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The History of George Washington as the President

George Washington, standing on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street, took his oath of office as the 1st President of the United States, On April 30, 1789. He pursued two interests: the military and expanding the country to the west. He did not infringe upon the policy making powers that he felt the Constitution gave Congress. But foreign policy became the greater prevalence of his Presidential concern.

When the French Revolution led to a major war between France and England, Washington refused to accept entirely the recommendations of his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who was pro-French, or his Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who was pro-British. Instead, he demanded a neutral course until the United States could become stronger.

To his disappointment, two parties were developing by the end of his first term. Tired of politics, and feeling old, he retired at the end of his second presidential term. In his Farewell Address, he urged his countrymen to reject excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions. In foreign affairs, he warned against long term alliances.

George Washington & The Constitution

George Washington was among the first of America's statesmen to recognize the flaws in the government under the Continental Congress and the Articles of Confederation. His experience in the Revolutionary War had convinced him that excessive concerns for the state's rights and freedom from external control would be fatal to an effective national government. The inability of the Continental or Confederation government to feed, accommodate, supply, or pay the army was more than enough to convince him that a stronger central government was essential to maintain such an extended nation.

At the war's end, he shared his thoughts with Nathanael Greene:
"It remains only for the States to be Wise, and to establish their Independence on that Basis of inviolable efficacious Union, and firm Confederation, which may prevent their being made the Sport of European Policy; may Heaven give them Wisdom to adopt the Measures still necessary for this important Purpose."

By defending the Constitution, Washington parted company with older revolutionaries such as George Mason, and allied himself with younger political leaders like James Madison. Washington opposed many of his fellow planters who believed the Constitution would destroy the republic. As Washington explained in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette, he found it "a little strange that the men of large property in the south should be more afraid that the constitution should produce an aristocracy or a monarchy than the genuine democratical people of the east." Deeply in debt himself, Washington was also troubled that so many Virginians believed they had a better chance for prosperity in a weak nation rather than a strong one. At the start of the ratification convention in Richmond in May of 1788, eight states had already approved the Constitution. While Washington did not attend the convention, he stayed in contact with Madison who defended the document in a series of brilliant debates. When the vote was finally taken on June 25, the Constitution was approved by a margin of 89 to 79. Washington headed for a celebration in Alexandria, believing that Virginia had been the ninth state to approve the document. Even when news arrived that New Hampshire had approved the Constitution immediately before Virginia, the celebrations went on. Many people agreed with James Monroe, that Washington's influence had "carried this government." But a more humble Washington believed that "Providence" had once again smiled on the American people.

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