George Washington: 15 Great Achievements
All throughout the American Revolution, U.S. Founding Father George Washington featured enormously in the political and military arena of the fledgling nation. Washington’s impact on the United States was beyond legendary.
As the first commander-in-chief of the American troops (Colonial Army), the Virginian-born soldier bravely led the 13 diminutive American colonies to victory over Great Britain in the American War for independence. General Washington went on to etch his name in history by becoming the first occupant of the highest office in the land – President of the United States. He demonstrated superhuman levels of courage, tenacity, and intelligence in building the very pillars that our dear nation sits upon.
As you shall see in the article below, George Washington’s contributions to our beloved nation are some of the reasons why he will forever remain one of the greatest U.S. presidents.
Commander of the Virginia Militia
With no previous and substantive battle experience, George Washington’s bravery and spirit helped earn him a top position in the Virginia militia. At just 20, he was made commander in 1752. Regardless of his age, Washington proved that he could hold his own and lead others. He featured prominently during the early stages of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years’ War). In 1759, he resigned from the position and made his way back to Mount Vernon in Virginia.
- Stamp Act of 1765 – Definition, Significance and Major Facts
- Biography and Facts about John Hancock
- Founding Father William Floyd’s Achievements
Delegate to the First Continental Congress
The opening of the First Continental Congress in 1774 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania saw representatives from the 13 American colonies gather at Carpenter’s Hall to deliberate on issues troubling their colonies.
Representing Virginia were George Washington and six other delegates – George Whythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Carter Braxton.
The delegates at the First Continental Congress raised issues concerning the aggressive tactics Great Britain used in ruling over the American colonies. George Washington, like many of his fellow delegates, bemoaned the cruel treatment King George III and the British Parliament meted out to the colonies. The session for the First Continental Congress lasted from September 5 to October 26, 1774.
The First Continental Congress was pivotal in the sense that it allowed the previously disjointed colonies to come together and pursue a common goal: liberty and freedom for the colonies.
Commander in Chief of the Continental Army
George Washington’s previous experiences in the many battles against Native Americans, as well as the French (i.e. during the Seven Years War/French and Indian War – 1754 – 1763), were good enough reasons for him to take charge of the Continental Army.
Particularly, his sheer will and strong personality are what caught the attention of his fellow delegates. Therefore, in June 1775, George Washington was unanimously chosen as the man to lead the colonies against Britain’s oppression.
Many American colonists had no doubt whatsoever that George Washington was the man destined to secure victory for the colonists during the war for independence (1775-1783). He had seen it all and attained considerable successes in business, politics, and the military.
- Complete History of the Declaration of Independence
- Biography and Political Achievements of Founding Father Samuel Adams
Involved in the Trenton-Princeton Campaign
Mid-way through the American War for Independence, George Washington had incurred a number of damning battle losses. Regardless of those setbacks, he always held his head high. He took cognizance of the fact that losses at some battles were inevitable, believing that the colonies would win the war. His ability to inspire and persuade people came in very useful considering the fact that his soldiers were weary and tired as a result of the harsh winter of 1776/1777.
George Washington stealthily led his forces across the Delaware River and landed a surprise attack on Hessian soldiers. The Hessians were brave mercenaries funded by Great Britain. Washington and his men proved too swift and apt for the enemy. After securing victory at the battle, and with sails in their winds, Washington proceeded to Princeton to claim another very important battle victory against British forces.
A Beacon of Inspiration at Valley Forge
One mention of Valley Forge and one cannot help but imagine the terrible conditions that Washington and his men had to endure. With slight winds in the sails of British forces, General Washington was left with no option than to fall back to Valley Forge.
As his forces took shelter at Valley Forge, a place that was only a few miles away from Philadelphia, things got even more precarious. The Continental Army came face to face with frigid and subzero temperatures. Coupled with the bad temperature were the issues of acute food shortages, ammunition and other vital supply shortages. The morale of the soldiers were also battered by diseases.
Washington and his men were in an existential crisis of the highest order. Had it been any other army on earth, misfortunes of this nature would have automatically eaten away their cohesion and morale. However, that was not the fate of Washington. The general soldiered on and kept inspiring his men – men who were without boots on their feet. The men, in turn, kept fate in their commander. A few months in, things got better in the camp, supplies started flowing in, and the weather also got better.
The manner in which Washington handled the situation at Valley Forge is a testament to the general’s trait of never giving in.
Secured Victory at Yorktown
With some amount of help from the French General de Rochambeau, George Washington secured a vital victory for the colonies at the Battle of Yorktown on October 14, 1781.
Yorktown victory proved very decisive for the colonies because it sort of wrapped things up in America’s war for independence. Britain conceded defeat and surrendered to the U.S. on 19th October 1781. Washington accepted the capitulation of Britain’s General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia.
George Washington was given a hero’s reception. After eight years of the struggles, the fighting finally ended. And no one else in America deserved more praise than George Washington.
