George Washington Essay, Research Paper
George Washington was quite possibly the greatest president of the United States.
Through his earlier life experiences on his father?s tobacco farm and in the military,
George Washington developed many skills and traits which helped him to govern the
United States. His excellent personal values and dedication to make our country great,
helped him to win the respect and support of many United States citizens. George
Washington?s integrity set a pattern for all other presidents to follow.
Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, George Washington learned the
morals, manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman.
He pursued two intertwined interests: military arts and western expansion. At age sixteen
he helped survey Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. Commissioned a lieutenant
colonel in 1754, he fought the first skirmishes of what grew into the French and Indian
War. The next year, as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, he escaped injury although four
bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him.
From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington managed his
lands around Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Married to a
widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, he devoted himself to a busy and happy life. But like his
fellow planters, Washington felt himself exploited by British merchants and hampered by
British regulations. As the quarrel with the mother country grew larger, he moderately but
firmly voiced his resistance to the restrictions.
When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May 1775,
Washington, one of the Virginia delegates, was elected Commander in Chief of the
Continental Army. On July 3, 1775, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, he took command of
his ill-trained troops and embarked upon a war that was to last six grueling years.
He realized early that the best strategy was to harass the British. He reported to
Congress, “we should on all Occasions avoid a general Action, or put anything to the
Risque, unless compelled by a necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn.” Ensuing
battles saw him fall back slowly, then strike unexpectedly. Finally in 1781 with the aid of
French allies–he forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. In 1782, following the
American Revolution, Colonel Lewis Nicola suggested to General George Washington
that the army establish a monarchy and make him king. It might have happened.
Washington was loved by his troops; he had endured a difficult war with his men and they
had little love for the Continental Congress, which had given them such inadequate
support. But Washington believed firmly in democracy, and was appalled at Nicola’s
suggestion: “Banish these thoughts from your mind,” he replied.
After the war Washington returned to Mount Vernon, which had once again
declined in his absence. Although he became president of the Society of the Cincinnati, an
organization of former Revolutionary War officers, he avoided involvement in Virginia
politics, preferring to concentrate on restoring Mount Vernon. His diary notes a steady
stream of visitors, native and foreign; Mount Vernon, like its owner, had already become a
national institution. While Washington longed to retire to his fields at Mount Vernon, he
soon realized that the Nation under its Articles of Confederation was not functioning
well,. He decidedly became a prime mover in the steps leading to the Constitutional
Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. When the new Constitution was ratified, the Electoral
College unanimously elected Washington President.
On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall
on Wall Street in New York, the only President not sworn-in in Washington, took his oath
of office as the first President of the United States. “As the first of every thing, in our
situation will serve to establish a Precedent,” he wrote James Madison, “it is devoutly
wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles.”
George Washington proved to be the perfect person for the presidential job. He
made the presidency a position of respect and loyalty, as he established a federal
government out of what had been a loose collection of 13 states. Washington acted
carefully and deliberately, aware of the need to build an executive structure that could
accommodate future presidents. He also provided the stability and authority the emergent
nation so sorely needed, gave substance to the constitution, and reconciled competing
factions and divergent policies within the government and his administration. Although not
averse to exercising presidential power, he respected the role of Congress and did not
infringe upon its prerogatives. During his two terms in office, he put the U.S. on a sound
financial footing, oversaw the passage of the Bill of Rights, crushed the so-called Whiskey
Rebellion in Pennsylvania, and made the national government central to the life of the
As president, George Washington did not infringe upon the policy making powers
that he felt the Constitution gave Congress. However, the determination of foreign policy
quickly became a Presidential concern. When the French Revolution led to a major war
between France and England, Washington refused to accept entirely the recommendations
of either his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who was pro-French, or his Secretary of
the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who was pro-British. Rather, he insisted upon a neutral
course until the United States could grow stronger. An able administrator, he nevertheless
failed to heal the widening breach between factions led by Secretary of State Thomas
Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Because he supported many
of Hamilton’s controversial fiscal policies–the assumption of state debts, the Bank of the
United States, and the excise tax–Washington became the target of attacks by Jeffersonian
Washington was reelected president in 1792, and the following year the most
divisive crisis arising out of the personal and political conflicts within his cabinet
occurred–over the issue of American neutrality during the war between England and
France. Washington, whose policy of neutrality angered the pro-French Jeffersonians, was
horrified by the excesses of the French Revolution and enraged by the tactics of Edmond
Genet, the French minister in the United States, which amounted to foreign interference in
American politics. Further, with an eye toward developing closer commercial ties with the
British, the president agreed with the Hamiltonians on the need for peace with Great
Britain. His acceptance of the 1794 Jay’s Treaty, which settled outstanding differences
between the United States and Britain but which Democratic-Republicans viewed as an
abject surrender to British demands, revived vituperation against the president, as did his
vigorous upholding of the excise law during the Whisky Rebellion in western
To his disappointment, two parties were developing by the end of his first term.
Wearied of politics, feeling old, he retired at the end of his second term. Although many
people encouraged Washington to seek a third term, he refused to do so. In his Farewell
Address, he urged his countrymen to forswear excessive party spirit and geographical
distinctions. In foreign affairs, he warned against long-term alliances. In 1797, with a
shake of the hand, he turned over the office of the presidency and all its immense power to
John Adams. With that single gesture he assured the peaceful change of the nation’s
highest office then and for all times.
Washington enjoyed only a few years of retirement at Mount Vernon. Even then,
demonstrating his continued willingness to make sacrifices for his country in 1798 when
the nation was on the verge of war with France he agreed to command the army, though
his services were not ultimately required. He preferred to spend his last years in happy
retirement at Mount Vernon. In mid-December, Washington contracted what was
probably quinsy or acute laryngitis; he declined rapidly and died at his estate on Dec. 14,
1799. He died at the age of 67 in 1799. In his will, he emancipated his slaves.
Through George Washington?s many political achievements, he established a
standard for all presidents to follow. While he trusted both Jefferson and Hamilton, he
remained strong in his decision to remain neutral in the war overseas. Washington used
his strong morals and character to make all decisions regarding the welfare and condition
of the United States. Even the manner in which he gave up his presidency set a precedent
for all presidents to follow. All of Washington?s actions set a standard for future
presidents to mimic.
George Washington made a great impact on the life of the American people. He
set great examples of how a leader is to run a country, as well as how to make important
decisions for the benefit of the country. Without Washington?s great work and dedication,
America would not have the great leadership and government it posses today.