William Roscoe Thayer
HARRIET SEARS AMORY
WITH THE BEST WISHES OF HER OLD FRIEND
To obviate misunderstanding, it seems well to warn the
reader that this book aims only at giving a sketch of George Washington's life
and acts. I was interested to discover, if I could, the human residue which I
felt sure must persist in Washington
after all was said. Owing to the pernicious drivel of the Reverend Weems no
other great man in history has had to live down such a mass of absurdities and
deliberate false inventions. At last after a century and a quarter the rubbish
has been mostly cleared away, and only those who wilfully prefer to deceive
themselves need waste time over an imaginary Father of His Country amusing
himself with a fictitious cherry-tree and hatchet.
The truth is that the material about George Washington is
very voluminous. His military records cover the eight years of the
Revolutionary War. His political work is preserved officially in the reports of
Congress. Most of the public men who were his contemporaries left memoirs or
correspondence in which he figures. Above all there is the edition, in fourteen
volumes, of his own writings compiled by Mr. Worthington C. Ford. And yet many
persons find something that baffles them. They do not recognize a definite
flesh and blood Virginian named Washington
behind it all. Even so sturdy an historian as Professor Channing calls him the
most elusive of historic personages. Who has not wished that James Boswell
could have spent a year with Wellington
on terms as intimate as those he spent with Dr. Johnson and could have left a
report of that intimacy?
In this sketch I have conceived of Washington as of some superb athlete
equipped for every ordeal which life might cause him to face. The nature of
each ordeal must be briefly stated; brief also, but sufficient, the account of
the way he accomplished it. I have quoted freely from his letters wherever it
seemed fitting, first, because in them you get his personal authentic statement
of what happened as he saw it, and you get also his purpose in making any move;
and next, because nothing so well reveals the real George Washington as those
letters do. Whoever will steep himself in them will hardly declare that their
writer remains an elusive person beyond finding out or understanding. In the
course of reading them you will come upon many of those "imponderables"
which are the secret soul of statecraft.
And so with all humility--for no one can spend much time
with Washington, and not feel profound humility--I leave this little sketch to
its fate, and hope that some readers will find in it what I strove to put in
MASSACHUSETTS _June 11, 1922_
ABBREVIATIONS OF TITLES FREQUENTLY REFERRED TO
_Channing_ = Edward Channing: _History of the United
Macmillan Company, III, IV. 1912.
_Fiske_ = John Fiske: _The Critical Period of American
History, 1783-1789_. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company. 1897.
_Ford_ = Worthington C. Ford: _The Writings of George
Washington_. 14 vols. New York:
G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1889-93.
_Ford_ = Worthington C. Ford: _George Washington_. 2 vols. Paris: Goupil; New
York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1900.
_Hapgood_ = Norman Hapgood: _George Washington_. New York: Macmillan
_Irving_ = Washington Irving: _Life of George Washington_. New York: G.P. Putnam.
_Lodge_ = Henry Cabot Lodge: _George Washington_. 2 vols.
American Statesman Series. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin Company. 1889.
_Marshall_ = John Marshall: _The Life of George Washington_.
5 vols. Philadelphia.
_Sparks_ = Jared Sparks: _The Life of George Washington_. Boston.
_Wister_ = Owen Wister: _The Seven Ages of Washington_. New York: Macmillan
ORIGINS AND YOUTH
Zealous biographers of George Washington have traced for him
a most respectable, not to say distinguished, ancestry. They go back to the
time of Queen Elizabeth, and find Washingtons
then who were "gentlemen." A family of the name existed in
Northumberland and Durham,
but modern investigation points to Sulgrave, in Northamptonshire, as the
English home of his stock. Here was born, probably during the reign of Charles
I, his great-grandfather, John Washington, who was a sea-going man, and settled
in 1657. His eldest son, Lawrence, had three children--John, Augustine, and
Mildred. Of these, Augustine married twice, and by his second wife, Mary Ball,
whom he married on March 17, 1730, there were six children--George, Betty,
Samuel, John Augustine, Charles, and Mildred. The family home at Bridges Creek,
near the Potomac, in Westmoreland County, was Washington's
birthplace, and (February 11, Old Style) February 22, New Style, 1732, was the
date. We hear little about his childhood, he being a wholesomely unprecocious
boy. Rumors have it that George was coddled and even spoiled by his mother. He
had very little formal education, mathematics being the only subject in which
he excelled, and that he learned chiefly by himself. But he lived abundantly an
out-of-door life, hunting and fishing much, and playing on the plantation. His
family, although not rich, lived in easy fashion, and ranked among the gentry.
No Life of George Washington should fail to warn the reader
at the start that the biographer labors under the disadvantage of having to
counteract the errors and absurdities which the Reverend Mason L. Weems made
current in the Life he published the year after Washington died. No one, not even Washington
himself, could live down the reputation of a goody-goody prig with which the
officious Scotch divine smothered him. The cherry-tree story has had few rivals
in publicity and has probably done more than anything else to implant an
instinctive contempt of its hero in the hearts of four generations of readers.
"Why couldn't George Washington lie?" was the comment of a little boy
I knew, "Couldn't he talk?"
Weems pretended to an intimacy at Mount Vernon which it appears he never had.
In "Blackwood's Magazine" John Neal said of the book, "Not one
word of which we believe. It is full of ridiculous exaggerations." And yet
neither this criticism nor any other stemmed the outpouring of editions of it
which must now number more than seventy. Weems doubtless thought that he was
helping God and doing good to Washington
by his offensive and effusive support of rudimentary morals.
Weems had been dead a dozen years when another enemy sprang
up. This was the worthy Jared Sparks, an historian, a professor of history, who
collected with much care the correspondence of George Washington and edited it
in a monumental work. Sparks,
however, suffered under the delusion that something other than fact can be the
best substance of history. According to his tastes, many of Washington's letters were not sufficiently
dignified; they were too colloquial, they even let slip expressions which no
man conscious that he was the model of propriety, the embodiment of the dignity
of history, could have used. So Mr. Sparks without blushing went through Washington's letters and
substituted for the originals words which he decided were more seemly. Again
the public came to know George Washington, not by his own words, but by those
attributed to him by an overzealous stylist-pedant. Well might the Father of
his Country pray to be delivered from the parsons.
One of the earliest records of Washington's youth is the copy, written in
his beautiful, almost copper-plate hand, of "Rules of Civility &
Decent Behavior, In Company and Conversation." These maxims were taken
from an English book called "The Young Man's Companion," by W.
Mather. It had passed through thirteen editions and contained information upon
many matters besides conduct Perhaps Washington
copied the maxims as a school exercise; perhaps he learned them by heart.
They are for the most part the didactic aphorisms which
greatly pleased our worthy ancestors during the middle of the eighteenth
century and later. Some of the entries referred to simple matters of
deportment: you must not turn your back on persons to whom you talk. Others
touch morals rather than manners. One imagines that the parson or elderly
uncles allowed themselves to bestow this indisputably correct advice upon the youths
whom they were interested in. A boy brought up rigidly on these doctrines could
hardly fail to become a prig unless he succeeded in following the last
injunction of all: "Labor to keep alive in your heart, that little spark
of celestial fire called conscience."
When he was eleven years old, Washington's
father died, and his older half-brother, Lawrence, who inherited the estate now
known as Mount Vernon,
became his guardian. Lawrence had married the
daughter of a neighbor, William Fairfax, agent for the large Fairfax estate. Fairfax and he had served
with the Colonial forces at Cartagena under
Admiral Vernon, from whom the Washington
manor took its name. Lord Fairfax, William's cousin and head of the family,
offered George work on the survey of his domain. George, then a sturdy lad of
sixteen, accepted gladly, and for more than two years he carried it on. The Fairfax estate extended
far into the west, beyond the immediate tidewater district, beyond the fringe
of sparsely settled clearings, into the wilderness itself. The effect of his
experience as surveyor lasted throughout George Washington's life. His
self-reliance and his courage never flagged. Sometimes he went alone and passed
weeks among the solitudes; sometimes he had a companion whom he had to care for
as well as for himself. But besides the toughening of his character which this
pioneer life assured him, he got much information, which greatly influenced,
years later, his views on the development, not only of Virginia, but of the Northwest. Perhaps from
this time there entered into his heart the conviction that the strongest bond
of union must sometime bind together the various colonies, so different in
resources and in interests, including his native commonwealth.
From journals kept during some of his expeditions we see
that he was a clear observer and an accurate reporter; far from bookish, but a
careful penman, and conscious of the obligation laid upon him to acquire at
least the minimum of polite knowledge which was expected of a country gentleman
such as he aspired to be.
Here is an extract in which he describes the squalid
conditions under which he passed some of his life as a woodsman and surveyor.
We got our suppers and was lighted into a Room and I not
being so good a woodsman as ye rest of my company, striped myself very orderly
and went into ye Bed, as they calld it, when to my surprize, I found it to be
nothing but a little straw matted together without sheets or any thing else,
but only one thread bare blanket with double its weight of vermin, such as
Lice, Fleas, etc. I was glad to get up (as soon as ye light was carried from
us). I put on my cloths and lay as my companions. Had we not been very tired, I
am sure we should not have slep'd much that night. I made a Promise not to sleep
so from that time forward, chusing rather to sleep in ye open air before a
fire, as will appear hereafter.
Wednesday 16th. We set out early and finish'd about one
o'clock and then Travelled up to Frederick Town, where our Baggage came to us.
We cleaned ourselves (to get rid of ye game we had catched ye night before), I
took a Review of ye Town and then return'd to our Lodgings where we had a good
Dinner prepared for us. Wine and Rum Punch in plenty, and a good Feather Bed
with clean sheets, which was a very agreeable regale.
The longest of Washington's
early expeditions was the "Journey over the Mountains, began Fryday the
11th of March 1747/8." The mountains were the Alleghanies, and the trip
gave him a closer acquaintance than he had had with Indians in the wilds. On
his return, he stayed with his half-brother, Lawrence, at Mount Vernon, or with Lord Fairfax, and
enjoyed the country life common to the richer Virginians of the time. Towns
which could provide an inn being few and far between, travellers sought
hospitality in the homes of the well-to-do residents, and every one was in a
way a neighbor of the other dwellers in his county. So both at Belvoir and at Mount Vernon, guests
were frequent and broke the monotony and loneliness of their inmates. I think
the reputation of gravity, which was fixed upon Washington in his mature years, has been
projected back over his youth. The actual records are lacking, but such hints
and surmises as we have do not warrant our thinking of him as a self-centred,
unsociable youth. On the contrary, he was rather, what would be called now, a
sport, ready for hunting or riding, of splendid physical build, agile and
strong. He liked dancing, and was not too shy to enjoy the society of young
women; indeed, he wrote poems to some of them, and seems to have been popular
with them. And still, the legend remains that he was bashful.
From our earliest glimpses of him, Washington appears as a youth very
particular as to his dress. He knew how to rough it as the extracts of his
personal journals which I have quoted show, and this passage confirms:
I seem to be in a place where no real satisfaction is to be
had. Since you received my letter in October last, I have not sleep'd above
three or four nights in a bed, but, after walking a good deal all the day, I
lay down before the fire upon a little hay, straw, fodder, or bearskin, which
ever is to be had, with man, wife, and children, like a parcel of dogs and
cats, and happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire. There's nothing would
make it pass off tolerably but a good reward. A doubloon is my constant gain
every day that the weather will permit my going out, and sometimes six
pistoles. The coldness of the weather will not allow of my making a long stay,
as the lodging is rather too cold for this time of year. I have never had my
clothes off but lay and sleep in them, except the few nights I have lay'n in
[Footnote 1: Hapgood, p, 11.]
Later, when Washington
became master of Mount Vernon,
his servants were properly liveried. He himself rode to hounds in the approved
apparel of a fox-hunting British gentleman, and we find in the lists of
articles for which he sends to London the names
of clothes and other articles for Mrs. Washington
and the children carefully specified with the word "fashionable" or
"very best quality" added. Still later, when he was President he
attended to this matter of dress with even greater punctilio.
One incident of this early period should not be passed by
unmentioned. Admiral Vernon offered him an appointment as midshipman in the
navy, but Washington's mother objected so
strongly that Washington
gave up the opportunity. We may well wonder whether, if he had accepted it, his
career might not have been permanently turned aside. Had he served ten or a
dozen years in the navy, he might have grown to be so loyal to the King, that,
when the Revolution came, he would have been found in command of one of the
King's men-of-war, ordered to put down the Rebels in Boston,
or in New York.
Thus Fate suggests amazing alternatives to us in the retrospect, but in the
actual living, Fate makes it clear that the only course which could have
happened was that which did happen.
In 1751 the health of Washington's
brother, Lawrence, became so bad from consumption that he decided to pass the
winter in a warm climate. He chose the Island of Barbados,
and his brother George accompanied him. Shortly before sailing, George was
commissioned one of the Adjutants-General of Virginia, with the rank of Major, and the
pay of L150 a year. They sailed on the Potomac River, perhaps near Mount Vernon, on September 28, 1751, and landed at Bridgetown on November
3d. The next day they were entertained at breakfast and dinner by Major Clark,
the British officer who commanded some of the fortifications of the island.
"We went," says George Washington, in a journal he kept, "myself
with some reluctance, as the smallpox was in his family." Thirteen days
later, George fell ill of a very strong case of smallpox which kept him housed
for six weeks and left his face much disfigured for life with pock marks, a
fact which, so far as I have observed his portraits, the painters have
carefully forgotten to indicate.
The brothers passed a fairly pleasant month and a half at
Major Clark, and other gentlemen and officials of the island, showed them much
attention. They enjoyed the hospitality of the Beefsteak and Tripe Club, which
seems to have been the fashionable club. On one occasion, Washington was taken to the play to see the
"Tragedy of George Barnwell." This may have been the first time that
he went to the theatre. He refers to it in his journal with his habitual
Was treated with a play ticket by Mr. Carter to see the
Tragedy of George Barnwell acted: the character of Barnwell and several others
was said to be well perform'd there was Musick a Dapted and regularly conducted
But Lawrence Washington's consumption did not improve: he grew
homesick and pined for his wife and for Mount
Vernon. The physicians had recommended him to spend a
full year at Barbados, in
order to give the climate and the regimen there a fair trial, but he could not
endure it so long, and he sailed from there to Bermuda, whence he shortly
returned to Virginia and Mount Vernon. George, meanwhile, had also
gone back to Virginia,
sailing December 22, 1751, and arriving February 1, 1752. Even from his
much-mutilated journal, we can see that he travelled with his eyes open, and
that his interests were many. As he mentioned in his journal thirty persons
with whom he became acquainted at the Barbados, we infer that in spite of
bashfulness he was an easy mixer. This short journey to the Barbados marks the only occasion on
which George Washington went outside of the borders of the American Colonies,
which became later, chiefly through his genius, the United States.
[Footnote 1: J.M. Toner: _The Daily Journal of Major George
Washington in 1751-2_ (Albany, N.Y., 1892).]
In July, 1752, Lawrence
Washington died of the disease
which he had long struggled against. He left his fortune and his property,
including Mount Vernon,
to his daughter, Sarah, and he appointed his brother, George, her guardian. She
was a sweet-natured girl, but very frail, who died before long, probably of the
same disease which had carried her father off, and, until its infectious nature
was understood, used to decimate families from generation to generation.
To have thrust upon him, at the age of twenty, the
management of a large estate might seem a heavy burden for any young man; but George
Washington was equal to the task, and it seems as if much of his career up to
that time was a direct preparation for it. He knew every foot of its fields and
meadows, of its woodlands and streams; he knew where each crop grew, and its
rotation; he had taken great interest in horses and cattle, and in the methods
for maintaining and improving their breed; and now, of course being master, his
power of choosing good men to do the work was put to the test. But he had not
been long at these new occupations before public duties drew him away from
Though they knew it not, the European settlers in North America were approaching a life-and-death
catastrophe. From the days when the English and the French first settled on the
continent, Fate ordained for them an irrepressible conflict. Should France prevail?
prevail? With the growth of their colonies, both the English and the French
felt their rivalry sharpened. Although distances often very broad kept them
apart in space, yet both nations were ready to prove the terrible truth that
when two men, or two tribes, wish to fight each other, they will find out a
way. The French, at New Orleans, might be far
away from the English at Boston; and the
English, in New York, or in Philadelphia,
might be removed from the French in Quebec;
but in their hatreds they were near neighbors. The French pushed westward along
the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, and from Lake Erie, they pushed southward,
across the rich plains of Ohio, to the Ohio River. Their trails spread still farther into the
Western wilderness. They set up trading-posts in the very region which the
English settlers expected to occupy in the due process of their advance. At the
junction of the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, they planted Fort Duquesne, which
not only commanded the approach to the territory through which the Ohio flowed
westward, but served notice on the English that the French regarded themselves
as the rightful claimants of that territory.
In 1753 Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia,
had sent a commissioner to warn the French to cease from encroaching on the
lands in the Ohio
wilderness which belonged to the King of England, but the messenger stopped one
hundred and fifty miles short of his goal. Therefore, the Governor decided to
despatch another envoy. He selected George Washington, who was already well
known for his surveying, and for his expedition beyond the mountains, and
doubtless had the backing of the Fairfaxes and other influential gentlemen. Washington set out on the same day he received his
appointment from Governor Dinwiddie (October 31, 1753), engaged Jacob Van
Braam, a Hollander who had taught him fencing, to be his French interpreter;
and Christopher Gist, the best guide through the Virginia wilderness, to pilot the party. In
spite of the wintry conditions which beset them, they made good time. Washington presented his official warning to M. Joncaire,
the principal French commander in the region under dispute, but he replied that
he must wait for orders from the Governor in Quebec. One object of Washington's mission was to win over, if
possible, the Indians, whose friendship for either the French or the English
depended wholly on self-interest. He seems to have been most successful in
securing the friendship of Thanacarishon, the great Seneca Chief, known as the
Half-King. This native left it as his opinion that
the colonel was a good-natured man, but had no experience;
he took upon him to command the Indians as his slaves, and would have them
every day upon the scout and to attack the enemy by themselves, but would by no
means take advice from the Indians. He lay in one place from one full moon to
the other, without making any fortifications, except that little thing on the
meadow, whereas, had he taken advice, and built such fortifications as I
advised him, he might easily have beat off the French. But the French in the
engagement acted like cowards, and the English like fools.
[Footnote 1: Quoted by Lodge, I, 74.]
Believing that he could accomplish no more at that time, Washington retraced his steps and returned to Williamsburg.
Governor Dinwiddie, being much disappointed with the outcome
of the expedition, urged the Virginian Legislature to equip another party
sufficiently strong to be able to capture Fort
Duquesne, and to confirm the British
control of the Ohio.
The Burgesses, however, pleaded economy, and refused to grant funds adequate to
this purpose. Nevertheless, the Governor having equipped a small troop, under
the command of Colonel Fry, with Washington
as second, hurried it forth. During May and June they were near the Forks, and
with the approach of danger, Washington's
spirit and recklessness increased. In a slight skirmish, M. de Jumonville, the
French commander, was killed. Fry died of disease and Washington took his place as commander.
Perceiving that his own position was precarious, and expecting an attack by a
large force of the enemy, he entrenched himself near Great Meadows in a hastily
built fort, which he called Fort Necessity, and thought it possible to defend,
even with his own small force, against five hundred French and Indians. He
miscalculated, however. The enemy exceeded in numbers all his expectations. His
own resources dwindled; and so he took the decision of a practical man and
surrendered the fort, on condition that he and his men be allowed to march out
with the honors of war. They returned to Virginia
with little delay.
The Burgesses and the people of the State, though chagrined,
did not take so gloomy a view of the collapse of the expedition as Washington
himself did. His own depression equalled his previous exaltation. As he thought
over the affairs of the past half-year in the quiet of Mount Vernon, the
feeling which he had had from the start, that the expedition had not been
properly planned, or directed, or reenforced in men and supplies, was
confirmed. Governor Dinwiddie's notion that raw volunteers would suffice to
overcome trained soldiers had been proved a delusion. The inadequate pay and
provisions of the officers irritated Washington,
not only because they were insufficient, but also because they fell far short
of those of the English regulars.
In his penetrating Biography of Washington, Senator Lodge
regards his conduct of the campaign, which ended in the surrender of Great Meadows,
and his narrative as revealing Washington
as a "profoundly silent man." Carlyle, Senator Lodge says, who
preached the doctrine of silence, brushed Washington aside as a "bloodless
Cromwell," "failing utterly to see that he was the most supremely
silent of the great men of action that the world can show." Let us admit
the justice of the strictures on Carlyle, but let us ask whether Washington's letters at
this time spring from a "silent" man. He writes with perfect openness
to Governor Dinwiddie; complains of the military system under which the troops
are paid and the campaign is managed; he repeatedly condemns the discrimination
against the Virginian soldiers in favor of the British regulars; and he points
out that instead of attempting to win the popularity of the Virginians, they
are badly treated. Their rations are poor, and he reminds the Governor that a
continuous diet of salt pork and water does not inspire enthusiasm in either
the stomach or the spirit. No wonder that the officers talk of resigning.
"For my own part I can answer, I have a constitution hardy enough to
encounter and undergo the most severe trials, and, I flatter myself, resolution
to face what any man durst, as shall be proved when it comes to the test, which
I believe we are on the borders of." In several other passages from
letters at this time, we come upon sentiments which indicate that Washington had at least
a sufficiently high estimation of his own worth, and that his genius for
silence had not yet curbed his tongue. There is the famous boast attributed to
him by Horace Walpole. In a despatch which Washington
sent back to the Governor after the little skirmish in which Jumonville was
said: "'I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something
charming in the sound.' On hearing of this the King said sensibly, 'he would
not say so if he had been used to hear many.'" This reply of George II
deserves to be recorded if only because it is one of the few feeble witticisms
credited to the Hanoverian Kings. Years afterward, Washington declared that he did not remember
ever having referred to the charm of listening to whistling bullets. Perhaps he
never said it; perhaps he forgot. He was only twenty-two at the time of the
Great Meadows campaign. No doubt he was as well aware as was Governor
Dinwiddie, and other Virginians, that he was the best equipped man on the
expedition, experienced in actual fighting, and this, added to his
qualifications as a woodsman, had given him a real zest for battle. In their
discussion over the campfire, he and his fellow officers must inevitably have
criticized the conduct of the expedition, and it may well be that Washington sometimes
insisted that if his advice were followed things would go better. Not on this
account, therefore, must we lay too much blame on him for being conceited or
immodest. He knew that he knew, and he did not dissemble the fact. Silence came
The result of the expeditions to and skirmishes at the Forks
of the Ohio was that England and France were at war, although they
had not declared war on each other. A chance musket shot in the backwoods of Virginia started a conflict which reverberated in Europe,
disturbed the peace of the world for seven years, and had serious consequences
in the French and English colonies of North America.
