A portrait of George Washington in full uniform painted by Charles Willson Peale.


1st President (1789–1797)

Party Affiliation: None, though some historians list him as a “Federalist”

Opponents: None


Where and when was George Washington born?

George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, to Augustine Washington and Mary Ball Washington on February 22, 1732.

Did George Washington have any siblings?

Yes, George had several siblings. He was the oldest of five children. George had three brothers and one sister. He also had two older half-brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, who were the product of his father’s first marriage. George was particularly close to his older half-brother, Lawrence, who watched over George after his father died when he was only eleven years old.

What did George Washington’s father do for a living?

Augustine Washington was a tobacco planter who owned a sizeable portion of the land of more than 1,000 acres. He served as a justice of the peace and sheriff of Westmoreland County for a time, too.

Did George Washington actually chop down a cherry tree?

No, the George Washington cherry tree was a story made up by Washington biographer Mason Locke (“Parson”) Weems in his book The Life of Washington (1800). In the tale, Washington chopped down a tree and when his father confronted him, Washington replied: “Father, I cannot tell a lie.”

Who was the leader of the Washington family?

The leader of the Washington family was John Washington, who came to the American continent in the late sixteenth century. Washington apparently used the law to take land from the Indians.

Where did Lawrence Washington live?

Lawrence, Washington’s half-brother, lived on his estate named Mount Vernon. Washington later inherited this estate in 1761, when Lawrence’s wife died. Mount Vernon got only became Washington’s home, but it remains a popular tourist attraction for those interested in the history of the United States.

What was Washington’s schooling? 

Washington received schooling from tutors at his home and from local schoolhouses. His favorite subject was mathematics. Washington’s formal education never went beyond that of a grade-school equivalence.

Did he marry?

Yes, George Washington had one wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington, whom he married in 1759.

Did he have any children?

George and Martha had no children together, but Martha had two children—John and Martha—by a previous marriage. Sadly, both of Washington’s stepchildren died at a relatively young age—John in his twenties and Martha in her teens. Washington outlived both of his stepchildren.

Who was Sally Fairfax?

Sally Fairfax was the wife of Washington’s friend George William Fairfax. Washington liked Sally and some have speculated that this may have led to an affair. Others say that Sally remained the love of his life but that there was no physical affair.


What career did Lawrence suggest to his younger brother, George?

Lawrence suggested that young George enlist in the Navy, an idea Washington’s mother did not favor.

What was Washington’s first career?

Washington first earned a living as a surveyor, obtaining a job through his brother Lawrence’s connections. Lawrence had married Ann Fairfax of the wealthy Fairfax family. The head of the Fairfax family, William Fairfax, took a liking to young George and employed him as an assistant to his son George William Fairfax to help survey in the Shenandoah Valley. Washington later worked as the surveyor for Culpepper County, Washington, and also worked on projects for Lord Fairfax.

How did Washington enter the military?

Washington’s brother Lawrence held the title of adjutant general for the colony of Virginia. When Lawrence died, Washington asked Robert Dinwiddie—the colony’s lieu56 tenant governor—for his brother’s former position. Lord Fairfax assured Dinwiddie that young George was the best person for the position. Dinwiddie acquiesced and twenty-one-year-old George Washington became a major.

How did Washington first attract public attention?

Washington first earned public acclaim for his work as a major under Governor Dinwiddie. In 1753, the governor assigned Washington the task of traveling to the Ohio Valley for the purpose of telling the French to leave the region. Washington led several other men on a trip that required them to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Allegheny Mountains, and up into the area near Lake Erie to deliver the King of England’s message to the French to leave the land. During his trip, Washington also met up with an important Seneca chief whose name was Tanacharison.

By what Native American name did Tanacharison call Washington?

Historian Joseph Ellis reports that Tanacharison called Washington “Conotocarius,” which means “town taker.” The chief relayed that this same name had been bestowed upon Washington’s great-grandfather John Washington.

How did the French receive Washington’s letter?

The French treated Washington with respect and sent him back with a politely written letter in which they made it clear that they—not the English—had the proper claim to the lands in the Ohio Valley.

What account do we have of Washington’s trip?

Governor Dinwiddie encouraged Washington to write of his exploits. The result was Washington’s The Journal of George Washington, which was published in several colonial newspapers. The account was republished in England and Scotland.

What pre-Revolutionary War experience did Washington obtain?

In 1754, Governor Dinwiddie promoted Washington to the position of lieutenant colonel and sent him out to defend Virginia’s land interests in the Ohio region in a conflict that became known as the French and Indian War. Early in the conflict, he defeated French and Indian forces in Pennsylvania and built a refuge called Fort Necessity. However, he later had to surrender the area to the French and Indians. Even worse, he had to sign terms of surrender in French. The next year he was promoted to colonel and continued leading troops in the French and Indian War. In 1758, Washington led Virginia’s forces, which joined British forces to a great victory at Fort Duquesne. However, he could not obtain a commission from the British army. He then turned his attention to politics.

