George Washington: The Birth of a Nation (1789 – 1797)


Hey it’s Professor Dave, I wanna tell you about George Washington and the United States of America. The United States of America is the most powerful
nation in the world. What does it do with this position, and is
it deserved? To have any hope of answering these questions,
one must learn about the nation’s rise to power, and the figures that color its past. This series will tell the story of America
through its presidents, one commander-in-chief at a time, from the beginning, starting with
George Washington and the birth of a nation. Without George Washington there may have been
no victory in the Revolutionary War, and thus no United States. He was the Indispensable Man, the one person
that most everyone could agree on. North and South, States’ Rights and strong
Federal government advocates, abolitionists and slaveholders, he was the glue that held
it all together. As we shall see throughout this series, temperament
is the common denominator of the greatest presidents, and in Washington, it was his
most admired quality. In him, as with every president, character
is destiny. Washington had a gravity that made him a natural
leader of men, a dignity such that even brilliant minds like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson,
and Alexander Hamilton recognized him as a superior. He has been embalmed in a kind of patriotic
waxwork display, a marble bust. But the real man, the flesh and blood Washington,
deserves better. To turn him into some kind of remote, stately
figure would be a disservice, although understandable, because the country owes him everything. Born into middling status in Virginia, then
the most populous British colony, Washington became an officer in the militia just before
the French and Indian War, a time when the collision between French and British Empires
for the domination of North America was inevitable. In 1753 the 22-year-old Major Washington was
sent to what is now Pittsburgh, in a contested region known as Ohio Country. Soon after, in 1754, Washington and his troops
ambushed a French detachment. The incident, known as the Battle of Jumonville
Glen, had international repercussions, as both France and England sent troops to North
America to protect their colonial interests. War was formally declared in 1756, and Washington
was made a Colonel in the Virginia Regiment. His military experience during this time would
provide invaluable insight into British war tactics, as well as a chance to hone his leadership
skills. He realized that having numerous state militias
was ineffective because there was no singular command. This made Washington a firm believer in a
strong central authority for the country. After the war, Washington married a wealthy
widow, Martha Custis, and became a successful planter at Mount Vernon. In 1765, the British parliament, seeking to
repay debts accrued during the French and Indian war, imposed a new tax called the Stamp
Act. This tax required printed materials used in
the colonies, such as legal documents, magazines, and newspapers, to be produced on stamped
paper produced in London. This legislation was wildly unpopular; colonialists
felt it violated their rights as Englishmen to not be taxed without their consent. The Stamp Act gave rise to the immortal phrase,
“No taxation without representation.” This was the beginning of the American Revolution. Though the Stamp Act was soon repealed, other
taxes followed. These new taxes were accompanied by the occupation
of Boston by British troops in 1768, which would lead to the Boston Massacre of 1770. In May of 1769, Washington introduced a proposal
in the Virginia Assembly to boycott all goods until the taxes were rescinded. In 1773, a Tea Act giving a British company
a monopoly on tea sales was passed by Parliament and again met with great hostility throughout
the colonies. Members of a secret resistance group, “The
Sons of Liberty,” dressed as Mohawk warriors, snuck aboard a British ship, and dumped 342
cases of British tea into Boston Harbor to protest the Tea Act. The British Parliament retaliated by passing
a series of punitive laws known as the Intolerable Acts. This led to the assembly of the First Continental
Congress in 1774, with Washington in attendance as a delegate. The Congress had two primary goals. The first was to organize a boycott of British
goods and cease exports to Britain if the Intolerable Acts were not repealed. The other was to arrange for a Second Continental
Congress to assemble on May 10th, 1775. By the time the Second Continental Congress
met, the Revolutionary War for independence had already begun in Massachusetts. To signal his readiness to fight for independence,
Washington appeared before the Second Continental Congress in full military dress. On June 14th, 1775, the Congress voted to
create the Continental Army, appointing Washington as General and Commander in Chief. In July of that year, Washington arrived outside
Boston to take charge of colonial forces and organize the Continental Army. The standoff that then took place with British
forces, known as the siege of Boston, continued throughout the fall and winter as Washington
was astounded by the failure of the British to attack his poorly armed forces. In early March of 1776, cannons captured at
Fort Ticonderoga arrived in Boston, and with American artillery bombarding their position,
the British fled. Washington then moved most of the Continental
Army to fortify New York City, where he almost lost the war. The largest British force ever sent outside
of Europe was ordered to crush the rebellion. Defiantly, Washington had the newly issued
Declaration of Independence read to his men and the citizens of New York as the British
landed 22,000 soldiers on Long Island. It would be the largest battle of the war. Though Washington’s outnumbered forces were
badly beaten, they were not crushed. General Howe, the British Commander, restrained
his officers from pursuing the retreating American forces. Washington was able to withdraw his remaining
army across the East River on the night of August 29th, 1776, narrowly escaping complete
annihilation. Washington then continued his flight across
New Jersey. He was forced to employ guerilla tactics since
his army had been nearly destroyed in Long Island and many of his troops had since deserted,
due to low morale and one-year enlistments. On the night of December 25th, 1776, he staged
a daring surprise attack on an outpost in western New Jersey. He led his army across the Delaware River
to capture nearly a thousand Hessians, German mercenaries employed by the British, in Trenton,
New Jersey. The heroic crossing was dangerous due to the
weather, and the fact that many soldiers were without shoes. This made the attack all the more unexpected. Despite the odds, Washington lost only four
soldiers, making this a pivotal event in the war as well as Washington’s career. Washington followed with another victory over
British troops at Princeton in early January. The turning point of the war came in September
1777: the stunning surrender of British General Burgoyne’s entire army at the Battle of
Saratoga in upstate New York. Prompted by the decisive victory, the French
joined the war on the side of the Americans. This would lead to the end of the war, when
