Founding Brothers

Why did Washington decide to retire?

Consider private, public, and political concerns.

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Washington was known for his immaculate health and superior strength. However, in 1790, soon after being elected President, he nearly died from the flu. Jefferson believed that Washington's mental decline began with this affliction. In 1794, Washington hurt his back while riding, and his physical appearance steadily declined from that moment. John Adams, Washington's Vice President, noted that the great man “seemed dazed and wholly scripted at certain public ceremonies, like an actor reading his lines or an aging athlete going through the motions” (125). Based on this final point, Ellis theorizes that Washington feared the possibility of dying while in office. However, Ellis sees in this motivation more than just personal pride; he reads in it Washington's desire to keep the republic intact.