George Washington was the first president of the United States of America in which most people know him for that sole reason. One of the most common explanation of George Washington was about his time in the Revolutionary War as a general leading the Continental Army. None of that was done during his presidency but it may be a reason for him being voted in as president. Yet, he accomplished and set up many precedents during his presidency that still are followed to this day that many people do not know about. Washington could easily be considered one of the most important presidents if not the most important President of the United State by setting up the presidency itself, the presidential cabinet, and setting up many precedents for his successors for the years to come.
Washington during his time and even now is very highly thought about. He was admired by his peers to which Adams wrote that he would become one of the most important characters in the world (McCullough, p.43). Washington was also described as “”amiable”” and “”modest”” (McCullough, p.42). There was also a time that he was not always see as this great figure people think of him as. A great misconception is that he was not always the “”George Washington”” that we think of. During the Revolutionary War, he did not take a salary but instead, his expenses would be paid for. Sometimes, his expenses exceeded what was a “”fair”” amount; he was known to be bit of a gambler. When it came time for his presidency, Congress decided that they would give him a fixed salary instead. Yet, George Washington still continues “”winning a place among the world’s great heroes”” (Wilson, p. 74).
George Washington was elected as president in February of 1789 by a unanimous vote of the electoral college (Roark et al., p. 219). He was considered everyone’s choice to become the President. (Wilson, p. 74). George Washington did not have a running mate. John Adams had the second most votes and so he was named the Vice President. Washington was very adamant about wanting to retire and go back to his Mount Vernon farm after the war. He did no campaigning as well as people doubted if he even would take the role as President when he got elected. Although, Washington reluctantly accepted his new role as President of the United State. Washington responded with the letter,
“”Sir, I have been long accustomed to entertain so great a respect for the opinion of my fellow-citizens, that the knowledge of their unanimous suffrages having been given in my favor, scarcely leaves me… an option. Whatever may have been my private feelings and sentiments, I believe I cannot give a greater evidence of my sensibility for the honor they have done me, than by accepting appointment…”” (“”[Diary entry: 16 April 1789]””).
George Washington was officially inaugurated into office on April 30, 1789 and took his oath outdoors on the balcony of the Federal Hall in New York City, New York (Roark et al., p. 216). At his inauguration, he made it a point to wear American-made cloth.
One of the greatest challenges Washington faced was essentially creating the presidency (Freeman). Washington’s first months as president faced many challenges and was able to create a system of government used still to this day. The Constitution sketched out ideas and outlines of the powers and limitations but did nothing on the nature of the actual job (Freeman). “”Washington was a man of exceptional, almost excessive self- command, rarely permitting himself any show of discouragement or despair”” (McCullough, p.64). Washington believed strongly almost to the point of obsessive that his appearance was of huge importance: a leader must look and act the part (McCullough, p.42). He felt as if he needed to keep up an act as the president but there were many cases of him coming off as nervous and awkward. Washington knew that every action he made was essentially being watched. He was often afraid of coming off too monarchical or aristocratic; he did not want the people to potentially start thinking the presidency acted as such (Freeman). Although, Washington proved himself to be a skilled politician. (Freeman). Henry Lee once stated, “”First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”” (Wilson, p. 74). “”Washington’s genius in establishing the presidency lay in his capacity for implanting his own reputation for integrity into the office itself”” (Roark et al., p. 219).
Being the first President of the United States, Washington truly understood his position, and the order of how he needed to set it up. There was absolutely no such thing as a viable American nation when he took office (Ellis, p. 188). The Constitution had focused on the
powers of the President, but it had yet been used. George Washington was able to translate the “”untried Constitution into the reality of an operating government (Wilson, p. 74). In office, Washington knew he had to calculate every single move because one misstep could be dangerous for the fragile new government (Roark et al., p. 219). He understood how important each and every step he was taking. Any words and actions that he did could potentially make or break the newly constructed government. George Washington embodied the essential of the Constitutional Presidency which he was able to set compelling example for his successors (Wilson, p. 74).
