President George Washington
Leader of the Continental Army during the Revolution, and First President of the United States of America. He lived 1732-1799.
“My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.” – George Washington
There’s plenty of information about George Washington online and in books. The book I enjoyed reading about him was Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington by his Adopted Son, George Washington Parke Custis, with A Memoir of the Author, written by his daughter; and Illustrative and Explanatory Notes, by Benson J. Lossing. This book was published in 1860, and the copy I checked out of the library was a first edition with engraved and tissue-protected plates and all sorts of interesting fold-out documents. It also has a wonderful collection of handwritten notes in the margains. I was a little surprised that it was still circulating.
George Washington is mentioned in two Little House books. In Farmer Boy, Almanzo and Alice tip-toe into the forbidden parlor, where Washington’s picture looks sternly from its frame between the windows. (See Chapter 18, “Keeping House.”) Do you have any historical figure’s portraits hanging in your house? We don’t, and if we did, it would most likely be of Robert E. Lee and not a former president, and I say that in all honesty. By the way, George Washington Parke Custis was the father-in-law of Robert E. Lee.
George Washington is mentioned several times in Little Town on the Prairie. In Chapter 19, “The Whirl of Gaiety,” the Ingallses attend the debate: “Resolved. That Lincoln was a greater man than Washington.” (I wonder who won?) In the same chapter, George Washington is one of the wax figures displayed in Mrs. Jarley’s Waxworks. Later, in Chapter 24, “The School Exhibition,” Laura points to the schoolhouse portrait of President Washington as she tells about about his poor boyhood, his work as a surveyor, his defeat by the French at Fort Duquesne, and then of his long, disheartening years of war. She told of his unanimous election as the First President, the Father of his Country, and of the laws passed by the First Congress and the Second, and the opening of the Northwest Territory.
I’m not sure that there are many students today who learn that much about the Father of our Country. Below are some highlights about George Washington from Laura Ingalls’ history book:
George Washington. …He was a Virginian by birth. When a boy he was distinguished for good behavior, for energy, and for a disposition for hard work. At sixteen he became a good surveyor. At nineteen he was made adjutant of one of the military districts of his native State, ranking as major. He was twenty-one when he undertook the message to the French commander. He was even then regarded as a young man of unusual promise. (page 76)
Highlights of Washington’s Administration, 1789-1797. On the balcony of the Federal Hall in New York, the Chancellor of the State of New York administered to Washington the oath of office, which was in the following words: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend, the Constitution of the United States.” (page 138)
Five Departments of State were created: Secretary of State (Thomas Jefferson), Secretary of the Treasury (Alexander Hamilton), Secretary of War (Henry Knox), Attorney General (Edmund Randolph), Post-master General (Samuel Osgood). Eleven constitutional amendments were adopted. The judiciary of the nation was established, with John Jay becoming the first Chief Justice. Salaries of public officers were fixed by Congress. (The President received $25,000 yearly.) To pay the expenses of running the government, a tax was placed on goods brought into the country and on the tonnage of merchant-ships entering U.S. ports. A tax was also placed on spirituous liquids distilled in the country. Quarrels over taxation of alcoholic beverages led to the Whiskey Rebellion. There were continued troubles with England. Following King (of England) George’s seizure of all neutral vessels trading with the French in the West Indies, millions of dollars of goods had been taken from American ships. A treaty was reached which avoided war. Three new states were added to the original thirteen during Washington’s presidency: Vermont, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Political party relations were bitter at a time when the country needed quiet. The yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia killed tens of thousands before Dr. Benjamin Rush’s treatment of patients helped curb the spread. Public education laws passed included that section 16 in every township be set aside for the maintenance of public schools (important in Dakota Territory’s history of education during the Little House years!!), the rotunda of the Capitol was adorned with paintings, the cotton gin was invented, manners of society were upheld by the President, resembling those of the English court, fashions for men included wigs and pantaloons and women wore silk and brocade, and in common life, the people were recovering from war, with soldiers going back to farms and workshops. — Edward Taylor, The Model History. A Brief Account of the American People; for Schools (Chicago: George Sherwood & Co., 1878), 138-150.
George Washington (FB 18; LTP 19)