George Washington: A Biographical Companion

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Additional terms may apply to data associated with third party namespaces. Link Analysis Experimental. Network Analysis Inbound Links 1 1 Total. The campaign was ended. Six weeks after the destruction of Duquesne, Washington was married and plunged again into his quest to become a wealthy planter. He grew wheat, erected a lumber mill and a brickyard, and engaged his skilled slaves in a variety of crafts.

Meanwhile, as befitted his station, he entertained lavishly more than 2, guests in a six-year period , served in the colonial assembly from until the Revolution, and also served as a county justice and vestryman in his parish. As the strains between Britain and the colonies developed, Washington regarded British policies from a personal, not an ideological, point of view, and his attitude wavered accordingly.

He thought the Stamp Act unconstitutional but, since it scarcely affected him, not worth the resistance it inspired. He thought the Townshend duties equally unconstitutional, but he was at first too concerned with personal business to give them attention. After the repeal of the Townshend duties and until the Boston Tea Party he again paid more attention to private business than to public affairs, but in response to the Intolerable Acts, he struck a stance of militant resistance from which he never departed.

As a delegate to the First Continental Congress in the fall of he joined ranks with radical New Englanders. Fighting broke out the following spring, and in June , when Congress adopted the rebel forces besieging Boston as a Continental army, Washington was appointed its commander in chief.

The choice was scarcely a surprise. He was the best-known fighting man in America, and John Adams who proposed his name and others understood that if the army was to be supported in all the colonies, a southerner should command it. The siege of Boston lasted eight months after Washington assumed command, during which time he was beset by several problems that would plague him for years. The soldiers were untrained, ill equipped, poorly organized, and undisciplined.

Thus Washington scarcely had one group trained before the enlistments expired and new soldiers appeared. Congress itself was inept, lacking an executive arm and arriving at orders through committees, and members of the radical republican faction led by the Adamses of Massachusetts and the Lees of Virginia were fearful lest Washington be too successful.

Finally, until mid-winter the Americans had virtually no artillery. Violent weather prevented the Americans from storming the city, but the artillery made the position of the British untenable, and in March they evacuated Boston. The summer campaign, however, nearly proved to be a catastrophe. Washington anticipated the action but had only 10, men at his command and was forced to divide them. Howe defeated an American force at small cost, but by dint of skillful maneuvers Washington escaped with most of his army to Manhattan. Howe pursued relentlessly, and the Americans retreated in panic to the north of the island.

There they regrouped and from October to December proceeded across the Hudson and into Pennsylvania. Congress fled Philadelphia, having first vested Washington with almost dictatorial emergency powers. On the basis of his setbacks, Washington decided on his long-range strategy. To boost morale and buy time, Washington conceived a brilliant stroke. Howe had withdrawn most of his troops to winter quarters in New York but left garrisons at Trenton and four other New Jersey towns.

On 26 December, having learned that the garrison of Hessian mercenaries in Trenton was ill prepared to fight, Washington sent three detachments to cross the ice-choked Delaware River; only one, a force of 2, led by Washington himself, successfully made the crossing, nine miles north of the town.

The Americans split, circled the objective, and invaded the camp at Trenton. Surprise was total; the Americans killed thirty Hessians and captured , suffering only five wounded. In the British broadened their strategy, sending an army down from Canada under John Burgoyne and another under Howe by sea from New York to Chesapeake Bay and overland to Philadelphia, the objects being to take New England and New York out of the war and to isolate the other states.

Washington attempted to stop him at Brandywine Creek early in September, but his efforts miscarried and he succeeded merely in delaying the occupation of Philadelphia by two weeks. He then repaired to Valley Forge to establish winter quarters. The aftermath of Saratoga gave Washington some of his darkest hours.

Gates, a vain and ambitious man, smelled a different opportunity, namely to replace Washington as commander in chief, and he refused. At the same time Gates apparently joined with an Irish adventurer, Thomas Conway , to try to discredit and displace Washington. Indeed, Washington had grown so popular that he might have overthrown the Congress had he chosen to.

But he was far from possessed of the ambition his enemies feared, and he was always deferential to civilian authority, refusing to exercise the extraordinary powers Congress sometimes vested in him lest he alienate the people. He understood that without popular support the Revolution could not succeed. He also understood that he must embody the Revolution as the champion of lawful civilian government. He had another chance at destroying the British during the summer of After arrival in Paris of the news of the battle of Saratoga, the French, previously supporting the Americans with loans and materiel, now concluded an alliance with the United States and prepared to send troops and fleets immediately.

Sir Henry Clinton, who had replaced Howe, heard reports that a French fleet was heading to Philadelphia and decided to evacuate the city and cross New Jersey into New York. The next three years saw a worsening of the cause. The French alliance, instead of stimulating the Americans, induced a lethargy based on the expectation that France would win independence for them.

