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Governor Robert Dinwiddie during October 1753-January 1754, he delivered an

ultimatum to the French at Fort Le Boeuf, demanding their withdrawal from

territory claimed by Britain. The French refused. The French and the Ohio

Company, a group of Virginians anxious to acquire western lands, were

competing for control of the site of present-day Pittsburgh. The French

drove the Ohio Company from the area and at the confluence of the Allegheny

and Monongahela rivers constructed Fort Duquesne. Promoted to lieutenant

colonel in March 1754, Washington oversaw construction of Fort Necessity in

what is now Fayette County, Pennsylvania. However, he was forced to

surrender that outpost to superior French and Indian forces in July 1754, a

humiliating defeat that temporarily gave France control of the entire

region. Later that year, Washington, disgusted with officers beneath his

rank who claimed superiority because they were British regulars, resigned

his commission. He returned to service, however, in 1755 as an aide-de-camp

to General Edward Braddock. In the disastrous engagement at which Braddock

was mortally wounded in July 1755, Washington managed to herd what was left

of the force to orderly retreat, as twice his horse was shot out from under

him. The next month he was promoted to colonel and regimental commander. He

resigned from the militia in December 1758 following his election to the

Virginia House of Burgesses.

Member of House of Burgesses, 1759-1774. In July 1758 Colonel

Washington was elected one of Frederick County's two representatives in the

House of Burgesses. He joined those protesting Britain's colonial policy

and in 1769 emerged a leader of the Association, created at an informal

session of the House of Burgesses, after it had been dissolved by the royal

governor, to consider the most effective means of boycotting British

imports. Washington favored cutting trade sharply but opposed a suspension

of all commerce with Britain. He also did not approve of the Boston Tea

Party of December 1773. But soon thereafter he came to realize that

reconciliation with the mother country was no longer possible. Meanwhile,

in 1770, Washington undertook a nine-week expedition to the Ohio country

where, as compensation for his service in the French and Indian War, he was

to inspect and claim more than 20,000 acres of land for himself and tens of

thousands more for the men who had served under him. He had taken the lead

in pressing the Virginia veterans' claim. “I might add, without much

arrogance,” he later wrote, “that if it had not been for my unremitted

attention to every favorable circumstance, not a single acre of land would

ever have been obtained”.

Delegate to Continental Congress, 1774-1775. A member of the Virginia

delegation to the First and Second Continental Congresses, Washington

served on various military preparedness committees and was chairman of the

committee to consider ways to raise arms and ammunition for the impending

Revolution. He voted for measures designed to reconcile differences with

Britain peacefully but realized that such efforts now were futile. John

Adams of Massachusetts, in a speech so effusive in its praise that

Washington rushed in embarrassment from the chamber, urged that Washington

be named commander in chief of the newly authorized Continental army. In

June 1775, delegates unanimously approved the choice of Washington, both

for his military experience and, more pragmatically, to enlist a prominent

Virginian to lead a struggle that heretofore had been spearheaded largely

by northern revolutionaries.

Commander in chief of Continental Army during Revolution, 1775-1783.

With a poorly trained, undisciplined force comprised of short-term militia,

General Washington took to the field against crack British regulars and

Hessian mercenaries. In March 1776 he thrilled New Englanders by flushing

the redcoats from Boston, but his loss of New York City and other setbacks

later that year dispelled any hope of a quick American victory. Sagging

American morale got a boost when Washington slipped across the Delaware

River to New Jersey and defeated superior enemy forces at Trenton (December

1776) and Princeton (January 1777). But humiliating defeats at Brandywine

(September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777) and the subsequent loss of

Philadelphia undermined Washington's prestige in Congress. Richard Henry

Lee, Benjamin Rush, and others conspired to remove Washington and replace

him with General Horatio Gates, who had defeated General John Burgoyne at

the Battle of Saratoga (October 1777). Washington's congressional

supporters rallied to quash the so-called Conway Cabal. Prospects for

victory seemed bleak as Washington settled his men into winter quarters at

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in December 1777.

