10 Facts About George Washington

George Washington on Horseback

GraphicaArtis / Contributor / Getty Images

George Washington was a crucial figure in the founding of America. As the first President of the United States, he served from April 30, 1789, to March 3, 1797. Here are ten facts that you should know about this fascinating man.

01
of 10

Washington the Surveyor

Engraving of George Washington's 1763 Survey of the Great Dismal Swamp
George Washington's 1763 survey to drain the Great Dismal Swamp was in part intended to drive out the maroon communities living there. Engraved by S V Huni from the original by M Neven. Kean Collection Getty Images

 

Washington did not attend college. However, because he had an affinity for math, he started his career in 1749 as a surveyor for the newly established Culpepper County in Virginia at the age of 17. A surveyor was one of the most important jobs for the new colonies: he was the one who mapped out the resources available in sections and set boundary lines for future potential ownership. 

He spent three years at this job before joining the British military; but he continued surveying throughout his life, eventually surveying an estimated total of 60,000 acres in 200 different surveys.

02
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Military Action in the French and Indian War

Fort Necessity
Battle of Fort Necessity. Photograph Source: Public Domain

In 1754, at the age of 21, Washington led the skirmish at Jumonville Glen, and at the Battle of Great Meadows, after which he surrendered to the French at Fort Necessity. It was the only time he surrendered to an enemy in battle. The losses contributed to the start of the French and Indian War, which took place from 1756 to 1763.

During the war, Washington became aide-de-camp to General Edward Braddock. Braddock was killed during the war, and Washington was recognized for keeping calm and holding the unit together.

03
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Commander of the Continental Army

Washington was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. While he had military experience as part of the British army, he had never led a large army in the field. He led a group of soldiers against a far superior army to victory resulting in independence.

In addition, Washington showed great foresight in inoculating his soldiers against smallpox. Although a president's military service is not a requirement for the job, Washington set a standard.  

04
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President of the Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention met in 1787 to deal with the weaknesses that had become apparent in the Articles of Confederation. Washington was reluctant to go: he was pessimistic about the future of a republic without a ruling elite, and at the age of 55 and after his extensive military career, he was ready to retire. 

James Madison Sr., the father of the future U.S. 4th president, and General Henry Knox convinced Washington to go, and at the meeting, Washington was named the president of the Convention and presided over the writing of the US Constitution.

05
of 10

The Only Unanimously Elected President

Lansdowne Portrait - George Washington
Lansdowne Portrait - George Washington. © National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

As a national hero and the favorite son of Virginia, the largest and most populous state at the time, and with experience in both war and diplomacy, George Washington was the obvious choice for the first president.

He is the only president in the history of the American presidency to be unanimously elected to the office. He also received all the ​electoral votes when he ran for his second term in office. James Monroe was the only other president who came close, with only one electoral vote against him in 1820.

06
of 10

Asserted Federal Authority During the Whiskey Rebellion

Whiskey Rebellion
Whiskey Rebellion. Getty Images

In 1794, Washington met his first real challenge to federal authority head-on with the Whiskey Rebellion. The Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton suggested that some of the debt incurred during the American Revolution might be recouped by instituting a tax on distilled liquors. 

Pennsylvania farmers absolutely refused to pay taxes on whiskey and other goods—distilled spirits were one of the few goods they could produce for shipping. Despite an attempt by Washington to end things peacefully, protests became violent in 1794, and Washington sent in federal troops to put down the rebellion and ensure compliance.

07
of 10

Was a Proponent of Neutrality

Painting of Storming of the Tuileries on 10. Aug. 1792 during the French Revolution
Storming of the Tuileries on 10. Aug. 1792 during the French Revolution by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux.

President Washington was a massive proponent of neutrality in foreign affairs. In 1793, he declared through the Proclamation of Neutrality that the US would be impartial towards powers currently at war with each other. Further, when Washington retired in 1796, he presented a Farewell Address in which he warned against getting the United States involved in foreign entanglements.

There were some who disagreed with Washington's stance, as they felt that America should owe loyalty to France for their aid during the Revolution. However, Washington's warning became part of the American foreign policy and political landscape.

08
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Set Many Presidential Precedents

Washington himself realized that he would be setting many precedents. He even stated that "I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent."

Some of Washington's significant precedents include the appointment of cabinet secretaries without approval from Congress and retirement from the presidency after only two terms in office. Only Franklin D. Roosevelt served more than two terms before the passage of the 22nd amendment to the Constitution.

09
of 10

Fathered No Children Though Had Two Stepchildren

Martha Washington about 1790
Martha Washington about 1790. Stock Montage/Getty Images

George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis. She was a widow who had two children from her previous marriage. Washington raised these two, John Parke and Martha Parke, as his own. George and Martha never had children together.

10
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Called Mount Vernon Home

“Mount Vernon” by Ben Clark is licensed under CC BY 2.0
“Mount Vernon”. Ben Clark is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Washington called Mount Vernon home from the age of 16 when he lived there with his brother Lawrence. He was later able to purchase the home from his brother's widow. He loved his home and spent as much time as possible there over the years before retiring to the land. At one time, one of the largest whiskey distilleries was located at Mount Vernon.