The George Washington Years
George Washington and Themes that defined his Presidency
Born in 1732, George Washington was the first president of the United States and served for two terms from 1789 to 1799. Washington was in 1787 elected president of the convention that wrote the United States Constitution. Two years later, he became the first president of the United States. Initially, Washington was an American general and commander in chief of the American Revolution's colonial armies that lasted from 1775 to 1783. As a young individual, he worked as a surveyor and fought in the Indian and French War from 1754- 1763. In the American Revolution, he led the colonial army to victory over the British and consequently became a national hero. As a leader, his actions influenced the presence of a robust executive branch and central government. Hence, his legacy was characterized by integrity, strength, and national resolve. In this regard, an analysis of the themes that defined his presidency will be vital.
George Washington had a first-hand experience during the late 1760s of the impact of rising taxes imposed on American colonists by the British. In 1774, he worked as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. George Washington kept the struggling colonial army united and motivated despite that they were poorly trained and lacked basic amenities. This was evident at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778. During the Constitutional Convention, the impressive leadership skills convinced the delegates that he was the most qualified individual to lead as the first president. Thus, his administration focused on using the opportunity to define the American Presidency.
As the first president, he acknowledged the need to ensure the presidency was powerful enough to operate efficiently in the national government. Nonetheless, he affirmed that these actions should not display any likelihood of dictatorship or monarchy (Rozell, Pederson & Williams, 2000). In this regard, slavery was a common theme during his presidency. President Washington continually voiced his opinion on slavery in personal writing. Based on Hirschfeld (1997), the president was influential in molding the country's racism concept. He privately drafted his support for the systematic and legislative end to slave. Nonetheless, as the president, he failed to make slavery his cause. This is because he avoided overstepping his constitutional power or violating the slaveholders’ property rights. Thus, he focused on finding a solution to his involvement with slavery.
In the 1787 Constitutional Convention, antislavery representatives agreed to compromise on the slave trade's delayed discussions and protection of the slaveholders’ property rights. The Fugitive Slave Law was signed in 1793 to accord the slaveholders the right to recover escaped slaves across the state territories. Additionally, in 1794, the Slave Trade Act was also enacted to forbid U.S. involvement in human trafficking. In the 1790s, he formulated several plans to lease or sell property in Mount Vernon. The income would be used to finance the emancipation of his slaves. Despite that, he was not successful in this venture; he used his moral authority, political influence, and personal beliefs to facilitate the slavery discussion (Hirschfeld, 1997). Hence, the slavery debate has since been recognized as part of his legacy.
Next, domestic affairs were a point of concern for the Washington administration. The national bank debate stood out since the United States had to deal with the national debt. The government had borrowed money from France to finance the expenses incurred during the war. The state debt was approximately $25 million, and the lack of constitutional clarity on managing the situation was detrimental to the nation’s progress (Kelly, 2008). The First Bank of the United States was passed by the Senate and House and signed into law by President Washington. Moreover, selecting effective cabinet members was instrumental in the success of the new government. The cabinet appointees were Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who disagreed strongly on the federal government's functions. Nonetheless, President Washington acknowledged that different views were essential to the health of the government.
Finally, foreign policies were another theme that characterized the Washington administration. During his second term, he declared the proclamation of neutrality to avoid joining the war between France and Great Britain in 1793. Based on Graebner, Burns & Siracusa (2011), under President Washington’s leadership, they postponed disagreements with Britain for nearly a decade and a half as the United States worked on its domestic strength. In 1795, the Treaty of Amity Commerce and Navigation between the Britannic Majesty and the United States was signed. It was essential since it aided the U.S. to avoid war with Great Britain. During his presidential term, Washington signed the 1795 Pinckney’s Treaty, which created friendly interactions between Spanish territories and America. On the other hand, the Treaty of Tripoli was approved, giving the U.S. ships access to Mediterranean borders.
In conclusion, President Washington was the United States founding father whose unique leadership skills established a precedent for other incoming leaders. The Washington administration was characterized by strategic policies that would have an impact on the nation’s progress. The Whiskey Rebellion affirmed the national government’s authority in the country. President Washington used his resources to foster unity, justice, and national progress.
Graebner, N. A., Burns, R. D., & Siracusa, J. M. (2011). Foreign affairs and the founding fathers: from Confederation to constitution, 1776-1787. ABC-CLIO.
Hirschfeld, F. (1997). George Washington and slavery: a documentary portrayal. University of Missouri Press.
Kelly, R. E. (2008). The National Debt of the United States, 1941 to 2008. McFarland.
Rozell, M. J., Pederson, W. D., & Williams, F. J. (Eds.). (2000). George Washington and the Origins of the American Presidency. Greenwood Publishing Group.