Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
WASHINGTON, George, president of the United States 1789-97, was born in Westmoreland county, Va., Feb. 22, 1732, and died at Mt. Vernon, Va., Dec. 14, 1799. In youth he became a land surveyor, and in the French and Indian war he was advanced to the grade of colonel and commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces, distinguishing himself in Braddock's defeat. In 1759 he married Martha, widow of John Parke Custis; and the care of her extensive property occupied him thereafter, though he was for fifteen years a silent member of the house of burgesses of his colony. He was a delegate to the continental congress in 1774-5, and the general anxiety to keep Virginia steady in resistance to the crown induced his appointment as commander-in-chief of the American forces, June 15, 1775. Whatever the motives may have been that governed his appointment, he very rapidly proved his extraordinary fitness for the place, and became the great and central figure of the revolution. The character of no other public man of the time can so successfully submit to microscopic examination. There seems to have been nothing little in him. Great in defeat, he was greater still in success, and the crowning event of his military career was his surrender of his commission to congress at the close of the war. (For the events of the war see the biographies cited below.)
—After resigning his commission, he retired to Mount Vernon, to put his private affairs in order, and to pursue the line of investments in western lands to which he had been attracted during his early military life. In politics he was most interested in the evident and dismal failure of the confederacy. (See
—In the elections of 1789 and 1792 all the electors voted for him, and he became president. (See
—Washington was slow of judgment, and anxious to see all sides of a case and to get all possible opinions upon it, but when he had formed an opinion or a judgment, it was his own, and he seldom changed it. Most of the state papers which pass as Washington's were originally written by other hands, though none of them were given to the world until they had been revised, digested and reproduced by him and made thoroughly his own. His letters, however, are his own; and though their editor has pushed his province of correcting them to an extreme, no editing can conceal the essential nature of the writer as shown in them. The strong judgment, the good sense, the calmness and patience, the consciousness of strength and of the ability to control the strength, the absolute freedom from self-seeking in any form, make his letters a monument which will always justify the instinctive popular estimate of him. Other men have surpassed him in particular phases of character and ability; but, in all phases together, his letters will show that he was the greatest man the earth has yet seen.
—A bibliography of Washingtoniana would be altogether too voluminous for our space. The list of books, tracts and medals relating to his death alone fills two volumes, as collected by F. B. Hough in 1865. Among the lives may be mentioned Marshall's, Irving's, Sparks', A. Bancroft's, Lossing's, Ramsay's and Everett's; Custis' Private Memoirs of Washington; and Rush's Washington in Domestic Life. See also, Sparks' Writings of Washington; 1 Statesman's Manual (for his messages); Gibbs' Memoirs of the Administrations of Washington and Adams; Trescott's Diplomatic History of the Administrations of Washington and Adams; Thacher's Life and Military Journal of Washington; Griswold's Republican Court; 2 Pitkin's United States; 3-5 Hildreth's United States; 1 Schouler's United States. There is a forcible pen-portrait of Washington at pp. 77 and 114-126 of Schouler as cited above; and in fiction Thackeray has attempted the same thing in The Virginians.
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