Without doubt Brother George Washington is history’s most famous freemason. Born in Westmorland county, Virginia, on February 22, 1732, George Washington was one of six children born to Augustine and Mary (Ball) Washington. From his father’s first marriage, George also had two half-brothers, Lawrence and Augustine Jr. Augustine (senior) died when George was eleven, and as was the tradition of the time, most of his holdings, including the estate that would become known as Mount Vernon, were passed on to the eldest son, Lawrence. Lawrence became George’s social, educational, and career mentor, and suggested he consider a military career – a suggestion George’s mother opposed. Instead, at 16, he embarked on a career in surveying (a very important and in demand skill in an era when land ownership was the primary indicator of both wealth and status). By age 17, George was well established as a surveyor in Virginia.
Washington’s brother Lawrence contacted tuberculosis, and by 1751 was in very poor health. He made a trip to Barbados in hopes that the tropical environment would help him recover his health. George accompanied Lawrence on the trip and apparently his touring British fortifications on the island and talking to British soldiers and naval personnel rekindled his interest in the military. Lawrence died the next year leaving the Mount Vernon estate to George. Lawrence had also been commander of the Virginia militia. Protocol of the time dictated Lawrence’s militia title should have been passed on to George, but Virginia Royal Governor Robert Dinwiddie was apprehensive about George’s age and lack of experience. Dinwiddie decided to divide the command of the Virginia militia into three districts, appointing George Washington to command the southern district with the rank of major. It was in November of this year George Washington joined the Masonic Lodge of Fredericksburg, Virginia. On August 4, 1753 he was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason.
By the mid 1750’s France and England were headed for a final clash over control of North America: The French and Indian War. In late 1753, Governor Dinwiddie was informed French forces were operating in the western Pennsylvania – Ohio region. Dinwiddie prepared to send a militia force to deliver an ultimatum directing the French to withdraw from the region. George Washington is said to have “enthusiastically” volunteered to lead the mission. Washington’s force was made up of nine men (including himself). Apparently the French were neither impressed or intimidated, whereas they refused Dinwiddie’s demand when Washington delivered it.
In the spring of 1754, Washington, now a lieutenant -colonel returned to the area with a larger command including warrior-scouts of Seneca Chief “Half King”. Washington’s forces were able to ambush a French force led by Count Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. In the battle that ensued, the French lost ten men (including Jumonville), with another 29 being captured: Washington lost two men. Fearing the French had additional forces in the area, Washington ordered his men to fall-back to an open location known as the “Great Meadow”. There he ordered a stockade fort constructed that was given the name Fort Necessity. Shortly after, an element of a Virginia militia regiment arrived at Fort Necessity giving Washington a force of 293 men. Washington was also notified the Royal Governor had promoted him to full colonel.
In July, French Captain Coulon de Villiers with 600 French Marines and Canadian Militia as well as 100 Algonquin warriors moved against Washington’s position. After a day of fighting, de Villiers surrounded Washington’s forces at Fort Necessity, but he knew attacking the Fort across an open meadow could result in heavy losses. After four hours of negotiations an agreement was reached whereby Washington’s forces were allowed to disarm and withdraw from the fort. The close relationship between Washington and Governor Dinwiddie was somewhat strained after the Fort Necessity defeat (even though Dinwiddie blamed the loss on other colonies for not sending promised reinforcements to support Washington’s position). Washington also found out the British Army arriving in the colonies was under orders not to pay colonial officers equal to their British counterparts, and that all colonial officers were regarded as subordinate to all British regular army officers no matter what their rank. Disenchanted with these developments, Washington resigned his commission.
In early 1755 British General Edward Braddock arrived in America commanding an army of British regulars, with the goal of pushing the French out of the western Virginia-Ohio-Pennsylvania region. Washington apparently wrote to Braddock requesting a position on his staff (there is some debate if Washington wrote to Braddock or Braddock wrote to Washington). Despite his disdain for colonial militia forces, Braddock gave Washington an “aide-de-camp” position, but it was made clear Washington’s title as colonel was strictly a “courtesy” rank.
Braddock’s first objective was to take Fort Duquesne (which today would be in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh). To move his 2,000 plus man force and its supply wagons, Braddock’s army had to cut a roadway through the wilderness towards Fort Duquesne. Greatly outnumbered, the French commander of Duquesne, Pierre Contrecoeur, knew he could not hold the Fort if attacked or put under siege. At first he considered simply surrendering the Fort, but he was convinced by one of his captains, Daniel Beaujeu, to launch an ambush against the slowly advancing British army using French troops and their Algonquin allies. Under the dense cover of forest, Beaujeu’s force open fired on Braddock’s troops. With no experience in fighting a wilderness battle, and confused as to where the attack was coming from, the forward elements of the British army fell into disarray. Braddock was mortally wounded during the attack. Washington rallied surviving elements of Braddock’s front line and led them in a fighting retreat. Under cover of night Washington brought up reinforcements from the army’s rear guard to cover the retreat. Although the British government saw Braddock’s loss as an embarrassment, the colonies saw Washington’s actions during the campaign as nothing short of heroic. In 1758 Washington and 2.000 Virginia militia, as part of a larger force led by General Joseph Forbes, returned and took Fort Duquesne.
The reputation Washington earned in the French and Indian Wars helped him to win election to the Virginia House of Burgesses (the Virginia colony’s legislature). In 1759, at age 27, Washington began a legislative career that would last until the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775.
The decade that followed the French and Indian War fundamentally changed the relationship between the American colonies and the mother country. Prior to the war, the colonies had for the most part run and governed their own affairs – but from 1763 on, the British Parliament passed a series of acts aimed at giving England more direct control of the colonies and for the first time raising revenue (taxes) directly from the colonies. With each new act resentment towards England grew. In 1774 after Parliament’s passage of a series of laws collectively known as the “Intolerable Acts”, committees in several colonies called for a meeting of representatives from each colony to determine how the colonies could present a united front in opposition to Britain’s actions.
A “Continental Congress” was called in Philadelphia in September of 1774. All the colonies, with the exception of Georgia, sent delegates. George Washington was among the seven delegates sent by Virginia that included fellow mason Patrick Henry. Among the assembled delegates, there was no unified thought as how the situation should be addressed, but most tended to favor political action that would pressure England to accept and act on grievances the colonies had raised. A trade boycott was called for and a Declaration of Rights and Resolves (an agreed to course of action for Congress to follow) accepted. Congress also agreed to meet again within a year.
Historians debate as to exactly when Washington came to the conclusion the only course of action the colonies could take to insure their freedom and well-being was to declare independence from England, but by the time the Continental Congress reconvened he was letting it be known he would accept command of unified colonial army should Congress authorize one. The forming of such an army seemed inevitable since colonial militias had already battled British troops at Lexington and Concord Massachusetts and were in the process of encircling British forces in Boston. Washington was not the only one seeking such a command: John Hancock, a delegate and Massachusetts freemason, let it be known he was “available” to command any army Congress may form.
