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George Washington and the Military

On the eve of the American Revolution, George Washington had been retired from military service for 23 years. Yet, Washington's disillusionment with British treatment of American subjects had become so acute that he was once again ready to assume military command. He had already established a reputation for military leadership that crossed colonial borders, and the colonies needed a military leader who would elicit respect and a sense of unity. In 1775, upon his arrival in Philadelphia as one of the delegates to the Second Continental Congress, he was elected to command the American Continental Army. By the time the war had ended in 1783, Washington had served eight and a half years as Commander in Chief.

As a gentleman, Washington had learned the necessity of establishing oneself in a "uniformly handsome and genteel manner" and the importance of distinguishing among social classes. As a colonel of the Virginia Regiment, he had concluded that the "character and appearance" of officers is important. These lessons from experience, as well as the need to make the ragtag Continental Army appear to the enemy to be a legitimate professional military organization, prompted Washington to demand the deference due a commanding general, and equip himself with the proper accoutrements.

The dark blue coat of the uniform shown here is faced with buff-colored wool, and the vest and breeches are of the same material. The colors are originally the colors that were used for Washington's uniform while he was a member of the Virginia militia, and the same as he was noted for wearing to the first meeting he attended of the Continental Congress. After he became the Commander in Chief of the American Continental Army, this combination of colors was used in uniforms worn by general officers. This uniform is of the style that Washington would have worn after the Revolutionary War. Family tradition identifies it as the one he wore when he resigned his commission at Annapolis in 1783. It can also be seen in the Savage painting of the Washington family, which was painted in the 1790s.


George Washington, First President, 1789-1797

It was almost inevitable that George Washington, one of the most respected men in the colonies and the hero of the Revolutionary War, would be unanimously elected the first president of the United States. Washington was well aware of the importance of the example he was setting for all presidents to come, and performed his duties with this is mind. It was Washington who decided that the president should live in the same place where he worked, his New York lodgings becoming the precursor to the White House; he created the presidential cabinet, with whom he met regularly to go over matters of state; and he helped to select the site and design the city that would become the capital of the new nation. Washington's courage in battle, dignified bearing, and universally admired strength of character earned him the name "Father of His Country," and to this day we recognize the importance of his contributions to the United States.


Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)

The American Revolution (1776-83) did more than secure American independence from Britain. It established a "revolutionary" agenda that has preoccupied Americans ever since. Inspired by transatlantic ideas about natural rights and political authority, the Revolution called into question long-established social and political relationships: It challenged the relationship between master and slave, man and woman, upper class and lower class, officeholder and constituent--and even between parent and child. The success of the Revolution would have far-reaching consequences, affecting people and governments around the globe and inaugurating a new age of freedom and self-government.

Though the Revolution may have created the United States, it was left to the first generation of American leaders to establish the institutional foundations for its system of government. Those foundations--the creation and ratification of a Constitution in 1787-89--came only after a dramatic ideological debate was played out all across the new nation. The tensions revealed in that debate--about the meaning of the Constitution and the extent of governmental power--continue to be heard today.

Meanwhile, the new nation elected George Washington its first president, our two-party political system began to take shape, and the Supreme Court established its judicial power. But while recognized as the most creative era of constitutionalism in American history, the period paradoxically was marked by the expansion of African American slavery and military campaigns against Native American nations.


"Follow Washington," George Washington song

"Follow Washington" from the recording entitled Presidential Campaign Songs 1789-1996, Folkways 45051, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1999. Used by permission.

Arranged by Oscar Brand/TRO-Hollis Music, Inc., BMI

When Washington ran for election in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1757, he paid for 50 gallons of rum punch, 46 gallons of beer, 34 gallons of wine, and 28 gallons of rum. He didn’t have to "run" for President. The electorate, white males owning at least 50 acres or the equivalent were eager to "Follow Washington” into the new era of democracy. Many songs were written in his praise, of which this is one.

Partial lyrics:
"…The day is broke
My lines march on
And follow, follow Washington
He will lead the way, my lads
Its he that leads the way
Where he commands, we shall obey
Through rain and snow, by night and day
Determined to be Free, my lads
Determined to be Free…"



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George Washington (1732-1799)
George Washington (1732-1799)
George Washington (1732-1799)
George Washington (1732-1799)

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