February 22, 2013


Our First Ex-President (Steve Klugewicz, 2/21/13, Imaginative Conservative)

The reality of his stepping down was a watershed moment for the country then, as the pope's resignation is for the Church now.

Though Americans embraced the republican tenet of the necessity of rotation in office and were indeed already getting used to the presence of former chief executives at the state level, the case of Washington's departure was quite different. This was no mere stepping down of a Roman consul of the old Republic. Both the office of the American presidency and the first man to occupy it possessed an air of regality. In fact, upon Washington's election to the presidency in 1788, those with monarchical leanings, such as Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, pushed to give the new chief executive a regal title. Hamilton favored "His Excellency," whereas Adams put forward the ungainly "His Highness the President of the United States and Protector of the Rights of Same." Others suggested "His Elective Highness" or "His Exalted High Mightiness." Though the Senate and Washington finally agreed on "Mister President" (Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette would still employ "His Excellency"), Washington was the one man in the country who possessed such an innate dignity and royal bearing that he needed no kingly titles to prop him up.

Even before he assumed the presidency, Washington was widely considered one of the greatest men of his age. Among Americans, he was already being called the father of his country ("you will become the father to more than three millions of children," Hamilton had told him in urging him to accept the presidency), and King George III had famously declared him "the greatest character of the age" when he laid down his sword in 1783. He was trusted by Americans like no other public figure before or since. Historian Forrest McDonald has argued that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention would never have invested the presidency with such powers as it did if not for the fact that they believed that Washington would serve as the country's first chief executive.

Washington knew, as does Pope Benedict, that he was setting a modern precedent by voluntarily relinquishing power and that his actions after leaving office would have a great effect on the future of the people he had led.

Posted by at February 22, 2013 5:22 AM

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