The news of Washington's disaster at Fort Necessity
aroused the British Government to the conclusion that it must make a strong
demonstration in order to crush the swelling prestige of the French rivals in America. The
British planned, accordingly, to send out three expeditions, one against Fort Duquesne,
another against the French in Nova Scotia, and
a third against Quebec.
The command of the first they gave to General Edward Braddock. He was then
sixty years old, had been in the Regular Army all his life, had served in Holland, at L'Orient, and at Gibraltar,
was a brave man, and an almost fanatical believer in the rules of war as taught
in the manuals. During the latter half of 1754, Governor Dinwiddie was
endeavoring against many obstacles to send another expedition, equipped by
Virginia herself, to the Ohio.
Only in the next spring, however, after Braddock had come over from England with a
relatively large force of regulars, were the final preparations for a campaign
actually made. Washington, in spite of being
the commander-in-chief of the Virginia
forces, had his wish of going as a volunteer at his own expense. He wrote his
friend William Byrd, on April 20, 1755, from Mount Vernon:
I am now preparing for, and shall in a few days set off, to
serve in the ensuing campaign, with different views, however, from those I had
before. For here, if I can gain any credit, or if I am entitled to the least
countenance and esteem, it must be from serving my country without fee or
reward; for I can truly say, I have no expectation of either. To merit its
esteem, and the good will of my friends, is the sum of my ambition, having no
prospect of attaining a commission, being well assured it is not in Gen'l
Braddock's power to give such an one as I would accept of. The command of a
Company is the highest commission vested in his gift. He was so obliging as to
desire my company this campaign, has honoured me with particular marks of his
esteem, and kindly invited me into his family--a circumstance which will ease
me of expences that otherwise must have accrued in furnishing stores, camp
equipages, etc. Whereas the cost will now be easy (comparatively speaking), as
baggage, horses, tents, and some other necessaries, will constitute the whole
of the charge.
[Footnote 1: Ford, I, 146-49.]
The army began to move about the middle of May, but it went
very slowly. During June Washington was taken with an acute fever, in spite of
which he pressed on, but he became so weak that he had to be carried in a cart,
as he was unable to sit his horse. Braddock, with the main army, had gone on
ahead, and Washington
feared that the battle, which he believed imminent, would be fought before he
came up with the front. But he rejoined the troops on July 8th. The next day
they forded the Monongahela and proceeded to attack Fort Duquesne.
Writing from Fort Cumberland, on July 18th, Washington gave Governor Dinwiddie the
following account of Braddock's defeat. The one thing happened which Washington had felt
anxious about--a surprise by the Indians. He had more than once warned Braddock
of this danger, and Benjamin Franklin had warned him too before the expedition
started, but Braddock, with perfect British contempt, had replied that though
savages might be formidable to raw Colonials, they could make no impression on
disciplined troops. The surprise came and thus Washington reports it:
When we came to this place, we were attacked (very
unexpectedly) by about three hundred French and Indians. Our numbers consisted
of about thirteen hundred well armed men, chiefly Regulars, who were
immediately struck with such an inconceivable panick, that nothing but
confusion and disobedience of orders prevailed among them. The officers, in
general, behaved with incomparable bravery, for which they greatly suffered,
there being near 60 killed and wounded--a large proportion, out of the number
companies behaved like men and died like soldiers; for I believe out of three
companies that were on the ground that day scarce thirty were left alive. Capt.
Peyroney and all his officers, down to a corporal, were killed; Capt. Polson
had almost as hard a fate, for only one of his escaped. In short, the dastardly
behaviour of the Regular troops (so-called) exposed those who were inclined to
do their duty to almost certain death; and, at length, in despite of every
effort to the contrary, broke and ran as sheep before hounds, leaving the
artillery, ammunition, provisions, baggage, and, in short, everything a prey to
the enemy. And when we endeavored to rally them, in hopes of regaining the
ground and what we had left upon it, it was with as little success as if we had
attempted to have stopped the wild bears of the mountains, or rivulets with our
feet; for they would break by, in despite of every effort that could be made to
The General was wounded in the shoulder and breast, of which
he died three days after; his two aids-de-camp were both wounded, but are in a
fair way of recovery; Colo. Burton and Sr. John St. Clair are also wounded, and
I hope will get over it; Sir Peter Halket, with many other brave officers, were
killed in the field. It is supposed that we had three hundred or more killed;
about that number we brought off wounded, and it is conjectured (I believe with
much truth) that two thirds of both received their shot from our own cowardly
Regulars, who gathered themselves into a body, contrary to orders, ten or
twelve deep, would then level, fire and shoot down the men before them.
[Footnote 1: Ford, I, 173-74-75.]
In this admirable letter Washington tells nothing about his own
prowess in the battle, where he rode to all parts of the field, trying to stem
the retreat, and had two horses shot under him and four bullet holes in his
coat. He tried to get the troops to break ranks and to screen themselves behind
rocks and trees, but Braddock, helpless without his rules, drove them back to
regular formation with the flat of his sword, and made them an easy mark for
the volleys of the enemy. Washington's
personal valor could not fail to be admired, although his audacity exposed him
to unjustified risks.
On reaching Fort
Cumberland he wrote to
his brother John, on July 18th:
As I have heard, since my arrival at this place, a
circumstantial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early
opportunity of contradicting the first, and assuring you, that I have not as
yet composed the latter. But, by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been
protected beyond all human probability and expectation.
[Footnote 1: Ibid. 175-76.]
The more he thought over the events of that day, the more
was he amazed--"I join very heartily with you in believing," he wrote
Robert Jackson on August 2d, "that when this story comes to be related in
future annals, it will meet with unbelief and indignation, for had I not been
witness to the fact on that fatal day, I should scarce have given credit to it
[Footnote 1: Ford, I, 177.]
Although Washington was
thoroughly disgusted by the mismanagement of military affairs in Virginia, he was not
ready to deny the appeals of patriotism. From Mount Vernon, on August 14, 1755, he wrote
Honored Madam, If it is in my power to avoid going to the
Ohio again, I shall; but if the command is pressed upon me, by the general
_voice_ of the country, and offered upon such terms as cannot be objected
against, it would reflect dishonor upon me to refuse; and _that_, I am sure
must or _ought_ to give you greater uneasiness, than my going in an honorable
command, for upon no other terms I will accept of it. At present I have no
proposals made to me, nor have I any advice of such an intention, except from
[Footnote 1: Ibid. 180-81.]
Braddock's defeat put an end to campaigning in Virginia for some time.
The consternation it caused, not only held the people of the sparse western
settlements in alarm but agitated the tidewater towns and villages. The
Burgesses and many of the inhabitants had not yet learned their lesson
sufficiently to set about reorganizing their army system, but the Assembly
partially recognized its obligation to the men who had fought by voting to them
a small sum for losses during their previous service. Washington received L300, but his patriotic
sense of duty kept him active. In the winter of 1758, however, owing to a very
serious illness, he resigned from the army and returned to Mount Vernon to recuperate.
During the long and tedious weeks of sickness and recovery,
Washington doubtless had time to think over, to clarify in his mind, and to
pass judgment on the events in which he had shared during the past six or seven
years. From boyhood that was his habit. He must know the meaning of things. An
event might be as fruitless as a shooting star unless he could trace the
relations which tied it to what came before and after. Hence his deliberation
which gave to his opinions the solidity of wisdom. Audacious he might be in
battle, but perhaps what seems to us audacity seemed to him at the moment a
higher prudence. If there were crises when the odds looked ten to one against
him, he would take the chance. He knew the incalculable value of courage. His
experiences with the British regulars and their officers left a deep impression
on him and colored his own decisions in his campaigns against the British
during the Revolutionary War. To genius nothing comes amiss, and by genius
nothing is forgotten. So we find that all that Washington saw and learned during his years
of youth--his apprenticeship as surveyor, his vicissitudes as pioneer, tasks as
Indian fighter and as companion of the defeated Braddock--all contributed to
fit him for the supreme work for which Fate had created him and the ages had
MARRIAGE. THE LIFE OF A PLANTER
War is like the wind, nobody can tell into whose garden it
may blow desolation. The French and Indian War, generally called now the Seven
Years' War, beginning as a mere border altercation between the British and
French backwoodsmen on the banks of the upper Ohio River, grew into a struggle
which, by the year 1758, when Washington
retired from his command of the Virginia Forces, spread over the world. A new
statesman, one of the ablest ever born in England, came to control the
English Government. William Pitt, soon created Earl of Chatham, saw that the British Empire had reached a crisis in its development.
Incompetence, inertia, had blurred its prestige, and the little victories which
France, its chief enemy, had been winning against it piecemeal, were coming to
be regarded as signs that the grandeur of Britain was passing. Pitt saw the
gloomy situation, and the still gloomier future which it seemed to prophesy,
but he saw also the remedy. Within a few months, under his direction, English
troops were in every part of the world, and English ships of war were sailing
every ocean, to recover the slipping elements and to solidify the British Empire. Just as Pitt was taking up his residence
at Downing Street, Robert Clive was winning the Battle of Plassey in India, which brought to England
territory of untold wealth. Two years later James Wolfe, defeating the French
commander, Montcalm, on the Plains of Abraham, added not only Quebec,
but all Canada, to the
British Crown, and ended French rivalry north of the Great
Lakes. Victories like these, seemingly so casual, really as final
and as unrevisable as Fate, might well cause Englishmen to suspect that Destiny
itself worked with them, and that an Englishman could be trusted to endure
through any difficulties to a triumphant conclusion.
Beaten at every point where they met the British, the
French, even after they had secured an alliance with Spain, which proved of little
worth, were glad to make peace. On February 10, 1763, they signed the Treaty of
Paris, which confirmed to the British nearly all their victories and left England the
dominant Power in both hemispheres. The result of the war produced a marked
effect on the people of the British Colonies in North
America. "At no period of time," says Chief Justice
Marshall, in his "Life of Washington," "was the attachment of
the colonists to the mother country more strong, or more general, than in 1763,
when the definitive articles of the treaty which restored peace to Great Britain, France,
were signed." But we who know the sequel perceive that the Seven Years'
War not only strengthened the attachment between the Colonies and the Mother
Country, but that it also made the Colonies aware of their common interests,
and awakened among them mutual friendship, and in a very brief time their sense
of unity prevailed over their temporary enthusiasm for England. George III, a
monarch as headstrong as he was narrow, with insanity lurking in his mind,
succeeded to the throne in 1760, and he seized the first opportunity to get rid
of his masterful Minister, William Pitt. He replaced him with the Earl of Bute,
a Scotchman, and a man of ingenious parts, but with the incurable Tory habit of
insisting that it was still midnight long after the sun was shining in the
forenoon of another day.
[Footnote 1: Marshall:
_The Life of George Washington_ (Philadelphia, 1805, 5 vols.), II, 68.]
Before the Treaty was signed and the world had begun to spin
in a new groove, which optimists thought would stretch on forever, an equally
serious change had come to the private life of George Washington. To the
surprise of his friends, who had begun to doubt whether he would ever get
married, he found his life's companion and married her without delay. The
notion seems to have been popular during his lifetime, and it certainly has
continued to later days, that he was too bashful to feel easy in ladies'
society. I find no evidence for this mistaken idea. Although little has been
recorded of the intimacies of Washington's
youth, there are indications of more than one "flame" and that he was
not dull and stockish with the young women. As early as 1748, we hear of the
Low-Land Beauty who had captivated him, and who is still to be identified. Even
earlier, in his school days, he indulged in writing love verses. But we need
not infer that they were inspired by living damsels or by the Muses.
"Oh ye Gods why should my poor resistless Heart Stand
to oppose thy might and power--
* * *
"In deluding sleepings let my eyelids close That in an
enraptured dream I may In a rapt lulling sleep and gentle repose Possess those
joys denied by day."
[Footnote 1: Quoted by Wister, 39.]
Cavour said that it was easier for him to make Italy than to write a poem: Washington, who was
also an honest man, and fully aware of his limitations, would probably have
admitted that he could make the American
Republic more easily than
a love song. But he was susceptible to feminine charms, and we hear of Betsy
Fauntleroy, and of a "Mrs. Meil," and on his return to Mount Vernon, after
Braddock's defeat, he received the following round robin from some of the young
ladies at Belvoir:
Dear Sir,--After thanking Heaven for your safe return I must
accuse you of great unkindness in refusing us the pleasure of seeing you this
night. I do assure you nothing but our being satisfied that our company would
be disagreeable should prevent us from trying if our legs would not carry us to
Mount Vernon this night, but if you will not come to us tomorrow morning very
early we shall be at Mount Vernon.
ANN SPEARING ELIZ'TH DENT
love affairs were known and talked about among his group. What promised to be
the most serious of his experiences was with Mary Philipse, of New York,
daughter of Frederick Philipse, one of the richest landowners in that Colony,
and sister-in-law of Beverly Robinson, one of Washington's Virginian friends. Washington was going to Boston on a characteristic errand. One of the
minor officers in the Regular British Army, which had accompanied Braddock to Virginia, refused to
take orders from Washington, and officers of higher grade in Virginia Troops,
declaring that their commissions were assigned only by Colonial officials,
whereas he had his own from King George. This led, of course, to
insubordination and frequent quarrels. To put a stop to the wrangling, Washington journeyed to Boston, to have Governor Shirley, the
Commander-in-Chief of the King's Forces in the Colonies, give a decision upon
it. The Governor ruled in favor of Washington, who then rode back to Virginia. But he spent a
week in New York City
in order to see his enchantress, Mary Philipse, and it is even whispered that
he proposed to her and that she refused him. Two years afterwards she married
Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Morris, and during the Revolution the Morris house was
headquarters; the Morrises, who were Tories, having fled.
Persons have speculated why it was that so many of the young
women whom Washington
took a fancy to, chilled and drew back when it came to the question of
marriage. One very clever writer thinks that perhaps his nose was inordinately
large in his youth, and that that repelled them. I do not pretend to say. So
far as I know, psychologists have not yet made a sufficiently exact study of
the nose as a determining factor in matrimony, to warrant an opinion from
persons who have made no special study of the subject. The plain fact was that
by his twenty-fifth year, Washington was an unusually presentable young man,
more than six feet tall, broad-shouldered, very strong, slender and athletic,
carefully polite in his manners, a boon companion, though he talked little, a
sound and deliberate thinker; moreover, the part he had taken in the war with
the Indians and the French made him almost a popular hero, and gave him a
preeminent place among the Virginians, both the young and the old, of that
time. The possession of the estate of Mount
Vernon, which he had inherited from his half-brother,
Lawrence, assured to him more than a comfortable fortune, and yet gossip wondered
why he was not married. Thackeray intimates that Washington was too evidently on the lookout
for a rich wife, which, if true, may account for some of the alleged rebuffs. I
do not believe this assertion, nor do I find evidence for it. Washington was always a very careful,
farseeing person, and no doubt had a clear idea of what constitutes desirable
qualifications in marriage, but I believe he would have married a poor girl out
of the workhouse if he had really loved her. However, he was not put to that test.
One May day Washington rode
off from Mount Vernon to carry despatches to Williamsburg. He stopped
at William's Ferry for dinner with his friend Major Chamberlayne. At the table
was Mrs. Daniel Parke Custis, who, under her maiden name of Martha Dandridge,
was well known throughout that region for her beauty and sweet disposition. She
was now a widow of twenty-six, with two small children. Her late husband,
Colonel Custis, her elder by fifteen years, had left her a large estate called
White House, and a fortune which made her one of the richest women in Virginia. From their
first introduction, Washington and she seemed to be mutually attracted. He
lingered throughout the afternoon and evening with her and went on to Williamsburg with his
despatches the next morning. Having finished his business at the Capitol, he
returned to William's Ferry, where he again saw Mrs. Custis, pressed his suit
upon her and was accepted. Characteristic was it that he should conclude the
matter so suddenly; but he had had marriage in his intentions for many years.
During the summer Washington
returned to his military duties and led a troop to Fort Duquesne.
He found the fort partly demolished, and abandoned by the French; he marched in
and took it, and gave it the name of Fort
Pitt, in recognition of
the great statesman who had directed the revival of British prestige. The fort,
thus recovered to English possession, stood on the present site of Pittsburgh. I quote the
following brief letter from Washington
to Mrs. Custis, as it is almost the only note of his to her during their
engagement that has been preserved:
We have begun our March for the Ohio. A courier is starting for Williamsburg, and I
embrace the opportunity to send a few words to one whose life is now
inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour when we made our pledges to each
other, my thoughts have been continually going to you as another Self. That an
all powerful Providence
may keep us both in safety is the prayer of your ever faithful and affectionate
[Footnote 1: P.L. Ford, _The True George Washington_, 93.]
Late in that autumn Washington
returned for good from his Western fighting. On January 6, 1759 (Old Style),
his marriage to Mrs. Custis took place in St. Peter's Church, near her home at
the White House. Judging from the fine writing which old historians and new
have devoted to describing it, Virginia
had seen few such elegant pageants as upon that occasion. The grandees in
official station and in social life were all there. Francis Fauquier was, of
course, gorgeous in his Governor's robes but he could not outshine the
bridegroom, in blue and silver with scarlet trimmings, and gold buckles at his
knees, with his imperial physique and carriage. The Reverend Peter Mossum
conducted the Episcopal service, after which the bride drove back with a coach
and six to the White House, while Washington,
with other gentlemen, rode on horseback beside her acting as escort.
The bridal couple spent two or three months at the White
House. The Custis estates were large and in so much need of oversight that if Washington had not
appeared at this time, a bailiff, or manager, would have had to be hired for
them. Henceforth Washington seems to have
added the care of the White House to that of Mount Vernon, and the two involved a burden
which occupied most of his time, for he had retired from the army. His fellow
citizens, however, had elected him a member of the House of Burgesses, a
position he held for many years; going to Williamsburg every season to attend
the sessions of the Assembly. On his first entrance to take his seat, Mr.
Robinson, the Speaker, welcomed him in Virginia's
name, and praised him for his high achievements. This so embarrassed the modest
young member that he was unable to reply, upon which Speaker Robinson said,
"Sit down, Mr. Washington,
your modesty is equal to your valor, and that surpasses the power of any
language that I possess." In all his life, probably, Washington never heard praise more genuine
or more deserved. He had just passed his twenty-seventh year. In the House of
Burgesses he had the reputation of being the silent member. He never acquired
the art of a debater. He was neither quick at rebuttal nor at repartee, but so
surely did his character impress itself on every one that when he spoke the
Assembly almost took it for granted that he had said the final word on the
subject under discussion. How careful he was to observe the scope and effects
of parliamentary speaking appears from a letter which he wrote many years
Agriculture has always been a particularly fine
training-ground for statesmen. To persons who do not watch it closely, it may
seem monotonous. In reality, while the sum of the conditions of one year tally
closely with those of another, the daily changes and variations create a
variety which must be constantly watched and provided for. A sudden freshet and
unseasonable access of heat or cold, a scourge of hail, a drought, a murrain
among the cattle, call for ingenuity and for resourcefulness; and for courage,
a higher moral quality. Constant comradeship with Nature seems to beget
placidity and quiet assurance. From using the great natural forces which bring
to pass crops and the seasons, they seem to work in and through him also. The
banker, the broker, even the merchant, lives in a series of whirlwinds, or
seems to be pursuing a mirage or groping his way through a fog. The farmer,
although he be not beyond the range of accident, deals more continually with
causes which regularly produce certain effects. He knows a rainbow by sight and
does not waste his time and money in chasing it.
No better idea of Washington's
activity as a planter can be had than from his brief and terse journals as an
agriculturist. He sets down day by day what he did and what his slaves and the
free employees did on all parts of his estate. We see him as a regular and
punctual man. He had a moral repugnance to idleness. He himself worked steadily
and he chided the incompetent, the shirkers, and the lazy.
A short experience as landowner convinced him that slave
labor was the least efficient of all. This conviction led him very early to
believe in the emancipation of the slaves. I do not find that sentiment or
abstract ideals moved him to favor emancipation, but his sense of fitness, his
aversion to wastefulness and inefficiency made him disapprove of a system which
rendered industry on a high plane impossible. Experience only confirmed these
convictions of his, and in his will he ordered that many slaves should be freed
after the death of Mrs. Washington.
He was careful to apportion to his slaves the amount of food they needed in
order to keep in health and to work the required stint. He employed a doctor to
look after them in sickness. He provided clothing for them which he deemed
sufficient. I do not gather that he ever regarded the black man as being
essentially made of the same clay as the white man, the chief difference being
the color of their skin. To Washington,
the Slave System seemed bad, not so much because it represented a debased moral
standard, but because it was economically and socially inadequate. His true
character appears in his making the best of a system which he recognized as
most faulty. Under his management, in a few years, his estate at Mount Vernon became the
model of that kind of plantation in the South.
Whoever desires to understand Washington's life as a planter
should read his diaries with their brief, and one might almost say brusque,
entries from day to day. Washington's care involved not only bringing the
Mount Vernon estate to the highest point of prosperity by improving the
productiveness of its various sections, but also by buying and annexing new
pieces of land. To such a planter as he was, the ideal was to raise enough food
to supply all the persons who lived or worked on the place, and this he
succeeded in doing. His chief source of income, which provided him with ready
money, was the tobacco crop, which proved to be of uncertain value. By Washington's time the
Virginians had much diminished the amount and delicacy of the tobacco they
raised by the careless methods they employed. They paid little attention to the
rotation of crops, or to manuring, with the result that the soil was never
properly replenished. In his earlier days Washington
shipped his year's product to an agent in Glasgow
or in London,
who sold it at the market price and sent him the proceeds. The process of
transportation was sometimes precarious; a leaky ship might let in enough sea
water to damage the tobacco, and there was always the risk of loss by shipwreck
or other accident. Washington
sent out to his brokers a list of things which he desired to pay for out of the
proceeds of the sale, to be sent to him. These lists are most interesting, as
they show us the sort of household utensils and furniture, the necessaries and
the luxuries, and the apparel used in a mansion like Mount Vernon. We find that he even took care
to order a fashionably dressed doll for little Martha Custis to play with.
