George Washington: An American Pioneer

American general and statesman (Bridges Creek, Virginia, 1732 - Mount Vernon 1799).

In George Washington, the man is hidden behind the myth: the American army commander during the Independence War, the first President of the United States has become some kind of golden legend. Certain stories, frequently fabricated, have made of him a superhero: as a kid he ignored the falsehood; as a youngster, he had a formidable force; in combat, the blows did not reach him; in the army, he manifested a notable sense of duty and the most profound mercy. Greater after he died than when he actually lived, Washington became object of a truly worship: universities, rivers, mountains, counties, streets and avenues, cities (among them, the capital of the country) and towns, without forgetting the state in the Pacific Coast, all of them include his name. For the Americans seeking for a national epic, he's a link: his anniversary is the only national fest that, together with July the 4th, is celebrated every year by all Americans.

George Washington

The Origins

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 in the county of Westmoreland in Virginia. His ancestors had migrated from England in the mid 17th century to look for fortune at the other side of the Ocean, but, although they acquired the rank of honorable burgesses, their position was mediocre, to say the least. His father, Augustine Washington, had 4 children from his first marriage and later, being willowed, he married again in 1729 with Mary Ball (1708-1789): George was their firstborn child. Their parents owned some hundreds of acres, which in the American colony was very little. So, George had to conform studying the basics of mathematics and latin from his mother: university was very expensive and he himself showed a passion for studies and intellectual exercises. When his father died in 1743, he was forced to count only with his tenacity and fate to become a respectable man.

In fact, George Washington benefited himself from the aids of his stepbrother Lawrence, who taught him a lot of things, he brought George into the military issues, he introduced him to the Fairfax Circle, the richest owners in Virginia and allowed George to inherit a plantation of his in Vernon Mount. Well advised, George started dedicating his time to several speculations: as surveyor, he accompanied the Fairfax in 1748 to the Sherandoah valley and traced the limits of the future city Alexandria. It didn't last long before being appointed official surveyor in Culpeper County, at the foothills of the mountains (1749). In 1751, he became an associate of the Ohio Company, which owned about 200,000 acres at the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. When he was 20, he owned more than 6,000 acres of land and started to be interested in the expansion to the West.

But this expansion was confronted by several obstacles: the Indians, the other colonies and, specially the French from Canada, who demanded the entire Ohio Valley. In 1753, Washington was sent on a mission to fight against them and he had the impression that the state of Virginia was being threatened. The following year, he sent a small expedition to the Ohio bifurcation to expel the French: it was frankly a disaster. In 1755, general Edward Braddock arrived from England with 1,400 men: Washington, in charge of 450 militiamen joined Braddock who, in southeastern Fort Duquesne, suffered a bloody defeat. That defeat, at the end, wouldn't have any consequences in the future: the French were forced to evacuate the region in 1758. A year later, Washington gave up the military career and preferred dedicating his time to oversee his plantations, just after he married Martha Dandridge Custis.

The Entry in Politics and the Struggle for Independence

Gentleman-farmer, Washington had since his resignation from the military, 3 points of interest: his domains, his family life and his political activities. He continued, in fact, speculating, overseeing the good performance of his exploitations and proceeded with agronomic experiences. He felt a profound affection for the two children Martha had in her first marriage. His nephews and nieces and multiple guests contributed to the life in Mount Vernon. Since 1758, Washington held a seat in the House of Burgesses, the Assembly in Virginia. He was a known and reflexive parliamentary, but he didn't stand up for his eloquence or for the extremism of his opinions. However, although he admired the British civilization, he was more linked to his colony, and as time passed, to all colonies in North America. In September, 1774 he represented the state of Virginia in the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia. On June 15, 1775, the second Congress appointed him Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. The "rebellion" had started in Massachusetts: after the Lexington shooting on April 19, 1775, Bostonians were moved by the Royal troops. A necessity to help the rebels in the north arose: to do this, it was necessary to recruit an army commanded by a man from the South (at that time Virginia was considered a southern state), preferably a rich person and an experimented patriot. The election of Washington was not as surprising as someone could think.

