Sunday, December 11, 2011

10 Fun Facts About George Washington

George Washington, the 1st President of the United States

1)  George Washington was born in 1732 in Virginia, to a family who owned tobacco plantations and numerous slaves.  A number of Washington's siblings died at young ages, and his father died when he was only 11 years old, leaving him largely brought up by his eldest half-brother and that half-brother's father-in-law, William Fairfax, who was himself a cousin to Thomas Fairfax, the wealthiest landowner in Virginia.  When his half-brother Lawrence died in 1752, George inherited the estate of Mount Vernon from him.

2)  Through political appointments, Washington entered military service in the early 1750's, very quickly earning a reputation as a competent leader and battle commander.  At only 23 years of age, he became the commander-in-chief of the Virginia colony's militia, and fought numerous battles against hostile Native American tribes scattered along the borders of the colony.

3)  In 1758, on a mission to capture a French fort, Washington's unit was involved in an exchange of fire with what they believed were enemy combatants.  Fourteen men were killed and another twenty-six wounded before both sides realized they were firing at friendly troops.  Whether because of this mishap or not, Washington resigned his commission after the expedition, and returned to private life on his Virginia plantation.

4)  In 1759, Washington married the very wealthy widow Martha Custis, who brought two children with her to the marriage.  George and Martha never had children of their own; it has been suggested that George Washington may have been sterile due to a bout with smallpox in the early 1750's.  In any case, they raised Martha's children at Mount Vernon, and later (after both those children had died as young adults), Martha's two grandchildren.  The couple became one of the most prominent and wealthiest of Virginia's landowners in the 1760's.

5)  When the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Washington came out of retirement to volunteer his services, and was immediately named as the commander-in-chief of the newly formed Continental Army.

6)  Following his success in the Revolutionary War, Washington - to the surprise of virtually everyone - resigned his commission to return to private life.  Apparently dedicated to the old Roman ideal of serving only when needed, his actions gave rise to the so-called Society of the Cincinnati, which was named after the 5th century B.C.E. Roman consul Cincinnatus, who had left his plow to lead Rome during a crisis, then returned to his plow when the crisis was over (rather than use his influence to become a dictator).  Washington became the society's first president, holding that office until his death.  The society was a key supporter of land grants to war veterans, and the city of Cincinnati was founded primarily by veterans who had been beneficiaries of these grants.

7)  After presiding over the formation of the Constitution, Washington was unanimously elected the country's first president in 1789.  However, his term was considered to have officially begun when the Constitution was approved in 1788, and as such, the term ended in 1792, with Washington having only served three years.  He was re-elected in 1792.  In both those elections, electoral college members were selected by the states, and those electors were then required to place votes for two people to be president - their "favorite two," as it were.  Whoever ended up with the most votes became president, while the runner-up would become vice-president.  Some states did not actually use a general election, or a "popular vote," to determine electors; instead, those electors were simply appointed by the state legislatures.  As a result, many Americans did not actually get to vote in either of these elections - the outcomes were determined by electoral college members, who were in turn chosen by a variety of methods among the states.  It is estimated that only 0.5% of the U.S. population actually voted in the 1792 election - and those few who did get to vote only voted for electors, not for the actual presidential candidates.

8)  During his time as president, Washington worked out of New York and Philadelphia.  In 1790, a resolution was passed allowing the president to choose the permanent location of the federal government, and so Washington - a Virginia native - chose a parcel of land along the Potomac River in northern Virginia - modern day Washington, D.C.

9)  In 1796, after declining to run for a third term in office, Washington delivered a farewell address, in the form of a letter, to the United States.  He spent no less than six paragraphs within this document talking about the evils of political parties and encouraging American citizens not to form them.    

10)  George Washington died in December of 1799 after inspecting his fields in bad weather and developing a throat infection.  He missed seeing the turn of the century by just 17 days.  In his will, he freed all of his slaves.  After his death, a writer interviewed people who had, supposedly, known Washington as a child, and it is from these accounts that we get the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree.  However, this writer is known to have forged many other stories in his book, which was published in 1800, and today most scholars assume the story is fictitious.

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