(1732-1799) First US President
His education limited to accounting,arithmetic,geometry and geography he was more a man of action who used thought only as a mode of action. His half-brother with his connection to the wealthy Fairfaxes of Virginia, became mentor to George when their father died. A man with commanding presence, large-boned with grey blue eyes and brown hair,- he was six foot two, and man whose authority was many times sharpened by natural gravity of the man. From youth innured to hardships he would remark during the French and Indian war,’ I have a constitution hardy enough to encounter and undergo the most severe trials..’ In 1751 he accompanied his brother to Barbados where he caught small pox that pockmarked his face permanently. In the following year his brother died. He chose a career in military and he was promoted to the rank of colonel and after sixteen years of uneventful military life he retired his commission.
On Jan 6,1759 he married a widow,- reputedly the richest widow and they settled at Mt. Vernon. By 1761 he became one of the richest man and in the tradition of the Virginia gentry he entertained lavishly. By 1774 he was becoming increasingly drawn into the political issues of the day. He had opposed the Stamp Act and was present with Jefferson at the Raleigh Tavern on May 27,1774 when the Virginia legislators issued a vote of sympathy with the House of Burgesses that were dissolved by the Crown. Later that year he was present at the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia and the following Congress, in 1775, John Adams of Mass., proposed his name as the Commander-in-Chief. Unanimously elected he refused salary but only condition that Congress bear his expenses.
On July 4,1776 Congress declared Independence. Next month the British attacked.
Skipping the course and ultimate victory leading to the birth of a new nation I shall mention here the odds against which Washington was fighting ‘for the glorious Cause.’ Faced with desertion and lack of training among his troops he honed his skill at ‘tactical retreat’ and steel his soul to adversity till he could turn situation around in his favor. He spurned a suggestion when civil affairs in 1782 bordered on anarchy and the unpaid army was disgruntled that he proclaim himself as king and thus mend the nations battered political fabric with a strong and popular monarchy. As soon as he had achieved his objective he tendered his resignation and return to Mt. Vernon.
Even when he was elected as President he wished to be a President above politics and above all controversy. Exasperated by his Olympian aloofness his Vice President John Adams called him,’Old Muttonhead.’ Washington was conscious of his role in history and in the evolution of the fledgeling nation. He selected Thomas Jefferson, an ardent Republican, as Secretary of the State. Of his methods as the Chief Executive Jefferson later said,”His mind was slow in operation but sure in conclusion…Neither hatred or friendship would bias his decisions.” Knowing he was setting precedents he was conscious of maintaining in his public character, the dignity of his office. When on a visit to Massachusetts, Washington was invited to call on Governor John Hancock he responded,”The President of the US presents his best respects to the Governor, and has the honor to inform him that he shall be at home till 2’O clock.” In 1795 angered by the Republican attacks Washington reshuffled his cabinet. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton resigned. He was disillusioned by the factionalism,-now it is known as partisan politics, and attacks made on him in the press. Now sixty-five the old soldier was able to go home at last after two terms in office, here also he set a precedent in the number of times one may serve the highest office.
On Sat Dec14,1799 he died of a tracheal infection.
Here was a man whose stature can only assessed in the manner he has become the model for later generations of presidents. he could transcend his lack of formal education and of many advantages and having learned in a school of hard knocks to discipline himself to be above politics while maintaining the dignity of the office. There have been many Presidents since, who have had to face more challenges at home and aboard ( Lincoln and FDR for example) but their inspiration to stand the course at the critical moment of the nation’s history was a needful lesson learned from him. Washington the private Man and the Public Man never for once cut into the other.