George Washington

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Washington, George

Washington, George, 1732–99, 1st President of the United States (1789–97), commander in chief of the Continental army in the American Revolution, called the Father of His Country.

Early Life

He was born on Feb. 22, 1732 (Feb. 11, 1731, O.S.), the first son of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary Ball Washington, on the family estate (later known as Wakefield) in Westmoreland co., Va. Of a wealthy family, Washington embarked upon a career as a surveyor and in 1748 was invited to go with the party that was to survey Baron Fairfax's lands W of the Blue Ridge. In 1749 he was appointed to his first public office, surveyor of newly created Culpeper co., and through his half-brother Lawrence Washington he became interested in the Ohio Company, which had as its object the exploitation of Western lands. After Lawrence's death (1752), George inherited part of his estate and took over some of Lawrence's duties as adjutant of the colony. As district adjutant, which made (Dec., 1752) him Major Washington at the age of 20, he was charged with training the militia in the quarter assigned him.

The French and Indian War

Washington first gained public notice late in 1753 when he volunteered to carry a message from Gov. Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia to the French moving into the Ohio country, warning them to quit the territory, which was claimed by the British. In delivering the message Washington learned that the French were planning a further advance. He hastened back to Virginia, where he was commissioned lieutenant colonel by Dinwiddie and sent with about 400 men to reinforce the post that Dinwiddie had ordered built at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.

The French, however, captured the post before he could reach it, and on hearing that they were approaching in force, Washington retired to the Great Meadows to build (July) an entrenched camp (Fort Necessity). Late in May he had won his first military victory (and his colonelcy) when he surprised (through the intelligence of his Native American allies) a small body of French troops. The French soon avenged this defeat, overwhelming him with a superior force at Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754. He surrendered on easy terms on July 4 and returned to Virginia with the survivors of his command. These battles marked the beginning of the last of the French and Indian Wars in America, in which Washington continued to figure.

As an aide to Edward Braddock he acquitted himself with honor in that general's disastrous expedition against Fort Duquesne in 1755. After the debacle he was appointed commander in chief of the Virginia militia to defend the frontier, and in 1758 he commanded one of the three brigades in the expedition headed by Gen. John Forbes that took an abandoned Fort Duquesne. With this episode his pre-Revolutionary military career ended.

The American Revolution

In 1759, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a rich young widow, and settled on his estate at Mt. Vernon. He was a member (1759–74) of the house of burgesses, became a leader in Virginian opposition to the British colonial policy, and served (1774–75) as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. After the American Revolution broke out at Concord and Lexington, the Congress organized for defense, and, largely through the efforts of John Adams, Washington was named (June 15, 1775) commander in chief of the Continental forces.

He took command (July 3, 1775) at Cambridge, Mass., and found not an army but a force of unorganized, poorly disciplined, short-term enlisted militia, officered by men who were often insubordinate. He was faced with the problem of holding the British at Boston with a force that had to be trained in the field, and he was constantly hampered by congressional interference. Washington momentarily overcame these handicaps with the brilliant strategic move of occupying Dorchester Heights, forcing the British to evacuate Boston on Mar. 17, 1776.

Against his wishes the Continental Congress compelled him to attempt to defend New York City with a poorly equipped and untrained army against a large British land and sea force commanded by Sir William Howe. He was not yet experienced enough to conduct a large-scale action, and he committed a military blunder by sending part of his force to Brooklyn, where it was defeated (see Long Island, battle of) and surrounded. With the British fleet ready to close the only escape route, Washington saved his army with a masterly amphibious retreat across the East River back to Manhattan. Seeing that his position was completely untenable, he began a retreat northward into Westchester co., which was marked by delaying actions at Harlem Heights and White Plains and by the treacherous insubordination of Charles Lee. The retreat continued across the Hudson River through New Jersey into Pennsylvania, as Washington developed military skill through trial and error.

With colonial morale at its lowest ebb, he invaded New Jersey. On Christmas night, 1776, he crossed the Delaware, surrounded and defeated the British at Trenton, and pushed on to Princeton (Jan. 3, 1777), where he defeated a second British force. In 1777 he attempted to defend Philadelphia but was defeated at the battle of Brandywine (Sept. 11). His carefully planned counterattack at Germantown (Oct. 4, 1777) went awry, and with this second successive defeat certain discontented army officers and members of Congress tried to have Washington removed from command. Horatio Gates was advanced as a likely candidate to succeed him, but Washington's prompt action frustrated the so-called Conway Cabal.