For some in Congress, especially delegates from the southern colonies, events were moving too quickly. Many felt delegates from the northern colonies were pushing too “radical” an agenda in their demand for independence. John Adams, a Massachusetts delegate, felt that appointing George Washington, a Virginian, Commander of the Continental Army represented an opportunity to bring the southern colonies closer to the cause of independence. On June 19, 1775, Adams nominated and Congress elected George Washington to be Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army: an army he was going to have to build from the ground up.
Washington was sent to Boston to take command of the various colonial forces surrounding British held Boston. It was this loose collection of volunteers and militia from several colonies from which he would have to recruit, train and mold an army. It proved to be no easy task, especially when he found he could count on little material or financial support from a Congress that had virtually no power to raise revenue. One thing Washington did notice right off was that among the disorganized, undisciplined, and ragged volunteers that made up the army surrounding Boston one unit of extremely well trained and disciplined group of troops stood out: The Rhode Island militia.
The Rhode Island militia was under the command of freemason Nathaniel Greene. Greene was said to have welcomed Washington on behalf of the colonial forces dug in around Boston. Immediately a friendship formed between Washington and Greene that would last through the Revolution. Greene would become one of Washington’s most trusted generals. There were numerous other militia officers present at the siege of Boston claiming the rank of Brigadier or General, but Washington is said to have identified only three worthy of the rank: Nathaniel Green, John Thomas, and John Sullivan (a New Hampshire freemason and member of St. John’s Lodge No. 1).
Washington, his staff, and the occasional member of the Continental Congress visiting Washington’s headquarters, debated the possibilities of an all-out assault on Boston, but all knew any attack on the city would have meant heavy losses with no guarantee of unseating the British. After months of a stalemated siege, the situation changed when American forces were able to take Dorchester heights, thus placing them within artillery range of British naval vessels in Boston Harbor. Artillery arrived for the Americans in the form of cannons captured from the British Fort Ticonderoga (the fort had been taken the previous fall by Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen, both freemasons). This new threat placed the British in a position whereby they either had to take Dorchester Heights or evacuate by sea. The British finally ruled out an attack to retake Dorchester Heights (although artillery duels took place over several days) and began to prepare to leave Boston. On March 17, 1776 the Royal Navy evacuated the British Army and approximately 1,100 loyalists from Boston: Washington had his first victory. Unfortunately his army would not see another major victory for five years.
Enraged over the loss of Boston, the British government authorized an all out mobilization to secure the “rebellious colonies”. The “center piece” of their campaign was to take New York City and the Hudson River Valley effectively dividing the colonies. The build-up and sending of British reinforcements for an invasion of New York was by no means a “well kept secret”. Washington’s newly formed Continental Army was ordered south to defend New York City and Long Island. Immediately Washington realized he was in a difficult position in that he would have to divide his 19,000-20,000 man army between Manhattan and Long Island. He seemed to have made his decision to defend New York more as a political decision than military one. Washington felt that not to defend New York – to just allow the British to occupy it- could be devastating to American moral and the cause of the Revolution.
Thinking the British would probably concentrate their attack on Manhattan, Washington placed the main body of his army there. Between August 1 and 12, 1776, 166 British warships and transports carrying 32,000 troops appeared off New York. On August 22, British General Howe launched a surprise attack with 20,000 troops on the southwestern tip of Long Island. The left flank of American defenses on the island crumbled under the assault as troops retreated to Brooklyn Heights. As night fell, Howe prepared his forces to storm the American position at daybreak. When daybreak came the British were stunned to find the American defenses abandoned. Under cover of darkness a group of Massachusetts boatmen, commanded by Colonel John Glover (a Massachusetts freemason), ferried Washington and his remaining Brooklyn Heights forces across the East river to the relative safety of Manhattan. Two weeks later, Howe began an assault on Manhattan Washington’s Army. Continental forces held on for a month, before a second British assault on their rear lines forced retreat. By November after losing Forts Washington and Lee (plus the huge stores of supplies in both) the Continental Army was forced to retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.
By December of 1776, Washington’s once 20,000 man army had dwindled to a force of slightly more than 2,000. Many Americans felt that the chances of the former colonies winning the independence that had declared in July were dwindling with the fortunes of Washington’s Army.
For Washington, the problems he was facing reached far beyond the battlefield. His army’s supplies were near exhausted and Congress had no idea how it could raise more materials. In fact, some Continental Congress delegates were still debating if it was appropriate to maintain a standing army in Congress name, since Congress had no true authority. There was no money to pay Washington’s troops, and most of the enlistments that had been made in Boston were due to expire at the end of December. To make matters worse, Washington was hearing rumors coming from Congress that some delegates believed he was not the “right man for the job” and should be replaced. Fortunately there were others who felt Washington’s perseverance was the only thing keeping the army and the revolution alive.
With the British army pulling back into the New York area for the winter (British military doctrine opposed major campaigns being launched during the winter months), Washington’s Army gained a brief respite. Pulling back did not mean British commanders would drop their guard. A number of garrison outposts were established in towns outside the New York to keep an eye on approaches to the city : among these was Trenton and Princeton.
In a bold move that shocked his staff officers, Washington made the decision to launch an attack on these outposts before the year ended. Trenton was the first target. He picked December 26 as the day for the actual (his army had to be ferried across the Delaware River the night before and like Long Island, it was brother John Glover who got the boats and the crews to accomplish this task). In a two-pronged dawn assault Washington overran Trenton before the garrison could react. The commander of the Trenton garrison, Colonel Johann Rall, was mortally wounded while trying to rally his troops. Most of the British garrison at Trenton was made up of mercenary troops from a number of the German states (the majority from the state of Hessen-Kassel thus the name “Hessians”). Of the near 1,500 stationed at Trenton, just over 900 were taken prisoner. The Americans also captured a sizeable amount of supplies the Trenton garrison had stored for the winter.
To the surprise of Washington’s staff officers he made it clear he did not intention to trying to hold Trenton. It appears that after the stinging series of defeats in New York Washington had come to the realization he could not take on the British Army in full scale European style battles where two large armies went at “toe-to-toe.” From Trenton on Washington would fight a war of maneuver, quick strikes, retreats, rear-guard actions, etc. On New Year’s Eve, 1776 Washington learned that the Continental Congress had on December 27th voted to authorize him to use whatever incentives (including paying bonuses) he could come up with to keep soldiers in his Army.
Upon hearing of the fall of Trenton, British General Howe ordered over 5,000 troops under Lord Cornwallis (the same Cornwallis Washington would face at Yorktown) to retake Trenton. Cornwallis left part of his force to hold Princeton and the rest advance on Trenton. Pennsylvania rifleman attacked Cornwallis army as it advanced, and kept a fighting retreat going back through Trenton towards Assunpink Creek. As the British approached the Assunpink Creek bridge, they were met by fire from artillery dug in on the opposite side. Three times Cornwallis ordered troops to attack and take bridge, but each time they were driven back. The sun set before a fourth assault could be mounted. Cornwallis ruled out a night attack and ordered his commanders to prepare an overwhelming assault for daybreak. The assault proved unnecessary: by daylight the British found the American positions abandoned. Washington and his army had slipped away in the night leaving a few men behind to make noise and keeping campfires going to convince the British the Americans were still “dug-in.” The assumption was Washington had evacuated his army to the south, but in fact he done just the opposite. In a broad sweeping movement he had swung his army north and now was attacking Cornwallis troops in Princeton on the morning of January 3, 1777.
