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George Washington the Public Servant

George Washington first served as a public servant in 1765 when he started serving as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, the governing body of the colony of Virginia. In the early 1770s, Washington joined in the colonists’ protests against England’s imposed taxes on the colonies. He joined the protests because, as a farmer, Washington was tired of receiving low prices for the goods that his plantation shipped back to England. As a colonist, he was also disheartened by the high taxes and the high prices of the English products that were poorly made.

After the War of Independence, Washington returned to public service despite his desire to return to Mount Vernon and spend the rest of his life as a farmer. Washington first served as the president of the Constitutional Convention, the committee which wrote the Constitution, the governing document of the United States of America.

In 1780, the people elected their first president. When the electoral college voted, they each voted for their two preferred candidates. The votes were counted. Every elector had cast one of their votes for George Washington making him the first president of the United States. John Adams received the second highest number of votes, which made him the vice president. Although Washington was elected unanimously, neither Rhode Island nor North Carolina were able to participate in the election as they had not yet ratified the Constitution.

Throughout his presidency, Washington was continuously aware that he was setting precedents. George Washington took the oath of office on April 30, 1789 in the nation’s fist capital, New York City. At the end of the oath, Washington added words, ‘so help me God’ as a prayer, admitting that he could not govern a country correctly without the help of God. This would be the first of many precedents that Washington set; every president since Washington, has also added the words ‘so help me God’ to the end of their oath.

Washington had lived under a king’s rule, and when he was elected he did not want a fancy title, such as ‘ Your Highness’ like a king. Instead, Washington asked the Americans to call him ‘Mr. President’ which is how the president is still addressed today. Washington chose his cabinet, men to assist him as president. He chose a fellow Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, as the Secretary of State. Washington’s Secretary of War was Henry Knox, the famous general from Boston, Massachusetts who helped free Boston during the war by fetching 60 tons of cannons and armaments over 300 miles of snow and ice from Fort Ticonderoga. Alexander Hamilton of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania became his Secretary of Treasury. From New York, the first Chief of Justice was John Jay.

In 1790, the capital was moved to Philadelphia. When Washington’ first four-year term as president was over, Washington wanted to retire to Mount Vernon. However, he was asked to serve a second term and agreed. For the second election in a row, Washington was unanimously elected as president. When Washington’s second term was over, he absolutely refused to serve another term. Washington’s leaving the presidency willingly after two terms set yet another precedent. Except for Franklin D. Roosevelt, no president has served more than two terms. During his political career, Washington warned strongly against political parties. He believed that if a country is split into only a couple political parties, the individuality of the candidates would be wasted. Before he retired, Washington wrote a farewell address to the American people which was first published in American Daily Advertiser on September 19, 1796. In his farewell address, George Washington once more urged Americans to avoid excessive political party spirit or making distinctions between geographical areas. He also warned about making long-term alliances with other nations in their foreign affairs and gave other advice and warnings about the government and politics. At the end of the long letter, Washington asked the American people for forgiveness for his failures during his service to their country. He assured them that the mistakes he made were because of his weaknesses; he did not intentionally do anything to harm the new country. Finally, Washington returned to Mount Vernon in the spring of 1797 where he would remain for the rest of his life.