John Trumbull, one of America’s greatest painters, painted the masterpiece above. Trumbull understood the significance of the moment captured forever on this canvas, and today this masterpiece hangs in the Rotunda of Congress as a symbol of America’s devotion to civilian control over the military.
The Great Works of American Conservatism series highlights the writings, speeches, and art that have had the most influence on American Conservatism from its inception through the present. John Trumbull’s General George Washington Resigning His Commission is certainly one of these Great Works of American Conservatism.
In a future post, I will discuss the significance of General Washington’s resignation and the speech he gave that day, but for now let’s admire the painting for its own worth. Trumbull captures the solemnity of General Washington’s resignation of his military commission to the Continental Congress sitting in Annapolis, Maryland on December 23, 1783. The revolutionary war was won, America gained its independence from Great Britain after nine devastating years of war, and General Washington was the most powerful man in America.
George Washington could have chosen a much different path. He could have been the King of the United States of America; the people probably would have been happy to coronate him immediately. But instead, Washington had a vision of a republican America. A vision where free men and women had the power to elect their own representatives. Trumbull’s painting memorializes the day that America proved to the world that a military hero could relinquish power in the name of liberty.