George Washington (February 22nd, 1732 - December 14th, 1799) was a Founding Father of the United States, its First President, and a General.
Washington was a General during the American Revolution and he beat General William Howe at Yorktown, and Charles Cornwallis surrendered, and Washington brought freedom to the country.
There were a number of people who led the country as specified under the Articles of Confederation, but those are generally glossed over when most Americans think about history, mainly because the national government under the Articles was a total joke with no power whatsoever. He was the only president that wasn't from a political party; in fact, he hated the idea of the political party so much that in his Farewell Address, he warned Americans against the dangers that political parties could cause. Needless to say, that was one piece of advice that went unheeded by the American people.
Commander of the American forces during The American Revolution, as chosen by the Continental Congress. Before that, he was a Lieutenant Colonel and later Colonel during the French-and-Indian War. And before that he was the head of a small diplomatic mission to try and get the French to evacuate their forts who started the French-Indian War by bungling every conceivable aspect of the mission horribly. He was captured by the French after losing the Battle of Fort Necessity, but he was soon set free.
Highlights from his command during the revolution include the Battle of Trenton (where he led a group of American soldiers across the frozen Delaware River to slaughter a bunch of Hessian mercenaries in the middle of the night on Christmas of 1776) and his encampment at Valley Forge (where his troops rested for the bitter winter of 1777-1778 - many of them died and all suffered terribly, but Washington is remembered as being very noble about the whole thing). After America's victory in 1783, Washington resigned his commission and went back to private life, leading King George III to claim that he would be "the greatest man in the world" if he actually went through with it. He was instrumental in persuading Army officers not to carry out a planned mutiny over their lack of pay. When he was unable to persuade them because of the disgrace or the fact that mutinying would not get them their pay, he tried to read a letter to them to persuade them. He had to pull out his glasses to do so, and the officers realized that his health was failing, and so refrained to avoid distressing him. Even better, according to legend, he said "Forgive me, for I have grown blind as well gray at the cause of Liberty" while doing so. Many of the men present were reportedly driven to tears. These events were instrumental in presenting him as an American Cincinnatus.
The original Articles of Confederation did not work well. As such, a new Constitution was written in 1787 (with Washington serving as the president of the Constitutional Convention), and Washington was unanimously elected President in 1788 and again in 1792. He remains, to this day, the only man ever to be elected American President by unanimous vote. His runner-up, John Adams, served as Vice President because that's how things worked back then. This achievement must be qualified however. For one thing, Washington was running unopposed, and for another, the suffrage was far more limited than it would be for his successors. But nonetheless Washington would have likely won even without these qualifications since he was one of the most famous people in the world in the 1780s and 1790s, a global celebrity renowned not only in America, but also in England and Europe. Washington's quiet retirement wasn't quite so peaceful precisely because he was plagued by a never-ending stream of visitors and fans who wanted to meet the great hero of the American Revolution, and these visits were draining his coffers, since as a host he had to accommodate his guests and play nice to them, as per the aristocratic customs of the global intelligentsia. The fallout over the Articles of Confederation also made Washington feel that a more stable form of institutions needed to be put in place, so as to preserve stability, and also to better protect his considerably large estate and great wealth (until the 45th President of the United States, Washington was the richest man to hold the office of President).
It's been argued, by Gore Vidal among others, that Washington, while putting a public face as a reluctant non-partisan statesman, privately sought the office of Presidency as an office to guard and protect his property and interests, and as a sinecure to find a better public role with which he could manage his fame, and the expenses that it brought him. As president, he used a cabinet system of Secretaries (which wasn't mentioned in the Constitution) to oversee and advise him on certain issues, knowing that it would be borderline-impossible for one man to keep check of everything by himself. The tradition has been carried on by all of the succeeding presidents. Washington as President was very keen for putting himself above the fray, and largely presided over the debate of his cabinet and fellow colleagues. This served him well since it prevented his name from being associated with policies that could make him controversial and polarizing to other figures. Washington was quite keen, for both personal reasons and for historical reasons, to be the symbol of all Americans, and he was quite conscious of his status as the Hero of the American Revolution, and to preserve that, he often let his subordinates conduct policies as they saw fit. Washington devoted a lot of attention to what we would call "image politics". He was quite keen that portraits don't present him with his ugly teeth, and publicly he would wear heavy make-up to better preserve his appearance. He was also, for a man of his time, widely traveled. He would travel across the USA to all the states existing at the time, which was the Republican equivalent of the royal progress. At one point, he conducted a grand tour of all the states in the Union. You can find a plaque or exhibit claiming "Washington slept here" at just about every city and inn along the Atlantic coast—especially in Virginia. This impressed upon American citizens the idea and image of the President, not merely as an official and Head of State but as an active politician voted and elected by the people.
