George Washington's Presidency

Start Free Trial

What is the lasting impact of George Washington?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The impact of George Washington is truly massive considering his instrumental role in the founding of the United States. For starters, his command of the Continental Army saw to the eventual victory of the American forces during the Revolution. His overall strategy in this conflict hinged mostly on keeping the...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The impact of George Washington is truly massive considering his instrumental role in the founding of the United States. For starters, his command of the Continental Army saw to the eventual victory of the American forces during the Revolution. His overall strategy in this conflict hinged mostly on keeping the army from falling apart until French aid could be secured. It is impossible to know if another commander would have been able to lead an underdog army to victory against the most powerful military in the world, but Washington was certainly able to do so against all odds.

As the nation's first president, George Washington set the tone of leadership for the country. He was very concerned that the position of the president not be elevated too high and resemble a monarchy. When he voluntarily decided not to run for a third term, all other second-term presidents followed suit until FDR. He also knew the importance of having good council. Therefore, he built a cabinet of advisors, something that is not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution, yet every president has done it as well.

Because of the critical role that he played in the country's early history, Washington has become a symbol of the ideal American statesman ever since. His courage in battle and military genius have been extolled for over two centuries. Later politicians have sought to follow his example in many ways. He remains today one of the most revered symbols of the country and is considered the father of the nation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George Washington's (1732–1799) status in the United States as "Father of the Nation" and Primus Inter Pares is cemented by his achievements as a statesman and military leader: delegate to the Continental Congress, commanding general of the victorious Continental Army, signatory of the Constitution, and first President of the United States. In 1831 the Earl of Carlisle visited Washington's tomb at Mount Vernon and, in later remarks, described him as "that most illustrious of mortals."

Washington's most enduring contribution to the political history of the United States, however, comes in the restraint of his actions, which set a blueprint for future presidents. While Americans had long enjoyed and experienced elected legislative bodies, during Washington's life, experimentation with a democratically chosen chief executive was limited. At numerous points Washington's popularity was such that he could have consolidated power in himself. However, in each instance he demurred. Two points are remarkable in a list of opportunities Washington chose not to action.

In 1783, an abortive military coup—the so-called "Newburgh conspiracy"—that would have seen Washington installed as generalissimo fell apart after the general refused to participate and chastised the plotting officers. In fact, Washington's earlier decision to resign his commission in the Continental Army and enter retirement prompted George III to declare that it "placed him in a light the most distinguished of any man living . . . the greatest character of the age."

Again, in 1797, Washington—though an easy choice for a third term as president—chose not to run for re-election, declaring his wish to "pass through the vale of life in retirement, undisturbed in the remnant of the days I have to sojourn here."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Washington's legacy also lies in his "Farewell Address" of 1796, which he gave when he decided not to run for a third term. He referred to the advice he gave in his speech as "the disinterested warnings of a parting friend."

In many ways his speech was prescient, as he foresaw many of the troubles that would beset the country and that in many ways continue to plague the country. He warned of the geographic differences between North and South that could threaten the Union and stated that the Union was stronger than the individual sections of the country. He also warned of political divides that could separate the country. Finally, he warned the nation about becoming involved in foreign wars and affairs. All of these issues have continued to divide our nation. Though many would argue that being isolationist is not possible in today's world, Washington's words are still a reminder to work toward national unity and to weigh our involvement in other nations' affairs carefully.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The lasting impact of George Washington is that he legitimized the United States presidency and set precedents that remain today, such as the presidential veto and two-term limit (which later became law). He rejected the idea of a monarchy in favor of a democratic republic.

Within the executive branch of the newly formed government, Washington created the cabinet and many of its appointments, such as the secretaries of the treasury and state. 

Washington believed that the United States military must serve the citizenry as opposed to the military dominating the citizenry and establishing martial law. 

 

Washington's desire to establish and define a democratic republic far outweighed his personal ambitions to amass power. He was more interested in establishing a country that created federal authority, produced educated citizens, expanded commerce and transportation, and had a consolidated national identity despite its immense size.  

 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

George Washington's most important lasting impact came from the fact that he walked away from the Presidency after two terms in office.  This made it possible for the United States to be what it is today.

In many new countries, popular leaders like Washington stay on as long as possible.  They make themselves into dictators and suppress political opposition.  A good example of this is Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe today.  Washington could easily have become like this because he was so popular.

Instead, Washington stepped down from office and set a precedent.  He established the idea that the US really would be a nation of laws and not a country where leaders would hold on to power until they were forced to step down.  Because of this, the US has enjoyed a stable and democratic government ever since.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team