[Footnote 1: See for instance in W.C. Ford's edition of _The
Writings of George Washington_, II, 140-69. Diary for 1760, 230-56. Diary for
The care and education of little Martha and her brother,
John Parke Custis, Washington undertook with characteristic
thoroughness and solicitude. He had an instinct for training growing creatures.
He liked to experiment in breeding horses and cattle and the farmyard animals.
He watched the growth of his plantations of trees, and he was all the more
interested in studying the development of mental and moral capacities in the
In due time a tutor was engaged, and besides the lessons
they learned in their schoolbooks, they were taught both music and dancing.
Little Patsy suffered from epilepsy, and after the prescriptions of the regular
doctors had done no good, her parents turned to a quack named Evans, who placed
on the child's finger an iron ring supposed to have miraculous virtues, but it
brought her no relief, and very suddenly little Martha Custis died. Washington
himself felt the loss of his unfortunate step-daughter, but he was unflagging
in trying to console the mother, heartbroken at the death of the child.
Jack Custis was given in charge of the Reverend Jonathan
Boucher, an Anglican clergyman, apparently well-meaning, who agreed with Washington's general
view that the boy's training "should make him fit for more useful purposes
than horse-racing." In spite of Washington's
carefully reasoned plans, the youth of the young man prevailed over the reason
of his stepfather. Jack found dogs, horses, and guns, and consideration of
dress more interesting and more important than his stepfather's theories of
wrote to Parson Boucher, the teacher:
Had he begun, or rather pursued his study of the Greek
language, I should have thought it no bad acquisition; ... To be acquainted
with the French Tongue is become a part of polite education; and to a man who
has the prospect of mixing in a large circle, absolutely necessary. Without
arithmetic, the common affairs of life are not to be managed with success. The
study of Geometry, and the mathematics (with due regard to the limits of it) is
equally advantageous. The principles of Philosophy, Moral, Natural, etc. I
should think a very desirable knowledge for a gentleman.
[Footnote 1: W.C. Ford, _George Washington_ (1900), I,
There was nothing abstract in young Jack Custis's practical
response to his stepfather's reasoning; he fell in love with Miss Nelly Calvert
and asked her to marry him. Washington
was forced to plead with the young lady that the youth was too young for
marriage by several years, and that he must finish his education. Apparently
she acquiesced without making a scene. She accepted a postponement of the
engagement, and Custis was enrolled among the students of King's College
(subsequently Columbia) in New York City. Even then, his passion for an
education did not develop as his parents hoped. He left the college in the
course of a few months. Throughout John Custis's perversities, and as long as
he lived, Washington's
kindness and real affection never wavered. Although he had now taught himself
to practice complete self-control, he could treat with consideration the young
who had it not.
By nature Washington
was a man of business. He wished to see things grow, not so much for the actual
increase in value which that indicated, as because increase seemed to be a
proof of proper methods. Not content, therefore, with rounding out his holdings
at Mount Vernon and Mrs. Washington's estate at the White House, he sought
investment in the unsettled lands on the Ohio and in Florida, and on the
Mississippi. It proved to be a long time before the advance of settlement in
the latter regions made his investments worth much, and during the decade after
his marriage in 1759, we must think of him as a man of great energy and calm
judgment who was bent not only on making Mount Vernon a model country place on
the outside, but a civilized home within. In its furnishings and appointments
it did not fall behind the manors of the Virginia
men of fashion and of wealth in that part of the country. Before Washington left the
army, he recognized that his education had been irregular and inadequate, and
he set himself to make good his defects by studying and reading for himself.
There were no public libraries, but some of the gentlemen made collections of
books. They learned of new publications in England from journals which were
few in number and incomplete. Doubtless advertising went by word of mouth. The
lists of things desired which Washington
sent out to his agents, Robert Cary and Company, once a year or oftener,
usually contained the titles of many books, chiefly on architecture, and he was
especially intent on keeping up with new methods and experiments in farming.
Thus, among the orders in May, 1759, among a request for "Desert Glasses
and Stand for Sweetmeats Jellies, etc.; 50 lbs. Spirma Citi Candles; stockings
etc.," he asks for "the newest and most approved Treatise of
Agriculture--besides this, send me a Small piece in Octavo--called a New System
of Agriculture, or a Speedy Way to Grow Rich; Longley's Book of Gardening;
Gibson upon Horses, the latest Edition in Quarto." This same invoice
contains directions for "the Busts--one of Alexander the Great, another of
Charles XII, of Sweden, and
a fourth of the King of Prussia (Frederick
the Great); also of Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough, but somewhat
smaller." Do these celebrities represent Washington's heroes in 1759?
As time went on, his commissions for books were less
restricted to agriculture, and comprised also works on history, biography, and
But although incessant activity devoted to various kinds of
work was a characteristic of Washington's life
at Mount Vernon,
his attention to social duties and pleasures was hardly less important. He
aimed to be a country gentleman of influence, and he knew that he could achieve
this only by doing his share of the bountiful hospitality which was expected of
such a personage. Virginia
at that time possessed no large cities or towns with hotels. When the gentry
travelled, they put up overnight at the houses of other gentry, and thus, in
spite of very restricted means of transportation, the inhabitants of one part
of the country exchanged ideas with those of another. In this way also the members
of the upper class circulated among themselves and acquired a solidarity which
otherwise would hardly have been possible. We are told that Mount Vernon was always full of guests; some
of these being casual strangers travelling through, and others being invited
friends and acquaintances on a visit. There were frequent balls and parties
when neighbors from far and near joined in some entertainment at the great
mansion. There were the hunt balls which Washington himself particularly
enjoyed, hunting being his favorite sport. Fairfax County, where Mount Vernon
lay, and its neighboring counties, Fauquier and Prince William, abounded in
foxes, and the land was not too difficult for the hunters, who copied as far as
possible the dress and customs of the foxhunters in England. Possibly there
might be a meeting at Mount Vernon
of the local politicians. At least once a year Washington and his
wife--"Lady," as the somewhat florid Virginians called her--went off
to attend the session of the House of Burgesses. Washington seldom missed going to the
horse-races, one of the chief functions of the year, not only for jockeys and
sporting men, but for the fashionable world of the aristocracy. Thanks to his
carefulness and honesty in keeping his accounts, we have his own record of the
amounts he spent at cards--never large amounts, nor indicative of the
passed the first ten years of his married life. A stranger meeting him at that
time might have little suspected that here was the future founder of a nation,
one who would prove himself the greatest of Americans, if not the greatest of
men. But if you had spent a day with Washington, and watched him at work, or
listened to his few but decisive words, or seen his benign but forcible smile,
you would have said to yourself--"This man is equal to any fate that
destiny may allot to him."
THE FIRST GUN
Meanwhile the course of events was leading toward a new and
unexpected goal. Chief Justice Marshall said, as I have quoted, that 1763, the
end of the French-Indian War, marked the greatest friendship and harmony
between the Colonies and England.
The reason is plain. In their incessant struggles with the French and the
Indians, the Colonists had discovered a real champion and protector. That
had found that she must really protect the Colonies unless she was willing to
see them fall into the hands of her rival, France. Putting forth her strength,
she crushed France in America, and remained virtually in control not
only of the Colonies and territory from the Atlantic to the Mississippi,
but also of British America. In these respects
the Colonies and the Mother Country seemed destined to be bound more closely
together; but the very spirit by which Britain had conquered France in America,
and France in India, and had made England paramount throughout the world,
prevented the further fusion, moral, social, and political, of the Colonies
with the Mother Country.
That spirit was the Imperial Spirit, which Plassey and Quebec had called to
life. The narrow Hanoverian King, who now ruled England,
could not himself have devised the British Empire,
but when the Empire crystallized, George III rightly surmised that, however it
had come about, it meant a large increase in power for him. The Colonies and
Dependencies were to be governed like conquered provinces. Evidently, the
Hindus of Bengal could hardly be treated in the same fashion as were the
Colonists of Massachusetts or Virginia. The Bengalese knew that there was no
bond of language or of race between them and their conquerors, whereas American
Colonists knew that they and the British sprang from the same race and spoke
the same language. One of the first realizations that came to the British
Imperialists was that the ownership of the conquered people or state warranted
the conquerors in enriching themselves from the conquered. But while this might
do very well in India,
and be accepted there as a matter of course, it would be most ill-judged in the
American Colonies, for the Colonists were not a foreign nor a conquered people.
They originally held grants of land from the British Crown, but they had worked
that land themselves and settled the wilderness by their own efforts, and had a
right to whatever they might earn.
The Tory ideals, which took possession of the British
Government when Lord Bute succeeded to William Pitt in power, were soon applied
relations to the American Colonies. The Seven Years' War left England heavily
in debt. She needed larger revenues, and being now swayed by Imperialism, she
easily found reasons for taxing the Colonies. In 1765 she passed the Stamp Act
which caused so much bad feeling that in less than a year she decided to repeal
it, but new duties on paper, glass, tea, and other commodities were imposed
instead. In the North, Massachusetts
took the lead in opposing what the Colonists regarded as the unconstitutional
acts of the Crown. The patriotic lawyer of Boston, James Otis, shook the Colony with his
eloquence against the illegal encroachments and actual tyranny of the English.
Other popular orators of equal eminence, John and Samuel Adams and Josiah
Quincy, fanned the flames of discontent. Even the most radical did not yet
whisper the terrible word Revolution, or suggest that they aspired to
independence. They simply demanded their "rights" which the arrogant
and testy British Tories had shattered and were withholding from them. At the
outset rebels seldom admit that their rebellion aims at new acquisitions, but
only at the recovery of the old.
Next to Massachusetts, Virginia was the most
vigorous of the Colonies in protesting against British usurpation of power,
which would deprive them of their liberty. Although Virginia
had no capital city like Boston, in which the chief
political leaders might gather and discuss and plan, and mobs might assemble
and equip with physical force the impulses of popular indignation, the Old
Dominion had means, just as the Highland clans
or the Arab tribes had, of keeping in touch with each other. Patrick Henry, a
young Virginia lawyer of sturdy Scotch
descent, by his flaming eloquence was easily first among the spokesmen of the
rights of the Colonists in Virginia.
In the "Parsons Cause," a lawsuit which might have passed quickly
into oblivion had he not seen the vital implications concerned in it, he denied
the right of the King to veto an act of the Virginia Assembly, which had been
passed for the good of the people of Virginia. In the course of the trial he
declared, "Government was a conditional compact between the King,
stipulating protection on the one hand, and the people, stipulating obedience
and support on the other," and he asserted that a violation of these
covenants by either party discharged the other party from its obligations.
Doctrines as outspoken as these uttered in court, whether right or wrong,
indicated that the attorney who uttered them, and the judge who listened, and
the audience who applauded, were not blind worshippers of the illegal rapacity
of the Crown.
Patrick Henry was the most spectacular of the early
champions of the Colonists in Virginia,
but many others of them agreed with him. Among these the weightiest was the
silent George Washington. He said little, but his opinions passed from mouth to
mouth, and convinced many. In 1765 he wrote to Francis Dandridge, an uncle of
The Stamp Act imposed on the colonies by the Parliament of
Great Britain, engrosses the conversation of the speculative part of the
colonists, who look upon this unconstitutional method of taxation, as a direful
attack upon their liberties, and loudly exclaim against the violation. What may
be the result of this, and of some other (I think I may add) ill-judged
measures, I will not undertake to determine; but this I may venture to affirm,
that the advantage accruing to the mother country will fall greatly short of
the expectations of the ministry; for certain it is, that an whole substance
does already in a manner flow to Great Britain, and that whatsoever contributes
to lessen our importations must be hurtful to their manufacturers. And the eyes
of our people, already beginning to open, will perceive, that many luxuries,
which we lavish our substance in Great Britain for, can well be
dispensed with, whilst the necessaries of life are (mostly) to be had within
ourselves. This, consequently, will introduce frugality, and be a necessary
stimulation to industry. If Great
Britain, therefore, loads her manufacturies
with heavy taxes, will it not facilitate these measures? They will not compel
us, I think, to give our money for their exports, whether we will or not; and
certain I am, none of their traders will part from them without a valuable
consideration. Where then, is the utility of the restrictions? As to the Stamp
Act, taken in a single view, one and the first bad consequence attending it, I
take to be this, our courts of judicature must inevitably be shut up; for it is
impossible, (or next of kin to it), under our present circumstances, that the
act of Parliament can be complied with, were we ever so willing to enforce the
execution; for, not to say, which alone would be sufficient, that we have not
money to pay the stamps, there are many other cogent reasons, to prevent it;
and if a stop be put to our judicial proceedings, I fancy the merchants of
Great Britain, trading to the colonies, will not be among the last to wish for
a repeal of it.
[Footnote 1: Ford, II, 209-10.]
This passage would suffice, were there not many similar
which might be quoted, to prove that Washington
was from the start a loyal American. A legend which circulated during his
lifetime, and must have been fabricated by his enemies, for I find no evidence
to support it either in his letters or in other trustworthy testimony,
insinuated that he was British at heart and threw his lot in with the Colonists
only when war could not be averted. In 1770 the merchants of Philadelphia
drew up an agreement in which they pledged themselves to practise
non-importation of British goods sent to America. Washington's wise neighbor and friend,
George Mason, drafted a plan of association of similar purport to be laid
before the Virginia Burgesses. But Lord Botetourt, the new Royal Governor,
deemed some of these resolutions dangerous to the prerogative of the King, and
dissolved the Assembly. The Burgesses, however, met at Anthony Hay's house and
adopted Mason's Association. Washington, who was one of the signers of the
Association, wrote to his agents in London:
"I am fully determined to adhere religiously to it."
Five years had now elapsed since the British Tories
attempted to fix on the Colonies the Stamp Act, and although they had withdrawn
that hateful law, the relations between the Mother Country and the Colonists
had not improved. Far from it. The English issued a series of irritating
provisions which convinced the Colonists that the Government had no real desire
to be friendly, and that, on the contrary, it intended to make no distinction
between them and the other conquered provinces of the Crown. Then and always,
the English forgot that the Colonists were men of their own stock, equally
stubborn in their devotion to principles, and probably more accessible to
scruples of conscience. So they were not likely to be frightened into
subjection. The governing class in England was in a state of mind which has
darkened its judgment more than once; the state of mind which, when it
encounters an obstacle to its plans, regards that obstacle as an enemy, and
remarks in language brutally frank, though not wholly elegant: "We will
lick him first and then decide who is right." In 1770 King George III, who
fretted at all seasons at the slowness with which he was able to break down the
ascendency of the Whigs, manipulated the Government so as to make Lord North
Prime Minister. Lord North was a servant, one might say a lackey, after the
King's own heart. He abandoned lifelong traditions, principles, fleeting whims,
prejudices even, in order to keep up with the King's wish of the moment. After
Lord North became Prime Minister, the likelihood of a peaceful settlement
between the crown and the Colonies lessened. He ran ahead of the King in his
desire to serve the King's wishes, and George III, by this time, was wrought up
by the persistent tenacity of the Whigs--he wished them dead, but they would
not die--and he was angered by the insolence of the Colonists who showed that
they would not shrink from forcibly resisting the King's command. On both sides
of the Atlantic a vehement and most
enlightening debate over constitutional and legal fundamentals still went on.
Although the King had packed Parliament, not all the oratory poured out at Westminster favored the
King. On the contrary, the three chief masters of British eloquence at that
time, and in all time--Edmund Burke, William Pitt, and Charles James Fox--spoke
on the side of the Colonists. Reading the magnificent arguments of Burke
to-day, we ask ourselves how any group in Parliament could have withstood them.
But there comes a moment in every vital discussion when arguments and logic
fail to convince. Passions deeper than logic controlled motives and actions.
The Colonists contended that in proclaiming "no taxation without
representation," they were appealing to a principle of Anglo-Saxon liberty
inherent in their race. When King George, or any one else, denied this
principle, he denied an essential without which Anglo-Saxon polity could not
survive, but neither King George nor Lord North accepted the premises. If they
had condescended to reply at all, they might have sung the hymn of their successors
a hundred years later:
"We don't want to fight, But by jingo! if we do, We've
got the men, we've got the ships, We've got the money too."
Meanwhile, the Virginia Planter watched the course of
events, pursued his daily business regularly, attended the House of Burgesses
when it was in session, said little, but thought much. He did not break out
into invective or patriotic appeals. No doubt many of his acquaintances thought
him lukewarm in spirit and non-committal; but persons who knew him well knew what
his decision must be. As early as April 5, 1769, he wrote his friend, George
At a time, when our lordly masters in Great Britain
will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom,
it seems highly necessary that something should be done to avert the stroke,
and maintain the liberty, which we have derived from our ancestors. But the
manner of doing it, to answer the purpose effectually, is the point in
That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment, to use a--ms
in defence of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life
depends, is clearly my opinion. Yet a--ms, I would beg leave to add, should be
the last resource, the dernier resort. Addresses to the throne, and
remonstrances to Parliament, we have already, it is said, proved the
inefficiency of. How far, then, their attention to our rights and privileges is
to be awakened or alarmed, by starving their trade and manufacturers, remains
to be tried.
[Footnote 1: Ford, II, 263-64.]
Thus wrote the Silent Member six years before the outbreak
of hostilities, and he did not then display any doubt either of his patriotism,
or of the course which every patriot must take. To his intimates he spoke with
point-blank candor. Years later, George Mason wrote to him:
I never forgot your declaration, when I had last the
pleasure of being at your house in 1768, that you were ready to take your
musket upon your shoulder whenever your country called upon you.
Some writers point out that Washington excelled rather as a critic of
concrete plans than of constitutional and legal aspects. Perhaps this is true.
Assuredly he had no formal legal training. There were many other men in
Massachusetts, in Virginia, and in some of the other Colonies, who could and
did analyze minutely the Colonists' protest against taxation without
representation, and the British rebuttal thereof; but Washington's strength lay
in his primal wisdom, the wisdom which is based not on conventions, even though
they be laws and constitutions, but on a knowledge of the ways in which men
will react toward each other in their primitive, natural relations. In this
respect he was one of the wisest among the statesmen.
He does not seem to have joined in such clandestine methods
as those of the Committees of Correspondence, which Samuel Adams and some of
the most radical patriots in the Bay State had organized, but he said in the
Virginia Convention, in 1774: "I will raise one thousand men, subsist them
at my own expense and march myself at their head for the relief of
Boston." The ardor of Washington's
offer matched the increasing anger of the Colonists. Lord North, abetted by the
British Parliament, had continued to exasperate them by passing new bills which
could have produced under the best circumstances only a comparatively small
revenue. One of these imposed a tax on tea. The Colonists not only refused to
buy it, but to have it landed. In Boston
a large crowd gathered and listened to much fiery speech-making. Suddenly, a
body of fifty men disguised as Mohawk Indians rushed down to the wharves, rowed
out to the three vessels in which a large consignment of tea had been sent
across the ocean, hoisted it out of the holds to the decks and scattered the
contents of three hundred and forty chests in Boston Harbor.
[Footnote 1: _John Adams's
Diary_, August 31, 1774, quoting Lynch.]
The Boston Tea Party was as sensational as if it had sprang
from the brain of a Paris Jacobin in the French Revolution. It created
excitement among the American Colonists from Portsmouth
Six more of the Colonies enrolled Committees of Correspondence, Pennsylvania alone
refusing to join. In every quarter American patriots felt exalted. In England the
reverse effects were signalized with equal vehemence. The Mock Indians were
denounced as incendiaries, and the town meetings were condemned as
"nurseries of sedition." Parliament passed four penal laws, the first
of which punished Boston by transferring its
port to Salem
and closing its harbor. The second law suspended the charter of the Province
and added several new and tyrannical powers to the British Governor and to
On September 5, 1774, the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. Except Georgia, every
Colony sent delegates to it. The election of those delegates was in several
cases irregular, because the body which chose them was not the Legislature but
some temporary body of the patriots. Nevertheless, the Congress numbered some
of the men who were actually and have remained in history, the great engineers
of the American Revolution. Samuel Adams and John Adams went from
Massachusetts; John Jay and Philip Livingston from New York; Roger Sherman from
Connecticut; Thomas Mifflin and Edward Biddle from Pennsylvania; Thomas McKean
from Delaware; George Washington, Patrick Henry, Peyton Randolph, Edmund
Pendleton, and Richard H. Lee from Virginia; and Edward and John Rutledge from
South Carolina. Although the Congress was made up of these men and of others
like them, the petitions adopted by it and the work done, not to mention the
freshets of oratory, were astonishingly mild. Probably many of the delegates
would have preferred to use fiery tongues. Samuel Adams, for instance, though
"prematurely gray, palsied in hand, and trembling in voice," must
have had difficulty in restraining himself. He wrote as viciously as he spoke.
"Damn that Adams," said one of his
enemies. "Every dip of his pen stings like a horned snake." Patrick
Henry, being asked when he returned home, "Who is the greatest man in
Congress," replied: "If you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina is by far the greatest orator; but if you
speak of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest
man on that floor." The rumor had it that Washington said, he wished to God the
Liberties of America were to be determined by a single Combat between himself
and George. One other saying of his at this time is worth reporting, although
it cannot be satisfactorily verified. "_More blood will be spilled on this
occasion_, if the ministry are determined to push matters to extremity, _than
history has ever yet furnished instances of_ in the annals of North
America." The language and tone of the "Summary
View"--a pamphlet which Thomas Jefferson had issued shortly
before--probably chimed with the emotions of most of the delegates. They
adopted (October 14, 1774) the "Declaration of Rights," which may not
have seemed belligerent enough for the Radicals, but really leaves little
unsaid. A week later Congress agreed to an "Association," an
instrument for regulating, by preventing, trade with the English. Having
provided for the assembling of a second Congress, the first adjourned.
