Assured that the Virginia frontier was safe from French attack,
Washington left the army in 1758 and returned to Mount Vernon,
directing his attention toward restoring his neglected estate.
He erected new buildings, refurnished the house, and experimented with new crops.
With the support of an ever-growing circle of influential friends, he entered politics, serving (1759-74) in Virginia's House of Burgesses.
In January 1759 he married MARTHA DANDRIDGE CUSTIS,
a wealthy and attractive young widow with two small children.
It was to be a happy and satisfying marriage.
After 1769, Washington became a leader in Virginia's opposition to Great Britain's colonial policies.
At first he hoped for reconciliation with Britain,
although some British policies had touched him personally.
Discrimination against colonial military officers had rankled deeply,
and British land policies and restrictions on western expansion after 1763
had seriously hindered his plans for western land speculation.
As a delegate (1774-75) to the First and Second Continental Congress,
Washington did not participate actively in the deliberations,
but his presence was undoubtedly a stabilizing influence.
In June 1775 he was Congress's unanimous choice as commander in chief of the Continental forces.
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
Washington took command of the troops surrounding British-occupied Boston on July 3,
devoting the next few months to training the undisciplined 14,000-man army
and trying to secure urgently needed powder and other supplies.
Early in March 1776, using cannon brought down from Ticonderoga by Henry Knox,
Washington occupied Dorchester Heights, effectively commanding the city
and forcing the British to evacuate on March 17.
He then moved to defend New York City against the combined land and sea forces of Sir William Howe.
In New York he committed a military blunder by occupying an untenable position in Brooklyn,
although he saved his army by skillfully retreating from Manhattan into Westchester County
and through New Jersey into Pennsylvania.
In the last months of 1776, desperately short of men and supplies,
Washington almost despaired. He had lost New York City to the British;
enlistment was almost up for a number of the troops,
and others were deserting in droves;
civilian morale was falling rapidly.
Colonial morale was briefly revived by the capture of Trenton, N.J.,
a brilliantly conceived attack in which Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776
and surprised the predominantly Hessian garrison.
Advancing to Princeton, N.J., he routed the British there on Jan. 3, 1777,
but in September and October 1777 he suffered serious reverses in Pennsylvania--
at Brandywine and Germantown. The major success of that year--
the defeat (October 1777) of the British at Saratoga, N.Y.--
had belonged not to Washington but to Benedict Arnold.
The contrast between Washington's record and Gates's brilliant victory
was one factor that led to the so-called Conway Cabal--an intrigue by some members of Congress
and army officers to replace Washington with a more successful commander, probably Gates.
Washington acted quickly, and the plan eventually collapsed due to lack of public support
as well as to Washington's overall superiority to his rivals.
After holding his bedraggled and dispirited army together
(while living in make shift forts)
during the difficult winter at Valley Forge, was next to impossible.
Washington learned that France had recognized American independence.
With the aid of the Prussian Baron von Steuben and the French marquis de Lafayette,
he concentrated on turning the army into a viable fighting force,
and by spring he was ready to take the field again.
In June 1778 he attacked the British near Monmouth Courthouse, N.J.,
on their withdrawal from Philadelphia to New York.
Although the lack of enterprise of American general Charles Lee
ruined Washington's plan to strike a major blow at the army of Sir Henry Clinton at Monmouth,
the commander in chief's quick action on the field prevented an American defeat.
In 1780 the main theater of the war shifted to the south.
Although the campaigns in Virginia and the Carolinas were conducted by other generals,
including Nathanael Greene.
Washington was still responsible for the overall direction of the war.
After the arrival of the French army in 1780
he concentrated on coordinating allied efforts and in 1781.
Washington had grown enormously in stature during the war.
Gradually, however, he developed what was perhaps his greatest strength in a society suspicious of the military--
his ability to deal effectively with civil authority.
Whatever his private opinions, his relations with Congress and with the state governments were exemplary--
despite the fact that his wartime powers sometimes amounted to dictatorial authority.
On the battlefield Washington relied on a policy of trial and error,
eventually becoming a master of improvisation.
Often accused of being overly cautious, he could be bold when success seemed possible.
He learned to use the short-term militia skillfully and to combine green troops with veterans to produce an efficient fighting force.