The U.S. and Great Britain went on to sign a peace accord called the Treaty of Paris in 1783. After the dust settled, Washington resigned his position as commander of the troops and headed back to his plantation in Virginia. He desired to live out the remainder of his life working on his farm and growing a variety of crops. That was not going to be the case, was it? Read on to discover what other accomplishments Washington chalked after the American Revolution.
President of the Philadelphia Convention
Post the American Revolution, delegates from the various states realized how limiting the Articles of Confederation was at keeping the Union intact. Congress, therefore, decided to work on a new constitution that would keep the rights of the states and the federal government balanced. They wanted an agreement that established the pillars of governance. Again, delegates looked again to George Washington. The general was selected as the chairman of the convention tasked to draft the U.S. Constitution.
In 1878, delegates from the 13 states held the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Washington chaired the Convention, which lasted for about 4 months.
What the above means is that Washington is one of two presidents of the U.S. to have their signatures on the U.S. Constitution. The other president was Founding Father James Madison – “Father of the U.S. Constitution” and fourth U.S. president.
Unanimously Elected as the First President of the United States
After the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, people from all walks of life wanted Washington back. It was not just his fellow delegates that had high trust and confidence in him, the American public did as well. In the January 7, 1789 presidential election, George Washington came out tops, beating second-placed candidate, John Adams, by a wide margin.
Never in the history of America, perhaps anywhere in the world, did the public unanimously call for a politician to lead them.
In a feat that will never be seen (perhaps forever), George Washington secured 100 percent of the votes from the Electoral College of the United States. 57 years at the time, he was sworn into office on April 30, 1789 in New York as the first President of the United States.
With Founding Father John Adams serving as his vice president, Washington’s management of the affairs of the U.S. received the admiration of many Americans. As a result of this, he was re-elected four years later in 1793.
His second term, from 1793 to 1797, was notable because it was during that time the Constitutional Congress was held to insert the First 10 Amendments into the Constitution. Washington’s tenure was also one of relative peace and corporation with a host of European countries.
Organized the first Cabinet of Secretaries
As at the time George Washington took office (April 30, 1789), the United States was this small country made up of just 11 states* and a scrawny 4 million inhabitants. There wasn’t any form of established government. Washington did not have the luxury of a template or administrative precedent that guided his actions. He, along with his cabinet of secretaries, had to lay down the groundwork of how the executive should go about running the country. He knew that whatever actions he took would go on to live with the country for generations to come. Therefore, George Washington was very mindful of how he ran the affairs of the country, both domestically and intentionally. All the actions that he took were based on equity, justice, and integrity.
Another point worth noting is that: George Washington purposely selected a very good team of politicians to act as his lieutenants and advisers. Many of his cabinet secretaries were altruistic politicians and lawyers themselves. To handle the Attorney General Department, he selected Edmund Randolph. Then there was the brilliant and hardworking Virginian-born lawyer, Thomas Jefferson , who served as the nation’s first secretary of State. In the Treasury Department, Alexander Hamilton was the obvious choice. Finally, Henry Knox was chosen as the secretary of War (similar to the Secretary of Defense position today).
*North Carolina and Rhode Island would join the Union on November 21, 1789 and May 29, 1790 respectively.
Laid the Ground Works for the Separation of Powers
All in all, Washington made sure that the new nation did not succumb to a situation where power was concentrated in the hands of one person, i.e. the president. He knew the importance of having a government that was based on the principle of power separation. This is why he worked very hard to strengthen the two other pillars – the judiciary and Congress. He appointed the well-read and astute lawyer and statesman, John Jay, as the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was able to do this because of the Judiciary Act of 1789. The act allowed for a six-member Supreme Court bench, including the Chief Justice.
Washington Steered clear from Party Politics
Being the father of a nation, Washington knew humility mixed with sternness and courage were very vital traits to have at all times. He had to go above petty administration politics. He viewed such infighting as a necessary evil. During his presidency, he remained largely neutral and objective while the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson bantered over federal rights versus states’ rights.
As well as other monumental feats of achievement, his issuance of the Proclamation of Neutrality in April 1793, earned him the title: “Father of the Nation”. He believed that true democracy was party-blind; hence his other title: “the Founder of American democracy”.
Not once did he put aside his objectivity in resolving the conflict between Federalists (led by Alexander Hamilton) and Anti-federalists (Thomas Jefferson’s camp). He viewed concerns from both sides as vital for the development of a healthy and well-functioning democracy.
Perhaps his biggest disappointment was his inability to prevent the conflict between those two factions from becoming unhealthy. The issue spiraled out of control once Washington left office.
Refusing to stay in for a third term, George Washington called time on his political career and retired to his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia. He was aware of the fact that had he stayed any longer in office, he would risk falling into the very thing that he despised – an autocratic or perhaps a monarchical form of government.
Endeavored to Stay Neutral on the Foreign Front
Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality wasn’t just for domestic issues. His proclamation sent a message to European powers that the United States were not going to take sides in any political or military bickering in Europe.
