George Washington, the first President of the United States, served the two terms of his presidency on a timeline from 1789 to 1797. His time in office set the precedent for future leaders and established many of the customs and traditions still in use today.
Washington’s leadership during the American Revolution and his reputation as “the father of his country” made him the natural choice to lead the newly-formed government. His decisions and actions during his time in office laid the foundations for a stable and successful nation.
Some of his best qualities, including leadership, integrity, and humility, were the exact ideal that our founders hoped could inspire and guide all Americans. His Presidency is considered one of the most important in American history, and his legacy continues to shape the nation even today.
5 Major Accomplishments of George Washington’s Presidency
While George Washington’s presidency was filled with important events, five of his major accomplishments include:
- Signed the Judiciary Act of 1789 and established tradition of cabinet advisors
- Signed the 1793 Neutrality Proclamation keeping the US out of war between Britain and France
- Personally led troops to quell the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion
- Signed the Jay Treaty to avert war with Britain and further open the frontier for settlement
- Issued Farewell Address to formally step down as President
While the constitution established the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, it only really outlined the federal judiciary. In the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress and Washington filled in the details, formally creating the Supreme Court and establishing federal circuit and district courts across the nation.
Washington also organized his principal officers and established the cabinet system for his advisors, a tradition that has continued to this day.
A key aspect of Washington’s presidency was how he effectively quelled the frontier uprising known as the Whiskey Rebellion. Washington showed his mettle by personally leading the troops, scattering the rebels, and showcasing an effective response following the near catastrophic Shays’ Rebellion in 1786.
From a foreign policy standpoint, Washington successfully kept the young and relatively weak United States out of European wars. His 1793 Neutrality Proclamation established the US as a neutral nation that relied upon free market principles and commerce.
The Jay Treaty of 1794 helped further avert war with Great Britain while also requiring the British to finally evacuate their frontier forts, helping to open up settlement. Both actions angered longtime ally France, but the barbarity of the French Revolution had helped to sour Franco-American relations by this point.
Finally, Washington stepped down after issuing his important Farewell Address, helping to ensure a peaceful transition of power.
Timeline of George Washington’s Presidency
The timeline of George Washington’s presidency began in 1789 when he was unanimously elected as the first President and ended in 1797 following the end of his second term.
Although the United States had existed for over a decade already, Washington was the first executive leader under the new Constitution after the failure of the Articles of Confederation.
The viability of the United States as a nation arguably rested on Washington’s ability to help shape and lead the new government. Another failed experiment and the United States may have crumbled.
Washington’s First Term (1789-1793)
January 1789: In the first election, the ten participating states unanimously elected George Washington as President. Three states did not participate: Rhode Island and North Carolina had not ratified the Constitution yet, and New York’s legislature did not choose electors by the deadline.
April 1789: On April 6th, Congress formally counted the electoral votes and certified Washington as President. Washington delivered his inaugural address on April 30th at Federal Hall in New York City, then the nation’s capital.
July 1789: Congress passed its first tariff to help collect federal revenues as a source of income to offset the national debt. Nicknamed the “Hamilton Tariff,” it helped expose sectional tensions that would continue over the next several decades.
September 1789: Washington signed the Judiciary Act of 1789, better defining the role of the federal judiciary and officially creating the Supreme Court. The President nominated John Jay as Chief Justice who was then unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
March 1790: Congress passed the Naturalization Act, the first act to establish terms of United States citizenship. The initial act limited citizenship to free white people only and required a two year residency. The Naturalization Act of 1795 raised the residency requirement to five years and then the hated Alien and Sedition Acts further increased the requirement to 14 years.1
July 1790: Washington signed the Residence Act, creating a site along the Potomac River as the District of Columbia and future residence of the nation’s capital. The act passed through Congress largely due to the significant Compromise of 1790.
August 1790: With the support of Thomas Jefferson (in exchange for the Residency Act), Hamilton’s financial plan for the federal government to assume states’ Revolutionary war debts was signed by President Washington. Nearly half of the assumption of state debts came from southern states.2
December 1790: The nation’s capital moved to Philadelphia from its temporary home in New York City.
February 1791: Washington signed the Bank Act of 1791, creating the First Bank of the United States on a twenty year charter. In 1811, President Madison allowed the Bank’s charter to expire, though he eventually backed the creation of the Second Bank of the United States in 1816 following the disastrous effects of having no national bank during the War of 1812.
March 1791: Congress enacted the Whiskey Excise Tax to help bring in additional revenue to pay down federal debt. The act was extremely unpopular on the frontier and led to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.
Vermont joined the Union as the 14th state.
September 1791: Commissioners name the newly-minted District of Columbia the “City of Washington” after the first President.
November 1791: St. Clair’s Defeat against the Northwest Confederacy on the frontier led to the loss of nearly 1,000 Americans. After the worst defeat the United States ever had against Native Americans, Washington opened his first investigation of the executive branch into the incident and subsequently named General “Mad Anthony” Wayne as the new Commander on the frontier.