After Germantown, Washington went into winter quarters at Valley Forge. Seldom in military history has any general faced such want and misery as Washington did in the winter of 1777–78. He proved equal to every problem, and in the spring he emerged with increased powers from Congress and a well-trained striking force, personally devoted to him. The attack (June 28, 1778) on the British retreating from Philadelphia to New York was vitiated by the actions of Charles Lee, but Washington's arrival on the field prevented a general American rout (see Monmouth, battle of). The fortunes of war soon shifted in favor of the colonial cause with the arrival (1780) of French military and naval forces, and victory finally came when General Cornwallis surrendered to Washington on Oct. 19, 1781. Washington made the American Revolution successful not only by his personal military triumphs but also by his skill in directing other operations.

Presidency

At the war's end he was the most important man in the country. He retired from the army (at Annapolis, Md., Dec. 23, 1783), returned to Mt. Vernon, and in 1784 journeyed to the West to inspect his lands there. Dissatisfied with the weakness of the government (see Confederation, Articles of), he soon joined the movement intent on reorganizing it. In 1785 commissioners from Virginia and Maryland met at Mt. Vernon to settle a dispute concerning navigation on the Potomac. This meeting led to the Annapolis Convention (1786) and ultimately to the Constitutional Convention (1787). Washington presided over this last convention, and his influence in securing the adoption of the Constitution of the United States is incalculable.

After a new government was organized, Washington was unanimously chosen the first President and took office (Apr. 30, 1789) in New York City. He was anxious to establish the new national executive above partisanship, and he chose men from all factions for the administrative departments. Thomas Jefferson became Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton Secretary of the Treasury. His efforts to remain aloof from partisan struggles were not successful. He approved of Hamilton's nationalistic financial measures, and although he was by no means a tool in the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury, he consistently supported Hamilton's policies. In the Anglo-French war (1793) he decided against Jefferson, who favored fulfilling the 1778 military alliance with France, and he took measures against Edmond Charles Édouard Genet. Jefferson left the cabinet, and despite Washington's efforts to preserve a political truce the Republican party (later the Democratic party) and the Federalist party emerged.

Washington was unanimously reelected (1793), but his second administration was Federalist and was bitterly criticized by Jeffersonians, especially for Jay's Treaty with England. Washington was denounced by some as an aristocrat and an enemy of true democratic ideals. The Whiskey Rebellion and trouble with the Native Americans, British, and Spanish in the West offered serious problems. The crushing of the rebellion, the defeat of the Native Americans by Anthony Wayne at Fallen Timbers, and the treaty Thomas Pinckney negotiated with Spain settled some of these troubles. Foreign affairs remained gloomy, however, and Washington, weary with political life, refused to run for a third term. Washington's Farewell Address (Sept. 17, 1796), a monument of American oratory, contained the famous (and much misquoted) passage warning the United States against “permanent alliances” with foreign powers. Washington returned to Mt. Vernon, but when war with France seemed imminent (1798) he was offered command of the army. War, however, was averted. He died on Dec. 14, 1799, and was buried on his estate.

There are many portraits and statues of Washington, among them the familiar, idealized portraits by Gilbert Stuart; the statue by Jean Antoine Houdon, who also executed the famous portrait bust from a life mask; and paintings by Charles Willson Peale, John Trumbull, and John Singleton Copley. His figure also has bulked large in drama, poetry, fiction, and essays in American literature. The national capital is named for him; one state, several colleges and universities, and scores of counties, towns, and villages of the United States bear his name. Wakefield and Mt. Vernon are national shrines.

Writings

The Univ. of Virginia is preparing a new edition of the complete writings of Washington. Under the editorship of D. Jackson, W. W. Abbott, D. Twohig, P. D. Chase, and others, more than 60 volumes have been published (1976–). The long-standing edition of Washington's writings (39 vol., 1931–44) was edited by J. C. Fitzpatrick. His journals—that of his Barbados journey in 1751–52 (1892), that of his journey to the West (1905), and his diaries (ed. by J. C. Fitzpatrick, 4 vol., 1925)—were also edited separately. An old standard edition of his writings is that by W. C. Ford (14 vol., 1889–93), and S. Commins edited a one-volume selection, Basic Writings (1948). Other standard sources of his works are The Washington Papers (1955, repr. 1967), edited by S. K. Padover, and The George Washington Papers (1964), edited by F. Donovan. There have been innumerable editions of his Farewell Address and many separate editions of others of his works.

