The History Cat Classroom
The Presidency of George Washington
There’s probably no other presidency in the history of the United States that is as discussed and well-known as that of George Washington. President Washington officially took office on April 30, 1789, but that was the culmination of years of painstakingly planning the foundation for a new republic. It was after years of struggle and bitter battles that Washington became the first President of the United States, unanimously elected to that position by the Electoral College. But what kind of president was George Washington?
Setting the Tone for the Presidency
Being unanimously elected to the office of president for a new country was likely overwhelming for Washington. After all, there are stories of the shy man who simply wanted to retire to his home in Mount Vernon – not lead the fight against King George III and the British Empire into his golden years. But Washington took the job because he knew the country was on the verge of something great and that it could change history forever.
Washington’s actions did not infringe on the powers of Congress for making policies. After all, he was part of the team that drafted the United States Constitution which gave Congress those same powers. But when it came to foreign policy, Washington had concerns. It was during his presidency when the French Revolution broke out and turned into a major war. France and England were battling it out and Washington felt that he had to do something. He consulted with another recognizable name – Thomas Jefferson – who was his Secretary of State. Jefferson was pro-French and felt that the United States had to support France in the war. Washington then consulted with Alexander Hamilton – the Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton was pro-England and felt that the United States should be supporting England.
Washington took both opinions into consideration and then decided that neutrality was the best course of action. The United States was still a young nation and he felt it would be a bad move to send troops and other support for either side. Such a move could drain the few resources that the new nation had and make it vulnerable to attacks. Washington believed in minimizing the nation’s involvement in foreign wars and conflicts, which is the basis for his Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793. In this proclamation, Washington asked that United States citizens be impartial when it came to foreign conflicts and to avoid sending any aid, such as war materials, to either nation involved in a conflict.
Washington is the only president to be have been elected unanimously.
The District of Columbia was little more than 68 miles of swampland in Maryland when Washington was president. George had a direct role in creating the new capitol. But, for the meantime, the federal government had three locations: New York City, Annapolis Maryland, and lastly, Philadelphia shown in the picture.
For over 200 years President George Washington has owed $300,000 in fines for failing to return 2 library books
Two Major Accomplishments of
Other than being the first official president of a completely new nation, George Washington accomplished several other goals as the Commander in Chief. Here are just a few of his major accomplishments as President:
# 1 The Jay Treaty – Signed in 1794, the Jay Treaty, also referred to as the Treaty of London, was a major attempt to help improve the relations between the new United States and Great Britain. Washington worked closely with John Jay, who was the main negotiator on the deal and also the first Chief Justice of the United States. The treaty wasn’t popular with the American people because it didn’t really solve anything. However, it did help avoid another war with Great Britain until 1812, when the United States was a much stronger nation with more resources for successfully fighting a war.
# 2 Creating the First Cabinet – Washington didn’t just rely on his own opinions and understanding. That’s why as the first President of the United States, he established the Cabinet. This was a group of others that he would go to when he was looking for advice and opinions on issues that were of national importance, specifically foreign policy issues. Washington felt it was the President’s prerogative to establish foreign policy with trusted advisors rather than going to Congress. Even today, Presidents rarely go to Congress when deciding foreign policy issues.
Two Major Failures of
Although hailed as possibly our greatest president, George Washington wasn’t immune to making mistakes. Other than chopping down his dad’s favorite cherry tree (okay, that's a myth), Washington did have a few failures during his two terms as United States President. Here are a couple of those failures:
# 1 The Whiskey Rebellion – Depending on your point of view, the Whiskey Rebellion was one of George Washington’s most well-known failures. In an effort to pay for the debts incurred during the Revolutionary War, Washington imposed a tax in 1791 on farmers who were selling whiskey on the frontier. The tax was seven cents per gallon of whiskey and impacted many farmers throughout the nation’s farmland. The farmers were so mad about the new tax that they would tar and feather the tax collectors when they came around to collect. Protests and riots broke out in the frontier and in 1794, many of the disgruntled farmers stormed the mansion of the Inspector of Revenue – Brigadier General John Neville – and burned it down.
# 2 Slavery Failures – During his presidency, Washington never dealt directly or effectively with the slavery issue in the United States. Being a slaveholder himself, he had several slaves working for him in the presidential household. Under Washington, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 was also enacted, which made it a federal crime to assist an escaped slave. This overruled state laws that allowed escaped slaves a place of sanctuary and slaveholders were allowed to search every state and territory in search for their escaped slaves.
Washington had notoriously bad teeth. Contrary to myth, his dentures were not made of wood but from the teeh purchased from slaves