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Setting the Stage

George Washington (1732-1799) became involved in military and political affairs long before most American colonists considered breaking away from Britain. In 1754, for example, Virginia's governor sent the 21-year-old Washington to the Ohio Valley to warn the French to stay out of lands claimed by Great Britain; the ensuing French and Indian War provided him valuable military experience. In subsequent years he gained election to Virginia's colonial assembly and became a justice in his county's court system.

In 1774 Washington was one of Virginia's representatives to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The following year delegates to the Second Continental Congress chose him to lead the newly-created Continental Army. Twenty years had passed since he had commanded troops, but he was a man of upright character, favored moderate politics, and could be counted on to secure Virginia's support for a fight whose main advocates were concentrated in New England. Washington led this army to victory over the British, then retired to his plantation. He reentered public life in 1787, when he agreed to preside over the convention called to find solutions to the problems that existed under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution that emerged from that summer in Philadelphia established the office of President, and Washington was the obvious choice to fill the position.




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