Repeatedly, efforts to mount a combined Franco-American campaign miscarried.

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Benedict Arnold sold out to the enemy. Congress was bankrupt. The tide turned suddenly in Congress reorganized its finances in a way that enabled Washington to keep his troops in the field a while longer. He and the French general, the Comte de Rochambeau , directed their armies southward to confront Cornwallis, who was advancing on Virginia across the several peninsulas that mark the coast. Cornwallis was safe so long as he had naval cover, but in September the French and British fleets met, and the British were forced to draw off toward New York for repairs.

Cornwallis was trapped on the Yorktown peninsula without naval protection. The French and American armies began a siege, and on 17 October the entire British army of 8, was forced to capitulate. For practical purposes, the war was over, and independence was assured. Washington had one more crisis to face, however, before he could retire from his command. Negotiation of the definitive peace treaty took more than a year, and in the interim the British continued to occupy New York City. Washington and the army were encamped upriver at Newburgh. The officers and men were restless, anxious to collect their back pay and return to their homes.

During the winter of — some congressmen began to flirt with stirring up discontent among the officers to force the adoption of amendments to the Articles of Confederation—which had been ratified in —so as to provide Congress with a taxing power. The agitation got out of hand, and a mutinous meeting was called. Washington attended, presided, and by a stirring and dramatic appeal to their love of country, persuaded the officers to disband. Some back pay was arranged for them, and Washington granted furloughs to many.

Thus the revolutionary army dissolved. Subsequently, Washington resigned and in a farewell address announced that he would never again enter public life.

The act of laying down his arms astonished the Western world and won him even greater admiration than his generalship had earned him. Europeans and Americans alike, steeped in the history of military usurpations from Caesar to Cromwell, could scarcely believe that a victorious general would voluntarily surrender his command. Retirement, after a brief readjustment period marked by depression and restlessness, ushered in a joyful period in his life.

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George Washington: A Biographical Companion by Frank E. Grizzard Jr.

He busied himself by tending to his farming; Mount Vernon now extended ten miles along the Potomac and as many as four miles wide and consisted of five separate farm operations. In fact Washington needed to work his holdings intensively to overcome the sizable indebtedness he had accumulated during the Revolution. He entertained an endless procession of guests. He plunged enthusiastically into promoting a scheme long dear to his heart, the construction of a canal connecting the Potomac with the interior waterways that flowed from the Ohio-Mississippi system. Precisely what underlay the insurrection is still disputed by historians, but Superintendent of War Henry Knox wrote Washington that the rebels had 12, to 15, armed and disciplined troops whose intention was nothing less than a redistribution of all property.

Washington spread that report far and wide. To compound the alarm, the revenue amendments to the Articles of Confederation were unequivocally rejected. Congress and the several state legislatures reacted by calling for a general convention to meet in Philadelphia to revise the Articles. The convention materialized in May and wrote the Constitution; Washington attended and presided over it.

His role in working out the details of the Constitution was minimal, but Washington was important to the success of the convention withal.

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Perhaps most important, Washington made it possible to create an executive branch—without which no national government could have been viable—despite the general fear of executive power that had prevailed in America since Following the procedures specified by the newly ratified document, the electoral college chose Washington as the first president, the vote unanimous.

He agreed to serve, but reluctantly. During his first few months in office, Washington devoted himself mainly to ceremonial concerns, intuitively realizing that ceremonial activity inhered in the presidency and was crucial to it. Everything he did was likely to set a precedent, and thus he was apt to agonize and consult a great deal before acting. He was already regarded by most Americans as the symbol of the nation; his task was to transfer that symbol to the office of the president itself.

His early concern with the ritualistic, ceremonial, and symbolic was appropriate for the additional reason that until Congress had time to legislate, there were no laws to be executed, no executive departments to administer them, and no courts to adjudicate them. Washington had thought of taking an active part in the initiation of a legislative agenda but instead decided to leave that to members of Congress, possibly because one of his closest advisers, fellow Virginian James Madison , quickly emerged as the principal leader in the House of Representatives.

As a result of this legislation, Washington faced the task of filling almost a thousand offices. Finding suitable appointees for the other positions kept Washington busy for months, though he did make time for a tour through New England and a vacation at Mount Vernon. He declined to use the jobs to develop a patronage system, and his appointments were nonpartisan except in the sense that known enemies of the Constitution were unacceptable.

He was accustomed, as a general, to having lengthy consultations with his officers, and the Constitution provided no council of advisers, only that he could require the opinions of the department heads in writing. For a time he did require written opinions, but in addition to imposing an onerous burden of paperwork, it was not as satisfactory as the give-and-take of general discussions.

