George Washington was the first president of The United States of America—but few people know the whole story behind his presidency. For one thing, he didn’t even want it.
Who Was The First President?
The Great American Origin
Washington started out his path to the presidency long before America was a glimmer in anyone’s eye. He actually began as a commander in the colonial army, rising up the ranks by fighting for Britain in conflicts like the French and Indian War. Still, the seeds of discord were planted in Washington from early on.
In particular, he nursed a grievance against Merry Old England when his superiors passed him over for a military promotion. But how did a personal grudge lead to the presidency? Well, it almost didn’t.
Washington was always an ambitious, politically-minded man, but he was also something of a househusband. In January 1759, the 26-year-old Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis.
Soon enough, the happy couple settled down at his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia, and Washington got to work growing tobacco, hobnobbing with the social elite, occasionally dabbling in politics, and generally living a stable, uneventful life. Unfortunately, the American Revolution was about to come knocking…
Revolution to Retirement
When the British started unfairly hiking up taxes in America, Washington was one of the loudest voices to speak out against the parliamentary acts. So when this unrest led to full-blown revolution, Washington’s political stances and military background made him the perfect choice to become the Continental Army’s commander in chief.
Of course, we all know now that he and his countrymen won the war and their independence—but believe it or not, this victory didn’t veer straight into Washington’s presidency. Why? Because he quit first.
In fact, Washington quit very publicly. After leading his country to triumph, he gave a 1783 retirement speech to Congress that he called “this last solemn act of my official life.” He then made the celebratory farewell rounds before leaving for his beloved Mount Vernon and a quiet life.
Even more surprisingly, aside from a nagging worry that the new republic needed a strong national constitution, Washington was perfectly happy with his choice. That was supposed to be the end of that. Instead, it was the beginning of America as we know it.
George Bless America
By 1787, the republic was indeed fracturing. In response, the future founding fathers organized the Constitutional Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. Oh, and to elect a president of the unified states. They also only wanted one man for the job: George Washington.
It was not an easy road to convince him, but when they finally got him to come to the convention, the deal was all but done. The minute he walked into the room, Congress was going to elect him president.
Sure enough, at the end of the convention, the Articles of Confederation were complete. The state electors voted Washington in as Commander in Chief again, this time of the nation. Washington’s response? Not exuberant. He had “anxious and painful sensations” about abandoning his “domestic felicity” in Mount Vernon. Washington even tried to refuse the $25,000 salary for the job. He also staunchly refused the suggested titles of “His Excellence” or “His Highness the President” for the more humble “Mr. President.” With this gesture, he set the trend as we know it.
All the same, George Washington became the very first President of the United States of America on April 30, 1789—whether he wanted it or not. It’s not the tale of pre-destined leadership we’ve come to expect, but it does make for one great origin story.