George Washington (22 February 1732 – 14 December 1799) was the first President of the United States and leader of the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
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George Washington was born into wealth and gentility (or what passed for it in early American history). His family owned a lot of land in Virginia, and Washington grew up as a gentleman farmer. Early on he displayed a taste for adventure, and when the French and Indian war broke out, Washington was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel at the age of 22. His British superiors praised him for his gallantry and courage under fire.
As he matured, Washington grew to dislike the protectionist policies of the British government, and he was elected one of the Virginia delegates to the Continental Congress. Being one of the few men with actual military service, when war was imminent, he was appointed Commander in Chief of the (largely theoretical) Continental Army.
As a war leader, Washington faced enormous challenges. Lacking money, equipment and trained troops and hampered by the new country's inherent political problems, he had to organize, equip and recruit an army that could stand up to the finest military in the world. In his first engagement, shortly after the "battle" of Bunker Hill, his forces drove the unprepared British out of Boston. But when he next met the foe on Long Island, New York, he was totally outnumbered, outgunned, and out-generaled by the British, and he was lucky to escape the total destruction of his army.
After this humiliating defeat, Washington began to employ the tactics that would eventually win the war. He realized that time was his best ally - the longer the war continued, the greater the British war weariness would grow. He couldn't hope to defeat the British war machine - but he could hope that the British would eventually give up the fight as not worth the cost. Further, the longer the war went on, the greater the chance that a foreign government would intervene on the American side.
For the next six weary years Washington fought to keep his army intact. He avoided major engagements. He harried the British troops when they were vulnerable, and retreated into the mountains when they were powerful. His forces dwindled to virtually nothing in the winter, and swelled with temporary volunteers during the summer. Men went shoeless and hungry, and morale plummeted. Only Washington's iron will and strong personal magnetism kept the army alive. Finally, in 1781, the long-awaited foreign intervention occurred, and France went to war with Britain. With their invaluable naval assistance, Washington was able to capture the main British army in Yorktown, forcing Great Britain to admit defeat.
Washington became the first President of the United States. Prone to pomposity, he was an "Imperial" president, giving the new office much of the stature and dignity it has maintained ever since, while strongly reinforcing its democratic underpinnings. He believed in neutrality in foreign affairs - at least until the new country was stronger - and he sought to keep the twin evils of regionalism and factionalism from infecting the federal government. In this he was largely unsuccessful, as the next several centuries would attest.
Washington retired at the end of his second term. He returned to his family home and once again took up the life of a gentleman farmer. He died three months later, beloved by his countrymen and rightly recognized as the "father of his country."
The Independence Hall in Philadelphia is in the background.