October 05, 2010




The American Revolution is, in many ways an epoch making event in the history of mankind as it laid down the foundations of democratic politics and the incorporation of the rights of the people in the State constitution. It was a crucible from which the widespread assertions of liberty, individual rights and hostility towards corruption – the core values of republicanism emerged and spread across the world. The American Revolution is the first example of a successful revolt against a European empire followed by the establishment of a republican form of government and since then has became an inspiration for people of different regions fighting against oppressive regimes.

George Washington, the pioneer of the event and the man who led the armies of the thirteen colonies against the British was born on 22nd February, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Educated by his father, Augustine and eldest brother, Lawrence, George worked as a Surveyor General and acquired invaluable knowledge of the terrain around Virginia. Lawrence’s marriage into the powerful Fairfax family earned George the patronage of Thomas Fairfax, who was instrumental in his appointment as the Surveyor of the newly created Culpeper County at the young age of 17 years. Through Lawrence he also became interested in the Ohio Company which aimed to exploit the Western lands. After Lawrence’s death, George was appointed a district Adjutant General in the Virginia Militia and at the age of 21, he became a Master Mason in the Freemasons, which was a lifelong influence.

In 1754, he was commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel and ordered to lead an expedition to Fort Duquesne. However, a French Canadian and Indian force overwhelmed his troops, resulting in what was the only occasion in his military career where he was taken captive by the enemy. Although he was cleared of blame for the defeat after his release, he resigned from the Virginia Militia. In the following year, he distinguished himself as the hero of the Monongahela – an ill fated effort to retake Ohio Country. Three years later, he participated as a Brigadier General in the Forbes expedition that prompted the French evacuation of Fort Duquesne. However, he resigned from active military and spent next 16 years of his life as a Virginia planter and politician.

On 6th January, 1759, he married the wealthy widow Martha Curtis, and the newly wed couple moved to Mt. Vernon near Alexandria. Owing to his marriage to Martha, a land grant for his success in the French and Indian Wars and the frequent land purchases he made in his name, he had doubled the size of Mt. Vernon to 26 sq km and increased the slave population to more than 100 persons by 1775. As a respected military leader and large land owner, he was elected to Virginia provincial legislature, beginning in 1758. While George led a luxurious life, he managed to pay off his debt by diversification. In fact, by 1766, he had switched the primary cash crop of Mt. Vernon from tobacco to wheat, a crop that could be sold in America and diversified operations to include floor milling, fishing, horse breeding, spinning and weaving.

George began taking a leading role in the growing colonial resistance after the protest of the Townshend Acts (1767) had become widespread. He introduced a proposal that was drafted by his friend George Mason, which called for Virginia to boycott English goods until the acts were repelled. Although the goal was achieved in 1770, George regarded the passage of the Intolerable Acts (1774) as an “Invasion of American Rights and Privileges”. In July, 1774 he chaired the meeting at which the ‘Fairfax Resolves’, which called for the convening of a Continental Congress was adopted. In August, later that year, he was selected as a delegate from Virginia to the first Continental Congress.

After fighting broke out in April, 1775, Washington appeared at the Second Congress in military uniform signalling that he was ready for the war. Thanks to his military experience, the charisma and military bearing, the reputation of being a strong patriot and backing from the Southern colonies, George Washington was appointed as the Major General and elected by the Congress to the Commander-in-Chief of the newly formed Continental Army.

Washington assumed the leadership of the Continental Army in the field at Cambridge, Massachusetts in July, 1775 during the siege of Boston. After acquiring barely adequate supplies, mostly from France, he reorganized the army and forced the British to withdraw by putting the artillery on the Dorchester Heights. The Continental Army engaged the enemy for the first time as the army of the newly declared independent United States at the Battle of Long Island – the largest battle in the entire War. His army’s night time retreat across the East River without the loss of a single life is believed to be his greatest military feat. A sting of British victories sent him scrambling out of New York and across New Jersey.

On the night of 25th December, 1776, he staged a counter attack, leading the Americans across the Delaware River in Trenton, New Jersey and then at Princeton in early January. As a measure to boost the dwindling numbers of the Continental Army, he increased the rewards for staying and punishment for desertion. On September 11, 1777, the British General, Howe defeated Washington’s troops at the Battle of Brandywine and then marched into Philadelphia. George’s unsuccessful attack on the British garrison at Germantown prompted some Congressmen to discuss removing him from his post. However, they failed as his supporters rallied behind him.

After six months of stay at Valley Forge, the Continental Army emerged in good order, thanks in part to a full scale training programme by Baron Von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian General Staff. The British evacuated Philadelphia to New Jersey in 1778 but Washington attacked them and drove them from the battlefield. At his directions, General Jon Sullivan carried a scorch earth campaign against the Iroquois in retaliation for their attacks on the American settlements, early in the war. The final blow was delivered in 1781 after a French naval victory allowed the Americans and French troops to trap a British army in Virginia. The surrender at Yorktown on October 17, 1781 marked the end of most fighting. By the Treaty of Paris, Britain formally recognized the independence of United States.

On 23rd December, 1783, he resigned as Commander-in-Chief, emulating the Roman general, Cincinnatus. He was an exemplar of the republic ideal of citizen leadership who rejected power and retired to Mt. Vernon. However, he was convinced to attend the Continental Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and was unanimously elected as its President. The delegates designed the Presidency with Washington in mind and allowed him to define the office, once elected. His support led to the ratification of the new Constitution by all 13 colonies.

Washington took oath of office as the First President of the United States at Federal Hall in New York on 30th April, 1789. He was an able administrator, an excellent delegator and judge of talent and character. Although he reluctantly served a second term as President, he refused to run for a third term, establishing the customary policy of a maximum of two terms for a US President. During his tenure, he personally oversaw the establishment of the permanent seat of government called Washington, in his honour. He also led the military in the battlefield after the Whiskey rebellion. On the foreign front, he rejected Citizen Genet’s attempt to turn popular sentiment towards the American involvement in the French war against the British and demanded his recall. Also, despite strong opposition from the Jeffersonians, Washington normalized the trade relations with Britain by signing the Jay treaty.

After retiring from the Presidency in March 1797, Washington returned to Mt. Vernon with a profound sense of relief and devoted much of his time to farming. On July 4, 1798, he was commissioned by President John Adams to be the Commander-in-Chief of armies raised for service in the prospective war with France. He also participated in planning for a Provincial Army to meet any emergence that may arise. However, he died on 14th December, 1799 qt his home aged 67. On 18th December, 1799 a funeral was held at Mt. Vernon and Washington was interred in a tomb on the estate. Several attempts made by the Congress to move his mortal remains to a marble monument in the US capital were thwarted by opposition from the Southern states. Finally he was laid to rest on October 7, 1837 in a new tomb constructed by John Struthers of Philadelphia. After the ceremony, the inner vault’s door was closed and the key was thrown into the Potomac River.

According to a popular story, following the end of the war in 1783, King George III asked what Washington would do next and was told about the rumours that he would return to his farm; this prompted the British monarch to state, “If he does that, he would be the greatest man in the world.” In fact, he did return to his plantation and won millions of admirers around the world. Representative Henry Lee, a revolutionary War Comrade famously eulogized Washington as “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” Lee’s words set the standard by which his overwhelming reputation was impressed upon the American memory.


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