A Complete Biography of George Washington and his Life

Biography of George Washington and his Life

As a precursor to the French Revolution and the emancipation of America, the independence of the United States was one of the momentous events of the transition to the Contemporary Age. In this sense, few characters deserve as much the qualification of “historical figure” as George Washington, head of the military campaigns of the War of Independence (1775-1783) and main architect of the construction from democratic bases of the new nation, who elected the first president of the United States of America (1789-1797).

George Washington

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, on the banks of the Potomac River, on the Bridge’s Creek estate, in the former Westmoreland County, in the current state of Virginia. He belonged to a distinguished English family, originally from Northamptonshire, who had come to America in the middle of the seventeenth century and had amassed a considerable fortune. His father, Augustine, owner of immense properties, was an ambitious man who had studied in England and who, when he was widowed by his first wife (Jane Butler, who had borne him four children), married Mary Ball, a member of a respectable family. from Virginia who gave him six other offspring, including George.

Little is known about the future president’s childhood, except that his parents destined him for a settler existence and for that reason he did not go beyond the rural schools of that time: between the ages of seven and fifteen he studied irregularly, first with the sexton of the local church and then with a teacher named Williams. Away from any literary or philosophical preoccupation, the boy received a rudimentary education in the bookish, but solid in the practical order, to which his active temperament inclined him.

By early adolescence he was familiar enough with the tasks of the colonists to grow tobacco and store grapes. At that time, when he was eleven years old, his father died and he was entrusted to his older half-brother, Lawrence, a man of good character who, in a way, was his guardian. At home, George saw a broader and more refined world, as Lawrence was married to Anne Fairfax, one of the great heiresses of the region, and used to rub shoulders with the high society of Virginia.

A settler with a military vocation

Listening to the stories of his stepbrother, an early military vocation was awakened in George, and at fourteen he wanted to become a soldier, although he had to reject the idea in the face of fierce opposition from his mother, who refused to allow him to pursue the arms race. Two years later he began to work as a surveyor, assisting on an expedition to measure Lord Fairfax’s lands in the Shenandoah Valley.

From then on, the exhausting days in the open country, without comforts and exposed to the dangers of wildlife, taught him not only to know the customs of the Indians and the possibilities of colonizing the West but to master his body and mind, turning him for the task that the future held for him. Although he was not disturbed by political concerns (young Washington was a faithful subject of the English crown), he might by then feel somewhat annoyed by the limitations imposed by the metropolis on colonization, since George and his stepbrother planned to take their businesses to the cities. lands of the West.

Washington at Mount Vernon (oil by Junius Brutus Stearns)

At the age of twenty, a sad event turned his life around by making him head of the family: tuberculosis ended Lawrence’s life in 1752 and George inherited the Mount Vernon plantation, a vast 8,000-acre estate with eighteen slaves. Washington happened to be one of the richest men in Virginia, and as such, he acted: he soon distinguished himself in community affairs, was an active member of the Episcopal Church, and ran as a candidate, in 1755, for the House of Los Angeles. Burghers of the district. He also excelled at entertainment; He was a magnificent rider, tall and blue-eyed, a great hunter and a better fisherman; he loved dancing, billiards and playing cards and attended horse races (he had his own stables) and many theatrical performances that were given in the region. But his vocation as a soldier had not died,

At that time, the English and the French were vying for dominance over North America, and the controversy over the routes to the head of Ohio had led to extreme tension among the settlers. Washington enlisted in the military, and shortly after the death of his stepbrother, he was appointed by Governor Robert Dinwiddie as district commander, with a salary of $100 a year. Faced with the invasions of the French by the border, in 1753 the governor entrusted him with the mission of carrying out a reconnaissance in the border area. In mid-November, Washington marched in front of six men through the Ohio Valley, an inhospitable region populated by savage tribes and many dangers. Despite the cold and snow, he was able to carry out the hard journey until he reached Fort Le Boeuf in Pennsylvania,

Declared in 1754 the Seven Years’ War, which for the English colonists in America meant the struggle for their expansion against the French dominance, Washington was appointed lieutenant colonel of the Virginia regiment, under the command of General Fry. When the general died in combat, Washington succeeded him as supreme head of the county’s armed forces, soon after becoming part of the general staff of General Braddock, who led the regular troops sent by England. On July 9, 1755, he distinguished himself at the Battle of Monongahela for his courage and decision-making ability, although this ended in disaster for the English.

Washington in colonel’s uniform during the
Seven Years’ War (portrait by Charles Willson Peale)

The defeat had such an impact on his spirits that the young soldier withdrew to Mount Vernon with the firm intention of never taking up arms again. But he could not carry it out, as the Virginia notables asked him to take charge of the troops, even though he was only twenty-three years old. Washington retained command between 1755 and 1758, at which time he was also elected as the Frederic County representative to the Virginia House of Burgesses. His name was already popular, he was admired for his experience and tact, and he was beginning to build a solid political reputation by actively intervening in the deliberations of the assembly.

