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George Washington

Terms, Events and Important People

Plot Overview

Youth and Family

Terms

Agrarianism  -   · Agrarianism refers to a way of life in which all members of society are independent, land-owning farmers. In this vision of society, held by many Republicans such as Thomas Jefferson, cities and industry are generally undesirable and often corrupt and immoral. In the ideal agrarian society, large cities don't exist because everyone lives in relative independence from the government and from one another on the land. This ideal was directly opposed to the vision of America held by people such as Alexander Hamilton, who believed in trade and modern capitalism.
Articles of Confederation -   · The Articles of Confederation were signed and made law in 1777. They established the United States of America and provided a national government during the Revolutionary War. After the war, the national government proved to be too weak and unstable, so the states met in 1787 revise them. This meeting became the Constitutional Convention.
Bunker Hill -   · Bunker Hill is in Chelsea, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston. It sits next to Breed's Hill, which rebels occupied in 1775 after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. (The Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place on Breed's Hill.)
Factors  -   · Factors were merchants, usually based in London, who bought tobacco from the plantations in America. According to British law, American planters could only sell to a limited number of factors and often got little money for their crops. The planters also relied on the factors for most of their goods–clothes, furniture, books, etc. As a result, most planters were deeply in debt to their factors. This system angered Washington and contributed to his support for independence.
Federal Constitution  -   · The Federal Constitution was created in Philadelphia in the fall of 1787. After it was ratified by nine states it went into effect as the basis for a new American government. It replaced the Articles of Confederation and created a strong federal government with executive, legislative, and judicial branches.
Federalists  -   · Federalists were a group of people, led by Alexander Hamilton, who believed that the federal government should be strong and have wide ranging powers. This group greatly influenced Washington and eventually formed a loosely organized political party which was eventually opposed by the Republicans.
Forks of the Ohio -   · The confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, which create the Ohio River, was called the Forks of the Ohio. It was a highly strategic site in Washington's era and was where the French built Fort Duquesne.
Fort Duquesne -   · The French built Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio in 1754 to control the Ohio River Valley. Washington fought in two campaigns to capture it: unsuccessfully in 1755 under General Edward Braddock and successfully in 1758 under General John Forbes. The British renamed it Fort Pitt, which later became the city of Pittsburgh.
Fort Necessity -   · Washington built Fort Necessity at Great Meadows, Pennsylvania, in 1753. He was on a mission to warn the French to leave the Ohio River Valley. After attacking the French, Washington retreated to Fort Necessity and was defeated. The position of Fort Necessity was difficult to defend; Washington erred in establishing a fort there. Washington was forced to surrender and sign a "confession" for the "assassination" of a French lieutenant. This incident sparked the French and Indian War.
Hamilton's financial plan  -   · During Washington's first term as president, his Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, introduced a series of bills to create an American financial system. The plan called for the federal government to assume the Revolutionary War debts of the states. This would tie the states more tightly to the federal government and give creditors (the people who lent money) an incentive to preserve the government. The plan also called for the establishment of a national bank, which would further strengthen the government and create strong national credit.
Hessian mercenaries -   · The British army employed mercenary troops from Hesse, in Germany, to fight against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. Though the Hessians were considered fierce figthers, Washington surprised and defeated them at Trenton in 1776, when he famously crossed the Delaware River at night.
House of Burgesses -   · The House of Burgesses was the colonial state legislature of Virginia. It consisted mostly of wealthy planters who were the most powerful men in their society. Washington joined the House of Burgesses in 1758.
Jay's Treaty -   · With Jay's Treaty, signed in 1794, the United States avoided going to war with Britain for a second time. In the treaty the British agreed to remove its soldiers from the frontier while America agreed to accept restrictions on its shipping trade. (The British had agreed to leave the frontier in the Treaty of Paris but never did.)
Mount Vernon -   · Mount Vernon was the name of George Washington's estate on the Potomac River, roughly ten miles away from present-day Washington, D.C. Throughout his life, Washington was devoted to managing and improving his land. He experimented with different crops such as wheat and hemp, using innovative crop rotation techniques. While commander of the Continental army, and later while president, Washington constantly worried about the state of his lands and home at Mount Vernon.
Neutrality Proclamation  -   · Washington issued the Neutrality Proclamation in 1793 after Britain and France went to war. He believed America was too weak to get involved, though supporters of both France and Britain criticized him for it.
Ohio River Valley -   · The Ohio River Valley lies along the Ohio River west of the Allegheny Mountains. In Washington's time it was inhabited by Indian nations hostile to settlers. Washington and others realized that the Ohio Valley would provide valuable land for future settlement and worked to eliminate the Indians. After the Revolutionary War, British troops continued to occupy the valley despite having promised to leave. This conflict nearly caused a second war between Britain and the United States until Jay's Treaty settled the matter.
Pinckney's Treaty  -   · This treaty, offically known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo, was negotiated by Thomas Pinckney with Spain. Signed in 1795, it opened the Mississippi River to American goods. This made settlement of the Ohio River Valley and much of the Midwest possible. It was considered Washington's greatest foreign policy victory.
Republicans  -   · Republicans believed that the federal government should be weak and that states should have most political power. They were originally known as "Anti- Federalists" but eventually chose the name "Republicans" to indicate their belief in republican principles: that political power should be put as directly as possible into the hands of the people. Though they shared some beliefs with the modern day Republican Party, they are not historically related. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were the most prominent Republicans.
Shenandoah Valley -   · The Shenandoah Valley lies over the Blue Ridge (in the Allegheny Mountains) from George Washington's home in northern Virginia. Washington owned thousands of acres of land in the valley and hoped to make it safe for American settlers. (This involved kicking out the French and the Indians.)
Surveying  -   · Surveying refers to the act of measuring and mapping land, either to build something or to establish the boundaries of a piece of property. In colonial times surveying was dangerous work that required both skill and honesty (a dishonest surveyor could get rich from bribes offered by land speculators). Washington became a surveyor at an unusually young age.
Treaty of Paris -   · The Treaty of Paris, signed in September of 1783, ended the Revolutionary War. In it the British recognized American independence and promised to remove its troops from the western frontier.
Articles of Confederation -   · The Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. They established the United States of America but gave little power to the federal government. They were replaced by the Federal Constitution.
Virginia militia  -   · The Virginia militia was a small army under the command of the governor of Virginia. Like most militias, it was not as well organized or supplied as the regular British army. Washington commanded the Virginia regiment as a younger man but failed to receive a commission in the regular British Army. The British Army treated the militias as inferior; this discrimination helped convince Washington to support independence.

