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George Washington

17. George Washington

<i>Washington at Window</i>
In this portrait, Washington at Window, circa 1948 (artist unknown), a thoughtful George Washington pauses from his writing for a moment.

A brilliant group of political leaders emerged during the Revolutionary Era and the early years of the new nation. Collectively, they are called the Founding Fathers and their names are familiar — Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.

Late 18th-century America still had a relatively small population, yet this group of major figures looms larger and appears more talented than any similar group at any other time in the country's history. It seems clear that the momentous events of the period and their obvious significance, encouraged many, perhaps most, of these individuals to step beyond the bounds of ordinary life to achieve greatness.

Washington at Valley Forge
This is a mid-19th century painting of George Washington at Valley Forge.

Perhaps the most eminent of this group, and almost certainly the single most important for the success of the Revolution and the stability of the new nation, was George Washington. As an able delegate from Virginia, he participated in the First and Second Continental Congresses.

However, his role in the fight toward independence became crucial during the war itself when he served for its duration as the commander of the Continental Army. After a brief retirement from public service, he once again became a political leader at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, where he was elected the presiding officer. Once Washington somewhat reluctantly agreed to be a presidential candidate, his election in 1789 received almost universal support. Everyone knew that he was the obvious choice to be the first president of the United States.

What made Washington such a towering figure even among this group of outstanding leaders? How did his personality and personal experiences help shape not only his own public career, but also the country's course in these critical founding years? Examining him in biographical detail can help us to understand many central elements of the creation of the nation. Washington's path to greatness also suggests significant ways that American life and politics have changed dramatically since the nation's founding in the late 18th century.

On the Web
Washington
In a hurry but you'd still like to read the words of one of history's greatest leaders, generals, and patriots? George Washington's second inaugural address shouldn't take too long ... it's the shortest inaugural address ever, a grand total of only 135 words.
Washington by Nathaniel Currier, 1850
A little known fact about a very famous coif: George Washington didn't wear a wig; he powdered his red-brown hair and tied it up.
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