|Painting by John Trumbull of George Washington resigning his commission (on display in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol)|
Image courtesy of Architect of the Capitol, originally posted on the U.S. Army's Facebook page. Fair use claimed.
On this day in 1783, George Washington resigned his commission as Commander of the Continental Army. Although he had cemented victory over two years' earlier at Yorktown, it took that long to finally secure the terms of America's victory. Not quite a #16 seed in the "March Madness" of history, but nonetheless, an huge upset.
Washington's story is well-known to most of us. The first president, the hero of the Revolution, the "Father of his Country," the boy who cut down the cherry tree, and yes, slave owner.
There are a few lesser-known facts about this man. One being that he was denied a royal commission in the British Army during the French and Indian War. As the link below puts it, he "chafed" at this slight. He had proven himself a superb soldier and stellar leader. I suppose that was not enough to overcome his less that noble background.
Another is the death of his son, (technically his step-son) a casualty of the war from "camp fever." Ironic that he held a supposedly "safe" position as an aide-de-camp to Washington, yet disease knows no front lines. As was the case in most wars until the last century, disease killed more, many more, than bullets or bombs.
|The iconic painting of Washington crossing the Delaware by E. Luetze, (Metropolitan Museum of Art) fair use claimed|
By 1783, Washington was almost universally beloved. He had taken a rag-tag group of farmers and merchants and molded them into a capable fighting force. However, it did not start out that way. Washington suffered defeat after defeat. If he would have been a football coach, he'd likely have been fired after the '76 season, even with the win in the "Trenton Bowl," as pictured above.
Yet what he did do was keep the army in the field. By being able to maintain a legitimate fighting force, the British could not claim victory. Eventually, the British people grew weary of war far away from home. (We experienced a similar war about two centuries later.)
Foreign Policy did an interesting piece entitled, "Founding Insurgents" (link below) Dr. John Arquilla writes:
"In the main, what took shape was an insurgent approach to the war based on "winning by not losing," and it was nowhere better employed than in the South. It was there that the Revolution was won — not so much by the main force as by the inspired blending of conventional infantry and irregular raiders."
Washington was able to secure victory. His resignation of his command in 1783 might have been surprising to some. After all, why not hang out for a while? Keep the gig, the uniform, the sword. Why give up something that you worked so hard for and was unfairly denied to you all those years ago?
Because Washington realized that resigning his commission was the only thing to do. Aside from the practical reasons for resigning (no need for a big standing army) he understood the critical importance of the citizen-soldier.
A "royal" commission might be forever. He no longer sought such a thing. He had traded it for something far better, a new country, a new republic.
And the only way to keep that was to give up his command.
Washington saw just how good a trade that was and took it.
I'm glad he did.
Be well my friends,