As a symbol, the First Congress has an integral importance
in the growth of American Independence. It marked the first time that the
American Colonies had acted together for their collective interests. It served
notice on King George and Lord North that it repudiated the claims of the
British Parliament to govern the Colonies. It implied that it would repel by
force every attempt of the British to exercise an authority which the Colonists
refused to recognize. In a very real sense the Congress thus delivered an
ultimatum. The winter of 1774/5 saw preparations being pushed on both sides.
General Thomas Gage, the British Commander-in-Chief stationed at Boston, had also thrust
upon him the civil government of that town. He had some five thousand British
troops in Boston,
and several men-of-war in the harbor. There were no overt acts, but the speed
with which, on more than one occasion, large bodies of Colonial farmers
assembled and went swinging through the country to rescue some place, which it
was falsely reported the British were attacking, showed the nervous tension
under which the Americans were living. As the enthusiasm of the Patriots
increased, that of the Loyalists increased also. Among the latter were many of
the rich and aristocratic inhabitants, and, of course, most of the
office-holders. Until the actual outbreak of hostilities they upheld the King's
cause with more chivalry than discretion, and then they migrated to Nova Scotia and to England, and bore the penalty of
confiscation and the corroding distress of exile. In England during this winter, Pitt
and Burke had defended the Colonies and the Whig minority had supported them.
Even Lord North used conciliatory suggestions, but with him conciliation meant
that the Colonies should withdraw all their offensive demands and kneel before
the Crown in penitent humiliation before a new understanding could be thought
Meanwhile Colonel Washington
was in Virginia
running his plantations to the best of his ability and with his mind made up.
He wrote to his friend Bryan Fairfax (July 20, 1774):
As I see nothing, on the one hand, to induce a belief that
the Parliament would embrace a favorable opportunity of repealing acts, which
they go on with great rapidity to pass, and in order to enforce their
tyrannical system; and on the other, I observe, or think I observe, that
government is pursuing a regular plan at the expense of law and justice to
overthrow our constitutional rights and liberties, how can I expect any redress
from a measure, which has been ineffectually tried already? For, Sir, what is
it we are contending against? Is it against paying the duty of three pence per
pound on tea because burthensome? No, it is the right only, we have all along
disputed, and to this end we have already petitioned his Majesty in as humble
and dutiful manner as subjects could do....
And has not General Gage's conduct since his arrival, (in
stopping the address of his Council, and publishing a proclamation more
becoming a Turkish bashaw, than an English governor, declaring it treason to
associate in any manner by which the commerce of Great Britain is to be
affected) exhibited an unexampled testimony of the most despotic system of
tyranny, that ever was practised in a free government? In short, what further
proofs are wanted to satisfy one of the designs of the ministry, than their own
acts, which are uniform and plainly tending to the same point, nay, if I
mistake not, avowedly to fix the right of taxation? What hope then from
petitioning, when they tell us, that now or never is the time to fix the
matter? Shall we after this, whine and cry for relief, when we have already
tried it in vain? Or shall we supinely sit and see one province after another
fall a prey to despotism?
[Footnote 1: Ford, II, 421-22.]
[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., 423-24.]
In the early autumn Washington
wrote to Captain Robert MacKenzie, who was serving in the Regular British Army
with Gage at Boston:
I think I can announce it as a fact, that it is not the wish
or intent of that government, (Massachusetts) or any other upon this continent,
separately or collectively, to set up for independence; but this you may at the
same time rely on, that none of them will ever submit to the loss of these
valuable rights and privileges, which are essential to the happiness of every
free state, and without which, life, liberty, and property are rendered totally
[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., 443.]
In the following spring the battles of Lexington
and Concord, on
April 19th, began the war of the American Revolution. A few weeks later, a
Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia.
The delegates to it, understanding that they must prepare for war, proceeded to
elect a Commander-in-Chief. There was some jealousy between the men of Virginia and those of Massachusetts. The former seemed to think
that the latter assumed the first position, and indeed, most of the angry
gestures had been made in Boston, and Boston had been the
special object of British punishment. Still, with what may seem unexpected
self-effacement, they did not press strongly for the choice of a Massachusetts man as
Commander-in-Chief. On June 15, 1775, Congress having resolved "that a
general be appointed to command all the continental forces raised or to be
raised for the defence of American liberty," proceeded to a choice, and
the ballots being taken, George Washington, Esq., was unanimously elected. On
the next day the President of the Congress, Mr. John Hancock, formally
announced the election to Colonel Washington, who replied:
Mr. President, though I am truly sensible of the high honor
done me in this appointment, yet I feel great distress from a consciousness
that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and
important trust. However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the
momentous duty and exert every power I possess in the service and for the
support of the glorious cause. I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks
for this distinguished testimony of their approbation. But lest some unlucky
event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by
every gentleman in the room, that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity
I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.
As to pay, Sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress, that as
no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous
employment at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to
make any profit from it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. Those I
doubt not they will discharge, and that is all I desire.
[Footnote 1: Ford, II, 477-78-79, 480-81.]
Accompanied by Lee and Schuyler and a brilliant escort, he
set forth on June 21st for Boston.
Before they had gone twenty miles a messenger bringing news of the Battle of
Bunker Hill crossed them. "Did the Militia fight?" Washington asked. On being told that they
did, he said: "Then the liberties of the country are safe." Then he
pushed on, stopping long enough in New York to appoint General Schuyler
military commander of that Colony, and so through Connecticut to the old Bay State.
There, at Cambridge,
he found the crowd awaiting him and some of the Colonial troops. On the edge of
the Common, under a large elm tree broad of spread, he took command of the
first American army. It was the second of July, 1775.
Thus began what seems to us now an impossible war. Although
it had been brooding for ten years, since the Stamp Act, which showed that the
ties of blood and of tradition meant nothing to the British Tories, now that it
had come, the Colonists may well have asked themselves what it meant. Probably,
if the Colonists had taken a poll on that fine July morning in 1775, not one in
five of them would have admitted that he was going to war to secure
Independence, but all would have protested that they would die if need be to
recover their freedom, the old British freedom, which came down to them from
Runnymede and should not be wrested from them.
A British Tory, at the same time, might have replied:
"We fight, we cannot do less, in order to discipline and punish these
wretches who assume to deny the jurisdiction of the British Crown and to rebel
against the authority of the British Parliament." A few years before, an
English general had boasted that with an army of five thousand troops he would
undertake a march from Canada,
through the Colonies, straight to the Gulf of Mexico.
And Colonel George Washington, who had seen something of the quality of the
British regulars, remarked that with a thousand seasoned Virginians he would
engage to block the five thousand wherever he met them. The test was now to be
The first thing that strikes us is the great extent of the
field of war. From the farthest settlements in the northeast, in what is now Maine, to the border villages in Georgia was
about fifteen hundred miles; but mere distance did not represent the difficulty
of the journey. Between Boston and Baltimore ran a carriage
road, not always kept in good repair. Most of the other stretches had to be
traversed on horseback. The country along the seaboard was generally well
supplied with food, but the supply was nowhere near large enough to furnish
regular permanent subsistence for an army. A lack of munitions seriously
threatened the Colonists' ability to fight at all, but the discovery of lead in
Virginia made good this deficiency until the year 1781, when the lead mine was
More important than material concerns, however, was the
diversity in origin and customs among the Colonists themselves. The total
population numbered in 1775 nearly two and one half million souls. Of these,
the slaves formed about 500,000. The three largest Colonies, Virginia,
Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania contained 900,000 inhabitants,
of which a little more than one half were slaves. Pennsylvania,
the third Colony, had a total of 300,000, mostly white, while South Carolina had 200,000, of whom only
65,000 were white. Connecticut,
on the other hand, had 200,000 with scarcely any blacks. The result was a very
mottled population. The New Englanders had already begun to practise
manufacturing, and they continued to raise under normal conditions sufficient
food for their subsistence. South of the Mason and Dixon line, however, slave labor prevailed
and the three great staples--tobacco, indigo, and rice--were the principal
crops. Where these did not grow, the natives got along as best they could on
scanty common crops, and by raising a few sheep and hogs. As the war proceeded,
it taught with more and more force the inherent wastefulness of slave labor in
the South. It was inefficient, costly, and unreliable.
The Battle of Bunker Hill was at once hailed as a Patriot
victory, but the rejoicing was premature, for the Americans had been forced to
retreat, giving up the position they had bravely defended. Nevertheless, the
opinion prevailed that they had won a real victory by withstanding through many
hours of a bloody fight some of the best of the British regiments.
Washington took command of
the American army at Cambridge,
he was faced with the great task of organizing it and of forming a plan of campaign.
The Congress had taken over the charge of the army at Boston,
and the events had so shaped themselves that the first thing for Washington to do was to
drive out the British troops. To accomplish this he planned to seal up all the
entrances into the town by land so that food could not be smuggled in. The
British had a considerable fleet in Boston
Harbor, and they had to
rely upon it to bring provisions and to keep in touch with the world outside.
Washington had his
headquarters at the Craigie House in Cambridge,
some half a mile from Harvard
Square and the College. He was now forty-three
years old, a man of commanding presence, six feet three inches tall,
broad-shouldered but slender, without any signs of the stoutness of middle age.
His hands and feet were large. His head was somewhat small. The blue-gray eyes,
set rather far apart, looked out from heavy eyebrows with an expression of
attentiveness. The most marked feature was the nose, which was fairly large and
straight and vigorous. The mouth shut firmly, as it usually does where decision
is the dominant trait. The lips were flat. His color was pale but healthy, and
rarely flushed, even under great provocation.
All that had gone before seemed to be strangely blended in
his appearance. The surveyor lad; the Indian fighter and officer; the planter;
the foxhunter; the Burgess; you could detect them all. But underlying them all
was the permanent Washington,
deferent, plain of speech, direct, yet slow in forming or expressing an
opinion. Most men, after they had been with him awhile, felt a sense of his
majesty grow upon them, a sense that he was made of common flesh like them, but
of something uncommon besides, something very high and very precious.
Washington found that he
had sixteen thousand troops under his command near Boston. Of these two thirds came from Massachusetts, and Connecticut
halved the rest. During July Congress added three thousand men from Pennsylvania, Maryland,
They lacked everything. In order to give them some uniformity in dress, Washington suggested
hunting-shirts, which he said "would have a happier tendency to unite the
men and abolish those Provincial Distinctions which lead to jealousy and
dissatisfaction." Among higher officers, jealousy, which they made no attempt
to dissemble or to disguise, was common. Two of the highest posts went to
Englishmen who proved themselves not only technically unfit, but suspiciously
near disloyalty. One of these was Charles Lee, who thought the
major-generalship to which Congress appointed him beneath his notice; the other
was also an Englishman, Horatio Gates, Adjutant-General. A third, Thomas, when
about to retire in pique, received from Washington
the following rebuke:
In the usual contests of empire and ambition, the conscience
of a soldier has so little share, that he may very properly insist upon his
claims of rank, and extend his pretensions even to punctilio;--but in such a
cause as this, when the object is neither glory nor extent of territory, but a
defense of all that is dear and valuable in private and public life, surely
every post ought to be deemed honorable in which a man can serve his
[Footnote 1: Ford, _George Washington_, I, 175.]
Besides the complaints which reached Washington from all sides, he had also to
listen to the advice of military amateurs. Some of these had never been in a
battle and knew nothing about warfare except from reading, but they were not on
this account the most taciturn. Many urged strongly that an expedition be sent
against Canada, a design
opposed. His wisdom was justified when Richard Montgomery, with about fifteen
hundred men, took Montreal--November 12,
1775--and after waiting several weeks formed a junction with Benedict Arnold
which they attacked in a blinding snowstorm, December 31, 1775. Arnold had marched up the Kennebec
River and through the Maine wilderness with fifteen hundred men, which were
reduced to five hundred before they came into action with Montgomery's much dwindled force. The commander
repulsed them and sent them flying southward as fast as the rigors of the
winter and the difficulties of the wilderness permitted.
By the end of July, meanwhile, Washington had brought something like order
into the undisciplined and untrained masses who formed his army, but now
another lack threatened him: a lack of gunpowder. The cartridge boxes of his
soldiers contained on an average only nine charges of ball and gunpowder
apiece, hardly enough to engage in battle for more than ten minutes. Washington sent an urgent appeal to every town, and
hearing that a ship at Bermuda had a cargo of
gunpowder, American ships were despatched thither to secure it. In such straits
did the army of the United Colonies go forth to war. By avoiding battles and
other causes for using munitions, they not only kept their original supply, but
added to it as fast as their appeals were listened to. Washington
kept his lines around Boston
firm. In the autumn General Gage was replaced, as British Commander-in-Chief,
by Sir William Howe, whose brother Richard, Lord Howe, became Admiral of the
Fleet. But the Howes knew no way to break the strangle hold of the Americans.
contrived to create the impression that he was master of the situation is one
of the mysteries of his campaigning, because, although he had succeeded in
making soldiers of the raw recruits and in enforcing subordination, they were
still a very skittish body. They enlisted for short terms of service, and even
before their term was completed, they began to hanker to go home. This caused
not only inconvenience, but real difficulty. Still, Washington
steadily pushed on, and in March, 1776, by a brilliant manoeuvre at Dorchester Heights,
he secured a position from which his cannons could bombard every British ship
in Boston Harbor. On the 17th of March all those
ships, together with the garrison of eight thousand, and with two thousand
fugitive Loyalists, sailed off to Halifax.
Boston has been
free from foreign enemies from that day to this.
AND VALLEY FORGE
Howe's retreat from Boston
freed Massachusetts and, indeed, all New England from British troops. It also gave Washington the clue to
his own next move. He was a real soldier and therefore his instinct told him
that his next objective must be the enemy's army. Accordingly he prepared to
move his own troops to New York.
He passed through Providence, Norwich,
and New London, reaching New York on April 13th. Congress was then
sitting in Philadelphia
and he was requested to visit it.
He spent a fortnight during May in Philadelphia where he had conferences with
men of all kinds and seems to have been particularly impressed, not to say
shocked, by the lack of harmony which he discovered. The members of the
Congress, although they were ostensibly devoting themselves to the common
affairs of the United Colonies, were really intriguing each for the interests
of his special colony or section. Washington
thought this an ominous sign, as indeed it was, for since the moment when he
joined the Revolution he threw off all local affiliation. He did his utmost to
perform his duty, clinging as long as he could to the hope that there would be
no final break with England.
Throughout the winter, however, from almost every part of the country the demands
of the Colonists for independence became louder and more urgent and these he
heard repeated and discussed during his visit to the Congress. On May 31st he
wrote his brother John Augustine Washington:
Things have come to that pass now, as to convince us, that
we have nothing more to expect from the justice of Great Britain; also, that
she is capable of the most delusive acts; for I am satisfied, that no
commissioners ever were designed, except Hessians and other foreigners; and
that the idea was only to deceive and throw us off our guard. The first has
been too effectually accomplished, as many members of Congress, in short, the
representation of whole provinces, are still feeding themselves upon the dainty
food of reconciliation; and though they will not allow, that the expectation of
it has any influence upon their judgment, (with respect to their preparations
for defence,) it is but too obvious, that it has an operation upon every part
of their conduct, and is a clog to their proceedings. It is not in the nature
of things to be otherwise; for no man, that entertains a hope of seeing this
dispute speedily and equitably adjusted by commissioners, will go to the same
expense and run the same hazards to prepare for the worst event, as he who
believes that he must conquer, or submit to unconditional terms, and its
concomitants, such as confiscation, hanging, etc. etc.
[Footnote 1: Ford, iv, 106.]
The Hessians to whom Washington
alludes were German mercenaries hired by the King of England from two or three
of the princelings of Germany.
These Hessians turned a dishonest penny by fighting in behalf of a cause in
which they took no immediate interest or even knew what it was about. During
the course of the Revolution there were thirty thousand Hessians in the British
armies in America,
and, as their owners, the German princelings, received L5 apiece for them it
was a profitable arrangement for those phlegmatic, corpulent, and braggart
personages. The Americans complained that the Hessians were brutal and tricky
fighters; but in reality they merely carried out the ideals of their German
Fatherland which remained behind the rest of Europe
in its ideals of what was fitting in war. Being uncivilized, they could not be
expected to follow the practice of civilized warfare.
When Washington returned to
his headquarters in New York, he left the
Congress in Philadelphia simmering over the
question of Independence.
Almost simultaneously with Washington's return
came the British fleet under Howe, which passed Sandy Hook and sailed up New York Harbor. He brought an army of
twenty-five thousand men. Washington's force
was nominally nineteen thousand men, but it was reduced to not more than ten
thousand by the detachment of several thousand to guard Boston
and of several thousand more to take part in the struggle in Canada, besides
thirty-six hundred sick. The Colonists clung as if by obsession to their
project of capturing Quebec.
The death of Montgomery
and the discomfiture of Benedict Arnold, which really gave a quietus to the
success of the expedition, did not suffice to crush it. Only too evident was it
could be taken. Canada
would fall permanently into American control, and cease to be a constant menace
and the recruiting ground for new expeditions against the central Colonies.
August was drawing to a close when the two armies were in a
position to begin fighting. The British, who had originally camped upon Staten
Island where Nature provided them with a shelter from attack, had now moved
across the bay to Long Island. There General
Sullivan, having lost eleven or twelve hundred men, was caught between two
fires and compelled to surrender with the two thousand or more of his army
which remained after the attack of the British. Washington
watched the disaster from Brooklyn, but was unable to detach any regiments to
bring aid to Sullivan, as it now became clear to him that his whole army on Long Island might easily be cut off. He decided to
retreat from the island. This he did on August 29th, having commandeered every
boat that he could find. He ferried his entire force across to the New York side with such
secrecy and silence that the British did not notice that they were gone. A
heavy fog, which settled over the water during the night, greatly aided the
adventure. The result of the Battle of Long Island gave the British great
exultation and correspondingly depressed the Americans. On the preceding fourth
of July they had declared their Independence;
they were no longer Colonies but independent States bound together by a common
interest. They felt all the more keenly that in this first battle after their Independence they should
be so ignominiously defeated. They might have taken much comfort in the thought
that had Howe surprised them on their midnight retreat across the river, he
might have captured most of the American army and probably have ended the war. Washington's disaster
sprang not from his incompetence, but from his inadequate resources. The
British outnumbered him more than two to one and they had control of the water;
an advantage which he could not offset. One important fact should not be
forgotten: New York,
both City and State, had been notoriously Loyalist--that is, pro-British--ever
since the troubles between the Colonists and the British grew angry. Governor
Tryon, the Governor of the State, made no secret of his British preferences;
indeed, they were not preferences at all, but downright British acts.
Having won the Battle of Long Island, Lord Howe thought the
time favorable for acting in his capacity as a peacemaker, because he had come
over with authority to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Colonists'
quarrel. He appealed, therefore, to the Congress of Philadelphia, which
appointed a committee of three--Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward
Rutledge to confer with Lord Howe. The conference, which exhibited the shrewd
quality of John Adams and of Franklin,
the politeness of Rutledge, and the studied urbanity of Lord Howe, simply
showed that there was no common ground on which they could come to an
agreement. The American Commissioners returned to Philadelphia
and Lord Howe to New York City
and there were no further attempts at peacemaking.
Having brought his men to New York, Washington
may well have debated what to do next. The general opinion seemed to be that New York must be
defended at all costs. Whether Washington
approved of this plan, I find it hard to say. Perhaps he felt that if the
American army could hold its own on Manhattan
for several weeks, it would be put into better discipline and prepared either
to risk a battle with the British, or to retreat across the Hudson
toward New Jersey.
He decided that for the moment at least he would station his army on the
heights of Harlem. From the house of Colonel
Morris, where he made his headquarters, he wrote on September 4, 1776, to the
President of the Congress: "We are now, as it were, upon the eve of
another dissolution of our army." The term of service of most of the
soldiers under Washington
would expire at the end of the year, and he devoted the greater part of the
letter to showing up the evils of the military system existing in the American
A soldier [he said] reasoned with upon the goodness of the
cause he is engaged in, and the inestimable rights he is contending for, hears
you with patience, and acknowledges the truth of your observations, but adds
that it is of no more importance to him than to others. The officer makes you
the same reply, with this further remark, that his pay will not support him and
he cannot ruin himself and family to serve his country, when every member of
the community is equally interested, and benefited by his labors. The few,
therefore, who act upon principles of disinterestedness, comparatively
speaking, are no more than a drop in the ocean.
It becomes evident to me then, that, as this contest is not
likely to be the work of a day, as the war must be carried on systematically,
and to do it you must have good officers, there are in my judgment no other
possible means to obtain them but by establishing your army upon a permanent
footing and giving your officers good pay. This will induce gentlemen and men
of character to engage; and, till the bulk of your officers is composed of such
persons as are actuated by principles of honor and a spirit of enterprise, you
have little to expect from them.
[Footnote 1: Ford, IV, 440.]
proceeds to argue that the soldiers ought not to be engaged for a shorter time
than the duration of the war, that they ought to have better pay and the offer
of a hundred or a hundred and fifty acres of land. Officers' pay should be
increased in proportion. "Why a captain in the Continental service should
receive no more than five shillings currency per day for performing the same
duties that an officer of the same rank in the British service receives ten
shillings for, I never could conceive." He further speaks strongly against
the employment of militia--"to place any dependence upon [it] is assuredly
resting upon a broken staff."
wrote thus frankly to the Congress which seems to have read his doleful reports
without really being stimulated, as it ought to have been, by a determination
to remove their causes. Probably the delegates came to regard the jeremiads as
a matter of course and assumed that Washington
would pull through somehow. Very remarkable is it that the Commander-in-Chief
of any army in such a struggle should have expressed himself as he did,
bluntly, in regard to its glaring imperfections. Doing this, however, he
managed to hold the loyalty and spirit of his men. In the American Civil War,
McClellan contrived to infatuate his troops with the belief that his plans were
perfect, and that only the annoying fact that the Confederate generals planned
better caused him to be defeated; and yet to his obsessed soldiers defeat under
McClellan was more glorious than victory under Lee or Stonewall Jackson. I take
it that Washington's
frankness simply reflected his passion for veracity, which was the cornerstone
of his character. The strangest fact of all was that it did not lessen his
popularity or discourage his troops.
