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America’s greatest leaders made great personal sacrifices | READER COMMENTARY

George Washington resigns his commission in the Maryland State House in Annapolis in a painting by John Trumbull. File. (Courtesy image/Capital Gazette).

Dan Rodricks’ recent column, “How to convince a Trump supporter it’s time to move on” (June 10), reflects on the ongoing House select committee hearings investigating the events of Jan. 6. Perhaps the retelling of an episode from Maryland history might help to open some minds.

In his latest book, “The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783,” Pulitzer Prize winning historian Joseph J. Ellis reminds us of the remarkable finale to the conflict that took place on Dec. 5, 1783. The occasion was General George Washington’s resignation of his commission as the commander of America’s Continental Army and return to private life in Mt. Vernon.


General Washington had traveled to Annapolis from his New York headquarters to make things official. He was then the most esteemed person in our new republic and almost certainly could have installed himself as the king or emperor over its vastly expanded territory garnered from the peace treaty. Instead, he chose to retire.

As luck would have it, Thomas Jefferson had attended the gathering and, according to Professor Ellis, Mr. Jefferson would write to a friend, “The moderation and character of a single man has probably prevented the revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of the liberty it was intended to establish.” Mr. Jefferson was implying that George Washington had chosen to elevate the perpetuation of the United States above any personal gain. Later, when news of Mr. Washington’s resignation reached England’s King George III, he is reported to have said, “If he does that, he will become the greatest man in the world.”


Similarly, no one wanted to win the 2000 presidential election more than Al Gore. Mr. Gore’s defeat was confirmed by a few hundred votes in a single state. After exhausting all legal steps in the controversy surrounding that election, Mr. Gore, serving as president of the Senate in January 2001, confirmed the victory of President George W. Bush. When faced with choosing a personal victory or performing his constitutional duty, Mr. Gore, like Mr. Washington, opted for the United States, a nation under the law.

— Joe Garonzik, Baltimore

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