Princeton was not the easy victory Trenton had been. A vanguard force of the American army ran head on into a column of British soldiers leaving Princeton to link up with Cornwallis. Heavy fighting ensued with losses on both sides. When the British realized Washington was flanking their position they began a retreat towards Trenton. A group of about 200 British troops tried to barricade themselves in Nassau Hall (Princeton University’s oldest building) to hold out against the Americans. A few American artillery rounds fired into the building at close range convinced the British to surrender. Although a stunning victory for Washington it must have also been a bittersweet one. One of his closest friends and fellow freemason General Hugh Mercer was knocked from his horse and had to fight sword-to-bayonet against a group of British soldiers that had surrounded him. Bayoneted seven times, Mercer was left for dead. He was found by American forces and taken to a make-shift hospital. Mercer lingered on for nine agonizing days before succumbing to his wounds.
Washington wanted to launch another follow-up attack on Brunswick, New Jersey, where the British had established a large supply dump and were said to housing a 70,000 pound payroll for their forces in America, but he had to face the reality that his army was cold, half-starved, and exhausted. He could not ask more them.
Naturally, the British command downplayed Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton. To them Washington had, at best, won a couple “minor skirmishes” which had no significant impact. Militarily they were probably right: politically and psychologically – they were very wrong. Trenton and Princeton electrified American morale. Men joined or came back to Washington’s Army in significant numbers. Congress realized the standing army they had questioned was a must (although they still didn’t know how they were going to pay for it). In the halls of Parliament, some began to question the American venture. Two years before, they had controlled thirteen colonies that made up most of the North American continent’s east coast. Going into 1777, they seemed to control only New York city and a few “villages” around it. England had been drawn into one North American war (The French and Indian War) just two decades before and that had gone on for seven years at a cost of over 100,000,000 pounds. Maybe some memories of that war had faded but the debt was still very much with Britain. Since the early 1770’s a prominent member of Parliament and freemason Edmund Burke had been critical of his country’s approach to governing the American colonies, and after 1776 his opposition was gaining some support from other members of Parliament.
Washington’s victories at Trenton and Princeton may have put pressure on the British command to hastily plan a flawed campaign to win the American war in a single decisive blow. In the late spring of 1777 a British Army under General John Burgoyne would begin an advance out of Canada across Lake Champlain ,south to capture Fort Ticonderoga, and then sweep down the Hudson River Valley to link up with General Howe’s Army moving up the Hudson River from New York City. The thinking seemed to be that Washington would move north to stop Burgoyne and that mistake would leave him caught between Burgoyne’s and Howe’s forces. If Washington should decide not to move, the British would take full control of the Hudson River Valley effectively dividing the colonies.
When Burgoyne began his advance, it seemed the plan might be unstoppable. Despite being slowed by the rain saturated grounds of upstate New York, Burgoyne took Fort Ticonderoga on July 6, 1777. He then prepared to move his army the next 23 miles from the tip of Lake Champlain he the head of the Hudson River. The going proved miserable, men ,horse, and equipment sunk in the heavy muds. Roads had to be cut though heavily wooded areas. It took Burgoyne a month to advance the relatively short distance. Having turned back some of his horses and equipment during the march south of Champlain, Burgoyne now ordered “Hessian” troops attached to his army to advance east into Vermont and New Hampshire and scour the countryside for potential cavalry horses and suitable draft animals. Burgoyne’s “intelligence network” had locked on to a rumor that the Americans had a sizeable supply house in the town of Bennington that was poorly guarded. He ordered the Hessian commander Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum to make the supply house a priority.
Bennington had been poorly defended, but the delays in Burgoyne’s advance allowed the Vermont Committee of Safety to put out a call for volunteers to reinforce the town. 1,500 New Hampshire militia under the command of N.H. freemason General John Stark arrived in Bennington before Baum. Vermont troops under Seth Warner had engaged an advance of Baum’s force. Although only a skirmish it apparently caused Baum to pause, dig in on hill outside Bennington, and wait to see just what he was facing for resistance. On August 16th, Stark’s troops surrounded the hill and began an advance on Braum’s postion. Although the German troops tried to hold line, their Canadian militia, loyalist, and Native American allies, broke and retreated causing confusion in the Hessian ranks. After two hours of hard fighting the Hessians surrendered. Their commander Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum was among the battlefield casualties. A second Hessian force trying to reach Baum’s troops was driven off by Seth Warner’s Vermont militia.
Burgoyne received word of his Hessians being defeated by an American force that wasn’t even suppose to be in the area, this coupled with reports the Americans were trying to build up defensive positions on the Bemis Heights area of the Hudson caused him to swing his Army inland toward an abandoned loyalist property known as Freeman’s Farm. It was here he learned just what his delays would cost him. New York had rallied thousands of militiamen, the New England colonies sent thousands more. On September 19, 1777 Burgoyne’s army ran into the vanguard of new American northern Army commanded by Generals Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold. The American forced numbered somewhere between 9,000 -12,000 men verses Burgoyne’s dwindling force of less than 7,500. Some historians argue that if Burgoyne had made an immediate decisive and concentrated attack on the northern part of the American line and kept on going his army may have made it back to Canada, but that is not what happened. Gates tried to dig in near Freeman’s Farm but his troops were forced back to a position on Bemis Heights by the time he made the decision to “break out” and retreat to Saratoga it was too late – his army was surrounded. Realizing Howe’s army was never going to come to his relief, Burgoyne officially surrendered his entire Army to Gates and Arnold on October 17, 1777 (Burgoyne did not just “role over and play dead however,” it took a week of negotiations and agreement to a very formal surrender ceremony before he made his surrender official).
One of the great remaining questions of the American Revolution is why didn’t Howe send his forces to support Burgoyne? There are numerous theories but no one has been agreed to as THE answer. Some historians claim Howe became frustrated when he didn’t see Washington move his army north, so just “wrote-off” the Hudson River campaign and decided to move his army towards Philadelphia to draw Washington into a decisive battle. Others claim that when Washington did not move north Howe became convinced Washington was waiting for Howe to move the bulk of his army north and then do the unexpected: attack and take New York City. If Washington could take New York it would leave two British armies cut off and trapped in the American interior. There are also thoughts the army high command in London approved both Burgoyne’s Hudson Valley campaign and Howe’s move on Philadelphia not fully understanding Burgoyne’s plan depended on Howe’s support. There are also stories that when Howe was about to board his ship and accompany his army south to Chesapeake Bay to strike at Washington he told his second in command General Henry Clinton that he was leaving 4,000 troops for the defense of New York and to support Burgoyne where he could. No matter what theories are the best supported, all seem to have one element in common: the British fear that Washington would try something somewhere that might catch them off guard.
This in no way should lessen the accomplishments Gates and Arnold. They won the battle period. Its impact was earth shattering. British leaders could not address this battle as a mere skirmish: They had lost an entire British Army. Congress was encouraged to pass its first governing charter the Articles Of Confederation and send to the states for ratification (it’s a good thing they agreed to abide by its provisions until it was ratified, because they didn’t give final approval until 1781). Opposition to the war mounted in Parliament, especially after France decided to openly enter the war on America’s side (thanks to a great deal of convincing by brother Benjamin Franklin). France would send an army and a fleet to support the Americans: Britain now found itself locked in a world war. Word also came the remnants of Burgoyne’s army holding Fort Ticonderoga abandoned the citadel and retreated to Canada.
