Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Why Did George Washington Retire Before He Became President?

One of the questions asked often on the Internet is why George Washington retired as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army before becoming President of the United States. The simple answer is that General George Washington was done with public life....in 1783. Once the British signed the Treaty of Paris recognizing American independence, General Washington's task was done and all he wanted to do at that point was head home to Martha and Mount Vernon. He had no interest in serving in any public office, political or otherwise, when he retired in 1783.

Note that this was four years before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and five years before the election for the first President of the United States created by that Constitution. The presidency that Washington would step into was still several years off when the Treaty of Paris was signed. The only "president of the United States" at the time of General Washington's retirement was the head of the Congress under the nascent Articles of Confederation, and that was a very different office from the one created by the Constitution in 1787-88.

General Washington would of course come out of retirement to attend, and later preside over, the Constitutional Convention in 1787. That body was called to revise the Articles of Confederation. It ended up replacing them entirely. The requisite number of states ratified the new compact by the time of the presidential election in 1788. George Washington was unanimously elected. By that time, he was out of retirement, being an advocate for the new Constitution.

After two terms as President, Washington announced his retirement again, returning to Mount Vernon. He was called once more out of retirement by President John Adams who asked him to command the American army in preparation for a possible invasion from France, a Revolutionary War ally that had experienced a violent change in government. Washington agreed on the condition that he remain at Mount Vernon. His second-in-command, Alexander Hamilton, became the effective commander of the American army, which was dissolved once peace with France was established.

Retirement is actually one of the keys to Washington's greatness. Washington had several opportunities to seize power and essentially hold it until his death. He could've been a king or dictator in America. He refused. His humility and self-restraint make him one of the greatest leaders in all of history.

**For more on George Washington's character, check out The Religion of George Washington: The Faith and Moral Philosophy of our Greatest Founding Father

1 comment:

Blog FastCare said...

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