George Washington Biography
What if George Washington never lived? Just trying to quantify the seismic fallout of this possibility would paint a world vastly different to the one we live in today. He was the indispensable man of the American Revolution who held the army together during their darkest hours. He was the glue that united the political forces that nearly tore the independent nation apart in the post revolution years. Without him the USA would not be the global super power that it is today.
He was also a reluctant President. He knew leading a newly found nation would be a tumultuous and thankless task. For six years after the revolution the new confederation of states were in turmoil. There was a real danger of the breakaway states forming their own independent governments.
There was only one man who every faction could agree on to lead. There was only one man who had the charismatic leadership qualities to appease the dangerously fragmented alliances that had been equitably formed during the revolution. That man was George Washington. He knew task at hand. He understood the dire consequences of failure.
Washington was in retirement. He had achieved what he set out to do with the ouster of the British. He looked at the big picture and recognised that a steady hand was needed to guide this new country through its period of transition to a successful nation. His mind was also in turmoil. He had a grand vision for the future of this new nation. But there was no man of the mettle and vision required to step up to the plate of strong leadership. Deep down he knew he would be duty bound to leave his beloved Mount Vernon estate for the sake of the country.
A strong union of states was required, Washington had already called for this so he was approached by many powerful friends including James Madison and Henry Knox to attend the Philadelphia Convention which was to start on 25th May 1787. At first George was hesitant, but after numerous appeals from prospective attendees he accepted it as a duty bound responsibility.
This meeting was to become one of the most significant events in American history. Washington was unanimously elected as President of the Convention. At its conclusion on 17th September 1787 the Constitution of the United States had been drafted. The Constitution comprised of seven articles that formed the cornerstone of the federation and depicted the framework of national government that is still in place today.
The constitution was badly needed. Under the Continental Congress, which lacked the powers to adequately run the country, the nation was verging on anarchy. Legislation could not be passed without the necessary votes and state representatives rarely attended. Tax laws were blatantly being flouted with some states refusing to pay anything. With no incoming revenue international debts could not be serviced. Spain closed off international trade to New Orleans and the British were paying Indians to cause havoc in Georgia who had to impose martial law.
A disintegrating nation was never in the mind of George Washington. When called to duty he never shirked his responsibility. In the Presidential election of 1789 George Washington won the majority of every state's electoral votes. On 30th April 1789 Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States. He took the oath of office at New York's Federal Hall and gave a speech to the senate chamber. Initially Washington refused to take a presidential salary, however Congress insisted and overruled his selfless act of sacrifice for the nation.
The young farmers boy from Virginia had came a long way. He cut his military teeth serving the British army who later rejected his application to become an officer. This was the same British army who he would eventually oppose as the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and inflict a humiliating defeat upon at Yorktown.
Before his Presidency, George Washington was also the man who did the unthinkable. After routing the despised colonial British, Washington walked away. He chose to be a farmer when he could have been a ruler, a king or an emperor.
King George III of England, who staunchly opposed the fight for American independence, was incredulous but impressed to say about Washington not grabbing the reins of power:
"that act closing and finishing what had gone before and viewed in connection with it, placed him in a light the most distinguished of any man living". The King went on to describe him as the:
"greatest character of the age".
He was now the first President of the United States Of America. Little did the European colonial powers know that from the seeds sewn by George Washington the mightiest nation this world has ever known was in its infancy. His guidance was crucial in the constitutional republic's formative years.
Foreign policy, national debt and the balance of power between the federal government and its states would all require delicate handling under complex circumstances.
Washington recognised the debt of gratitude owed to France for their assistance in defeating the British. He was also aware of the international monetary debt, mostly owed to France, that was accrued achieving the revolution. Despite this he chose a path of neutrality during the French Revolution that began during his election year of 1789. Yes the French felt betrayed, they funded the American revolution and spilled the blood of its sons so he could be President.
But the U.S. was in a cash crisis. Diplomacy was needed to ride out the early storms of nationhood and Washington set the precedent of neutrality that would persist for a century after his Presidency. That last thing this young nation needed was to antagonise any foreign countries.
To address the national debt, Washington proposed and passed the National Bank Bill in 1791 giving it responsibility to manage national finance, service federal government loans and to promote commerce.
He recognised the need to raise taxes and through his chief economic advisor, Alexander Hamilton, they proposed a whiskey tax, in 1791, that was to prove very unpopular, especially in Pennsylvania. By 1794, grain farmers and distillery owners were becoming violent towards tax collectors. This was the first big domestic challenge facing the nation and George Washington was swift to act and set another precedent.
