George Washington

Washington, George (1732-1799), first president of the United States (1789-1797) and one of the most important leaders in United States history. His role in gaining independence for the American colonies and later in unifying them under the new U.S. federal government cannot be overestimated. Laboring against great difficulties, he created the Continental Army, which fought and won the American Revolution (1775-1783), out of what was little more than an armed mob. After an eight-year struggle, his design for victory brought final defeat to the British at Yorktown, Virginia, and forced Great Britain to grant independence to its richest overseas possession.
With victory won, Washington was the most revered man in the United States. A lesser person might have used this power to establish a military dictatorship or to become king. Washington sternly suppressed all such attempts on his behalf by his officers and continued to obey the weak and divided Continental Congress. However, he never ceased to work for the union of the states under a strong central government. He was a leading influence in persuading the states to participate in the Constitutional Convention, over which he presided, and he used his immense prestige to help gain ratification of its product, the Constitution of the United States.
Although worn out by years of service to his country, Washington reluctantly accepted the presidency of the United States. Probably no other man could have succeeded in welding the states into a lasting union. Washington fully understood the significance of his presidency. "I walk on untrodden ground," he said. "There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent." During eight years in office, Washington laid down the guidelines for future presidents.
Washington lived only two years after turning over the presidency to his successor, John Adams. The famous tribute by General Henry Lee, "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen," accurately reflected the emotions that Washington\'s death aroused. Later generations have crowned this tribute with the simple title "Father of His Country."
Early Life
George Washington was born on his father\'s estate in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732. He was the eldest son of a well-to-do Virginia farmer, Augustine Washington, by his second wife, Mary Ball. The Washington family was descended from two brothers, John and Lawrence Washington, who emigrated from England to Virginia in 1657. The family\'s rise to modest wealth in three generations was the result of steady application to farming, land buying, and development of local industries.
Young George seems to have received most of his schooling from his father and, after the father\'s death in 1743, from his elder half-brother Lawrence. The boy had a liking for mathematics, and he applied it to acquiring a knowledge of surveying, which was a skill greatly in demand in a country where people were seeking new lands in the West. For the Virginians of that time the West meant chiefly the upper Ohio River valley. Throughout his life, George Washington maintained a keen interest in the development of these western lands, and from time to time he acquired properties there.
George grew up a tall, strong young man, who excelled in outdoor pursuits, liked music and theatrical performances, and was a trifle awkward with girls but fond of dancing. His driving force was the ambition to gain wealth and eminence and to do well whatever he set his hand to.
His first real adventure as a boy was accompanying a surveying party to the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia and descending the Shenandoah River by canoe. An earlier suggestion that he should be sent to sea seems to have been discouraged by his uncle Joseph Ball, who described the prospects of an unknown colonial youth in the British Navy of that day as such that "he had better be put apprentice to a tinker." When he was 17 he was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, the first public office he held.
In 1751 George had his first and only experience of foreign lands when he accompanied his half-brother Lawrence to the island of Barbados in the West Indies. Lawrence was desperately ill with tuberculosis and thought the climate might help, but the trip did him little good. Moreover, George was