After some troubles, disillusioned by the course of the war with France and the conduct of the British commanders, Washington resigned from his military position to return to Mount Vernon and shortly after, on January 6, 1759, he married Martha Dandridge, a woman as rich as she is beautiful, widow of Colonel Parke Custis and owner of one of the greatest fortunes in Virginia. He owned a large number of slaves, 15,000 valuable acres, and two sons, ages six and four, who became the true Washington family.

At Mount Vernon the couple, united more by harmonious happiness than passionate love, led the lives of wealthy landowners, mindful of the prosperity of their lands and their prominent role in the social life of the region. Everything was done in style, clothes were bought in London, parties were lavish, and guests numbered in the hundreds. But this rumors life would be interrupted by the political gale that soon descended on North America.

The fight for independence

The end of the Seven Years’ War, made official on February 10, 1762 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, meant the renunciation of France of its claims over Acadia and Nova Scotia and the full sovereignty of England over Canada and the entire region. from Louisiana, except New Orleans. But the mercantile discrepancy between London and its colonies increased as a result of this conclusion since the English government considered that all its possessions had to cooperate in the amortization of the expenses caused by the war since all of them had benefited from its results.

The deficit caused by the war was enormous, and already in March 1765 the English Parliament voted a tax that hurt the traditional rights of the colonies, imposing the use of stamped paper for all kinds of contracts. With true political blindness, the following year he issued a series of customs duties on paper, glass, lead and tea, which provoked the indignation of the North American commercial world and the formation of patriotic leagues against the consumption of English merchandise. At the forefront of the struggles that preceded the revolutionary outbreak were to be placed the aristocrats of Virginia and the Democrats of Massachusetts. Washington was irritated by such measures but continued to consider himself a loyal subject to England and a man of moderate opinions.

In 1773 the people of Boston protested against the taxes by dumping the tea shipments into the sea. The event, known as the Boston Tea Party, ended up opening Washington’s eyes and turning him towards the defense of American freedoms. When Virginia legislators met the following year in Raleigh, he was present and signed the resolutions. In the first revolutionary legislature of that year, he delivered an eloquent speech declaring: “I will organize an army of a thousand men, I will support them with my money and I will lead them to defend Boston.” He was no longer a moderate when dressed in uniform, he represented Virginia at the First Continental Congress held in Philadelphia in 1774. His letters show that he was still opposed to the idea of ​​independence,

The hostilities between the English and the Americans began at the Battle of Lexington, on April 19, 1775, the autonomists declared their desire for independence from the English crown. All the colonies were considered at war against the metropolis and, at the Second Congress meeting in Philadelphia that year, they entrusted the command of the troops to the Virginian planter George Washington. His election was partly the result of a political compromise between Virginia and Massachusetts, but also the consequence of Washington’s fame in Braddock’s campaign and the talent with which he impressed congressional delegates.

George Washington after the Battle of Trenton (detail of a portrait by Charles Willson Peale)

The new head of the colonial forces was then faced with the risky task of creating an army in the presence of the enemy and almost from scratch. Arriving in Boston he encountered more than fifteen thousand men, but they were only a confused mass of undisciplined insurgents, divided into bands hostile to each other, often in rags and poorly armed. Food and supplies were lacking, and in addition, each provincial assembly issued orders at its own whim. Here Washington demonstrated its brilliant organizational skills and tireless energy, disciplining and training inexperienced volunteers, gathering supplies, and calling the colonies to their support. In this way he organized the Massachusetts army, with which he was able to occupy Boston and expel General Howe’s English from New England in 1776. That year, the independence of the United States.

Washington had won the first round against the crown troops, but there were still several years of war left in which American soldiers would be brought to the brink of annihilation. Among the decisive factors in achieving victory was his ability to instill confidence in soldiers, his tireless energy and his great common sense. He was never a brilliant strategist, since, as Jefferson said, “he often failed in the open,” but he knew how to keep the flame of patriotism alive among his men and always listened to the opinions of the generals under his command, without caring about neglecting it. his own opinion.

Thus, in a second moment, Washington withdrew its troops to the south and waited for the British counteroffensive on Long Island, but decided to withdraw due to its numerical inferiority with respect to Howe. Since then he used a tactic of attrition in Pennsylvania that earned him the victories of Trenton (after surprisingly crossing the Delaware River) and Princeton in 1776, as well as the defeats of Brandwine and Germantown the following year. In retreat, he held off Howe’s forces advancing on Philadelphia. The city could not resist and fell into the hands of the British leader, but soon the English suffered a considerable disaster and General Burgoyne was forced to surrender at Saratoga, on October 17, before the siege of the American leader Gates.

