Saying No to the Crown
After the Revolutionary War, some Americans doubted that the newly freed colonies could govern themselves. In May 1782 George Washington received a letter from one of his officers, Colonel Lewis Nicola, proposing that the general use the army to make himself king of the United States.
Washington’s response on May 22 was sharp:
With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment I have read with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have expressed, [which are] big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. . . . Let me conjure you then, if you have any regard for your country – concern for yourself or posterity – or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind.
Yet there were some who still wondered if General Washington would give up his power. He had the adoration of the people and command of the Continental Army. Washington erased doubts once and for all in late 1783 when he appeared before Congress, meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, to “surrender into their hands the trust committed to me” by resigning his commission.
King George had said that if Washington voluntarily gave up power, then he truly would be the greatest man on earth. Oliver Cromwell hadn’t done it. Napoleon would not do it. But Washington did. He might have had a kingdom for the asking. He was not interested. He put his country first, not himself.