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George Washington Term Paper

George Washington

George Washington by far is one of the greatest revolutionaries in the history of the United States. His role in gaining our independence for the American Colonies and helping to unify them under the new U.S. federal government can not be overestimated. After an eight-year struggle his quest for victory brought final defeat to the British, thus giving us our independence.

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in West Moreland, Virginia. Washington was the eldest son of a well-to-do family. Young Washington received most of his schooling from his father and always wanted to be a surveyor. George grew up a strong, tall young man, who excelled in outdoor pursuits and music.

When George was 17 he was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, this was the first public office he held. In 1751 George had his first and only experience of foreign lands when he joined his brother on a trip to the West Indies in hopes to better the symptoms of his brothers tuberculosis. Even though the trip did little good for his brother, George did get something out of it; George came down with small pox. Although it seemed like a bad thing at the time having this immunity to small pox would help him later on when the colonial army had a brake out of small pox.

When his half-brother Lawrence died in 1752 George inherited the beautiful estate of Mount Vernon, one of six farms held by his family. Lawrence had held the position of adjutant in the colonial army; a full-time salary paid position, carrying the rank of major. After his brothers death only at the age of twenty Washington felt he could handle the job and Governor Robert Dinwiddie soon appointed him adjutant of the southern district of Virginia.

During the Seven years war Washington found out that Britain was sending over less-experienced officers that would have higher ranking over him. He found this intolerable and in 1754 Washington resigned. Through all this time Washington’s reputation was getting bigger and bigger and in 1755 Governor Dinwiddie appointed Washington commander in chief of all of the colonies armed forces, with the rank of Colonel. For the next three years Washington fought along side with British General John Forbes at Fort Duquesne, and when they had one the fort Washington resigned once more.

The year was 1759 and Washington had better things on his mind such as marrying the women that he loved. And he did in January of 1759 Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis. Washington spent a few years with his wife on their farm trying to figure out the best way to rotate his crops and what crops would make him the most money. Then in 1765 Washington’s perspective broadened and he became involved in the protests of Virginians against the restrictions of British rule.

Washington saw it more and more that the King and his ministers saw the American people as nothing more then inferior people and they sought to control “our whole substance.” Washington began to see the deepening division between Britain and the Colonies, as a member of the House of Burgesses he opposed such measures as the Stamp Act, Washington also foresaw that British policy was doing away with self-government in America all together.

Washington’s anti-British feelings were strengthened by the introduction of the Townshend Acts in 1767. His voice joined in Virginia’s decision in 1770 to ban or boycott all any British goods from the colonies. By 1774 with the American resistance well developed, Washington had become one of the key Virginians supporting the colonial cause. Washington was elected to the First Continental Congress. How ever he knew that more then paper resolutions would be needed to save the American liberties, and so he spent the winter of 1774 and 1775 organizing a militia.

On June 15, 1775 the Continental Congress unanimously elected George Washington as General and commander in chief of the colonial army. Washington was chosen for two basic reasons; first of all he was respected for his military abilities, his selflessness, and his strong commitment to colonial freedom. Secondly, Washington was a Virginian and it was hoped that with his leadership it would bind the southern colonies more to the rebellion, which was basically situated in New England at the time. On June 25, 1775, Washington set out for Massachusetts, and on July 3, 1775 Washington took control of the colonial army. Washington and his army fought their first battle at the Battle of Bunker Hill. This battle would be one by the colonial army and was the first of very many battles, but the rest is history. During the next couple of years we won a few battles but we retreated more often then not.

On May 1, 1778, Washington heard the news that transformed the nature of the war; a treaty of alliance had been signed between the U.S. and the French. This new treaty and the arrival of fresh troops completely changed the pace of the American Revolution, the French came in and helped us out fight and outsmart the British army. Not only did the French bring us fresh troops but they also brought us Naval Superiority.

Peace was officially proclaimed on April 19, 1783,but not until November 25, as the last British boats left did Washington’s troops enter New York. At the end of the war Washington wrote in a letter that he hoped to stay a “private citizen” but to his disappointment that wouldn’t come true.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787 Washington was named President of the convention. On September 17, 1787, the conventions work was done and the Constitution of the Untied States of America was signed by all of the delegates and the convention was adjourned. Once again Washington headed for home in hopes of having some peaceful quiet time but in the election of 1789 Washington was elected the first President of the United States of America. Then in 1792 Washington was reelected to serve a second term.

After serving his terms of office Washington returned to Mount Vernon. On the morning of December 14, 1799 Washington awoke with an inflamed throat. His condition rapidly worsened, and George Washington died at 11:30 December 14, 1799. George Washington lived a very important life, and due to his contributions and sacrifices it is possible today for there to be a United States, and I think that we all owe him a great debt for what he did to help every one living here. So, in closing I feel that George Washington was the greatest revolutionist of the time.



Word Count: 1105

George Washington both produced and received a large number of letters, documents, accounts, and notes during his lifetime. Washington was aware of his special place in the development of the United States and as a famed and beloved military leader and statesman, and was cognizant that his papers would be of interest to future readers. The papers that survive today are available because of the care that Washington took during his lifetime, despite the sometimes careless and destructive handling that they faced after his death.

During Washington's Life
Washington was meticulous with the organization and care of his papers. At different points in his life, Washington created letter books (bound volumes with copies of his outgoing and incoming letters), used a letterpress (a device that made direct copies of writing by lifting some of the ink from the page), and even edited his copies of some of his early letters, smoothing grammar and word choice. In addition, throughout his life he hired secretaries, aides-de-camp, clerks, and copyists to assist. 