Bibliography

There have been a great many studies of phases and incidents of Washington's career and a continual stream of biographies; the definitive biography is by D. S. Freeman (7 vol., 1948–57; abr. ed. 1968); Volume VII was written after Freeman's death by J. A. Carroll and M. W. Ashworth of his staff. The biography (1940) begun by N. W. Stephenson and completed by W. H. Dunn is full and eminently useful; so is the four-volume biography by J. T. Flexner (1965–72). The early biography by “Parson” M. L. Weems is important chiefly because it contains many of the now-famous Washington legends, such as that of the cherry tree. Biographies of Washington by eminent men of another day include those by J. Marshall, J. Sparks, and W. Irving. Other biographies include those by P. L. Ford (1896, repr. 1971), W. Wilson (1896, repr. 1969), J. Corbin (1930, repr. 1972), L. M. Sears (1932), J. C. Fitzpatrick (1933, repr. 1970), N. Callahan (1972), R. Brookhiser (1996), J. M. Burns and S. Dunn (2004), J. J. Ellis (2004), P. Johnson (2005), R. Chernow (2010), S. Brumwell (2012), and G. Rhodehamel (2017).

See also W. C. Ford, Washington as Employer and Importer of Labour (1889, repr. 1971); G. A. Eisen, Portraits of Washington (3 vol., 1932); E. S. Whitely, Washington and His Aides-de-Camp (1936, repr. 1968); F. R. Bellamy, The Private Life of George Washington (1951); C. P. Nettels, George Washington and American Independence (1951); M. Cunliffe, George Washington: Man and Monument (1958); L. M. Sears, George Washington and the French Revolution (1960); B. Knollenberg, Washington and the Revolution (1940, repr. 1968) and George Washington, the Virginia Period, 1732–1775 (1964); T. N. Dupuy, The Military Life of George Washington (1969); F. MacDonald, The Presidency of George Washington (1974); E. S. Morgan, The Genius of George Washington (1980); G. Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (1984); J. E. Ferling, The First of Men (1988) and The Ascent of George Washington (2009); G. Vidal, Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson (2003); H. Wiencek, An Imperfect God (2003); D. McCullough, 1776 (2005); J. P. Kaminski, The Great Virginia Triumvirate (2010); B. Schecter, George Washington's America: A Biography through His Maps (2010); R. Middlekauff, Washington's Revolution (2015); T. Fleming, The Strategy of Victory: How General George Washington Won the American Revolution (2017); N. Philbrick, The Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown (2018).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Washington, George

 

Born Feb. 22, 1732, near Bridges Creek, Virginia; died Dec. 14, 1799, in Mount Vernon. American statesman, commander in chief of the American Army during the War of Independence in North America (1775-83), and first president of the USA (1789-97).

Washington was born into the family of a rich planter and slave owner. At the age of 15 he finished his education, and at the age of 16 he began to work as a surveyor. In 1751 he inherited the large estate of Mount Vernon and became a shareholder in the Ohio Company, which speculated in lands seized from the Indians. At the same time, Washington received the rank of major and was appointed the commander of one of the four districts of the Virginia militia. In 1755 he took part in the unsuccessful expedition to the French fort of Duquesne. At the beginning of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), Washington, now a colonel, commanded the troops of Virginia. In 1759 he resigned. As a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and judge of Fairfax County, Washington actively protested against the British government’s policy of limiting trade and industry in the colonies.

In 1774, Washington was elected to the First Continental Congress and in 1775 to the Second Continental Congress. At the very beginning of the war for independence of the English colonies in North America (a bourgeois revolution), the congress chose Washington as commander in chief of the rebel armed forces (June 15, 1775). In this position Washington displayed high moral qualities, courage, determination, and talent as a military leader and organizer. The congress repeatedly gave Washington broad and even dictatorial powers. Washington enjoyed popularity among the popular masses whose struggle made possible the triumph of the revolution. At the end of the war a group of reactionary officers organized a monarchical conspiracy and offered Washington the crown. He rejected this proposition. After the end of the war Washington retired to his estate. In the years 1786-87, Washington headed the reactionary forces which crushed the democratic movement of poor farmers and artisans under the leadership of D. Shays (Shays’ Rebellion). In 1787, under Washington’s chairmanship, the Constitution of the USA was drafted. With certain changes this constitution is still in effect today. In 1789, Washington was elected the first president of the USA (reelected in 1792). Carrying out a conservative policy, Washington opposed the democratic demands of the popular masses, consolidating only those achievements of the revolution which were necessary to the bourgeoisie and the planters. Although he included both Federalists and their opponent T. Jefferson in his cabinet, Washington nevertheless supported and in fact headed the Federalists with their centralizing and anglophile tendencies. Washington was one of the founders of the two-party system of the USA. He welcomed the beginning of the Great French Revolution, but its subsequent development frightened him. After the outbreak of war between revolutionary France and the European coalition in 1793, Washington refused to fulfill the obligations which the USA had as an ally, according to the French Alliance of 1778. Later, Washington favored American refusal to participate in alliances of and wars between the European states. Washington supported the inequitable treaty with Great Britain (the so-called Jay’s Treaty) concluded in 1794 which caused much indignation in the USA and undermined Washington’s popularity. Washington spent the last years of his life in Mount Vernon. He was a proponent of the gradual abolition of slavery, and in his will he freed all slaves belonging to him personally.

