George Washington

George Washington


George Washington was the successful Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, and later became the first President of the United States, an office to which he was elected, unanimously, twice and remained in from 1789 to 1797.


  • Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude.
    • Letter to Governor Dinwiddie (29 May 1754)

  • There is a Destiny which has the control of our actions, not to be resisted by the strongest efforts of Human Nature.
    • Letter to Mrs. George William Fairfax (12 September 1758)

  • But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.
    • Washington's formal acceptance of command of the Army (16 June 1775), quoted in The Writings of George Washington : Life of Washington (1837) edited by Jared Sparks, p. 141

  • Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.
    • Letter of Instructions to the Captains of the Virginia Regiments (29 July 1759)

  • Every post is honorable in which a man can serve his country.

  • I have often thought how much happier I should have been, if instead of accepting of a command under such circumstances, I had taken my musket upon my shoulders and entered the rank, or if I could have justified the measure of posterity, and my own conscience, had retired to the back country, and lived in a wigwam. If I shall be able to rise superior to these, and many other difficulties which might be enumerated, I shall most religiously believe that the finger of Providence is in it, to blind the eyes of our enemies; for surely if we get well through this month, it must be for want of their knowing the disadvantages we labor under. Could I have forseen the difficulties which have come upon us, could I have known that such a backwardness would have been discovered in the old soldiers to the service, all the generals upon earth should not have convinced me of the propriety of delaying an attack upon Boston till this time.
    • In a letter to Reed, during the siege of Boston (January 14, 1776)-McCullogh pg 79

  • To expect ... the same service from raw and undisciplined recruits, as from veteran soldiers, is to expect what never did and perhaps never will happen. Men, who are familiarized to danger, meet it without shrinking; whereas troops unused to service often apprehend danger where no danger is.
    • Letter to the President of Congress (9 February 1776)

  • Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world that a Freeman, contending for liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.
    • General Orders, Headquarters, New York (2 July 1776)

  • The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.
    • General Order, (9 July 1776) George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 3g Varick Transcripts

  • The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.

  • If I were to put a curse on my worst enemy, it would to be to wish him in my posistion now. I just do not know what to do. It seems impossible to continue my command in this situation, but if I withdraw, all will be lost.
    • After the fall of Fort Washington, 1776

  • There is nothing that gives a man consequence, and renders him fit for command, like a support that renders him independent of everybody but the State he serves.
    • Letter to the president of Congress, Heights of Harlem (24 September 1776)

  • To place any dependence upon militia, is, assuredly, resting upon a broken staff.Men just dragged from the tender scenes of domestic life - unaccustomed to the din of arms - totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill, which being followed by a want of confidence in themselves when opposed to troops regularly trained, disciplined, and appointed, superior in knowledge, and superior in arms, makes them timid and read to fly from their own shadows.
    • Letter to the president of Congress, Heights of Harlem (24 September 1776)

  • Parade with me my brave fellows, we will have them soon!

  • My brave fellows, you have done all I asked you to do, and more than can be reasonably expected; but your country is at stake, your wives, your houses and all that you hold dear. You have worn yourselves out with fatigues and hardships, but we know not how to spare you. If you will consent to stay one month longer, you will render that service to the cause of liberty, and to your country, which you probably can never do under any other circumstances.
    • Encouraging his men to re-enlist in the army (31 December 1776)

  • While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.
    • General Orders (2 May 1778); published in Writings of George Washington (1932), Vol.XI, pp. 342-343

  • No distance can keep anxious lovers long asunder.
    • Letter to the Marquis de Lafayette (30 September 1779)

  • A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man, that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of his friends, and that the most liberal professions of good will are very far from being the surest marks of it. I should be happy that my own experience had afforded fewer examples of the little dependence to be placed upon them.
    • Letter to Major-General John Sullivan (15 December 1779), published in The Writings of George Washington (1890) by Worthington Chauncey Ford, Vol. 8, p. 139

  • Example, whether it be good or bad, has a powerful influence.
    • Letter to Lord Stirling (5 March 1780)

  • Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive. And with it, everything honorable and glorious.