Even with these positive developments, there were hard times to come for Washington . Howe did go after his army outside Philadelphia and Washington’s Continental Army suffered several defeats at Brandywine Creek and Germantown, but Howe could not follow up and “finish” the Continental Army, so he simply moved into Philadelphia. Howe occupied the city on September 26, 1777: and if he thought he had “conquered the American capital”, he must have been discouraged to discover Congress had evacuated on September 19th. Parliament and Howe’s superiors in London did not appear impressed with his string of victories. About all Howe had accomplished was to capture a warm place for his army to spend the winter (this probably shouldn’t be taken too lightly when considering the Continental Army’s position – freezing and starving to death through the winter of 1777-78 in crude encampments erected at Valley Forge Pennsylvania. )
There was one bright spot, though, for the time the Continental Army spent at Valley Forge. In February 1778, Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben arrived with orders from Congress naming him inspector General of the Continental Army (Washington asked Congress von Steuben be made Acting Inspector General fearing that the sudden injection of a recent arrival to Washington’s staff holding a rank higher than most of his long-term staff could cause problems within the command). The appointment was not without merit, Von Steuben, a freemason, had a wealth of knowledge about infantry tactics, drilling and training troops; reorganizing and rebuilding entire armies; and leading men in combat. He trained officers and non-commissioned officers in drill and close-in combat so they could return to their units and train their sections and squads. Despite the hardships and losses at Valley Forge von Steuben was able to make progress. Washington, meanwhile, spent a great deal of time writing to congress begging for better material support.
As both armies “hunkered down” for the winter in their respective locations. Both Howe and Washington sent plans to their superiors to launch a spring offensive (Washington to retake Philadelphia, Howe to finish off Washington’s army). Amazingly both men were turned down for the basically the same reason: their competencies were being questioned. In both cases it was because of Saratoga. When the British government was informed of the devastating loss of Burgoyne’s Army they were “not very happy with Howe”. They questioned his leaving only 4,000 troops in New York City for defensive and offensive operations. There is some debate about the circumstances of Howe’s retirement. Some say he knew he was in trouble and, to save face, requested retirement. Others claim he was sent a letter making it very clear he was being retired and until the actual retirement date was effective General Clinton, his second in command, was in charge of the army. Clinton had already been sent orders from London to get the British Army out of Philadelphia. Howe was not quite done though (at least as far as his image went). On May 18, 1778, his last night in Philadelphia, Howe through an extremely expensive and lavish party known at the time as a Mischianza (Italian for medley or mixture, although a better definition for it may be: “the-absolute-cream-of-the-office-corps-with-good-pedigree, and, very-wealthy-loyalists-families-known-to-have-at-least-one really-good-looking-single-daughter-who-will-attend). Howe’s aides made sure the food, liquor, entertainment and prizes were “the best they could get” with the affair ending in a massive fireworks display as Howe prepared to board his transport. Meanwhile, after packing up his army as quickly as he could, and trying not to leave anything that could aide the American Army, General Clinton followed his orders and began evacuating Philadelphia on June 18,
1778. (There is a bit of a myth concerning British reasons for evacuating Philadelphia. Supposedly a French Naval Squadron arrived at Newport Rhode Island to disembark 6,000 French “regulars” and sent a signal to the British that they to get their forces back to New York City to protect it. Yes the fleet did come, but not until July 10, 1780….this was long time after the order to abandon Philadelphia had been sent to Clinton).
The challenges to Washington’s competency were being led by Congressmen who were friends of Horatio Gates. He kept pointing to his victory at Saratoga, and his “professional British Army background”. It caused enough of a controversy to force Congress to suspend actions by Washington until the issue was resolved. Cooler heads prevailed in Congress and Washington retained his command. Gate’s was given command of the American Southern Army but it was made clear he had to pass orders and requests via Washington who remained the Supreme Commander and Chief. Gates seldom followed this order and continued to communicate directly with selected Congressmen. This problem would not hound Washington for long . On August 16, 1780 Gates tried exactly what Washington was avoiding: a full scale-out-in-the-open-“toe-to-toe”-“shoot-out” with a British Army. Gates, however, did just that against Lord Cornwallis British Southern Army: Gate’s forces were ripped apart. He disappeared in the heat of the battle and it was assumed he was among the battlefield dead. Wrong! He was found three days later 170 miles north of the battlefield continuing to ride hard due north. Any threat to Washington’s command now evaporated (as did any chances of Gates getting another command). Personal tragedy followed Gate’s long retreat – he was devastated to discover his son Robert had been killed in battle. Washington had a clear case of “desertion under fire” before him: he chose not to pursue it thus sparing Gates.
Washington had been told not attack Philadelphia, but nobody said he was prohibited from attacking the British Army retreating back to New York. On June 28th 1778 he attacked what he thought was the rear guard force of Clinton ‘s Army. Usually rear guard troops protected supplies and equipment accompanying the army. Often the troops assigned to the rear guard were not the “prime combat” troops and Washington hoped he could raise havoc in an all out assault on the rear-guard. General Clinton had, however, anticipated this. He had assigned a number of top regulars to the rear guard plus a German regiment under Major General Knyphausen to follow a parallel road. Washington asked one of his subordinates General Charles Lee to lead the attack on the British, treating it as a holding action and give Washington time to gauge the British response and send his other forces in accordingly. Lee, whose loyalty was questioned by many American officers, refused the order but when told the command would be given to the young Marquis d’Lafayette he changed his mind. Lee apparently was not a “fan” of Washington’s plan and did not convey Washington’s precise orders to his forces. The accusation some leveled against Lee was that he just told his officers to use their own best judgment. Lee finally lead what some considered a half-hearted attack on the rear column of Clinton’s army. He found it better protected than expected, and soon his troops were falling into a disorganized retreat with the British in pursuit. Washington quickly established a defensive line that stopped the British push. The battle lasted the remainder of the day ending with the two forces basically in the positions they had held at the day’s start. The following morning Washington discovered Clinton’s Army had moved out during the night and continued its march toward New York. The battle of Monmouth was basically a draw, but it marked the last major battle of the Revolution that would be fought in the north.
In London, the thinking in government circles was that the war in the north was basically lost. Holding New York city was accomplishing little if anything. Strategy began to shift from “crushing the rebellion” to holding the southern colonies as a “buffer” to protect the most economically valuable holdings in the Americas: the Caribbean colonies. At the end of 1778 the British dispatched troops from New York to land on the Georgia coast and take Savannah. Barely ninety days later they put Charleston, South Carolina under siege. American commander General Benjamin Lincoln held out until May 12, when conditions forced his surrender: the entire American Southern Army was taken as prisoners of War. For a short time it looked as though the British southern strategy would work. There was even talk that once the south was secured, a massive campaign could be launched to retake the north.
