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George Washington Gave America This Advice the First Time He Tried to Retire

February 14, 2020 in History

By Andrew Cannizzaro

As he stepped down as commander of the Continental Army, he wrote a ‘circular letter’ that outlined four essentials for the new nation’s success.

The American Revolution had just come to an end. George Washington, 51 years old and then the commander in chief of the Continental Army, had resigned his duties and wanted nothing more than to retire to his estate at Mount Vernon and study his crops.

Before he stepped back, though, he had some hard-earned wisdom he felt compelled to share with the country. So in the summer of 1783, he drafted his “Circular Letter to the States,” in which he detailed what he believed it would take for this American experiment to succeed. In many ways, it was a precursor to his famed Farewell Address 13 years later, a prescient warning to the country of the most likely political pitfalls.

WATCH: Hear the future president’s powerful words in the animation ‘George Washington’s Vision for America’

Not that he was angling for the job of leading the transitional new nation. After seven years in the battlefield, Washington wanted nothing more than a respite from public service. “Notwithstanding my advanced season of life,” he wrote in a letter to Colonel Henry Lee, “my increasing fondness for agricultural amusements, and my growing love of retirement, augment and confirm my decided predilection for the character of a private citizen.”

READ MORE: George Washington Warned of Political Infighting in His Farewell Address

‘With our fate will the destiny of unborn millions be involved’

But Washington knew that America had arrived at a momentous crossroads—a place of both great promise and great peril. While the colonists had won the Revolution, a formal peace treaty had not yet been signed with Great Britain. The state governors were wary of handing over any power to Congress, and a wartime army had the daunting task of transitioning back to civilian life. Not to mention, the war had saddled the fledgling nation with massive debt.

With those hardships in mind, General Washington drafted his “Circular Letter,” in which he detailed what he believed it would take for this American experiment to succeed. By June 21, 1783, the letter had been sent to all state governors, but Washington was speaking directly to the people of America through his words.

“It appears to me there is an option still left to the United States of America. …read more


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