As early as 1775 during the American Revolution, Washington held the safety of his papers at Mount Vernon second only to the safety of his wife, Martha Washington. George Washington instructed his cousin Lund Washington to provide "for her in Alexandria, or some other place of safety for her and my Papers."1 As the Revolutionary War progressed and the volume of papers he was creating grew, Washington was concerned for their care, once sending them to Congress in Philadelphia for safekeeping. In 1781 he asked Congress and was allowed to hire a team of clerks to transcribe and organize his letters. Upon his return to Mount Vernon after the war, he hoped "to overhaul & adjust all my papers."2

As President, Washington and his staff produced many papers. When his second term was finished, Washington had his secretaries remove the papers his successor would need and had them pack the rest to ship to Mount Vernon. During his retirement, Washington wrote that he had devoted his infrequent leisure time "to the arrangement, and overhaul of my voluminous Public Papers—Civil & Military—that, they may go into secure deposits."3

Washington also planned to erect a building at Mount Vernon especially to store his papers. The building was not constructed by the time of his death. Even on the last day of his life, Washington worried about his papers. His friend and longtime secretary Tobias Lear recorded that, hours before his death, Washington told him, "I find I am going, my breath cannot continue long. . . do you arrange & record all my late Military letters & papers—arrange my accounts & settle my books."4

After Washington's Death
In his will, Washington bequeathed all his civil and military papers, as well as his " private Papers as are worth preserving," to his nephew Bushrod Washington, a U.S. Supreme Court justice.5 In the months following George Washington’s death, Tobias Lear organized the papers in the former president's office. It may have been at that time that Martha Washington removed and burned her correspondence with her husband. Soon after Bushrod Washington allowed Chief Justice John Marshall to take many of the papers to Richmond while Marshall wrote a biography of the first president. Marshall, however, did not always take sufficient care of the papers. As Justice Washington later noted, “the papers sent to the Chief Justice . . . have been very extensively mutilated by rats and otherwise injured by damp."6

In addition to Marshall’s poor stewardship, Bushrod Washington allowed several people—including the Marquis de Lafayette and James Madison—to remove their correspondence with the late president. Justice Washington also passed out autographs and other favors from the papers as souvenirs to favor seekers. He allowed William Sprague, his nephews' tutor, to remove more than 1,500 letters on the stipulation that he leave copies in their place.

In January 1827, Bushrod Washington gave editor Jared Sparks permission to publish some of Washington's papers. During his work, Sparks moved many of the papers to Boston and he visited repositories in both the United States and Europe to search for letters and documents not represented in Washington's own papers. Unfortunately he was also free with giving favors of Washington’s handwriting.

When Bushrod Washington died in 1829, he left George Washington's papers to his nephew George Corbin Washington, a Maryland congressman. George Corbin Washington soon moved the papers that remained at Mount Vernon to his office in Georgetown. Governmental officers had often consulted Washington's papers, and in 1833 George Corbin Washington agreed to sell the papers to the State Department, excepting ones he considered to be private. In 1849 he sold the private papers as well. The Washington papers remained at the State Department until 1904, when they were turned over to the Library of Congress. Copies of Washington papers from other repositories and some originals have been added to the collection over the years since the library took possession. In 1964 the Library of Congress released a reproduction of the papers on microfilm, and in 1998 it posted digital images of the papers taken from the microfilm on its Web site.

Publishing the Papers
Jared Sparks' The Writings of George Washington was published in eleven volumes between 1833 and 1837. Sparks edited Washington’s words heavily, changing spelling, grammar, phrasing, and at times entire sentences. From 1889 to 1893, historian Worthington Chauncey Ford published a fourteen-volume set of The Writings of George Washington. Later, John C. Fitzpatrick prepared thirty-nine volumes of The Writings of George Washington From the Original Manuscript Sources (1931–1944) as a part of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission.

However, no comprehensive or fully annotated version of Washington's papers was attempted until the creation of the Papers of George Washington project in 1968. Sponsored by the University of Virginia and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the editors and staff procured more than 135,000 copies of Washington documents from repositories worldwide. In their search they included not only letters written by George Washington, but also letters to him, documents, diaries, and financial papers. About half of those documents are from the Library of Congress' Washington Papers collection.

Early in the project the staff divided the work into a set of diaries and five chronological series of correspondence: Colonial, Revolutionary War, Confederation, Presidential, and Retirement, which have been published simultaneously (63 volumes to date). The two largest series, Revolutionary War and Presidential, are still in production, with an estimated twenty-four more volumes to go. The George Washington Papers Digital Edition, created by the Papers staff and University of Virginia's digital imprint, Rotunda, was launched in 2006.


Maria Kimberly
Research Assistant, The Papers of George Washington


1. "George Washington to Lund Washington, 20 August 1775," The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series,  1:335.

2. "George Washington to George William Fairfax, 27 February 1785," The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, 2:386.

3. "George Washington to James McHenry, 29 July 1798," The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, 2:473.

4. Tobias Lear's Account of Washington's Death, The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, 4:545.

5. George Washington's Will, The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, 4:485.

6. "Bushrod Washington to James Madison, 14 September 1819," The Papers of James Madison, Retirement Series, 1:513.

W. W. Abbot, "An Uncommon Awareness of Self: The Papers of George Washington"

The George Washington Papers: Provenance and Publication History.

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