Top 10 Facts about President George Washington
George Washington is one of the most prominent figures in American history. He is most well-known because of the two terms he spent as the nation’s first elected president. He is also known as a Revolutionary War hero whose intelligence and bravery helped defeat the well-funded and well-armed British army.
Washington’s fingerprints are all over America today. He believed in freedom from tyranny for all men. Towards the end of his life, he also began to work towards the end of slavery in the United States. He was the physical embodiment of the United States Constitution, and his memory has been celebrated for hundreds of years.
Even today, Americans can walk in the footsteps of their founding president. The traces of Washington’s life are scattered around the first thirteen states from Revolutionary War trails in New England to his home and tomb at Mount Vernon. People can even tour his home and estate. Nearly 80 million visitors have visited the plantation and experienced early American life as Washington saw it.
Thankfully, there are many amazing things that historians know about George Washington. The former president documented almost every aspect of his life in letters, books, notes and papers. Many of these papers are held today by the Library of Congress.
But, there is much more to George Washington than his false teeth or the cherry tree. Here are 10 interesting facts about President George Washington:
- George Washington Was an Honorary Citizen of France
George Washington was the first American President. He is often referred to as the ultimate patriot because he spearheaded the movement to throw off the yoke of British colonization in favor of becoming a fully independent country.
While it’s true that George Washington was one of the first people to be able to officially call himself an American, his identity stretched further than this.
On August 26, 1792, George Washington was granted the honor of becoming an honorary citizen of the country of France. His name was on a short list of prominent people that also included James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
These men were awarded citizenship by the National Assembly of France. During the early years of the French Revolution, the assembly wanted to reward men who promoted liberty and freedom through their writing and work.
Gaining honorary French citizenship required the men to have lived in France and to take a civic oath in Paris. However, the new Americans had never lived in Paris nor did they have the opportunity to take the oath. Instead, these requirements were from the law when France adopted a new constitution only a year later. Hence, Washington was officially allowed to be an honorary citizen of the country.
Washington had friends in France. He also fought alongside Frenchmen in the Revolutionary War. As a result, he was repeatedly invited to visit. However, he was too busy building a new country and running Mount Vernon to make the long trip across the Atlantic. Washington also did not speak French, so this did not incentivize him to make the trip either.
Instead of honoring Paris with a state visit, President Washington granted the Marquis de Lafayette, a personal friend, honorary citizenship in America. However, unlike Washington, the Marquis made it a point to spend a lot of time in the country that adopted him.
- Everyone Gets His Birthday Wrong
The first president of the United States is honored everywhere in America. He even has his own annual holiday. Washington’s birthday is one of the 11 holidays established by Congress that lies permanently on the calendar. It is celebrated on the third Monday of February each year.
Congress was not the first to celebrate the birthday of Washington, however. His birthday was celebrated before it became a federal holiday. On the 100 year anniversary of his birthday, there was a large festival that was held nationally. Congress even helped organize the celebrations with a joint committee.
His birthday is traditionally celebrated on February 22 in 1732; however, the date has caused a lot of confusion. This is because Britain and its colonies changed the calendar system that they used in 1752. Until 1752, Britain used the Julian calendar. According to the Julian calendar, George Washington was born on the 11th of February in 1731.
But in 1752, the country switched to the Gregorian calendar. The reason that they switched calendars is because the Julian calendar did not accurately reflect the amount of time that it takes Earth to travel around the sun. The Julian calendar was in use from Roman times and was developed by a Greek astronomer.
However, in the 16th century, the Pope decided that it was time to use a more accurate calendar. The Gregorian calendar was developed by an Anglo-Saxon monk called Bede, who lived in the north of England in the 6th century. The new calendar was adopted by Pope Gregory XIII, from whom it takes its name.
The Roman Catholic countries who followed Papal orders were quick to adopt the new accurate calendar. However, Protestant countries like the Great Britain waited until the 18th century to finally make a move towards a more modern system of dating.
- George Washington Was Awarded the Highest Rank in the Military 200 Years After He Died
George Washington is often referred to as one of the great heroes of the Revolutionary War. He was highly ranked during his lifetime and was rewarded for his military achievements. He was appointed by Congress to be the head of the Continental Army in 1775.
From 1789 to 1797, he was a civilian as well as the first President of the United States. However, his position as President made him the Commander-in-Chief of America’s armed forces.
In 1798, Washington received a new rank. The second president, John Adams, made Washington a Lieutenant General and a Commander of the United States Army. This was the highest army rank available at the time and Washington was granted this rank until he died.
