George Washington

George Washington

1st President, 1789–1797

Early Life and Pre-presidency

  • Born on February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland, Virginia.
  • He inherited several slaves and his father’s property, Ferry Farm, when he was eleven years old.
  • Became a land surveyor for Culpepper County at 16 years old surveying the Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax.
  • Contracted smallpox on a trip to Barbados with his half-brother Lawrence in 1751 but recovered. The illness may have caused him to become sterile, leaving him childless.
  • Joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1752.
  • Became a district adjutant of the Virgnia militia in 1753 and became lieutenant colonel in 1754.
  • Elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1759.
  • Married Martha Dandridge Custis (1731–1802), a 27-year-old widow with two children, on January 6, 1759. They had no children of their own.
  • Had a keen interest in military arts and studied British military tactics that proved useful during the American Revolution (1775–1783).
  • Was selected as the Virginia delegate to the First Continental Congress on September 5, 1774.
  • Elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in May 1775 at the Second Continental Congress, which fought for independence from Great Britain during the American Revolution (1775–1783).
  • Had the Declaration of Independence read to his troops on July 9, 1776 in New York City to boost their morale while fighting the British army.
  • With help from French troops, led the victory over British troops in Yorktown in October, 1781, making it the last time major fighting occurred in continental North America.
  • Attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia from May to September 1787, and supported the ratification of the United States Constitution.
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1797

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1797

Presidency

Portrait by Charles Peale, ca. 1776

Portrait by Charles Peale, ca. 1776

Portrait by Charles Peale, ca. 1776

  • After the ratification of the Constitution, the Electoral College elected Washington as the first President of the United States in 1789.
  • The only U.S. President to receive 100% of the electoral vote.
  • Took his oath of office on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall on Wall Street, New York.
  • Vice President 1789-1797: John Adams
  • Was re-elected for a second term in 1792, but refused a third term.
  • Signed a bill establishing the First Bank of the United States in 1791 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a 20-year charter. The Bank was proposed by his Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton but opposed by his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.
  • Initially declined the annual salary of $25,000 set by the First United States Congress but eventually accepted it.
  • Signed the Residence Act of 1790 that authorized him to choose the location for the permanent seat of the government. The city of Washington in the Columbia territory was eventually chosen and renamed Washington, District of Columbia.
  • Proclaimed America neutral when war broke out between Great Britain and France in 1793.
    Congress passed the Militia Act of 1792, which gave Washington the authority to organize state militias if there was threat of insurrection or invasion.
  • Authored the Jay Treaty, enacted in 1794, with his Secretary of Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, in order to establish normal trade relations with Great Britain.
  • His primary residence before, during, and after his presidency was Mount Vernon, near Alexandria, Virginia.
  • His first term as President was dominated by defining what a republican President should be (i.e., not following British customs).
  • Appointed the first Presidential Cabinet and first Supreme Court Justices.
  • His Farewell Address at the end of his second term was addressed to the public and warned against political partisanship and meddling in international wars.

Post-presidency

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1795

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1795

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1795

  • Retired to his estate, Mount Vernon in Washington, D.C.
  • Resumed his agricultural pursuits after retiring. He converted his tobacco-producing estate into wheat production and opened a distillery.
  • Five months after leaving the Presidency, Washington accepted a request by President John Adams to serve as commander-in-chief of a provisional army in a probable war with France.
  • As Commander-in-Chief of the Provisional Army, his job was to select officers and plan a system of defense along the American shoreline. The war never materialized.
  • Died at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799 from a throat infection.
  • Upon news of his death, Napoleon Bonaparte declared that for 10 days “black crape be suspended from all standards and banners of the Republic.”
  • Freed all the slaves that he owned outright upon his death through his final will.
  • Mount Vernon was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960. It has been managed by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association since it acquired the property in 1860.
  • Buried on December 18, 1799 at Mount Vernon. A tomb was later constructed and his body was moved there.
  • When he died in 1799, his study contained about 900 bound volumes, numerous pamphlets, and an extensive collection of maps.
  • President’s Day (the third Monday in February) is a federal holiday celebrated in honor of Washington.
  • The Washington Monument was built to honor the “Father of His Country.” Work began in 1848 and the Monument was opened to the public on October 9, 1888.
  • On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Wahington was posthumously appointed “General of the Armies of the United States” by Public Law effective July 4, 1976, making him the highest ranking military officer in the history of the United States.
  • The Papers of George Washington is a project spearheaded by the University of Virginia Press to publish all documents pertaining to Washington, which number to about 140,000. It is available online and the project is on track to finish by 2023.
  • His face appears on the one-dollar bill and the quarter dollar.