Although British forces continued to win battles, they found attempts to keep the peace and administered the captured territories difficult. Loyalists the British counted on to help them govern the southern colonies often were interested only in revenge against those who supported the revolution. Pro-British and Pro-Revolutionary factions were fighting their own civil war while the British were making efforts to subdue and govern the region. The further inland the British pushed the worst the situation became. As soon as the British Army moved out of an area it considered “pacified” one faction of Americans or the other (or both) would move back and chaos would again erupt. Atrocities committed by both groups hardened the resolve of the opposing sides and made the situation worse. British and Loyalists officers such as Banastre Tarleton and Patrick Fergusson, who were tied to some the atrocities, drove Pro-Revolutionary forces to resist in any way possible.
General Clinton, returned to New York leaving the Southern campaign in the hands of General Charles Cornwallis. Cornwallis, who in August of 1780, had soundly defeated Horatio Gates Southern Continental Army at Camden was confident the British were gaining the upper hand in Georgia and South Carolina but felt the campaign had to be carried into North Carolina and Virginia to insure the British securing the south. By fall, however, British fortunes were again turning.
In October, Major Patrick Fergusson, leading an advanced British Force near the border between North and South Carolina, was unexpectedly surrounded by American militia units. Fergusson tried to establish a defensive position on a hill known locally as as King’s Mountain but after little more than an hour of fighting was overrun. Fergusson was killed by a sharpshooter. Of the 1200 men under his command 290 were killed, 183 were wounded, and 668 captured. Shortly after King’s Mountain, Cornwallis discovered the American Southern Army was being “rebuilt” by Washington’s hand-picked choice General Nathaniel Greene. In addition another force of American militia under a highly experienced fighter General Daniel Morgan (a Virginia freemason) was undermining British gains in South Carolina.
Clinton dispatched a force under the command of the greatly feared Colonel Banastre Tarleton to crush Morgan’s militia forces. On January 17, 1781 after several days of pursuing Morgan army, Tarleton moved in and attacked Morgan’s position at a small market area known as Cowpens. At first it looked as if Morgan’s troops would be defeated, but American resistance suddenly stiffened. Unexpectedly, an American cavalry charge led by William Washington (second cousin to George Washington) hit the British flank raising havoc the British line. Realizing his assault was failing, Tarleton ordered a retreat that proved less than orderly. Tarleton left over 330 men dead or wounded on the battlefield. Over 500 of his men were forced to surrender (American losses were 12 dead and 60 wounded). Knowing Cornwallis would most likely come after him with a much larger force, Morgan quickly moved his Army northward to link up with Greene.
Cornwallis was furious when informed of Tarleton’s defeat. He did indeed intend to pursue Morgan. In a questionable decision, he ordered his army to abandon and destroy part of its supplies and equipment in hopes of becoming a faster and more mobile force. He then moved north to pursue Morgan and Greene. On paper Cornwallis had 8,000 men in his southern command, but they were scattered in garrisons in South Carolina and Georgia trying to keep control of the countryside. Cornwallis army moving north against Greene and Morgan numbered just over 1,900 men.
Daniel Morgan would not lead his forces against Cornwallis army. Suffering from a number of health problems he was forced to withdraw from the field and retire to his Virginia home. Greene would have to command the American southern army of about 4,000 alone. Greene’s advantage in numbers did not seem phase Cornwallis in the least. As soon as he found Greene’s Army dug in near the small town of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, he launched a head-on assault on Greene’s lines on March 15, 1781. The British, use to seeing American lines break in the face of such attacks, were stunned to find the American line not only holding but laying down a barrage of murderous fire that was taking a heavy toll on the British charge. The battle progressed as the two armies wound up in close in fighting. Cornwallis then took an action that shocked his commanders. British artillery pieces were ordered loaded with grapeshot and fired directly into the frontline of the battle. This action mowed down men on both sides, broke up the fighting, and sent survivors scattering. Shortly after Greene ordered his army to withdraw from Guilford Courthouse. Cornwallis was left in command of the field claiming victory over Greene.
Many in Cornwallis army, and more importantly many in the British government, did not view Guilford Courthouse as a “victory”. Five hundred of Cornwallis 1,900 troops had been killed or badly wounded. His order to fire grapeshot into battle line where his own men were locked into hand-to-hand combat with the Americans was viewed as an act of desperation. His supplies were exhausted, and the “resupply” wagons that were suppose to reach his army were stopped by American guerrilla and militia units harassing the garrisons Cornwallis had left to “control” South Carolina and Georgia. Even Cornwallis realized he had to retreat to the coast to seek protection from the British Navy.
Meanwhile, Greene’s Army swung back into South Carolina and began attacking the scattered British garrisons in the interior. The British position in the south was deteriorating rapidly.
George Washington’s may have felt his recommendation to Congress that Greene command the American Southern Army had been more than justified by the collapsing British position, but he was facing a number of problems of his own between 1780-1781. Supply shortages continued to plague his army. Discontent boiled over several times in the ranks of the Continental Army in the form of mutinies (mostly due to Congress failure to pay the troops). Washington also discovered that the alliance Congress had made with the French did include the commitment of French army and navy forces to the American campaign, but only under an independent French Command (Washington had hoped he would be the overall commander of allied forces in America). In addition the Congress had also agreed in the alliance that no matter what the course of the American Revolution, America would remain at war with England as long as France remained at war with England.
A French army of approximately 5,500 under the command General Comte Rochambeau had landed in Newport Rhode Island in 1780. Washington tried soon after the French arrived to convince Rochambeau that their best option was to combine forces and strike the British army in New York City. Rochambeau was very reluctant, feeling the British could easily repel such an attack: he would not commit to an assault on the British stronghold. Washington was discouraged by situation the inaction, but soon saw another opportunity.
Word reached Washington’s headquarters that General Cornwallis was moving his British Southern Army north into Virginia. Washington was already aware from Greene’s reports that Cornwallis Army had been significantly weakened by the 1780-81 campaigns in the south and that Cornwallis forces were dangerously low on supplies. This meant that at some point Cornwallis would have to move to a coastal port somewhere in the Chesapeake Bay area to be resupplied by the British Navy. In another meeting with Rochambeau, the two Generals agreed an attack on Cornwallis army presented a better option than New York, but it would also be the most complex campaign either side organized and launched during the course of the American Revolution.
The French and American armies would have to move south without Clinton’s British Army in New York detecting their movement. A French support fleet would have to move north from the Caribbean and blockade Chesapeake Bay at the same time the combined American-French Army began to encircle Cornwallis Army. Cornwallis Army would have to be defeated before the British could dispatch a larger naval force from New York to break the French blockade. Coordinating such a campaign in an era when the best communication system anybody had was a dispatch rider on horseback or a sailing vessel carrying a message seemed near impossible.
Washington’s first move was to let a series of fake dispatches be leaked to known British spies. When pieced together these dispatches would indicate to British General Clinton that the Americans and French would soon launch a major attack on New York City. This of course made Clinton reluctant to give any thought to sending reinforcements to Cornwallis. He apparently ordered Cornwallis to continue to hold the port area of Yorktown in the Chesapeake. Apparently the orders were somewhat confusing. Instead of resupply or reinforcement of Cornwallis position dispatches from Clinton seemed to indicate evacuation. Cornwallis dug in a Yorktown hastily constructing a defensive perimeter with his back to Chesapeake Bay awaiting the British naval squadron that would remove he and his troops.