What was his military position during the Revolutionary War?

On June 15, 1775, the Second Continental Congress unanimously approved John Adams’s nomination of Washington as commander of the Continental army. He served as leader of the colonial forces from the beginning of the war until the siege of Yorktown by Lord Charles Cornwallis in 1781. Washington often commanded troops who were besieged by superior armed forces and plagued with inadequate resources. He achieved a few victories, such as leading his troops across the Delaware River to surprise British forces in Trenton, New Jersey in 1776. But, he also suffered several notable defeats, including in New York and Pennsylvania. He and his troops suffered mightily during the winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania from 1777 to 1778.


What political positions did Washington achieve before his presidency?

After learning that he would not obtain a commission from the British army, Washington turned his focus to politics. He won a seat at the Virginia House of Burgesses, serving the people of Frederick County and later Fairfax County. He served continuously in the House of Burgesses until 1774.

What other notable governmental positions did he hold?

Washington served as a delegate from his home state of Virginia at the First Continental Congress, held in Philadelphia in 1774. He also served as a delegate for the Second Continental Congress the next year. More importantly, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when leaders from various states met to “revise” the existing governmental charter—the Articles of Confederation. The Articles failed to provide for a powerful central government with the net result that states acted out of their own self-interest. The members of the Philadelphia Convention went far beyond their stated task of revising the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they created an entirely new government through the United States Constitution. Washington did not participate in the debates, but his presence gave the proceeding much more legitimacy.


Where did Washington serve as president?

Washington served as President during his first year in office in New York, which was the nation’s capital at that time. In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which called for the creation of new capital in what became known as the District of Columbia, where the new governmental buildings could be constructed. Philadelphia served as the temporary location of the capital until 1800 when the District of Columbia was ready for the president. Thus, Washington was the only president who did not reside in the District of Columbia.

How was George Washington elected president?

In the Constitution, the original method of electing the president called for no popular vote among the people at all. The election was determined by the votes of the members of the electoral college. The electors at that time selected two people. The person with the highest number of electoral votes would serve as president, while the person with the second-highest number of votes would serve as vice president. There were sixty-nine electors for the presidential election of 1789. All sixty-nine cast votes for George Washington.

How was George Washington reelected, the president?

The presidential election of 1792 was conducted in the same manner as the election in 1789. This time there were 132 electors and they unanimously elected George Washington.

Who was Washington’s vice president?

John Adams of Massachusetts served as Washington’s vice president during both of his terms. Adams received thirty-four electoral votes in the 1789 election and seventy-seven electoral votes in the 1792 election. He would later become the country’s second president after Washington declined to run for a third term.

Who were the original members of Washington’s cabinet?

Washington sought to form a group of key advisors to assist him in leading the new federal government. He chose Alexander Hamilton as secretary of the treasury, Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state, Henry Knox as secretary of war, Edmund Ran- Dolph as attorney general, and Samuel Osgood as postmaster general. Hamilton, Jefferson, Knox, and Randolph regularly counseled Washington on a wide range of matters. As postmaster general, Osgood did not participate in those discussions. Hamilton led the Department of the Treasury, Jefferson led the Department of State, Randolph led the Department of Justice and Knox led the Department of War (now called the Department of Defense). Congress approved of these executive branch agencies.

What two members of Washington’s cabinet disagreed mightily over many issues?

Hamilton and Jefferson disagreed mightily over many issues. Their disagreements in part contributed to the rise of the two-party political system in the United States. Hamilton was a Federalist, the party that generally favored a very strong central government and tended to ally with Great Britain. Jefferson became a Democratic-Republican, which favored a less powerful central government and tended to ally with France. Hamilton favored a strong fiscal policy, including the creation of the National Bank. Jefferson viewed the measure as an unconstitutional grab of power by the federal government. The only thing Hamilton and Jefferson seemingly could agree on was that they both liked Washington.

What was Hamilton’s expertise?

Hamilton was an expert in fiscal matters and he created the fiscal program for the Washington administration. Most notably, he created the proposal for a national bank called the First Bank of the United States, which would operate for a twenty-year term. Congress approved the national bank in 1791 and Washington signed it into law in February 1791.

What did Washington think of political parties?

Washington disfavored political parties, believing they would create discord in the country. In his farewell address upon leaving office, he warned the country that political parties “are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government.” He warned that partisan politics and different political factions could create a “frightful despotism” for the country.

Who were Washington’s U.S. Supreme Court appointees?

Washington’s first six appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court were: Chief Justice John Jay and Justices James Wilson, William Cushing, John Blair, John Rutledge, and James Iredell. The U.S. Constitution does not provide for a specific number of justices. Rather, Congress originally set the number at six justices. Washington later appointed Thomas Johnson, William Paterson, Samuel Chase, and Oliver Ellsworth. Washington’s nephew Bushrod Washington became the next Supreme Court justice, though he was appointed by the next president, John Adams.

