Almost 223 years to the day after George Washington strode into the Maryland Statehouse to resign as head of the Continental Army, the state Board of Public Works agreed to buy the handwritten notes from the future president's speech that marked a turning point for the young republic.
The speech, already commemorated by a 14-foot-wide oil painting in the state Capitol, is considered the moment that cemented the new nation's commitment to democratic, civilian rule. State officials said they expected Washington's Dec. 23, 1783, speech and an accompanying letter from a witness to be the centerpieces of the Statehouse history collection.
"The state will acquire one of the most significant documents in U.S. history, the draft of the speech George Washington made when he resigned his commission, the actual paper he held in his hands downstairs when he resigned his commission and bowed to civil authority," state archivist Edward C. Papenfuse said.
The Board of Public Works approved the purchase, which will cost the state $750,000. The documents are appraised at $1.5 million; the rest of the price was made up by a gift from the owners, who have asked to remain anonymous, and private donors.
Papenfuse said Washington arrived in Annapolis, which was the nation's capital at the time, with the intention of resigning his commission. Washington asked the members of Congress whether they expected him to simply hand in his resignation or to make remarks. They asked him to give a speech.
He retired to the inn where he was staying and wrote out a speech by hand.
Papenfuse said the draft, which includes crossed-out words and revisions, reveals a great deal about Washington's thinking.
"Rarely do we find compositions in Washington's hand that show how carefully he crafted his words," Papenfuse said.