Podcast # 8: George Washington

Pre- Presidency

Grew up on a Plantation in Virginia

Like most wealthy young men at the time, he was most likely privately tutored at home. He began his career as a Land Surveyor and was a member of the Virginia Militia and fought in the French and Indian War. He was eventually put in charge of the entire Militia of Virginia. He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses (The first legislative body in the New World). After the death of his older half-brother, he inherited Mount Vernon and expanded the house and plantation significantly.


2 terms (1789-1797)

Elected unanimously: 69 votes

If you listened to our podcast on the Electoral College you will remember that at one point in time each elector in the electoral college could cast two votes. The person with the most votes became president and the person with the second highest votes, became vice president. Each elector that was able to cast a vote cast 1 for George Washington.

As President, George Washington set many Precedents. A Precedent is an example that is followed as if it were a law. He was the first person to have this important role. “I walk on untrodden ground” – The importance and the difficulty of being the first person to ever do something. Prior to him, the Executive Branch only existed on paper. He had to bring the role of the President to life. He had to ensure that the Presidency was strong and revered but didn’t mirror a king or dictator.

Oath – He added “So help me God” to the end

What do we call the President: “Simply call me Mr. President”

Serving 2 terms and then stepping down.


Sworn in as president in NYC (Our nation’s first capital for 2 years) at Federal Hall

George Washington and his family lived at Osgood House for about 10 months – paid rent of $845 a year

Moved into Alexander Macomb House – much larger and in a quieter part of the city. He had a staff of 20 including 7 slaves which he had brought from Mount Vernon. Both Building have since been demolished but there are plaques at the former site of each building.

In Aug. of 1790, Washington went to Philadelphia which became the temporary capital until building could be completed along the Potomac.

Washington would finish his term at what became known as The President’s House in Philadelphia (Which was also later demolished) Adams would spend the majority of his Presidential term there as well.

Slavery was slowly being abolished in PA. George Washington argues that because he was technically a resident of VA and that slavery was allowed there he was allowed to keep his slaves with him there. At the time of Washington’s death, he owned 317 slaves. In his will, he decreed that upon his wife’s death, his slaves should be freed. This only freed about half as many were inherited by his wife’s grandchildren.

What is often not discussed about our Founding Fathers is that many of them were slave holders. This is something that is being discussed and highlighted more and more. If you go to Mount Vernon, you will see the slave quarters and the vast array of jobs and trades that Washington’s slaves were forced to do. If you go to Mountvernon.org there are wonderful virtual tours and a significant amount of information about the treatment, lives and most importantly, the names and descriptions of many of the enslaved people at Mount Vernon. When we discuss all of the wonderful and important things about George Washington, it is also important that we talk about the fact that like many people during the time in which he lived, was a Slave Owner. George Washington purchased slaves, inherited slaves. Over the course of his life, his views on slavery changed. Yet, he kept human beings enslaved. He had overseers who I am sure did terribly cruel things as many slave overseers did. Time and especially, death has a way of removing the bad from a person’s legacy. We have to recognize both sides of Washington.

Washington’s Presidency. Presidential legacies aren’t just defined by the individual, but by the events that take place during the Presidency.

Domestic Issues:

Creation of the Legislative and Judicial Branches

Judiciary Act of 1789 structured the Judicial Branch - 6 Justices - John Jay 1st Chief Justice and established the lower courts.

Nation’s Capital formally moved to an area along the Potomac River. Would be called The District of Columbia and eventually be called Washington, D.C. to honor our first President.

Political Parties began to emerge: Federalists and Democratic Republicans

Revolutionary War Debts totaled around 25 Million. States owned tremendous amounts of debt. Some states had paid they debts. The New Strong Central Government would assume or take on state debts. As long as The United States continued to owe foreign governments money, they would ensure its continued to survival…. (they want their money back) The creation of a National Bank to created federally backed currency was essential. Alexander Hamilton (1st Treasury Secretary of the US) devised this plan.

Whiskey Rebellion (1791) Hamilton proposed a tax on Whiskey to help alleviate Revolutionary War debts. For many North eastern farmers, whiskey was very profitable and even a form of currency.

3 new states added: Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee

Washington’s Farewell address

Written by mostly James Madison AND Alexander Hamilton

1. Avoid Sectional feelings

2. Avoid Political Parties – divisive

3. Steer Clear of permanent alliances

Foreign Issues:

French Revolution (1789) French Revolutionaries sought help and support from the US. Washington issued a strict policy of Neutrality and Isolationism. USA was a new country, crippled in debt. France was our main ally during the revolution.

Great Britain and France at War

British Seizing Ships headed to France – hundreds of US Ships taken

Jay Treaty (1795)

Unpopular Treaty between the US and Britain. Led to an increase in Political divisions.

Britain: Seizing US merchant ships headed to and from France

Impressment of Sailors from US Merchant ships

British Military still in forts along the Northwest Territory

US: hadn’t paid back pre-revolutionary war debt. Seizing land that had belonged to Tories (Supporters pf the British during the American Revolution)

US paid prewar debt, Britain removed military from forts, paid for the seized merchant ships

Pinckney’s Treaty or Treaty of San Lorenzo (1795)

Paying the Dey: Dey of Algiers

Barbary coast pirates were seizing American merchant ships in the Mediterranean. Sailors were captured and help for ransom. Many European countries would pay tributes to avoid wars. The US paid the Dey of Algiers to avoid War.

Pay around 1 million dollars to protect ships in the Mediterranean.

Washington’s retirement and death

Washington returned to Mount Vernon after his Presidency. He kept meticulous records and even while President, demanded weekly updates about the daily happening on the plantation. He received visitors regularly and kept in contact with the members of Adams’ cabinet (which were the same people who served in his cabinet) He was made head of the Military in response to the XYZ Affair and French Aggression. Alexander Hamilton was his second in command.

George Washington wrote his own 42 page will and died on Dec. 14, 1799 of a throat infection.

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