George Washington's farewell address

After the surrender of General Cornwallis, the Revolutionary War was for all intents and purposes over. In October a proclamation was issued by Congress declaring all those who had engaged for the war to be discharged on the third of December.

While these excellent dispositions were manifested by the veterans serving under the immediate eye of their patriot chief, General George Washington, the government was exposed to insult and outrage from the mutinous spirit of a small party of new levies. About eighty of this description of troops belonging to the State of Pennsylvania were stationed at Lancaster. Revolting against the authority of their officers, they marched in a body to Philadelphia, with the avowed purpose of obtaining a redress of their grievances from the Executive Council of the State. The march of these insolent mutineers was unobstructed, and after arriving in Philadelphia they were joined by some other troops quartered in the barracks, so as to amount to about three hundred men. They then marched in military parade, with fixed bayonets, to the State-House, where Congress and the Executive Council of the State were sitting. After placing sentinels at all the doors, they sent in a written message, threatening the President and Council of the State to let loose an enraged soldiery upon them if their demands were not gratified in twenty minutes. Although the resentments of this banditti were not directed particularly against Congress, the government of the Union was grossly insulted, and those who administered it were blockaded for several hours by an insolent and licentious soldiery. After remaining in this situation about three hours, Congress separated, having fixed on Princeton as the place at which they should reassemble.

On receiving information of this outrage, the commander-in-chief instantly detached fifteen hundred men under the command of Major-General Howe to suppress the mutiny. The indignation which this insult to the civil authority had occasioned, and the mortification with which he viewed the misconduct of any portion of the American troops, were strongly marked in his letter written on that occasion to the President of Congress..

Before the detachment from the army could reach Philadelphia, the disturbances were in a great degree quieted without bloodshed; but Major-General Howe was ordered by Congress to continue his march into Pennsylvania, "in order that immediate measures might be taken to confine and bring to trial all such persons belonging to the army as have been principally active in the late mutiny; to disarm the remainder; and to examine fully into all the circumstances relating thereto."..

At length, on the 25th of November, the British troops evacuated New York, and a detachment from the American army took possession of that town.

The guards being posted for the security of the citizens, General Washington, accompanied by Governor Clinton, and attended by many civil and military officers and a large number of respectable inhabitants on horseback, made his public entry into the city, where he was received with every mark of respect and attention. His military course was now on the point of terminating; and previous to divesting himself of the supreme command he was about to bid adieu to his comrades in arms.

This affecting interview took place on the fourth of December. At noon, the principal officers of the army assembled at Frances' tavern; soon after which their beloved commander entered the room. His emotions were too strong to be concealed. Filling a glass, he turned to them and said, "With a heart full of love and gratitude I now take leave of you; I most devoutly wish that your later days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable." Having drunk, he added, "I cannot come to each of you to take my leave, but shall be obliged to you if each of you will come and take me by the hand." General Knox, being nearest, turned to him. Incapable of utterance, Washington grasped his hand, and embraced him. In the same affectionate manner he took leave of each succeeding officer. In every eye was the tear of dignified sensibility; and not a word was articulated to interrupt the majestic silence and the tenderness of the scene. Leaving the room, he passed through the corps of light infantry, and walked to Whitehall, where a barge waited to carry him to Powles' Hook. The whole company followed in mute and solemn procession, with dejected countenances, testifying feelings of delicious melancholy, which no language can describe. Having entered the barge, he turned to the company, and, waving his hat, bade them a silent adieu. They paid him the same affectionate compliment, and, after the barge had left them, returned in the same solemn manner to the place where they had assembled.

Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 2)