"To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness," Washington wrote

in tribute to the men who suffered with him at Valley Forge, "without

blankets to lay on, without shoes, by which their marches might be traced

by the blood from their feet, and almost as often without provisions as

with; marching through frost and snow, and at Christmas taking up their

winter quarters within a day's march of the enemy, without a house or hut

to cover them till they could be built, and submitting to it without a

murmur, is a mark of patience and obedience which in my opinion can scarce

be paralleled." Of course, some did grumble— and loudly. "No pay! no

clothes! no provisions! no rum!" some chanted. But remarkably there was no

mass desertion, no mutiny. Patriotism, to be sure, sustained many, but no

more so than did confidence in Washington's ability to see them through

safely. With the snow-clogged roads impassable to supply wagons, the men

stayed alive on such fare as pepper pot soup, a thin tripe broth flavored

with a handful of peppercorns. Many died there that winter. Those that

survived drew fresh hope with the greening of spring and the news,

announced to them by General Washington in May 1778, that France had

recognized the independence of America. Also encouraging was the arrival of

Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who, at Washington's direction, drilled the

debilitated Valley Forge survivors into crack troops. Washington's men

broke camp in June 1778, a revitalized army that, with aid from France,

took the war to the British and in October 1781 boxed in General Charles

Cornwallis at Yorktown, thus forcing the surrender of British forces.

General Washington imposed strict, but not punitive, surrender terms:

All weapons and military supplies must be given up; all booty must be

returned, but the enemy soldiers could keep their personal effects and the

officers could retain their sidearms. British doctors were allowed to tend

to their own sick and wounded. Cornwallis accepted, but instead of

personally leading his troops to the mutually agreed-upon point of

surrender on October 19, 1781, he sent his deputy Brigadier Charles O'Hara.

As he made his way along the road flanked by American and French forces,

O'Hara came face to face with Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau, the

latter decked out in lavish military regalia. O'Hara mistook Rochambeau for

the senior commander, but the French officer quickly pointed to Washington,

and O'Hara, probably somewhat embarrassed, turned to the American.

Unwilling to deal with a man of lesser rank, Washington directed O'Hara to

submit the sword of capitulation to his aide General Benjamin Lincoln. In

his victory dispatch to Congress, Washington wrote with obvious pride,

“Sir, I have the Honor to inform Congress, that a Reduction of the British

Army under the Command of Lord Cornwallis, is most happily effected. The

unremitting Ardor which actuated every Officer and Soldier in the combined

Army in this Occasion, has principally led to this Important Event, at an

earlier period than my most sanguine Hope had induced me to expect”. In

November 1783, two months after the formal peace treaty was signed,

Washington resigned his commission and returned home to the neglected

fields of Mount Vernon.

President of Constitutional Convention, 1787. Washington, a Virginia

delegate, was unanimously elected president of the convention. He was among

those favoring a strong federal government. After the convention he

promoted ratification of the Constitution in Virginia. According to the

notes of Abraham Baldwin, a Georgia delegate, which were discovered only

recently and made public in 1987, Washington said privately that he did not

expect the Constitution to last more than 20 years.

ELECTION AS PRESIDENT, FIRST TERM, 1789: Washington, a Federalist, was

the obvious choice for the first president of the United States. A proven

leader whose popularity transcended the conflict between Federalists and

those opposed to a strong central government, the man most responsible for

winning independence, a modest country squire with a winsome aversion to

the limelight, he so dominated the political landscape that not 1 of the 69

electors voted against him. Thus, he carried all 10 states—Connecticut,

Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey,

Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia. (Neither North Carolina nor Rhode

Island had ratified the Constitution yet. New York was unable to decide in

time which electors to send.) Washington was the only president elected by

a unanimous electoral vote. John Adams of Massachusetts, having received

the second-largest number of votes, 34, was elected vice president.

election as president, second term, 1792: Despite the growing strength

of Democratic-Republicans, Washington continued to enjoy virtually

universal support. Again he won the vote of every elector, 132, and thus

carried all 15 states—Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland,

Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina,

Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia. John

Adams of Massachusetts received the second-highest number of votes, 77, and

thus again became vice president.

INAUGURAL ADDRESS (FIRST): New York City, April 30, 1789. ". . . When I

was first honored with a call into the service of my country, then on the

eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I

contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary

compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed; and

being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as

inapplicable to myself any share in the personal emoluments which may be

indispensably included in a permanent provision for the executive

department, and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the

station in which I am placed may during my continuance in it be limited to

such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require. ..."

INAUGURAL ADDRESS (SECOND): Philadelphia, March 4, 1793. (This was the

shortest inaugural address, just 135 words.) "Fellow Citizens: I am again

called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its

Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall

endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor,

and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united


"Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the

Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take,

and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of

the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the

injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be

subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present

solemn ceremony."

