Friday, January 3, 2014

The Resignation...Again?

The words of Washington’s resignation speech, “Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life,” have been uttered more than once on the floor of the Old Senate Chamber.[1] In fact, multiple reenactments of George Washington’s resignation before Congress have taken place over the years.

From the dedication of a plaque by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1916 to Colonial Day in 1928 and the Bicentennial Celebrations in 1932, the resignation ceremony has been a focal point in the way Maryland remembers George Washington.

Photograph of a costumed ball in the State House lobby for Colonial Day, 1928. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1754-01-15.

Reenactment of Washington's resignation as part of the Colonial Day festivities, 1928. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1754-1-13.

In 1932, the federal government planned a series of celebrations over the course of nine months in honor of Washington’s life. Washington’s eighteen visits to Annapolis throughout his lifetime made the city one of the hot spots of the celebrations.

The opening ceremony of the bicentennial celebrations for Annapolis took place in the Old Senate Chamber. The focal point of the event was a ceremonial wreath that was arranged below Charles Willson Peale’s painting of Washington, Lafayette, and Tilghman at Yorktown, which hung in the Old Senate Chamber. The state flag was also placed ceremonially by the portrait and the event was commemorated “with speaking and music.”[2]

Ticket for the Civitan Club's reenactment of the resignation. Maryland State Archives, Mrs. Philip R. Alger Collection of the Annapolis George Washington Bicentennial Commission, MSA SC 5.

But what would celebrations in honor of the life of Washington be without a reenactment of his resignation? The 1932 bicentennial celebrations were sure to honor that moment on June 21 of that year in the Old Senate Chamber. The local delegation of Civitan International staged a reenactment that attracted nearly 700 members of the club along with local citizens. Ultimately, the cast had to stage the ceremony three times to accommodate the size of the audience![3]

George Washington reenactor waiting to enter the OSC from the Senate Committee Room, 18 February 2010.

Reenactments have continued to be put on in the room as recently as 2010, and will surely continue for years to come with the re-opening of the Old Senate Chamber in December 2014.

[1] Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford et al. (Washington, D.C., 1904-37), vol.25, p.818.
[2] George Washington Bicentennial Commission Minutes, 26 January 1932, MSA SC 5.
[3] “Civitans to Visit Annapolis Today,” 21 June 1932, MSA SC 5.

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