  • If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
    • Address to officers of the Army (15 March 1783)

  • Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for, I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.
    • Statement as he put on his glasses before delivering his response to the first Newburgh Address (15 March 1783)

  • You will, by the dignity of your Conduct, afford occasion for Posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to Mankind, had this day been wanting, the World had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.
    • Response to the first Newburgh Address (15 March 1783)

  • Happy, thrice happy shall they be pronounced hereafter, who have contributed any thing, who have performed the meanest office in erecting this stupendous fabrick of Freedom and Empire on the broad basis of Independency; who have assisted in protecting the rights of humane nature and establishing an Asylum for the poor and oppressed of all nations and religions.
    • General Orders (18 April 1783)

  • Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.
    • Address to Congress resigning his commission (23 December 1783)

  • A people... who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and who will pursue their advantages may achieve almost anything.

  • If you tell the Legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train forever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people being disgusted with the circumstances will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate & prevent disasterous contingencies would be the part of wisdom & patriotism.
    What astonishing changes a few years are capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking, thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable & tremendous! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal & falacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
    Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port & having been fairly discharged; it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles. Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my Countrymen — they have been neglected, tho' given as a last legacy in the most solemn manner. I had then perhaps some claims to public attention. I consider myself as having none at present.

  • If they have real grievances redress them, if possible; or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it at the moment. If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once.

  • It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am.
    The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavoured to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of seperation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a seperation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.

  • Democratical States must always feel before they can see: it is this that makes their Governments slow, but the people will be right at last.

  • The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.
    • First Inaugural Address (30 April 1789)

  • For myself the delay may be compared with a reprieve; for in confidence I assure you, with the world it would obtain little credit that my movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities and inclination which is necessary to manage the helm.
    • Comment to General Henry Knox on the delay in assuming office (March 1789)

  • Impressed with a conviction that the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good Government, I have considered the first arrangement of the Judicial department as essential to the happiness of our Country, and to the stability of its political system; hence the selection of the fittest characters to expound the law, and dispense justice, has been an invariable object of my anxious concern.

  • The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
    May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.
    • Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island (1790)

  • To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.
    • First Annual Address, to both Houses of Congress (8 January 1790).
    • Compare: "Qui desiderat pacem præparet bellum" (translated: "Who would desire peace should be prepared for war"), Vegetius, Rei Militari 3, Prolog.; "In pace, ut sapiens, aptarit idonea bello" (translated: "In peace, as a wise man, he should make suitable preparation for war"), Horace, Book ii. satire ii.

  • All see, and most admire, the glare which hovers round the external trappings of elevated office. To me there is nothing in it, beyond the lustre which may be reflected from its connection with a power of promoting human felicity.
    • Letter to Catherine Macaulay Graham (9 January1790)

  • It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.
    • Letter to his niece, Harriet Washington (30 October 1791)

  • Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.
    • Letter to Edward Newenham (20 October 1792)

  • We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth & reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened age & in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.

  • Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!
    • George Washington in a note to his gardener at Mount Vernon (1794), The Writings of George Washington, Volume 33, page 270 (Library of Congress)

  • When one side only of a story is heard and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it insensibly.
    • Letter to Edmund Pendleton (22 January 1795)

  • Rise early, that by habit it may become familiar, agreeable, healthy, and profitable. It may, for a while, be irksome to do this, but that will wear off; and the practice will produce a rich harvest forever thereafter; whether in public or private walks of life.
    • Letter to George Washington Parke Custis (7 January 1798)

  • It is infinitely better to have a few good men than many indifferent ones.
    • Letter to James McHenry (10 August 1798)

  • I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species... and to disperse the families I have an aversion.
    • Statement against slavery, in letter to Robert Lewis (18 August 1799)

  • Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.
    • As quoted in The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest (1915) Edited by Upton Sinclair, p. 305. No earlier or original source for this often quoted statement is cited by Sinclair, or has yet been found in research done for Wikiquote.
    • Unsourced variant : Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.

