George Washington Resigns as Commander-in-Chief
George Washington's attendance in Congress on December 23rd, 1783, set the stage for one of the most remarkable events of United States history.
George Washington's resignation as Commander-in-Chief would be the last great act of the Revolutionary War. Historian David Ramsay wrote of Washington trek to new federal capital to submit his resignation:
In every town and village, through which the General passed, he was met by public and private demonstrations of gratitude and joy. When he arrived at Annapolis, he informed Congress of his intention to ask leave to resign the commission he had the honor to hold in their service, and desired to know their pleasure in what manner it would be most proper to be done. They resolved that it should be in a public audience.
The event began on December 22nd when President Mifflin gave a dinner, of over two hundred covers, to the Commander-in-Chief. Afterwards, a magnificent ball was given in his honor by the Maryland Assembly. Washington opened the ball with the charming Mrs. James MacCubbin, gallantly presenting her with an elegant fan. This occasion was graced by "the beauty and the chivalry" of the patriotic old colony.
The following day, the USCA convened and the gallery at the Maryland State Capitol building was filled with ladies and special guests of Congress. The governor, council, and legislature of Maryland, several officers, and the consul-general of France were on all on the floor. The members of Congress were seated and wore their hats to signify that they represented the government. The spectators stood with bare heads. General Washington entered and was conducted by Secretary Charles Thomson to a seat. When all was quiet, President Mifflin said:"The United States, in Congress assembled, is prepared to receive the communications of the Commander-in-Chief." The USCA Journal reports:
According to order, his Excellency the Commander in Chief was admitted to a public audience, and being seated, and silence ordered, the President, after a pause, informed him, that the United States in Congress assembled, were prepared to receive his communications; Whereupon, he arose and addressed Congress as follows:
'Mr. President: 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 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'
George Washington then advanced and delivered to President of the United States his commission, with a copy of his address, and resumed his place. President Thomas Mifflin returned him the following answer:
Sir, The United States in Congress assembled receive with emotions, too affecting for utterance, the solemn deposit resignation of the authorities under which you have led their troops with safety and triumph success through a long a perilous and a doubtful war. When called upon by your country to defend its invaded rights, you accepted the sacred charge, before they it had formed alliances, and whilst they were it was without funds or a government to support you. You have conducted the great military contest with wisdom and fortitude, through invariably regarding the fights of the civil government power through all disasters and changes. You have, by the love and confidence of your fellow-citizens, enabled them to display their martial genius, and transmit their fame to posterity. You have persevered, till these United States, aided by a magnanimous king and nation, have been enabled, under a just Providence, to close the war in freedom, safety and independence; on which happy event we sincerely join you in congratulations.
Having planted defended the standard of liberty in this new world: having taught an useful lesson a lesson useful to those who inflict and to those who feel oppression, you retire from the great theatre of action, loaded with the blessings of your fellow-citizens, but your fame the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your official life the glory of your many virtues will military command, it will continue to animate remotest posterity ages and this last act will not be among the least conspicuous . We feel with you our obligations to the army in general; and will particularly charge ourselves with the interests of those confidential officers, who have attended your person to this interesting affecting moment.
We join you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, beseeching him to dispose the hearts and minds of its citizens, to improve the opportunity afforded them, of becoming a happy and respectable nation. And for you we address to him our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved may be fostered with all his care; that your days may be happy, as they have been illustrious; and that he will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.
What made this action especially remarkable was that George Washington, at his pinnacle of his power and popularity, surrendered his commission to President Thomas Mifflin, who had conspired to replace him as Commander-in-Chief with Horatio Gates in 1777. Washington was now a private citizen. The next day he left Annapolis, and made all haste to return to his beloved Mount Vernon holding true to the example of Cincinnatus.  Washington would serve as the first President of the Order of Cincinnatus.