King George III

by Benjamin West (1738—1820)

Oil on canvas; 255.3 × 182.9 cm (100.5 × 72 in). Royal Collection Trust, London, England.

by Joshua Reynolds (1723—92)

Oil on canvas; 2774 x 1855 mm. Royal Academy of Arts, London, England.

by Thomas Gainsborough (1727—88)

Oil on canvas; 238.8 × 158.7 cm (94 × 62.5 in). Royal Collection Trust, Buckingham Palace, London, England.

by Mather Brown (1761—1831)

Oil on canvas.

by Allan Ramsay (1713—84)

Oil on canvas. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA.

by Allan Ramsay (1713—84)

Oil on canvas; 53.5 x 79 cm. Private Collection.

by Johann Zoffany (1733—1810)

Oil on canvas; 163.2 x 137.3 cm. Royal Collection Trust, London, England.

by William Beechey (1753—1839)

Oil on canvas; 92 in. x 57 in. (2337 mm x 1448 mm). National Portrait Gallery, London, England.

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)