Washington as Cincinnatus

Washington as Cincinnatus Cincinnatus Mt. Vernon

Washington's retirement estate at Mt. Vernon

Not many would believe that Americans compared their most revered leader to a dictator. It is true, the Roman senate once conferred the powers of dictatorship on their most decorated former general, Lucius Cincinnatus.

Livy tells that the Senate found Cincinnatus working in his field amidst his retirement on his private land when they asked him to accept the role of dictator in crisis. "When he learned of the emergency facing Rome, he left his plow standing in the field, bid farewell to his wife, and led the Romans to victory against the Aequians. Fifteen days after assuming the dictatorship, Cincinnatus resigned and returned to his plow" (MountVernon.org).

The virtue of Cincinnatus was not his dominance, but his resignation from power. This reluctance of power was reflected on by Sam Adams in 1780:

"That Roman Hero and Patriot Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who though vested with the Authority of Dictator, was so moderate in his Desires of a Continual Power, that having in six weeks fulfill'd the Purposes of his Appointment, he resign'd the dangerous office..." (Richard, 125). 

America's reverance for classical republican virtue was incomprehensible to the rest of the world. The voluntary surrender of power had never been seen in office before, but it was a testament to the type of image that Washington and the Founding Fathers recognized was appealing to citizens who cared for equality, patriotism, and liberty. 

Once the Revolutionary War was won, Washington resigned as commander of the Continental Army to affirm the belief that public service meant more to him than personal glory and honor. By coming out of retirement to assume the Presidency, and then exit office after two terms, even furthered the narrative that the United States was rooted in classical nobility and the ancient principles of selflessness of Sparta, and the Republic of Rome.