  • I had rather be in my grave than in my present situation, I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world; and yet they charge me with wanting to be a king.
    • Response to newspaper criticisms of his presidency, as quoted in The Alumni Register of the University of Pennsylvania (1925), p.473

  • I die hard but am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it — my breath cannot last long.
    • The first sentence here is sometimes presented as being his last statement before dying, but they are reported as part of the fuller statement, and as being said in the afternoon prior to his death in Life of Washington (1859) by Washington Irving, and his actual last words are stated to have been those reported by Tobias Lear below.

  • Tis well.
    • Washington's last words, as recorded by Tobias Lear, in his journal (14 December 1799). Washington said this after being satisfied that precautions would be taken against his being buried prematurely:
About ten o'clk he made several attempts to speak to me before he could effect it, at length he said, — "I am just going. Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead." I bowed assent, for I could not speak. He then looked at me again and said, "Do you understand me? I replied "Yes." "Tis well" said he.
  • A conflation of the last two quotes has also sometimes been reported as his last statement: "It is well. I die hard but am not afraid to go"

Farewell Address (1796)

The Farewell Address (17 September 1796)] Full text at Wikisource
  • Every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied, that, if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

  • Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.
    The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquillity at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize.

  • It is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

  • While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in Union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from Union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighbouring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

  • One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

  • To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns.

  • The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.

  • I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

  • The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

  • The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
    It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.

  • Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.

  • Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

  • It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government.

  • Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

  • As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear.

  • Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue?

  • Nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests.

  • Real Patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favourite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests. (Note: spelling/capitalization likely original.

  • The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

  • 'Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

  • There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation.

  • Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.

  • In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.
    • This has sometimes been misquoted as: Guard against the postures of pretended patriotism.

  • The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without any thing more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

  • Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope, that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.


Statements originally made by others, that have become wrongly attributed to Washington

These maxims originated in the late sixteenth century in France and were popularly circulated during Washington's time. Washington wrote out a copy of the 110 Rules in his school book when he was about sixteen-years old... During the days before mere hero worship had given place to understanding and comprehension of the fineness of Washington's character, of his powerful influence among men, and of the epoch-making nature of the issues he so largely shaped, it was assumed that Washington himself composed the maxims, or at least that he compiled them. It is a satisfaction to find that his consideration for others, his respect for and deference to those deserving such treatment, his care of his own body and tongue, and even his reverence for his Maker, all were early inculcated in him by precepts which were the common practice in decent society the world over. These very maxims had been in use in France for a century and a half, and in England for a century, before they were set as a task for the schoolboy Washington.

  • The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.
    • This statement was made by an official representative of the U.S., but is actually a line from the English version of the Treaty of Tripoli of 1796, initially signed by a representative of the US on 4 November 1796 during Washington's presidency, approved by Congress 7 June 1797 and finally signed by President John Adams on 10 June 1797. Article 11 of it reads:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,— as it has in itself no character or enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,— and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
  • Joel Barlow, who had served as Washington's chaplain, and was also a good friend of Paine and Jefferson was the representative in charge of the translation.

  • A solemn scene it was indeed... He seemed to enjoy a triumph over me. Methought I heard him think, "Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!"
    • John Adams, in a letter to his wife Abigail was here expressing his impression of what Washington seemed to be thinking after Adams was inaugurated as President. These impressions have sometimes been quoted as if they were something Washington had actually said to Adams. Quoted in A History of the United States and Its People: From Their Earliest Records to the Present Time (1904) by William Abbatt and Elroy McKendree Avery, p.177; John Adams (2002) by David G. McCullough, p. 469; and The Portable John Adams (2004) edited by John Patrick Diggins, p. xi
    • Unsourced variants: Well, I am fairly out and you are fairly in. Now we shall see who enjoys it the most!
      Ah! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!

Spurious quotations
Statements which evidence indicates are fabrications, never actually said by anyone prior to their being attributed to Washington.
  • I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.
    • The earliest source of this quote was a famous anecdote in The Life of George Washington, with Curious Anecdotes Laudable to Himself and Exemplary to his Countrymen (1806) by Parson Weems, which is not considered a credible source, and many incidents recounted in the work are now considered to have sprung entirely from Weems imagination. This derives from an anecdote of Washington, as a young boy, confessing to his father Augustine Washington that it was he who had cut a cherished cherry tree.
    • Variant:Father, I cannot tell a lie, I cut the tree.

  • Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon and citizen's firearms are indelibly related. From the hour the Pilgrims landed, to the present day, events, occurrences, and tendencies prove that to insure peace, security, and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable. Every corner of this land knows firearms, and more than 99 99/100 percent of them by their silence indicate they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that's good. When firearms go, all goes— we need them every hour.
    • Sometimes purported to have been made in an "Address to the Second Session of the First United States Congress, 7 January 1790, according to the Boston Independent Chronicle (14 January 1790)", this quote is palpably bogus, as this essay at a pro-gun site makes plain.

  • A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.
    • Purported speech to Congress, January 7, 1790 in the Boston Independent Chronicle, January 14, 1790.

  • It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.
    • Washington is known to have made some official statements of public piety, but this is not one of them. Though this assertion is very widely reported to have been said in Washington's Farewell Address (17 September 1796), this is not actually the case, as any search of the documents would reveal. It has also been presented as having been part of his Proclamation on January 1, 1795 of February 19th, 1795 as a day of national Thanksgiving in this form:
It is in an especial manner our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God, and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experienced. It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible. It is impossible to account for the creation of the universe, without the agency of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. Religion is as necessary to reason, as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other. A reasoning being would lose his reason, in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to.

In the above paragraph the italicized portion appears to be entirely bogus, and there is no actual record of such a statement ever having been made by Washington. The first sentence is an almost accurate rendition of one from Washington's official proclamation, being a portion of this segment:

In such a state of things it is in an especial manner our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experience. Deeply penetrated with this sentiment, I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day to meet together and render their sincere and hearty thanks to the Great Ruler of Nations for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation...

It is to be noted that there is genuine piety expressed in this statement, but it is not of any sectarian kind, Christian or otherwise. The last portion of the bogus statement which uses it is a truncation of what might also be another genuine statement. In A Life of Washington (1836) by James K. Paulding, Washington is quoted as having stated:
It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being. Religion is as necessary to reason as reason is to religion. The one cannot exist without the other. A reasoning being would lose his reason in attempting to account for the great phenomena of nature, had he not a Supreme Being to refer to; and well has it been said, that if there had been no God, mankind would have been obliged to imagine one.
In the spurious version of the Thanksgiving proclamation which uses a portion of this, Washington's allusions to Voltaire's famous statement that "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him" has been omitted. In the cases of these "quotations" it seems that if statements suitable to their sectarian interests do not exist, some people feel it necessary to invent them.

  • The Jews work more effectively against us than the enemy's armies. They are a hundred times more dangerous to our liberties and the great cause we are engaged in. It is much to be lamented that each state, long ago, has not hunted them down as pests to society and the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America.
    • Sometimes rendered : "They (the Jews) work more effectively against us, than the enemy's armies. They are a hundred times more dangerous to our liberties and the great cause we are engaged in... It is much to be lamented that each state, long ago, has not hunted them down as pest to society and the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America."
    • Both of these are doctored statements that have been widely disseminated as genuine on many anti-semitic websites; They are distortions derived from a statement that was attributed to Washington in Maxims of George Washington about currency speculators during the Revolutionary war, not about Jews: "This tribe of black gentry work more effectually against us, than the enemy's arms. They are a hundred times more dangerous to our liberties, and the great cause we are engaged in. It is much to be lamented that each State, long ere this, has not hunted them down as pests to society, and the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America." More information is available at Snopes. com: "To Bigotry, No Sanction"
    • This quotation is a classic anti-semitic hoax, evidently begun during or just before World War Two by American Nazi sympathizers, and since then has been repeated, for example, in foreign propaganda directed at Americans. In fact it is knitted from two separate letters by Washington, in reverse chronology, neither of them mentioning Jews. The first part of this forgery are taken from Washington's letter to Edmund Pendleton, Nov. 1, 1779 {and the original can be found in the Library of Congress's online service at }. I have tried to reproduce Washington's spelling and punctuation exactly. In that letter Washington complains about black marketeers and others undermining the purchasing power of colonial currency:

