Washington Resigns His Commission
On December 23, 1783, General George Washington entered the Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis. Eight years earlier, dressed in the blue uniform of a colonel in the Virginia militia, he stood before Congress and accepted their commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. At the time, Washington said, "I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with."
Now, on a cold December morning, two days before Christmas, he was before Congress again. As he stood to address Congress, his eyes were dimmed, his hands shaking, and his voice choked with emotion. At the age of forty-four, George Washington now wanted only to return to his beloved Mount Vernon to spend the remainder of his years. Several weeks earlier, on December 4, General Washington had bade farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in New York. It was a very emotional time for Washington, embracing some of the men, and shaking hands with others. Von Steuben was there, along with his trusted friends, Henry Knox and Benjamin Tallmadge. As the day ended, Washington turned to take one last salute from the assemblage. He then set out for his journey to Annapolis, where Congress was in session.
His journey to Annapolis had been a pleasurable one, taking a barge across New Jersey, stopping briefly in Trenton, then on to Philadelphia, and finally to Annapolis. Along his route, he had received an outpouring of gratitude and affection from his fellow countrymen. On December 22, an elaborate dinner and reception was held in his honor. Among the two hundred guests were the aristocracy of Annapolis as well as members of Congress. Thirteen toasts were given, followed by firing of thirteen cannon and a ball at the State House.
The next day, General Washington entered the Senate Chamber of the State House in Annapolis. Crowded in the chamber were Congressmen, Maryland dignitaries, and a few army officers, all wishing to hear Washington speak.
In a voice that was barely audible, despite the hushed silence, General Washington began by praising his officers and congratulating Congress. Then, after a short pause, he hurried to the business at hand:
"Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theater 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 leave of all the employments of public life".
The speech lasted three minutes. When it was over, Washington took his commission from his pocket and handed it to Thomas Mufflin, the President of Congress, and quickly left the chamber. After bidding farewell to close friends, Washington rode to Mount Vernon in time to celebrate Christmas at home for the first time in many years.
Today, visitors may visit the Old Senate Chamber at the State House in Annapolis. On the floor in the chamber is a plaque marking the spot where George Washington resigned his commission. Admission to the State House and the Old Senate Chamber is free.
Lansdowne Portrait of George Washington
Gilbert Stuart, 1796