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Author Topic: George Washington resigning his commission  (Read 244 times)

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Offline BeorningTopic starter

George Washington resigning his commission
« on: February 22, 2018, 03:39:30 PM »
I was browsing Wikipedia today and I happened to read about George Washington resigning his commission as the commader of the Continental Army after the American Revolution ended. From what I read, it's considered to be a very important historical act for the States, it's commemorated in American paintings and monuments and even spoken of as "a glorious act" and "one of greatest moral lessons for mankind".

Could I ask you guys (meaning, those of you that are American, as well as those versed in American history) for some explanation why this act is considered so important? I'm not trying to start a polemic or anything - I just feel I'm missing some context here.

Offline Avis habilis

Re: George Washington resigning his commission
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2018, 03:49:04 PM »
It was Washington showing that was going to go back to being a private citizen instead of claiming rulership over the country as spoils of war. There were people in the Continental Congress that wanted to make him king of America, but he turned them down.

Offline Regina Minx

Re: George Washington resigning his commission
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2018, 04:11:53 PM »
It was Washington showing that was going to go back to being a private citizen instead of claiming rulership over the country as spoils of war. There were people in the Continental Congress that wanted to make him king of America, but he turned them down.

More or less this. In Ancient Roman times the nominal head of the government were the two consuls, elected each year, who had the power of veto over each other (very much an oversimplification but run with me). But in the times of a crisis, the Senate could suspend consular powers and appoint a person to supreme executive power over the Roman state, called the dictator (an office that does not have in Ancient Rome the negative connotations of the word we have today).

After a period of six months, or after he had resolved whatever crises the Senate had appointed him to deal with, it was expected that the dictator would resign and step down and return to civilian life. During the Republican period, Rome was so paranoid about a king trying to seize power over the state that there was on the law a books obligating any citizen to kill any person with regal aspirations. And it is significant that no Roman dictator abused or overstayed their term of office until the last century of the Republic. Washington resigning his commission was his "Cincinnatus moment" of the dictator finishing the job and returning power to the Republic.

Washington's willing resignation was seen as a monumental event in America and in Great Britain. King George III told journalist Benjamin West: "“If [Washington] does that, he will be the greatest man in the world." Continental Congress Delegate James McHenry said, “the events of the revolution just accomplished—the new situation into which it had thrown the world—the great man who had borne so conspicuous a figure in it, in the act of relinquishing all public employments to return to private life. . .  all conspired to render it a spectacle inexpressibly solemn and affecting.”

Of course, the cynic can argue that Washington's act of voluntarily and publicly relinquishing power all but ensured him the win for the first election for President. But that's just a bit of mean-spirited speculation on my part.

Online Oniya

Re: George Washington resigning his commission
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2018, 02:11:29 PM »
Of course, the cynic can argue that Washington's act of voluntarily and publicly relinquishing power all but ensured him the win for the first election for President. But that's just a bit of mean-spirited speculation on my part.

Possibly, but his resignation of that office after two terms set a precedent that wasn't broken until 1940.

Offline Regina Minx

Re: George Washington resigning his commission
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2018, 02:33:54 PM »
Possibly, but his resignation of that office after two terms set a precedent that wasn't broken until 1940.

Though Grant tried for a third term in 1880 (ditto Theodore Roosevelt in 1912).

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: George Washington resigning his commission
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2018, 08:09:51 PM »
So, if I understand correctly: Washington was not just a general, but he was a war-time ruler of the country? And there was some serious doubt whether he would step down and relinquish the power?

Offline Victorian

Re: George Washington resigning his commission
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2018, 08:11:47 PM »
Absolutely.  Just read the Newburgh conspiracy.  Or visit the place.

Online Lustful Bride

Re: George Washington resigning his commission
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2018, 11:28:44 AM »
So, if I understand correctly: Washington was not just a general, but he was a war-time ruler of the country? And there was some serious doubt whether he would step down and relinquish the power?

He did what few wartime leaders do after establishing a new country, stepping down from power willingly.