George Washington: Presidency & Facts

Instructor: Amy Lively

Amy has an M.A. in American History. She has taught history at all levels, from university to middle school.

In this lesson, we will discuss how George Washington, the first president of the United States, helped shape the office of president. Learn more about how Washington set the stage for future presidents and test your knowledge with a quiz.

George Washington
Portrait of George Washington

Electing Washington

Even though many people dream of becoming president of the United States, George Washington did not really want to be the president. He wanted to retire to his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, after leading the Continental Army in the fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. He was also a private man and knew whoever was going to be the first president would attract attention from around the world. However, when he was the unanimous choice to be the first president on February 4, 1789, he did not want to let the new country down, so he accepted the nomination.

The Constitution and the President

The U.S. Constitution says that the country must have a president. The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that nobody in the government has too much control, so the president cannot make laws without the Senate. The country's founders did not want the U.S. to be ruled by a king or queen. What the Constitution does not say, though, is how the office of the president should work. Washington knew he was going to have to decide for himself what the job should be like. He also knew that whatever decisions he made would probably set the stage for every president after him. With that in mind, Washington made his decisions very carefully.

Washington's Cabinet

Washington understood that when it was time to make important decisions about the country, the president would need advisers. However, he thought that the Senate had too many people in it to give him advice. He would have received too many opinions. So, one of the first things he did as president was create a 'cabinet'. The president's cabinet is a group of advisers on different parts of the government. Washington's cabinet had advisers on war, finance, and foreign relations. His foreign relations adviser, called the Secretary of State, was Thomas Jefferson, who became the third president. Presidents still choose members of their cabinet today. Modern presidents may want advisers on matters such as security, health, and education.

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