... but I am under no apprehension of a capital injury from ay other source than that of the continual depreciation of our Money. This indeed is truly alarming, and of so serious a nature that every other effort is in vain unless something can be done to restore its credit. .... Where this has been the policy (in Connecticut for instance) the prices of every article have fallen and the money consequently is in demand; but in the other States you can scarce get a single thing for it, and yet it is with-held from the public by speculators, while every thing that can be useful to the public is engrossed by this tribe of black gentry, who work more effectually against us that the enemys Arms; and are a hundd. times more dangerous to our liberties and the great cause we are engaged in.
The second part of this fabricated quote is from Washington's letter to Joseph Reed, Dec. 12, 1778 {and can be found at the Library of Congress using the same URL but ending in /193192.jpg}, which again condemns war profiteers (the parenthetical list in the quotation is Washington's own words which he put there in parentheses):
It gives me very sincere pleasure to find that there is likely to be a coalition ... so well disposed to second your endeavours in bringing those murderers of our cause (the monopolizers, forestallers, and engrossers) to condign punishment. It is much to be lamented that each State long ere this has not hunted them down as the pests of society, and the greatest Enemys we have to the happiness of America. I would to God that one of the most attrocious of each State was hung in Gibbets upons a gallows five times as high as the one prepared by Haman. No punishment in my opinion is too great for the Man who can build his greatness upon his Country's ruin.

  • We had quitters during the Revolution too... we called them "Kentuckians."
    • This attribution apparently originated with a statement of a cartoon version of Washington on an episode of The Simpsons. Though not initially presented as a genuine quote this has sometimes been attributed to Washington.

Quotes about Washington

These should be arranged alphabetically by author

  • If I were to characterize George Washington's feelings toward his country, I should be less inclined than most people to stress what is called Washington's love of his country. What impresses me as far more important is what I should call Washington's respect for his country.

  • It is most appropriately hung, nothing ever made the British shit like the sight of George Washington.
    • Ethan Allen in Britain, after the Revolution, commenting on a George Washington picture in an outhouse.

  • A total stranger to religious prejudices, which have so often excited Christians of one denomination to cut the throats of those of another.
    • John Bell

  • Washington wasn't born good. Only practice and habit made him so.

  • George Washington was perhaps the one indispensable man among the founders. It is hard to imagine any of the others commanding the respect needed to lead the Continental Army to victory over Great Britain, preside over the Constitutional Convention, and serve the United States as its first president. Little in Washington’s early life gave a hint of the great achievements to come.

  • Posterity will talk of Washington as the founder of a great empire, when my name shall be lost in the vortex of revolution.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I of France)

  • Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s Constitution — that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems have to be created to balance and restrain their desires.
    The dignity code commanded its followers to be disinterested — to endeavor to put national interests above personal interests. It commanded its followers to be reticent — to never degrade intimate emotions by parading them in public. It also commanded its followers to be dispassionate — to distrust rashness, zealotry, fury and political enthusiasm.

  • A degree of silence envelops Washington’s actions; he moved slowly; one might say that he felt charged with future liberty, and that he feared to compromise it. It was not his own destiny that inspired this new species of hero: it was that of his country; he did not allow himself to enjoy what did not belong to him; but from that profound humility what glory emerged! Search the woods where Washington’s sword gleamed: what do you find? Tombs? No; a world! Washington has left the United States behind for a monument on the field of battle. ... Washington’s Republic lives on; Bonaparte’s empire is destroyed. Washington and Bonaparte emerged from the womb of democracy: both of them born to liberty, the former remained faithful to her, the latter betrayed her.
    Washington acted as the representative of the needs, the ideas, the enlightened men, the opinions of his age; he supported, not thwarted, the stirrings of intellect; he desired only what he had to desire, the very thing to which he had been called: from which derives the coherence and longevity of his work. That man who struck few blows because he kept things in proportion has merged his existence with that of his country: his glory is the heritage of civilisation; his fame has risen like one of those public sanctuaries where a fecund and inexhaustible spring flows.