the British Army was surrounded at the Battle of Yorktown by combined French and American
forces, in late 1781. Though the Peace Treaty would not be finalized
for another two years, the ragtag coalition of states’ militias and their French, German,
and Polish allies had defeated the mightiest empire on Earth. Washington’s most important role in the
war was the embodiment of the legitimacy of American resistance to the Crown, the representation
of the Revolution. His enormous personal stature and political
skills kept Congress, the Army, the French, the militias, and the disparate states all
focused on a common goal. When the treaty was ratified in 1783, Washington
resigned as commander-in-chief and proved his opposition to a military dictatorship,
demonstrating his absolute commitment to the idea of an American republic. Furthermore, he permanently established the
principle of civilian supremacy in military affairs by voluntarily resigning and disbanding
his army, retiring to his estate at Mount Vernon. Historians have called Washington’s voluntary
resignation as commander of the army his greatest action. It was an act that stunned aristocratic Europe,
and no less than King George III called Washington “the greatest man in the world”. But in his mind, returning to civilian life
was necessary to complete the revolution and fulfill the republican ideal, lest a military
dictatorship be established. During the war, the Continental Congress made
decisions but lacked enforcement powers, particularly regarding taxes. Implementation of most decisions, including
modifications to the Articles of Confederation, required unanimous approval of all thirteen
state legislatures. The inability of the Congress to redeem the
public debt caused by the war, or to foster cooperation among the states to encourage
commerce and economic development only aggravated a gloomy situation. Meanwhile, the states acted individually,
each conducting its own foreign policy. When some states closed their ports to British
shipping, Connecticut opened its ports and profited greatly. By 1787, Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s
top aide during the war, realized that a strong central government was necessary to avoid
foreign intervention and the stifled progress caused by an ineffectual Congress. Hamilton won Washington’s endorsement and
petitioned Congress to call for a new Constitutional Convention. Washington, attending the 1787 convention
as a delegate from Virginia, was unanimously elected as its president. Although the Constitutional Convention was
only authorized to amend the Articles of Confederation, many of the representatives shared Washington
and Hamilton’s belief that a new system of government was needed to replace the ineffective
Articles. Secret closed-door sessions produced a new
Constitution for a new nation. The new Constitution gave much more power
to the central government, but balanced this with states’ sovereign rights. The general populace, however, did not entirely
share Washington’s views of a strong federal government binding the states together, comparing
such a prevailing entity to the British Parliament that had previously oppressed and taxed the
colonies. In order to rally popular opinion in New York
on behalf of the new Constitution, delegates Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John
Jay authored a series of newspaper columns that have come to be known as The Federalist
Papers, which listed the advantages of a strong Federal system of government. They were influential, and the new Constitution
was eventually ratified by all thirteen states. The delegates to the convention had designed
the presidency with Washington in mind, allowing him to define the office by establishing precedent
once elected. When the state delegates met to vote in the
first Electoral College, they unanimously elected Washington as the first president
in 1789 and again in 1792. He remains the only president to receive every
electoral vote. Washington was sworn in as President of the
United States on April 30th, 1789 in New York City. He gave a brief speech following his inauguration
and insisted on having Barbados Rum served after the ceremony. Aware that everything set a precedent, he
declared that he should be addressed as “Mr. President,” rather than other more majestic
terms proposed by the Senate, such as “His Exalted Highness”. Congress voted to pay Washington a salary
of twenty five thousand dollars a year, a large sum in 1789, valued at about three hundred
forty thousand today. Washington was facing personal financial troubles,
yet he initially declined the salary. However, he ultimately accepted the salary
to avoid setting a precedent whereby only wealthy individuals could afford to serve
without any pay. When Washington took office, he had to develop
a government from scratch. There was no executive branch, nor judicial
branch, and no example on which to rely. One of Washington’s first acts as president
was to establish the judicial branch. Through the Judiciary Act of 1789, the Supreme
Court was created, which was given the power to settle legal disputes between states, or
between a state and the federal government. Washington founded the cabinet system, and
created the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War, which later
became Secretary of Defense, and Attorney General. Each office, excluding the Attorney General,
would head an executive department. These four officials, along with President
and Vice President, formed the first United States Cabinet. Washington was suspicious of political parties. He worried they would lead to factionalism
and conflict. But two members of his Cabinet, Secretary
of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, held diametrically
opposing views about the direction the country should take. Arguably, both men were operating out of understandable
fear. Hamilton feared the democratic rabble as having
the potential for mob rule and anarchy, the very problems that had beset the nation under
the Articles of Confederation. He admired the British system of Law and pushed
for closer trading with their former countrymen. Alternately, Jefferson feared a monarchy and
the centralized power that Hamilton pushed for, rather admiring the revolution in France. While Hamilton correctly believed that the
future of the United States lay in its international trade and commercial banking system, Jefferson
thought the nation’s future lay in an idealized agrarian or agricultural economy. He feared that urban-based economies were
prone to corruption and manipulation, and hoped that the United States could avoid these
plagues by remaining tied to the soil. These two conflicting worldviews by two of
the most brilliant Founding Fathers would lead to the formation of two ideologically
opposed political parties. Hamilton’s Federalists favored a strong
Federal government and unified nation, while Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans claimed
that all the power of the Federal government was derived from the consent of individual
states. These fundamental differences would echo throughout
American history, leading to our bloody Civil War, and even remain very much alive with
the political parties of today. In perhaps the greatest irony of American
