George Washington was born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family and was raised in the tradition of an 18th century gentleman. At 16 he helped survey Shenandoah lands. He was also an early student of the military arts, fighting in the first skirmishes of the French and Indian War in his twenties.
From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington busied himself with his Mount Vernon property and his family, also serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Dissatisfaction with British rule was growing, however. In April 1775, local militias from towns around Boston initiated hostilities by engaging British troops at Lexington and Concord. When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia a month later, Washington attended as one of the Virginia delegates. There he was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.
Washington initiated a tactic of avoiding direct combat, instead using guerrilla-like tactics similar to those he had observed among Native Americans in the French and Indian War. Although not a brilliant military leader, Washington was successful in holding his poorly-trained army together, continuing to demoralize the British with hit-and-run tactics. The British position was also weakened by the fact that the war was deeply unpopular among the English population. In 1781, with the aid of French allies, Washington forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.
Washington longed to retire to his fields at Mount Vernon. But he was unable to resist having a hand in shaping the new government. He was active in convening the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. When the new Constitution was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington President. On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of office as the first President of the United States. "As the first of every thing, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent," he wrote James Madison, "it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles." In foreign policy concerns, Washington tried to steer a neutral course.
Washington chose to retire at the end of his second term. In his Farewell Address, he argued against excessive party spirit and long-term foreign alliances, believing that a unified voice at home and a neutral position abroad would allow American to grow stronger. Washington died in December of 1799, less than three years after retiring.
The White House.