To his intimates Washington
wrote with even more unreserve. Thus he says to Lund Washington
In short, such is my situation that if I were to wish the
bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my
stead with my feelings; and yet I do not know what plan of conduct to pursue. I
see the impossibility of serving with reputation, or doing any essential
service to the cause by continuing in command, and yet I am told that if I quit
the command, inevitable ruin will follow from the distraction that will ensue.
In confidence I tell you that I never was in such an unhappy, divided state
since I was born. To lose all comfort and happiness on the one hand, whilst I
am fully persuaded that under such a system of management as has been adopted,
I cannot have the least chance for reputation, nor those allowances made which
the nature of the case requires; and to be told, on the other, that if I leave
the service all will be lost, is, at the same time that I am bereft of every
peaceful moment, distressing to a degree. But I will be done with the subject,
with the precaution to you that it is not a fit one to be publicly known or
discussed. If I fall, it may not be amiss that these circumstances be known,
and declaration made in credit to the justice of my character. And if the men
will stand by me (which by the by I despair of), I am resolved not to be forced
from this ground while I have life; and a few days will determine the point, if
the enemy should not change their place of operations; for they certainly will
not--I am sure they ought not--to waste the season that is now fast advancing,
and must be precious to them.
[Footnote 1: Ford, IV, 458.]
The British troops almost succeeded in surrounding Washington's force north of Harlem.
Washington retreated to White Plains, where, on October 28th, the
British, after a severe loss, took an outpost and won what is called the
"Battle of White Plains." Henceforward Washington's
movements resembled too painfully those of the proverbial toad under the
harrow; and yet in spite of Lord Howe's efforts to crush him, he succeeded in
escaping into New Jersey
with a small remnant--some six thousand men--of his original army. The year
1776 thus closed in disaster which seemed to be irremediable. It showed that
the British, having awakened to the magnitude of their task, were able to cope
with it. Having a comparatively unlimited sea-power, they needed only to embark
their regiments, with the necessary provisions and ammunition, on their ships
and send them across the Atlantic, where they
were more than a match for the nondescript, undisciplined, ill-equipped, and
often badly nourished Americans. The fact that at the highest reckoning hardly
a half of the American people were actively in favor of Independence, is too often forgotten. But
from this fact there followed much lukewarmness and inertia in certain
sections. Many persons had too little imagination or were too sordidly bound by
their daily ties to care. As one planter put it: "My business is to raise
tobacco, the rest doesn't concern me."
Over the generally level plains of New Jersey, George Washington pushed the
remnant of the army that remained to him. He had now hardly five thousand men,
but they were the best, most seasoned, and in many respects the hardiest
fighters. In addition to the usual responsibility of warfare, of feeding his
troops, finding quarters for them, and of directing the line of march, he had to
cope with wholesale desertions and to make desperate efforts to raise money and
to persuade some of those troops, whose term was expiring, to stay on. His
general plan now was to come near enough to the British centre and to watch its
movements. The British had fully twenty-five thousand men who could be centred
at a given point. This centre was now Trenton,
and the objective of the British was so plainly Philadelphia
that the Continental Congress, after voting to remain in permanence there, fled
as quietly as possible to Baltimore.
On December 18th Washington wrote from the
camp near the Falls of Trenton to John Augustine Washington:
If every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with
all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up, owing, in great
measure, to the insidious acts of the Enemy, and disaffection of the Colonies
before mentioned, but principally to the accursed policy of short enlistments,
and placing too great a dependence on the militia, the evil consequences of
which were foretold fifteen months ago, with a spirit almost Prophetic. ... You
can form no idea of the perplexity of my situation. No man, I believe, ever had
a greater choice of difficulties, and less means to extricate himself from
them. However, under a full persuasion of the justice of our cause, I cannot
entertain an idea that it will finally sink, though it may remain for some time
under a cloud.
[Footnote 1: Ford, V, 111.]
Washington stood with his
forlorn little array on the west bank of the Delaware
He had information that the British had stretched their line very far and thin
to the east of the town. Separating his forces into three bodies, he commanded
one of these himself, and during the night of Christmas he crossed the river in
boats. The night was stormy and the crossing was much interrupted by floating
cakes of ice; in spite of which he landed his troops safely on the eastern
shore. They had to march nine miles before they reached Trenton, taking Colonel Rall and his garrison
of Hessians by surprise. More than a thousand surrendered and were quickly
carried back over the river into captivity.
The prestige of the Battle of Trenton was enormous. For the
first time in six months Washington
had beaten the superior forces of the British and beaten them in a fortified
town of their own choosing. The result of the victory was not simply military;
it quickly penetrated the population of New
Jersey which had been exasperatingly Loyalist, had
sold the British provisions, and abetted their intrigues. Now the New Jersey people
suddenly bethought them that they might have chosen the wrong side after all.
This feeling was deepened in them a week later when, at Princeton, Washington
suddenly fell upon and routed several British regiments. By this success he
cleared the upper parts of New Jersey of British troops, who were shut once
more within the limits of New York City and Long Island.
In January, 1777, no man could say that the turning-point in
the American Revolution had been passed. There were still to come long months,
and years even, of doubt and disillusion and suffering; the agony of Valley Forge; the ignominy of betrayal; and the slowly
gnawing pain of hope deferred. But the fact, if men could have but seen it, was
clear--Trenton and Princeton
were prophetic of the end. And what was even clearer was the supreme importance
of George Washington. Had he been cut off after Princeton
or had he been forced to retire through accident, the Revolution would have
slackened, lost head and direction, and spent itself among thinly parcelled
rivulets without strength to reach the sea. Washington was a Necessary Man. Without him
the struggle would not then have continued. Sooner or later America would have broken free from England, but he
was indispensable to the liberty and independence of the Colonies then. This
thought brooded over him at all times, not to make him boastful or imperious,
but to impress him with a deeper awe, and to impress also his men with the
supreme importance of his life to them all. They grew restive when, at Princeton, forgetful of self, he faced a volley of
muskets only thirty feet away. One of his officers wrote after the Trenton campaign:
Our army love their General very much, but they have one
thing against him, which is the little care he takes of himself in any action.
His personal bravery, and the desire he has of animating his troops by example,
makes him fearless of danger. This occasions us much uneasiness. But Heaven,
which has hitherto been his shield, I hope will still continue to guard so
valuable a life.
[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 171.]
Robert Morris, who had already achieved a very important
position among the Patriots of New York, wrote to Washington:
Heaven, no doubt for the noblest purposes, has blessed you
with a firmness of mind, steadiness of countenance, and patience in sufferings,
that give you infinite advantages over other men. This being the case, you are
not to depend on other people's exertions being equal to your own. One mind
feeds and thrives on misfortunes by finding resources to get the better of
them; another sinks under their weight, thinking it impossible to resist; and,
as the latter description probably includes the majority of mankind, we must be
cautious of alarming them.
doubtless thanked Morris for his kind advice about issuing reports which had
some streaks of the rainbow and less truth in them. He did not easily give up
his preference for truth.
Common prudence [he said] dictates the necessity of duly
attending to the circumstances of both armies, before the style of conquerors
is assumed by either; and I am sorry to add, that this does not appear to be
the case with us; nor is it in my power to make Congress fully sensible of the
real situation of our affairs, and that it is with difficulty (if I may use the
expression) that I can, by every means in my power, keep the life and soul of
this army together. In a word, when they are at a distance, they think it is
but to say, Presto begone, and everything is done. They seem not to have any
conception of the difficulty and perplexity attending those who are to execute.
After the Battle of Princeton, Washington drew his men off
to the Heights of Morristown where he established his winter quarters. The
British had gone still farther toward New
York City. Both sides seemed content to enjoy a
comparative truce until spring should come with better weather; but true to his
characteristic of being always preparing something, Howe had several projects
in view, any one of which might lead to important activity. If ever a war was
fought at long range, that war was the American Revolution. Howe received his
orders from the War Office in London.
Every move was laid down; no allowance was made for the change which
unforeseeable contingencies might render necessary; the young Under-Secretaries
who carefully drew up the instructions in London knew little or nothing about
the American field of operations and simply relied upon the fact that their
callipers showed that it was so many miles between Point X and Point Y and that
the distance should ordinarily be covered in so many hours.
With Washington himself the case was hardly better. There
were few motions that he could make of his own free will. He had to get
authority from the Continental Congress at Philadelphia. The Congress was not made up of
military experts and in many cases it knew nothing about the questions he
asked. The members of the Congress were talkers, not doers, and they sometimes
lost themselves in endless debate and sometimes they seemed quite to forget the
put to them. We find him writing in December to beg them to reply to the urgent
question which he had first asked in the preceding October. He was scrupulous
not to take any step which might seem dictatorial. The Congress and the people
of the country dreaded military despotism. That dread made them prefer the evil
system of militia and the short-term enlistments to a properly organized
standing army. To their fearful imagination the standing army would very quickly
be followed by the man on horseback and by hopeless despotism.
The Olympians in London who
controlled the larger issues of war and peace whispered to the young gentlemen
in the War Office to draw up plans for the invasion, during the summer of 1777,
of the lower Hudson by British troops from Canada. General
Burgoyne should march down and take Ticonderoga and then proceed to Albany. There he could
meet a smaller force under Colonel St. Leger coming from Oswego
and following the Mohawk River. A third army
under Sir William Howe could ascend the Hudson
and meet Burgoyne and St. Leger at the general rendezvous--Albany. It was a brave plan, and when
Burgoyne started with his force of eight thousand men high hopes flushed the
British hearts. These hopes seemed to be confirmed when a month later Burgoyne
took Ticonderoga. The Americans attributed
great importance to this place, an importance which might have been justified
at an earlier time, but which was now really passed, and it proved of little
value to Burgoyne. Pursuing his march southward, he found himself entangled in
the forest and he failed to meet boats which were to ferry him over the
The military operations during the summer and autumn of 1777
might well cause the Americans to exult. The British plan of sending three
armies to clear out the forces which guarded or blocked the road from Canada to the lower Hudson burst like a bubble. The chief
contingent of 8000 men, under General Burgoyne, seems to have strayed from its
route and to have been in need of food. Hearing that there were supplies at Bennington, Burgoyne
turned aside to that place. He little suspected the mettle of John Stark and of
his Green Mountain volunteers. Their quality was
well represented by Stark's address to his men: "They are ours to-night,
or Molly Stark is a widow." He did not boast. By nightfall he had captured
all of Burgoyne's men who were alive (August 16, 1777).
Only one reverse marred the victories of the summer. This
was at Oriskany in August, 1777. An American force of 400 or 500 men fell into
an ambush, and its leader, General Herkimer, though mortally wounded, refused
to retire, but continued to give directions to the end. Oriskany was reputed to
be the most atrocious fight of the Revolution. Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief,
led the Indians, who were allies of the English.
In spite of this, Burgoyne seemed to lose resolution,
uncertain whither to turn. He instinctively groped for a way that would take
him down the Hudson and bring him to Albany, where he was to
meet British reenforcements. But he missed his bearings and found himself near Saratoga. Here General
Gates confronted him with an army larger than his own in regulars. On October
7th they fought a battle, which the British technically claimed as a victory,
as they were not driven from their position, but it left them virtually hemmed
in without a line of escape. Burgoyne waited several days irresolute. He hoped
that something favorable to him might turn up. He had a lurking hope that
General Clinton was near by, coming to his rescue. He wavered, gallant though
he was, and would not give the final order of desperation--to cut their way
through the enemy lines. Instead of that he sought a truce with Gates, and
signed the Convention of Saratoga (October 17th), by which he surrendered his
army with the honors of war, and it was stipulated that they should be sent to
England by English ships and paroled against taking any further part in the
The victory of Saratoga had
much effect on America; it
reverberated through Europe. Only the peculiar
nature of the fighting in America
prevented it from being decisive. Washington himself had never dared to risk a
battle which, if he were defeated in it, would render it impossible for him to
continue the war. The British, on the other hand, spread over much ground, and
the destruction of one of their armies would not necessarily involve the loss
of all. So it was now; Burgoyne's surrender did little to relieve the pressure
on Washington's troops on the Hudson, but it had a vital effect across the
Since the first year of the war the Americans had hoped to
secure a formal alliance with France
and among the French who favored this scheme there were several persons of
importance. Reasons were easily found to justify such an alliance. The Treaty
of Paris in 1763 had dispossessed France
of her colonies in America
and had left her inferior to England
in other parts of the world. Here was her chance to take revenge. The new King,
Louis XVI, had for Foreign Minister Count de Vergennes, a diplomat of some
experience, who warmly urged supporting the cause of the American Colonists. He
had for accomplice Beaumarchais, a nimble-witted playwright and seductive man
of the world who talked very persuasively to the young King and many others.
The Americans on their side had not been inactive, and early
in 1776 Silas Deane, a member of Congress from Connecticut,
was sent over to Paris
with the mission to do his utmost to cement the friendship between the American
Colonies and France. Deane worked to such good purpose that by October, 1776,
he had sent clothing for twenty thousand men, muskets for thirty thousand and
large quantities of ammunition. A fictitious French house, which went by the
name of Hortalaz et Cie, acted as agent and carried on the necessary business
from Paris. By
this time military adventurers in large numbers began to flock to America to
offer their swords to the rebellious Colonials. Among them were a few--de Kalb,
Pulaski, Steuben, and Kosciuszko--who did good service for the struggling young
rebels, but most of them were worthless adventurers and marplots.
Almost any American in Paris
felt himself authorized to give a letter of introduction to any Frenchman or
other European who wished to try his fortunes in America. One of the notorious cases
was that of a French officer named Ducoudray, who brought a letter from Deane
purporting to be an agreement that Ducoudray should command the artillery of
the Continental army with the rank and pay of a major-general. Washington would take no responsibility for this
appointment, which would have displaced General Knox, a hardy veteran, an
indefectible patriot, and Washington's
trusted friend. When the matter was taken up by the Congress, the demand was
quickly disallowed. The absurdity of allowing Silas Deane or any other American
in Paris, no matter how meritorious his own services might be, to assign to
foreigners commissions of high rank in the American army was too obvious to be
To illustrate the character of Washington's miscellaneous labors in
addition to his usual household care of the force under him, I borrow a few
items from his correspondence. I borrow at random, the time being October,
1777, when the Commander-in-Chief is moving from place to place in northern New Jersey, watching the
enemy and avoiding an engagement. A letter comes from Richard Henry Lee,
evidently intended to sound Washington,
in regard to the appointment of General Conway to a high command in the
American army. Washington
replies with corroding veracity.
[Matuchin Hill, 17 October, 1777.] If there is any truth in
the report that Congress hath appointed ... Brigadier Conway a Major-general in
this army, it will be as unfortunate a measure as ever was adopted. I may add,
(and I think with truth) that it will give a fatal blow to the existence of the
army. Upon so interesting a subject, I must speak plain. The duty I owe my
country, the ardent desire I have to promote its true interests, and justice to
individuals, requires this of me. General Conway's merit, then, as an officer,
and his importance in this army, exists more in his imagination, than in
reality. For it is a maxim with him, to leave no service of his own untold, nor
to want anything, which is to be obtained by importunity.
[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 121.]
It does not appear that Lee fished for letters of
introduction for himself or any of his friends after this experiment. He needed
no further proof that George Washington had the art of sending _complete_ answers.
[Footnote 2: For the end of Conway and his cabal see _post_, 112,
On October 25, 1777, desertions being frequent among the
officers and men, Washington
issued this circular to Pulaski and Colonels of Horse:
I am sorry to find that the liberty I granted to the light
dragoons of impressing horses near the enemy's line has been most horribly
abused and perverted into a mere plundering scheme. I intended nothing more
than that the horses belonging to the disaffected in the neighborhood of the British
Army, should be taken for the use of the dismounted dragoons, and expected,
that they would be regularly reported to the Quartermaster General, that an
account might be kept of the number and the persons from whom they were taken,
in order to a future settlement.--Instead of this, I am informed that under
pretence of the authority derived from me, they go about the country plundering
whomsoever they are pleased to denominate tories, and converting what they get
to their own private profit and emolument. This is an abuse that cannot be
tolerated; and as I find the license allowed them, has been made a sanction for
such mischievous practices, I am under the necessity of recalling it
altogether. You will therefore immediately make it known to your whole corps,
that they are not under any pretence whatever to meddle with the horses or
other property of any inhabitant whatever on pain of the severest punishment,
for they may be assured as far as it depends upon me that military execution
will attend all those who are caught in the like practice hereafter.
[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 141.]
One finds nothing ambiguous in this order to Pulaski and the
Colonels of Horse. A more timid commander would have hesitated to speak so
curtly at a time when the officers and men of his army were deserting at will;
but to Washington
discipline was discipline, and he would maintain it, cost what it might, so
long as he had ten men ready to obey him.
Passing over three weeks we find Washington writing from Headquarters on November
14th to Sir William Howe, the British Commander-in-Chief, in regard to the
maltreatment of prisoners and to proposals of exchanging officers on parole.
I must also remonstrate against the maltreatment and
confinement of our officers--this, I am informed, is not only the case of those
in Philadelphia, but of many in New York. Whatever
plausible pretences may be urged to authorize the condition of the former, it
is certain but few circumstances can arise to justify that of the latter. I
appeal to you to redress these several wrongs; and you will remember, whatever
hardships the prisoners with us may be subjected to will be chargeable on you.
At the same time it is but justice to observe, that many of the cruelties
exercised towards prisoners are said to proceed from the inhumanity of Mr.
Cunningham, provost-martial, without your knowledge or approbation.
[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 195.]
The letter was sufficiently direct for Sir William to
understand it. If these extracts were multiplied by ten they would represent
more nearly the mass of questions which came daily to Washington for decision. The decision had
usually to be made in haste and always with the understanding that it would not
only settle the question immediately involved, but it would serve as precedent.
The victory of Saratoga gave
a great impetus to the party in France
which wished Louis XVI to come out boldly on the side of the Americans in their
war with the British. The King was persuaded. Vergennes also secured the
cooeperation of Spain with France, for Spain
had views against England,
and she agreed that if a readjustment of sovereignty were coming in America, it
would be prudent for her to be on hand to press her own claims. On February 6,
1778, the treaty between France and America was signed. Long before this,
however, a young French enthusiast who proved to be the most conspicuous of all
the foreign volunteers, the Marquis de Lafayette, had come over with
magnificent promises from Silas Deane. On being told, however, that the Congress
found it impossible to ratify Deane's promises, he modestly requested to enlist
in the army without pay. Washington
at once took a fancy to him and insisted on his being a member of the
[Footnote 1: The treaty was ratified by Congress May 4,
While Burgoyne's surrendered army was marching to Boston and Cambridge, to be
shut up as prisoners, Washington
was taking into consideration the best place in which to pass the winter.
Several were suggested, Wilmington, Delaware, and Valley Forge--about twenty-five miles from Philadelphia--being
especially urged upon him. Washington
preferred the latter, chiefly because it was near enough to Philadelphia to enable him to keep watch on
the movements of the British troops in that city. Valley
Forge! One of the names in human history associated with the
maximum of suffering and distress, with magnificent patience, sacrifice, and
The surrounding hills were covered with woods and presented
an inhospitable appearance. The choice was severely criticised, and de Kalb described it as a
wilderness. But the position was central and easily defended. The army arrived
there about the middle of December, and the erection of huts began. They were
built of logs and were 14 by 15 feet each. The windows were covered with oiled
paper, and the openings between the logs were closed with clay. The huts were
arranged in streets, giving the place the appearance of a city. It was the
first of the year, however, before they were occupied, and previous to that the
suffering of the army had become great. Although the weather was intensely
cold, the men were obliged to work at the buildings, with nothing to support
life but flour unmixed with water, which they baked into cakes at the open
fires ... the horses died of starvation by hundreds, and the men were obliged
to haul their own provisions and firewood. As straw could not be found to
protect the men from the cold ground, sickness spread through their quarters
with fearful rapidity. "The unfortunate soldiers," wrote Lafayette in
after years, "they were in want of everything; they had neither coats,
hats, shirts nor shoes; their feet and their legs froze till they became black,
and it was often necessary to amputate them." ... The army frequently remained
whole days without provisions, and the patient endurance of the soldiers and
officers was a miracle which each moment served to renew ... while the country
around Valley Forge was so impoverished by the military operations of the
previous summer as to make it impossible for it to support the army. The
sufferings of the latter were chiefly owing to the inefficiency of Congress.
[Footnote 1: F.D. Stone, _Struggle for the Delaware_, vi,
No one felt more keenly than did Washington
the horrors, of Valley Forge. He had not
believed in forming such an encampment, and from the start he denounced the
neglect and incompetence of the commissions. In a letter to the President of
the Congress on December 3, 1777, he wrote:
Since the month of July we have had no assistance from the
quartermaster-general, and to want of assistance from this department the
commissary-general charges great part of his deficiency. To this I am to add,
that, notwithstanding it is a standing order, and often repeated that the
troops shall always have two days' provisions by them, that they might be ready
at any sudden call; yet an opportunity has scarcely ever offered of taking an
advantage of the enemy, that has not either been totally obstructed or greatly
impeded, on this account. And this, the great and crying evil, is not all. The
soap, vinegar, and other articles allowed by Congress, we see none of, nor have
we seen them, I believe, since the Battle of Brandywine. The first, indeed, we
have now little occasion for; few men having more than one shirt, many only the
moiety of one, and some none at all. In addition to which, as a proof of the
little benefit received from a clothier-general, and as a further proof of the
inability of an army, under the circumstances of this, to perform the common
duties of soldiers, (besides a number of men confined to hospitals for want of
shoes, and others in farmers' houses on the same account,) we have, by a
field-return this day made, no less than two thousand eight hundred and
ninety-eight men now in camp unfit for duty, because they are barefoot and
otherwise naked. By the same return it appears, that our whole strength in
Continental troops, including the eastern brigades, which have joined us since
the surrender of General Burgoyne, exclusive of the Maryland troops sent to
Wilmington, amounts to no more than eight thousand two hundred in camp fit for
duty; notwithstanding which, and that since the 4th instant our numbers fit for
duty, from the hardships and exposures they have undergone, particularly on
account of blankets (numbers having been obliged, and still are, to sit up all
night by fires, instead of taking comfortable rest in a natural and common
way), have decreased near two thousand men.
