George Washington's Resignation
Washington Resigning His Commission, by Edwin White, 1858. MSA SC 1545-1112
At the end of the Revolutionary War, many people in America and Europe
thought Washington would retain the reins of power to become the leader
of the new nation, or even king. When told by the American artist
Benjamin West that Washington was going to resign, King George III of
England said "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."
However, Washington had an abiding faith in the young nation and a deep
desire to return to his beloved Mt. Vernon and private life as a farmer.
Congress had assembled in Annapolis in late November and awaited the
general's arrival to resign his commission. He arrived on December 19
and immediately wrote to Congress to inquire as to how they actually
wanted him to resign. A committee of Congress devised a ceremony that
took place at noon on December 23. In the intervening days, Washington
was feted with parties, balls and huzzas, including a gala ball on the
night before the ceremony in the hall of the State House, where he
danced with all the ladies.
On the day of the ceremony, Washington arrived at the State House where
Congress was meeting in the Old Senate Chamber. When he entered the
Chamber, the members remained seated, covered (with their hats on). In a
short, emotional speech, Washington resigned his commission and then
bowed to Congress. Only then did the members rise and remove their hats
in a gesture of respect. As he left the Chamber to ride to Mt. Vernon in
time to have his Christmas dinner at home, Washington handed his
personal copy of his speech to a member of the committee. It is this
copy that the state of Maryland has now acquired from a descendent of
the member, in whose family it has remained since that day. The speech
will be on display when the State House reopens in January 2009.
Online Historical Exhibits
ONLINE HISTORICAL EXHIBITS
Washington's ResignationWashington's Speech
Transcription of Washington's Resignation Speech