On the fourth of March, in the Year of our Lord 1797, the clouds lifted by noon, and George Washington officially retired from public life. This served President Washington well, as he had two desires on his mind that morning. First, to return to the simple life of farming he had enjoyed before being drafted time and again into involuntary service. Second, a new pair of dentures direct from Dr. Greenwood awaited him at Mount Vernon, and his current set had become a curse of pain throughout his jaw.
By the time the President had arrived at Congress Hall, the process of handing over the infant government had already begun. John Adams had been effectively displaced as the Vice President by none other than Thomas Jefferson, Washington’s own prodigal Secretary of State. Washington supposed reasonable men existed in the world who would find the souring of his association with Jefferson to be a source of bitterness and scorn. Instead, it barely crossed his mind at all, beyond a mild morbid, yet historical curiosity as to what fate might befall his new Vice-President, were Washington to expire before his scheduled obsolescence at noon.
Upon entering the House Chamber at Congress Hall, everyone stood in respectful attention of Washington. This included the new President—the aforementioned Adams—which Washington found distasteful. He had—as a matter of course—tried to eschew ostentation. And yet, Adams wore the simple garment of a farmer who was of a mind to be seen in church by his peers, which Washington concluded Adams still was at his core. It made Washington’s own dress suit of black velvet—to say nothing of Jefferson’s own likely-French monstrosity—appear to be that of common men who would assume themselves to be kings.
Adams gave a short address, but if anyone had tried to poll Washington’s memory of the Massachusetts man’s words, he would come up short. He had spoken of the looming specter of conflict in France and the potential of war anew with Britain, but Washington supposed his attention wandered because regardless of this man’s success, the fear of war or the hope of peace would not involve Washington in any way. It was just as well.
Having finished speaking, Adams turned to Chief Justice Ellsworth and spoke the same oath Washington had given twice before.
With the business done, Adams—Washington had to correct his thinking, the new President—approached him with a hand extended in friendship. There was also a pleading, cloying quality to the entreaty. Washington knew this insistent look all too well. There were few people Washington met who did not possess it. The new President wanted him to give some sort of… blessing, for lack of a better term. A word of encouragement, some ray of hope that could get him through the dark days they both knew were quickly to come.
His jaw aching, he leaned down to the new President and whispered the only words he would say aloud during the ceremony. “Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!”
Adams’ eyes went wide, and if Washington could move his mouth with any sense of ease, he might have laughed at the reaction. The other man might mark such a remark for posterity, but Washington imagined no one believing Adams’ anecdote of Washington’s mirth. The thought nearly made him laugh again. Instead, having sufficiently spooked his successor, Washington only then felt that his work was truly complete, and retired to his accommodations in what could no longer truthfully be called the President’s House.
He would leave Philadelphia within a few days. Indeed, most of his things were already on their way to Mount Vernon. The cemented past and the unknowable future spread throughout his mind and soul. But, at that same time, he could not avoid the knowledge that neither of those concepts belonged to him. At least, not anymore. Taking quill in hand, he tried to put the day into words and instead settled for the following:
Much such a day as yesterday in all respects. Mercury at 41.