We find gentlemen, without knowing whether the army was
really going into winter-quarters or not (for I am sure no resolution of mine
would warrant the Remonstrance), reprobating the measure as much as if they
thought the soldiers were made of stocks or stones and equally insensible of
frost and snow; and moreover, as if they conceived it easily practicable for an
inferior army, under the disadvantages I have described ours to be, which are
by no means exaggerated, to confine a superior one, in all respects
well-appointed and provided for a winter's campaign within the city of
Philadelphia, and to cover from depredation and waste the States of
Pennsylvania and Jersey. But what makes this matter still more extraordinary in
my eye is, that these very gentlemen,--who were well apprized of the nakedness
of the troops from ocular demonstration, who thought their own soldiers worse
clad than others, and who advised me near a month ago to postpone the execution
of a plan I was about to adopt, in consequence of a resolve of Congress for
seizing clothes, under strong assurances that an ample supply would be
collected in ten days agreeably to a decree of the State (not one article of
which, by the by, is yet come to hand)--should think a winter's campaign, and
the covering of these States from the invasion of an enemy, so easy and
practicable a business. I can assure those gentlemen, that it is a much easier
and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a
good fireside, than to occupy a cold, bleak hill, and sleep under frost and
snow, without clothes or blankets. However, although they seem to have little
feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers, I feel superabundantly for them,
and, from my soul, I pity those miseries, which it is neither in my power to
relieve or prevent.
It is for these reasons, therefore, that I have dwelt upon
the subject, and it adds not a little to my other difficulties and distress to
find, that much more is expected of me than is possible to be performed, and
that upon the ground of safety and policy I am obliged to conceal the true
state of the army from public view, and thereby expose myself to detraction and
[Footnote 1: Ford, VI, 259, 262.]
as was her custom throughout the war, spent part of the winter with the
General. Her brief allusions to Valley Forge
would hardly lead the reader to infer the horrors that nearly ten thousand
American soldiers were suffering.
"Your Mamma has not yet arrived," Washington writes to
Jack Custis, "but ...expected every hour. [My aide] Meade set off
yesterday (as soon as I got notice of her intention) to meet her. We are in a
dreary kind of place, and uncomfortably provided." And of this reunion
Mrs. Washington wrote: "I came to this
place, some time about the first of February when I found the General very
well, ... in camp in what is called the great valley on the Banks of the Schuylkill. Officers and men are chiefly in Hutts, which
they say is tolerably comfortable; the army are as healthy as can be well
expected in general. The General's apartment is very small; he has had a log
cabin built to dine in, which has made our quarters much more tolerable than
they were at first."
[Footnote 1: P.L. Ford, _The True George Washington_, 99.]
While the Americans languished and died at Valley Forge
during the winter months, Sir William Howe and his troops lived in Philadelphia not only in
great comfort, but in actual luxury. British gold paid out in cash to the
dealers in provisions bought full supplies from one of the best markets in America. And
the people of the place, largely made up of Loyalists, vied with each other in
providing entertainment for the British army. There were fashionable balls for
the officers and free-and-easy revels for the soldiers. Almost at any time the
British army might have marched out to Valley Forge and dealt a final blow to
Washington's naked and starving troops, but it preferred the good food and the
dissipations of Philadelphia; and so the winter dragged on to spring.
Howe was recalled to England and General Sir Henry Clinton
succeeded him in the command of the British forces. He was one of those
well-upholstered carpet knights who flourished in the British army at that
time, and was even less energetic than Howe. We must remember, however, that
the English officers who came over to fight in America
had had their earlier training in Europe,
where conditions were quite different from those here. Especially was this true
of the terrain. Occasionally a born fighter like Wolfe did his work in a day,
but this was different from spending weeks and months in battleless campaigns.
The Philadelphians arranged a farewell celebration for General Howe which they
called the _Meschianza_, an elaborate pageant, said to be the most beautiful
ever seen in America, after
which General Howe and General Clinton had orders to take their army back to New York. As much as
could be shipped on boats went that way, but the loads that had to be carried
in wagons formed a cavalcade twelve miles long, and with the attending regiment
advanced barely more than two and a half miles a day. Washington, whose troops
entered Philadelphia as soon as the British marched out, hung on the retreating
column and at Monmouth engaged in a pitched battle, which was on the point of
being a decisive victory for the Americans when, through the blunder of General
Lee, it collapsed. The blunder seemed too obviously intentional, but Washington appeared in
the midst of the melee and urged on the men to retrieve their defeat. This was
the battle of which one of the soldiers said afterwards, "At Monmouth the
General swore like an angel from Heaven." He prevented disaster, but that
could not reconcile him to the loss of the victory which had been almost within
his grasp. Those who witnessed it never forgot Washington's rage when he met Lee and asked
him what he meant and then ordered him to the rear. Washington
prepared to renew the battle on the following day, but during the night Clinton withdrew his
army, and by daylight was far on his way to the seacoast.
Washington followed up the
coast and took up his quarters at White
AID FROM FRANCE;
This month of July, 1778, marked two vital changes in the
war. The first was the transfer by the British of the field of operations to
the South. The second was the introduction of naval warfare through the coming
of the French. The British seemed to desire, from the day of Concord
on, to blast every part of the Colonies with military occupation and battles.
After Washington drove them out of Boston in March, 1776, they left the seaboard, except Newport, entirely free.
Then for nearly three years they gave their chief attention to New
York City and its environs, and to Jersey down to, and including, Philadelphia. On the
whole, except for keeping their supremacy in New York, they had lost ground steadily,
although they had always been able to put more men than the Americans could
match in the field, so that the Americans always had an uphill fight. Part of
this disadvantage was owing to the fact that the British had a fleet, often a
very large fleet, which could be sent suddenly to distant points along the
seacoast, much to the upsetting of the American plans.
The French Alliance, ratified during the spring, not only
gave the Americans the moral advantage of the support of a great nation, but
actually the support of a powerful fleet. It opened French harbors to American
vessels, especially privateers, which could there take refuge or fit out. It
enabled the Continentals to carry on commerce, which before the war had been
the monopoly of England.
Above all it brought a large friendly fleet to American waters, which might aid
the land forces and must always be an object of anxiety to the British.
Such a fleet was that under Count d'Estaing, who reached the
mouth of Delaware Bay on July 8, 1778, with
twelve ships of the line and four frigates. He then went to New
York, but the pilots thought his heavy draught ships could not
cross the bar above Sandy Hook; and so he sailed off to Newport
where a British fleet worsted him and he was obliged to put into Boston for repairs. Late
in the autumn he took up his station in the West Indies
for the winter. This first experiment of French naval cooeperation had not been
crowned by victory as the Americans had hoped, but many of the other advantages
which they expected from the French Alliance did ensue. The opening of the
American ports to the trade of the world, and incidentally the promotion of
American privateering, proved of capital assistance to the cause itself.
The summer and autumn of 1778 passed uneventfully for
Washington and his army. He was not strong enough to risk any severe fighting,
but wished to be near the enemy's troops to keep close watch on them and to
take advantage of any mistake in their moves. We cannot see how he could have
saved himself if they had attacked him with force. But that they never made the
attempt was probably owing to orders from London
to be as considerate of the Americans as they could; for England in that
year had sent out three Peace Commissioners who bore the most seductive offers
to the Americans. The Government was ready to pledge that there should never
again be an attempt to quell the Colonists by an army and that they should be
virtually self-governing. But while the Commissioners tried to persuade, very
obviously, they did not receive any official recognition from the Congress or
the local conventions, and when winter approached, they sailed back to England
with their mission utterly unachieved. Rebuffed in their purpose of ending the
war by conciliation, the British now resorted to treachery and corruption. I do
not know whether General Sir Henry Clinton was more or less of a man of honor
than the other high officers in the British army at that time. We feel
instinctively loath to harbor a suspicion against the honor of these officers;
and yet, the truth demands us to declare that some one among them engaged in
the miserable business of bribing Americans to be traitors. Where the full
guilt lies, we shall never know, but the fact that so many of the trails lead
back to General Clinton gives us a reason for a strong surmise. We have lists
drawn up at British Headquarters of the Americans who were probably
approachable, and the degree of ease with which it was supposed they could be
corrupted. "Ten thousand guineas and a major-general's commission were the
price for which West Point, with its garrison,
stores, and outlying posts, was to be placed in the hands of the
British." The person with whom the British made this bargain was
Benedict Arnold, who had been one of the most efficient of Washington's generals, and of unquestioned
loyalty. Major John Andre, one of Clinton's
adjutants, served as messenger between Clinton and Arnold. On one of these
errands Andre, somewhat disguised, was captured by the Americans and taken
before Washington, who ordered a court-martial at once. Fourteen officers sat
on it, including Generals Greene, Lafayette, and Steuben. In a few hours they
brought in a verdict to the effect that "Major Andre ought to be
considered a spy from the enemy, and that agreeable to the law and usage of
nations, it is their opinion he ought to suffer death."  Throughout the
proceedings Andre behaved with great dignity. He was a young man of sympathetic
nature. Old Steuben, familiar with the usage in the Prussian army, said:
"It is not possible to save him. He put us to no proof, but a premeditated
design to deceive."
[Footnote 1: Channing, III, 305.]
[Footnote 2: Channing, III, 307.]
[Footnote 3: _Ibid_., 307.]
He was sentenced to death by hanging--the doom of traitors.
He did not fear to die, but that doom repelled him and he begged to be shot
however, in view of his great crime and as a most necessary example in that
crisis, firmly refused to commute the sentence. So, on the second of October,
1780, Andre was hanged.
This is an appropriate place to refer briefly to one of the
most trying features of Washington's
career as Commander-in-Chief. From very early in the war jealousy inspired some
of his associates with a desire to have him displaced. He was too conspicuously
the very head and front of the American cause. Some men, doubtless open to
dishonest suggestions, wished to get rid of him in order that they might carry
on their treasonable conspiracy with greater ease and with a better chance of
success. Others bluntly coveted his position. Perhaps some of them really
thought that he was pursuing wrong methods or policy. However it may be, few
commanders-in-chief in history have had to suffer more than Washington did from malice and faction.
The most serious of the plots against him was the so-called
Conway Cabal, whose head was Thomas Conway, an Irishman who had served in the
French army and had come over early in the war to the Colonies to make his way
as a soldier of fortune. He seems to have been one of the typical Irishmen who
had no sense of truth, who was talkative and boastful, and a mirthful
companion. It happened that Washington
received a letter from one of his friends which drew from him the following
note to Brigadier-General Conway:
A letter, which I received last night, contained the
"In a letter from General Conway to General Gates he
says, 'Heaven has been determined to save your country, or a weak General and
bad counsellors would have ruined it.'"
[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 180.]
It was characteristic of Washington
that he should tell Conway
at once that he knew of the latter's machinations. Nevertheless Washington took no open
step against him. The situation of the army at Valley
Forge was then so desperately bad that he did not wish to make it
worse, perhaps, by interjecting into it what might be considered a matter
personal to himself. In the Congress also there were members who belonged to
the Conway Cabal, and although it was generally known that Washington did not trust him, Congress
raised his rank to that of Major-General and appointed him Inspector-General to
the Army. On this Conway wrote to Washington: "If my appointment is productive of any
inconvenience, or otherwise disagreeable to your Excellency, as I neither
applied nor solicited for this place, I am very ready to return to France."
The spice of this letter consists in the fact that Conway's disavowal was a plain lie; for he
had been soliciting for the appointment "with forwardness," says Mr.
Ford, "almost amounting to impudence." Conway did not enjoy his new position long.
Being wounded in a duel with an American officer, and thinking that he was
going to die, he wrote to Washington:
"My career will soon be over, therefore justice and truth prompt me to
declare my last sentiments. You are in my eyes the great and good man. May you
long enjoy the love, veneration, and esteem of these states, whose liberties
you have asserted by your virtues." But he did not die of his wound,
and in a few months he left for France.
After his departure the cabal, of which he seemed to be the centre, died.
[Footnote 1: Sparks,
The story of this cabal is still shrouded in mystery.
Whoever had the original papers either destroyed them or left them with some
one who deposited them in a secret place where they have been forgotten.
Persons of importance, perhaps of even greater importance than some of those
who are known, would naturally do their utmost to prevent being found out.
Two other enemies of Washington
had unsavory reputations in their dealings with him. One of these was General
Horatio Gates, who was known as ambitious to be made head of the American army
in place of Washington.
Gates won the Battle of Saratoga at which Burgoyne surrendered his British
army. Washington at that time was struggling
to keep his army in the Highlands, where he
could watch the other British forces. It was easy for any one to make the
remark that Washington
had not won a battle for many months, whereas Gates was the hero of the chief
victory thus far achieved by the Americans. The shallow might think as they
chose, however: the backbone of the country stood by Washington, and the trouble between him and
Gates came to no further outbreak.
The third intriguer was General Charles Lee, who, like
Gates, was an Englishman, and had served under General Braddock, being in the
disaster of Fort Duquesne. When the Revolution broke out,
he took sides with the Americans, and being a glib and forth-putting person he
talked himself into the repute of being a great general. The Americans proudly
gave him a very high commission, in which he stood second to Washington, the
Commander-in-Chief. But being taken prisoner by the British, he had no
opportunity of displaying his military talents for more than two years. Then,
when Washington was pursuing the enemy across Jersey, Lee demanded as his right to lead the foremost
division. At Monmouth he was given the post of honor and he attacked with such
good effect that he had already begun to beat the British division opposed to
him when he suddenly gave strange orders which threw his men into confusion.
Lafayette, who was not far away, noticed the disorder, rode
up to Lee and remarked that the time seemed to be favorable for cutting off a
squadron of the British troops. To this Lee replied: "Sir, you do not know
the British soldiers; we cannot stand against them; we shall certainly be
driven back at first, and we must be cautious." Washington himself had
by this time perceived that something was wrong and galloped up to Lee in a
towering passion. He addressed him words which, so far as I know, no historian
has reported, not because there was any ambiguity in them, and Lee's line was
sufficiently re-formed to save the day. Lee, however, smarted under the torrent
of reproof, as well he might. The next day he wrote Washington a very insulting letter. Washington replied still
more hotly. Lee demanded a court-martial and was placed under arrest on three
charges: "First, disobedience of orders in not attacking the enemy
agreeably to repeated instructions; secondly, misbehavior before the enemy, in
making an unnecessary, disorderly and shameful retreat; thirdly, disrespect to
the Commander-in-Chief in two letters written after the action." By the
ruling of the court all the charges against General Lee were sustained with the
exception that the word "shameful" was omitted. Lee left the army,
retired to Philadelphia,
and died before the end of the Revolution. General Mifflin, another conspicuous
member of the cabal, resigned at the end of the year, December, 1777. So the
traducers of Washington
were punished by the reactions of their own crimes.
[Footnote 1: Sparks,
275, note 1.]
[Footnote 2: Sparks,
278. Sparks tells the story that when Washington administered the oath of
allegiance to his troops at Valley Forge, soon after Lee had rejoined the army,
the generals, standing together, held a Bible. But Lee deliberately withdrew
his hand twice. Washington
asked why he hesitated. He replied, "As to King George, I am ready enough
to absolve myself from all allegiance to him, but I have some scruples about
the Prince of Wales." (Ibid., 278.)]
That the malicious hostility of his enemies really troubled Washington, such a
letter as the following from him to President Laurens of the Congress well
indicates. He says:
I cannot sufficiently express the obligation I feel to you,
for your friendship and politeness upon an occasion in which I am so deeply
interested. I was not unapprized that a malignant faction had been for some
time forming to my prejudice; which, conscious as I am of having ever done all
in my power to answer the important purposes of the trust reposed in me, could
not but give me some pain on a personal account. But my chief concern arises
from an apprehension of the dangerous consequences, which intestine dissensions
may produce to the common cause.
As I have no other view than to promote the public good, and
am unambitious of honors not founded in the approbation of my country, I would
not desire in the least degree to suppress a free spirit of inquiry into any
part of my conduct, that even faction itself may deem reprehensible. The
anonymous paper handed to you exhibits many serious charges, and it is my wish
that it should be submitted to Congress. This I am the more inclined to the
suppression or concealment may possibly involve you in embarrassments
hereafter, since it is uncertain how many or who may be privy to the contents.
My enemies take an ungenerous advantage of me. They know the
delicacy of my situation, and that motives of policy deprive me of the defence,
I might otherwise make against their insidious attacks. They know I cannot
combat their insinuations, however injurious, without disclosing secrets, which
it is of the utmost moment to conceal. But why should I expect to be exempt
from censure, the unfailing lot of an elevated station? Merit and talents, with
which I can have no pretensions of rivalship, have ever been subject to it. My
heart tells me, that it has been my unremitted aim to do the best that
circumstances would permit; yet I may have been very often mistaken in my
judgment of the means, and may in many instances deserve the imputation of
error. (Valley Forge, 31 January, 1778.)
[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 353.]
Such was the sort of explanation which was wrung from the
Silent Man when he explained to an intimate the secrets of his heart.
To estimate the harassing burden of these plots we must bear
in mind that, while Washington had to suffer
them in silence, he had also to deal every day with the Congress and with an
army which, at Valley Forge, was dying slowly
of cold and starvation. There was literally no direction from which he could
expect help; he must hold out as long as he could and keep from the dwindling,
disabled army the fact that some day they would wake up to learn that the last
crumb had been eaten and that death only remained for them. On one occasion,
after he had visited Philadelphia
and had seen the Congress in action, he unbosomed himself about it in a letter
which contained these terrible words:
If I was to be called upon to draw a picture of the times
and of men, from what I have seen, and heard, and in part know, I should in one
word say that idleness, dissipation and extravagance seems to have laid fast
hold of most of them. That speculation--peculation--and an insatiable thirst
for riches seems to have got the better of every other consideration and almost
of every order of men. That party disputes and personal quarrels are the great
business of the day whilst the momentous concerns of an empire--a great and
accumulated debt--ruined finances--depreciated money--and want of credit (which
in their consequences is the want of everything) are but secondary
considerations, and postponed from day to day--from week to week as if our
affairs wear the most-promising aspect.
The events of 1778 made a lasting impression on King George
III. The alliance of France
with the Americans created a sort of reflex patriotism which the Government did
what it could to foster. British Imperialism flamed forth as an ideal, one
whose purposes must be to crush the French. The most remarkable episode was the
return of the Earl of Chatham, much broken and in precarious health, to the
King's fold. To the venerable statesman the thought that any one with British
blood in his veins should stand by rebels of British blood, or by their French
allies, was a cause of rage. On April 7, 1778, the great Chatham appeared in the House of Lords and
spoke for Imperialism and against the Americans and French. There was a sudden
stop in his speaking, and a moment later, confusion, as he fell in a fit. He
never spoke there again, and though he was hurried home and cared for by the
doctors as best they could, he died on the eleventh of May. At the end he
reverted to the dominant ideal of his life--the supremacy of England. So his
chief rival in Parliament, Edmund Burke, who shocked more than half of England by
seeming to approve the nascent French Revolution, died execrating it.
The failure of the Commission on Reconciliation to get even
an official hearing in America
further depressed George III, and there seemed to have flitted through his
unsound mind more and more frequent premonitions that England might
not win after all. Having made friendly overtures, which were rejected, he now
planned to be more savage than ever. In 1779 the American privateers won many
victories which gave them a reputation out of proportion to the importance of
the battles they fought, or the prizes they took. Chief among the commanders of
these vessels was a Scotchman, John Paul Jones, who sailed the Bonhomme Richard
and with two companion ships attacked the Serapis and the Scarborough,
convoying a company of merchantmen off Flamborough Head. Night fell, darkness
came, the Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis kept up bombarding each other at
short range. During a brief pause, Pearson, the British captain, called out,
"Have you struck your colors?" at which Jones shouted back, "I have
not yet begun to fight." Before morning the Serapis surrendered and in the
forenoon the victorious Bonhomme Richard sank. Europe
rang with the exploit; not merely those easily thrilled by a spectacular
engagement, but those who looked deeper began to ask themselves whether the
naval power that must be reckoned with was not rising in the West.
Meanwhile, Washington kept
his uncertain army near New York.
The city swarmed with Loyalists, who at one time boasted of having a volunteer
organization larger than Washington's
army. These later years seem to have been the hey-day of the Loyalists in most
of the Colonies, although the Patriots passed severe laws against them,
sequestrating their property and even banishing them. In places like New York, where General
Clinton maintained a refuge, they stayed on, hoping, as they had done for
several years, that the war would soon be over and the King's authority
In the South there were several minor fights, in which now
the British and now the Americans triumphed. At the end of December, 1779,
Clinton and Cornwallis with nearly eight thousand men went down to South Carolina intending
to reduce that State to submission. One of Washington's
lieutenants, General Lincoln, ill-advisedly thought that he could defend Charleston. But as soon
as the enemy were ready, they pressed upon him hard and he surrendered. The
year ended in gloom. The British were virtually masters in the Carolinas and in
The people of those States felt that they had been abandoned by the Congress
and that they were cut off from relations with the Northern States. The glamour
of glory at sea which had brightened them all the year before had vanished.
John Paul Jones might win a striking sea-fight, but there was no navy, nor
ships enough to transport troops down to the Southern waters where they might
have turned the tide of battle on shore. During the winter the British
continued their marauding in the South. For lack of troops Washington
was obliged to stay in his quarters near New
York and feel the irksomeness of inactivity. General
Nathanael Greene, a very energetic officer, next indeed to Washington himself
in general estimation, commanded in the South. At the Cowpens (January 17,
1781) one of his lieutenants--Morgan, a guerilla leader--killed or captured
nearly all of Tarleton's men, who formed a specially crack regiment. A little
later Washington marched southward to Virginia, hoping to cooeperate with the French fleet
under Rochambeau and to capture Benedict Arnold, now a British Major-General,
who was doing much damage in Virginia.