Privately, he did support the economic policies of Alexander Hamilton, who was his chief-of-staff during the Revolutionary War and his Secretary of the Treasury as President; these policies included the federal government assuming the debt the states gathered as colonies and under the Article of Confederation and the creation of a national bank. He also stopped the Whiskey Rebellion without using the national army (he instead used state militias) and without firing a single shot. On the foreign policy front, he announced that America would not get involved in The French Revolution and all of its resulting conflicts (resulting in a policy of American neutrality in European affairs that lasted for over a century) and oversaw improved relations with Great Britain through peaceful means and the signing of very good trade treaties. Admitted Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee to the Union, the first states that were not former colonies. During his presidency, the District of Columbia (created between Virginia and Maryland) was chosen as the permanent seat of the federal government, though he didn't live long enough to see that happen (he passed just ten and a half months before John Adams became the first President to move in, and a little over a year before the District of Columbia was formally established). Today he's remembered for his warning of the dangers of partisanship in his closing Presidential address, but one must remember that such a stance was not really available or possible to other political figures of his generation, or to those who came after and in the context of the time, it was a thinly veiled Take That! on Thomas Jefferson and his political campaigns (with whom he had a personal falling-out over on account of a political attack ad that Jefferson had put in a newspaper under one of his lackeys but then lied to Washington that it wasn't him, only for Washington — a brilliant spymaster and all around social expert — to immediately see through it).
He served two terms (refusing a third, despite popular demand), then retired to live on his plantation at Mount Vernon. This set a tradition for a "maximum of two terms in office" for Presidents, which was kept until Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President four times in a row, after which the Constitution was amended to have the maximum of ten years be an actual rule. (Usually it's just eight, since the President can't serve half a term, unless he was a vice president who succeeded halfway through his predecessor's term.)
The closest thing Americans have to a real-life superhero. While he might or might not have been Batman, Washington was definitely Bruce Wayne: His extensive real estate holdings made him the wealthiest man in Virginia, possibly in all North America. A man known as Parson Weems wrote many stories about Washington, including the famous one that as a child, Washington chopped down his father's prize cherry tree, but, being unable to tell a lie, promptly confessed to it.
Another (equally apocryphal) story says that he was able to throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River. Other rumors include tidbits like how his teeth were made of wood, and he was a Christian who prayed every day — though neither would have been unusual at the time. The American capital, Washington, D.C., is named for him, as is the state of Washington on the opposite side of the country (it gets confusing sometimes). Also no less than 30 counties, 27 cities and villages, 41 townships, and numerous parks, streets, and public schools throughout the United States.
The man was Immune to Bullets. Really. George Washington was the only officer to emerge un-wounded from the ambush of General Braddock's Army in 1755. He had two horses shot out from under him and afterwards discovered several bullet holes in his clothes. Later in the French and Indian War he managed to emerge unharmed from a friendly fire incident in which he'd ridden between the lines of firing soldiers knocking muskets out of line with his sword.
And there's the one time a British sniper caught him unarmed, at close range, with only one guard. Washington just turned and went the other way, and the sniper couldn't bring himself to shoot a man who could so calmly face death. It's said that a tribal leader who led the attack on Braddock's column had said that Washington "is the particular favorite of Heaven, and who can never die in battle." Eerie as all heck. Although given how he died in real life (by slowly choking to death, probably either of diphtheria or a tonsillar abscess) he might have preferred a quick bullet.
Still, he did enjoy the battlefield for as long as he did, he once wrote to his brother of one of his battles saying "I heard the bullets whistle and, believe me, there is something charming to the sound of bullets." The contents of the letter made it all the way back to England where an unimpressed King George II, the last British monarch to lead troops in battle, reportedly remarked that Washington's attitude would change if he'd heard a few more.
Washington had also established his own spy ring during the Revolution and even used double agents to help him in his Battle of Trenton. Washington has also become a bit more popular due to Kenneth C. Davis's Don't Know Much About History, in which he paints a picture of Washington as "the plain-spoken frontiersman, not the marbleized demigod" of Weems' stories. In particular, Davis recounts an anecdote told by General Henry "Ox" Knox. In Washington's boat on the night of the Trenton crossing, Knox was 6'3" and 280lbs, making him a large man even by modern standards. As Washington got into the boat, he nudged Knox with his boot and said "Shift that fat ass, Harry. But slowly, or you'll swamp the damned boat."
By U.S. law, Washington is permanently senior to all US military officers, current, former, or future. Which means that if John J. Pershing were to be formally awarded a six-star General (General of the Armies) rank, Washington would be 7-star.
- He was of English, 1/8 Dutch and 1/32 French descent.
- He was the 14th great-grandson of Edward I, King of England from 1272 to 1307 and the 24th great-grandson of Robert I, King of France from 922 to 923.