On August 19th, the American and French armies linked-up north of New York City and began their march south towards Virginia. Washington left a number of men behind in the New York area with orders to be “seen” so as to keep Clinton convinced the Americans were preparing an attack on the city . It was said that as Washington moved his forces south he remained “stone faced” and solemn. He was probably preoccupied with how complicated this campaign was and how easy it would be for something to go wrong. After moving south of Philadelphia, a dispatch rider arrived at Washington’s headquarters. Soon after he was heard to be cheering, nearly celebrating. He had just received word a French Naval squadron under Admiral de Grasse had successfully blockaded the southern end of Chesapeake Bay and driven off a British attempt to break the blockade: Cornwallis was now trapped.
Washington sent an advance forced under the Marquis de Lafayette to begin encircling Cornwallis forces. Cornwallis still had the ability to break-out of the Yorktown peninsula, but he was apparently keeping faith with the last dispatch he received from Clinton ordering him to hold, and that relief was on the way. By late September the main body of the American-French force arrived and completely surrounded Yorktown. The French Army quickly moved one of their favorite weapons, heavy siege mortars, into position. It is said Washington was given the “honor” of lighting the first fuse to begin the bombardment of Cornwallis position. On October 14th after days of bombardment Washington ordered infantry units forward to begin to overrun British outer defensive positions (redoubts). Artillery was ordered to move in closer and concentrate fire. On the morning of October 17th, American infantry troops witnessed a lone British drummer boy climbing atop one of the few remaining British redoubts while beating his drum. He was soon followed by a British officer carrying a white flag. Brought to American lines, the officer, on General Cornwallis behalf, asked for terms of surrender. After two days of negotiations, Cornwallis officially surrendered his army, but not personally. He refused to face Washington and instead sent a subordinate, General Charles O’Hara to surrender. O’ Hara tried to insult Washington further by attempting to surrender to the French Commander Rochambeau. Rochambeau refused to accept the surrender and directed O’Hara to Washington. Washington, who by now was furious with the “British insult”, refused O’Hara’s surrender, directing him to make his surrender to fellow freemason General Benjamin Lincoln: second in command to Washington. In a way this was a double insult to the British. Not only did Washington refuse O’Hara’s surrender, but he directed him to surrender to the American general the British had defeated at the battle of Charleston, South Carolina.
Five days later the British discovered the disaster the they were facing when a relief fleet entered Chesapeake Bay and found Cornwallis position abandoned. A few soldiers and loyalists who escaped and went into hiding, made their way to the British ships anchored off Yorktown. They told the story of Cornwallis surrender and the fact that his 9,000 plus man army were now prisoners of war.
Word of the defeat reached London around November 25th. The stunned British Prime Minister, Lord Frederick North, is said to have uttered, “it is over.” King George III wanted to continue the war, but Parliament had reached the end of its rope. Lord North resigned, and his successor began immediate moves to negotiate an end to the American conflict.
Yorktown was the last major battle of the American Revolution fought in North America, but the French and English would continue the conflict elsewhere for two more years. After Yorktown, Washington would move his army back north of New York City to the Newburgh and New Windsor area. Here they would remain until the wars end in 1783. Some in Congress wanted to disband the army, but most feared it would leave America in a weakened position when the time came to negotiate with the British. However, the Continental Army just sitting in New York caused problems of its own.
As Congress found itself near broke, pay for the army again fell behind. Discontent with Congress spread among officers who felt Congress as a government was incompetent and needed to be replaced. By March of 1783, some officers were proposing a march on Philadelphia to seize the government. Word of the supposed conspiracy reached Washington, who quickly called for a meeting of staff officers at the Temple Hill meeting hall. On March 15th Washington entered the hall, stepped onto the meeting house’s small stage and began giving a speech he had prepared in his headquarters. He applauded his officers for their efforts and actions during the war, but begged them not to undo all that was gained by “opening the gates of civil discord”. His speech did not seem to have the impact he had hoped for. He told his officers he had a letter from Congress he wanted to read to them. He seemed to have problems trying to put his glasses on so he could read the letter. He apologized for his fumbling with his glasses saying to the assembly, “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” This simple statement had the impact his speech had not. The threat of a military coup was eliminated by this brief, but to his officers. heart-wrenching statement.
Congress received notification that France and England had negotiated a peace in late January of 1783 (although they had been informed of most of the agreements reached by November of 1782). In April 1783 Congress declared that the Revolution was officially over. In June, most of the Continental forces that had fought the conflict were ordered to begin disbanding. By September a formal end to the conflict and recognition of American independence was made official by the Treaty of Paris 1783. The Americans also agreed that none of their remaining forces would enter New York City until the last British units were withdrawn. On November 25th, with the last British troops departed, Washington entered New York City over six years after his defeat on Long Island.
On December 4, 1783, Washington asked his remaining staff officers to join him at Fraunces Tavern where he could say farewell to them before his command disbanded. The informal meeting was said to be highly emotional, and after it was over Washington’s staff escorted him for the last time to a boat which transported him to the Jersey shore. Washington continued on to Annapolis, Maryland, where the Congress was meeting. On December 23, 1783 he appeared before Congress to officially resign his commission as Commander of the Continental Army. It is said that when George III was informed Washington was voluntarily surrendering his command of the American Army to Congress, he stated, “ If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world”. Washington finally arrived at his home, Mount Vernon, on Christmas Eve believing he was done with public life.
Ten months before George Washington returned home, a new Masonic Lodge was launched in Alexandria, Virginia (old Alexandria Lodge No. 39) under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. The following June, Washington was made an honorary member in the Alexandria Lodge. Four years later the lodge “rechartered” under the Grand Lodge of Virginia. Washington was named the first charter Worshipful Master of the reorganized Alexandria Lodge. The Virginia charter for Alexandria Lodge was granted by Virginia Grand Master Edmund Randolph (who was also the state’s governor). A year later, as President of the United States, Washington would appoint Randolph the nation’s first Attorney General.
If Washington was hoping his relatively quiet life as a gentleman farmer (plantation owner) would continue after 1784, he was in for a rude awakening. The euphoria that had marked the winning of independence in 1783, was quickly replaced by a realization the country was facing serious problems. The war had left Congress with a $77,000,000 debt and no way to pay it. Border disputes between states were becoming more numerous. The economy was in chaos with no monetary system, trade barriers arising between the states, and the loss of what had been America’s number one “money maker” – trade with England. The British were not closing down their forts and outposts on the American side of the Great Lakes and threatened to continue occupying the area until millions of dollars in private debts owed to British merchants was paid in full (apparently many Americans believed independence cancelled the pre-revolution debts owed British merchants). Several uprising occurred in the states, that threatened to topple local or state governments: the most notable being Shay’s rebellion in Massachusetts.
The Congress formed under the Articles of Confederation seemed unable to handle these problems. It had virtually no method of raising revenue (direct taxation was reserved only for the states), no courts (that might have handled cases such as disputes between states), and no real ability to impose laws that were universal to all the states. Countries such as England and Spain didn’t seem to view the Confederation as a “serious government”, generally ignoring American boundary claims near the great Lakes and Mississippi River areas.
