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War of Independence

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George Washington’s Legacy

Washington Stands Down

A triumphant general in Washington’s position might have tried to seize power, but Washington, like other Americans, saw himself and his army as agents of the Continental Congress. During the war, he deferred to its directives even when he disagreed with them. At war’s end, he returned to private life.

On December 23, 1783, Washington appeared before the Congress meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, and surrendered his commission as general and commander in chief. Per order of Congress, he signaled his deference to the members by bowing; in return, they denoted their authority by only lifting their hats. Washington then bid them farewell and returned to his farm.


Exhibition Graphics

General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull, 1824

General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull, 1824

Washington’s resignation address. “Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great Theatre of Action; & bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August Body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, & take my leave of all the employments of public life.”

Washington’s resignation address. “Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great Theatre of Action; & bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August Body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, & take my leave of all the employments of public life.”


Related Artifacts

George Washington’s Battle Sword and Scabbard
Society of the Cincinnati China Plate and Bowl

A New Commander in Chief

In 1789, a new constitution delineated structures and functions of a federal government, and strengthened the foundation for a government of law. After spirited public debate, and an agreement to add amendments protecting individuals’ liberties and states’ rights, eleven states ratified the Constitution in 1787–88; the last two joined them in 1789 and 1790. On April 30, 1789, George Washington became the nation’s first president.

Under the Constitution, the president is commander in chief of the army and navy. Washington initially saw his role as that of a general: he took to the field with troops when farmers in western Pennsylvania challenged a federal tax on whiskey. But ultimately he established the convention of commanding the military as a civilian.


Related Artifacts

General Washington at Princeton Painting
George Washington Bust


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