Washington, George

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George Washington was the first president of the United States. He was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732. His family was among the wealthiest families of Virginia. As was common during this time period among the wealthy, Washington received most of his education at home. He became a skilled surveyor and used this knowledge to assist the Ohio Company during the 1750s to prepare the Ohio Country for white settlement. Washington also invested in the Ohio Company, having come into a sizable fortune with his father's death in 1752.

The Ohio Company's desire to acquire land in the Ohio Country partly resulted in the French and Indian War. British colonists moved west of the Appalachian Mountains to farm and to participate in the fur trade with the Native Americans. The French, who also claimed the Ohio Country, responded by building Fort Duquesne to keep the British out. The lieutenant governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, sent Washington to drive the French back in 1754. Although Washington hoped to capture Fort Duquesne, he quickly realized the fort was too strong. Washington retreated a few miles from the fort and constructed Fort Necessity. If he could not drive the French from the area, he would at least contest their presence with his own fortification. A force of French soldiers and their native allies overwhelmed Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754. This action is considered by many historians to be the start of the French and Indian War in the New World. Britain did not officially declare war until 1756. Washington remained active for the war's duration, and was present at the defeat of a British army led by Edward Braddock in 1755.

At the war's conclusion, Washington returned to civilian life. He raised tobacco and grain at his home Mount Vernon, along the Potomac River. He also became involved in politics, serving as a member of the House of Burgesses, the lower house of the Virginia legislature, from 1759 to 1774. Increasingly concerned about Britain's treatment of its New World citizens, Washington welcomed the opportunity to voice his unhappiness at the First Continental Congress in 1774. While the members of the First Continental Congress did not rebel against Britain, they did express their frustration to the king and pledged to work together to seek the rights that they felt they deserved.

By the time the Second Continental Congress met in 1775, the first battles of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts had already occurred. It would be another year before the Declaration of Independence would be issued. Congress, however, appointed Washington to lead the Continental Army immediately against the British forces located in North America. Washington proved to be an adept leader. While he had few victories against the British Army during the war, Washington managed to keep the support of his men by winning enough battles to keep his army intact. His most important victories in 1776 included the siege of Boston, Massachusetts, and the capture of German mercenaries fighting for the British at Trenton, New Jersey. Washington also was victorious at the Battle of Princeton, New Jersey in early 1777 and in the final major battle of the war at Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781. Washington's victory at Yorktown convinced the British government that it was no closer to victory over the Americans than it had been in 1775. As a result, the British agreed to a peace treaty. The Treaty of Paris (1783) recognized the United States of America as an independent country. The British also gave the United States all of the land south of Canada, north of Florida, and east of the Mississippi River, including the Ohio Country.

Following the peace treaty, Washington returned home to Virginia, where he tended his farm. He also traveled to the Ohio Country to survey his land holdings there. Before leaving the army, Washington helped to prevent an uprising by the officers in the Continental Army. Many of these men had not been paid for years, despite their loyal service to America. In the Newburgh Petition of 1783, these men requested payment for their service in grants of land in the Ohio Country. The government created by the Articles of Confederation refused, and the officers threatened to attack it. Washington put the rebellion down. He pointed out all of the sacrifices and injustices that he had endured while serving in the Continental Army. Despite this, he refused to overthrow the government. Americans had warred against the British to form a republic, and Washington would not raise a hand against it, even if he suffered financially or physically because of it.

Washington's time as a civilian was short-lived. In 1787, many Americans decided that the Articles of Confederation had created a government too weak to meet the needs of the now independent country. In May 1787, representatives from the various states met at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and prepared a Constitution for a new form of government. Washington served as the president of the Constitutional Convention. Some Americans feared that the new government might be more authoritarian like the British one that they had overthrown. To help ease these fears the convention determined Washington, a man that many Americans trusted, should lead the new government. The individual states formally approved the Constitution by June 1788. On February 4, 1789, the Electoral College elected George Washington as the first President of the United States of America. He took the oath of office in April of that same year.

Many citizens admired Washington. He was committed to making the Constitution a reality. He approved having the Constitution amended with a Bill of Rights, which guaranteed such basic rights as freedom of speech, the press, and of religion to American citizens. He also appointed Alexander Hamilton, a founder of the Federalist Party, as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton assisted Washington in solving the difficult financial situation in which the new country found itself. Washington also dealt with the problems facing the Americans living in the Northwest Territory. During the early 1790s, Washington sent military forces under Josiah Harmar, Arthur St. Clair, and Anthony Wayne to protect the settlers from Native American attack. Only Wayne experienced success against the Native Americans during Washington's presidency. With his victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, General Wayne was able to force natives living in the confines of what is now present-day Ohio to sign the Treaty of Greeneville. This treaty caused the Native Americans to relinquish much of their land in what is now the state of Ohio.

Following his second term as president, Washington retired to Virginia. He spent the last two years of his life at his home at Mount Vernon, living as a gentleman farmer. On December 14, 1799, Washington became ill with a sore throat. His health deteriorated rapidly. Doctors tried to treat him by bloodletting, a common medical procedure during this time period for many types of ailments. His illness and the bloodletting weakened him, and he died later that day.