The Commander in Chief of the United States is the President of the same nation. I think many don’t realize this. They think he is just the leader of the nation and makes speeches while ticking off about half the citizens. They think he is just a politician who sits in a fancy office.
That was not how it started out. It was in 1775 that Washington became the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army without taking the position or even claiming to be the leader of the country. There technically wasn’t a country to lead.
First Act as Commander
When George Washington became the Commander in Chief in 1775, it was only to lead the bunch of soldiers that wanted England to recognize them. There was no final decision to declare themselves an independent country. He was just the one in charge of the overall rough military the colonists had pulled together.
Many of America’s founding fathers did not desire separation from England. They only wanted to be treated fairly. The position of Commander in Chief was unknowingly a premonition of what was to come.
It was the very next year that the colonies declared their independence. There was no one particular leader as the Continental Congress became the governing body until the war was over and they could look to better organize the new country. Washington was the head of the army and led all decisions in that matter.
For centuries, the title of Commander in Chief no matter what language it was translated into was always used in reference to the national leader whether it was king or emperor. Tradition held that the Commander of all armies ultimately laid at the feet of the national leader. By giving Washington the title of Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, the Continental Congress was giving Washington the leadership of a whole new country.
It was Washington who led the army that defeated and accepted the surrender of the English. It was Washington who took over the leadership of the drafting of the Constitution. None of these were minor feats as each one required strong leadership and determination. It became the obvious choice to many that the only man fully qualified to be the true Commander in Chief was the one who had already successfully held that title, General George Washington.
Just a Side Step
Upon taking the position of the first president of the newly established United States of America, Washington was just carrying the torch that was given to him over a decade earlier as the commander of the army. He was not to command the country. This must have seemed like Easy Street after having to keep morale up in an army with no ammunition and no clothes, fight with no supplies, and do the unthinkable in defeating a much more experienced army with inexhaustible supplies. He had proven himself on the battlefield and in the next eight years proved himself in the role of supreme leader.
Most of the traditions we hold today in the executive office of the White House have been handed down to us from George Washington. He sat the unofficial stance of no more than two terms that was not broken until many years later under Franklin D. Roosevelt and was officially established after his FDR’s death. He was in the opinion that we stay out of Europe’s affairs and avoid political parties at all costs. Unfortunately, he did not get everything he wanted for this country.
Washington was America’s first Commander in Chief long before he became THE Commander in Chief.