The deteriorating situation was apparently a regular topic of discussion among prominent Virginians invited to Washington’s Mount Vernon library. During on of these meetings Washington apparently suggested a plan his former Continental Army staff aide, Alexander Hamilton, had proposed several years earlier: a convention independent of the Congress that could examine possible “adjustments” to the Articles of Confederation that would make it a more viable government. Because Washington suggested it, the idea seemed to have gained credibility and in September of 1786 a convention of states was called in Annapolis, Maryland. Only five states bothered to send delegates (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia). Despite this disappointing number, the delegates sent a resolution to Congress calling for a convention of all the states to be scheduled for May of 1787 in Philadelphia with the purpose of examining and proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation. When the idea was accepted, several prominent figures such as James Madison began to communicate to Washington that his presence was absolutely necessary to give the convention credibility. Washington, at first, appeared to be reluctant, not really wanting to return to public life, but he finally yielded and agreed to attend as a delegate representing the state of Virginia.
By late May of 1787 enough delegates had shown up to have a quorum and be able to proceed. There was never any question Washington would be elected to preside over the Congress. What he quickly discovered, however, was that the delegates attending the convention had very entrenched positions. One group made up mostly, but not exclusively, of delegates from smaller states was dead set against any changes to the existing Articles of Confederation. In the “opposite corner” were delegates from larger states who wanted to “scrap” the Articles and draft an entirely new government.
After months of endless debates, threatened walk-outs, back room deals and difficult compromises the convention finally agreed to an entirely new governing document: the United States Constitution. One of things the new Constitution called for was a separate executive branch of government headed by an elected President of the United States. After the convention almost every delegate indicated that when they were creating the office, they were “shaping” it around one man: the presiding official of the convention George Washington.
The convention sent the new Constitution to Congress asking that they have it ratified by special conventions in each state. Congress accepted both the Constitution and ratification process and called for conventions “of the people” in each state. The divisions that had surfaced at the 1787 Constitutional Convention were only magnified at the state conventions. The two strongest opposing factions were those who wanted each individual state to retain its sovereignty versus those who favored a strong central government that would unite the individual states. Although the Congress agreed that has soon as nine out of thirteen conventions ratified the new Constitution, it would be the law of the land, reality dictated success would depend on all thirteen states “signing on”. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, thus making it the new governing document, but Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island held out. Within days after New Hampshire Virginia ratified: a month later New York ratified. North Carolina and Rhode Island remained outside the umbrella of the new Constitution and the first presidential election.
On January 7, 1789 the new United States held its first presidential election. Historians generally agree that for all practical purposes George Washington was unopposed in the election. Some even argue the real race was for second place, because until the constitution was amended in 1804 the runner-up became the Vice President of the United States. On April 30, 1789, Washington took the first presidential oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City. Shortly before the ceremony was to start officials realized there wasn’t a Bible immediately available for the swearing in. New York Governor, Robert Livingston, who was also the Masonic Grand Master of the state, arranged to borrow the Bible used by St. John’s Lodge No. 1 of New York which was a short distance from Federal Hall.
For the eight years George Washington served as President (he would be reelected in 1792) there was no permanent capital city. New York, and after 1791 Philadelphia, would serve as the temporary capitol until the building of the new and permanent “federal district” which became Washington, D.C. The final choice for the new capital was not decided easily. New York and Philadelphia both wanted the capital located within their boundaries. Southern congressmen argued they would not accept a northern based capital. It was only after a series of political compromises (some not even directly related to a capital city) and pressure from President Washington that a ten square mile area on the Potomac River straddling Virginia and Maryland was finally agreed to as the permanent home for a U.S. capital.
In 1791 President Washington appointed a three man commission to oversee the planning of the new capital: none had experience with city planning. Shortly after, Washington ordered the commission to employ , Pierre Charles L’Enfant a French-American engineer to design the city and its public buildings. L’Enfant had served in the Continental Army under Washington. L’ Enfant visited the proposed site several times then began work on a city plan. It was shown to Washington as soon as it was completed. The President wanted to publish it right away to boost enthusiasm for the project (Washington was also aware Philadelphia was pushing Pennsylvania’s representatives to get Congress to abandon the idea and name Philadelphia the permanent capital). Thomas Jefferson who had been sitting in on the commission realized L’Enfant’s abilities with English were “rough”. Before he let the plan go to President Washington, he worked to improve the written sections. Even after L’Enfant’s plan was presented, Congress seemed to be “dragging their feet” on the project especially in the area of voting the funds needed to get the project started. There were also property claims that had to be settled in the designated Federal District area before work could start. L’Enfant seems to have ignored these issues and “forged ahead”. He began to anger the commission, congressmen, and finally Washington. Washington discharged L’Enfant a year after hiring him.
At some point Congress seems to have done a reversal on it disinterest and pushed for construction of a Capital building and “President’s House” to begin. A competition was held for building designs and among the eight plans submitted for an executive mansion those of young architect and freemason, James Hoban were selected. President Washington took particular interest in Hoban’s design for the President’s House. Hoban had based his design on a palace in Dublin, Ireland, known as Leinster House. The house had been the residence of James Fitzgerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare and the founding Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.
On October 23, 1792, a group of freemasons assembled at Fountain tavern in Georgetown, and prepared to march to the site cleared for the Presidential House and lay the cornerstone for the future home of America’s chief executives. Although Hoban participated in the ceremony, George Washington did not. When the design of one Dr. William Thornton was selected for the Capital Building, it was decided more “pomp and circumstance” should be given to the laying of a cornerstone than had been given the President’s House. On September 18, 1793, George Washington assembled with a large group of freemasons representing three lodges in the area and, accompanied by a band, marched to “capital hill “ to lay the cornerstone for the future home of the U.S. Congress. Washington conducted the Masonic cornerstone laying ceremony, wearing the Masonic apron that had been presented to him by the Marquis d’ Lafayette (the apron was said to have been made by the Marquis’ wife). Setting cornerstones and discussing architectural details may have been some of the more enjoyable events in Washington’s Presidency. Most of the President’s time would be consumed by the pressing problems the young nation faced.
Washington “inherited” four advisory positions from the old Confederation, Secretary of State, Secretary of War, Secretary of Treasury and Attorney General. His continuation of these positions in his administration became the core of what would come to be known as the President’s Cabinet. Thomas Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State, Henry Knox Secretary of War, Alexander Hamilton Secretary of Treasury, and Edmund Randolph Attorney General. Randolph was a freemason as was Henry Knox. If Washington was hoping harmony and consensus would be the hallmarks of his cabinet, soon found the opposite. Hamilton and Jefferson represented very differing political philosophies. Hamilton had been a strong proponent of the Constitution, and favored America “patching up its differences” with England to reestablish the badly needed trade that would boost the economy. As Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton wanted to establish a Bank of the United States to hold the treasury deposits of the United States and promote economic stability and growth. Jefferson was the antithesis of Hamilton. He had favored the Confederation staying in place, the U.S. developing better ties with France not England, and was opposed to any centralized financial institution as the bank of the United States, The two men were becoming the lead figures of the main political parties forming in the United States: Federalists and Anti-Federalists (Democratic-Republicans).
Washington tried to stay above the party fray that divided his cabinet, but his siding with Hamilton on most financial issues caused supporters of Jefferson to brand him a Federalist. It bothered Washington deeply to find himself being attacked time and again in the editorials of “anti-Federalist” newspapers. Jefferson , on the other hand often felt “isolated” in that Knox and Randolph would usually side with Hamilton as would the vice President John Adams. The excesses of the French Revolution thwarted his efforts to swing Washington or any of his fellow cabinet members into a closer relationship with France. When Britain and France went back to War in 1792, Washington immediately declared that the United States would follow a strict policy of neutrality, despite the fact the alliance the American government had signed with France in 1778 did not expire until 1800. Washington made staying out of war his number one foreign affairs priority. After being embarrassed by a French emissary, Edmund Genet, who was discovered to be repeatedly carrying out activities that violated U.S. neutrality, Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State in late 1793. Washington attempted several times to talk Jefferson into staying, but to no avail.
Although this seemed a victory for Hamilton, he found himself repeatedly being accused of manipulating treasury funds appropriated for paying off parts of the war debt. Although subsequent investigations exonerated Hamilton, repeated accusations and rumors of scandal plagued him. Anti-Federalists blamed his tax policies for causing an uprising in the back country of Pennsylvania known as the Whiskey Rebellion. The use of Federal troops to put down the rebellion made Hamilton unpopular. Believing he was losing the faith of President Washington, Hamilton resigned in December of 1794.
Despite the cabinet issues, Washington’s administration accomplished much. He initiated actions that established a capital city for the infant nation. He successfully kept the U.S. out of the foreign conflicts that raged around it. The federal government instituted tariff and excise taxes that gave it a dependable source of revenue and allowed it to begin paying down the debt. Although some provisions were not popular, several treaties were negotiated with foreign countries (notably the Jay and Pinckney Treaties) that gave the U.S. a greater credibility and better access to the Mississippi River area. Although, as previously noted, the use of Federal troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion was controversial, it did prove the new government had the ability to back its laws and policies. Washington also established the practice of the U.S. President giving a “State of the Union Address” annually ( the Constitution required such an address be given , but never outlined the frequency of such an address). Most importantly, Washington held a nation together under a new form of government, that many, especially in Europe, felt could never survive.
Many Federalists wanted to encourage Washington to seek a third term in 1796. There were even Anti-Federalists who “like-his-policies-or-not” felt Washington was the only man who could continue to hold the country together. Physically tired and truly ready to leave public life, Washington refused any consideration of a third term. He did ,with Alexander Hamilton’s assistance, write a farewell address that has been called the greatest of all his speeches (in reality it was published in newspapers not given orally).
In his address Washington called for the nation to realize the benefits of its new federal government; to keep a stable public credit by staying out of debt; not let political parties divide the nation; be weary of permanent foreign alliances; realize the importance off religion and morality; and avoid creating an overly powerful military establishment.
The election of 1796 resulted in Vice President John Adams being elected the second President of the United States. Washington as outgoing president attended Adam’s inauguration. After the ceremony and speeches ended Adams wrote a comment about George Washington’s final departure: he wrote how serene Washington’s face appeared and noted “Methought I heard him think, ‘Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!”
Washington finally returned to the life he desired: the gentleman farmer. Briefly in 1798, at the request of President Adams, he worked on organizing an officers corps for the army, but refused to accept any public role including getting “back in uniform.” In December of the following year Washington was working on improvement plans to the front property of his estate. He was caught in a sudden rain/sleet storm and retuned to his home soaked through. That evening, according to family members Washington began to complain of not feeling well. He retired to his library and although he was encouraged to go to bed, he insisted on working late into the night.
The next day Washington was feverish and had trouble breathing, his wife, Martha, sent for two doctors, Dr. James Craik and Dr. Gustavus Brown. Craik arrived first, but not knowing when Brown might be able to get to Mount Vernon, decided to send for a third doctor, Dr. Elisha Dick. Dick was a member of the same Masonic lodge as Washington. Brown arrived sometime after Dick. The three doctors in attendance approved “bleeding” the president in an attempt to improve his situation. Dick was the youngest of the three physicians present and familiar with “newer practices”. Believing Washington’s throat swollen to the point he was beginning to choke to death, Dick wanted to perform a tracheotomy. Brown and Craig ruled against it viewing the procedure as too radical (some believe Washington may have survived if Dick had been allowed to perform the operation). Brown and Craig insisted on continued bleeding as the best treatment. Around ten o’clock that evening it appeared Washington’s breathing might be improving, but minutes later on the evening of December 14, 1799, after uttering a few words to his doctors, he passed away.
Dr. Elisha Dick crossed the bedroom floor to a clock atop the fireplace mantel. He reached for the pendulum and stopped the clock, opened the back and cut the control strings so it could not be restarted. The clock hands remained at 10:20 p.m. the time of the Presidents death. The clock eventually came into the possession of the George Washington National Memorial Museum where it remains today. Although Congress had long been discussing a national monument to Washington, Washington stipulated in his will that he be entombed on his Mount Vernon estate.
After word of Washington’s death reached the Congress members of the Senate were addressed by President John Adams:
Gentlemen of the Senate:
I receive with the most respectful and affectionate sentiments in this impressive address the obliging expressions of your regard for the loss our country has sustained in the death of her most esteemed, beloved, and admired citizen.
In the multitude of my thoughts and recollections on this melancholy event you will permit me only to say that I have seen him in the days of adversity, in some of the scenes of his deepest distress and most trying perplexities; I have also attended him in his highest elevation and most prosperous felicity, with uniform admiration of his wisdom, moderation, and constancy.
Among all our original associates in that memorable league of the continent in 1774, which first expressed the sovereign will of a free nation in America, he was the only one remaining in the General Government. Although with a constitution more enfeebled than his at an age when he thought it necessary to prepare for retirement, I feel myself alone bereaved of my last brother; yet I derive a strong consolation from the unanimous disposition which appears in all ages and classes to mingle their sorrows with mine on this common calamity to the world.
The life of our Washington can not suffer by comparison with those of other countries who have been most celebrated and exalted by fame. The attributes and decorations of royalty could have only served to eclipse the majesty of those virtues which made him, from being a modest citizen, a more resplendent luminary.
Misfortune, had he lived, could hereafter have sullied his glory only with those superficial minds who, believing that characters and actions are marked by success alone, rarely deserve to enjoy it. Malice could never blast his honor, and envy made him a singular exception to her universal rule. For himself, he had lived enough to life and to glory. For his fellow-citizens, if their prayers could have been answered, he would have been immortal. For me, his departure is at a most unfortunate moment. Trusting, however, in the wise and righteous dominion of Providence over the passions of men and the results of their councils and actions, as well as over their lives, nothing remains for me but humble resignation.
His example is now complete, and it will teach wisdom and virtue to magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age, but in future generations as long as our history shall be read. If a Trajan found a Pliny, a Marcus Aurelius can never want biographers, eulogists, or historians.