George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799)
was the first President of the United States, (1789–1797), after
leading the Continental Army to victory over the Kingdom of Great
Britain in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).
Washington was chosen to be the commander-in-chief of the American
revolutionary forces in 1775. The following year, he forced the
British out of Boston, but was defeated when he lost New York City
later that year. He revived the patriot cause, however, by crossing
the Delaware River in New Jersey and defeating the surprised enemy
units. As a result of his strategy, Revolutionary forces captured the
two main British combat armies — Saratoga and Yorktown. Negotiating
with Congress, the colonial states, and French allies, he held
together a tenuous army and a fragile nation amid the threats of
disintegration and failure. Following the end of the war in 1783,
Washington retired to his plantation on Mount Vernon.
Alarmed in the late 1780s at the many weaknesses of the new nation
under the Articles of Confederation, he presided over the Philadelphia
Convention that drafted the United States Constitution in 1787.
Washington became President of the United States in 1789 and
established many of the customs and usages of the new government's
executive department. He sought to create a great nation capable of
surviving in a world torn asunder by war between Britain and France.
His unilateral Proclamation of Neutrality of 1793 provided a basis for
avoiding any involvement in foreign conflicts. He supported plans to
build a strong central government by funding the national debt,
implementing an effective tax system, and creating a national bank.
Washington avoided the temptation of war and began a decade of peace
with Britain via the Jay Treaty in 1795; he used his prestige to get
it ratified over intense opposition from the Jeffersonians. Although
never officially joining the Federalist Party, he supported its
programs and was its inspirational leader. Washington's farewell
address was a primer on republican virtue and a stern warning against
involvement in foreign wars.
Washington is seen as a symbol of the United States and republicanism
in practice. His devotion to civic virtue made him an exemplary
figure among early American politicians. Washington died in
1799, and in his funeral oration, Henry Lee said that of all
Americans, he was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the
hearts of his countrymen." Washington has been consistently ranked by
scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.