Explore the timeline to learn about George Washington's significance as a national symbol. As you read the information, think about the relationship between your understanding of our nation’s history and your participation in ongoing conversations about historical monuments, history curricula, civic values, and identity.

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Hospitality at Mount Vernon

George Washington’s plantation and mansion, Mount Vernon, emerges as the new nation’s most visited and symbolic tourist site. The Washingtons become well-known for their hospitality, welcoming visitors from the U.S. and abroad.

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Washington's Image Captured

Washington's image is captured by leading artists including Charles Willson Peale, Edward Savage, Jean-Antoine Houdon, John Trumbull, and Gilbert Stuart. Copies of these portraits and busts circulate to a much wider audience through different media, such as engravings and molds.

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I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view [my errors] with indulgence and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.”

George Washington’s “Farewell Address” is published in 1796 in a newspaper in Philadelphia, and quickly becomes famous


1799, December 14

George Washington Dies

Between ten and eleven at night on December 14, 1799, George Washington passes away. He is surrounded by people who were close to him. On December 18, 1799, a solemn funeral is held at Mount Vernon.

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1799, December 29

We, my friends, have particular cause to bemoan our loss. To us he has been the sympathising friend and tender father. He has watched over us, and viewed our degraded and afflicted state with compassion and pity — his heart was not insensible to our sufferings... he dared to do his duty, and wipe off the only stain with which man could ever reproach him.”

Rev. Richard Allen eulogizes George Washington to his congregation in Philadelphia, the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, two weeks after Washington’s death.

Washington Image Shared

The image of Washington’s death as well as his apotheosis—meaning his treatment as almost a god-like figure—is frequently depicted in speeches, paintings, and other artifacts, such as Liverpool jugs.

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1852, July 5

Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchers of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men shout — “We have Washington to our father.” — Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is. ”

Frederick Douglass, “What to the slave is the fourth of July?”



The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association Purchases Mount Vernon

This group of elite women from across the country argues that Mount Vernon and Washington’s legacy must be preserved as a national historic site. In order to do so, they raise huge sums of money to buy the property.

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Mount Vernon Remains Open During Civil War

Although close to the scenes of war, Mount Vernon remains non-partisan during the Civil War and largely safe. People continue to visit the site, including soldiers from both the Union and the Confederacy.

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Washington Monument

After decades of fundraising, interruptions, and slow work, the Washington Monument is completed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The 550-foot stone obelisk is the tallest such monument in the world.

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Washington's Birthday

Many people have celebrated Washington’s birthday since the late 18th century. The U.S. Congress decides to make it a holiday for all federal offices. Beginning in 1896, the Senate celebrates Washington’s birthday each year by having a member from alternating parties read the entirety of his “Farewell Address.”

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1976, July 4

As one of the many recognitions of the bicentennial of American Independence, the U.S. Congress passes a resolution promoting Washington to “General of the Armies of the United States.” This honor permanently makes Washington the highest-ranking U.S. military officer.

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Washington statues in Trenton, NJ, Portland, OR, Baltimore, MD, New York, NY and other cities are vandalized with red point and graffiti or toppled in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the spread of Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S.

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Personal Reflection

What is the relationship between how I understand our nation’s history and the ways that I engage in civic life?

What responsibilities and opportunities do I have to participate in the ongoing national and local conversations about historical monuments, history curricula, and civic values and identity?

Think About the Big Picture

What is the relationship between national leaders and civic responsibilities and participation?

How do our nation’s historical symbols and narratives reflect and influence who we are as a people?

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