Thomas Jefferson

by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863—1930)

Oil on canvas; 30 x 24 in. One of the 78 scenes from American history by Ferris titled The Pageant of a Nation. Virginia Historical S

by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741—1828)

Terra cotta patinated plaster. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Monticello, Charlottesville, VA.

by Mather Brown (1761—1831)

Oil on canvas; 91.4 x 71.1 x (36 x 28 1/16 in).

by John Trumbull (1756—1843)

Oil on panel; 12.1 × 7.6 cm (4.8 × 3 in). The White House Collection, Washington, DC.

by John Trumbull (1756—1843)

Oil on wood; miniature. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Monticello, Charlottesville, VA.

by John Trumbull (1756—1843)

Oil on mahogany. 4 1/2 x 3 1/4 in. (11.4 x 8.3 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.

by Charles Willson Peale (1741—1827)

Oil on canvas. Independence National Historical Park, Portrait Collection (Second Bank of the United States), Philadelphia, PA.

by Charles Willson Peale (1741—1827)

Oil on canvas. Thomas Jefferson State Reception Room, U.S. Department of State building, Washington, D.C.

by James Sharples (c. 1751—1811)

Pastel on paper. Independence National Historical Park, Portrait Collection (Second Bank of the United States), Philadelphia, PA.

by Charles Peale Polk (1767—1822)

Oil on canvas; 69.22 cm (27.25 in) x 60.96 cm (24 in). Private collection.

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)