Though George Washington is probably best known as the father of our country, he also achieved a great deal during his two terms of presidency (1789-1797), as the first president of the United States. On February 4, 1789, he became the unanimous choice of the Electoral college, and upon being notified on April 14, Washington left the comfort of his Mount Vernon home in Virginia to blaze a trail in American history, “with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express” (215). Among his most important decisions were to adopt Hamilton’s assumption plan, install Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton in his cabinet, and keep the United States neutral in the French Revolution. It was these decisions that were among the most influential made by Washington during his presidency.
An important decision Washington made was to adopt Hamilton’s assumption plan to resolve the debt crisis. With this plan, Hamilton proposed that the federal government take over the unpaid war debts of the states. By doing so, the nation would be strengthened “by doing away with the necessity of thirteen complicated and different systems of state finance” (236). Most of the taxes would be carried into the federal system, so it would be in all public creditors’ best interests to support the central government. This however, provoked the states like Virginia, who had already paid off most of her debts and did not want to pay taxes to bail out other states. Meanwhile, Massachusetts and Carolina threatened to secede from the Union if the other states did not help them pay all their debts. Washington drew up a “Plan of American Finance” where all taxes were collected by the Union because “expenses of the war had been incurred in a common cause” (236). He then made the important decision to compromise: northern votes to put capital in the south in exchange for southern votes to pass assumption. This was a significant decision because he prevented the succession of Massachusetts and Carolina, while resolving to pay the national war debt. With the help of Jefferson, he also resolved the issue of the location of the permanent national capital. Another significant outcome was that Congress decided that the permanent capital should be on the Potomac, and that Washington was empowered to pick the exact spot, allowing him the opportunity to create the great city near Mount Vernon he had been dreaming of. The decision to adopt Hamilton’s assumption proposal created a significant impact on the Union’s economic status.
Another significant decision Washington made during his presidency was to appoint Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as Secretaries of State and Treasury, respectively. After all, “Hamilton and Jefferson were born to hate each other” (232). Though these appointments undoubtedly caused much conflict, some of it worked out for the betterment of hte country. They competed for Washington’s favor and attention, though Washington displayed a sense of fairness unparalleled by many of his presidential successors, not letting friendship bias his decisions. He chose his cabinet based on ideals htat appealed to him, not just popular leaders in his party. “Only Washington transcended the dichotomy, wishing to gather equally from both systems what he considered most useful” (249). By having Jefferson and Hamilton simultaneously hold offices, partisanships grew, eventually influencing politics today. Though this was a significant and important decision in American history because of hte message Washington tried to convey, it may not have completely been a wise one, for the two lost much time bickering instead of working. Both Jefferson and Hamilton threatened several times to quit, but Washington urged the to remain (partly for selfish reasons) even though they could never agree with the other. Thanks to Washington’s decision to instill these two men with completely opposite ideas, the chasm between the partisanships became more apparent, and influence present day American politics.
One great accomplishment of Washington’s was to keep the United States neutral during the French Revolution, as well as the war between England and France. It was a difficult call to make because of the great role France played in the American Revolution. Some citizens felt that the United States was betraying France and freedom. Washington justified his decision by saying “if we are permitted to improve without interruption…many years will not revolve before we may be ranked not only among the most respectable but among the happiest people on this globe” (277). This decision was significant because it led to his “face-saving proviso” (284), the Neutrality Proclamation later on during the war between England and France. This proclamation defined the American policy towards European conflicts as neutral and shaped foreign policy of the future. By keeping America out of the clash, Washington allowed the new, weak country to continue to grow and become stronger before getting involved in any overseas wars. Joining any war would have exhausted the young nation’s resources, and Washington was wise in making that decision.
Throughout his life, George Washington was a charismatic, influential man who made many good decisions, along with his share of bad ones, all of which influenced the fate of America. He adopted a compromised form of Hamilton’s assumption plan, thus creating a way to pay the national debt while pleasing all the states. He also appointed Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to his cabinet, even though they had very different views about things, creating a deeper chasm between their parties, and shaping politics for years to come, while displaying that it does not always matter what party a person comes from if they have a good idea that can help the country. Washington also managed to keep the United States neutral in the French Revolution, defining foreign policy of the future and giving the young nation an opportunity to grow before getting involved in overseas affairs. George Washington’s role as a founding father did not only consist of crossing the Delaware, but also many other important decisions crucial to the development of the young United States.