George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, at his family’s plantation on Pope’s Creek in Westmoreland County, in the British colony of Virginia. George was the oldest, he spended much of his childhood at Ferry Farm, a plantation near Fredericksburg, Virginia. After Washington’s father died when he was 11, it’s likely he helped his mother manage the plantation. Families like his typically were taught at home by private tutors or attended private schools. It’s believed he finished his formal schooling at around age 15. As a teenager, Washington, who had shown an aptitude for mathematics, became a successful surveyor. He earned him enough money to begin acquiring land of his own. In 1751, Washington made his only trip outside of America, when he travelled to Barbados with his older half-brother Lawrence , who was suffering from tuberculosis and hoped the warm climate would help him recuperate. Shortly after their arrival, George contracted smallpox. He survived, although the illness left him with permanent facial scars.
In 1752, Lawrence, who had been educated in England and served as Washington’s mentor, died. Washington eventually inherited Lawrence’s estate, Mount Vernon, on the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia. In December 1752, Washington, who had no previous military experience, was made a commander of the Virginia militia. He saw action in the French and Indian War and was eventually put in charge of all of Virginia’s militia forces. By 1759, Washington had resigned his commission, returned to Mount Vernon and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he served until 1774. In January 1759, he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow with two children. Washington became a devoted stepfather to the children; he and Martha never had any offspring of their own. In the ensuing years, Washington expanded Mount Vernon from 2,000 acres into an 8,000-acre property with five farms. He grew a variety of crops, including wheat and corn, bred mules and maintained fruit orchards and a successful fishery. He was deeply interested in farming and continually experimented with new crops and methods of land conservation. By the late 1760s, Washington had experienced firsthand the effects of rising taxes imposed on American colonists by the British, and came to believe that it was in the best interests of the colonists to declare independence from England. Washington served as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774 in Philadelphia. By the time the Second Continental Congress convened a year later, the American Revolution had begun in earnest, and Washington was named commander in chief of the Continental Army.
Washington proved to be a better general than military strategist. His strength lay not in his genius on the battlefield but in his ability to keep the struggling colonial army together. His troops were poorly trained and lacked food, ammunition and other supplies . However, Washington was able to give them the direction and motivation to keep going. Over the course of the grueling eight-year war, the colonial forces won few battles but consistently held their own against the British. In October 1781, with the aid of the French , the Continental forces were able to capture British troops under General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia. This action effectively ended the Revolutionary War and Washington was declared a national hero. In 1783, with a peace treaty signed between Great Britain and the U.S., Washington, believing he had done his duty, gave up his command of the army and returned to Mount Vernon, intent on resuming his life as a gentleman farmer and family man. However, in 1787, he was asked to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and head the committee to draft the new constitution. His impressive leadership there convinced the delegates that he was by far the most qualified man to become the nation’s first president.
At first Washington balked. He wanted to, at last, return to a quiet life at home and leave governing the new nation to others. But public opinion was so strong that eventually he gave in. The first presidential election was held on January 7, 1789, and Washington won handily. John Adams , who received the second-largest number of votes, became the nation’s first vice president. The 57-year-old Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, in New York City. Because Washington, D.C., America’s future capital city wasn’t yet built, he lived in New York and Philadelphia. The United States was a small nation when Washington took office, consisting of 11 states and approximately 4 million people, and there was no precedent for how the new president should conduct domestic or foreign business. Mindful that his actions would likely determine how future presidents were expected to govern, Washington worked hard to set an example of fairness, prudence and integrity. In foreign matters, he supported cordial relations with other countries but also favored a position of neutrality in foreign conflicts. Domestically, he nominated the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Jay signed a bill establishing the first national bank and set up his own presidential cabinet. His two most prominent cabinet appointees were Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton , two men who disagreed strongly on the role of the federal government.
Hamilton favored a strong central government, while Jefferson favored stronger states’ rights. Washington believed that divergent views were critical for the health of the new government, but he was distressed at what he saw as an emerging partisanship. In 1796, after two terms as president and declining to serve a third term, Washington finally retired. In his farewell address, he urged the new nation to maintain the highest standards domestically and to keep involvement with foreign powers to a minimum. The address is still read each February in the U.S. Senate to commemorate Washington’s birthday.Washington returned to Mount Vernon and devoted his attentions to making the plantation as productive as it had been before he became president. More than four decades of public service had aged him, but he was still a commanding figure. In December 1799, he caught a cold after inspecting his properties in the rain. The cold developed into a throat infection and Washington died on the night of December 14 at the age of 67.
