General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull, 1824
In reality, the big emotional scene took place nineteen days earlier in Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan when General Washington met with his officers to say goodbye. Apparently, this was one of the few times as an adult that Washington was ever seen crying. It must have been a really powerful scene, watching the hero, the bringer of Freedom, THE Founding Father, breaking down as he wished the people he trusted his life with farewell.
On December 23, 1783, Washington appeared before the Congress meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, and surrendered his commission as general and commander in chief. This was one of the times when he earned the title of a modern-day Cincinnatus. As he also did when he stepped down after his second term as President, Washington did something that many of us would not.
He said goodbye. He was the hero and the toast of the country. While not as popular as he used to be by the end of his second term as President, when the war had just ended there was nobody on his level. Similarly, as in 1797, he could have parlayed his unparalleled fame into something more, perhaps even into a King. At this point, the war is over. He appears to really have treated his role as general and commander-in-chief as just that – the leader during the war. Now that the war was over, he was more than happy to step down and go back to Mount Vernon and spend time on his property. Throughout the war and his Presidency, Washington had frequent correspondence back home, micromanaging the farming and renovations to his home, down to the types of curtains he wanted.
There are historians who really believe that he didn’t want to be President at all, let alone for a second term. However, some questions arise as to whether he was just being humble when he had to “be convinced” by close friends, like Knox, Madison, Hamilton and Jefferson.
Would I have had the willpower and patriotism to do what was best for the country? Would I have stepped down and went home to my farm when I could have become a monarch, or something similar? Would you?