  • We cannot imagine an Eisenhower, a Pershing, a Lee, dancing with joy on a dock, but Washington did it.
    • Christopher Collier in Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 (1987), p. 57, on Washington's reaction to the news of Admiral De Grasse's fleet arriving for the Battle of Yorktown.

  • I would say Benjamin Franklin was wiser than Washington, Hamilton was more brilliant, Jefferson was more intellectually sophisticated, Adams was more engaging........Madison was more politically astute, but Washington was still the greatest. And they would all agree to that.
    • Joseph E. Ellis

  • George Washington is one of the beacons placed at intervals along the highroad of history.

  • Washington's appointments, when president, were made with a view to gather all the talent of the country in support of the national government; and he bore many things which were personally disagreeable in an endeavor to do this.

  • From the moment when he took command of the army, Washington was, indeed, "first in the hearts of his countrymen." And the student of our history cannot help remarking how providential it was that, at the outset of this sturggle, Washington should come to the front. Eighty-Six years later, at the beginning of the rebellion, there was no accepted chief. Lincoln was doubted by the North and, and the army had no true leader. By a slow process Lincoln's commanding strength became known; by an equally tedious sifting of the generals the qualities of Grant, Sherman, Thomas and Meade were discovered. Only the tremendous resources of the North could have withstood the strain of such a delay. Had the same process been necessary at the outset of the Revolution, the colonies could have scarcely maintainted the struggle. Had not Washington been at hand, accepted by the Congress and admired by the army, the virtual leader of both, the chances of success would have been slight. But he was Lincoln and Grant in one. Time and time again, through the long years, it was Washington alone who brought victory from defeat. Without him, the colonies might have won their independence as the result of an almost interminable guerilla warfare; but with him the fight was definite, glorious, and-for the infant republic, mercifully short.
    • Allen French on the importance of Washington-The Siege of Boston

  • I often say of George Washington that he was one of the few in the whole history of the world who was not carried away by power.

  • Eternity alone can reveal to the human race its debt of gratitude to the peerless and immortal name of Washington.
    • James A. Garfield

  • Washington is beyond question one of the greatest men in history, one of the noblest men who ever lived. He is a towering figure in the establishment of the United States and he did more than any other man to create and preserve the Republic. Here was a man whose very strength resided in his austere sobriety, who in his own person demonstrated this soundness of America. He was a good man, not a demigod; he was an honest administrator, not a brilliant statesman; he was a military man, but never a militarist. He was touchingly proud of America, proud that it was his country that was given the historic chance of becoming a model of religious as well as political freedom. In a letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, whose service he once attended, he stressed that in America freedom of religious worship was one of the "inherent natural rights," where government "gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." Washington was an exceptional man; with reason he became so merged with America that his is the most prominent name in the land.

  • His excellency General Washington has arrived amoungst us, universally admired. Joy was visable on every countenance.
    • General Nathanael Greene on the arrival of George Washington in Boston, 1775-1776, McCullough pg 20

  • No nobler figure ever stood in the forefront of a nation's life. Washington was grave and courteous in address; his manners were simple and unpretending; his silence and the serene calmness of his temper spoke of a perfect self-mastery; but little there was in his outer bearing to reveal the grandeur of soul which lifts his figure with all the simple majesty of an ancient statue, out of the smaller passions, the meaner impulses of the world around him.
    It was only as the weary fight went on that the colonists learned, little by little, the greatness of their leader — his clear judgment, his calmness in the hour of danger or defeat; the patience with which he waited, the quickness and hardness with which he struck, the lofty and serene sense of duty that never swerved from its task through resentment or jealousy, that never, through war or peace, felt the touch of a meaner ambition; that knew no aim save that of guarding the freedom of his fellow-countrymen; and no personal longing save that of returning to his own fireside when their freedom was secured.
    It was almost unconsciously that men learned to cling to Washington with a trust and faith such as few other men have won, and to regard him with reverence which still hushes us in presence of his memory.

