Friday, December 20, 2013

The Resignation: Washington at the City Gates

In the days leading up to the two hundred and thirtieth anniversary of Washington’s resignation as Commander-in-Chief in the Old Senate Chamber, we will review the events leading up to one of the most significant events in American history.

On the evening of Friday, December 19, 1783, Generals William Smallwood and Horatio Gates, both Revolutionary War heroes, waited alongside several prominent Marylanders on the road a few miles from Annapolis to meet and escort General Washington into the city.[1] Annapolis was to be the final stop in what had become a sort of farewell tour for Washington, who had stopped in several cities along the way. A discharge of a cannon publicly announced his arrival as Smallwood, Gates, and the others led Washington to Mann’s Tavern where he would lodge for the duration of his visit. After meeting with several leading citizens that night, Washington spent some time with the President of Congress, Thomas Mifflin, before retiring for the evening.

A twentieth-century depiction painted by Everette Molinari of Mann's Tavern, where Washington stayed during his resignation and ceremonies. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1545-2893.

The next morning, Washington wrote to Thomas Mifflin to formally “inform Congress of my arrival in this City, with the intention of asking leave to resign the Commission I have the honor of holding in their Service.”[2] He further inquired as to whether they would prefer to receive his resignation privately, by letter, or in a public audience. Congress replied by first welcoming Washington to Annapolis and determining that a public ceremony would be most appropriate to mark the significant event. They resolved that Washington would be admitted to the Old Senate Chamber at noon on the following Tuesday, December 23, 1783 to deliver his final address.[3]

William Paca, as Governor of Maryland, also wrote a warm, official welcome to Washington: “As long Sir as Mankind shall retain a proper Sense of the Blessings of Peace Liberty and Safety, your Character in every Country and in every Age will be honor’d admir’d and rever’d,” Paca added, “but to a Mind elevated as your’s, the Consciousness of having done Great and illustrious Deeds from the purest Principles of Patriotism...must yield a Satisfaction infintiely superior to all the Pomp and Eclat of applauding Ages and admiring Worlds.”[4] 

Washington replied to Paca’s compliments kindly, “Convinced from experience, of the wisdom and decision which have signalized the Government of Maryland, I cannot form a better wish for the future prosperity of the State, than that the same spirit of Justice and Patriotism, which actuated its Councils during a long and eventfull War, may continue to dictate its measures thro’ a durable and happy Peace.” [5]

General Horatio Gates was a member of the welcoming party that escorted Washington into Annapolis. Painted by Gilbert Stuart, c.1793-1794. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977.243.

That evening, Washington dined with Thomas Mifflin, the President of Congress, and several other prominent members of Congress and the state government. Though Mifflin and Washington treated each other with respect during the resignation ceremonies, their meetings in Annapolis may have been somewhat awkward. In 1777, Thomas Mifflin had played a prominent role in a plot known as the Conway Cabal to replace Washington as Commander-in-Chief with General Horatio Gates. However, in written record at least, neither appeared to have shown any signs of disagreement.

Meanwhile, Congress hurriedly set to work making arrangements for a public dinner and ball in honor of Washington. Details for the actual resignation ceremony, as well, required quick planning for which Congress formed a Committee of Procedures.

[1] Baker, William S., Itinerary of General Washington From June 15, 1775 to December 23, 1783. Philadelphia: J.P. Lipincott Company, 1892, p.318-319.
[2] “From George Washington to Thomas Mifflin, 20 December 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives (, ver. 2013-12-02).
[3] Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford et al. (Washington, D.C., 1904-37), vol.25, p.818.
[4] “To George Washington from William Paca, 20 December 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives (, ver. 2013-12-02).
[5] “From George Washington to William Paca, 23 December 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives (, ver. 2013-12-02).

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