George Washington

George Washington was born on his father's estate in Westmoreland County,

Virginia, on February 22, 1732. He was the oldest son of a Virginia farmer,

Augistine Washington , by his second wife, Mary Ball, The Washington family was

descended from two brothers, John and Lawrence Washington, who emigrated from

England to Virginia in 1657. The family's rise to modest wealth in three generations was

the result of steady application to farming, land buying, and development of local

industries.

George seemed to have received most of his schooling from his father and, after

the father's death in 1743, from his older half-brother Lawrence. The boy enjoyed

mathematics, and he applied it to acquiring a knowledge of surveying, which was a skill

greatly in demand in a country where people were seeking new lands in the West. For

the Virginians of that time the West meant the upper Ohio River valley. Throughout his

life, George Washington maintained a keen interest in the development of these western

lands, and from time to time he bought properties for himself.

Under the terms of the Constitution, the formal election for the president was

done by electors, who were collectively called the Electoral College. Each elector was to

vote for the two persons he considered most qualified; the winner would be the president,

and the runner-up would be the vice president. The electors themselves were chosen

January 7, 1789, by the direct vote of the people in some states, and by the legislature in

other states. The electors met en each state on February 4 and unanimously voted for

George Washington, who thereby became president. Their second choice, far from

unanimous, was John Adams of Massachusetts. This pleased Washington because he

had feared that the vice presidency might ho to Governor George Clinton of New York,

who favored drastic amendment of the constitution. Washington, considering these

amendments dangerous, had allowed amendment word to go out that votes for Adams

would be agreeable to him because he considered Adams to be a "safe man" and a strong

supporter of the constitution. Also, Washington still had a lingering hope that, after

getting the government well started, he might resign from office and hasten home to

Mount Vernon. He could not reconcile this hope with his conscience unless a man he

considered safe was next in line of succession.

In the spring of 1790, Washington was struck by a severe cold and then by

influenza. For several days it was thought that George would not live. The illness and

the anxiety it caused throughout the country underlined Washington's importance to the

new nation. Abigail Adams, wife of the vice president, wrote: "It appears to me that the

union of the states and consequently the permanency of the government depend under

Providence upon his life. At this early day when neither our finances are arranged nor

our government sufficiently cemented to promise duration, his death would …have…the

most disastrous consequences." (page 322 Encyclopedia)

Washington attended the inauguration of President John Adams on March 4,

1797, and left Philadelphia two days later for Mount Vernon. There he wrote to an old

friend that he did not intend to allow the political turmoil of the country to disturb his

ease. "I shall view things," he said, "in the light of mild philosophy."

But he did not always agree to this resolve. He strongly opposed the Kentucky

and Virginia Resolutions of 1798, which where an attempt to limit federal powers in line

with Jefferson's beliefs. These resolutions seemed to Washington a formula for the

dissolution of the Union. In that year also, he accepted the nominal command of the

army should the undeclared hostility with France develop into open war. The last

journey of his life, in 1799, were to the army camp at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and to

Philadelphia to consult on any matters.

Early on the morning of December 14, 1799, Washington awoke with an inflamed

throat. His condition rapidly got worse. He was further weakened by medical treatment

that involved frequent blood letting. He faced death calmly and died at 11:30 later that

night.

In the national mourning that followed, many tributes were paid to Washington.

President Adams call "the most illustrious and beloved person that the country had

produced." Adams later added: "His example is now complete, and it will teach wisdom

and virtue to magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age but in future

generations as long as our history shall be read."

Bibliography

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