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Immediately after George Washington's death, Americans began debating the best way to memorialize him. Prominent Federalists proposed erecting a towering monument to him at the center of the nation’s new capital city, then under construction on the banks of the Potomac River near Mount Vernon. The election of Jefferson as president a year later, coupled with his party’s takeover of Congress, stalled the proposal. It took two generations to revive.

By the 1830s, Americans in both the North and South were looking for shared icons of nationhood that could help bridge the growing sectional divide over slavery. Washington – a southerner revered in the north – represented such a figure. Erecting a 600-foot high obelisk to his memory, which would then be the world’s tallest structure, could help unify the country. 


Construction began in 1848 but halted six years later at 156 feet, a level still visible in the changed tint of the building stone. The Civil War further delayed construction until 1879, when (following Reconstruction) a monument to Washington could again serve to unite Northerners and Southerners. Completed in 1884 at 555 feet, 5 inches, the Washington Monument finally became the world’s tallest structure and a fitting tribute to the founding father who put the belief in democracy above himself. Gain a greater understanding of what George Washington meant for the founding of America by listening to Retiring Becomes Him by Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward J. Larson.

Retiring Becomes Him is an audiovisual tour for the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. written by Edward J. Larson

It was and remains one of the most remarkable events in the history of war, revolution, and politics. General George Washington retired. He did not need to – not by any means. He had just reoccupied New York from the departing British and, by doing so, completed the liberation of the United States from its colonial masters – the first successful modern war of independence. This feat made Washington a national hero and global celebrity.

Some inside the American army and others outside it wanted him to remain in command of the troops and perhaps take over the nation as some sort of king.


But on December 23, 1783, General George Washington retired. The world was shocked. Step inside the story of how one man changed the course of history.  

We recommend headphones
and downloading before you go.

Edward Larson Author



Pulitzer Prize winning and New York Times bestselling author.

Other Washington D.C.  Tours
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