Washington crossing Delaware (oil painting by Emanuel Leutze)

This success of the American Revolution shocked the followers of encyclopedism and the supporters of Rousseau’s “natural man” in Europe. French volunteers such as La Fayette, the Count of Rochambeau and François Joseph Paul de Grasse, Poles such as Tadeusz Kościuszko and South Americans such as Francisco de Miranda, came to the aid of the hosts of Washington, who thus saw their task facilitated. After the terrible winter of Valley Forge, where he dedicated himself to training his troops, he was able to resume the fight victoriously thanks to the reinforcements received. The French government saw in the conflict the opportunity to avenge the defeat of the Seven Years’ War and, in 1778, it signed an alliance with the United States, to which it joined the following year. Carlos III of Spain.

The aid of the French troops was so effective that Washington was able to recapture Philadelphia, besiege New York, and head south to cut off the advance of Lord Cornwallis, who was leading eleven thousand men, the bulk of the English troops. On October 19, 1781 Cornwallis was forced to capitulate, after being taken prisoner with his army. This surrender meant the final victory of the colonists and the recognition of independence by England, before signing the peace at Versailles, on January 20, 1783.

The builder of the state

In 1778, in the midst of the war, Congress had promulgated the Law of Confederation, the first attempt to form a homogeneous bloc with the thirteen states of the Union. But this political formula gave little results, since the war and the postwar period demanded more a strong central power than a government without powers. At the height of prestige and fame after military triumphs, George Washington had to face the problems of national reconstruction. On the one hand he refused to accept the crown that some notables offered him, dedicating himself to combat the monarchical reaction of some sectors of the country, and on the other he proclaimed the need to establish a constitution.

Washington in his presidential period (portrait of Gilbert Stuart, 1797)

His federalist stance, defender of the establishment of an efficient central power that would defend American interests abroad and balance the partisan tendencies of the territories, was able to reconcile with that of the Republicans, in favor of preserving the political and economic independence of the states. The agreement between both groups was expressed by the Constitution of September 17, 1787, the first written constitutional charter that regulated the form of government of a country. Once again, Washington’s leadership and organizational skills raised hopes for him, and Congress elected him the first president of the United States in 1789.

Prudence, good sense and above all an almost religious respect for the law were the dominant notes of his eight years of government. By electing the four members of his cabinet, Thomas Jefferson for the Secretary of State, General Henry Knox for the War, Alexander Hamilton for the Treasury, and Edmund Randolph for the Justice, Washington struck a careful balance between Republicans and Federals. , which made possible the implementation of the apparatus that would coordinate and direct the administration of the country. In order to face the serious economic problems that it was going through, it applied a strict fiscal policy and made an effort to associate large capitals with the State, in order to commit them to the stability of the nation. With the same objective he created the Bank of the United States and,

Elected for a second term in 1793, it was Jefferson who, faced with his doubts, convinced him to accept the position again. In this second stage of government, he had to solve serious problems, such as the one raised in the West by the opposition to the taxes on brandy, which originated in 1794 the uprising known as Whiskey Rebellion, which was repressed by the troops sent by order of the President.

Another element of wear and tear was the clash between Jefferson and Hamilton, motivated by the radicalization of the French Revolution and the armed conflict that ravaged Europe. While the Secretary of State was in favor of US support for revolutionary France, the Secretary of the Treasury defended neutrality in the face of the conflict. Washington, which at first had tried to maintain harmony between the two, supported, once the European war was declared, the positions of Alexander Hamilton and decided on neutrality. It did not take long for him to declare his pro-British sympathies, despite the enormous debt that his country owed to France, and this resulted in the weakening of relations with this nation. Thomas Jefferson for his part, he expressed his disagreement by leaving the government and, already from the opposition, he opposed the centralism of the president.

Washington with his family (oil by Edward Savage)

This is how the political star of Washington began to decline until it was totally overshadowed when the terms of a commercial agreement signed by Great Britain, the Jay Treaty of June 25, 1794, were known, which caused strong discussions in parliament and a real decline of presidential popularity. Even so, he was elected for the third time to power, but this time he categorically refused, arguing that he wanted to return with his family to the peace of private life. In reality, he was held back by the fear of the dictatorial temptation that would distort the democratic origin of his struggle for independence, and he did not hesitate to return to his plantation in Virginia.

The last two years of his life, already in the decline of his physical faculties, he dedicated them to taking care of his family and his properties, except for a brief interruption in 1798, when he was appointed commander-in-chief of the army in the face of the danger of war. with France. The following winter, Washington returned home exhausted from a several-hour ride through the cold and snow. Acute laryngitis led to his death on December 14, 1799. The great man of independence, who was “the first in war, the first in peace, and the first in the hearts of his compatriots,” faced the end. with his characteristic serenity, the same one that had allowed him to face the danger of the battlefields with absolute calm. As Jefferson wrote, he was a man unavailable to fear.