George Washington

George Washington.
General and commander-in-chief George Washington on a horse.
George Washington and other revolutionaries riding triumphant through New York City the day when the British troops depart the city.
The United States’ capital Washington D.C. (with the Capitol building in focus), a city named after George Washington.
George Washington, his wife Martha (to the left) , two granddaughters and a servant.
The American one dollar bill, featuring Washington’s face.

George Washington is considered one of the founding fathers of the United States. He earned this status for serving as commander-in-chief during the Revolutionary War and for his role as the country’s first president. In the opinion of many Americans, he is the finest American who has ever lived.

A brave war hero

In the Revolutionary War, which was George Washington’s rise to fame, Washington’s army lost many battles against its enemy Britain. However, the general always found a way for the army to come back, and when it came to actual fighting, led by example. Washington often, bravely, exposed himself to enemy fire, and although bullets whisked past him from all directions, miraculously escaped unscathed every time. For this, he was believed to have providence, adding to Washington’s already favorable reputation as a military leader.

When the Revolutionary War was finally won, the popular commander of the armed forces was made the first president of the United States, in 1789. Washington had appeared not to aspire to such power, but humbly accepted the role when a unanimous electoral college voted for him. As president, Washington’s diplomatic but strong leadership then helped to unify and consolidate the fledgling nation, which he himself had led to sovereignty only years before.

Stepping down

After eight years, or two presidential terms, when most people believed that their reliable president would continue to cling to power, Washington voluntarily stepped down. His decision to not seek a third term as president may have been due to old age, but it set the precedent that the United States was not a dictatorship, where a ruler reigned for a life time. In a contemporary world of power-hungry kings and emperors, many historians say, this act of stepping down and allowing someone else to be elected president was George Washington’s finest hour.

Washington and slavery

Washington’s great accomplishments as president, including his stepping down after two presidential terms, often overshadows his holding slaves. Nevertheless, like so many others of his generation, George Washington regularly bought, sold and whipped slaves, and at the time of his death, in 1799, he held over one hundred people in bondage. However, seeing enslaved blacks work beside him on his estate and fight beside him during the Revolutionary War may have had an impact on him, because in his will, Washington set all of his slaves free.

Privately, George Washington expressed a desire to abolish slavery altogether, but as leader of the United States he did not actively oppose the practice. This passive position on slavery that America’s first president took appeased the powerful slave owners and helped keep the young, vulnerable country stable, but it did little to help African Americans achieve freedom. Still, in honor of George Washington and his ability to lead, the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., was named after him. Another tribute to the president, war hero and founding father of the United States was to put Washington’s face on the one dollar bill.