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March 2023
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WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799), prominent American statesman of the era of the American British colonies’ struggle for their independence; commander in chief of the colonial troops; President of the United States in 1789-97. The son of a large Virginia plantation owner, Washington engaged in land speculation and amassed a huge fortune. On the eve of and during the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), Washington took part in the struggle against the French and in campaigns against the Indians. The latter resulted in the mass extermination of Indians.

In the North American colonies’ War of Liberation from British dominion, Washington unequivocally stood for the defense of the colonies’ interests. In 1774 he was elected to the first Continental Congress and in 1775 to the second Congress. At the start of the War of Independence ( q.v. ) (1775-83), the Congress, after the battles of Lexington and Concord, appointed Washington commander in chief of the colonial army. Washington played an important role in transforming the untrained and undisciplined colonial troops into a battle-fit and well-organized army. He also managed to strengthen the bonds between the colonies. With the aid from various countries and especially with aid from France, whose double aim was to fortify her position in America and deal a blow against Britain, Washington’s army, after a series of defeats, came out victorious in the war against the British and won independence for the former thirteen colonies. This was a historically progressive act. But when in 1786 the masses demanded that the promises given them during the war to improve their lot be fulfilled and started a rebellion ( see Shays’ Rebellion), Washington headed the reactionary force which was organized to mete out punishment against the rebels. Under his chairmanship, the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention (1787) secretly drafted a new constitution assuring the bourgeoisie and the plantation slave-owners that the masses would be altogether deprived of participation in the administration of the State. On the basis of this constitution Washington was elected first President of the United States in 1789. (He was elected a second time in 1792).

During the Jacobin dictatorship in France, Washington, fearing the influence the Jacobin revolutionary ideas might have on the American people, began to conduct an ever increasingly reactionary policy. He suppressed the 1794 Pennsylvania farmers’ uprising and simultaneously destroyed the emerging democratic clubs. Fear of revolution caused him to seek a rapprochement with Britain.

In 1793 Washington declared neutrality in the war which the counterrevolutionary European coalition waged against his ally, revolutionary France, thus violating the treaty of alliance signed with the latter. Under Washington’s influence the United States in 1794 signed a disadvantageous and humiliating commercial treaty with Britain ( see Jay’s Treaty). This treaty called forth widespread dissatisfaction in the United States.

As one of the leaders of the American people’s struggle for independence, Washington played an objectively progressive role. At the same time he invariably remained an exponent and defender of the plantation owners and the bourgeoisie .

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Comment by Marcus Cunliffe, author of George Washington, Man and Monument:

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