April 1792: Washington issued the first ever presidential veto against a bill designed to reapportion representatives among the states based on results from the 1790 census. The bill’s contents were unconstitutional, argued Washington, and gave a distinct advantage to northern states with additional representatives.3
June 1792: Congress admitted Kentucky into the Union as the 15th state.
December 1792: Electors unanimously reelected Washington for a second term as President. Washington is still to this day the only President to ever have been unanimously elected.
February 1793: Washington signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. This act provided the legal mechanism to enforce the Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause (Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3). Congress later strengthened the law with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that enraged northerners prior to the Civil War.
Washington’s Second Term (1793-1797)
March 1793: George Washington’s second inauguration was held in Philadelphia. Washington delivered his second inaugural address in just 135 words, the shortest inaugural address ever.
April 1793: Washington issued the Neutrality Proclamation, declaring the United States’ neutrality in the conflict between Britain and France.
May 1793: Washington received the new French Minister to the United States, Edmond Charles Genet. Later dubbed “Citizen Genet,” his mission was to persuade America to honor the 1778 alliance formed following the Battle of Saratoga.
Genet’s presence became a scandal after he enlisted privateers and recruited a militia to fight the British. The Citizen Genet Affair ended after Washington demanded the French recall the ambassador.
December 1793: Thomas Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State largely from a desire to retire to private life, something he had sought since returning from France in 1790.4
March 1794: The Naval Act of 1794 authorized the creation of six naval frigates and created the U.S. Navy. The frigates were useful during the Quasi-War with France following the insulting XYZ Affair in 1797.
August 1794: “Mad Anthony” Wayne decisively defeated the Northwest Confederacy at the significant Battle of Fallen Timbers. It was the last major hostility of the Northwest Indian War.
October 1794: President Washington personally led militia and federal troops into western Pennsylvania to suppress a rebellion from frontier farmers opposed to the Whiskey Excise Tax of 1791. Now known as the Whiskey Rebellion, the resistance soon sputtered out after the show of force.
January 1795: Alexander Hamilton resigned as the Treasury Secretary citing personal and financial reasons as well as a growing divide between him and Washington over Hamilton’s controversial and combative presence.5
August 1795: Washington signed the controversial Jay Treaty with Great Britain. Originally signed in December 1794 by John Jay and Lord Grenville of Britain, the treaty took months to ratify in the Senate as its contents proved extremely divisive to the populace.
The Jay Treaty ultimately helped contribute to the rise of political parties, and in particular, the Jeffersonian Democrats that organized against Hamiltonian policies.
October 1795: Pinckney’s Treaty with Spain was signed by Thomas Pinckney. Washington later signed the treaty in March 1796. The treaty opened the Mississippi River for American trade by giving frontier farmers the right to ship their goods through the Spanish port of New Orleans without paying duties to Spain.
December 1795: Washington signed the important Treaty of Greenville following Senate ratification. The treaty brought a tentative peace to the Northwest Territory and allowed scores of settlers to flood newly-acquired land in Ohio.
June 1796: Tennessee qualified to join the Union as the 16th state.
September 1796: Washington published his famous Farewell Address announcing his intention to retire from the office of the Presidency. In the address, he provided the American people with several warnings and other advice that have echoed through time.
November 1796: The United States signed a treaty with the Dey of Algiers to provide tribute in exchange for the protection of American shipping through the Mediterranean Sea.
December 1796: John Adams narrowly won the significant election of 1796 against Thomas Jefferson. Washington declined to support either candidate.
To recap, the timeline of George Washington’s presidency lasted from 1789-1797 and consisted of two consecutive terms in office.
Washington’s first term was far more productive and featured an administration and Congress that was willing to work together to create the new government’s first laws, policies, and procedures. By his second term, that unity had drastically disappeared with deep divisions forming among the leaders and populace.
It is arguable that even Washington’s leadership and prestige could not keep the two distinct political factions from forming. Should he have run for a third term, it’s unlikely he would have won unanimously for a third time.
Despite the tumultuous ending, Washington was by far the best man to lead the nation through those uncertain early years. He relied heavily upon his advisors, men like Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, to help guide the direction of the new government and define the proper role of the presidency.
Due to his commanding leadership that garnered great respect, Washington’s presidency was a resounding success that established precedents still followed in the modern day.
To learn more about US history, check out this timeline of the history of the United States.
1) Cohen, Elizabeth F. “Jus Tempus in the Magna Carta: The Sovereignty of Time in Modern Politics and Citizenship.” PS: Political Science and Politics, vol. 43, no. 3, 2010, pp. 463–66. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25699351.
2) Cooke, Jacob E. “The Compromise of 1790.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 4, 1970, pp. 524–45. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1919703.
3) Thomson, Harry C. “The First Presidential Vetoes.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 1, 1978, pp. 27–32. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27547373.
4) Marsh, Philip M. “Jefferson’s Retirement as Secretary of State.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 69, no. 3, 1945, pp. 220–24. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20087764.
5) Morris, Richard B. “Washington and Hamilton: A Great Collaboration.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 102, no. 2, 1958, pp. 107–16. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/985273.