George Washington
George Washington, A National Treasure
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Portrait for Kids
The Patriot Papers
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Experience... is the best rule to walk by. --George Washington to John Parke Curtis, West Point, August 24, 1779


Teacher Guide

About George Washington

George Washington was an extraordinary person living in extraordinary times. His leadership, determination, and ambition helped him succeed throughout his life. More than anyone else, Washington proved to be the person who could hold the country together at a time when it was new and its future uncertain.

Washington grew up in Virginia, the third son of a planter. Although his formal education lasted only a few years, he taught himself the skills he needed by watching others and reading books. The hardworking Washington learned planting and land surveying. He was very tall – over six feet – and very strong. He loved horseback riding, fox hunting, dancing, and card playing. In 1759 he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow with large land holdings and numerous slaves.

While still young, Washington began to devote more and more time to being a soldier and a politician. He commanded forces in the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. His leadership, courage, and bravery inspired the men he commanded. More than once, he rode into the thick of battle and emerged unharmed from enemy fire. As a young soldier, he was not always successful, but he learned from his mistakes.

As commander in chief of the Continental army during the American Revolution, Washington faced many challenges. He needed to form and train an army that could do battle with the mighty British empire. He also faced shortages of troops, food, and supplies. In spite of these obstacles, Washington persevered. As time went on, his understanding of military strategy deepened. By the war’s end in 1781, he was the most respected and popular man in the country and one of the best-known in the world.

After the war, Washington resigned his commission in the army and returned home to Mount Vernon. Soon he was back in public service. He was the unanimous choice for president of the Constitutional Convention, which would create the Constitution and the new government. In 1789 and 1792, he was the country’s unanimous choice for President of the United States. He was so popular that he might have been chosen king, but he refused.

Washington was an effective and well-respected President. Under his leadership, the country remained stable and balanced. Basic systems of government were established, and Washington kept the country out of conflicts with other nations. As our first President, he served two terms and could have been reelected to a third. But he decided that it was in the best interest of the country for him to retire.

Washington spent the last few years of his life overseeing his land and slaves. He was also visited by a steady stream of well-wishers. Six months before he died, he wrote his will. A slave-owner all his adult life, Washington felt torn about the issue of slavery. Although he did not speak publicly about the need to end it, he expressed his opinions in private. In his will, he freed his personal servant, William Lee, immediately, and the other slaves when his wife, Martha, died. He was the only founding father to do so.


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