Friday, August 23, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 122: George Washington & Thomas Mifflin, Washington Resigns His Commission (#163)

George Washington & Thomas Mifflin, "Washington Resigns His Commission" (1783) from The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence:

When I answer the totally real and applicable question, "Which of the Founding Fathers is your spirit animal?," my answer has been the same since I was very young: Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, the curious, deceitful, inventor, who fills in American mythology the same role as Coyote, Raven, Loki, and other trickster gods.

Part of that was always the child-storybook depiction of Washington the unsmiling as this forthright pillar of truth, the original boy scout. Now that I'm older and have seen how much alcohol he (a) drank and (b) bought for other people to drink so that they would vote for him, my idea of Washington has softened somewhat.

Still, for all the Fish House punch he drank, we can't shake the idea of Washington as an American Cincinnatus--and for good reason too: like Cincinnatus, Washington went home. (And gosh darn if we don't need more examples of the executive branch that didn't involve extending one's power.) There is something grand and poetic in Washington's resignation:
I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence.
Of course, that's just a little taste as Washington's sentences do go on a bit; but I just pulled this phrase out as being nicely complete and balanced.

Today's selection also nicely highlight Thomas Mifflin's response, which he gave as President of the Continental Congress. I especially like Mifflin's closing note,:
And for you we address to him [god] our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved may be fostered with all his care; that your days may be happy as they have been illustrious; and that he will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.
I'm not one much for god-stuff, but the note about days being happy as they were once illustrious is a useful reminder that illustriousness wasn't a virtue. Now, to that, Benjamin Franklin might have something to say...

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