Events

Battles of Germantown and Brandywine Creek  -  Washington fought two important battles against General William Howe and the British army at Brandywine Creek and Germantown (both in Pennsylvania) in 1777. Though Washington narrowly lost both battles, his army performed well against the British.
Battles of Lexington and Concord -  On April 19, 1775, militias clashed with British troops in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. This unlikely battle sparked the Revolutionary War.
Battle of Trenton -  The Battle of Trenton was fought on December 25–26, 1776. In it, Washington secretly crossed the Delaware River at night with his army. They surprised and captured an army of Hessian mercenaries, winning an important victory for the revolutionaries.
Battle of Yorktown  -  At the battle of Yorktown, on October 17, 1781, the Americans defeated the British. This battle, led by Washington against the British General Cornwallis, involved both American and French troops as well as the French Navy. While Washington's army attacked Cornwallis's army in Yorktown, Virginia, the French Navy blocked British ships from Chesapeake Bay. The army had no hope of escaping and was forced to surrender. This effectively ended the Revolutionary War.
Constitutional Convention -  In September of 1787, delegates from every state except Rhode Island met in Philadelphia to revise and strengthen the Articles of Confederation. The delegates from Virginia, which included Washington, presented a radical plan to completely remake the national government into a much stronger entity. The delegates debated in secret for several weeks and eventually agreed on a document that would become the Federal Constitution.
Farewell Address  -  Washington resigned the presidency in 1796 after two terms, which set a precedent that would remain in place even to the twentieth century. He published a final speech on September 19 in a Philadelphia newspaper. In it, he warned against political parties, believing they were bad for the republic. He also advised against becoming involved in the affairs of other nations, which contributed to America's long-standing policy of isolationism.
Revolutionary War -  The American colonies fought the Revolutionary War against Britain from 1775 to 1783 to become an independent nation. Washington commanded the American army.
Shays's Rebellion  -  In August 1786, farmers in western Massachusetts led by Daniel Shays revolted against the local authorities. They were deeply in debt and believed the new American government was mistreating them. The government had difficulty stopping the rebellion because it was so weak. This caused many people to believe the government should be stronger, and it set the stage for the Constitutional Convention.
Whiskey Rebellion  -  In 1794, settlers in western Pennsylvania revolted against paying a tax on whiskey. They felt the tax was unfair and that they were ignored and oppressed by the government. They believed to be fulfilling the democratic promise of the Revolutionary War, but Washington regarded them as rabble. He crushed the revolt quickly but afterwards attempted to address their complaints.

