CONSTITUTION CORNER - Article 53
A HEARTFELT FAREWELL
By Judy Leithe
Throughout the long Revolutionary War, George Washington had been guided by his deeply held faith that Divine Providence would lead his Patriot army to defeat their oppressive British overlords. However, as the years of fighting and deprivations wore on, he wondered if he would live long enough to see America as a sovereign nation. It had been six brutal years of war, plus another two years’ wait until the American and British Peace Treaty was finalized and signed by all parties in Paris on September 3, 1783.
On December 4, 1783, George Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, met with his officer corps at Samuel Fraunces’ Tavern in lower Manhattan, for a final farewell. There were those present, like Nathaniel Green and Henry Knox who, in July of 1775, answered Washington’s first call to arms for brave, healthy, able-bodied, and well-disposed young men…to join the troops under
GENERAL GEORGE WASHINGTON
FOR THE DEFENSE OF THE
LIBERTIES AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE UNITED STATES
All present at Fraunces Tavern knew that had it been Washington’s courage, force of will and, absolute determination that kept the Continental Army marching toward this near-impossible victory against the powerful British Army.
As Washington entered the tavern’s dining hall at 12:00 noon, all of the officers’ eyes were fixed on the face of their General who, masking his emotions, nodded to have their wine glasses filled, and for them to begin eating. However, this activity didn’t allow enough time for the Commander to regain his composure, so unable to hide the tearing of his own eyes, Washington stood, raised his glass and offered a toast to his fellow brothers-in-arms:
"With a heart filled with 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.”
The former book-seller and hero of Ticonderoga (Article 31), General Henry Knox was the first to collect himself and step forward when Washington asked his officers to come to him so he could shake each man’s hand. Believing this was the last time most of them would see Washington, the room was filled with both devotion and sadness as they approached their beloved General.
Also present was Lt. Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge who, in the summer of 1778, had begun his service in the Continental Army as the lead spymaster for Washington’s highly effective Culper Spy Ring (Articles 40 & 41). Tallmadge captured the powerful moments of Washington’s farewell in the following letter:
"Such a scene of sorrow and weeping I had never before witnessed… It was too affecting to be of long continuance – for tears of deep sensibility filled every eye – and the heart seemed so full, that it was wont to burst from its wonted abode. The simple thought that we were then about to part from the man who had conducted us through a long and bloody war, and under whose conduct the glory and independence of our country had been achieved, and that we should see his face no more in this world seemed to me utterly unsupportable."
Next week: WASHINGTON – THE CINCINNATUS OF THE WEST