In office, Washington help create the departments and traditions of the new republic (Wilson, p. 74). “”Washington chose talented and experienced men to preside over the newly created Departments of War, Treasury, and State”” (Roark et al., p. 219). The group that was made came to be known as the cabinet based off of James Madison describing the meetings as “”the president’s cabinet”” (“”Cabinet Members””). George Washington’s cabinet included the original four members whereas the current day has sixteen. He chose Thomas Jefferson, a master diplomat and was the current prime minister to France, to lead the Secretary of State. Alexander Hamilton, known for his brilliance and financial astuteness, was chosen as the Secretary of Treasury. Among some of the other men, Washington chose was General Henry Knox, former secretary of war in the confederation government, for the Department of War. For the Attorney General, Washington chose Edmund Randolph, an attendee of the constitutional convention and turned Antifederalist. For the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which is not part of the cabinet but still important, Washington chose John Jay, a New York lawyer who helped write The Federalist Papers (Roark et al., p. 220). The first full cabinet meeting ever held took place on February 25, 1793 (“”Cabinet Members””). During his terms, he held regular meetings with the men he chose which established the precedent of the presidential cabinet (Roark et al., p. 220). Washington set up how the presidency interacted with the roles of each of the members of his cabinet as his private, trusted advisors that still continues today (“”Cabinet Members””).
Arguably one of the most important actions that came during Washington’s administration was the Bill of Rights. Congress was able to agree upon the Bill of Rights which was also able to answer many concerns from the Antifederalists party (Roark et al., p. 218). The First Congress met up in 1789 to discuss the important topic of the guaranteed individual liberties and limitations. Congressmen James Madison held an important role into the drafting of the Bill of Rights. Madison listed the rights that should be guaranteed to the people such as the freedom of speech, press, and religion, the right to petition and assemble, and the freedom of unwarranted searches and seizures (Roark et al., p. 220). Among the amendments made, twelve of them were approved by Congress in September of 1789 and were set to the states for approval. In 1791, only ten of those were eventually ratified. The First through the Eighth Amendments deal with each individual person’s liberties, and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments deal with the power between the federal and state authority (Roark et al., p. 220).
One of the major plans Alexander Hamilton came up with was the issue of creating the first national bank. He thought by creating the First Bank of the United States that it would encourage domestic manufacturing (Roark et al., p. 225). Hamilton argued that the banks were “”nurseries of national wealth”” (Roark et al., p. 225). Both Madison and Jefferson tried to advised Washington to stop the plan stating that the Constitution did not give them the right to charter banks. Washington sided with Hamilton and on February in 1791, he signed the First Bank of the United States into law that gave it a twenty-year charter (Roark et al., p. 225).
Some of the key legislation during Washington’s presidency includes the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Coinage Act of 1792, and the Excise Tax on Whiskey 1791. President George Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789 that established six members in the Supreme Court and also the position of the Attorney General. The role of the Attorney General is one of the precedents set up in Washington’s administration (“”Ten Facts About Washington’s Presidency””). The Coinage Act of 1792 or also known as the Mint Act established the United States Mint and the Dollar as the official currency as well as regulated the coinage of the United States (“”Ten Facts About Washington’s Presidency””).
The Excise Tax on whiskey in 1791 was a measure to impose a tax on domestic and imported alcohol to help pay for some of the heavy interest on the national debt (“”Ten Facts About Washington’s Presidency””). Hamilton convinced Congress to pass a twenty-five percent excise tax on whiskey which was to be paid by farmers who brought grain into the distillery and then passed onto consumers in higher prices (Roark et al., p. 226). Madison even agreed upon the tax stating that it would promote “”sobriety and thereby prevent disease and untimely deaths”” (Roark et al., p. 226). The tax was highly fought about and very unpopular which eventually led to the Whiskey Rebellion. Farmers from all parts of the country forcefully expressed their resentment to Congress. One farmer wrote, “”If this is not an oppressive tax, I am at loss to describe what is so”” (Roark et al., p. 226). In 1792, Congress made some modifications on the tax but there was still discontent and tax evasions. Hamilton had one ally named John Neville, and in May of 1794, he filed charges against seventy-five farmers for tax evasion; this action is what led to the kick off of the Whiskey Rebellion. By the end of July, more the seven thousand farmers were planning a march or an attack in Pittsburgh against the tax. President Washington himself alongside with Hamilton led a militia of thirteen thousand soldiers from Pennsylvania. There was no bloodshed or battle since the farmers had dispersed by the time the army arrived in September (Roark et al., p. 226). Twenty men were charged with high treason but two were convicted which Washington later pardoned both of them (Roark et al., p. 227).
