Washington’s Commission as Commander-in-Chief

Washington’s Commission at the Library of Congress

QUICK FACTS
  • General Washington resigns his commission to Congress in Baltimore on 23-Dec-1783.
  • He returns the original parchment (received 19-Jun-1775) appointing him Commander-in-Chief.
LINKS

In Congress

The delegates of the United Colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Counties of New-Castle, Kent, and Sussex, on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, & South Carolina

To George Washington Esquire

     We, reposing special trust and confidence in your patriotism, valor, conduct, and fidelity   Do by these presents, constitute and appoint you to be General and Commander in chief of the army of the United Colonies and of all the forces now raised[,] or to be raised by them[,] and of all others who shall voluntarily offer their service and join the said Army for the defence of American liberty and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof   And you are hereby vested with full power and authority to act as you shall think for the good and welfare of the service.

     And we do hereby strictly charge and require all Officers and Soldiers under your command to be obedient to your orders and diligent in the exercise of their several duties.

     And we do also enjoin and require you to be careful in executing the great trust reposed in you[,] by causing strict discipline and order to be observed in the army[,] and that the soldiers be duly exercised and provided with all convenient necessaries.

     And you are to regulate your conduct in every respect by the rules and discipline of war (as herewith given you) and punctually to observe and follow such orders and directions[,] from time to time[,] as you shall receive from this[,] or a future Congress of these United Colonies[,] or committee of Congress.

     This commission to continue in force until revoked by this or a future Congress.

By Order of the Congress           John Hancock   President
Dated Philadelphia June 19, 1775.            Attest. Cha[rles] Thomson, Sec[retar]y

As in the case of his career as commander-in-chief, Washington’s most important act as president was his giving up the office. The significance of his retirement from the presidency is easily overlooked today, but his contemporaries knew what it meant. Most people assumed that Washington might be president as long as he lived, that he would be a kind of elected monarch like the king of Poland. Hence his retirement from the presidency enhanced his moral authority and set a precedent for future presidents.

Gordon S. Wood
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789–1815 (2009)