The whiskey rebellion of 1794 occurred after many personal warnings to desist from the President. Left with no choice, Washington raised a militia army of nearly 13,000 troops and personally led them into the rebel strongholds. 150 arrests were made and the rebellion was crushed without any outbreak of serious gunfire.
The main leaders of the rebellion eluded capture as they fled into the mountains to hide. Two of their members were tried for treason, Philip Wigle and John Mitchell. Although sentenced to hang, George Washington intervened and pardoned both men. The main political victory had been gained. The federal government proved it had both the strength and the resolve to put down political insurrections. The message was loud and clear, violent resistance would not be tolerated and would be crushed wherever they arose.
Just as he proved when leading the revolution, George Washington recognised when decisive action was required and had a sixth sense to seize the moment at just the right time.
At the end of his first term as President, Washington was tiring of the political in-fighting and wanted to retire. His sense of duty prevented him and he carried the hope of the nation into his second presidential term. Once the end of his second term as President came around there would be no turning back for George Washington. He could easily have stayed on but his determination to retire from the strains of public office was too strong. This time he walked.
The precedent of the two term President was set. Thomas Jefferson would later follow suit and become the second President to refuse to run for a third term. Franklin D Roosevelt became the first and only President to break this tradition when he became the first commander in chief to run for a third term. Following the Roosevelt tripartite Presidency the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed into law on 27th February 1951 that limited a President from serving more that two terms. I'm sure George would have be happy to see such legislation.
George Washington initiated the building of the White House but he would never preside from this magnificent building in the city that adopted his surname in respect to the father of the nation. The shadow of George Washington is as strong in America today as it was during the pivotal moments of the revolution and the political turmoil which followed.
Cometh the hour cometh the man and he was the leader for all seasons. He chose his battle fields well, both militarily and politically. His patriotic spirit inspired the insurrection and carried it through to a decisive end. His judgement was second to none, his administrative prowess was remarkable and his selfless ambition for the republic was truly admirable. He was George Washington, the charismatic leader who was the essence of the revolution and the very embodiment of hope through the dark cold winters of despair before independence.
Every step of his journey from farmer to soldier to revolutionary to President was fraught with danger or risk. Yet he took everything in his stride. His decision making was exemplary, his timing was near perfect and his execution of strategy clinical. Never before had the title "Father Of The Nation" been more befitting, and never again has a man stood in his office without feeling the shadow of his greatness looming large over the corridors of American power.
Quotes About George Washington
The author Bob Blythe gave this assessment: "George Washington was perhaps the one indispensable man among the founders. It is hard to imagine any of the others commanding the respect needed to lead the Continental Army to victory over Great Britain, preside over the Constitutional Convention, and serve the United States as its first president. Little in Washington's early life gave a hint of the great achievements to come."
The south American revolutionary leader Simón Bolívar was impressed to say:
"I have learned with inexplicable joy that you have had the goodness to honor me with a treasure from Mount Vernon — the portrait of Washington, some of his venerable reliques, and one of the monuments of his glory, which are to be presented me at your hands in the name of the brothers of the Great Citizen, the First-Born Son of the New World. No words can set forth all the value that this gift and its embodying considerations, so glorious for me, hold in my heart."
Napoleon Bonaparte gave this comparison:
"Posterity will talk of Washington as the founder of a great empire, when my name shall be lost in the vortex of revolution"
The British statesman Winston Churchill gave this glowing report:
"George Washington holds one of the proudest titles that history can bestow. He was the Father of his Nation. Almost alone his staunchness in the War of Independence held the American Colonies to their united purpose. His services after victory had been won were no less great. His firmness and example while first President restrained the violence of faction and postponed a national schism for sixty years. His character and influence steadied the dangerous leanings of Americans to take sides against Britain or France. He filled his office with dignity and inspired his administration with much of his own wisdom."
President Abraham Lincoln was praiseful:
"Washington's is the mightiest name of earth - long since mightiest in the cause of civil liberty; still mightiest in moral reformation."
Thomas Jefferson shared this observation:
"His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though, not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion."
Lord Byron took to verse to air his view:
"While Washington's a watchword, such as ne'er; Shall sink while there's an echo left to air.
The journalist Orestes Ferrara recognised his importance:
"George Washington is one of the beacons placed at intervals along the highroad of history. For his country he serves as a guide in time of stress and a refuge in tranquil moments; a never-failing example of true goodness; a warning to turbulent youth and a mute accusation of selfish interests."