George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Army of the United States of America, resigned his commission at the end of the American War of Independence and retired to Mount Vernon, his plantation in Virginia, noting that he intended to “move gently down the stream of life.”
Within a few years however, as the young United States struggled to establish itself as a truly independent power, Washington, among others, began to worry that all the sacrifice of the war would be for naught if something was not done to redesign the Union. Bankrupt, and unable to pay its debts to foreign governments as well as its own citizenry, the United States looked as though it would break apart into many small republics. With no ability to tax, and unable to enforce treaty obligations, secure its own borders, negotiate commercial treaties, or suppress internal insurrections, the United States was fast becoming a failed state.
The subsequent Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia wrote a new blueprint for the United States, which went into effect in 1789—to date the longest existing written constitution of a popular government in the world. George Washington was unanimously elected as the first chief executive under the Constitution, and his successful ability in turning a piece of paper into a real government, while navigating a dangerous world of international war and revolution, domestic instability, and a growing polarization in politics, is one of the great examples of strategic leadership in American history.