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What did Washington learn about the country and its people during his tours of the states?

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Source 1: Washington's Tour of the States

Read As you read this secondary source, think about why a president would want to travel to different parts of the country.

Washington's Northern Tour

After he was elected president, George Washington made three tours of the United States—one to New England in 1789, another to Long Island in 1790, and a third tour to the southern states in 1791.

On his tour of New England—which he called “the Eastern States”—Washington was pleased to find the country, “in a great deal, recovered from the ravages of War.” He remarked that the recent harvests had been plentiful and that trade with foreign countries and manufacturing had grown. In general, the people of New England seemed to be satisfied with their lives. They also seemed satisfied with their new federal government.

At first, Washington had intended to visit every region of the young nation after he became president. Unfortunately, his tour of the southern states was delayed until March of 1791 because of his responsibilities as president and personal matters at Mount Vernon. Washington estimated that his journey down the East Coast and back would cover more than 1700 miles.

This coach from Mount Vernon is very similar to the one Washington used for travel.
This coach from Mount Vernon is very similar to the one Washington used for travel.

This coach from Mount Vernon is very similar to the one Washington used for travel.

A Tour of the Southern States

During his tour of the South, Washington asked people for their opinion about a tax that had recently passed in Congress. In South Carolina, he met with Catawba chiefs about their treaty rights. He also spoke with the governor of Georgia about the issue of fugitive slaves.

Washington was particularly interested in the economy of the region. He made lists of the agricultural goods produced in each area, and he kept track of the primary shipping ports. He also commented on how river navigation might be improved in some areas. Drawing from his experience as a farmer, Washington made note of which areas of the South had land that was good for farming and which ones did not.

What Do You Think?

What do the details in this text tell you about George Washington? Look closely at the portrait. What impression of Washington do you get from it? Put this information together and think about what you now know about George Washington.

George Washington’s Letter to Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay Graham, 9 January 1790

Read Inspect this letter Washington wrote to his friend Catherine Graham during his Northern Tour. As you read, think about what he learned from his travels.

"…On the actual situation of this Country under its new Government I will, in the next place, make a few remarks. That the Government, though not absolutely perfect, is one of the best in the world, I have little doubt. I always believed that an free and equal Representation of the People in the Legislature, together with an efficient and responsable Executive, were the great Pillars on which the preservation of American Freedom must depend. It was indeed next to a Miracle that there should have been so much , in points of such importance, among such a number of Citizens, so widely scattered, and so different in their habits in many respects as the Americans were. Nor are the growing unanimity and encreasing goodwill of the Citizens to the Government less remarkable than favorable circumstances. So far as we have gone with the new Government (and it is completely organized and in operation) we have had greater reason than the most could expect to be satisfied with its success."

“Perhaps a number of accidental circumstances have concurred with the real effects of the Government to make the People uncommonly well pleased with their situation and prospects. The harvests of wheat have been remarkably good, the demand for that article from abroad is great, the encrease of Commerce is visible in every Port, and the number of new manufactures introduced in one year is astonishing. I have lately made a tour through the Eastern States. I found the country, in a great degree, recovered from the ravages of War, the Towns flourishing, and the People delighted with a government instituted by themselves and for their own good. The same facts I have also reason to believe, from good authority, exist in the Southern States. By what I have just observed, I think you will be persuaded that the ill-boding Politicians who that America would never enjoy any fruits from her independence, and that she would be obliged to have recourse to a foreign Power for protection, have at least been mistaken…"

Check Your Understanding

Washington remarks to his friend that the new government is one of the best in the world. He states that American freedom depends upon a responsible president as well as the free and equal representation of the people in Congress. Citizens far and wide seem to approve of the new government. Washington suggests that perhaps the good economy has something to do with people’s approval of the government. After traveling to a number of states, Washington reports that most of the country has recovered from the war and that towns are growing. He believes the southern states are also prospering. Washington says that the people who expected the colonists to fail after winning independence have been proved wrong.

What Do You Think?

Talk with a partner about what Washington wrote in his letter to Catherine Graham in 1790. How does he feel about the future of the United States so soon after the Revolution?

Source 3: Passage from Washington’s Diary During His Southern Tour

Read Investigate the diary entry Washington wrote during the Southern Tour. Think about what he learns from the people living in the southern states.

Excerpt from Washington's diary (Saturday, June 4, 1791)

"…The manners of the people, as far as my observations, and means of information extended, were orderly and Civil. And they appeared to be happy, contented and satisfied with the genl. governmt. under which they were placed. Where the case was otherwise, it was not difficult to trace the cause to some demago[g]ue, or speculating character. In Georgia the dissatisfied part of them at the late treaty with the [Creelk] Indians were evidently Land Jobbers, who, Maugre every principle of Justice to the Indians & policy to their Country would, for their own immediate emolument, strip the Indns. of all their territory if they could obtain the least countenance to the measure. But it is to be hoped the good sense of the State will set its face against such diabolical attempts: And it is also to be wished and by many it was said it might be expected—that the Sales by that State to what are called the Yazoo Companies would fall through."

"The discontents which it was supposed the last Revenue Act (commonly known by the Excise Law) would create subside as fast as the law is explained and little was said of the Banking Act."

Credit: Library of Congress

Check Your Understanding

Washington writes that the people of the southern colonies are orderly and kind. They appear to be happy, and they are satisfied with the government. However, Washington notes this is not the case everywhere. In Georgia, local people are angry about a treaty the government had signed with the Creek Indians. Washington claims that the anger of local citizens was being provoked by greedy people who wished to make money off of Native American lands. Washington hopes that the state of Georgia will have the good sense not to try selling the land.

What Do You Think?

Talk with a partner about Washington's diary entry about his Southern Tour. What differences do you find between this tour and his Northern Tour? What similarities are there?

Source 4: The 1791 Southern Tour Map

Inspect Follow Washington's route from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Georgia. Washington visited many places on his Southern Tour. Click on the locations below to get more information about some of the places Washington visited and what he did there.

What Do You Think?

Talk with a partner about Washington’s diary entry about his Southern Tour. Compare what you learned from that to the information on the map. What additional information does the map provide that the diary entry doesn't?

What did you find out?

What did Washington learn about the country and its people during his tours of the states? Download worksheet

Think about what you have learned. How does this information connect to the Essential Question, How did George Washington's travels help him when he became president?

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Focus Question 1

How did George Washington's experiences in the Ohio River Valley as a young man prepare him to become a leader?

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Focus Question 2

What did Washington learn about leadership from his travels and challenges during the American Revolution?

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