Washington believed that the new nation should focus primarily on getting her structures in place. There was simply too much work to be done at home, according to Washington. As a result of this stance, the United States remained largely passive during the French Revolution. Had the United States got involved, the economic and political repercussions would have been dire to fledgling nation. This was a very smart move by George Washington.
Signed Several Important Treaties
Notable mentions or examples of how George Washington went about building healthy relations with Europe could be seen in the Jay Treaty (1794) and the Pinckney’s Treaty (1795).
In November 1794, George Washington signed the Jay Treaty which ushered in a decade of peaceful relations with Great Britain. This treaty ironed out the issue of trade deficits that were largely stacked against London. George Washington made sure that he got an expert in the person of John Jay to handle the negotiations with Britain. Washington’s quick thinking was able to avert hostile relations with Britain for close to a decade.
A year after the signing of the Jay Treaty, Washington was at it again, stretching a warm and friendly hand towards Spain. The Pinckney’s Treaty of 1795 was signed in October. It was designed to calm the tensions that were brewing between Spain and the United States. The former was a huge colonial power with territories all across North, Central and South America. Washington used the Pinckney Treaty to resolve issues related to territorial boundaries, trade, and fishing.
The next major treaty that marked Washington’s 8 year-term of relative peace was the Treaty of Greenville. In a bid to halt American colonists from expanding into Indian territories, the Native Americans in the Northwest of the country sided with Britain during the war. With Britain losing the war, the Native Americans directed their frustration at the U.S. and the Northwest Indian War intensified.
To bring an end to the war, George Washington signed the Treaty of Greenville in August 1795. The Indians made a lot of concessions during the peace deal.They relinquished Two-thirds of the land between the Ohio River and Lake Erie to the United States of America. Thereafter, a modicum of peace prevailed between the U.S. and Native Americans during George Washington’s administration. A few decades after Washington left the scene, the U.S. would use acts and deals to forcefully remove Native Americans from their lands and homes. Read more about that horrific period in Trail of Tears: Story, Death Count and Facts.
Handled the Whisky Rebellion
George Washington, along with Alexander Hamilton, took it upon himself to reduce the national debt that had accumulated during the war of independence. He saw this as an important approach to get the nation’s economy flying. After successfully gaining independence, the U.S. debt had ballooned because the federal government implemented Hamilton’s plan of absorbing the unpaid debts of the various states.
Therefore, Washington set forth to increase revenue collected by the government through taxes on all distilled spirits. In some sections of the country, the whiskey tax was met with violent resistance. To be fair to them, it sort of reminded them of the Stamp Acts and the intolerable acts of the 1760s imposed on them by the British Parliament. Violence ensued as people resisted the collection of whiskey tax. This agitation would come to be called the Whiskey Rebellion.
George Washington delicately managed the issue by communicating extensively to the protesters. However, when negotiations broke down, the president quelled the protests. He believed that the federal government had the right to impose certain restrictions on public activities that disturbed the stability of the union.
Signed the Act that established the U.S. Navy
Washington was aware of the fact that every nation needed to protect its coastlines and ships with apt navy forces. Therefore, he tasked Congress to pass an act that will enable him to establish a navy for the United States.
On March 27, 1794, George Washington signed the Naval Act of 1794. Kind courtesy of his hard work, as well that of Secretary of War Timothy Pickering, the U.S. Navy took receipt of its six frigates. Most famous of those vessels was the USS Constitution. Commonly called “Old Ironsides”, the USS Constitution was involved in several battles until she went into retirement in 1881. Today, she serves as a museum ship – a testament to George Washington’s profound feat of accomplishment.
Other Accomplishments of George Washington
In addition to above stellar achievements, George Washington holds the honor of being the first president to have his face on a U.S. postage stamp. He is one of the first two people to have their faces on the stamp. The other person was Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.
The 1847 postage stamp sees Washington’s face appear on the five cents, which was for domestic letters moving up to 300 miles. He also appeared on the 10 cents stamp.
Speaking about faces, George Washington’s face to this day remains on the one-dollar U.S. bill. It first appeared in 1869. Since then, the one-dollar bill has commonly been referred to as “the Washingtons”.
Here are a few more accolades chalked by George Washington:
- On November 11, 1889, Washington State was named after George Washington. To this day, the state remains the only state in America to be named after a U.S. president.
- In 1976, George Washington was posthumously awarded the title of “General of the Armies of the United States”. This is the equivalent of a six-star general. A feat no American has ever achieved. The posthumous award came on July 4, 1976 – the 200th anniversary of America’s Independence.
- He frequently ranks as America’s number one president in everything. Over the decades, several polling surveys conducted with the public show that the majority of Americans consider Washington America’s most prized jewel. And in terms of the list of greatest U.S. presidents, George Washington consistently occupies the top spot. American heroes such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt are often seen in a similar light as George Washington. This explains why their faces are carved boldly on Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.