Background/Early Life

• George Washington grew up in Virginia, raised mostly by his mother and his older half-brother, Lawrence, after his father died when he was 11 years old.

• Washington’s early military experiences were not successful, but helped him prepare for his leadership during the American Revolution. He took over command of his half-brother’s local militia after Lawrence passed away when Washington was in his early 20s, and suffered defeats in the early stages of the French and Indian War. Washington had two horses shot out from under him in a battle at Fort Duquesne, and colonists hailed him as a hero for his actions in the battle. He was then, at the age of 22, given command of all of Virginia’s forces.

• Washington left the military, was married, and served in the Virginia legislature as he worked at Mount Vernon.

• In 1774 he was one of Virginia’s delegates to the First Continental Congress, and the following year, at the Second Continental Congress, he was unanimously selected to lead the Continental Army.

How he defined the office

• After the Revolution, Washington left the public eye, but he was everyone’s choice to lead the new government as president following the Constitutional Convention.

• Washington selected the location of the nation’s capital, which would later be named after him.

• He did not necessarily want to serve more than his four-year term, but realizing he had a lot more work to do he agreed to run for re-election, where he was again a unanimous choice. He stepped down after that, establishing a two-term tradition that would last for more than a century.

• Washington’s every move helped define the new office of the presidency, which he was aware of and felt strongly should not closely resemble the monarchy the country broke away from.

Successes and failures

• During Washington’s presidency governmental departments were created that would form the president’s Cabinet, and Washington signed into law the act establishing the Supreme Court, as well as the first 10 amendments to the Constitution: the Bill of Rights.

• Washington established a position of neutrality for the United States in regard to foreign affairs. He resisted getting involved in the French Revolution despite France’s willingness to help the American cause just a decade before.

• In addition to setting policies and overcoming challenges domestically and internationally, the new government disagreed over financial policies and how to pay debts.

NOTABLE QUOTE

• “It is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness.” — from his farewell address in 1796.