all nations, it should avoid becoming involved in foreign wars. Contrary to some opinion, Washington did not call for isolation, only the avoidance of entangling alliances.

The Address quickly entered the realm of revealed truth. Many Americans, especially in subsequent generations, accepted Washington's advice as gospel, and in any debate between neutrality and involvement in foreign issues would invoke the message as dispositive of all questions. Not until 1949 would the United States again sign a treaty of alliance with a foreign nation. The rest of the address continued to leave guidance for the newly established nation.

By refusing a third term Washington established a powerful precedent of a maximum of two terms for a U.S. president. It was broken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940, but, after his death, made part of the written Constitution.

Retirement, death, and honors

After retiring from the presidency in March 1797, Washington returned to Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. He established a distillery there and became probably the largest distiller of whiskey in the nation at the time, producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey and a profit of $7,500 in 1798.

During that year, Washington was appointed Lieutenant General in the United States Army (then the highest possible rank) by President John Adams. Washington's appointment was to serve as a warning to France, with which war seemed imminent. Washington never saw active service, however, and upon his death one year later the U.S. Army rolls listed him as a retired Lieutenant General, which was then considered the equivalent to his rank as General and Commander in Chief during the Revolutionary War.

Within a year of this 1798 appointment, Washington fell ill from a bad cold with a fever and a sore throat that turned into acute laryngitis and pneumonia and died on December 14 1799, at his home. Modern doctors believe that Washington died from either a streptococcal infection of the throat or, since he was bled as part of the treatment, a combination of shock from the loss of blood, asphyxia, and dehydration. One of the physicians who administered bloodletting to him was Dr. James Craik, one of Washington's closest friends, who had been with Washington at Fort Necessity, the Braddock expedition, and throughout the Revolutionary War. Washington's remains were buried in a family graveyard at Mount Vernon.

Congressman Henry Light Horse Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade, famously eulogized Washington as "a citizen, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

Even though he had been the highest-ranking officer of the Revolutionary War, having in 1798 been appointed a Lieutenant General (now three stars), it seemed, somewhat incongruously, that all later full (that is, four star) generals in U.S. history (starting with General Ulysses S. Grant), and also all five-star generals of the Army, were considered to outrank Washington. General John J. Pershing had attained an even higher rank of six-star general, General of the Armies (above five star—though the most stars Pershing actually ever wore were four). This issue was resolved in 1976 when Washington was, by Act of Congress, posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies, outranking any past, present, and future general, and declared to permanently be the top-ranked military officer of the United States.

Summary of Military Career

  • 1753: Commissioned a Major in the Virginia Militia
  • 1754: Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia Militia
  • 1754: Led abortive expedition to Fort Duquesne, later served as aide to General Edward Braddock
  • 1755: Promoted to Colonel and named Commander of all Virginia Forces. Commissioned a Brigadier General later that year
  • 1759–75: Resigned from active military service
  • June 1775: Commissioned General and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army
  • 1775–81: Commands the Continental Army in over seven major battles with the British
  • December 1783: Resigns commission as Commander in Chief of the Army
  • July 1798: Appointed Lieutenant General and Commander of the Provisional Army to be raised in the event of a war with France
  • 14 December 1799: Dies and is listed as a Lieutenant General (r) on the U.S. Army rolls
  • 19 January 1976: Approved by the United States Congress for promotion to General of the Armies
  • 11 October 1976: Declared the senior most U.S. military officer for all time by Presidential Order of Gerald Ford
  • 13 March 1978: Promoted by Army Order 31-3 to General of the Armies with effective date of rank July 4, 1776.

Personal information

Grant Wood's 1939 painting pokes gentle fun at Parson Weems' tale of Washington's childhood

Admirers of Washington circulated an apocryphal story about his honesty as a child. In the story, he wanted to try out a new axe, so he chopped down his father's cherry tree; when questioned by his father, he gave the famous non-quotation: "I cannot tell a lie. It was I who chopped down the cherry tree.” The story first appeared after Washington's death in a naïve "inspirational" children's book by Parson Mason Weems, who had been rector of the Mount Vernon parish (See also George Washington's axe for an elaboration of this story). Parson Weems also fabricated a famous story about Washington praying for help in a lonely spot in the woods near Valley Forge.

