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George Washington had the first great American dream – Independence

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Revolution, Royalty, War on Saturday, 21 December 2013

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This edited article about America first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 500 published on 14 August 1971.

Washington becomes President, picture, image, illustration

George Washington being sworn in as the first President of America in New York, by Peter Jackson

Have you ever thought why part of North America calls itself the United States? Or, for that matter, how those states first came to be united?

Before George Washington burst his way into world history some of North America was a British colony, other parts were claimed by France and Spain.

The United States as we know it today just did not exist. It was George Washington who, in the last half of the 18th century, led America to Independence and then became the first President of the United States.

It took a war to shake off British rule. And that war became inevitable after the Stamp Act of 1765.

In London, 3,000 miles away, the British government decided that it would extract a little extra tax from the colony across the Atlantic.

The bill was passed (and repealed in 1766) and no one really thought any more of it – until reports of riots and pillaging started to pour in.

The seeds of unrest were sown. George Washington, the man who was to reap the harvest of that discontent, was at that time living the life of a gentleman at his 15,000 acre estate at Mount Vernon.

He had served in the army for several years and surrendered his commission just before his marriage to a very wealthy widow.

Washington grew tobacco which was shipped to England and sold there for low prices – a fact which did not increase his affection for the English.

Still he himself led a comfortable existence. But he believed what few of his countrymen believed – he thought of himself as an American.

And even in those early days he had a vision of a great united America, independent and free.

Then came another spark to fire the spirit of revolution. In 1773 a group of men boarded ships of the East India Company in Boston harbour and threw their cargo of tea into the far from boiling waters.

This action, later referred to as the Boston Tea-Party, was another protest against what the Americans considered to be unfair taxation on their own tea supplies.

Two years later mass revolt broke out and the War of Independence really began.

Because he was one of the few really experienced soldiers (he had been adjutant-general in the colonial army), Washington was elected Commander-in-Chief of the forces on 15th June, 1775.

These were not numerous. But Washington, with his fervour and devotion, was able to inspire them.

Meanwhile, in England, things were happening, too. King George III, stung by this unseemly revolt in his colony, issued the Royal Proclamation of Rebellion and had Washington branded guilty of treason.

Britain invaded Southern New York with 34,000 troops – outnumbering Washington’s army 3 to 2.

The Americans were pressed back and defeated. Washington, with the tattered remnants of his army – only some 3,000 men – retreated across the River Delaware.

He was not pursued by the British generals, who no doubt thought the war was over.

Washington thought otherwise. He recrossed the river and, in a surprise attack, captured 1,000 prisoners.

Washington’s military successes against all the odds were in part due to his own brilliance. However he was the first to acknowledge that at no time in the campaign did his enemies press home their advantage.

“Nothing was more easy for them, with a little enterprise and energy, than to dissipate the remaining force which still kept alive our expiring opposition,” wrote Washington.

The trouble – from the British point of view – was that the minister responsible for the war was Lord George Germain. This was the man who, under the name of Lord George Sackville, had disgraced himself at the battle of Minden and had then been court-martialled and dismissed from the army.

So little was then thought of his military ability that he was declared:

“Unfit to serve his Majesty in any military capacity whatsoever.”

In the field, too, the British commanders were divided against each other by petty jealousies.

Washington himself worked miracles with the morale of his troops. They were unpaid, except for worthless bits of paper money which had no real value.

They were never properly clothed and many times marched without shoes. But Washington himself never lost faith in the final result of the war.

In 1778 France joined the war on the side of the Americans and from then on the issue was beyond doubt.

With the war nearing its end Washington began once more to scheme for uniting the states of America into one powerful nation.

When the war ended in 1781 Washington returned to his farm at Mount Vernon. He was basically a shy, retiring man, without any dreams of personal power.

He was no great orator, and was often embarrassed before large crowds.

But in 1789 he consented, much against his will, to become the first President of the United States.

He did not see it as any great personal triumph for himself, but as the fulfilment of a dream.

But not even George Washington, in his wildest dreams, foresaw how mighty those united states were to become.

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