On April 30, 1789, George Washington, standing on the
balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York, took his oath of
office as the first President of the United States. "As the first of
every thing, in our situation will serve to establish a Precedent,"
he wrote James Madison, "it is devoutly wished on my part, that
these precedents may be fixed on true principles."
Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, he
learned the morals, manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an
18th century Virginia gentleman.
He pursued two intertwined interests: military arts
and western expansion. At 16 he helped survey Shenandoah lands for
Thomas, Lord Fairfax. Commissioned a lieutenant colonel in 1754, he
fought the first skirmishes of what grew into the French and Indian
War. The next year, as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, he escaped
injury although four bullets ripped his coat and two horses were
shot from under him.