But his task was extremely difficult. The objectives of his mission were only established in the short-term: the independence was not declared until the following year; the French aid was not received until 1778, even not all Americans were determined to fight against the British and possibly loose all their possessions. How to organize a truly military force? Washington wanted an army of 20,000 troops at least; at first he managed to command an army of just 17,000 men. Moreover, dropouts were not unusual and the troops started to shrink in Autumn. The provisioning and the equipment were distributed very slowly by a non-unanimous congress; the instruction depended on foreign officials. Despite all of this obstacles, Washington gave his country an army. The war strategy was very defensive: avoid the enemy, show to them the determination of the American people to continue combatting, to carry out overtaking strikes... Washington discovered, without having understood it completely, the effectiveness of the guerrillas. At the same time, he took advantage of all opportunities that were at his reach and of the wrong decisions of his enemies, and in 1781, he convinced his French allies to attack immediately the troops of Charles Cornwallis, isolated in Yorktown. Washington was the hero of the moment, and his name deserves to appear among the ones of the greatest military leaders.

On December, 1783, Washington said bye to his officials, relinquishing his rank to congress, and he decided, once the war was finished, to retire to his home in Mount Vernon. Despite the suggestions of many, he didn't try to reach political power. If he had to choose his idol among the greatest heroes of the old days, he would choose Cincinnatus over Julius Caesar. However, the resting time hadn't arrived yet. The Confederation was not so powerful to impose a common foreign policy to the different states or to avoid disagreements. Virginia and Maryland were discussing about the use of Potomac. Some conciliators gathered in 1785 at Washington's house and decided to call the representatives of the other states to discuss the problem of the Union. The convention took place in 1787 in Philadelphia. The debates were chaired by George Washington, who added the brightness of his personal prestige to the sessions. Once adopted the new constitution, the first presidential election was, without a doubt, won by George Washington. He took up his functions as president on April 30, 1789.

The President

Once Washington became the first president of the United States, he started to encounter many difficulties. The hero of the Independence War learnt that it was far more difficult to govern the Nation rather than saving it. Although Washington refused the temptation to establish, to his own benefit, a monarchic regimen, he did everything in his hands to strengthen the presidential function. Some famous members of his cabinet were Thomas Jefferson, defender of agrarian democracy and states' rights, and Alexander Hamilton, who wanted to transform United States into a potent world industrial and financial power, while increasing the federal power. Finally, the conflict between the two men broke out: Washington supported Hamilton and the federalists. The jeffersonians, or democratic republicans, who heavily criticized the decrease in power of the different states. The foreign policy accentuated even more the separation within the country: the jeffersonians asked for military intervention in France to support the French Revolution. On the other hand, the Hamiltonians recommended the neutrality and the approach to Great Britain. Once again, Washington supported the decision of the latter ones.

In 1794, Washington signed with the Old Colonial Power a treaty that ended up with the dispute between England and the United States. Washington was accused of liquidating the interests of the United States.

He, who in 1792 had accepted to take up a second presidential mandate, lived 4 particularly difficult years. However, he created some precedents that the United States would hold until the present years. In his farewell speech, which he ordered to be published in 1796, recommended to not establish permanent alliances. He refused to take a 3rd mandate, observed carefully the terms of the Constitution and made the presidency a political reality.

In 1798, because of a brief international crisis, was called again to take charge of the post of commander-in-chief of the American troops. But George Washington had little time left, and a few months later, in 1799, he died in his home in Mount Vernon, where he was buried.

After his death, the Americans forgot the attacks and critics to his persona when he was alive. They only remembered his deeds, forgetting the fact that Washington was essentially the man of his time and medium.

Source: Wikipedia

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