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21 F United States of America
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On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of
Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of office as
the first President of the United States. "As the first of every
thing, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent," he wrote
James Madison, "it is devoutly wished on my part, that these
precedents may be fixed on true principles."

Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, he learned the morals,
manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia

He pursued two intertwined interests: military arts and western
expansion. At 16 he helped survey Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord
Fairfax. Commissioned a lieutenant colonel in 1754, he fought the
first skirmishes of what grew into the French and Indian War. The next
year, as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, he escaped injury although
four bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him.



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From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington
managed his lands around Mount Vernon and served in the Virginia House
of Burgesses. Married to a widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, he devoted
himself to a busy and happy life. But like his fellow planters,
Washington felt himself exploited by British merchants and hampered by
British regulations. As the quarrel with the mother country grew
acute, he moderately but firmly voiced his resistance to the

When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May
1775, Washington, one of the Virginia delegates, was elected Commander
in Chief of the Continental Army. On July 3, 1775, at Cambridge,
Massachusetts, he took command of his ill-trained troops and embarked
upon a war that was to last six grueling years.

He realized early that the best strategy was to harass the British. He
reported to Congress, "we should on all Occasions avoid a general
Action, or put anything to the Risque, unless compelled by a
necessity, into which we ought never to be drawn." Ensuing battles saw
him fall back slowly, then strike unexpectedly. Finally in 1781 with
the aid of French allies--he forced the surrender of Cornwallis at

Washington longed to retire to his fields at Mount Vernon. But he soon
realized that the Nation under its Articles of Confederation was not
functioning well, so he became a prime mover in the steps leading to
the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. When the new
Constitution was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously elected
Washington President

He did not infringe upon the policy making powers that he felt the
Constitution gave Congress. But the determination of foreign policy
became preponderantly a Presidential concern. When the French
Revolution led to a major war between France and England, Washington
refused to accept entirely the recommendations of either his Secretary
of State Thomas Jefferson, who was pro-French, or his Secretary of the
Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who was pro-British. Rather, he insisted
upon a neutral course until the United States could grow stronger.

To his disappointment, two parties were developing by the end of his
first term. Wearied of politics, feeling old, he retired at the end of
his second. In his Farewell Address, he urged his countrymen to
forswear excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions. In
foreign affairs, he warned against long-term alliances.

Washington enjoyed less than three years of retirement at Mount
Vernon, for he died of a throat infection December 14, 1799. For
months the Nation mourned him.


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