December 4

This Day in History

Presidential

Dec 4, 1783:

Washington bids farewell to his officers

On this day in 1783, future President George Washington, then commanding general of the Continental Army, summons his military officers to Fraunces Tavern in New York City to inform them that he will be resigning his commission and returning to civilian life.

Washington had led the army through six long years of war against the British before the American forces finally prevailed at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. There, Washington received the formal surrender of British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, effectively ending the Revolutionary War, although it took almost two more years to conclude a peace treaty and slightly longer for all British troops to leave New York.

Although Washington had often during the war privately lamented the sorry state of his largely undisciplined and unhealthy troops and the ineffectiveness of most of his officer corps, he expressed genuine appreciation for his brotherhood of soldiers on this day in 1783. Observers of the intimate scene at Fraunces Tavern described Washington as "suffused in tears," embracing his officers one by one after issuing his farewell. Washington left the tavern for Annapolis, Maryland, where he officially resigned his commission on December 23. He then returned to his beloved estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia, where he planned to live out his days as a gentleman farmer.

Washington was not out of the public spotlight for long, however. In 1789, he was coaxed out of retirement and elected as the first president of the United States, a position he held until 1797.

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