One of George Washington's most famous speeches is coming back to the Colonial city where he delivered it just two days before Christmas in 1783 - Annapolis, then the nation's capital.
Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, stood in the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House and, hands shaking, told members of the Continental Congress that he would lead no more.
"Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action - and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life," the 51-year-old war hero wrote.
Last night, in the glow of a single chandelier hanging in the same small assembly room where Washington made his speech a little over 222 years ago, officials announced that the Maryland State Archives will acquire the document written in Washington's own hand.
Its anonymous owners will receive $1 million for the historic two-page document, with the state providing $600,000. Two prominent Baltimore business leaders, Willard Hackerman and Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., are donating $200,000 each.
The state will also receive a letter sent by eyewitness James McHenry, who represented Maryland at the Constitutional Convention, to his wife-to-be, Peggy Caldwell, in which he described the event - steeped in formality, yet tinged with the fervor of a grand farewell.
"The spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears. The General's hand which held the address shook as he read it," the letter reads.
The announcement at an annual observance of Washington's birthday came in the form of an expression of thanks to the donors by State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse to an audience that included the state Senate, which was in session and moved to the restored room, painted in blue and featuring a model of Washington, the nation's first president.
Formal announcement of the deal, Papenfuse said, is to be made on Wednesday - Washington's 274th birthday.
The speech is expected to become state property within a year, subject to approval of the expenditure by the legislature. Papenfuse said the documents are appraised at $1.25 million, and that the owners are donating the remainder.
"The speech is the foundational basis for civilian government in the United States," he said.
Mimi Calver, director of exhibitions, outreach and artistic property for the Maryland State Archives, said Washington's speech was the bedrock of the "principle that the military is subservient to the civilian."
It was also a testament to Washington's humility.
"He really could have taken any role he wished," she said. "But he chose to retreat to private life, at least temporarily."
Washington had achieved victory for his country in the Revolutionary War and, despite being offered a crown by some of his peers, was eager to resign himself to the quiet life of a country farmer. It was an unprecedented move, and one that established civilian authority in the burgeoning democracy.
"He was a model for the men and women who watched in tears," said state Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who delivered the Senate's annual Washington address for the observance. "And he is as much a model for us today."
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, known as a history buff, lauded the acquisition as a defining moment for Maryland.
"I think it's vastly important," Miller said. "It emphasizes the deep ties Washington had to the state of Maryland."
In 1983, the 200th anniversary of Washington's resignation, a re-enactment of the event was held in Annapolis, including a parade.
The events of that day in 1783 are well-preserved in Annapolis lore, since, as the city likes to note, it was then the nation's capital. Then-Gov. William Paca, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, accompanied Washington as he walked out of the State House and crossed through Chancery Lane, a brick path that still exists. Then it was on to the approximately 60-mile journey to his home in Mount Vernon for Christmas.
Washington's speech has long been considered one of the most momentous events to take place at the State House, where the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War was ratified. A painting depicting Washington delivering the speech hangs above a marble staircase. There are copies of the letter in the Library of Congress and other collections, but only one in Washington's hand.
Gregory A. Stiverson, president of the Historic Annapolis Foundation, heralded the acquisition as "amazing," and "quite a bargain."
Sun reporter Jamie Stiehm and researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
Text of George Washington's letter
George Washington's address to the Continental Congress resigning his commission in the Continental Army, Feb. 23, 1783: