Profiles in Presidenting: George Washington

George Washington was our first President, serving from April 30, 1789, to March 4, 1797.

George Washington

Born:  2/22/1732, Westmoreland County, Virginia
Died: 12/14/1799, Mount Vernon, Virginia

50-Word Biography

Prior to the Revolutionary War, George Washington worked as surveyor, served in the Virginia militia, and developed and managed his impressive land holdings with a strong interest in agriculture.  He of course was a prominent leader in the American Revolution and served as the first US president for eight years.

What’s Awesome about this President

  • He was the first President of the United States
  • He invented the Inaugural Address
  • He was the only president to be unanimously elected
  • He was an excellent and enthusiastic dancer
  • He was instrumental in designing Washington, DC, and the White House, although he was the only President to never serve there
  • He belonged to no political party
  • He owned the largest whiskey distillery in America

My Thoughts

George Washington was a remarkable man with wooden teeth.  As a child, he cut down his father’s cherry tree, and then confessed, stating “I cannot tell a lie.”  One time, he even threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River!

Of course, none of that is actually true…except for the part about Washington being remarkable.

George Washington was our first President.  This is something that pretty much every American knows.  It’s one of those basic facts that make up our collective common knowledge, like how the sky is (or at least appears to be) blue, grass is green, and Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father.  But even though George Washington’s presidency is just a given today, it’s important to reflect on how significant a deal this actually was.

Imagine the position he was in.  Here was this relatively new country still trying to figure things out after declaring independence thirteen years ago.  Its first attempt at a national government didn’t work out, and now it was George Washington’s job to set everything right and, at the same time, serve as the standard for all future Presidents to follow.  No pressure.

Washington understood the situation he was in.  Early on in his Presidency, he wrote the following in a letter to English historian Catherine Macaulay Graham:

In our progress towards political happiness my station is new; and, if I may use the expression, I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct wch. may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.

Had Washington been pompous and self-serving, things would have gone much differently.  Fortunately for the US, our first President possessed the perfect mix of humility and appreciation for the significance of his office.  One example that illustrates this is his choice of designs for what would become the White House–it was important to him for the structure to be substantial and grand enough to serve as not just a building, but a symbol of the Presidency, but at the same time not be too grand as it also need to serve as a symbol of a republic, not a monarchy.

In the end, Washington chose to step down after two terms.  Of course, today, we know a President can only be elected to two full terms, but this was not a given back then–Presidential term limits didn’t even exist until 1951.  Choosing to step down when he probably could have continued in office until his death was a bold choice.  Once he set the two-term precedent, it held for over 140 years, until FDR was elected to a third term in 1940.

His Presidency aside, one of my favorite fun facts about George Washington is that he owned the largest whiskey distillery in America.  His distillery at Mount Vernon started up around the time he left office and became one his most profitable enterprises.  The Mount Vernon website has a lot of interesting information about the distillery.  While the original distillery burned down in 1814, a reconstruction was built between 2005 and 2007, and is operational today.  You can even buy whiskey that was produced at the distillery using the same old-school methods used in Washington’s day.  A visit to the distillery is definitely on my Presidential bucket list!

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