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Introduction, Early Life, Early Career, General of the Continental Army, Return Home, President of the United States, Second Term as President, Last Years
I. IntroductionPrint section
Washington, George (1732-1799), first president of the United States (1789-1797) and one of the most important leaders in United States history. His role in gaining independence for the American colonies and later in unifying them under the new U.S. federal government cannot be overestimated. Laboring against great difficulties, he created the Continental Army, which fought and won the American Revolution (1775-1783), out of what was little more than an armed mob. After an eight-year struggle, his design for victory brought final defeat to the British at Yorktown, Virginia, and forced Great Britain to grant independence to its overseas possession.


With victory won, Washington was the most revered man in the United States.
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A lesser person might have used this power to establish a military dictatorship or to become king. Washington sternly suppressed all such attempts on his behalf by his officers and continued to obey the weak and divided Continental Congress. However, he never ceased to work for the union of the states under a strong central government. He was a leading influence in persuading the states to participate in the Constitutional Convention, over which he presided, and he used his immense prestige to help gain ratification of its product, the Constitution of the United States.


Although worn out by years of service to his country, Washington reluctantly accepted the presidency of the United States. Probably no other man could have succeeded in welding the states into a lasting union. Washington fully understood the significance of his presidency. I walk on untrodden ground, he said. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent. During eight years in office, Washington laid down the guidelines for future presidents.


Washington lived only two years after turning over the presidency to his successor, John Adams. The famous tribute by General Henry Lee, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, accurately reflected the emotions that Washington’s death aroused. Later generations have crowned this tribute with the simple title Father of His Country.


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