Arnold was too
wary to be caught. Cornwallis, the second in command of the British forces,
pursued Lafayette up and down Virginia. Clinton, the British
Commander-in-Chief, began to feel nervous for the safety of New York and wished to detach some of his
forces thither. Cornwallis led his army into Yorktown
and proceeded to fortify it, so that it might resist a siege. Now at last Washington felt that he
had the enemy's army within his grasp. Sixteen thousand American and French
troops were brought down from the North to furnish the fighting arm he
Yorktown lay on the south shore of the York River, an
estuary of Chesapeake Bay. On the opposite
side the little town of Gloucester
projected into the river. In Yorktown itself
the English had thrown up two redoubts and had drawn some lines of wall. The
French kept up an unremitting cannonade, but it became evident that the
redoubts must be taken in order to subdue the place. Washington, much excited, took his place in
the central battery along with Generals Knox and Lincoln and their staff. Those
about him recognized the peril he was in, and one of his adjutants called his
attention to the fact that the place was much exposed. "If you think so,"
said he, "you are at liberty to step back." Shortly afterward a
musket ball struck the cannon in the embrasure and rolled on till it fell at
his feet. General Knox took him by the arm. "My dear General," he
exclaimed, "we can't spare you yet." "It is a spent ball," Washington rejoined
calmly; "no harm is done." When the redoubts were taken, he drew a
long breath and said to Knox: "The work is done, and well done."
Lord Cornwallis saw that his position was desperate, if not hopeless. And on
October 16th he made a plucky attempt to retard the final blow, but he did not
succeed. That evening he thought of undertaking a last chance. He would cross
the York River in flatboats, land at Gloucester,
and march up the country through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania,
and New York.
Any one who knew the actual state of that region understood that Cornwallis's
plan was crazy; but it is to be judged as the last gallantry of a brave man.
During the night he put forth on his flatboats, which were driven out of their
course and much dispersed by untoward winds. They had to return to Yorktown by morning, and at ten o'clock Cornwallis
ordered that a parley should be beaten. Then he despatched a flag of truce with
a letter to Washington
proposing cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours. Washington
knew that British ships were on their way from New York to bring relief and he did not wish
to grant so much delay. He, therefore, proposed that the formal British terms
should be sent to him in writing; upon which he would agree to a two hours'
truce. It was the morning of the 10th of October that the final arrangement was
on horseback, attended by his staff, headed the American line. His troops, in
worn-out uniforms, but looking happy and victorious, were massed near him.
Count Rochambeau, with his suite, held place on the left of the road, the
French troops all well-uniformed and equipped; and they marched on the field
with a military band playing--the first time, it was said, that this had been
known in America.
"About two o'clock the garrison sallied forth and passed through with
shouldered arms, slow and solemn steps, colors cased, and drums beating a
British march." General O'Hara, who led them, rode up to Washington and
apologized for the absence of Lord Cornwallis, who was indisposed. Washington pointed
O'Hara to General Lincoln, who was to receive the submission of the garrison.
They were marched off to a neighboring field where they showed a sullen and
dispirited demeanor and grounded their arms so noisily and carelessly that
General Lincoln had to reprove them.
[Footnote 1: Irving, iv, 378.]
[Footnote 2: Irving, iv, 383.]
With little delay Washington
went back to the North with his army, expecting to see the first fruits of the
capitulation. There were nearly seventeen thousand Allied troops at Yorktown of
whom three thousand were militia of Virginia.
The British force under Cornwallis numbered less than eight thousand men.
Months were required before the truce between the two
belligerents resulted in peace. But the people of America
hailed the news of Yorktown as the end of the
war. They had hardly admitted to themselves the gravity of the task while the
war lasted, and being now relieved of immediate danger, they gave themselves up
to surprising insouciance. A few among them who thought deeply, Washington above all,
feared that the British might indulge in some surprise which they would find it
hard to repel.
But the American Revolution was indeed ended, and the
American Colonies of 1775 were indeed independent and free. Even in the brief
outline of the course of events which I have given, it must appear that the
American Revolution was almost the most hare-brained enterprise in history.
After the first days of Lexington and Concord, when the farmers
and country-folk rushed to the centres to check the British invaders, the
British had almost continuously a large advantage in position and in number of
troops. And in those early days the Colonists fought, not for Independence, but for the traditional rights
which the British Crown threatened to take from them. Now they had their
freedom, but what a freedom! There were thirteen unrelated political
communities bound together now only by the fact of having been united in their
common struggle against England.
Each had adopted a separate constitution, and the constitutions were not
uniform nor was there any central unifying power to which they all looked up
and obeyed. The vicissitudes of the war, which had been fought over the region
of twelve hundred miles of coast, had proved the repellent differences of the
various districts. The slave-breeder and the slave-owner of Virginia and the
States of the South had little in common with the gnarled descendants of the
later Puritans in New England. What principle
could be found to knit them together? The war had at least the advantage of
bringing home to all of them the evils of war which they all instinctively
desired to escape. The numbers of the disaffected, particularly of the
Loyalists who openly sided with the King and with the British Government, were
much larger than we generally suppose, and they not only gave much direct help
and comfort to the enemy, but also much indirect and insidious aid. In the
great cities like New York and Philadelphia they
numbered perhaps two fifths of the total population, and, as they were usually
the rich and influential people, they counted for more than their showing in
the census. How could they ever be unified in the American Republic?
How many of them, like the traitorous General Charles Lee, would confess that,
although they were willing to pass by George III as King, they still felt
devotion and loyalty to the Prince of Wales?
Some of those who had leaned toward Loyalism, to be on what
they supposed would prove the winning side, quickly forgot their lapse and were
very enthusiastic in acclaiming the Patriotic victory. Those Irreconcilables
who had not already fled did so at once, leaving their property behind them to
be confiscated by the Government. On only one point did there seem to be
unanimity and accord. That was that the dogged prosecution of the war and the
ultimate victory must be credited to George Washington. Others had fought
valiantly and endured hardships and fatigues and gnawing suspense, but without
him, who never wavered, they could not have gone on. He had among them some
able lieutenants, but not one who, had he himself fallen out of the command by
wound or sickness for a month, could have taken his place. The people knew this
and they now paid him in honor and gratitude for what he had done for them. If
there were any members of the old cabal, any envious rivals, they either held
their peace or spoke in whispers. The masses were not yet weary of hearing
Aristides called the Just.
RETURNS TO PEACE
Nearly two years elapsed before the real settlement of the
war. The English held New York City, Charleston, and Savannah,
the strong garrisons. It seemed likely that they would have been glad to
arrange the terms of peace sooner, but there was much inner turmoil at home.
The men who, through thick and thin, had abetted the King in one plan after
another to fight to the last ditch had nothing more to propose. Lord North,
when he heard of the surrender of Yorktown,
almost shrieked, "My God! It is all over; it is all over!" and was
plunged in gloom. A new ministry had to be formed. Lord North had been
succeeded by Rockingham, who died in July, 1782, and was followed by Shelburne,
supposed to be rather liberal, but to share King George's desire to keep down
the Whigs. Negotiations over the terms of peace were carried on with varying
fortune for more than a year. John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin were
the American Peace Commissioners. The preliminaries between Great Britain and America
were signed on December 30, 1782, and with France
nearly two months later. The Dutch held out still longer into 1783. Washington, at his Headquarters in Newburgh, New York,
had been awaiting the news of peace, not lazily, but planning for a new campaign
and meditating upon the various projects which might be undertaken. To him the
news of the actual signing of the treaty came at the end of March. He replied
at once to Theodorick Bland; a letter which gave his general views in regard to
the needs and rights of the army before it should be disbanded:
It is now the bounden duty of every one to make the
blessings thereof as diffusive as possible. Nothing would so effectually bring
this to pass as the removal of those local prejudices which intrude upon and embarrass
that great line of policy which alone can make us a free, happy and powerful
People. Unless our Union can be fixed upon
such a basis as to accomplish these, certain I am we have toiled, bled and
spent our treasure to very little purpose.
We have now a National character to establish, and it is of
the utmost importance to stamp favorable impressions upon it; let justice be
then one of its characteristics, and gratitude another. Public creditors of
every denomination will be comprehended in the first; the Army in a particular
manner will have a claim to the latter; to say that no distinction can be made
between the claims of public creditors is to declare that there is no
difference in circumstances; or that the services of all men are equally alike.
This Army is of near eight years' standing, six of which they have spent in the
Field without any other shelter from the inclemency of the seasons than Tents,
or such Houses as they could build for themselves without expense to the
public. They have encountered hunger, cold and nakedness. They have fought many
Battles and bled freely. They have lived without pay and in consequence of it,
officers as well as men have subsisted upon their Rations.
They have often, very often, been reduced to the necessity of
eating Salt Porke, or Beef not for a day, or a week only but months together
without Vegetables or money to buy them; or a cloth to wipe on.
Many of them do better, and to dress as Officers have
contracted heavy debts or spent their patrimonies. The first see the Doors of
gaols open to receive them, whilst those of the latter are shut against them.
Is there no discrimination then--no extra exertion to be made in favor of men
in these peculiar circumstances, in the event of their military dissolution? Or,
if no worse cometh of it, are they to be turned adrift soured and discontented,
complaining of the ingratitude of their Country, and under the influence of
these passions to become fit subjects for unfavorable impressions, and unhappy
dissentions? For permit me to add, tho every man in the Army feels his
distress--it is not every one that will reason to the cause of it.
I would not from the observations here made, be understood
to mean that Congress should (because I know they cannot, nor does the army expect
it) pay the full arrearages due to them till Continental or State funds are
established for the purpose. They would, from what I can learn, go home
contented--nay--_thankful_ to receive what I have mentioned in a more public
letter of this date, and in the manner there expressed. And surely this may be
effected with proper exertions. Or what possibility was there of keeping the
army together, if the war had continued, when the victualls, clothing, and
other expenses of it were to have been added? Another thing, Sir, (as I mean to
be frank and free in my communications on this subject,) I will not conceal
from you--it is the dissimilarity in the payments to men in Civil and Military
life. The first receive everything--the others get nothing but bare subsistence--they
ask what this is owing to? and reasons have been assigned, which, say they,
amount to this--that men in Civil life have stronger passions and better
pretensions to indulge them, or less virtue and regard for their Country than
us,--otherwise, as we are all contending for the same prize and equally
interested in the attainment of it, why do we not bear the burthen equally?
[Footnote 1: Ford, X, 203.]
The army was indeed the incubus of the Americans. They could
not fight the war without it, but they had never succeeded in mastering the
difficulties of maintaining and strengthening it. The system of a standing army
was of course not to be thought of, and the uncertain recruits who took its
place were mostly undisciplined and unreliable. When the exigencies became
pressing, a new method was resorted to, and then the usual erosion of life in
the field, the losses by casualties and sickness, caused the numbers to
dwindle. Long ago the paymaster had ceased to pretend to pay off the men
regularly so that there was now a large amount of back pay due them. Largely
patriotic exhortations had they kept fighting to the end; and, with peace upon
them, they did not dare to disband because they feared that, if they left
before they were paid, they would never be paid. Washington felt that, if thousands of
discontented and even angry soldiers were allowed to go back to their homes
without the means of taking up any work or business, great harm would be done.
The love of country, which he believed to be most important to inculcate, would
not only be checked but perverted. They already had too many reasons to feel
aggrieved. Why should they, the men who risked their lives in battle and
actually had starved or frozen in winter quarters, go unpaid, whereas every
civilian who had a post under the Government lived at least safely and
healthily and was paid with fair promptitude? They felt now that their best
hope for justice lay in General Washington's
interest in their behalf; and that interest of his seems now one of the noblest
and wisest and most patriotic of his expressions.
had need to be prepared for any emergency. Thus a body of officers deliberated
not only a mutiny of the army, but a _coup d'etat_, in which they planned to overthrow
the flimsy Federation of the thirteen States and to set up a monarchy. They
wrote to Washington
announcing their intention and their belief that he would make an ideal
monarch. He was amazed and chagrined. He replied in part as follows, to the Colonel
who had written him:
I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct
could have given encouragement to an address, which to me seems big with the
greatest mischiefs, that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the
knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are
more disagreeable. I must add, that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see
ample justice done to the army than I do; and, as far as my powers and
influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed to the
extent of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion. Let me
conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for
yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind
and never communicate, as from yourself to any one else, a sentiment of the
[Footnote 1: Sparks,
The turmoil of the army continued throughout the year and
into the next. The so-called "Newburgh Address" set forth the quarrel
of the soldiers and Washington's
discreet reply. On April 19, 1783, the eighth anniversary of the first fighting
at Concord, a
proclamation was issued to the American army announcing the official end of all
hostilities. In June Washington issued a circular letter to the Governors of
the States, bidding them farewell and urging them to guard their precious
country. Many of the American troops were allowed to go home on furlough. In
company with Governor Clinton he went up the Hudson
to Ticonderoga and then westward to Fort
Schuyler. Being invited
by Congress, which was then sitting at Annapolis,
he journeyed thither. Before he left New
York City arrangements were made for a formal farewell
to his comrades in arms. I quote the description of it from Chief Justice Marshall's
"Life of Washington":
This affecting interview took place on the 4th of December.
At noon, the principal officers of the army assembled at Frances'
tavern; soon after which, their beloved commander entered the room. His
emotions were too strong to be concealed. Filling a glass, he turned to them
and said, "with a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of
you; I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy,
as your former ones have been glorious and honorable." Having drunk, he
added, "I cannot come to each of you to take my leave, but shall be
obliged to you, if each of you will come and take me by the hand." General
Knox, being nearest, turned to him. Incapable of utterance, Washington grasped his hand, and embraced
him. In the same affectionate manner, he took leave of each succeeding officer.
In every eye was the tear of dignified sensibility; and not a word was
articulated to interrupt the majestic silence and the tenderness of the scene.
Leaving the room, he passed through the corps of light infantry, and walked to
White hall, where a barge waited to convey him to Powles' hook (Paulus Hook).
The whole company followed in mute and solemn procession, with dejected
countenances, testifying feelings of delicious melancholy, which no language
can describe. Having entered the barge, he turned to the company; and waving
his hat, bade them a silent adieu. They paid him the same affectionate
compliment, and after the barge had left them, returned in the same solemn manner
to the place where they had assembled.
[Footnote 1: Marshall, IV, 561.]
description, simple but not commonplace, reminds one of Ville-Hardouin's
pictures, so terse, so rich in color, of the Barons of France in the Fifth
Crusade. The account once read, you can never forget that majestic, silent
figure of Washington
being rowed across to Paulus Hook with no sound but the dignified rhythm of the
oars. Not a cheer, not a word!
His reception by Congress took place on Tuesday, the
twenty-third of December, at twelve o'clock. Again I borrow from Chief Justice
When the hour arrived for performing a ceremony so well
calculated to recall to the mind the various interesting scenes which had
passed since the commission now to be returned was granted, the gallery was
crowded with spectators, and many respectable persons, among whom were the
legislative and executive characters of the state, several general officers,
and the consul general of France, were admitted on the floor of Congress.
The representatives of the sovereignty of the union remained
seated and covered. The spectators were standing and uncovered. The General was
introduced by the secretary and conducted to a chair. After a decent interval,
silence was commanded, and a short pause ensued. The President (General
Mifflin) then informed him that "the United States in Congress assembled
were prepared to receive his communications." With a native dignity
improved by the solemnity of the occasion, the General rose and delivered the
"The great events on which my resignation depended,
having at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere
congratulations to Congress, and on presenting myself before them, to surrender
into their hands the trust committed to me and to claim the indulgence of
retiring from the service of my country.
"Happy in the confirmation of our independence and
sovereignty and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States, of
becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I
accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous
a task, which, however, was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our
cause, the support of the supreme power of the union, and the patronage of
"The successful termination of the war has verified the
most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the
assistance I have received from my countrymen, increases with every review of
the momentous contest.
"While I repeat my obligations to the army in general,
I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place, the
peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who have been
attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the choice of
confidential officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate.
Permit me, sir, to recommend in particular, those who have continued in the
service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage
"I consider it as an indispensable duty to close this
last act of my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest
country, to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence
of them to his holy keeping.
"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."
After advancing to the chair, and delivering his commission
to the President, he returned to his place, and received standing, the answer
of Congress which was delivered by the President. In the course of his remarks,
General Mifflin said:
"Having defended the standard of liberty in this new
world: having taught a new lesson useful to those who inflict, and to those who
feel oppression, you retire from the great theatre of action, with the
blessings of your fellow citizens; but the glory of your virtues will not
terminate with your military command: it will continue to animate remotest
[Footnote 1: Marshall, IV, 563.]
The meeting then broke up, and Washington departed. He went that same
afternoon to Virginia and reached Mount Vernon in the
evening. We can imagine with what satisfaction and gratitude he, to whom home
was the dearest place in the world, returned to the home he had seen only once
by chance since the beginning of the Revolution, eight years before. Probably
few of those who had risen to the highest station in their country said, and
felt more honestly, that they were grateful at being allowed by Fate to retire
from office, than did Washington.
To be relieved of responsibility, free from the hourly spur, day and night, of
planning and carrying out, of trying to find food for starving soldiers, of
leading forlorn hopes against the truculent enemy, must have seemed to the
weary and war-worn General like a call from the Hesperides. Men of his iron
nature, and of his capacity for work and joy in it, do not, of course, really
delight in idleness. They may think that they crave idleness, but in reality
they crave the power of going on.
It took comparatively little effort for Washington
to fall into his old way of life at Mount
Vernon, although there, too, much was changed. Old
buildings had fallen out of repair. There were new experiments to be tried, and
the general purpose to be carried out of making Mount Vernon a model place in that part of
the country. Whether he would or not, he was sought for almost daily by persons
who came from all parts of the United
States, and from overseas. Hospitality being
not merely a duty, but a passion with him, he gladly received the strangers and
learned much from them. From their accounts of their interviews we see that,
although he was really the most natural of men, some of them treated him as if
he were some strange creature--a holy white elephant of Siam, or the
Grand Lama of Tibet. Age had brought its own deductions and reservations. It
does not appear that parties rode to hounds after the fox any more at Mount Vernon. And then
there were the irreparable gaps that could not be filled. At Belvoir, where his
neighbors the Fairfaxes, friends of a lifetime, used to live, they lived no
more. One of them, more than ninety years old, had turned his face to the wall
on hearing of the surrender at Yorktown.
Another had gone back to England
to live out his life there, true to his Tory convictions.
had sincerely believed, no doubt, that he was to spend the rest of his life in
dignified leisure, and especially that he would mix no more in political or
public worries; but he soon found that he had deceived himself. The army, until
it officially disbanded at the end of 1783, caused him constant anxiety
interspersed with fits of indignation over the indifference and inertia of the
Congress, which showed no intention of being just to the soldiers. The reason
for its attitude seems hard to state positively. May it be that the Congress,
jealous since the war began of being ruled by the man on horseback, feared at
its close to grant Washington's demands for it lest they should bring about the
very thing they had feared and avoided--the creation of a military dictatorship
under Washington? When Vergennes proposed to entrust to Washington
a new subsidy from France,
the Congress had taken umbrage and regarded such a proposal as an insult to the
American Government. Should they admit that the Government itself was not
sufficiently sound and trustworthy, and that, therefore, a private individual,
even though he had been a leader of the Revolution, must be called into
From among persons pestered by this obsession, it was not
surprising that the idea should spring up that Washington was at heart a believer in
monarchy and that he might, when the opportunity favored, allow himself to be
proclaimed king. Several years later he wrote to his trusted friend, John Jay:
I am told that even respectable characters speak of a
monarchical form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds speaking;
thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and
tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a
triumph for the advocates of despotism to find, that we are incapable of
governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are
merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God, that wise measures may be taken in
time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 285.]
In the renewal of his life at Mount Vernon, Washington
gave almost as much attention to the cultivation of friendship as to that of
his estate. He pursued with great zest the career of planter-farmer. "I
think," he wrote a friend, "with you, that the life of a husbandman
of all others is the most delectable. It is honorable, it is amusing, and, with
judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants rise from the earth and
flourish by the superior skill and bounty of the laborer fills a contemplative
mind with ideas which are more easy to be conceived than expressed."
[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 288.]
The cultivation of his friendships he carried on by letters
and by entertaining his friends as often as he could at Mount Vernon. To Benjamin Harrison he wrote:
"My friendship is not in the least lessened by the difference, which has
taken place in our political sentiments, nor is my regard for you diminished by
the part you have acted."
[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., 289.]
How constantly the flock of guests frequented Mount Vernon we can infer from this entry in his diary
for June 30, 1785: "Dined with only Mrs. Washington which, I believe, is the first
instance of it since my retirement from public life." To his young friend
Lafayette he wrote without reserve in a vein of deep affection:
At length, my dear Marquis, I am become a private citizen on
the banks of the Potomac; and under the shadow of my own vine and my own
fig-tree, free from the bustle of a camp, and the busy scenes of public life, I
am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments, of which the soldier, who is
ever in pursuit of fame, the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless
nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps
the ruin of other countries, as if this globe was insufficient for us all, and
the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his prince, in hopes of
catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception. I have not only retired
from all public employments, but I am retiring within myself, and shall be able
to view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life, with heartful
satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and
this, my dear friend, being the order of my march, I will move gently down the
stream of life, until I sleep with my fathers.
[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 287.]
In September, 1784, he made a journey on horseback, with a
pack-train to carry his tents and food, into the Northwestern country, which
had especially interested him since the early days when Fort Duquesne
was the goal of his wandering. He observed very closely and his mind was filled
with large imaginings of what the future would see in the development of the
Northwest. Since his youth he had never lost the conviction that an empire
would spring up there; only make the waterways easy and safe and he felt sure
that a very large commerce would result and with it the extension of
civilization. In a memorial to the legislature he urged that Virginia was the
best placed geographically of all the States to undertake the work of
establishing connection with the States of the Northwest, and he suggested
various details which, when acted upon later, proved to be, as Sparks remarked,
"the first suggestion of the great system of internal improvements which
has since been pursued in the United States."
On returning to Mount Vernon,
he entertained Lafayette for the last time
before he sailed for France.
