“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I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which, however, was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven. The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my countrymen, increases with every review of the momentous contest.” Then, after a word of gratitude to the army and to his staff, he concluded as follows: “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping.
“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.”
In singularly graceful and eloquent words his old opponent, Thomas Mifflin, the president, replied, the simple ceremony ended, and Washington left the room a private citizen.
The great master of English fiction, touching this scene with skillful hand, has said: “Which was the most splendid spectacle ever witnessed, the opening feast of Prince George in London, or the resignation of Washington? Which is the noble character for after ages to admire,—yon fribble dancing in lace and spangles, or yonder hero who sheathes his sword after a life of spotless honor, a purity unreproached, a courage indomitable, and a consummate victory?”
There is no need to say more. Comment or criticism on such a farewell, from such a man, at the close of a long civil war, would be not only superfluous but impertinent. The contemporary newspaper, in its meagre account, said that the occasion was deeply solemn and affecting, and that many persons shed tears. Well indeed might those then present have been thus affected, for they had witnessed a scene memorable forever in the annals of all that is best and noblest in human nature. They had listened to a speech which was not equaled in meaning and spirit in American history until, eighty years later, Abraham Lincoln stood upon the slopes of Gettysburg and uttered his immortal words upon those who died that the country might live.
INDEX for Volumes I & II
describes Washington’s personal appearance, ii. 386-388.
on Washington’s appearance in 1775, i. 137.