Knowing the Presidents: George Washington

George Washington, 1732–1799

First President, 1789–1797

Personal Information

George Washington was the son of Augustine Washington (1694-1743) and his second wife, Mary Ball Washington (1708-1789).

The Washington family moved to Ferry Farm Plantation in 1738. Located on the Rappahanock River, Washington would spend most of his childhood there.

George was only 11 years old when his father died. Upon his father’s death, the plantation and all its holdings were left to George’s older half-brothers, Lawrence and Augustine.

Although George Washington attended grammar school, he is one of eight presidents that did not attend college.

At 17 years old, George Washington served as county surveyor of Culpepper County.

Washington’s military career began when he was 21 years old.


In 1789, only 10 of the 13 original colonies voted in the election.

The 1790 Census reported a population of 3,929,214: 2.4 million free white men and women, and 600,000 slaves.

Citizens across the colonies as well as Washington’s former comrades in arms insisted that only he could forge a nation. Washington won the presidency by unanimous electoral vote in both 1788 and in 1792.

About less than 1.3% of the population, at the time, voted in the election of 1788-89.


Because he was America’s first president, George Washington essentially created the presidency. For example, although the Constitution explained government roles and some limitations, no term limitations were set.

Foremost in domestic affairs was the challenge of expansion and conflicts with Native Americans. White settlers began to move inland, west of the Appalachian Mountains, where they confronted 100,000 Native Americans. From 1790 to 1800, about 10 percent of all American households relocated.

Near Toledo, Ohio, Washington sent federal troops to fight seven tribes of Native Americans in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in the summer of 1794. Defeated, the seven tribes—the Shawnee, Miami, Ottawa, Chippewa, Iroquois, Sauk, and Fox—relinquished large portions of their land to the United States and then moved west.

In foreign affairs, Britain refused to surrender its western posts and also used these to supply Indians in order to stir up trouble for the US.

Due to the Revolution in France, Washington revoked the former American colonies’ alliance with that country, an action that put him at odds with strong Francophiles like Thomas Jefferson.

Another thorn in Washington’s side was the Spanish right of deposit in the port of New Orleans, LA, which, since 1763, had been part of the Spanish empire.

Major Acts

To avoid becoming embroiled in the war between Great Britain and France, Washington issued a Proclamation of Neutrality in 1793. During this time, he was cautious of the counsel offered by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (supporter of the French) and that by the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton (supporter of the British).

In 1794, George Washington suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion (when Pennsylvania farmers attacked federal officials after an excise tax was imposed in 1791, on whiskey) by invoking the power of the federal government over the states.

In 1795, the Jay Treaty strengthened American economic ties with Britain and vacated English forts in the American west.


George Washington established the title, President, and outlined the capacities of the office through his example.

Washington started the tradition of the inaugural address as well as the Presidential Cabinet, neither prescribed by the Constitution.

Washington wrote and gave a farewell address still relevant today for its call for political unity among Americans.

Washington sided with Alexander Hamilton in the debate on how to fund a nation by imposing taxes and establishing a national bank. Thomas Jefferson bitterly opposed Hamilton, and two opposing parties formed: the Democratic-Republican Party headed by Jefferson, and the Federalist faction, led by Hamilton.