Nevertheless, Washington was a man of great personal integrity, with a deeply held sense of duty, honor and patriotism. He was courageous and farsighted, holding the Continental Army together through eight hard years of war and numerous privations, sometimes by sheer force of will.

Because of Washington's involvement in Freemasonry, some publicly visible collections of Washington memorabilia are maintained by Masonic lodges, most notably the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. The museum at Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City includes specimens of Washington's false teeth (contrary to the widespread myth, they were not wooden - see the trivia section below).

Washington was notable for his modesty and carefully controlled ambition. He never accepted pay during his military service with the Continental Army, and was genuinely reluctant to assume any of the offices thrust upon him. When John Adams recommended him to the Continental Congress for the position of general and commander in chief of the Continental Army, Washington left the room to allow any dissenters to freely voice their objections. In later accepting the post, Washington told the Congress that he was unworthy of the honor. However, it should be reminded that Washington was always an ambitious man. He ensured that during the Continental Congress he arrived and was always present wearing his old colonial uniform so as to make it clear to all that he was deeply interested in commanding the continental troops. Congress actually made him the commander of the continental army before they authorized an army for him to command. In reality, no one else could have ensured that the southern colonies would assist the northern ones unless Washington was part of the equation; aside from a few other, less endearing leaders, Washington was likely, overall, the only choice that would achieve this.

It is often said that one of Washington's greatest achievements was refraining from taking more power than was due. He was conscientious of maintaining a good reputation by avoiding political intrigue. He had no interest in nepotism or cronyism, rejecting, for example, a military promotion during the war for his deserving cousin William Washington lest it be regarded as favoritism. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."

Washington had to be talked into a second term of office as President, and very reluctantly agreed to it. However, he refused to serve a third term, setting a precedent that held until the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. At John Adams's inauguration, Washington is said to have approached Adams afterwards and stated "Well, I am fairly out and you are fairly in. Now we shall see who enjoys it the most!" Washington also declined to leave the room before Adams and the new Vice President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, establishing the principle that even a former president is only, in the end, a private citizen.

Major Accomplishments

  • Surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia
  • Distinguished himself as General Braddock's aide-de-camp in the *French and Indian War, 1755
  • Named commander in chief of the Virginia militia, 1755
  • Elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1759
  • Unanimously chosen commander in chief of the Continental Army, June 1775
  • Masterminded the American victory at Yorktown, October 1781
  • Unanimously elected President of the Constitutional Convention 1787
  • Unanimously elected President of the United States twice, 1789 and 1792


  • A popular belief is that Washington wore a wig, as was the fashion among some at the time. He did not. He did, however, powder his hair, as represented in several portraits, including the well-known unfinished Gilbert Stuart depiction.
  • A number of younger men were essentially surrogate sons to the childless Washington, including Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette, Nathanael Greene, and George W. P. Custis, Washington's step-grandson. George Custis' daughter Mary would eventually become the wife of General Robert E. Lee.
  • Washington was a cricket enthusiast and was known to have played the sport, which was popular at that time in the British colonies.
  • Through his father's family, Washington was a direct descendant of King Edward III and William the Conqueror of England.
  • One story about Washington has him throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac River. He may have thrown an object across the Rappahannock River, the river on which his childhood home, Ferry Farm, stood. However, the Potomac is over a mile wide at Mount Vernon. Also silver dollars did not exist then.
  • Grew hemp, a common crop at the time used for fiber production, specifically to make rope. [3]
  • Washington's teeth were not made out of wood, as usually said. They were made out of teeth from different kinds of animals, specifically elk, hippopotamus, and human[4]. One set of false teeth that he had weighed almost three pounds and were made out of lead.
  • In the first Presidential inauguration, Washington took the oath as prescribed by the Constitution but added several religious components to that official ceremony. Before taking his oath of office, a local Masonic Bible was hurriedly borrowed on which to take the oath; Washington added the words “So help me God!” to the end of the oath, and then leaned over and kissed the Bible.
  • Perhaps because he was childless, Washington has often been claimed as a homosexual by the Gay Community, most notably in Charley Shively's article, "George Washington's Gay Mess: Was 'The Father of Our Country' a Queen?", collected in Gay Roots: an Anthology of Gay History, Sex, Politics & Culture, 2.

