George Washington Biography
First President of the United States
When George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1783, he had no intention of returning to politics. The Revolutionary War had taken its toll and he was ready to retire to Mount Vernon with Martha. In his last address to the Continental Congress Washington ended it by saying "I take my leave of all the employments of public life." But however much Washington wanted to retire from public life, the new country needed his leadership even more.
Washington's friends first convinced him to attend the Constitutional Convention which formed a new and stronger government for the United States. He presided over the affair as president and then returned home once again. At this point Washington was weary of public life. He knew many wanted him as President of the United States, but he did not want the position.
Unlike today's campaigns for president where people spend millions of dollars to get elected, the first campaign was quite different. The citizens of America wanted George Washington as their president and no one else. He was the only man who appealed to the entire country. Many felt it would take Washington's leadership to hold the country together. He received letters from around the country imploring him to accept the position and do this last service for his country. Eventually, Washington relented and agreed to serve.
Election and Inauguration
In the first election, each state had two electors who voted for president. The person with the most votes would be president, the person with the second most votes would be vice president. The votes were counted on April 6, 1789. George Washington was elected president and John Adams Vice President. Washington received a vote from every elector making him the only president to be unanimously elected.
Upon learning he had been elected president, Washington journeyed from Mount Vernon to New York City. He was inaugurated as the first President of the United States at Federal Hall on April 30, 1789.
As the first President of the United States, Washington was breaking ground with every action he took. He would set the standards of the office for all future presidents to come. Washington knew he was walking a tightrope. He wanted the office to be powerful enough to govern the country, but not so powerful it would become a dictatorship or monarchy.
Title and Address
One of the first precedents Washington set was how he would be addressed. Would it be "His Highness", "His Majesty", "His Excellency", or perhaps just "George"? These were all suggestions by the men in Congress. However, Washington didn't like any of these. Eventually, they settled on "Mr. President" which appealed to Washington.
Washington established the first presidential cabinet early in his first term. Important members of his cabinet included Alexander Hamilton (Secretary of the Treasury), Thomas Jefferson (Secretary of State), Henry Knox (Secretary of War), and Edmund Randolph (Attorney General). Washington would have meetings with his cabinet members to determine policies and make important government decisions. His cabinet members did not always get along, especially Hamilton and Jefferson who were constantly arguing. Washington, however, would listen to the input from all his cabinet members, make a decision, and then expect the members to follow his orders.
Dress, Work Day, and Retreats
Another important precedent set by Washington was how the president lived everyday life. First off, Washington never wore his military uniform as president. He wore everyday civilian clothing. This made it clear that he considered the position an elected position of the people, not a military position. Washington also established a typical presidential work day. He spent the first part of the day conducting government business. This left the late afternoon and evening for public meetings and private parties. Washington also took time off to visit Mount Vernon, establishing periods of regular breaks for the president from the pressures of office.
Two Terms and Transition of Power
Perhaps one of the most important precedents set by George Washington was that of leaving the office of president. He refused to serve more than two terms. He felt that any longer and he would be looked at as a king. He also worked at the end of his final term to provide a smooth transition of power to the new president, John Adams.
The name for the "cabinet" comes from James Madison who once referred to these meetings as "the president's cabinet."
Washington initially declined a salary for his job as president. Congress, however, asked him to accept the salary in order to not establish a precedent whereby only the independently wealthy could afford to serve as president.
Washington's presidential salary of $25,000 was equal to 2 percent of the total federal budget in 1789. Two percent of the federal budget in 2018 would be around $80 billion!
George Washington Biography Contents
- Overview and Interesting Facts
- Growing Up George Washington
- French and Indian War
- Fort Duquesne
- Married Life and Mount Vernon
- The American Revolution Begins
- Commander in Chief
- Crossing the Delaware
- 1777 and Valley Forge
- Victory in the American Revolution
- End of the War, King Washington, and the Constitutional Convention
- First President of the United States
- The Presidency
- Leaving the Presidency, Retirement, and Death
- George Washington Quotes and Bibliography