In 1976, Congress recommended that former President Washington should be promoted to a rank known as the General of the Armies of the United States. This is the highest official and modern rank in the United States Armed Forces. President Ford approved the Congressional revolution with one caveat. Ford insisted that no other officer should ever grow to outrank Washington. At the time of his appointment, Washington had been deceased for 177 years.
Even without his posthumous rank, Washington ranked highly in the army, especially for his time. Most historians believe that the next man to reach the rank of lieutenant general in the army was Ulysses S. Grant in 1864.
- His Salary Was 2 Percent of America’s Budget
Today, much of the country debates the salary of the leaders and politicians of the federal government. Some say it is far too high; others say it is not enough. However, some of today’s presidents’ wealth pales in comparison to the salary and wealth of the first American president.
George Washington was the richest American president in history, and he owned a lot of land. Mount Vernon, his home plantation, was made up of five individual farms. It covered around 8,000 acres of farmland along the fertile Potomac River in Virginia.
Not all of the land or money was his, however. Some historians estimate that Washington actually owned 60,000 acres of prime American real estate, however, much of this would have come from his wife’s inheritance rather than from his own acquisitions. Even today, Washington is known as one of the wealthiest Americans in history.
In addition to the land and businesses he owned, Washington received a generous salary from the government. His total salary in 1789 was equivalent to 2 percent of the entire budget of the United States.
All in all, some estimates suggest that George Washington was worth around half a billion dollars. That is certainly much more than President Obama or even President Kennedy.
President Washington’s wealth was typical for his time. For the first hundred years of the history of the United States, many presidents made their money from the land they owned. They also made money from commodity speculations. It was not until 1850 that elected officials came from middle class families and worked white collar jobs in law or public service. For a while in the 19th century, many presidents, including Lincoln, had little to no money at all.
Presidents did not become wealthy again until the 20th century. The Roosevelts and Kennedys achieved much of their wealth through inheritance. Their parents and grandparents had been involved in developing industry in the 19th century
- He Survived Loads of Diseases That Killed Millions of Others
George Washington lives on in history as one of the primary figures in America, especially when it came to the Revolutionary War. However, the battles he fought were against more than just the Redcoats. Washington had not one but up to nine diseases. Many of these diseases were often the cause of death for many of his contemporaries.
Washington is believed to have had diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, dysentery and even smallpox. The fact that he lived as long as he did was astounding. If one considers how many people tuberculosis killed even in the 20th and 21st century, Washington’s life becomes even more impressive.
Today, there are vaccines for many of these diseases. Smallpox is all but eradicated in the Western world, and malaria can be prevented and treated with simple measures, as long as they are available. Pneumonia no longer kills most people, and dysentery is highly uncommon in the West.
Washington’s illnesses began at a young age. When Washington was 19 years old, he caught smallpox in Barbados. He survived the disease but it left his face looking pockmarked because of the severity of the illness. Fortunately, most people who contract and survive smallpox usually become immune to it. This is why the smallpox virus is put in vaccines.
Washington was often given mercury oxide to treat illness. At the time, this was used to treat diseases like smallpox and malaria, another disease Washington contracted more than once. However, the mercury oxide contributed to his lifelong dental problems. He began losing teeth at age 22 and by the time of his first inauguration he only had one tooth left.
Washington also often suffered from common diseases like diphtheria and dysentery. Both diseases are now very rare in the United States today but at the time they would have been difficult. If untreated diphtheria can damage both the heart and the kidneys and can lead to death.
In addition to malaria, smallpox, TB, diphtheria, and dysentery, President Washington also suffered from tonsillitis, pneumonia, epiglottitis and carbuncle.
- But in the End His Doctor Killed Him
George Washington survived multiple wars and a huge number of diseases, any one of which often killed most men just on its own. But, Washington lived a relatively long life. He lived to the ripe age of 67. While 67 is not very old today, it is not far off the average life span. When you consider the period and how sick the man was, reaching 67 years of age was very impressive.
It was a cold Thursday on the 12th of December in 1799 when Washington contracted his final illness. He spent the winter day on horseback inspecting Mount Vernon. The weather was cold and the rain quickly turned into an ice storm. When he arrived home, he ate dinner without bothering to change out of his cold, wet clothes.
On December 13th, he woke up in the middle of the night because he felt unwell. He had difficulty breathing and was uncomfortable. A doctor was called to perform bloodletting, which was a common medical treatment at the time. The doctor believed that Washington’s condition was so severe it could be fatal. He suggested that the former president may have had what is known as an advanced and painful form of tonsillitis.