Washington and slavery

Washington owned many slaves throughout his life, as did most of his peers in the Virginia plantation aristocracy. He was noteworthy, however, for the humane treatment of his slaves and for his growing unease with the "peculiar institution". Historian Roger Bruns has written, "As he grew older, he became increasingly aware that it was immoral and unjust. Long before the Revolution, Washington had taken the unusual position of refusing to sell any of his slaves or to allow slave families to be separated." After the Revolution, Washington told an English friend, "I clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate the existence of our [Federal] union by consolidating it on a common bond of principle." He wrote to his friend John Francis Mercer in 1786, "I never mean... to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees." Ten years later, he wrote to Robert Morris, "There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see some plan adopted for the gradual abolition [of slavery]."

As President, Washington was mindful of the risk of splitting apart the young republic over the question of slavery. He did not advocate the abolition of slavery while in office, but did sign legislation enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory, writing to his good friend the Marquis de la Fayette that he considered it a wise measure. Lafayette urged him to free his slaves as an example to others— Washington was held in such high regard after the revolution that there was reason to hope that if he freed his slaves, others would follow his example. Lafayette purchased an estate in French Guiana and settled his own slaves there, and he offered a place for Washington's slaves, writing "I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America if I could have conceived thereby that I was founding a land of slavery." Nevertheless, Washington did not free his own slaves in his lifetime.

Washington included provisions in his will which freed his slaves upon his death. His widow Martha freed those she owned shortly before she died.

As cited in Henry Wiencek's Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, one of his slaves, Oney Judge Staines, escaped the Executive Mansion in Philadelphia in 1796 and lived the rest of her life free in New Hampshire.

Religious beliefs

Washington's religious views are a matter of some controversy. There is considerable evidence that indicates he, like numerous other men of his time, was a Deist—believing in God but not believing in revelation or miracles. As a young man, before the Revolution, when the Episcopal Church was still the state religion in Virginia, he served as a vestryman (lay officer) for his local church. He spoke often of the value of prayer, righteousness, and seeking and offering thanks for the "blessings of Heaven". He sometimes accompanied his wife to Christian church services; however there is no record of his ever becoming a communicant in any Christian church, and he would regularly leave services before communion—with the other non-communicants. When Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, mentioned in a weekly sermon that those in elevated stations set an unhappy example by leaving at communion, Washington ceased attending at all on communion Sundays. Long after Washington died, asked about Washington's beliefs, Abercrombie replied: "Sir, Washington was a Deist!" His adopted daughter, Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, and several others have said, however, that he was, indeed, a Christian. Various prayers said to have been composed by him in his later life are highly edited. He did not ask for any clergy on his deathbed, though one was available. His funeral services were those of the Freemasons at the request of his wife, Martha.

Washington was an early supporter of religious pluralism. In 1775 he ordered that his troops not burn the pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Night. In 1790 he wrote to Jewish leaders that he envisioned a country "which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.... May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."


File:DSCN3500 georgewashington e.JPG
Tourists pose under the statue of Washington outside the Federal Hall Memorial in lower Manhattan, site of Washington's first inauguration as President

Washington peacefully relinquished the presidency to John Adams after serving two terms in office. This is seen as one of Washington's most important legacies. Referring to this act, George III, the King of England defeated during the Revolution, called him "the greatest character of the age" and Napoleon complained "They wanted me to be another Washington".

All presidents since Washington followed the custom of limiting their service in office to two terms, until Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected four times (1932, 1936, 1940, 1944). The Constitution was subsequently amended by the Twenty-second Amendment to set an express two-term limit upon future presidents.

Washington set many other precedents that established tranquility in the presidential office in the years to come and is generally regarded by historians as one of the greatest presidents. He was also lauded posthumously as the "Father of His Country" and is often considered to be the most important of the United States' "Founding Fathers". He has gained fame around the world as a quintessential example of a benevolent national founder. Americans often refer to men in other nations considered the Father of their Country as "the George Washington of his nation" (for example, Mahatma Gandhi's role in India).

Washington was ranked #26 in Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.

