December 23, 1783 – George Washington Resigns His Commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Army

On this date in history, following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, General George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. The action was significant for establishing civilian authority over the military, a fundamental principle of American democracy.

General George Washington Resigning His Commission, painted between 1822 and 1824 by John Trumbull

General George Washington Resigning His Commission, painted between 1822 and 1824 by John Trumbull

Speaking to the Assembly, Washington observed:

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appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task; which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.”

Nevertheless, he was not to get the retirement he wanted. In 1788, he was unanimously elected to the first of two terms as President of the United States.

But after two terms, once again, he left. As the character playing Washington put it in the musical “Hamilton”:

If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone
Like the scripture says:
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.”
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made
I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree
A moment alone in the shade
At home in this nation we’ve made
One last time.

We’re gonna teach ‘em how to
Say goodbye!
Teach ‘em how to
Say goodbye!
To say goodbye!

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