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George Washington

“Our Cause is noble. It is the cause of Mankind,
and the danger to it is to be apprehended from ourselves.”

A. George Washington and thirty-thousand
B. Other Relevant Quotes
C. Brief Biography
 A. George Washington and thirty-thousand

September 17, 1787, was the final day of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Two days earlier the convention unanimously agreed to the text of the Constitution and, having since been engrossed on the parchment, it was now ready to be signed by all the delegates.

Despite that, an urgent proposal had just been made to the assembly by the delegate from Massachusetts. Nathaniel Gorham stated that he wished, for the purposes of lessening the objections to the Constitution, that the clause declaring “the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every forty thousand...” might be reconsidered in order to strike out forty thousand and replace it with thirty thousand. Said motion having been seconded by others present, George Washington rose to address this question. Though he had been the President of the convention, this was the first time he addressed the assembly on a substantive matter.
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…the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are … staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people. 2

“When the President rose, for the purpose of putting the question, he said that although his situation had hitherto restrained him from offering his sentiments on questions depending in the House, and it might be thought, ought now to impose silence on him, yet he could not forbear expressing his wish that the alteration proposed might take place. It was much to be desired that the objections to the plan recommended might be made as few as possible. The smallness of the proportion of Representatives had been considered by many members of the Convention, an insufficient security for the rights & interests of the people. He acknowledged that it had always appeared to himself among the exceptionable parts of the plan; and late as the present moment was for admitting amendments, he thought this of so much consequence that it would give much satisfaction to see it adopted.” [From the Records of the Federal Convention; Page 644.]

Facing no opposition, this proposal was affirmed unanimously.  The word forty was then partially erased so that it could be changed to thirty. (This alteration was noted in the Constitution as: “the Word ‘Thirty’ being partly written on an Erazure in the fifteenth Line of the first Page....) In fact, as shown below, a residual tinge from the erased text is still evident when viewing the Constitution.

Visible erasure of "forty"
 B. Other Relevant Quotes

Free Men or Slaves (August 26, 1776)

General Washington’s speech before the battle of Long Island, August 26, 1776: The time is near at hand which must determine whether Americans are to be free men or slaves.
Free Men or Slaves

Apportionment (April 5, 1792)
President Washington’s explanation of his veto of Congress’s first apportionment bill: The Constitution has prescribed that representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers: and there is no one proportion or divisor which, applied to the respective numbers of the States will yield the number and allotment of representatives proposed by the Bill.
The First Presidential Veto

Political Parties (September 19, 1796 )
President Washington’s warning about political parties: The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders & miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security & repose in the absolute power of an Individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.
The Baneful Effects of Political Parties

 C. Brief Biography 3

George Washington was born at Bridges Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732. He was the first child of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary Ball. His father was a middling planter who owned about 10,000 acres of land. Augustine Washington was also very active in public life, serving as sheriff, church warden, and justice of the peace. George Washington received a basic education, studying math, surveying, and reading. In 1749, at the age of 17, he began working as the county surveyor. This job helped him become familiar with the frontier. With that knowledge and experience Washington was appointed major in the Virginia militia in 1752.

George Washington at age 19  

One year later Washington was faced with his first major military challenge. In 1753 the French were encroaching on British territory in the Ohio Valley, and the governor of Virginia sent Washington to dislodge them. This event was the beginning of the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Washington was then appointed as aide-de-camp to General Edward Braddock, who was ordered to oust the French in 1755. A year later Braddock died in combat and Washington was promoted to colonel and commander-in-chief of all Virginia troops; in 1758 he was promoted to brigadier.

When the French and Indian War ended, Washington resigned his commission and returned to Virginia to concentrate on his family. On January 6, 1759, he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow with two children. He was a dedicated stepfather and a skilled farmer. He also became actively involved in politics and was elected as representative from Frederick County to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758. He then served as justice of Fairfax county from 1760 to 1774.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s tension had begun to mount between Britain and the colonies, particularly over taxation and importation issues. As a legislator, Washington was very involved in colonial affairs. In 1774 he helped write and pass the Fairfax Resolves, which formed the Continental Association and the Continental Army. When the disputes with Britain turned into war, the Continental Congress on June 15, 1775, unanimously elected Washington to command the Continental Army.

  George Washington at age 45

Throughout the American Revolution, from 1775 to 1783, Washington served as de facto chief executive of the United States. He proved to be a gifted leader with good administrative skills and political acumen. When the war was finally won, Washington handed over his powers to Congress at Annapolis, Maryland, and returned home to Mount Vernon to retire.

Houdon bust of George Washington  

However, Washington was soon called back to serve his country. The Articles of Confederation proved too weak to hold the new country together, and in 1786 Washington described the situation as “anarchy and confusion.” In an effort to revise the articles, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787. In 1789 he was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States. He began his term by stating: “I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.”


Washington immediately became involved in the creation of the new government. He created the first Cabinet, establishing the departments of State, Treasury, and War. Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) became the first Secretary of the Treasury, and together with Washington he developed the country’s economic system. On July 4, 1789, Washington signed the first bill passed by Congress. It gave the government the right to tax and was used to pay the debt accumulated by the Revolution and establish American credit at home and abroad. Washington also approved the Federalist financial program and other proposals by Hamilton, including funding the national debt, assuming state debts, establishing a federal bank, creating a coinage system, and establishing an excise tax. In addition to these economic policies, Washington presided over the expansion of the country from 11 to 16 states.

After his first term as president ended in 1792, Washington had plans to retire from political life. His colleagues, however, persuaded him to serve one more term. On February 13, 1793, Washington was once again unanimously elected to the presidency. His second term focused on the young country’s foreign policy. In 1793 Washington announced the Neutrality Proclamation to keep the United States out of all foreign disputes. Relations with France and Britain were tested during Washington’s tenure, but he managed to keep peace. By 1796 Washington had grown tired of the demands of political life and once again decided to retire. This time he was able to have his way and pacify critics who called him a closet monarchist. On September 17, 1796, Washington published his Farewell Address and returned home to Mount Vernon following the next presidential election.

His retirement was brief, as Washington was called again to public service in 1798. The United States was on the verge of war with France and President John Adams (1797-1801) asked Washington to raise an army for defense. Washington answered the call to duty, but the threat quickly subsided due to diplomatic negotiations. Once again he resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon. Soon after returning home, Washington, suffering from a serious throat infection, died on December 14, 1799. After George Washington’s death, Congress unanimously agreed to erect a marble monument, called the Washington Monument, in the nation’s capital to pay tribute to the country’s first president.

Created: 16May2005 Updated: 26AUG2008
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