Today in history, on Dec. 23, 1783, George Washington resigned command of the Continental Army.
Bringing his sword to the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Washington refused to forcibly seize political power through military means. He then departed from what was then the capital of the United States, riding his horse back to Mount Vernon. Washington even resigned from his local Virginia vestry, fully intending to forever return to civilian life.
This action led some to deem Washington an American Cincinnatus, a famous figure from the Roman Republic. A group of senators recruited him to serve as dictator, an appointment made during times of emergency, while he was tending to his farm. After a famous battle, Cincinnatus disbanded his army and stepped down from his post, refusing to take power even when absolute authority was granted to him. Famous Roman historian Livy wrote that Cincinnatus instead returned home to continue plowing his fields.
Washington’s deed was virtually unprecedented in the entire history of the world. It was so unexpected that when news of his gesture reached Europe, even King George III remarked that the event would make Washington the “greatest man in the world.”
Despite some military blunders in the War of Independence, Washington’s submission to republicanism made him known as an incorruptible figure who defied the natural inclination to consolidate political power through military force.
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