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George Washington and the Founding of the U.S. Government


The founding of the United States government is intimately intertwined with George Washington’s own biography.

When exploring this topic, in civics, government, or history classes, students can connect to the big ideas of democracy through the choices made and opinions held by the man in the center of it all. As the president of the constitutional convention and the United States’ first president, Washington felt the responsibility to ensure the democratic experiment survived.


The Acts of Congress

George Washington’s copy of the Acts passed at a Congress of the United States of American (New-York, 1789) contains key founding documents establishing the Union: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and a record of acts passed by the first Congress. In the margins of four separate pages Washington wrote the words “President,” “Powers,” and “Required,” underscoring the responsibilities of the first Chief Executive.

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George Washington to Edward Carrington, May 1, 1796

This letter to Virginia statesman Edward Carrington, dated May 1, 1796 provides a glimpse into Washington’s mindset regarding the Jay Treaty.

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Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796

Published in a Philadelphia newspaper on September 19, 1796, Washington used his Farewell Address to outline his advice to the new nation as he prepared to leave the presidency after two terms.

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The Material Culture of the Presidency

Eight objects from the Mount Vernon collection highlight how President George Washington used clothing and household furnishing to convey not only his own style and character, but the views of the young nation as well.

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Food Supply Ledger, May 19-25, 1794

The Presidential household in Philadelphia was a bustling place. Weekly dinners and receptions hosted by George and Martha Washington required a large amount of food. This food ledger details the food ordered and the associated costs for one week in the Presidential household.

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Additional Primary Sources Related to the Presidency

  • How did the personality of individuals contribute to shaping the founding of the United States Government?

  • How did Regional Differences and State identities challenge the formation of the nation?

  • How did George Washington determine what his role and responsibilities should be as the first president of the United States?