VICE PRESIDENT: John Adams (1735-1826), of Massachusetts, served 1789-

1797. See "John Adams, 2d President."


Secretary of State. (1) Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), of Virginia,

served 1790-1793. See "Thomas Jefferson, 3d President," "Career before the

Presidency." (2) Edmund Jennings Randolph (1753-1813), of Virginia, served

1794-1795. Author of the Randolph (or Virginia) plan, favoring the large

states, at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Transferred from attorney

general, he remained aloof of the struggle between Jefferson and Alexander

Hamilton. Denounced by supporters of both, he was largely ineffective and

was forced to resign amid unfounded charges that he had misused his office

for private gain. (3) Timothy Pickering (1745-1829), of Massachusetts,

served 1795-1800. Transferred from war secretary, he was a staunch

Hamiltonian and stayed on in the Adams administration.

Secretary of the Treasury. (1) Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755-1804), of

New York, served 1789-1795. President Washington's closest advisor, he was

a great admirer of British institutions and a master of power politics. He

saw his role in the government as that of prime minister. His influence

went beyond economics to include foreign affairs, legal matters, and long-

range social planning. He advocated and helped create a strong central

government at the expense of states' rights. He put the infant nation on

sound financial footing by levying taxes to retire the national debt and

promoted the creation of a national bank. He also advocated tariffs to

insulate fledgling American manufacturing from foreign competition.

Hamilton's vision of America's future encompassed the evolution from a

largely agrarian society to an industrial giant, a national transportation

program to facilitate commerce and blur regional differences, a strong

permanent national defense, and a sound, conservative monetary system. Even

after resigning his post, he kept his hands on the controls of power.

Washington continued to consult him. Hamilton's successor, Oliver Wolcott,

and others in the cabinet took his advice. He even helped draft

Washington's Farewell address. The foremost conservative leader of his day,

he was anathema to Thomas Jefferson and his supporters. (2) Oliver Wolcott

(1760-1833), of Connecticut, served 1795-1800. A lawyer and Hamilton

supporter, he stayed on in the Adams administration.

Secretary of War. (1) Henry Knox (1750-1806), of Massachusetts, served

1789-1794. Chief of artillery and close adviser to General Washington

during the Revolution and war secretary under the Articles of

Confederation, he was a natural choice for this post. He pressed for a

strong navy. Fort Knox was named after him. (2) Timothy Pickering (1745-

1829), of Massachusetts, served January-December, 1795. A lawyer and

veteran of the Revolution, he strengthened the navy. He resigned to serve

as secretary of state. (3) James McHenry (1753-1816), of Maryland, served

1796-1800. He had served as a surgeon during the Revolution and was a

prisoner of war. He stayed on in the Adams administration. Fort McHenry at

Baltimore was named after him.

Attorney General. (1) Edmund Jennings Randolph (1753-1813), of

Virginia, served 1789-1794. He helped draft President Washington's

proclamation of neutrality. Washington disregarded his opinion that a

national bank was unconstitutional. He resigned to become secretary of

state. (2) William Bradford (1755-1795), of Pennsylvania, served 1794-1795.

He was a state supreme court justice at the time of his appointment. (3)

Charles Lee (1758-1815), of Virginia, served 1795-1801. He was a brother of

Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee. He urged, unsuccessfully, that the United

States abandon its policy of neutrality and declare war on France. He

stayed on in the Adams administration.

ADMINISTRATION: April 30, 1789-March 3, 1797.

Precedents. "Many things which appear of little importance in

themselves and at the beginning," President Washington observed, "may have

great and durable consequences from their having been established at the

commencement of a new general government."10 With this in mind, then, he

proceeded cautiously, pragmatically, acting only when it seemed necessary

to flesh out the bare-bones framework of government described so sparingly

in the Constitution: (1) In relying on department heads for advice, much as

he had used his war council during the Revolution, he set the pattern for

future presidents to consult regularly with their cabinet. (2) Because

Congress did not challenge his appointments, largely out of respect for him

personally rather than out of principle, the custom evolved that the chief

executive generally has the right to choose his own cabinet. Congress, even

when controlled by the opposition party, usually routinely confirms such

presidential appointments. (3) How long should a president serve? The

Constitution did not then say. Washington nearly set the precedent of a

single term, for he had originally decided to retire in 1793, but remained

for a second term when it became clear that the nonpartisan government he

had so carefully fostered was about to fragment. Thus he set the two-term

standard that lasted until 1940. (4) When John Jay resigned as chief

justice, Washington went outside the bench for a successor rather than to

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