To help Washington, the doctor decided to add additional bloodletting to this treatment. One doctor suggested that a tracheotomy might be better to help Washington breathe but he was overruled. In the end, the doctors drained Washington of 80% of his blood that day. Washington died on December 14th 1799 after 21 hours of illness.
Modern medical experts and historians believe that if the doctors had decided to perform the tracheotomy, Washington would have survived the ordeal.
- He Had No Heirs
There are no biological children who survive George Washington. Many people wonder why the father of America was never father himself.
In theory, Washington was the father to two children. His wife Martha was a widow when he married her. She had four children by her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis. Custis was a very rich man. He owned 17,500 acres of land in over six countries. However, Custis died only seven years into their marriage which left Martha a widow at age 26. Although, she was the mother of four children; however, only two had survived past childhood. Despite her resources, the child mortality rate of the period was still around 60% and her first two children did not live past the age of five.
The real reason that Washington never had any biological heirs remains unknown. Washington lamented in his letters that despite their efforts, it seemed as though they would never have their own child. Since Martha had already successfully given birth to four children, it is suggested that Washington himself was infertile.
Some believe that the sheer number of diseases that Washington suffered in his life, coupled with the treatments, led to his infertility. Historians and doctors worked on the puzzle for many years. While many of the most common causes of infertility seem unlikely in Washington’s case, it is possible that his tuberculosis that caused his infertility.
- Congress Wanted to Bury Him in the Capitol
George Washington passed away on the evening of December 14th, 1799 at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. In his will, he specified that he wanted to be buried at his home. He had even prepared for a brick tomb to be built after he died, as the family vault continued to fall into disrepair.
Washington’s wish was granted and he remained at Mount Vernon after his death. In 1831, his body was moved to a new family vault where he joined his wife Martha and other members of his family.
But this was not what the U.S. Congress had envisioned for the man that they had unanimously elected president not once but twice. In the Capitol building, there was a vault built that was designated as the eventual tomb of the first American President.
The will of the former president was honored over the will of the Congress. The central vault continues to be empty while Washington rests peacefully in a wooded area of his home surrounded by his family.
- He Wrote Between 18,000 and 20,000 Letters
George Washington was a busy man. When he wasn’t serving his two terms as president or acting as the commander of the American armed forces he was busy writing somewhere between 18,000 and 20,000 letters to friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and many others.
The George Washington Papers collection is housed at the Library of Congress. It is made up of around 65,000 handwritten documents. It includes his letters, letter books, diaries, financial accounting papers, journals, military records, notes and reports written by the leader between the years of 1741 and 1799.
Nearly everything in Washington’s life was detailed in writing. He wrote travel diaries in his youth. He wrote about his war experiences in the French and Indian war as well as the Revolutionary War. He also thoroughly documented his years as president.
George Washington did more than just lead the country in its early years. He preserved the memories of the late 18th century for historians and academics in the future. As a result of his wide interests and prolific writing, America has a rich resource that describes nearly every aspect of the foundational years of the country.
- He Remains the Only President to Go to Battle While in Office
There is little debate that Washington’s military career was a distinguished one. However, the end of the Revolutionary war was not the last time that the president did battle. In fact, George Washington remains the only sitting president to have ever lead troops into battle during his presidency.
The year was 1794 and it was the height of what is known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington, in his early 60s, responded to an increasing number of rebel groups gathering on the western frontier of the United States.
Washington did not want to do battle. He had send an envoy of diplomats to meet with the leaders of the militias to organize some kind of deal. However, the envoy returned saying that the use of the military was needed to stop the rebellion.
Washington had gathered around 13,000 militiamen in Pennsylvania and prepared them to move westwards to put an end to the chaos. On September 19th of 1794 Washington led the militias into the field and they marched west for nearly a month. In October, the militia began finding the rebels and by November, many of the leaders had been arrested.
Washington told friends and colleagues that he had spent his career fighting for the autonomy and freedom for the American people and that he was not going to let a few rebels ruin the American dream for everyone else.
George Washington is known as one of the original American patriots. His bravery and leadership remain a topic of awe and celebration to this day. As Americans continue to celebrate the birth of the first president hundreds of years after his death, it becomes clear what an impact he had on his nation.
George Washington was more than a president or a military hero. He was a strong and complex man who had many interests and was well-travelled. Thanks to the 65,000 papers that he wrote, Americans can learn everything they ever wanted to know about the first American president.