Today is the anniversary (December 23, 1783) of George Washington tendering his resignation as Army commander-in-chief before the Continental Congress, assembled at the Maryland state house in Annapolis, where he said "Having now finished the work assigned to me I retire from the great theater of action." He wanted nothing more than to go back to Martha and Mount Vernon for Christmas, as he had promised her so many years before. It was only three months after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, formally ending the American Revolution.

Caesar would never have contemplated such a thing. Even the simple country squire Cromwell could not bring himself to do such a thing after his victories in the English Civil War only a century before. Why was Washington different? Did he fear the rise of an American empire? No, in fact he looked forward to it, and boldly used that word. But he was an American, and it was to be an American empire; one with no need for emperors. His faith in his fellow Americans and us – his posterity – was deep and wide. We need to remember that, and be grateful for it.
Across the Atlantic, the other George (the III) casually asked the painter Benjamin West if he’d heard anything about Washington’s plans after this crowning achievement:
"They say he wants to go back to his farm, Your Majesty." West replied.
"If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world." the king said.
So great, that after a brief respite his services were more than requested – they were practically demanded – first to preside over the Constitutional Convention, and later as president. And after that? Two terms, then back to Mount Vernon – like Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus returning back to his plow.
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