It seems fitting that we look at a couple of history lessons focusing on our first President, George Washington, this weekend as President's Day approaches.
George Washington grew up near Fredericksburg, Virginia, and was brought up by an older half-brother, Lawrence, after his father died. When George was twenty years old Lawrence died, and his widow allowed George to lease Mount Vernon. Later, when she died, he inherited Mount Vernon and began to improve and enlarge the plantation, where he enjoyed life as a gentleman farmer, overseeing the farm operations and landscaping, and hosting friends and relatives at fox hunts and parties.
Washington fought on the side of British and colonists in the French and Indian War, rising to the rank of colonel. He was elected to Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1765 and served in the First and Second Continental Congresses. When he was 43, he was named commander of the Continental Army. He demanded hard work and discipline from his soldiers, and was a respected leader and organizer. At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army couldn't match the British forces, so Washington chose battles carefully, refusing to be drawn into battles that he didn't believe they should fight. He stayed with his men throughout the war, with only ten days back at Mount Vernon. His wife Martha often traveled to be with him, even during the difficult winter at Valley Forge.
When the Revolutionary War ended, Washington resigned from the Army, intending to retire to Mount Vernon. He gave his resignation to the Continental Congress on December 23, 1783, in what is now the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
|This statue of Washington stands in the Old Senate Chamber|
to commemorate the occasion.
In May of 1787, delegates met in Philadelphia to write a new constitution for the United States, and Washington agreed to serve as the President of the Constitutional Convention. When it came time to choose the President of the newly formed nation, every elector cast one of his two votes for the widely respected planter and successful leader of the Continental Army; and George Washington became the first President of the United States in 1789. He took the oath of office in New York City, which was the first capital. The oath had been prescribed in the Constitution, but Washington voluntarily added the words "so help me God" and every President since has followed suit.
Washington appointed his first cabinet - Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, Henry Knox as Secretary of War, and Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury. He also appointed John Jay as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His administration set the precedents for all to follow, in issues large and small. For example, Congress spent considerable time deciding how President should be addressed, but Washington himself declared that he wanted only "Mr. President" and so it was established.
The nation's capital was moved to Philadelphia in 1790, and then to Federal City in the District of Columbia in 1800. The states of Maryland and Virginia had donated land along the Potomac for the Federal City, and Washington had helped select the location. He chose land close to his Mount Vernon home. Later on, of course, Federal City was renamed Washington in honor of the President.
George Washington had hoped to retire after one term as President, but agreed to serve a second term after being convinced that he would best able to the hold the country together. He was chosen President in another unanimous vote in 1792. In 1796, Washington decided that two terms was enough. He wrote a farewell address that was published in many newspapers, but was never given in oral form. In it he gave wise advice to the young nation he had helped to forge. He retired to his beloved Mount Vernon, and died there in 1799. Congress selected a fellow congressman from Virginia and long-time associate of George Washington's to deliver the eulogy. Part of that speech from Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee is well-remembered and is often used in describing Washington:
First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen, . . . Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.
President George Washington rightfully earned a great deal of credit for making the new government work and for keeping unity within the nation. He was a man of principle who believed deeply in the cause of independence and desired that the nation would be built of faith, justice, and integrity.
In 1879, an Act of Congress designated the first federal holiday for government employees in honor of a President's birthday. In 1971, the holiday was adjusted so that it would celebrated on the third Monday of February. (Oddly, this means that it is never celebrated on the actual date of Washington's birthday, which was February 22nd.) It is still properly named "Washington's Birthday", although it is widely known as "President's Day" instead.
By the way, the Washington Monument standing in the National Mall in Washington, D.C. was dedicated on February 21, 1885.
|This picture was clearly NOT taken in February. :-)|
And on a lighter note . . . I wanted to include this picture of a statue of George Washington that is in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. When we saw it, I remember thinking that George would likely have been quite uncomfortable with it, as it portrays him in the typical pose of a Roman Emperor, and he was of the opinion that the office of President should never be a monarchy. Also, I suspect Martha Washington would have been aghast at her husband being shown bare-chested, as she was known to be a very modest and proper lady!
In the same folder as that picture was this one and I couldn't help but include it, since much of this history lesson is from Landon's high school textbook. At the time, he was about ten or eleven years old and posed as if giving a presidential address from this podium at the museum. Well, who knows?
|Best-looking President ever.|
Happy President's Day! I'd love to see your comments, and for you to link up your posts about homeschooling high school here. Visit your neighbors and leave some encouraging comments!
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