Washington’s Resignation to Congress

First side of the final draft of
Washington’s Resignation Speech

OTHER IMAGES

QUICK FACTS
  • This is Washington’s final draft which he delivered to Congress on 23-Dec-1783.
  • The itinerant Congress of the Articles of Confederation was in session at Annapolis, Maryland, when Washington gave his speech in a highly choreographed ceremony in the Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House.
  • As the retiring General Washington delivered his prepared speech, his voice quavered and faltered, and some of the attendees wept openly.
  • Note that in closing Washington struck out a final farewell and ultimate leave — he became the first U.S. president five and a half years later under a constitution over which he had presided during its making.
Mr. President,

          The great events on which my resignation depended, having at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress & of presenting myself before Congress them, to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring request permission to retire from the service of my country.
          Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States, of becoming a respectable Nation as well as in the contemplation of our prospect of National happiness, 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I accepted with diffidence — a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our Cause, the support of the supreme Power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.
          The successful termination of the War has verified the most sanguine expectations — and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my Countrymen, increases with every review of the momentous Contest.
          While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. — It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. — Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice & patronage of Congress. —
          I consider it an indispensable duty duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendance direction of them, to his holy keeping. —
          Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, — and bidding an affectionate a final farewell to this August body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer today deliver? my Commission, and take my ultimate leave of all the employments of public life.

For all their artistic and philosophical brilliance, the Greeks were failures at politics; Hamilton, in the Federalist, expressed horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were agitated. The Romans captured the American imagination because they had done what the Americans themselves hoped to do — sustain an extensive republic over a course of centuries. So the society of Revolutionary War officers called themselves Cincinnati; president, congress, and senate were all Roman terms. But the Roman example was also cautionary, for when they lost their virture, they slid into empire. When Franklin said, in response to a question from Eliza Powel, that the constitutional convention had produced a republic, if you can keep it, he and she would have remembered that the Romans had failed to keep theirs.

Richard Brookhiser
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (1996)