George Washington between the wars

George Washington (February 22, 1732–December 14, 1799) commanded America's war for independence (1775–1783), and was the first President of the United States, from 1789 to 1797. Because of his central role in the founding of the United States, Washington is often called the "Father of his Country." His devotion to republicanism and civic virtue made him an exemplary figure among early American politicians.

On January 6 1759, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, although surviving letters suggest that he was in love with Sally Fairfax, the wife of a friend, at the time. Nevertheless, George and Martha had a good marriage, and together raised her two children from her previous marriage, John Parke Custis and Martha Parke Custis, affectionately called "Jackie" and "Patsy". Later the Washingtons raised two of Mrs. Washington's grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis. George and Martha never had any children together—his earlier bout with smallpox followed, possibly, by tuberculosis may have made him sterile. The newlywed couple moved to Mount Vernon, where he took up the life of a genteel planter and political figure. [John K. Amory, M.D., "George Washington’s infertility: Why was the father of our country never a father?" "Fertility and Sterility", Vol. 81, No. 3, March 2004. [http://www.asrm.org/Professionals/Fertility&Sterility/georgewashington.pdf (online, PDF format)] ]

Washington's marriage to Martha, a wealthy widow, greatly increased his property holdings and social standing. He acquired one-third of the 18,000 acre (73 km²) Custis estate upon his marriage, and managed the remainder on behalf of Martha's children. He frequently purchased additional area in his own name, and was granted land in what is now West Virginia as a bounty for his service in the French and Indian War. By 1775, Washington had doubled the size of Mount Vernon to convert|6500|acre|km2|0, and had increased the slave population there to more than 100 persons. As a respected military hero and large landowner, he held local office and was elected to the Virginia provincial legislature, the House of Burgesses, beginning in 1758. [Acreage, slaves, and social standing: Joseph Ellis, "His Excellency, George Washington", pp. 41–42, 48.]

Washington lived an aristocratic lifestyle—fox hunting was a favorite leisure activity. Like most Virginia planters, he imported luxuries and other goods from England and paid for them by exporting his tobacco crop. Extravagant spending and the unpredictability of the tobacco market meant that many Virginia planters of Washington's day were losing money. (Thomas Jefferson, for example, would die deep in debt.) Washington began to pull himself out of debt by diversification. By 1766, he had switched Mount Vernon's primary cash crop from tobacco to wheat—a crop which could be sold in America—and diversified operations to include flour milling, fishing, horse breeding, spinning, and weaving. Patsy Custis's tragic death in 1773 during an epileptic seizure enabled Washington to finally pay off his British creditors, since half of her inheritance passed to him. [Fox hunting: Ellis p. 44. Mount Vernon economy: John Ferling, "The First of Men", pp. 66–67; Ellis pp. 50–53; Bruce A. Ragsdale, "George Washington, the British Tobacco Trade, and Economic Opportunity in Pre-Revolutionary Virginia", in Don Higginbotham, ed., "George Washington Reconsidered", pp. 67–93.]

During these years, Washington concentrated on his business activities and remained somewhat aloof from politics. Although he expressed opposition to the 1765 Stamp Act, the first direct tax on the colonies, he did not take a leading role in the growing colonial resistance until after protests of the Townshend Acts (enacted in 1767) had become widespread. In May 1769, Washington introduced a proposal drafted by his friend George Mason which called for Virginia to boycott English goods until the Acts were repealed. Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts in 1770, and, for Washington at least, the crisis had passed. However, Washington regarded the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774 as "an Invasion of our Rights and Privileges". In July 1774, he chaired the meeting at which the Fairfax Resolves were adopted, which called for, among other things, the convening of a Continental Congress. In August, he attended the First Virginia Convention, where he was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. [Washington quoted in Ferling, p. 99.]

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