Washington has gone down in history as a progressive figure, since he occupied a consistent position on the most important issue of the American bourgeois revolution of the 18th century—the struggle for independence of the colonies. At the same time, he remained a representative of the interests of the propertied classes, and in this lies Washington’s limitation: he was a bourgeois revolutionary.

WORKS

The Writings, vols. 1-14. New York, 1889-93.
The Diaries, 1748-1799, vols. 1-4. New York [1925].

REFERENCES

Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo k amerikanskim rabochim.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 37.
Ocherki novoi i noveishei istorii SShA, vol. 1. Moscow, 1960. (Contains a bibliography.)
Efimov, A. V. SShA: Puti razvitiia kapitalizma. Moscow, 1969.
Fursenko, A. A. Amerikanskaia burzhuaznaia revoliutsiia XVIII v. Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.
Iuzefovich, I. S. Dzhordzh Vashington i bor’ba za nezavisimost’ Ameriki. Moscow, 1941. (Contains a bibliography.)
Hughes, R. George Washington, vols. 1-3. New York, 1926-30. (Contains a bibliography.)

A. V. EFIMOV

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Washington, George

(1732–1799) “the Father of our country”; first U.S. President (1789–1797). [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 535–536]
See: America

Washington, George

(1732–1799) first United States president. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 897]
See: Firsts

Washington, George

(1732–1799) first U.S. president; reputed to have said, “Father, I cannot tell a lie.” [Am. Hist.: NCE, 2933]
See: Honesty
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Washington, George

(1732–99) first U.S. president; born in Westmoreland County, Va. His father, a prosperous planter and iron foundry owner, died when he was 11, and George moved in with his elder half-brother Lawrence, who owned the plantation Mount Vernon. In 1748 George did surveying for Lord Fairfax, a relative of Lawrence by marriage, meanwhile reading widely in Mt. Vernon's library. In 1751 Washington accompanied the ailing half-brother to Barbados and on his death the next year was left guardian of Lawrence's daughter at Mt. Vernon, which Washington would inherit in 1761 after her death. Having studied military science on his own, in 1753 he began several years' service with the Virginia militia in the French and Indian Wars, taking command of all Virginia forces in 1755 and participating in several dangerous actions. Commissioned as aide-de-camp by Gen. Edward Braddock in 1755, he barely escaped with his life in the battle that took Braddock's life. He resigned his commission in 1758, following his election to the Virginia House of Burgesses (1759–74). When in 1759 he married wealthy widow Martha Custis, Washington's fortune and social position was secured. (They had no children together but raised her two children and then her two grandchildren.) After a period of living the sociable life of a gentleman farmer, however, Washington risked it all by casting his lot with those rebelling against British rule, although his original motives probably had less to do with high principles and more to do with his personal annoyance with British commercial policies. In 1774 he participated in the First Continental Congress and took command of the Virginia militia; next year the Second Congress, impressed with his military experience and commanding personality, made him commander in chief of the Continental army (June 1775). With remarkable skill, patience, and courage, Washington led the American forces through the Revolution, struggling not only with the British but with the stingy Continental Congress and also on occasion with resentful fellow officers. Notable among his achievements were his bold crossing of the Delaware to rout enemy forces at Trenton on Christmas night of 1776 and his holding the army together during the terrible winter encampment at Valley Forge in 1777–78. His victory over the British at Yorktown (1781) effectively ended the war, but for almost two more years he had to strive to keep the colonists from splintering into selfish enterprises. Washington returned to Mount Vernon in 1783, but maintained his presence in the debate over the country's future; he solidified that role when he chaired the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787. In 1789, the first electors unanimously voted Washington as president; he was reelected in 1793. A natural leader rather than a thinker or orator, he had great difficulty coping with an unruly new government, futilely resisting the growing factionalism that resolved into the forming of Hamilton's Federalist Party—to which Washington finally gravitated—and Jefferson's liberal Democratic-Republican Party. In 1796 Washington announced he would not run again (thus setting a precedent for only two terms) and retired from office the next year. In 1798 he accepted command of a provisional American army when it appeared there would be war with France, but the threat passed. The following year he died at Mount Vernon and was mourned around the world. He immediately began to attain almost legendary status so that succeeding generations throughout the world could bestow no higher accolade than to call their own national hero, "the George Washington" of their country.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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