Wednesday, July 25, 2012

George Washington Resigns, Speech Returns

George Washington's Resignation Speech,
 Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5664.


Considered to be the most significant Washington document to change hands in the past 50 years, George Washington's final draft of his resignation speech was acquired by the Maryland State Archives in January of 2007. Soon it will return to the Maryland State House where the speech was delivered on December 23, 1783. 

The purchase also included a letter that James McHenry, Maryland congressman and Washington's former aide, wrote to his wife-to-be, Margaret (Peggy) Caldwell, describing the ceremony. When Washington delivered his speech, "the  spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears," wrote McHenry. Both of these documents have been privately held since 1783.

There are two other official copies of Washington's resignation speech: one in the Library of Congress and another in the National Archives; however, the manuscript acquired by the Maryland State Archives is the annotated original. Penned by Washington, this draft features crossed-out lines and revisions to word choice as Washington carefully crafted the phrasing to formally resign as commander in chief of the Continental Army.

What is most noteworthy--and unique to the copy owned by the State of Maryland--is found in the last paragraph when Washington crosses out the words "final" and "ultimate" to read: "bidding an affectionate, final farewell to this August body...I here today deliver my Commission, and take my ultimate leave of all the employments of public life." These minor edits reveal that Washington knew that despite his years of arduous service during the war he would be willing to return if called.

Currently, a state-of-the-art exhibit case is being constructed to display Washington's resignation speech in order to protect it from light exposure and a fluctuating climate. Once completed, and the Old Senate Chamber is restored to its original appearance, visitors will be able to walk in Washington's footsteps on that monumental December day beginning in the Old Senate Chamber Committee Room, through the Chamber, and out into the rotunda where Washington's words will be prominently exhibited.

Washington’s Resignation Speech (Final Draft)
Annapolis, December 23, 1783
Mr. President,                                                             
The great events on which my resignation depended, having at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and [&] of presenting myself before {Congress} them, to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring {request permission to retire} from the service of my country.
Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States, of becoming a respectable Nation {as well as in the contemplation of our prospect of National happiness}, 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.
While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the war. -- It was impossible the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. --Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice & patronage of Congress.--
I consider it an indispensable duty {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 superintendance {direction} 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 {a final} farewell to this August body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer {today deliver?} my Commission, and take my {ultimate} leave of all the employments of public life.

The Archives and the Friends of the Maryland State Archives wish to thank the executive and legislative branches of the Maryland state government for their support of Maryland's acquisition of these historic documents. We would also like to acknowledge the generous support of private donors and heritage organizations. If you would like to contribute to the interpretation and exhibition of this document, please contact the Friends of the Maryland State Archives.

1 comment:

  1. When Washington delivered his speech, "the spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears," wrote McHenry. speech recognition program

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