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Photo of booth showcasing George Washington's speech.
Booth showcasing George Washington’s resignation speech of December 23, 1783. Photo by Eva Dauke..

George Washington’s Resignation as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army – Pic of the Week

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The following is a guest post by Eva Dauke, a foreign law intern working with Foreign Law Specialist Jenny Gesley at the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress.

On a recent trip to Annapolis, Maryland, I visited the State House of Maryland where George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783.

After the victory of the Continental Army against the British Army in the Revolutionary War, George Washington returned to Annapolis, which was the temporary capital of the United States following the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The treaty ended the American Revolution and formally acknowledged the United States as an independent nation.

Photo of booth showcasing George Washington's speech.
Booth showcasing George Washington’s resignation speech of December 23, 1783. Photo by Eva Dauke.


On December 23, 1783, at noon, Washington presented his resignation in the form of a brief speech to Congress at the Old Senate Chamber:

“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.”

Washington’s resignation is considered a “final revolutionary act,” as many had expected that he would assume political power following the revolution. He ceded his privilege to civilian authority to ensure that the United States would become a democratic republic.

Photo of bronze statute of George Washington in the Old Senate Chamber in the Maryland State House in Annapolis, MD. Statue of Mary “Molly” Ridout, seen on a viewing balcony.
George Washington statute in the Old Senate Chamber. Mary “Molly” Ridout, seen on the viewing balcony. Photo by Eva Dauke.


Nowadays, the bronze statue of Washington is placed where it is believed that he stood delivering his speech. The members of Congress were seated in the chairs displayed in the Old Senate Chamber. At the time, the gallery, also known as the “Ladies Balcony,” was the only location where women were permitted to view Congress. The female statute displayed in the gallery is Mary “Molly” Ridout, who wrote one of the few descriptions of the event in a letter:

“… the General seemed so much affected himself that everybody felt for him, he addressed Congress in a short Speech but very affecting many tears were shed… I think the World never produced a greater man & very few so good.”

Washington’s personal copy of the resignation speech is displayed in the Maryland State House, where the event took place. Two additional copies are kept at the National Archives in Washington D.C. and here in the Library of Congress’s Manuscript collection. The speech is regarded as one of the most important documents in American history, alongside the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

After his resignation, Washington returned to Mount Vernon, where he remained for several years before getting elected as the first president of the United States. He was elected twice and served from 1789 to 1797.

If you would like to know more about George Washington and his resignation, you can browse the Library of Congress’s collection of the George Washington Papers, which includes his resignation speech.

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