George Washington was the first leader of the United States; he was a leader in the military for the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution. While a lot is known about his accomplishments it seems more like destiny and/or fate for his place in history. His upbringing and military battles all are more associated with luck than skill. Discussed in the following is a history and story of an unlikely leader. George Washington Washington left behind a undeniable record of military and political achievement. He was not a great field commander, but he learned from his mistakes.
Politically, he proved remarkably intelligent at understanding the will of Congress. As a human being, Washington’s legacy is more complex. The Early Years George Washington was born on the February 22, 1732 in Virginia. Washington had no formal education. Unlike his brothers he was never sent to England for schooling and a higher education. Instead he received a grammar school education in Virginia. George Washington’s brother Lawrence married into Virginia’s largest single landowner family the Fairfax’s. Washington’s connection by his brothers’ marriage gave him a privilege that he would otherwise not have had.
Accompanying George Fairfax on an expedition into the wilderness of the Blue Ridge Mountains, allowed a young George Washington to learn about surveying (3). Washington put his newly acquired surveying skills to profitable use. By the time he turned 18, he was earning more money from surveying than he could as a farmer. Ambitious, knowing that surveying and would not bring the wealth are social standing he sought, Washington decided to try for a military career. He applied for a commission in the Virginia colonial militia.
Washington, by using his connection to the Fairfax’s was made a major and charged with training militia in Southern Virginia. At this point in his life, George Washington at the age of 21 years decided to join the Freemasons. In 1753, the governor of Canada announced that France exclusively owned the Ohio Valley territory. George Washington volunteered to carry a message to the French military commander in the Ohio Valley warning the French to withdraw. Again due to his connections and by his surveying skills young Washington got the mission. Upon delivery, the French commander rejected the letter and quickly sent Washington packing.
During the trip back to Virginia Washington was nearly killed twice, once by French Indians and lastly by the bitter cold. Washington’s skirmishes with the French in 1754 night have been considered minor colonial events in normal times. Now that passions had been aroused, they were the only sparks needed to ignite an international conflict. At age 22, George Washington personally started what quickly became a world war. Early Military Career Washington was promoted to lieutenant colonel and second in command to the building of a fort in the Ohio Valley.
En-route to the forts construction site Washington allowed himself to be persuaded to attack a small French force. It was not a force but a delegation with an ambassador. Washington decided to retreat to a nearby meadow and built up a basic defense, aptly named Fort Necessity (4). The lack of provisions and unraveling discipline in the men forced Washington to surrender; the first and only time he surrendered his military career. Washington had to sign an agreement that he and his men would not fight for a year; in the agreement it was written that Washington assassinated the ambassador.
Washington would argue that he misunderstood the agreement and completely denied the charge. This catastrophe marked the opening round of the French and Indian War (1754-63). In February 1755, Washington joined a campaign to attack the French fort. He was only an observer, not attending in a military capacity. The British formation of some 2000 soldiers was lined up like cars in heavy traffic. Such congestion allowed the smaller French and Indian forces to overtake the British. Washington was able to race to the front and organize a retreat.
Again Washington avoided death, by his account there were four bullet holes through his coat and two horses shot out from under him (2). Washington stature gained in popularity, he also acquired a new reputation. He emerged from the battle a hero, and Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie rewarded him with promotion to full colonel. Washington was known for harsh punishments like giving 500 lashes for laziness. He even boasted of a building a gallows 40 feet high to hang deserters. Later that year Dinwiddie gave him command of all Virginia forces.
Tried to Settle Down. Washington resigned at war’s end and retired to Mount Vernon. Now at the conclusion of the French and Indian war the retired Colonel Washington not yet 30 years old got married (2). His wife Martha was a widow of one of Virginia’s wealthiest men; this marriage gave Washington the property, slaves, and wealth had dreamed of. By 1759 George and Martha Washington were among the most celebrated families in Virginia. They enjoyed a comfortable life during these times, hosting countless parties. He also found time for the hobbies of a Virginia gentleman, fox hunting, plays, billiards, cards, dancing, and fishing.
For 15 years he devoted himself to his legislative work and his farm. He was defeated in elections for the House of Burgesses in 1755 and 1757, but won in 1758. In 1760, Washington took on the additional duties of a Fairfax County justice of the peace. In these years his resentment of the subordination of American interests to those of England grew. When Parliament attempted to force the Stamp Act in 1769, Washington told someone that Parliament “hath no more right to put their hands into my pocket, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into yours for money. ” (Ramsay, D. 009). In the belief that the Crown was denying colonial Americans their rights as Englishmen, he supported the resistance movement and served as a delegate to both the First Continental Congress and Second Continental Congress. The Known Start of His Military Legacy After war began at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, he was appointed to command the new Continental army, when John Adams nominated him for the post. Washington was recognized by his military experience, dignified attitude, sense of command, and his reputation as a man of character and high principles.
Moreover, as a Virginian, his role as a commander of troops in New England, where the war began, would help bind his colony to the rebellion. Washington assumed command of the Revolutionary army in June 1775 and surrounded Boston with thousands of recruits, reinforcing a siege that had begun in April. However, the British retained possession of Boston until spring 1776; Washington ended the stalemate with the seizure of Dorchester Heights, which compelled the British to evacuate Boston (1). In August the British landed an army of more than 30,000 men commanded by General William Howe near New York City.
In a series of contests, beginning with the Battle of Long Island, Howe battered Washington’s army time and time again. British troops pursued the broken Continental army, and with their tentative advance, the intervention of bad weather, and the onset of winter saved the Revolutionary forces from complete destruction(4). Washington’s inexperience as a field commander had led to most of the defeats, but in his defense, he learned his lessons well. He never again risked his entire army in a general engagement. After the string of defeats, Washington faced a crisis toward the end of December.