political history, the two major parties of the last 150 years – the Republican and
Democratic parties, would end up completely reversing their positions. The Democratic Party, initially a champion
of the common man, would embrace a strong Progressive activist Federal government, while
the Republican Party, originally formed as an Abolitionist movement centered in the North
and dominated by Eastern Establishment elites has now become a Southern and Midwestern based
agrarian party. Though both parties have become beholden to
wealthy elites, each claims to represent the interest of the workingman. Friction between Washington and Jefferson
continued throughout his first term, causing Washington to use the first presidential veto. He vetoed legislation drafted by Jefferson
outlining a new apportionment formula, which described how many representatives each state
would receive. Ironically, Washington thought Jefferson’s
bill gave an unfair advantage to the northern states. Washington typically favored Hamilton over
Jefferson, and it was Hamilton’s agenda that was implemented. Jefferson bitterly opposed Hamilton’s financial
schemes and went behind Washington’s back, trying to sabotage Hamilton’s actions, and
spreading rumors that Washington was senile. Jefferson’s attempts to undermine Hamilton
led the President to contemplate dismissing Jefferson from the cabinet, though he ultimately
left voluntarily. Washington never forgave Jefferson, and would
never speak to him again. The nation’s capital had initially been
in New York City, but in early 1790, Hamilton devised a plan that established the new national
capitol on the Potomac River, in an independent territory bordering Virginia and Maryland. The territory was to be called Colombia, and
its capital city was to be named after Washington, though he would not live to see its completion
in 1800. The first great test of the new national government
came in 1791, and involved a tax on that American essential: alcohol. Congress imposed an excise tax on distilled
spirits, which led to protests in the frontier areas, especially Pennsylvania. Washington ordered the protesters to appear
in court, but the protests turned into full-scale defiance of federal authority known as the
Whiskey Rebellion. Since the national army was too small to be
used, Washington summoned militias from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey. The governors sent the troops, with Washington
himself initially taking command. The rebels dispersed and there was no fighting,
as Washington’s forceful action proved that the new government could protect itself. This represented the first instance of the
federal government using military force to exert authority over the states and citizens,
and is the only time that a sitting U.S. president personally commanded troops in the field. In April 1792, the French Revolutionary Wars
broke out between Great Britain and its allies and revolutionary France, and would engulf
Europe until 1815. The French government sent representatives
to get American support but Washington proclaimed American neutrality and had Hamilton draft
the Jay Treaty to normalize trade relations with Great Britain. The Jeffersonians, who supported Revolutionary
France, strongly attacked the treaty and accused Hamilton of pro-royalist sympathies. Washington announced his strong support for
the treaty, which mobilized public opinion and was pivotal in securing ratification in
the Senate. The Jay Treaty not only removed the British
from their forts in the West and resolved financial debts remaining from the Revolution
but also avoided another war with Britain and brought a decade of prosperous trade. But it so angered the French Revolutionary
government that Washington’s successor, John Adams, would nearly be forced to go to
war with France near the end of the decade. Washington had only reluctantly agreed to
a second term and refused to run for a third, establishing a precedent that would last until
1940 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for a third term. His Farewell Address was issued as a public
letter in 1796 and was one of the most influential statements of republicanism, drafted primarily
by Washington himself with help from Hamilton. It gave advice on the necessity and importance
of national union, the value of the Constitution and the rule of law, the evils of political
parties, and the proper virtues of a republican people. He referred to morality as “a necessary
spring of popular government”, and said, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence
of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid
us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” The address warned against foreign influence
in domestic affairs and American meddling in European affairs, and against bitter partisanship
in domestic politics. He called for men to move beyond partisanship,
to serve the nation and its citizenry. He cautioned against “permanent alliances
with any portion of the world”, saying that the United States must concentrate primarily
on American interests. The address guided American values regarding
foreign affairs, and Washington’s policy of non-involvement in the foreign affairs
of the Old World was embraced by generations of American statesmen until the Cold War era. Washington regarded religion as a protective
influence for America’s social and political order, and recognized the church’s “laudable
endeavors to render men sober, honest, and good citizens, and the obedient subjects of
a lawful government.” As commander of the army and as president,
he was a vigorous promoter of tolerance for all religious denominations. He believed that religion was important for
public order, and human virtue. He often attended services of different denominations,
and he suppressed anti-Catholic celebrations in the Army. Washington privately felt that slavery was
morally indefensible, and he regarded the divisiveness of his countrymen’s feelings
about slavery as a potentially mortal threat to the unity of the nation. Though he never publicly challenged the institution
of slavery, possibly because he wanted to avoid provoking a split in the new republic
over such an inflammatory issue, he did sign into law the Slave Trade Act of 1794, which
limited American involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. He was the only prominent Founding Father
to grant freedom to all his slaves in his will. Upon his death, Congressman Henry “Light
Horse Harry” Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade and father of the American Civil War general
Robert E. Lee, eulogized Washington as follows. “First in war, first in peace, and first
in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private
life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere;
uniform, dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were
the effects of that example lasting. Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his
presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence
to his public virtues. Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.” One cannot overstate Washington’s importance
in the creation of the United States. He was truly the “Father of His Country”
and he remains the guiding spirit of a nation.