While in office, Washington only vetoed two bills that were based on ideological concerns which Congress was not able to overturn his veto. The first bill he vetoed was called the Appointment Bill on April 5, 1792. The bill provided certain guidelines for the number of congressional representatives based on the 1790 census. Washington based his reasoning for vetoing on that the law would divide each of the state’s population evenly with determining the representation. He also argues that the law unfairly “”allotted to eight of the States, more than one [representative] for thirty thousand”” in which would create a bigger imbalance in power (“”Ten Facts About Washington’s Presidency””). Another bill that was vetoed was a bill aimed at cutting the size and cost of the military. Washington vetoed the bill on February 28, 1797 which was shortly before his time in office ended (“”Ten Facts About Washington’s Presidency””).
Washington had won the reelection to the presidency again unanimously in the fall of 1792 (Roark et al., p. 227). His second inaugural address was delivered on March 4, 1793 that took less than two minutes to speak and is considered the shortest. It reads,
“”I am again called upon, by the voice of my country, to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of United America.
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President, the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence; that if it shall be found during my administration of the Government, I have in any instance, violated, willingly or knowingly, the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring Constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony”” (“”Second Inaugural Address, 4 March 1793″”).
The Neutrality Proclamation was issued in May of 1793 by President Washington. The proclamation held friendly reassurances to the French and British in order to keep out of the European wars. Although, ships from America continued to trade with both the French West Indies and France. However, in 1794, the British retaliated by capturing about three hundred vessels by the West Indies. Washington thought that something needed to be done to assert American power which lead to the Jay Treaty (Roark et al, p. 232). The Jay treaty was able to make the British remove their troops from the frontier and the British had to arbitrate American claims of compensation for the cargo taken by the British Navy. It had some downsides in which it accepted the British economic and naval supremacy that gave American neutrality a British tilt (Ellis, p.226-227). However, it proved to help in the long run.
Washington’s Farewell Address is considered one of the most celebrated speeches of all time. He made it necessary that his decision to step down as President was perceived as a voluntary act (Ellis, p.233). Several drafts of the letter were exchanged between Washington and Hamilton in the summer of 1796. It was never actually delivered as an address or speech but instead published as an open letter to the American people in the newspapers in the fall of 1796 containing wisdom on what Washington considered the true meaning of the American Revolution (Ellis, p.234). He warned against the spirit of political parties and alliances with foreign nations being the core message to have unity at home.
Without George Washington as our first President, this country may not be the same. During his two terms of presidency, he was able to set many precedents that are still used today such as the presidential cabinet. He understood that the Constitution set the checks and balances as President, but Washington was able to define the Constitution into an operating government. There were many important legislative acts that were created by his cabinet like Hamilton with the issue of the First National Bank and the Neutrality Proclamation. Shortly getting into office, the Bill of Rights were drafted and created by James Madison. Washington is the only President that personally led troops during his time as the President which did not end in any bloodshed but showed the use of force to enforce a law. Eventually, once his two terms were over, Washington decided to step down from his position to retire with his famous “”Farewell Address”” and not run for a third term which this precedent was able to last over a hundred-year period. By being the first President in office, Washington should be recognized for the many achievements he accomplished as a President and not only the title of “”The First President of the United States”” and his time in the Revolutionary War.
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