There have been many people in American history who have dedicated their lives to the people and progress of the nation, and perhaps none are more notable than our very own one dollar bill - George Washington, who not only conjures up images of freedom and democracy, but of also the birth of America; a founding-father who was the first to govern the people under their own flag.
George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Va., in 1732, the eldest son of Augustine Washington, and his second wife, Mary Ball Washington (Encyclopedia, 42).
George never received more than a basic education, despite living a good life on a Virginia farm. Nevertheless, he displayed an ability and interest in mathematics, which led him to becoming a surveyor for Lord Fairfax at the tender age of sixteen.
George's father had died when he was eleven, and his half-brother Lawrence had taken it upon himself to be George's mentor. When Lawrence died (of tuberculosis), George inherited Mount Vernon, where he ended up living the rest of his life (President, para.3).
At this time, England and France armies were vying for a stronghold over the Ohio Valley. George demonstrated his military ability when he managed to defeat a French force with only 150 men. The incident sparked the French-Indian War, and the Native Americans siding with the French.
George had demonstrated to the colonies that he was a superior leader - a sentiment the Crown did not share. They felt the colonial 'outburst' was to blame for their defeat. Angry at the lack of respect and appreciation shown to him, Washington resigned from the army and returned to farming in Virginia (President, para 5).
Washington married in 1759,and by 1770 he was a justice of the peace in his county, and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He was also a lay leader within his Episcopal church
Perhaps George Washington's greatest evidence of his leadership lay, at this time, in his stance against the taxation issues the colonies were facing from England. Washington had taken on the farming trade after his resignation from the army. He found the trade system privileged the British merchants buying tobacco, which was Washington's major crop.
By 1766 he abandoned tobacco farming and diversified Mount Vernon into crops that could be sold more easily in America. He also dabbled in light industry like weaving and fishing. All of these ventures were aimed at making his plantation more self-sufficient, thus minimizing his business ties to England (Life Before, para10).
These policies were referred to as the Navigation Acts that started around the 1770s, and Washington openly supported any resistance to these new, colony-biased policies.
By this stage in his career, and he was by no means highly educated in military or politics, Washington possessed a lot of support from within the community. He was elected to both Continental Congresses in 1774, and 1775. During the First Continental Congress, Washington was one of seven delegates, which saw him voting with the majority for "new economic reprisals against England" (Life Before, para13).
The Second Continental Congress in 1775 came about and Washington was pegged as leading the colonial forces. The French-Indian War played on George's confidence, and he was quick to decline such an honor. Washington refused to attend the voting meeting, and in turn was the last to discover his peers had elected him into the position.
There were many reasons he was chosen, as highlighted by The American Presidents Organization: "Washington was still considered a hero from the French and Indian War; at forty-three, he was old enough to lead but young enough to withstand the rigors of the battlefield. Northerners hoped a general from Virginia would help draw the reluctant South into the conflict. Above all, the leadership and charisma of the tall, quiet, stately Virginian was unsurpassed" (Life Before, para14).
George Washington was very humbled by the unanimous vote, and even refused a salary. Instead he responded, "I beg it may be remembered that I, this day, declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with."
Washington had a great task ahead of him. Upon taking command of the Continental Congress he was putting himself in fatal danger would he fail to thwart the King's armies. If he had failed and been captured, he would surely have been tried for treason.
King George's armies were fittingly English - they were well equipped and had the legacy of the world's greatest navy behind them. Washington had the not-so easy task of turning his band of militia into a formidable army.
If he was to succeed in doing so, Washington needed monetary support and colonial support. Neither was ever firm, and when it came to facing the English, many of Washington's enlisted had gone home because their enlistment had ended.
Using cannon, captured by Henry Knox from Fort Ticonderoga and heroically lugged miles to Boston, Washington fortified a high point overlooking Boston. Unnerved by the Colonials' sudden tactical advantage, the British withdrew from Boston by sea (para 18). Washington didn't take his 'victory' over the English likely. He knew it was only a matter of time that they would attempt another landing.
It was in July 1776, days after the Declaration of Independence had been signed, that the British proved Washington's instincts. Royal forces were determined to take New York and landed on Staten Island. Washington led 30,000 troops and after the skirmish, many of his troops had surrendered or deserted. Washington's forces didn't prove an ounce of his honor, when they deserted again during the British landing in Manhattan. Washington was outraged and questioned, "Are these the men with whom I am to defend America?"
After a couple of minor victories, Washington's forces failed to secure the Hudson River when British forces gained control over two forts. Washington withdrew into New Jersey, and soon after, into Pennsylvania.
It was time to rethink strategy. George Washington knew he was easy pickings against the well-trained veteran British army, so he turned to tactics he had seen the Native Americans use during the French-Indian War. "On Christmas Day, he ventured his army through a ferocious blizzard, crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey, surprised an enemy force at Trenton, and captured much of it.
A few days later, he took a British garrison at nearby Princeton" (para 17).
These were important victories, boosting moral amongst the Americans and insuring confidence in Washington and his men. For Washington's armies, there was no turning back now. He had proven himself a noble and intelligent revolutionary and a compassionate commander.
Washington lost major battles during 1777, but was able to continue his battles against the British despite some in congress willing to oust him as a commander. Still, Washington had a charisma that his men felt compelled to follow. One French officer wrote: "I cannot insist too strongly how I was surprised by the American army. It is truly incredible that troops almost naked, poorly paid, and composed of old men and children and Negroes should behave so well on the march and under fire" (para 19).
During the British invasion into the south in 1778, Washington managed to surprise the British in Chesapeake Bay, with the help of the French navy. In a 'perfectly coordinated campaign', French and American forces were able to oust the British. It was only a matter of time, afterwards, that the British forces withdrew from the colonies.
The thirteen colonies of America were now bitterly trying to come together. Washington had been approached to become 'king' and with clear judgment, he refused. Instead, he put together a series of meetings where senior officers and he would spend many hours trying to devise a form of government. Washington managed to persuade many of them that a military dictatorship was not the way.
In the years following the Revolutionary War, government followed the Articles of the Confederation. Washington was a major player in developing the Constitution, a position he was initially reluctant to take on. Still, once again, he was unanimously voted for and Washington had no choice. During the initial ratification of the Constitution, there was talk amongst the delegates of a president, and rumors flew about of it being Washington.
George thought he would be able to retire, yet the people of America had followed and rested their faith in one man, and it was that man they wanted as President. George Washington did not want the position - again.
Interestingly enough, people could say that the first election campaign was one not to convince the people of the most worthy presidential candidate, but to convince the candidate of his worthiness! "Letters poured into Mount Vernon -- from citizens great and small, from former comrades in arms, even from other shores. Many told Washington that his country needed him more than ever, and that there was no justification for his refusal" (Campaign, para2).