What was the Neutrality Proclamation?

The Neutrality Proclamation was a policy announced by President Washington that the United States would not interfere in the frayed relationship between Great Britain and France. The proclamation ensured that the United States would not enter into a war on President Washington’s watch, as he believed such an entry would threaten the well-being of the fledgling nation. The French felt a sense of betrayal by Washington’s decision, as the French had served as a key ally during the War for Independence. However, Washington was devoted to the betterment of the United States, not what was best for France. But there were critics who maintained that Washington was too subservient at times to Great Britain.

What was the Whiskey Rebellion?

The Whiskey Rebellion was an uprising among many grain farmers in western Pennsylvania, who objected to the Whiskey Act of 1791, a tax that had been imposed by the federal government on whiskey. The farmers believed that the federal government had overstepped its bounds by imposing too great a tax burden on farmers. The protest was seen by some as reminiscent of the colonists’ protest of the British government’s Stamp Act tax on the colonists. Washington eventually considered the resistance movement serious enough that he led a formidable force of more than thirteen thousand troops to suppress the rebellion. It was the only time that a sitting president actually led troops toward a battle. Washington led the troops to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, but not all the way to face the farmers who were just outside Pittsburgh. The farmers kowtowed to the federal authority and Washington pardoned those in the uprising who swore allegiance to the federal government.

What was the Jay Treaty?

The Jay Treaty was a treaty with Great Britain that the United States signed in 1794 during Washington’s second term. At the time, British troops remained stationed in the American northwest in defiance of the Treaty of Paris, the treaty that ended the Revolutionary War. Great Britain claimed that the Americans had not paid back all pre-revolutionary debts. Also, British ships were blocking American merchant vessels in the Caribbean in an attempt to stem American trade with France. Washington sent Chief Justice John Jay to negotiate a treaty with British officials. The resulting agreement was known as the Jay Treaty. The British agreed to remove their troops from the Ohio frontier. America’s debts would be settled by arbitration. The British received the most favored nation status for trading. Though criticized, the treaty—which was in effect for ten years—prevented an American-British conflict for many years, until the War of 1812.

How did Washington contribute to the tradition of executive privilege?

In 1796, the House of Representatives demanded to see administration documents concerning the Jay Treaty. Washington refused to hand over the documents, reasoning that only the Senate—not the House—is responsible for the ratification of treaties. Washington’s act of refusing to comply with the House’s demands is seen as a precursor to the concept of executive privilege.

Did Washington veto any bills from Congress?

Yes, George Washington vetoed two bills during his two terms in office. In 1792, he vetoed the Apportionment Act that would have set the number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives based on the U.S. Census of 1790. Key members of Washington’s cabinet advised Washington that the measure was unconstitutional. Washington took their advice and vetoed the measure. Congress attempted to override the veto, but could not obtain the necessary two-thirds majority. In his second term, Washington vetoed a bill that would have eliminated the light dragoons—the mounted infantry of the U.S. military. Washington felt the measure was unwise, writing that it “is generally agreed that some Cavalry either Militia or regular will be necessary.”

What future president did Washington remove from a government appointment?

Washington removed future president James Monroe from his position as minister to France in 1796. Monroe had resigned from the U.S. Senate in 1794 to accept the appointment. Initially, Monroe seemed to succeed in his position, even obtaining the release of famed writer Thomas Paine from a prison in France. However, Monroe ran afoul of Washington for his ardent opposition to the Jay Treaty.

What other future president did Washington appoint as minister to a foreign country?

Washington appointed the future sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, as minister to the Netherlands in 1794 and later minister to Portugal in 1796.

What famous holiday did Washington officially proclaim?

Washington established the first celebration of Thanksgiving on a national level in November 1789. Washington’s proclamation called for a day of “Publick [sic] Thanksgiving and Prayer.” Many years later, President Abraham Lincoln officially made Thanksgiving a permanent national holiday.


What did Washington do in retirement?

Washington and his wife, Martha, returned to Mount Vernon, where he stayed busy on his estate. He became involved in discussions with Alexander Hamilton and other members of President Adams’s cabinet about possibly coming out of retirement to lead the U.S. military again in case of a French invasion. But, for the most part, Washington lived a relatively quiet life at Mount Vernon for the few years that he had left.

When did George Washington die?

Washington died on December 14, 1799, at his estate at Mount Vernon. His wife, Martha, lived only a few more years, passing in 1802.

As a tribute, what future president named his son George Washington?

In 1801, John Quincy Adams named his son George Washington after the country’s first president. Unfortunately, George Washington Adams committed suicide in his late twenties.

When did George Washington’s birthday become a federal holiday?

In 1879, Washington’s birthday became a federal holiday. It is designated as the third Monday in February and sometimes is known as Presidents’ Day instead.

When was the Washington Monument built?

The Washington Monument, the tallest building in the nation’s capital, was built beginning in 1848 and ending in 1884. It remains a popular tourist attraction in the United States.

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