Monuments and memorials

Today Washington's face and image are often used as national symbols of the United States, along with the icons such as the flag and great seal. Perhaps the most pervasive commemoration of his legacy is the use of his image on the one dollar bill and the quarter-dollar coin. The image used on the dollar bill is derived from a famous portrait of him painted by Gilbert Stuart, itself one of the most notable works of early American art.

The capital city of the United States, Washington, D.C., is named for him. The District of Columbia was created by an Act of Congress in 1790, and Washington was deeply involved in its creation, including choosing the site for the White House. The Washington Monument, one of the most well-known landmarks in the city, was built in his honor. The George Washington University, also in D.C., was named after him, and it was founded in part with shares Washington bequeathed to an endowment to create a national university in Washington.

The only state named for a president is the state of Washington in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Washington selected West Point, New York, as the site for the United States Military Academy. The United States Navy has named three ships after Washington.

Other examples include the George Washington Bridge, which extends between New York City and New Jersey, and the palm tree genus Washingtonia is also named after him.

See also: List of places named for George Washington

Scholarly Secondary Sources

The literature on George Washington is immense. The Library of Congress has a comprehensive bibliography online.

  • Comora, Madeleine & Deborah Chandra. George Washington's Teeth. Illustrated by Brock Cole. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003; ISBN 0374325340. A lighthearted chronicle of his dental struggles, aimed at children and adults.
  • Deconde, Alexander. Entangling Alliance: Politics & Diplomacy under George Washington (1958)
  • Ellis, Joseph J. His Excellency: George Washington. New York: Knopf, 2004. ISBN 1400040310. Powerful interpretation of Washington's career.
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism. (1994) the leading scholarly history of the 1790s.
  • Ferling, John E. The First of Men: A Life of George Washington (1989), solid and scholarly.
  • Fisher, David Hackett. Washington's Crossing. (2004), prize-winning military history focused on 1775-1776.
  • Flexner, James Thomas. Washington: The Indispensable Man. Boston: Little, Brown, 1974. ISBN 0316286168 (1994 reissue). Single-volume condensation of Flexner's popular four-volume biography.
  • Freeman, Douglas. S. Washington: An abridgement in one volume by Richard Harwell of the seven-volume George Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman (1968), the standard scholarly biography.
  • Grizzard, Frank E., Jr. George! A Guide to All Things Washington. Buena Vista and Charlottesville, VA: Mariner Publishing. 2005. ISBN 0-9768238-0-2. Grizzard is a leading scholar of Washington.
  • Grizzard, Frank E., Jr. The Ways of Providence: Religion and George Washington. Buena Vista and Charlottesville, VA: Mariner Publishing. 2005. ISBN 0-9768238-1-0.
  • Higginbotham, Don, ed. George Washington Reconsidered (2001).
  • Lengel, Edward G. General George Washington: A Military Life. New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1400060818.
  • [Lodge, Henry Cabot]. George Washington (vol 2, 1899 covers 1783-99) online at Project Gutenberg old but generally accurate. Freeman and Flexner are much better.
  • McDonald, Forrest . The Presidency of George Washington. (1988), Intellectual history showing Washington as exemplar of republicanism.
  • Wiencek, Henry. An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. (2003).
  • Nash, Gary B. The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America. Viking, 2005. ISBN 0670034207. A left-wing interpretation of the era, with little on Washington.
  • Burton I. Kaufman, ed., Washington's Farewell Address: The View from the 20th Century (1969); Paul A. Varg, Foreign Policies of the Founding Fathers (1963); Alexander De Conde, Entangling Alliances (1958).
  • Shively, Charley "George Washington's Gay Mess: Was 'The Father of Our Country' a Queen?" pp11-68. Gay Roots: an Anthology of Gay History, Sex, Politics & Culture, 2, Gay Sunshine Press, 1993.

See also

In recent years, a number of anti-Semitic groups have attributed false quotations to George Washington and other Founding Fathers, with the intention of inciting anti-Semitism. This subject is discussed in Neo-Nazi Theory (American founding fathers).


  1. Template:AnbThe earliest known image in which Washington is identified as such is on the cover of the circa 1778 Pennsylvania German almanac (Lancaster: Gedruckt bey Francis Bailey). This identifies Washington as "Landes Vater" or Father of the Land.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about:

Template:Wikisource author

Further reading

  • Barbara Bennett Peterson, "George Washington: America's Moral Exemplar", (2005).

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