John Adams is Born in Braintree, Massachusetts, on October 30, 1735, John Adams was the oldest of John and Susanna Boylston Adams’ three sons. The elder Adams was a farmer and shoemaker who also served as a Congregationalist deacon and an official in local government. In November 1800, John Adams became the first president to reside in the White House. A strong student, Adams graduated from Harvard College in 1755. He then taught school for several years and studied law with an attorney in Worcester, Massachusetts. Adams began his law career in 1758 and eventually became one of Boston’s most prominent attorneys. In 1764, he married Abigail Smith, a minister’s daughter from Weymouth, Massachusetts, with whom he went on to have six children. Abigail Adams would prove to be her husband’s trusted confidant. Well-read and possessed of her own intellectual gifts, she corresponded regularly with Adams, especially when he was away in Europe for long periods of time. Surviving letters show her to be a pragmatic thinker and influential in her husband’s career.
During the 1760s, Adams began challenging Great Britain’s authority in colonial America. He came to view the British imposition of high taxes and tariffs as a tool of oppression, and he no longer believed that the government in England had the colonists’ best interests in mind. He was a critic of the Stamp Act of 1765, in which the British levied a tax on legal documents, newspapers and playing cards in the North American colonies. Adams also spoke out against the Townshend Acts of 1767, which levied tariffs on goods such as paper, glass, and tea that were imported to America. Despite his objection to what he thought was unfair taxation by the British, Adams, a principled man, represented the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre of March 1770. Adams wanted to ensure that the soldiers–who were charged with firing into an unruly crowd of civilians in Boston and killing five people–received a fair trial.
In 1774, Adams attended the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia as a Massachusetts delegate. In 1775, as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, Adams nominated George Washington to serve as commander of the colonial forces in the American Revolutionary War which had just begun. As a congressional delegate, Adams would later nominate Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. In 1778, Adams was sent to Paris, France, to secure aid for the colonists’ cause. The following year, he returned to America and worked as the principal framer of the Massachusetts Constitution (the world’s oldest surviving written constitution). By the early 1780s, Adams was in Europe again, serving in a diplomatic capacity. In 1783, he, along with John Jay and Benjamin Franklin helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended hostilities between America and Britain. Franklin had served as the American minister to France since 1776, and while Adams often felt that he worked harder than Franklin, it was the older man’s charm that opened diplomatic doors for his blunter, more combative colleague. Adams remained in Europe after the war, and served as the United States’ first ambassador to Britain, from 1785 to 1788. After returning to America, he was a participant in the Constitutional Convention that nominated Washington to serve as the nation’s first president. Adams lobbied for the vice presidency and won.
Although Washington and Adams shared many political views, the vice president’s role seemed primarily ceremonial, and Adams spent the next eight years, from 1789 to 1797, in frustration. Adams once remarked: “”My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”” When Washington retired in 1796, Adams ran for the presidency and won over Thomas Jefferson, who became vice president. Adams took office in March 1797, and his presidency was quickly taken up with foreign affairs. Britain and France were at war, which directly affected American trade. During his tenure, Washington had managed to maintain neutrality, but tensions had escalated by the time Adams became president. In 1797, he sent a delegation to France to negotiate a treaty but the French refused to meet with the delegates, and the French foreign minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838), demanded a large bribe. Adams refused to deal with the French on these terms, and the bribery scandal, which became known as the XYZ Affair, boosted Adams’ popularity immensely. An undeclared naval war broke out between the U.S. and France in 1798 and lasted until 1800 when a peace treaty was signed.
Adams squandered his popularity by signing the Alien and Sedition Acts into law in 1798. Ostensibly written to protect American interests, the acts gave the government broad powers to deport “”enemy”” aliens and arrest anyone who strongly disagreed with the government. Jefferson and his allies, who called themselves the Democratic-Republicans, assailed these laws, declaring them unconstitutional. Many Americans, having shed one oppressive government, feared that their new government might resort to similar tactics. Although the laws were never abused and, in fact, had built-in expirations, they hurt Adams and helped cost him the election in 1800.
After his presidency, Adams had a long and productive retirement. He and his wife lived in Quincy, Massachusetts, and the former president spent the next quarter-century writing columns, books, and letters. In 1812, he was encouraged to begin exchanging letters with his old rival Thomas Jefferson, and their voluminous correspondence lasted the rest of their lives. Abigail Adams died in 1818 but John Adams lived long enough to see his son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) become America’s sixth president in 1824. By that point, the elder Adams and Jefferson were among the last living signers of the Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1826.
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