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1st President

Terms: 1789-1797
Political Party: Federalist
First Lady: Martha Dandridge Washington
Vice President: John Adams 



Born: February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia... The Revolutionary War hero, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington was everyone's choice to lead the nation as its first president. An able administrator with a keen appreciation of the historic import of each of his decisions, Washington established important precedents of American government that were not explicitly addressed in the Constitution... Died: December 14, 1799.

The Era

  • French Revolution begins (1789)
  • Seat of government moves from New York to Philadelphia (1790)
  • Mozart premieres The Magic Flute in the year of his death (1791)
  • Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin (1793)
  • Catherine the Great of Russia dies (1796)

Domestic Policy

Washington supported Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton's Federalist financial plans, including a national bank and a tax on whiskey. The latter led to a minor revolt in Pennsylvania, the Whiskey Rebellion, and Washington mobilized troops from neighboring states to quell the uprising. Washington appointed the first cabinet and persuaded Congress to give him authority to fire executive branch employees.

Foreign Affairs

When France and England began fighting again, the president chose to remain neutral even as fellow patriots pointedly reminded him of France's important contribution to the American War of Independence. Elsewhere, harassment by Barbary pirates persuaded Washington to build up an American navy. Within North America, agreements were made with Spain allowing American ships to navigate the Mississippi freely, allowing agricultural products grown around the Ohio River to reach the Atlantic port of New Orleans.

Presidential Politics

Washington's election and reelection were so clearly favored by the American populace that he faced no opposition. In a letter to James Madison, he wrote, "As the first of every thing, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent, it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles." Among the precedents set by the first administration were an inaugural address, the stoic acceptance of criticism from Congress and the popular press, and the appropriation of authority in the matter of foreign affairs. Washington did not mean to establish a precedent, however, by stepping down after two terms -- his reasons for doing so were personal. Washington never understood the necessity of the political parties that developed during his presidency and warned against partisanship.

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

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  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH