At its most critical period in history, America could rely on one of the greatest sons – George Washington who commanded the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and later became the first president of the independent nation. His merits and skills made him a talented commander and a virtuous leader of the nation, one of its founding fathers. This paper will tell about George Washington, his life and role in the Revolutionary War as well as about his presidency.
George Washington’s Early Years
On February 22, 1732, a rich Virginia landowner Augustine Washington and his wife Mary welcomed their son whom they named George. The family lived near Pope’s Creek, Virginia but when George turned three, they moved to Little Hunting Creek Farm, which was not far from the Potomac River, and three years later, they moved again to Ferry Farm, located nearby (Welsbacher 10). George’s brothers Lawrence and Augustus studied in England, but he was fortunate enough only to study with a tutor at home.
At the age of 11, he lost his father due to illness. This death deprived George of a chance to study in England, like his older brothers (Rejai & Phillips 166). He had to abandon his studies and help his mother with the farm. Thus, George Washington never went to college, and he did not have any formal education, which he tied to compensate “by seeking distinction in the military, social, economic, and political arenas” (Rejai & Phillips 166). He was very close to his brother Lawrence who much older than him but he helped him to decide what to do about the future. Lawrence introduced George to Lord Fairfax who was a quite powerful man in Virginia.
Lord Fairfax saw potential in the young man, who had inherited ambitious drive from his mother, was good at mathematics, and had shy charm (“American President: A Reference Resource”). George became a surveyor, and this profession brought him good money, gave a chance to travel, and allowed to spend some time away from his mother who had become even more domineering after her husband’s death.
When George was 19, his brother and friend Lawrence became ill with tuberculosis. Even Barbados, where brothers went hoping that the local tropical climate would be good for Lawrence, did not help. After his brother’s death there, George returned to America. It should be noted that Lawrence was a commander of the local militia, and George decided that he wanted the same post for himself. Moreover, he inherited the estate in Mount Vernon from his brother Lawrence.
George Washington as a Soldier
In 1752, George Washington was appointed “major and adjutant of the Southern District” (Johnson 28). A young commander without military training and experience had a group of soldiers under his command. The Ohio River Valley was the territory contested by France and England, and Washington proposed that the English built a fort on the Ohio River so that they were able to stop French expansionist plans there (“American President: A Reference Resource”). In 1754, when Washington together with his 150 men moved out to the area to help build the fort, they met some French troops and killed ten soldiers. Those were the first shots in the war that would later receive the name the French and Indian War (“American President: A Reference Resource”). The situation was worsened by the fact that Washington’s men had killed a French envoy. This caused a diplomatic scandal as international protocol had been violated. Later, Washington had to resign from the service for a short while, but returned to the army when General Edward Braddock, commander of the Royal Army, had asked him to help. Washington’s knowledge of the fighting manner of the Indians and the French troops did not help Braddock who had ignored Washington’s warnings about that and fought in the traditional European style. As a result, the fight with the French was catastrophic for Braddock who died in the battle, and his troops fled. Washington fought desperately and bravely, but managed to survive.
After this fiasco, all blame had been put on the colonials in Virginia, but for them, George Washington was a true hero. They believed in his leadership skills, and at 22, Washington was already the commander of Virginia forces and was responsible for defending the western frontiers of the colony from the attacks of Native Americans (“American President: A Reference Resource”). While commanding Virginia forces, Washington acquired necessary skills that would help become a brilliant commander of the continental army.
In 1758, Washington left the military and returned to his farm at Mount Vernon. He got married, “won a seat in the lower Virginia legislature and settled into the life of a Virginia planter” (“American President: A Reference Resource”). He was a slave owner like other planters. However, he treated his slaves decently, sold them occasionally, never breaking up families (Johnson 41).
George Washington during the Revolutionary War
When the colonies began to resent the rule of Britain more and more, London punished them with restrictive acts. In 1774, Washington became Virginia’s representative ad the First Continental Congress among 7 other candidates. He was chosen to lead the Congress (Welsbacher 18). In spring of 1775, during the Second Continental Congress, John Adams nominated him as commander-in-chief for the continental army. It should be noted that he had contenders for this position – John Hancock from Massachusetts and Artemas Ward (Rejai & Philips 177). Nevertheless, thanks to John Adams’ lobbying, Washington was appointed the commander-in-chief (Henretta 160). The fact that he had arrived to the Congress in his military uniform played to his favor.
George Washington took command of the Continental Army that could not pose a serious threat to the British troops. It consisted only of 18,000 recruits with poor training and equipment (Henretta 170). At the beginning, the Continental Army was more like a ragtag gang that was no match to a well-equipped and superbly trained army of King George. Sometimes, the recruits were not even paid. More to say, even Washington “served without pay, claiming only his carefully accounted expenses” (Johnson 61). Often, they did not have enough weapons and even blankets. Nevertheless, Washington managed to turn this army into a force that could win.
During the course of the Revolutionary War, Washington and his army were successful many times, but they faced defeat as well. They managed to force the British troops to leave Boston, but the British were stronger during the battle for Staten Island, Long Island, Brooklyn Heights, and Fort Washington (Johnson 69). The victory in Delaware when Washington-led troops managed to defeat the British garrison on December 25, 1776, and the victory at Princeton a week later provided incredible boost to the morale of entire country, including Congress and the army, of course. In 1777, together with the Patriots, the Continental Army managed to defeat the British at Saratoga. This battle and the Battle at Yorktown in 1781 had changed the course of the entire Revolutionary War.
President George Washington
After the war finally ended, it was the time to build a new nation. George Washington was the perfect candidate to become a first president of independent America since, among other contributions to the victory, he was one of the first signers of the Constitution of America. In 1789, he was elected the president, and John Adams became the vice president (Keene, Cornell, & O’Donnell 158). He spent two terms at the White House, having done a lot to strengthen the nation and set it on the path of greatness.
Washington was a strong supporter of neutrality that presupposed America’s non-involvement into the conflict between France and Britain, leaving both nations to settle their problems without America’s interference. It should be noted that George Washington believed in a concept that later would receive the name ‘Manifest Destiny’. He envisioned colonies stretching across the entire North American continent.
During his two terms, he established procedures that would be used for running a government, and many of them are still in use. He set several precedents that would be known until today – executive privilege, executive restraint, and so on (“American President: A Reference Resource”). While he was a slave owner and had been criticized for this, he sincerely wanted to find a way to abolish slavery. Nevertheless, Washington realized that it was not possible during his lifetime.
George Washington will always remain in the history of America and world’s history too as a person who helped his nation gain independence and become strong. He was a brilliant commander of army despite the absence of military training and mistakes in his early military career. He learned how to train people and organize them in a formidable force. George Washington took an active part in the creation of independent America, leading the Continental Congress, and signing the Constitution. As the first president, Washington contributed to the development of America and set rules for the future presidents. He was truly one of the greatest sons of America.