Americans call GeorgeWashington "the father of our country."
Most people know himbest as the first president of the
In his private life, Washingtonowned a large whiskey distillery and thousands ofacres of land. He operated a large and successful farm. When the RevolutionaryWar was over, General Washington wanted to go home to his Virginiaestate, called Mount Vernon.
Joseph Ellis is ahistorian and prize-winning author who wrote a book called "HisExcellency: George Washington."
"He didn't wantto be president. No president in American history did not want to be presidentmore than George Washington."
But other leadersasked him to become the first president under the Constitution. Every electorvoted for him. Washingtonaccepted the job as his duty.
Washington as president
When GeorgeWashington was sworn in as president in 1789, the idea of a truly united stateswas still just an idea. Americans were unconnected social, economic and ethnicgroups. For example, a quarter of the people in the state of Pennsylvania spoke only German. The newpresident would have to establish a social and political union under theConstitution.
But the Constitutiondid not say in detail how the president could do that. Doug Bradburn, foundingdirector of the Washington Library at Mount Vernon, says George Washington invented the job ofpresident.
"I think thatwhat people don't estimate in their scale of judging his skill as a politicalfigure is just how fragile the country was, that the chances it would evensurvive were probably very, very slim."
Mr. Bradburn saysPresident Washington set many important precedents for all the presidents who followedhim. First, he was not just a figurehead but a decision maker.
He established agroup of advisors, the cabinet. They became a very important part of thepresidency, or executive branch. Washingtonchose strong people to lead the departments. Sometimes those cabinet membersdisagreed strongly, but Washingtonmanaged them well.
President Washingtonalso established the nation's official currency and the Department of ForeignAffairs, now called the State Department. He created a six-member SupremeCourt.
And, Washington said thepresident should set foreign policy. That responsibility was not clear in theConstitution.
Mr. Bradburn says Washington took his jobvery seriously and always used the Constitution as his guide.
"He wasn't justtrying to establish an office and then figure out a way to justify it, he wastrying to work with his Constitution."
As president, GeorgeWashington travelled around the country. In Rhode Island,he wrote to the Hebrew Congregation at Truro.The letter spoke eloquently about the rights of Jews. Mr. Bradburnsays this letter is "tremendously significant." Supporting the Jewsand their religion was a revolutionary act of acceptance for its time.
Washington as a young man
George Washington was born in 1732 in Virginia.His father died when George was 11 years old. As a boy, he learned reading,writing and math. Then he worked as a land surveyor in western Virginia.
In his twenties, hebecame a British Army officer. George Washington fought in the French andIndian War.
Mr. Ellis points outthat Washington did not have a formal orcollege education like many other early
"But in somesense, Adams goes to Harvard, and Jefferson goes to William and Mary and Washington goes towar."
Mr. Ellis says thefirst president was "a realist." At the same time, he was a"very passionate man" with "extremely strong emotions." Hewas known to get angry, but he only showed his temper to a few people.
Washington not only acted likea great leader – he looked like one. George Washington stood about 1.9 meterstall. He was a head taller than the average man of his time.
He was very strong,and very graceful. He was known as one of the besthorseback riders and best dancers in Virginia.
But he had a problem:bad teeth.
Unlike his wife,Martha, who was known for her lovely smile, George Washington began losing histeeth in his twenties. When he was sworn in as president, he had only one toothleft.
Dentists made him sets of dentures fromuncomfortable metal and springs. Some of the teeth were from hippopotamusivory. Mr. Ellis says Washingtoneven paid some of his slaves for their teeth.
"About six ofthe teeth in his mouth in his latter years, when he is president, are actuallyfrom slaves at Mount Vernon."
Washington as a myth
Even today peopletell stories about George Washington. One popular story, that he had woodenteeth, is not true.
And he did not chopdown a cherry tree as a child and then admit it by saying, "I cannot tella lie." In fact, historian Joseph Ellis says George Washington "liedmany times."
But as Washington became morefamous, his reputation as a man who always did the right thing grew. Mr. Ellistells about one artist who painted Washington'sportrait. The artist painted what he thought people wanted to see, instead ofwhat he really saw.
"When the artist was painting one of his famous presidential portraits in1795, and it's the famous Vaughanportrait, it's of the icon. But he said, ‘as Ilooked at him he looked to me like the wildest animal in the forest,' butthat's not what he painted."
Mr. Ellis says evenGeorge Washington understood people would look at his writings and judge him inhistory.
"At some pointin his life, probably during the war, Washingtonwent from being a man to a monument. He was aware of the fact that he had arole to play and that all emerging nations need mythical heroes."
Washington became veryprotective of his personal thoughts. His wife, Martha, whom he married in 1759,burned most of their letters when her husband died.
Doug Bradburn of theWashington Library at Mount Vernonsays people can know the first president by his actions. He says GeorgeWashington had an unusual range of abilities.
"As apolitician, you know, as a statesman, as a military figure. These are allthings that he develops through practice and through reading."
George Washington hadone main regret. He told a close aide that he wished he had been able to dosomething about slavery. When he died, on December 14, 1799, George Washingtonfreed his slaves in his will. He also gave money to the slaves andtheir children to receive an education.
Historian JosephEllis says one of the best things about George Washington was his ability togive up power.
"One of hisgreatest assets was he was a great aficionado of exits, of giving up power. Youcould trust Washingtonwith power because he was so conspicuouslywillingto give it up."
At the end of theRevolutionary War, Washingtongave up his sword. And at the end of his presidency, Washingtonsimply went back to Mount Vernon.
Doug Bradburn says Washington was the rightman to be the father of the country and first president. Mr. Bradburn, likemany historians, calls George Washington the "indispensable man." He made ideas aboutAmerican freedom and government real, and he showed that even the presidentwould operate under the rule of law.
I'm Anne Ball.
AnneBall reported and wrote this story. Kelly J. Kelly was the editor.
accomplishment (s) –n. somethingdone or achieved, successfully
distillery –n. placewhere alcoholic drinks are produced
precedent (s) –n. asimilar action or event that happened earlier
figurehead –n. a person who is called the head ofsomething but who has no real power
eloquently- adj. having orshowing the ability to use language clearly and effectively
surveyor –n. a personwhose job is to measure and examine an area of land
temper –n. the tendency of someoneto become angry
graceful –adj. movingin a smooth and attractive way
denture(s) –n. a set of artificial teeth
icon –n. a personwho is very successful and admired
will –n. a legaldocument in which a person states who should receive his or her possessionsafter he or she dies
aficionado –n. a person who likes and knows a lotabout something
conspicuously – adv. very easyto see or notice
indispensible – adj. extremelyimportant and necessary usage
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