This day in history, December 23, 1783, General George Washington resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and retired to his home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris.
Washington’s willingness to return to civilian life was an essential element in the transformation of the American Revolution into a true revolution. During the war, Congress had granted Washington powers equivalent to those of a dictator and he could have easily taken solitary control of the new nation. Indeed, some political factions wanted Washington to become the new nation’s king. His modesty in declining the offer and resigning his military post at the end of the war fortified the Republican foundations of the new nation.
Washington addressed the assembled Congress:
“Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task; which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.”
“Having now finished the work assigned to 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 any leave of all the employments of public life,” Washington concluded.
George Washington was later unanimously elected to the first of two terms as P-resident of the United States in 1788.