Introduction and Early Life
George Washington, the first president of the United States. Perhaps if it had not been for him, the United States may have never even existed in the first place. Today he is typically seen as one of the greatest presidents in American history and is largely looked at. Washington, born on February 22, 1732, gained several traits from his family, including his height and an interest in owning land. He had tragedy early in his life. His father died when he was 11 years old so his half-brother Lawrence took care of him. However, at the age of 34, Lawrence died of disease leaving Washington his plantation at Mount Vernon in Virginia. Washington did not have a college education, but after serving in the British Military during the French and Indian War, he entered politics when he entered into the House of Burgesses in 1759. When the American Revolution started, the new Continental Congress appointed him as commander of the American army. With help from France in the later years of the war, Washington was able to win American independence. He returned to public life and was present at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to form the government. The making of the Constitution stated how the government would be organized. There were three branches, a legislative, a judiciary, and finally an executive. While this system allowed for a checks and balance system between the branches, it was no doubt the key leader in the government would be the president in the executive branch.
The First President
George Washington was the only president ever to be unanimously elected in terms of the electoral college. The American system to elect the president basically allowed the people in each state to vote. That state's electoral votes would go to the candidate that the majority of people in the state voted for. Washington won every electoral vote. He was inaugrated on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall in New York City. He then formed his cabinet, which was made up of key founding fathers. John Adams was his vice president, Thomas Jefferson eventually became his secretary of state, and Alexander Hamilton was his secretary of treasury. His secretary of war was military officer Henry Knox and his attorney general was Edmund Randolph. There were no other positions in Washington's cabinet. However, being a president of a new country was not going to be easy. Immediatelly members of his cabinet argued over the federal government and the state governments. Jefferson was in favor of strong state governments. He believed states made the federal government and thus states were over the federal government. Hamilton believed in a stronger federal government. He believed people, not states, created the federal government and thus the federal government was over the states. This caused disagreements through the rest of the government as well. Supporters of a strong federal government were called Hamiltonians while supporters of the strong state governments were called Jeffersonians. Washington hoped to remain more neutral in these issues, but as tensions rose he had to take sides.
The National Bank
The main issue that the Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians debated was the national bank. In 1791, Hamilton proposed the establishment of a national bank to hold federal funds and issue paper money as well as provide loans to the government and capital for investment. Congress eventually passed the Bank Act that would set it up. Jefferson and his supporters were storngly against the national bank and requested Washington to veto the bill. Washington was stuck in a tough position. Jefferson believed that because the Constitution did not discuss a national bank, the federal government could not establish a national bank. Hamilton argued the opposite. If the Constitution did not discuss a national bank, then the federal government could establish it anyway because it was not stated in the Constitution that it could not. Washington agreed and signed it the Bank Act into law, but it was still controversial and his presidency could no longer remain neutral.
A Second Term
Like his first term, Washington was unanimously victorious in the electoral college in 1792. As his second term began he was seen as more of a supporter of the Hamiltonians and not the Jeffersonians. Shortly after he took office, war broke out between the world's two superpowers, Britain and France. Washington declared neutrality, but Britain and France, America's supposed ally, started to become hostile to the new republic. France expected American assitance, but Britain, which had the strongest navy at the time, blockaded French ports and that could not happen. Britain also kept troops at various outposts in American western territory along the Mississippi River. As tensions rose, the president sent John Jay, the first chief justice in the Supreme Court to organize a treaty with Britain. The Jay Treaty of 1794 was considered unpopular. While it did get the British to remove troops from outposts in American territory, critics argued that Jay made a trade deal unfavorable to the United States. This would be the last major action during Washington's presidency as he left after two terms. This would become a major model for future presidents, showing that unlike kings, presidents are not leaders for life.
Legacy and Later Life
Washington died on December 14, 1799. His slaves were freed as he had wished when he died. George Washington remains a major leader in American history. A founding father, a leader of the American army, and the first president of the United States, no one can ignore his legacy during the birth of a new nation.