First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow countrymen

We will soon observe the 291st birthday of one of the founders of this great nation — George Washington, born on Feb. 22, 1732.

The intent of "Presidents Day" is to honor the legacy of all presidents, but I believe that this marginalizes Washington's unparalleled accomplishments. 

Washington single-handedly led the Continental Army to victory in the American Revolutionary War, presided over the Constitutional Convention, and was our very first president.

On Dec. 4, 1783 — nine days after the last British soldiers left America — George Washington invited the officers of the Continental Army to join him in the Long Room of Fraunces Tavern so he could say farewell.

The best known account of this emotional leave-taking comes from the memoirs of Col. Benjamin Tallmadge, written in 1830.  It can be read here.

As Tallmadge recalled, the time now drew near when Gen. Washington intended to leave for his beloved retreat at Mt. Vernon.

On Tuesday, Dec. 4, it was made known to the officers then in New York that Gen. Washington intended to commence his journey, and the officers gathered at Fraunces Tavern, where he met them to bid farewell.

Washington turned to his officers and said: "With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you.  I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable."

After the officers had taken a glass of wine, Gen. Washington said: "I cannot come to each of you but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand."

Gen. Knox, being nearest to him, turned to the commander-in-chief, who, in tears, was incapable of speaking but grasped his hand when they embraced each other in silence.

In the same affectionate manner, every officer in the room marched up and parted with his general in chief.

The officers then escorted Washington from the tavern to the Whitehall wharf, where he boarded a barge that took him to Annapolis, where the Continental Congress was meeting, and he resigned his commission.  Gen. Washington returned to Mt. Vernon, believing that December 1783 marked the end of his public life.  Little did he realize that he would return to New York six years later to be sworn in as our nation's first president.

Yes, as Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee stated at his funeral oration, George Washington was truly "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow countrymen."

As we approach our nation's 250th birthday (our semi-quincentennial) on July 4, 2026, let us never forget him.

Without Washington's vision, commitment, and service, we would not be a nation.

In view of today's politically motivated "leaders," we could sure use a George Washington now!

Image: New York Public Library via Picryl, CC0 1.0 Dedication, public domain.

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