After trying other possibilities, including the seeking of opinions from the Supreme Court, Washington began late in to hold what came to be called cabinet meetings. But a discordant note had arisen in the administration by the time cabinet meetings began to be held. He tried to convince Washington, and that failing, he and Madison set out to organize an opposition political party. Washington had hoped and planned to retire after one term, but the emergence of domestic disharmony, combined with the outbreak of the French revolutionary wars, made it seem unsafe to do so, lest his efforts to create a nation be imperiled.


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  • Washington accordingly decided that he must stay for a second term. Once again he was the unanimous choice of the electoral college. Entanglement in the European wars began to threaten shortly after his second inauguration. Discredited by his excesses and his country discredited by the execution of Louis XVI and the Reign of Terror, Genet lost his influence even before being recalled he was condemned to be executed in Paris, but Washington generously granted him asylum. Moreover, though supporters of the administration calling themselves Federalists had formed something of a party organization, he never became a party man.

    From the beginning Washington had sought harmony in purpose and unity in support of the government. Toward those ends, in his first annual message to Congress and in his eighth , he called for the creation of a national university. The French trouble had no sooner passed than a crisis arose with Britain.

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    A number of sore spots had festered in Anglo-American relations for years, and during the winter of —, Britain almost caused renewed hostilities by seizing about American ships for alleged violations of the neutral carrying trade. While Jay was negotiating in London, two episodes occurred that would affect the reception of the treaty he brought home. One was the Whiskey Rebellion, an insurrection in western Pennsylvania against the federal excise tax on liquor. He issued a proclamation ordering the insurgents to return to their homes and, that failing, called for the mobilization of 12, militia from four states.

    Washington himself led the troops for three weeks before turning command over to Henry Lee. No shots were fired, but two thousand rebels fled the area. Twenty were tried for treason, two were convicted. Washington pardoned them both. His formula for coping with widespread resistance to the law was a wise one: massive suppression followed by magnanimous forgiveness. He also made political capital of it all. When he reported the insurrection to Congress, he placed a large share of the blame on the democratic-republican societies, thereby discrediting and all but destroying them as engines of opposition.

    The other episode took place farther west. Indians and white settlers in the Northwest Territory had been in a state of conflict for some years.

    Recently the Indians had been incited and armed by the British, who, to the outrage of the administration, had retained military posts in the area. Earlier American expeditions in and had failed, but now Washington sent a force under Anthony Wayne , who in crushed the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

    The British did not help the Indians as they had promised, and when their alliance fell apart the British had no alternative but to abandon their posts. The treaty became the subject of a heated political controversy. It was not unflawed, but it preserved the peace, granted some commercial concessions, and pioneered the use of arbitration commissions to settle international disputes.

    In addition, Britain unilaterally canceled the orders under which the seizures of American ships had been justified. Nonetheless, Republican party members organized protest rallies and petition drives against ratification. They had not actually seen the treaty, for its terms were kept secret until after consideration by the Senate, but they had opposed any amicable agreement with Britain and hoped to turn defeat of the treaty to political advantage. Despite Republican efforts, during the summer of the Senate ratified the treaty by the narrowest of constitutional margins, twenty votes to ten.

    The extent of the opposition, however, caused Washington to hesitate to sign the treaty, and Randolph who had succeeded Jefferson as secretary of state urged him not to sign. Then intercepted documents seemed to indicate that Randolph had sought French bribes to influence American policy.

    When they were shown to Washington he flew into a rage and reacted by signing the treaty. The matter did not end there. In March the House passed a resolution, authored by Republican Edward Livingston of New York, requesting that the president provide the House with all papers relevant to the treaty. A still deeper issue was how much information the executive could withhold from Congress or the public in the interest of national security.

    Washington then went on to lecture Congress on the executive and foreign affairs. The conduct of foreign relations, he said, occasionally required secrecy, and though that could be dangerous, the Constitution reduced the danger by making the Senate, not the House, privy to these matters. After a month of sometimes angry debate, the House voted the funds without seeing the requested papers. Another major treaty negotiated by the Washington administration met a more favorable reception.

    Spain, which regarded the westward expansion of the United States as a threat to its empire in America, had effectively closed the Mississippi River to navigation by refusing Americans the right of deposit for transshipment in New Orleans. In Washington sent Thomas Pinckney to Madrid to seek the right of deposit, and Pinckney succeeded. That meant that westerners had an outlet to the sea at last, as Washington had sought in his ill-fated Potomac canal project. In the fall of Washington announced his decision to retire at the end of his second term.

    It seemed safe to do so, for no threat of war appeared, and he could take comfort from knowing that he was leaving the government and the presidency on firm foundations. But retirement was also something he ardently desired, for the cost of service had been high.