Of all the things George Washington (1732-1799) did for the United States, from leading the Continental Army to ultimate victory in the American Revolution to setting every precedent as the first President and “Father of the Country,” perhaps his greatest act was his voluntary resignation as commander of the armies, an act that stunned the world. Everyone in the colonies and the world realized that Washington, at the head of the last army standing in the colonies, could have made himself king of the new United States on the spot, and it would have been a move supported by his rank and file soldiers. Instead, Washington became the first Westerner to voluntarily demobilize his army, ensuring civilian control of the new nation. King George III called Washington "the greatest character of the age" for making that decision.
As it would turn out, Washington was the first President after the establishment of the U.S. Constitution, ruling from 1788-1796. Not only did he set every precedent, from forming a “Cabinet” to limiting himself to two terms, he even set precedents with his farewell address, which helped guide the policies of subsequent presidents.
This edition of Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address is specially formatted and includes images of Washington and the speech.