General George Washington's farewell to congress

Washington proceeded to Annapolis, where Congress was then in session, in order to resign his commission into their hands. He reached there on December 19. It was determined that the ceremony should take place on Tuesday, December 23.

When the hour arrived for performing a ceremony so well calculated to recall to the mind the various interesting scenes which had passed since the commission now to be returned was granted, the gallery was crowded with spectators; and many respectable persons, among whom were the legislative and executive characters of the State, several general officers, and the consul-general of France, were admitted on the floor of Congress.

The representatives of the sovereignty of the Union remained seated and covered. The spectators were standing and uncovered. The general was introduced by the secretary, and conducted to a chair. After a decent interval, silence was commanded, and a short pause ensued. The President then informed him that "The United States in Congress assembled were prepared to receive his communications." With a native dignity improved by the solemnity of the occasion, the general rose and delivered the following address:


"The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them, to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.

"Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence,--a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which, however, was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of heaven.

"The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my countrymen, increases with every review of the momentous contest.

"While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me, sir, to recommend in particular those who have continued in the service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.

"I consider it as an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping.

"Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and, bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life."

This patriotic renunciation of power by Washington, so different from the example of Caesar, Cromwell, and other military heroes, who have ended wars at the head of victorious armies and with a country at their mercy, has deservedly excited the admiration of the world, and stamps George Washington as one of the greatest men that ever led an army to battle. His address to Congress was eloquently replied to by General Mifflin, the President of that body, after which he retired to Mount Vernon, exchanging the labors of the camp for the industries of a farm, and bearing with him the esteem not only of his own countrymen, but of all civilized mankind.

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