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George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army

The Second Continental Congress opened on May 10, 1775. For six weeks the delegates debated and studied the problems facing the colonies. The majority, including Washington, hoped to avoid war, but also feared they could not avoid it.

Wanting to inspire his fellow delegates to action, Washington began wearing the uniform he wore during the French and Indian War. As one of the few delegates with actual military experience, he was appointed to one military committee after another. He was also asked to prepare a defense of New York City, to study ways to obtain gunpowder, to make plans for an army, and to write army regulations.

George Washington being appointed Commander-in-Chief
Washington appointed Commander in Chief

On June 14, 1775, Congress called on Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to send troops to aid Boston, which had just come under British military rule. John Adams rose to discuss the need of electing a commander in chief. He praised Washington highly and said his popularity would help unite the colonies. Despite objections from many New England delegates, Washington was elected by unanimous vote of Congress the following day. Stressing that he had not sought the position, Washington accepted Congress' appointment on June 16, and the commission was formally conferred on June 19. He left for Massachusetts a few days later, and assumed command of the Continental Army in Cambridge on July 3, 1775.

Washington's commission as drafted by the Continental Congress
the commission as drafted by the Continental Congress

In November, 1783, Washington received word that the Treaty of Paris had been signed two months earlier, formally ending the Revolutionary War. The last British soldiers went aboard ships at New York City on November 25, and that same day Washington led his troops into the city. On December 4, he said goobye to his officers in a meeting at Fraunces Tavern. He formally resigned his commission as Commander in Chief on December 23, 1783.

Washington resigning his commission
Washington resigns his commission

When he accepted his commission, Washington made it clear that he would accept no pay for his service save his actual expenses. True to his word, he kept a detailed account of all expenses incurred, and presented that account to Congress upon his resignation. Had he accepted the $500 monthly pay offered by Congress, Washington would have collected approximately $48,000 over the eight years of his service. By contrast, the final bill he presented Congress upon his resignation totaled $449,261.51, which was duly paid. It is probably little wonder that Congress refused Washington's offer to serve as President for expense money only.

Washington's account of his expenses
Washington's account of his expenses

See Also

French and Indian War
John Adams
Pennsylvania
Maryland
Virginia
Massachusetts
New York City

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The Robinson Library >> George Washington

This page was last updated on August 30, 2018.