President: George Washington

1st President of the United States (1789-1797)

Biography Read: “His Excellency” by Joseph Ellis

Key Facts: General Washington was born in 1732 and died in 1799. He was a forth generation Virginian born on the banks of the Potomac River. He picked the location for and designed Washington D.C. while serving as President. He was a Federalist.

Notable Observations:

  • Father Augustine Washington died in April 1743 “leaving his widow and seven children an estate that included ten thousand acres divided into several disparate parcels and forty-nine slaves.” (It was common in this area to distribute your estate un-evenly amongst your children to build a dynasty).
  • In 1751 he traveled to Barbados and this was his only trip outside of North America.
  • While serving in the Virginia Regiment, he became upset with the British King. “It rankled him that neither he nor his troops were paid the same rate as British regulars.”
  • He order the executions of deserters and “suffered no sleepless nights after endorsing the executions, even when a condemned man made a special plea based on previous bravery in combat.”
  • He was in love with another women (Sally Fairfax), but married Martha Dandridge Custis “probably the wealthiest widow in Virginia.”
  • Washington owner slaves and “more than double the size of his slave population from under fifty to over a hundred.”
  • He would not sell his slaves IF it broke up families.
  • In 1766, he broke financial ties with London. He decided to grow wheat, construct a mill, and sell it as flour in Virginia. This was partially in financial protest.
  • During the formation of the Continental Army he allowed blacks to enlist and serve alongside whites. The next time this occurred in US history was in the Korean War.
  • Washington backed a plan by Lafayette (French) in 1783 to emancipate slaves in exchange for military service. It never occurred.
  • He agreed with friend and advisor Knox that “Indians being the prior occupants possess the right of the Soil… the dispossess them.. would be a gross violation of the fundamental Laws of nature and of that distributive Justice which is the glory of a nation.”
  • Washington lead an army against “a defiant collection of aggrieved farmers emboldened by their conviction that the excise tax levied by Congress was every bit as illegitimate as the taxes levied by the British ministry.” This was the only time a sitting American President lead troops into combat and it was against fellow Americans.
  • Washington supported the “Alien and Sedition Acts” which deported foreign-born residents that supported the French and shutdown newspapers which spoke poorly (“falsely”) of the US Government.
  • Washington unwittingly supported Hamilton’s plans to march an army through Virginia to scare Republicans (the opposition party.. Madison and Jefferson).
  • Towards the end of his life, he struggled to free his slaves. “Morality, in Washington’s mind, needed to negotiate its way against the harsh realities of the world as it is, rather than as it ought to be.”

Joseph J Ellis write a good biography that is highly readable. At times it was hard to put down. He has another book entitled “American Sphinx” that I might just have to read when we get to Jefferson.

Casey Richards
Rutland, Vermont