During a recent visit to New York City, I stood in a room in which a great man put aside his own ambitions so that a new kind of nation could grow.
That place was the Long Room in Fraunces Tavern and the man was George Washington. The day was Dec. 4, 1783. It had been two years since the British surrender after the Battle of Yorktown effectively ended the Revolutionary War, but it took years for the final terms.
On Nov. 25, Washington entered the city in triumph as the British evacuated the city.
At that point, he could have been king. He had risked everything: his family, fortune and, perhaps even most important to him, his reputation. He had slogged through hardship and treachery from some of his own officers for seven years. If the British had caught him during that period, he could have been hanged in a village square, to be forever disgraced as a failed rebel leader.
Now, it was all before him. He was the hero of a people who didn’t know what would come next. Many wanted Washington to become the sovereign.
He was always ambitious. Who knows, he might have even entertained the thought. But, if he did, he never revealed it.
Instead, he said that if he became king it would go against everything everybody fought for. Home is where he wanted to go.
On that December day, he called for a lunch gathering of his officers in a corner room on the second floor of Fraunces Tavern in what is today known as the financial district of Manhattan.
Washington poured himself a glass of wine and raised it, saying, “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.”
After a tearful farewell, he was off to surrender his commission formally. And then, finally, to Mount Vernon.
Of course, he would serve again as president, always attentive to doing what was right, rather than personally enriching.
Then he turned over power to a new president. And he went home again.
That simple act was perhaps the most revolutionary of all in a world filled with monarchs for life.
Will we ever see that kind of grace again?
Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. He was also vice president of communications for an insurance agents’ association. Steve can be reached at [email protected]
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