  • Washington had no smashing, stunning victories. He was not a military genius, and his tactical and strategic maneuvers were not the sort that awed men. Military glory was not the source of his reputation. Something else was involved. Washington's genius, his greatness, lay in his character. He was, as Chateubriand said, a "hero of unprecedented kind." There had never been a great many like Washington before. Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.
    Washington fit the 18th-century image of a great man, of a man of virtue. This virtue was not given to him by nature. He had to work for it, to cultivate it, and everyone sensed that. Washington was a self-made hero, and this impressed an 18th-century enlightened world that put great stock in men controlling both their passions and their destinies. Washington seemed to possess a self-cultivated nobility.

  • He is the best and the greatest man the world ever knew... Neither depressed by disappointment and difficulties, nor elated with a temporary success. He retreats like a General and attacks like a Hero.

  • When the clergy addressed General Washington on his departure from the government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However [Dr. Rush] observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the states whn he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion. I know that Gouvemeur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.

  • His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order; his penetration strong, though, not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion.

  • On the whole, his character was, in its mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from man an everlasting remembrance. ... These are my opinions of General Washington, which I would vouch at the judgment seat of God, having been formed on an acquaintance of thirty years...

  • He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense of the words, a wise, a good, and a great man. His temper was naturally high toned; but reflection and resolution had obtained a firm and habitual ascendancy over it. If ever, however, it broke its bonds, he was most tremendous in his wrath. In his expenses he was honorable, but exact; liberal in contributions to whatever promised utility; but frowning and unyielding on all visionary projects and all unworthy calls on his charity. His heart was not warm in its affections; but he exactly calculated every man’s value, and gave him a solid esteem proportioned to it. His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble; the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback.

  • Let him who looks for a monument to Washington look around the United States. Your freedom, your independence, your national power, your prosperity, and your prodigious growth are a monument to him.

  • First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.
    • Henry Lee, from his eulogy for Washington, presented to Congress on 26 December 1799

  • Washington's is the mightiest name of earth — long since mightiest in the cause of civil liberty; still mightiest in moral reformation. On that name no eulogy is expected. It cannot be. To add brightness to the sun, or glory to the name of Washington, is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name, and in its naked deathless splendor leave it shining on.

  • Had Washington been born in the days of idolatry, he would be worshiped as a god. If there are spots on his characters, they are like spots on the sun, only discernible by the magnifying powers of a telescope.

  • You have in American history one of the great captains of all times. It might be said of him, as it was of William the Silent, that he seldom won a battle but he never lost a campaign.

  • Washington's genius lay in his understanding of power, both military power, and political power, an understanding unmatched by that of any of his contempporaries.

  • "One afternoon several young gentlemen, visitors at Mount Vernon, and myself were engaged in pitching the bar, one of the athletic sports common in those days, when suddenly the colonel appeared among us. He requested to be shown the pegs that marked the bounds of our efforts; then, smiling, and without putting off his coat, held out his hand for the missile. No sooner,"observed the narrator, with emphasis, "did the heavy iron bar feel the grasp of his mighty hand than it lost the power of gravitation, and whizzed through the air, striking the ground far, very far, beyond our utmost limits. We were indeed amazed, as we stood around, all stripped to the buff, with shirt sleeves rolled up, and having thought ourselves very clever fellows, while the colonel, on retiring, pleasantly observed, 'When you beat my pitch, young gentlemen, I'll try again.'"
    • Charles Willson Peale, recounting an incident of 1772, as quoted in Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington (1861), edited by Benson J. Lossing

  • I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him "father."

  • The name of an iron man goes round the world.
    It takes a long time to forget an iron man.
    • Carl Sandburg in "Washington Monument by Night" in Slabs of the Sunburnt West (1922)

  • May it please Heaven that his example shall continue to serve as a beacon to our Republics in their darkest moments of doubt and adversity.

  • George Washington is the only president who didn't blame the previous administration for his troubles.
    • Unknown author, quoted in The Quotable Politician (2003) by William B. Whitman

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