George Washington’s Greatest Act

On December 23, 1783, General Washington resigns his commission and heads home in peace

Painting by John Trumbull

On this day, December 23, in 1783, General George Washington tendered his resignation as Commander-in-Chief of the American Continental Army and headed home for Mount Vernon as a private citizen.

In so doing, he became one of the only victorious leaders of an armed insurrection or revolutionary movement in world history to voluntarily surrender power. He also confirmed some very longstanding traditions in American democracy for which all Americans — of every color, status, background, and perspective — should be grateful today.

There has been a considerable amount of controversy these last few years, especially this year (2020) over how we should remember our past and how we should view past political leaders, especially the men we know as the Founding Fathers.

For all their accomplishments, the Founders were all white men, and most of them were men of privilege. And they weren’t exactly “woke.” Women didn’t enjoy anywhere near the level of political rights or social opportunities of today. Racial equality? Forget it. In fact, many of our leaders from the founding era, including Washington, held men and women of color as enslaved persons. Progressive activists and proponents of social justice can’t exactly hold up the American founding era as a beacon of the kind of world they seek to create today.

There’s no question that the Founding Fathers fell short in many areas. They were mortal, flawed human beings. Like all of us, they had their sins and shortcomings. And some of the sins many of them practiced, such as slavery, were indeed egregious.

George Washington was not a perfect man, but history is full of imperfect men and women. In fact, all of history is made up of imperfect people.

Anyone who fashions himself or herself a progressive should believe in progress. And should give credit for such progress when it’s made. Thus, we should all give credit to George Washington who most certainly progressed on issues such as slavery — and who also moved the needle forward on issues such as democracy, the rule of law, and basic civil rights.

Without George Washington, we wouldn’t even have a United States of America today.

And on December 23, Washington did something that very few leaders (past or present) would have the character, humility, our courage to do. He walked away from power.

By resigning his commission, Washington confirmed two longstanding traditions, including:

  • democracy over dictatorship
  • civilian oversight of the military

Most of all, he signaled to the world that the American Revolution was birthing a new kind of nation — something extraordinary and remarkable — a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people” (as Abraham Lincoln would later say).

Washington did this, mind you, at a time when many — including many voices in the army — wanted him to become a king or dictator for America.

Not only did he walk away from power at the end of the American Revolution, but he did it again years later when he declined a third term as President.

Despite his flaws (and everyone has some), George Washington remains the greatest American hero. And all Americans today should be grateful to him.

A writer doing my best to help people on this road we call life. | Follow me on Twitter @briantubbs and Facebook at

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store