George Washington was born in the early part of the eighteenth century (1732), a son of a planter in Virginia, he was a Southerner. At 22 he was fighting for the British in both the French and Indian Wars and was present at the taking of Fort Duquesne (later to become Pittsburgh) in 1758 when he was twenty-six. Having completed his duties as a gentleman he resigned from the army and took to planting tobacco.
Being educated, forthright and self-assured, he was soon an outspoken opponent and critic of the British colonial policy, and although an inexperienced soldier, he made up for these shortcomings with outstanding courage and resource. When the Revolutionary War came, inevitably, he was promoted Commander of American forces in 1776 at forty-four.
It was Washington who contrived to make an undisciplined mob of deadly sharpshooters into some kind of an army amd proved his skills at Valley Forge in the cruel winter of 1777/8, though he lost nearly 10,000 men to disease. With some help from the French – always ready to damage the British some way or another – Washington trapped the redcoats at Yorktown and forced them to surrender in October 1781.
One of the popular sayings about George is that he was incapable of telling a lie, but in spite of this he became a politician when he became president of the Constitutional Convention, and thus helped to secure the Constitution of the United States. The state electors voted unanimously for him, whether he liked it or not, and he became the first President of the US. He had been, he said, reluctant to take this arduous post but he soon showed that he was capable of gathering round him men of proven ability, though each might have held widely differing views. Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury, and Thomas Jefferson his Secretary of State – he was later to resign on account of his disagreements with Hamilton. Washington wanted first and foremost a stable currency with which to pay off the national debt. This was in accordance with Hamilton. A federal entity called the Bank of the United States was set up, and James Madison suggested that money might come from tariffs, and the first Tariff Bill arrived in 1789. The same Madison was also responsible for for 10 constitutional amendments – the Bill of Rights – in 1791, guaranteeing freedom of religion,speech, assembly and the press and the right to bear arms.
The voters gave Washington a second term in office, during which he involved himself more with foreign policy. In 1793 France declared war on Britain, not a rare festivity, and though Washington had a military alliance with France he determined to keep the USA out of the war, and issued a Proclamation of Neutrality. But Britain did not help this stance by capturing American ships trading with France, as well as impressing American lads into the British Navy! Washington saw that war might come with Britain, which he knew the States could, at that moment, ill afford. Jay’s Treaty was signed in the nick of time by which Britain was made to pay for goods seized from American shipping, but it did not do much to put a brake on forced impressment or interference with American ships.
Then came a new treaty with Spain (1795), fixing the northern boundary with Spanish Florida, and opening the Mississippi to American shipping. Pennsylvania farmers fought against a tax on rye whisky in the so-called Whisky Rebellion, but George Washington showed his mettle by sending 15,000 militia men to smash the rebellion. He pronounced that the Federal Government would not tolerate any challenge to its authority.
In September 1796 Washington at sixty-four announced his decision to retire. He had never liked party politics and spoke of ‘the baneful effects of the spirit of party’. He advised Americans to ‘steer clear of permanent alliances’. These wise words did not stop eventual mastery of Congress and Senate by either one of the Republican or Democratic Parties. But he he had firmly established federal power in an already huge and still growing country that grew ever more more prosperous and powerful. George Washington died at sixty-seven in 1799.