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Washington Resigning His Commission

ca. 1841 Ferdinand Pettrich Born: Dresden, Germany 1798 Died: Rome, Italy 1872 painted plaster 86 x 48 1/2 x 36 3/8 in. (218.3 x 123.2 x 92.3 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the artist XX35 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, East Wing

Gallery Label

George Washington refused to accept the extraordinary power Congress offered to him after his victory over the British, declaring "as the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberties, so it ought to be the first thing laid aside, when those liberties are firmly established." He resigned his military commission and became an ordinary citizen because he believed that only monarchies needed standing armies, chiefly to keep the people subdued. Citizen militias, organized at moments of crisis and quickly disbanded, represented the true nature of a democracy. Ferdinand Pettrich created this work when political power in the United States was being consolidated around the federal government. He may have felt that this historic moment in Washington’s life would remind a new generation of the nation's founding ideals, and of the dangers of too much power given to too few.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006


Ceremony - military - resignation

History - United States - Revolution

Occupation - military - general

Portrait male - Washington, George - full length

Study - sculpture model