With many enlistments expiring, he was afraid he would not be able to gain new recruits without some positive action by the army. He therefore took a chance and launched an attack in a snowstorm against an outpost at Trenton on December 26, 1776. Amazingly he surprised the garrison and won the battle. A few days later, when he found himself cornered between the Delaware River and a superior British army under Lord Cornwallis, he slipped his troops to the side and won another victory against a smaller force at Princeton on January 3, 1777.
Although Washington did not win many battles during the war, he continued to exhibit an incredible gift for leadership. He managed to keep an army together during the winter of 1776-77 at Morristown, New Jersey, but in spring 1777 he faced defeat again and was compelled to give up Philadelphia to the British. The winter of 1777-78 was spent building the army at Valley Forge (1). When the British evacuated Philadelphia in June 1778, Washington followed, fighting the Battle of Monmouth and then stationing his army around New York City for most of the rest of the war.
In eight and a half years in the field, he slept only three nights at Mount Vernon. He also refused a salary and supported civilian control over his army, even when Congress seemed to have forgotten about his starving and ill-equipped men. Washington confronted mutinies among his troops and conspiracies among his officers to have him replaced, and he struggled with chronic shortages of men and supplies, but he never abandoned hope. In 1781 Washington made his most brilliant decision of the war when he marched his army south from New York to join combined French and Continental forces attacking a British army ommanded by Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. When a French fleet blocked the British from making a seaward escape, a great victory was assured, and Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781 (4). Triumph at Yorktown led to the end of the war and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which recognized the independence of the United States. Almost single-handedly, he held the Continental army together for eight years, battling the British, mutinies, conspiracies, and supply shortages that would have broken lesser leaders. The Start of Presidency With the war winding down and, as danger dropped; congressional disregard of the Army grew.
His troops urged Washington to seize power from the politicians, but he rejected such suggestion. On March 15, 1783, Washington met his unhappy and rebellious officers at Newburgh, New York, to discourage them from marching on Congress over back pay, but the speech he had prepared proved unpersuasive (5). He decided to read a letter that he had received from a congressman. As he reached into his coat for his glasses, he said, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind, in the service of my country. The officers were so touched that some cried, and the day was carried ( Davis, K. 2008). On April 19, 1783 the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, Washington said bye to his staff and on the way to Mount Vernon, stopped in Annapolis to resign his commission to Congress. Washington stunned the world by resigning his commission and returning to Mount Vernon. His resignation became the most admired act of his life, for it demonstrated civic virtue and an unselfish sense of duty, which impressed his peers.
Washington knew how his resignation would be received, and he acted in large measure to enhance his reputation. He could have been a king or a dictator in North America and used the army for his own ends, or demanded huge rewards for his service to his country. Instead, he went home and expected to live the remainder of his days at Mount Vernon. To his dismay, however, Washington found that his fame prohibited privacy from public life. He emerged from retirement to preside over the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and then served two terms as the first president of the United States, 1789-97.
In each case he left Mount Vernon reluctantly, wary of damaging his reputation through association with political endeavors that might have failed, and in each case his role proved vital. His prestige gave credibility to the Constitutional Convention, and it is difficult to imagine the delegates reaching any sort of consensus without his leadership. Moreover, many people in the United States approved the strong, centralized powers of the new federal government only because they believed Washington would be the first president and that he could be trusted not to abuse those powers.
He gave in to popular pressure and took the oath of office for his first term on April 30, 1789 at the age of 57. His unanimous election as the first president of the United States was certain before the Constitution was even adopted. Washington not only had to organize a government but also to create a role for the highest officer of the new nation. Less politically experienced and intellectually gifted than other Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson or John Adams, he retained common sense and virtue as president that encouraged popular faith in the government.
Washington issued his farewell address on September 7, 1796, and was succeeded by John Adams the following March 4. When relations with France soured in 1798, his Country once more turned to Washington for his service. Adams appointed him lieutenant general of a provisional army. The danger lessened before the troops came together. In December 1799, after a day spent riding on his farms in bad weather, Washington’s throat became inflamed. At 2 A. M on December14, he awakened his wife to say that he was having trouble breathing. He died two days later. Conclusion
No one looms larger in the history of national heroes than George Washington, whose service in the Revolutionary War and as the first president of the United States earned him respect bordering on worship from contemporaries and future generations alike. He was vain, hot-tempered, and ambitious, but he balanced these qualities with a passionate self-discipline that made him a model of civil and gentlemanly behavior. Less educated than many of the great minds that crowd the Revolutionary era, he earned the admiration of his peers through force of will and devotion to principle.
Davis, K. (2008). America’s Hidden History. New York, N. Y. : HarperCollins Ramsay, D. (2009). Life of George Washington, The. (Reprint ed. ) Salt Lake City, Utah: Editorium (1) Author Unk. (n. d. ) George Washington and the American Revolution. Retrieved January 15, 2011, from http://www. buzzle. com/articles/george-washington-and-the-american-revolution. html (2) Author Unk. (n. d. ) George Washington. Retrieved January 15, 2011, from, http://www. whitehouse. ov/about/presidents/georgewashington (3) Author Unk. (n. d. ) George Washington: A National Treasure. Retrieved January 15, 2011, from http://www. georgewashington. si. edu/life/chronology. html (4) Author Unk. (n. d. ) George Washington: A National Treasure. Retrieved January 15, 2011, from http://www. georgewashington. si. edu/life/chrono_military. html (5) Author Unk. (n. d. ) George Washington: A National Treasure. Retrieved January 15, 2011, from http://www. georgewashington. si. edu/life/chrono_civilian. html