George Washington Biography ID 22

Our nation's capital, a state, and a soaring obelisk represent monuments to George Washington. He gained an international reputation when he surrendered his sword to Congress after he resigned as commander-in-chief in 1783 at age 52 to tend Mount Vernon, his 6,700 acre plantation along the Potomac.

Even during his lifetime, Washington was considered as much a monument as a man. To Americans of the revolutionary and early national period, he personified republican virtue. A superb horseman, dignified in appearance, standing well over six feet tall, he looked like a military hero. But it was his character that elicited particular admiration.

Compared to many of the nation's founders, his background was far more limited. He never attended college nor did he ever visit Europe. Until he took command of the revolutionary army besieging British troops in Boston, he had never traveled north to New England, and until he became President, he had never gone south to the Carolinas or Georgia. A frontiersman and a surveyor, he made his reputation in the wilderness that lay across the Appalachian Mountains. As a general, he possessed great political skills, and was able to hold the Continental Army together in the face of severe challenges.

Acutely aware of his reputation for republic virtue, Washington was extremely careful about how he behaved in public. The Constitution posed a genuine quandary for Washington. He very much hoped for a stronger national government than the Articles of Confederation could provide, but he also feared that he public might question his motives for participating in the convention. The following quotation reveals his thoughts on this subject:

A thought...has lately run through my mind.... It is, whether my non-attendance in this Convention will not be considered as dereliction to Republicanism, nay more, whether other motives may not (however injuriously) be ascribed to me for not exerting myself on this occasion?

In the end, Washington agreed to serve as president of the Constitutional Convention, and his popularity and prestige helped to secure the Constitution's ratification.

Jefferson wrote in 1814: "His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order.... He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, ever consideration, was maturely weighed...."

Vice President Adams proposed that Washington be given a title to fit the dignity of his office: "His Highness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." But Washington preferred a simple title: "Mr. President."

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