People

John Adams  -  A lawyer from Braintree, Massachusetts, Adams emerged as an important leader in the Revolutionary War. He was elected as Washington's Vice President, though the two men did not get along. Adams thought Washington was unintelligent and envied his power. Washington mostly ignored Adams, which contributed to the relative unimportance of the Vice President today. Adams succeeded Washington as second president of the United States.
Benedict Arnold  -  Arnold was a talented general in the Continental Army who helped General Horatio Gates defeat the British at Saratoga in 1777. He later defected to the British side, which deeply hurt Washington.
General Edward Braddock  -  Braddock led a British force against the French, who were camped at Fort Duquesne, in 1755. Though a war hero in Britain, he knew little about how to fight a war in the wild conditions of the American frontier against an army composed mainly of Indians. His force was defeated, and Braddock was killed; Washington led the British retreat.
Governor Robert Dinwiddie  -  Dinwiddie was the colonial governor of Virginia during Washington's youth. Dinwiddie was a part owner of a company set up to buy land in the Ohio River Valley, and, when the French threatened to seize the valley, Dinwiddie appointed Washington the commander of a force to eject the French. This mission catapulted Washington to fame at home and notoriety abroad.
Fairfax family -  Thomas Fairfax, Baron of Cameron, owned over five million acres of northern Virginia. His cousin, William Fairfax, was a mentor and friend of Washington. The Fairfaxes helped Washington secure a commission in the Virginia militia, which began his military career.
Sally Fairfax -  In his youth, Washington fell in love with Sally, who was a member of the powerful Fairfax family. The two may have had an affair before Washington's marriage, but it cannot be proven. They corresponded their entire lives.
Horatio Gates  -  Gates was a talented general who fought underneath Washington. He defeated the British at Saratoga in the first important American victory. Later, Gates's name was circulated by several members of Congress as a replacement for Washington, whom they wished to fire. The plan never materialized.
Edmond Genêt  -  Genêt was France's ambassador the United States from 1793–1794. He tried to win American support for the revolutionary government in France, which was fighting a war with Britain. When Washington refused to support France, Genêt appealed directly to the American people, asking them essentially to disobey their own government. He stirred significant American support with the secret help of Jefferson but was ultimately forced to give up when France recalled him. (Washington had requested the recall but allowed Genêt to stay in the U.S. as a private citizen, knowing the man would almost certainly be put to death by the French government.)
Alexander Hamilton  -  Born an illegitimate child in the West Indies, Hamilton rose from poverty to power as Washington's chief military aide during the Revolutionary War and later as his Secretary of the Treasury. As the latter, he designed many basic components of America's financial system, including the Bank of the United States (which later became the Federal Reserve Bank). His vision of a modern, capitalist society based on trade, manufacturing, and concentrated wealth became the guiding idea of the Federalists. It clashed with the agrarianism of Jefferson's Republicans.
Admiral Richard Howe  -  Howe was the admiral of the powerful British navy during the Revolutionary War.
General William Howe  -  William Howe was the supreme commander of the British forces in North America during the Revolution. He sympathized with the Americans' complaints against Britain and was not eager to kill people he believed were his fellow subjects. He fought several major battles against Washington and was later replaced by Lord Cornwallis.
John Jay  -  Jay was a leading Federalist and author, with James Madison, of the Federalist Papers, which argued in favor of adopting the Federal Constitution. He later negotiated Jay's Treaty with Britain, which caused Washington severe difficulty in his second term as president.
Thomas Jefferson  -  Washington's Secretary of State. Jefferson was a well-educated planter from Virginia. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and supported Washington in the Revolution. As Secretary of State he came to oppose the policies of Alexander Hamilton. He became the leader of the Congressional faction that would become the Republicans. He became president in 1800.
Henry Knox  -  Knox was one of Washington's closest friends and most trusted advisors. He served under Washington in the Revolution and later as his Secretary of War.
James Madison  -  Madison was a friend and fellow planter of Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In the 1780s he supported a strong federal government but later came to oppose Alexander Hamilton's Federalist policies.
Comte de Rochembeau  -  A French aristocrat. De Rochembeau led the French troops who arrived in 1780 to assist the Americans.
Thomas Pinckney  -  Pinckney was the governor of South Carolina during the 1790s, when he also served as an emissary to Spain. There he negotiated Pinckney's Treaty, which opened the Mississippi River to American goods.
Augustine Washington  -  Augustine was George's father. He was a mediocre businessman who died in 1743, leaving George only a small inheritance. His death ruined George's hopes of going to England to be educated.
Lawrence Washington  -  Lawrence was George's half-brother, fourteen years older. When Augustine Washington died, Lawrence became George's principal mentor. Lawrence also introduced Washington to the Fairfax family, who helped launch George's career.
Martha Washington  -  Martha Dandrige Custis married Washington in 1759, after her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis died. She brought two children into the marriage with her, along with a substantial inheritance. George and Martha remained happily, if not passionately, married until George's death.
Mary Ball Washington  -  Mary (Ball) Washington was George's mother. She was orphaned at an early age and married later in life than most women. Devoutly religious, she sought to control Washington for most of his life. Their relationship was always rocky. She lived until the age of eighty-one, dying in 1789.

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