PRESIDENT GEORGE WASHINGTON
*George Washington has sometimes been called the Father of his Country and the indispensable man in American history, without whom the United States might not exist to-day. To-day we’ll look at why.
*George Washington’s election was unanimous in the Electoral College.
*Many of Washington’s Cabinet—the group of men who advised him and helped him carry out his duties—included some of the great men of his time.
*John Adams, an early spokesman for independence and a very strong Federalist was his Vice-President, and later our second President.
*Thomas Jefferson, who had been ambassador to France, was named Secretary of State. He would eventually come to oppose the proponents of a strong central government, such as Adams and Hamilton.
*Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury. A Federalist and an advocate of a strong national government, he believed in a stable currency, and thought it was good for the US to be in debt to the rich people in the country, so they would support the government in order to ensure they would one day be repaid. Eventually, Jefferson and Hamilton would become great enemies, but they worked together well enough at first.
*Henry Knox, Revolutionary general, served as Secretary of War, and Edmund Randolph served as Attorney General. There were no other cabinet members.
*Washington’s administration set a number of precedents—they were the first to do things in the new government, and so people do many things to-day because they did them that way first.
*There was debate over whether to call the President ‘Your Majesty,’ ‘Your Excellency,’ or ‘Your Highness’ like a European ruler, or if ‘Mr. President’ would do. This was not decided until well after the Civil War.
*Some people felt that Washington was too much like a king. He was very formal (and preferred to be called by titles such as ‘Your Majesty’). Although he was re-elected without opposition in 1792, he began to face some opposition from men who feared he was setting himself up to be King George IV. Among these opponents was Mr Jefferson, although he kept that to himself publicly rather than be seen criticising the Father of the Country.
*Tired, old, sick after a horse riding injury, and weary of the bickering among Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and others, Washington announced later in 1796 that he would not consider being President again. This set the precedent that the President would not rule for life like a king, and also set the tradition that the president would only serve two terms. Only two presidents have tried to break this: Theodore Roosevelt, who failed, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who won four terms. After FDR’s death in office, however, the tradition was made law through the 22nd Amendment to the US Constitution.
*One of Washington’s most enduring acts, aside from setting this important precedent, was the selection of the site for the US Capital (an honour given Washington because he was the only man everyone liked and trusted enough—the several states were bickering over where the capital should be). He selected a site ten miles on a side near his home at Mount Vernon Virginia. The area was called the District of Columbia, after Christopher Columbus. Only after Washington’s death in 1799 was the city named Washington. Washington never got to live in the District of Columbia. Although he visited the site often, the Executive Mansion, not yet called the White House, was not ready for anyone to occupy until late in the presidency of John Adams. Until then, the government mostly met in Philadelphia.
*With Washington’s retirement, party politics, so feared by the Anti-Federalists, would begin to arise in America, as different groups struggled over the role of the government in America and of America in the world.
BACK TO SYLLABUS
This page last updated 4 September, 2003.