28 Replies to “George Washington: The Birth of a Nation (1789 – 1797)”

  1. awesome video! I love your content! You have inspired me to create my own educational channel. I wish you the best!
    -Cheers

  2. coongrats! my first reply ever on youtube. I was expecting Feynmans' "bug on the water" and Higgs but received a well-liked refresher and an insight into a bit of history we Americans treat as ancient history, when it's only been under 250 years and an industrial revolution since then.

  3. 11:28 Wait , wait, wait, whats going on here? Why is he whispering things into Bens ear? What's really going on in this painting? Whats represented here?

  4. In hindsight, George Washington was only good for helping win the war being and for popular among his politician peers. Everything else he did was of the evil nature of creating big government , taking away states rights, and imposing taxes. Everything Americans fought against, the unfair tyrannical rule of the British, is now taken over by the new US government, where they hold the power and wealth, enslaving all Americans to pay taxes to fund excessive government programs. These men had a clue about the philosophy of freedom, but they had no clue about the fundamentals of world economics.

  5. In 2017 the United States of America IS NOT the most powerful nation in the world. Geopolitics have changed, Professor Dave, get updaed

  6. great video, clearly a good amount of research, articulate, you must have worked hard on it. Maybe should have given your title a bit more thought, but well done nonetheless.

  7. Good video, I'm glad to still see him being lauded by some people, many historians think its fashionable to bash on Washington, but I think he deserves his good reputation. That being said, I wish you had explored more of his faults, since he did have some (as anyone does).

  8. So glad there are still teachers who will just teach the history without taking a break every sentence to remind us that slavery is evil or to make snide remarks about white men. I love your videos on all the various subjects and appreciate that you make the resource available. In current year it seems like the only educated people around are those who actively seek out education rather than relying on the school system that's been dumbing down everything for years and always trying to be "hip" and "relatable."

  9. The Judiciary Act did not create the supreme court. The Supreme court is explicitly stated in Article III of the constitution. The powers and original jurisdiction of the court is also listed in Article III. The Judiciary act simply created the three tier system of appellate and district courts.

  10. What's wrong w/ this world, only 10K views (As of f 5-19). This is great info, it's key! God help us. (There's no god.)

  11. Shame we did not stick to the no political parties. It seems he was a psychic able to see the problems of politics today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *