But in June, a new British commander, Sir William Howe , arrived in the Colonies with the largest expeditionary force Britain had ever deployed to date.
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In August , the British army launched an attack and quickly took New York City in the largest battle of the war. Washington's army was routed and suffered the surrender of 2, men. Confident the war would be over in a few months, General Howe wintered his troops at Trenton and Princeton, leaving Washington free to attack at the time and place of his choosing.
On Christmas night, , Washington and his men returned across the Delaware River and attacked unsuspecting Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, forcing their surrender. A few days later, evading a force that had been sent to destroy his army, Washington attacked the British again, this time at Princeton, dealing them a humiliating loss. General Howe's strategy was to capture colonial cities and stop the rebellion at key economic and political centers.
He never abandoned the belief that once the Americans were deprived of their major cities, the rebellion would wither. In the summer of , he mounted an offensive against Philadelphia. Washington moved in his army to defend the city but was defeated at the Battle of Brandywine. Philadelphia fell two weeks later. In the late summer of , the British army sent a major force, under the command of John Burgoyne, south from Quebec to Saratoga, New York, to split the rebellion between New England and the southern colonies. The victory was a major turning point in the war as it encouraged France to openly ally itself with the American cause for independence.
Through all of this, Washington discovered an important lesson: The political nature of war was just as important as the military one. Washington began to understand that military victories were as important as keeping the resistance alive. Americans began to believe that they could meet their objective of independence without defeating the British army. Meanwhile, British General Howe clung to the strategy of capturing colonial cities in hopes of smothering the rebellion.
The Congress would just pack up and meet elsewhere. The 11,man force went into winter quarters and over the next six months suffered thousands of deaths, mostly from disease. But the army emerged from the winter still intact and in relatively good order. Realizing their strategy of capturing colonial cities had failed, the British command replaced General Howe with Sir Henry Clinton. Washington and his men delivered several quick blows to the moving army, attacking the British flank near Monmouth Courthouse.
Though a tactical standoff, the encounter proved Washington's army capable of open field battle. For the remainder of the war, Washington was content to keep the British confined to New York, although he never totally abandoned the idea of retaking the city. The alliance with France had brought a large French army and a navy fleet.
Facing the combined French and Colonial armies and the French fleet of 29 warships at his back, Cornwallis held out as long as he could, but on October 19, , he surrendered his forces.
A near-mutiny was avoided when Washington convinced Congress to grant a five-year bonus for soldiers in March By November of that year, the British had evacuated New York City and other cities and the war was essentially over. The Americans had won their independence.
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Washington formally bade his troops farewell and on December 23, , he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the army and returned to Mount Vernon. For four years, Washington attempted to fulfill his dream of resuming life as a gentleman farmer and to give his much-neglected Mount Vernon plantation the care and attention it deserved. The war had been costly to the Washington family with lands neglected, no exports of goods, and the depreciation of paper money. But Washington was able to repair his fortunes with a generous land grant from Congress for his military service and become profitable once again.
In , Washington was again called to the duty of his country. Since independence, the young republic had been struggling under the Articles of Confederation , a structure of government that centered power with the states. But the states were not unified. They fought among themselves over boundaries and navigation rights and refused to contribute to paying off the nation's war debt. In some instances, state legislatures imposed tyrannical tax policies on their own citizens. Washington was intensely dismayed at the state of affairs, but only slowly came to the realization that something should be done about it.
Perhaps he wasn't sure the time was right so soon after the Revolution to be making major adjustments to the democratic experiment.
Or perhaps because he hoped he would not be called upon to serve, he remained noncommittal. In , Congress approved a convention to be held in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. At the Constitutional Convention , Washington was unanimously chosen as president. In the end, the Convention produced a plan for government that not only would address the country's current problems, but would endure through time.
After the convention adjourned, Washington's reputation and support for the new government were indispensable to the ratification of the new U. The opposition was strident, if not organized, with many of America's leading political figures — including Patrick Henry and Sam Adams — condemning the proposed government as a grab for power. Even in Washington's native Virginia, the Constitution was ratified by only one vote. Still hoping to retire to his beloved Mount Vernon, Washington was once again called upon to serve this country.
During the presidential election of , he received a vote from every elector to the Electoral College, the only president in American history to be elected by unanimous approval. As the first president, Washington was astutely aware that his presidency would set a precedent for all that would follow.
He carefully attended to the responsibilities and duties of his office, remaining vigilant to not emulate any European royal court. To that end, he preferred the title "Mr. President," instead of more imposing names that were suggested. However, Congress persuaded him to accept the compensation to avoid giving the impression that only wealthy men could serve as president. Washington proved to be an able administrator.
He surrounded himself with some of the most capable people in the country, appointing Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. He delegated authority wisely and consulted regularly with his cabinet listening to their advice before making a decision.
Washington established broad-ranging presidential authority, but always with the highest integrity, exercising power with restraint and honesty. In doing so, he set a standard rarely met by his successors, but one that established an ideal by which all are judged. During his first term, Washington adopted a series of measures proposed by Treasury Secretary Hamilton to reduce the nation's debt and place its finances on sound footing.
His administration also established several peace treaties with Native American tribes and approved a bill establishing the nation's capital in a permanent district along the Potomac River.
George Washington, – | Smithsonian Institution
Then, in , Washington signed a bill authorizing Congress to place a tax on distilled spirits, which stirred protests in rural areas of Pennsylvania. Quickly, the protests turned into a full-scale defiance of federal law known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington invoked the Militia Act of , summoning local militias from several states to put down the rebellion. Washington personally took command, marching the troops into the areas of rebellion and demonstrating that the federal government would use force, when necessary, to enforce the law. This was also the only time a sitting U.
In foreign affairs, Washington took a cautious approach, realizing that the weak young nation could not succumb to Europe's political intrigues. In , France and Great Britain were once again at war. At the urging of Alexander Hamilton, Washington disregarded the U. In , he sent John Jay to Britain to negotiate a treaty known as the "Jay Treaty" to secure a peace with Britain and clear up some issues held over from the Revolutionary War. The action infuriated Thomas Jefferson, who supported the French and felt that the U.
Washington was able to mobilize public support for the treaty, which proved decisive in securing ratification in the Senate. Though controversial, the treaty proved beneficial to the United States by removing British forts along the western frontier, establishing a clear boundary between Canada and the United States, and most importantly, delaying a war with Britain and providing over a decade of prosperous trade and development the fledgling country so desperately needed.
All through his two terms as president, Washington was dismayed at the growing partisanship within government and the nation. The power bestowed on the federal government by the Constitution made for important decisions, and people joined together to influence those decisions. The formation of political parties at first were influenced more by personality than by issues.
As Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton pushed for a strong national government and an economy built in industry. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson desired to keep government small and center power more at the local level, where citizens' freedom could be better protected. He envisioned an economy based on farming.
The Greatness of George Washington
Washington despised political partisanship, believing that ideological differences should never become institutionalized. He strongly felt that political leaders should be free to debate important issues without being bound by party loyalty. However, Washington could do little to slow the development of political parties.