On the heels of an improbable victory against the greatest military power of the age, Washington could have tried to assume control of the fragile American government. Instead, being entirely true to his principles, he decided to voluntarily relinquish his power. He did so, as he had done so much else, in the grandest of styles. He went to Congress, then assembled in Annapolis, and gave a short, but very important, farewell address:
"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appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task; which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven. . . .
"Having now finished the work assigned to 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 any leave of all the employments of public life."
By so resigning, Washington kept the American republic alive. He would soon be drawn out of retirement to preside over the Constitutional Convention, and then serve as President. Such discipline and action for the common good is rare in history, then and now. We owe Washington our undying gratitude.
For more about Washington, our Founding Fathers and First Principles, and what makes America the greatest nation in world history, visit Patriot Week and America's Survival Guide.