The Constitutional Convention

The conclusion of the Revolutionary War led George Washington back to his estate at Mount Vernon and to his land holdings out west, where he tended to duties that had fallen into disrepair during his time off at war. As the newly independent colonies began making progress toward becoming a self-governing nation, the Continental Congress organized a Continental Convention to meet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in order to draft a permanent constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation had been drafted by the Continental Congress during the American War for Independence to help guide the colonies through the war and to create some semblance of central government for the colonies at this time. At first, Washington declined invitations to attend the convention. He even expressed cynicism concerning the future of the colonies and the possibility of establishing a functioning government in the absence of British rule. However, in 1787, he finally conceded, due primarily to the coaxing of James Madison and General Henry Knox, an old military partner of Washington's during the revolution. He attended the Constitutional Convention and was unanimously elected its president. His role as the president of the Convention was mostly nonpartisan, overseeing debates between differing opinions of the convention members and ensuring order throughout the four-month ordeal. As far as George Washington's personal opinions concerning the new government of the newly independent colonies, he believed that a very strong central government would be essential to maintain order and ensure prosperity in the new nation. In fact, he referred to the old Articles of Confederation as a "rope of sand," providing a weak form of national government. Also, despite the fact that he had agreed to join the convention and become its president, he was not entirely confident in its ability to lay a solid foundation for the new nation. In fact, as the convention's debates rolled on, he commented to convention member Alexander Hamilton that he doubted he would see "a favorable issue to the proceedings of our convention" and that he regretted ever agreeing to contribute. His personal opinions were rarely introduced into the debates, however. Nonetheless, the fact that many members of the Constitutional Convention were already planning on nominating and electing Washington as the first executive leader of their new nation did influence several of the outcomes of the convention. For example, the convention voted to have a single executive leader rather than a three-man panel of leaders. Furthermore, once the final draft of the new Constitution was completed, many of the votes cast in favor of it were as a result of Washington's lobbying efforts on behalf of the governing document. Eventually, not only the majority of the Constitutional Convention members ratified the new Constitution but also all thirteen states approved of it. Without a doubt, George Washington's crucial role in the Constitutional Convention led to his unanimous election as the first President of the newly formed United States of America.