After he had gone, Washington wrote him this letter in which appears the
affection of a friend and the reverie of an old man looking somewhat wistfully
towards sunset, "and after that the dark":
In the moment of our separation, upon the road as I
travelled, and every hour since, I have felt all that love, respect, and
attachment for you, with which length of years, close connection, and your
merits have inspired me. I often asked myself as our carriages separated,
whether that was the last sight I ever should have of you? And, though I wished
to say No, my fears answered Yes. I called to mind the days of my youth, and
found they had long since fled to return no more; that I was now descending the
hill I had been fifty-two years climbing, and that, though I was blest with a
good constitution, I was of a short-lived family and might soon expect to be
entombed in the mansion of my fathers. These thoughts darkened the shades, and
gave a gloom to the picture, and consequently to my prospect of seeing you
We should not overlook the fact that Washington
declined all gifts, including a donation from Virginia, for his services as General during
the war. He had refused to take any pay, merely keeping a strict account of
what he spent for the Government from 1775 to 1782. This amounted to over
L15,000 and covered only sums actually disbursed by him for the army. Unlike
Marlborough, Nelson, and Wellington, and other
foreign chieftains on whom grateful countrymen conferred fortunes and high
remains as the one great state-founder who literally _gave_ his services to his
Sparks gives the following
interesting account of the way in which Washington
spent his days after his return to Mount
His habits were uniform, and nearly the same as they had
been previous to the war. He rose before the sun and employed himself in his
study, writing letters or reading, till the hour of breakfast. When breakfast
was over, his horse was ready at the door, and he rode to his farms and gave
directions for the day to the managers and laborers. Horses were likewise
prepared for his guests, whenever they chose to accompany him, or to amuse
themselves by excursions into the country. Returning from his fields, and
despatching such business as happened to be on hand, he went again to his
study, and continued there till three o'clock, when he was summoned to dinner.
The remainder of the day and the evening were devoted to company, or to
recreation in the family circle. At ten he retired to rest. From these habits
he seldom deviated, unless compelled to do so by particular circumstances.
[Footnote 1: Sparks,
This list does not include the item which Washington soon found the greatest of his
burdens--letter-writing. His correspondence increased rapidly and to an
Many mistakenly think [he writes to Richard Henry Lee] that
I am retired to ease, and to that kind of tranquility which would grow tiresome
for want of employment; but at no period of my life, not in the eight years I
served the public, have I been obliged to write so much myself, as I have done
since my retirement.... It is not the letters from my friends which give me
trouble, or add aught to my perplexity. It is references to old matters, with
which I have nothing to do; applications which often cannot be complied with;
inquiries which would require the pen of a historian to satisfy; letters of
compliment as unmeaning perhaps as they are troublesome, but which must be
attended to; and the commonplace business which employs my pen and my time often
disagreeably. These, with company, deprive me of exercise, and unless I can
obtain relief, must be productive of disagreeable consequences.
[Footnote 1: Irving, IV, 466.]
When we remember that Washington
used to write most of his letters himself, and that from boyhood his
handwriting was beautifully neat, almost like copper-plate, in its precision
and elegance, we shall understand what a task it must have been for him to keep
up his correspondence. A little later he employed a young New Hampshire graduate of Harvard, Tobias
Lear, who graduated in 1783, who served him as secretary until his death, and
undoubtedly lightened the epistolary cares of the General. But Washington continued to carry on much of the
letter-writing, especially the intimate, himself; and, like the Adamses and other statesmen of that period, he kept
letter-books which contained the first drafts or copies of the letters sent.
Another source of annoyance, to which, however, he resigned
himself as contentedly as he could, was the work of the artists who came to him
to beg him to sit for his picture or statue. Of the painters the most eminent
were Charles Peale and his son Rembrandt. Of the sculptors Houdon undoubtedly
made the best life-sized statue--that which still adorns the Capitol at
Richmond, Virginia--and from the time it was first exhibited has been regarded
as the best, most lifelike. Another, sitting statue, was made for the State of North Carolina by the
Italian, Canova, the most celebrated of the sculptors of that day. The artist
shows a Roman costume, a favorite of his, unless, as in the case of Napoleon,
he preferred complete nudity. This statue was much injured in a fire which
nearly consumed the Capitol at Raleigh.
The English sculptor, Chantrey, executed a third statue in which Washington was
represented in military dress. This work used to be shown at the State House in
Of the many painted portraits of Washington, those by
Gilbert Stuart have come to be accepted as authentic; especially the head in
the painting which hung in the Boston Athenaeum as a pendant to that of Martha
Washington, and is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. But as I remarked
earlier, the fact that none of the painters indicate the very strong marks of
smallpox (which he took on his trip to Barbados)
face creates a natural suspicion as to accuracy in detail of any of the
portraits. Perhaps the divergence among them is not greater than that among
those of Mary, Queen of Scots, and indicates only the marked incapacity of some
of the painters who did them. We are certainly justified in saying that Washington's features
varied considerably from his early prime to the days when he was President. We
have come to talk about him as an old man because from the time when he was
sixty years old he frequently used that expression himself; although, as he
died at sixty-seven, he was never really "an old man." One wonders
whether those who lived among pioneer conditions said and honestly believed
that they were old at the time when, as we think, middle age would hardly have
begun. Thus Abraham Lincoln writes of himself as a patriarch, and no doubt
sincerely thought that he was, at a time when he had just reached forty. The
two features in Washington's
face about which the portraitists differ most are his nose and his mouth. In
the early portrait by Charles Peale, his nose is slightly aquiline, but not at
all so massive and conspicuous as in some of the later works. His mouth, and
with it the expression of the lower part of his face, changed after he began to
wear false teeth. Is it not fair to suppose that the effigies of Washington, made in
later years and usually giving him a somewhat stiff and expansive grin,
originated in the fact that his false set of teeth lacked perfect adjustment?
Thus Washington dropped into the ways of peace; working each
day what would have been a long stint for a strong young man, and thinking,
besides, more than most men thought of the needs and future of the country to
which he had given liberty and independence. His chief anxiety henceforth was
that the United States of
America should not miss the great destiny
for which he believed the Lord had prepared it.
WELDING THE NATION
The doubt, the drifting, the incongruities and
inconsistencies, the mistakes and follies which marked the five years after
1783 form what has been well called "The Critical Period of American
History." They proved that the conquests of peace may not only be more
difficult than the conquests of war, but that they may outlast those of war.
Who should be the builders of the Ship of State? Those who had courage and
clear vision, who loved justice, who were patient and humble and unflagging,
and who believed with an ineluctable conviction that righteousness exalteth a
nation; they were the simple fishermen who in the little church at Torcello
predicted the splendor and power of Venice; they were the stern pioneers of
Plymouth and Boston who laid the foundations of an empire greater than that of
It happened that during the American Revolution and
immediately afterward, a larger number of such men existed in what had been the
American Colonies than anywhere else at any other time in history. At the
beginning of the Revolution, within a few weeks of the Declaration of Independence,
some of these men, impelled by a common instinct, adopted Articles of
Confederation which should hold the former Colonies together and enable them to
maintain a common front against the enemy during the war. The Congress
controlled military and civic affairs, but the framers of the Articles were
wary and too timid to grant the Congress sufficient powers, with the result
that Washington, who embodied the dynamic control of the war, was always most
inadequately supported; and as he fared, so fared his subordinates.
At the end of the war the Americans found that they had won,
not only freedom, but also Independence,
the desire for which was not among their original motives. Each of the thirteen
States was independent; they all felt the need of a union which would enable
them to protect themselves; of a common coinage and postage; of certain common
laws for criminal and similar cases; of a common government to direct their
affairs with other nations. But by habit and by training each was local rather
than National in its outlook. The Georgian had nothing in common with the men
of Massachusetts Bay whose livelihood depended
upon fisheries, or with the Virginian of the Western border, to whom his
relations with the Indians were his paramount concern. The Rhode Islander, busy
with his manufactures, knew and cared nothing for the South Carolinian with his
rice plantations. How to find a common denominator for all these? That was the
business of them all.
The one thing which Washington
regarded as likely and against which he wished to have every precaution taken,
was a possible attempt of the English to pick a quarrel over some small matter
and bring on a renewal of the war. Fortunately for the Americans, this did not
knew our weakness so well that he could see how easy it would be for a bold and
determined enemy to do us great if not fatal harm. But he did not know that the
English themselves were in an almost desperate plight. By Rodney's decisive
victory at sea they began to recover their ascendancy against the Coalition,
but it was then too late to disavow the treaty. In Parliament George III had
been defeated; the defeat meaning a very serious check to the policy which he
had pursued for more than twenty years to fix royal tyranny on the British
people. King George's system of personal government, himself being the person,
had broken down and he could not revive it. Nearly seventy years were to elapse
before Queen Victoria, who was as putty in the hands of her German husband, Prince Albert, rejoiced
that she had restored the personal power of the British sovereign to a pitch it
had not known since her grandfather George III.
The American Revolution had illustrated the fatal weakness
of the Congress as an organ of government, and the Articles merely embodied the
vagueness of the American people in regard to any real regime. The Congress has
been much derided for its shortcomings and its blunders, although in truth not
so much the Congress, as those who made it, was to blame. They had refused, in
their timidity, to give it power to exercise control. It might not compel or
enforce obedience. It did require General Washington during the war to furnish
a regular report of his military actions and it put his suggestions on file
where many of them grew yellow and dusty; but he might not strike, do that
decisive act by which history is born. Their timidity made them see what he had
accomplished not nearly so plainly as the dictator on horseback whom their
fears conjured up.
During the war the sense of a common danger had lent the
Congress a not easily defined but quite real coherence, which vanished when
peace came, and the local ideals of the States took precedence. Take taxation.
Congress could compute the quota of taxes which each State ought to pay, but it
had no way of collecting or of enforcing payment. It took eighteen months to
collect five per cent of the taxes laid in 1783. Of course a nation could not
go on with such methods. No law binding all the States could be adopted unless
every one of the thirteen States assented. Unanimity was almost unattainable;
as when Governor Clinton of New York withheld
his approval of a measure to improve a system of taxation to which the other
twelve States had assented; so Rhode
Island, the smallest of all, blocked another reform
which twelve States had approved. Our foreign relations must be described as
ignominious. Jefferson had taken Franklin's
place as Minister to France,
but we had no credit and he could not secure the loan he was seeking. John
Adams in London, and John Jay in Madrid, were likewise
balked. Jay had to submit to the closing of the lower Mississippi to American shipping. He did
this in the hope of thereby conciliating Spain to make a commercial treaty
which he thought was far more important than shipping. Our people in the
Southwest, however, regarded the closing of the river as portending their ruin,
and they threatened to secede if it were persisted in. Pennsylvania
and New Jersey
threw their weight with the Southerners and Congress voted against the Jay
treaty. That was the time when the corsairs of the Barbary
States preyed upon American shipping in the Mediterranean and
seized crews of our vessels and sold them into slavery in Northern
Africa. That there was not in the thirteen States sufficient
feeling of dignity to resent and punish these outrages marks both their
dispersed power and lack of regard for National honor.
After 1783 the States, virtually bankrupt at home,
discordant, fickle, and aimless, and without credit or prestige abroad, were
filled with many citizens who recognized that the system was bad and must be
amended. The wise among them wrote treatises on the remedies they proposed. The
wisest went to school of experience and sought in history how confederations
and other political unions had fared. Washington
wrote for his own use an account of the classical constitutions of Greece and Rome
and of the more modern states; of the Amphictyonic Council among the ancient,
and the Helvetic, Belgic, and Germanic among the more recent. John Adams
devoted two massive volumes to an account of the medieval Italian republics.
James Madison studied the Achaian League and other ancient combinations. There
were many other men less eminent than these--there was a Peletiah Webster, for
viewed the situation as a pessimist. Was it because the high hopes that he had
held during the war, that America should be the noblest among the nations, had
been disappointed, or was it because he saw farther into the future than his
colleagues saw? On May 18, 1786, he writes intimately to John Jay:
... We are certainly in a delicate situation; but my fear is
the people are not yet sufficiently _misled_ to retract from
error. To be plainer, I think there is more wickedness than ignorance mixed in
our councils. Under this impression I scarcely know what opinion to entertain
of a general convention. That it is necessary to revise and amend the Articles
of Confederation, I entertain no doubt; but what may be the consequences of
such an attempt is doubtful. Yet something must be done, or the fabric must
fall, for it certainly is tottering.
Ignorance and design are difficult to combat. Out of these
proceed illiberal sentiments, improper jealousies, and a train of evils which
oftentimes in republican governments must be sorely felt before they can be
removed. The former, that is ignorance, being a fit soil for the latter to work
in, tools are employed by them which a generous mind would disdain to use; and
which nothing but time, and their own puerile or wicked productions, can show
the inefficacy and dangerous tendency of. I think often of our situation, and
view it with concern. From the high ground we stood upon, from the plain path
which invited our footsteps, to be so fallen! so lost! it is really
[Footnote 1: Ford, xi, 31.]
One of the chief causes of the discontents which troubled
the public was the increasing number of persons who had been made debtors after
the war by the more and more pressing demands of their creditors. These debtors
knew nothing about economics; they only knew that they were being crushed by
persons more lucky than themselves. In Massachusetts
they broke out in actual rebellion named after the man who led it, Daniel
Shays. They were put down by the more or less doubtful appeal to veterans of
the National Army, but their ebullition was not forgotten as a symptom of a
very dangerous condition. In 1786 representatives from five States met in a
convention at Annapolis
to consider the hard times and the troubles in trade. Washington, Hamilton, and
Madison were thought to be behind the convention, which accomplished little,
but made it clear that a large general convention ought to meet and to discuss
the way of securing a strong central government. This convention was discussed
during that summer and autumn, and a call was issued for a meeting in the
following spring at Philadelphia.
Virginia turned first to Washington to be one of its delegates, but
he had sincere scruples against entering public life again. He wrote to James
Madison on November 18th:
Although I had bid adieu to the public walks of life in a
public manner, and had resolved never more to tread upon public ground, yet if,
upon an occasion so interesting to the well-being of the confederacy, it should
have appeared to have been the wish of the Assembly to have employed me with
other associates in the business of revising the federal system, I should, from
a sense of obligation I am under for repeated proof of confidence in me, more
than from any opinion I should have entertained of my usefulness, have obeyed
its call; but it is now out of my power to do so with any degree of
[Footnote 1: Ford, XI, 87.]
to abandon the quiet of Mount Vernon
and the congenial work he found there, and to be plunged again into political
labors, was perhaps his strongest reason for making this decision. But a
temporary aggravation ruled him. The Society of the Cincinnati, of which he was
president, had aroused much odium in the country among those who were jealous
or envious that such a special privileged class should exist, and among those
who really believed that it had the secret design of establishing an
aristocracy if not actually a monarchy. Washington held that its original
avowed purpose, to keep the officers who had served in the Revolution together,
would perpetuate the patriotic spirit which enabled them to win, and might be a
source of strength in case of further ordeals. But when he found that public
sentiment ran so strongly against the Cincinnati,
he withdrew as its president and he told Madison
that he would vote to have the Society disbanded if it were not that it counted
a minority of foreign members. Stronger than a desire for a private life and
for the ease of Mount Vernon
was his sense of duty as a patriot; so that when this was strongly urged upon
him he gave way and consented.
Spring came, the snows melted in the Northern States, and
through the month of April the delegates to this Convention started from their
homes in the North and in the South for Philadelphia.
The first regular session was held on May 25th, although some of the delegates
did not arrive until several weeks later. They sat in Independence Hall in the
same room where, eleven years before, the Declaration of Independence had been
adopted and signed. Of the members in the new Convention, George Washington was
easily the first. His commanding figure, tall and straight and in no wise
impaired by eight years' campaigns and hardships, was almost the first to
attract the attention of any one who looked upon that assembly. He was
fifty-five years old. Next in reputation was the patriarch, Benjamin Franklin,
twenty-seven years his senior, shrewd, wise, poised, tart, good-natured; whose
prestige was thought to be sufficient to make him a worthy presiding officer
was not present. James Madison of Virginia
was among the young men of the Convention, being only thirty-six years old, and
yet almost at the top of them all in constitutional learning. More precocious
still was Alexander Hamilton of New
York, who was only thirty, one of the most remarkable
examples of a statesman who developed very early and whom Death cut off before
he showed any signs of a decline. One figure we miss--that of Thomas Jefferson
of Virginia, tall and wiry and red-curled, who
was absent in Paris as Minister to France.
sent four representatives, important but not preeminent--Elbridge Gerry,
Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King, and Caleb Strong. New York had only two besides Hamilton;
Robert Yates and John Lansing. Pennsylvania trusted most to Benjamin Franklin,
but she sent the financier of the Revolution, Robert Morris, and Gouverneur
Morris; and with them went Thomas Mifflin, George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimmons, Jared
Ingersoll, James Wilson--all conspicuous public men at the time, although their
fame is bedraggled or quite faded now. Wilson
ranked as the first lawyer of the group. Of the five from little Delaware sturdy John
Dickinson, a man who thought, was no negligible quantity.
also had as spokesmen two strong individualities--Roger Sherman and Oliver
spoke through James McHenry and Daniel Carroll and three others of greater
obscurity. Virginia had George Washington,
President of the Convention, and James Madison, active, resourceful, and really
accomplishing; and in addition to these two: Edmund Randolph, the Governor;
George Mason, Washington's
hard-headed and discreet lawyer friend; John Blair, George Wythe, and James
McClurg. From South Carolina
went three unusual orators, John Rutledge, C.C. Pinckney and Charles Pinckney,
and Pierce Butler. Georgia
named four mediocre but useful men.
In this gathering of fifty-five persons, the proportion
between those who were preeminent for common sense and those who were
remarkable for special knowledge and talents was very fairly kept. Most of them
had had experience in dealing with men either in local government offices or in
the army. Socially, they came almost without exception from respectable if not
aristocratic families. Of the fifty-five, twenty-nine were university or
college bred, their universities comprising Oxford, Glasgow, and Edinburgh
besides the American Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia.
The two foremost members, Washington and Franklin, were not college bred. Among
the fifty-five we do not find John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who, as I have
said, were in Europe on official business.
John Jay also was lacking, because, as it appears, the Anti-Federalists did not
wish him to represent them in the Convention; but his influence permeated it
and the wider public, who later read his unsigned articles in "The
Federalist." Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Richard Henry Lee stayed at
home. General Nathanael Greene, the favorite son of Rhode Island, would have been at the
Convention but for his untimely death a few weeks before the preceding
Owing to delays the active business of the Convention
halted, although for at least a fortnight the members who had come promptly
carried on unofficial discussions. Washington,
being chosen President without a competitor, presided, with perhaps more than
his habitual gravity and punctilio. The members took their work very seriously.
The debates lasted five or six hours a day, and, as they were continued
consecutively until the autumn, there was ample time to discuss many subjects.
The Convention adopted strict secrecy as its rule, so that its proceedings were
not known by the public nor was any satisfactory report of them kept and
published. At the time there was objection to this provision, and now, after
more than a century and a third, we must regret that we can never know many
points in regard to the actual give and take of discussion in this the most
fateful of all assemblies. But from Madison's
memoranda and reminiscences we can infer a good deal as to what went on.
The wisdom of keeping the proceedings secret was fully
justified. The framers of the Constitution knew that it was to a large degree a
new experiment, that it would be subjected to all kinds of criticism, but that
it must be judged by its entirety and not by its parts; and that therefore it
must be presented entire. At the outset some of the members, foreseeing
opposition, were for suggesting palliatives and for sugar-coating. Some of the
measures they feared might excite hostility. To these suggestions Washington made a brief
but very noble remonstrance which seemed deeply to impress his hearers. And no
one could question that it gave the keynote on which he hoped to maintain the
business of the Convention. "It is too probable that no plan we propose
will be adopted," Washington
said very gravely. "Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained.
If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we
afterward defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest
can repair; the event is in the hand of God." Among the obstacles which
seemed very serious--and many believed they would wreck the Convention--was the
question of slavery. By this time all the northern part of the country favored
its abolition. Even Virginia
was on that side. For practical planters like George Washington knew that it
was the most costly and least productive form of labor. They opposed it on
economic rather than moral grounds. Farther South, however, especially in South Carolina where the
negroes seemed to be the only kind of laborers for the rice-fields, and in
those regions where they harvested the cotton, the whites insisted that slavery
should be maintained. The contest seemed likely to be very fierce between the
disputants, and then, with true Anglo-Saxon instinct, they sought for a
compromise. The South had regarded slaves as chattels. The compromise brought
forward by Madison
consisted in agreeing that five slaves should count in population as three. By
this curious device a negro was equivalent to three fifths of a white man. Such
a compromise was, of course, illogical, leaving the question whether negroes
were chattels or human beings with even a theoretical civil character
undecided. But many of the members, who saw the illogic quite plainly, voted
for it, being dazzled if not seduced by the thought that it was a compromise
which would stave off an irreconcilable conflict at least for the present; so
Washington, who wished the abolition of slavery, voted for the compromise along
with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the South Carolinian who regarded slavery as
higher than any of the Ten Commandments.
[Footnote 1: Fiske, _Critical Period_, 250.]
The second compromise referred to the slave trade, which was
particularly defended by South Carolina and Georgia. The
raising of rice and indigo in those States caused an increasing death-rate
among the slaves. The slave trade, which brought many kidnapped slaves from Africa to those States was needed to replenish the number
of slaves who died. Virginia
had not yet become an important breeding-place of slaves who were sold to
planters farther south. The members of the Convention who wished to put an end
to this hideous traffic proposed that it should be prohibited, and that the
enforcement of the prohibition should be assigned to the General Government.
Pinckney, however, keen to defend his privileged institution and the special
interests of his State, bluntly informed the Convention that if they voted to
abolish the slave trade, South Carolina would
regard it as a polite way of telling her that she was not wanted in the new Union. To think of attempting to form a Union without South Carolina amazed
them all and made them pliable. Although there was considerable opposition to
giving the General Government control over shipping, this provision was passed.
The Northerners saw in it the germs of a tariff act which would benefit their
manufacturers, and they agreed that the slave trade should not be interfered
with before 1808 and that no export tax should be authorized.
The third compromise affected representation. The Convention
had already voted that the Congress should consist of two parts, a Senate and a
House of Representatives. By a really clever device each State sent two members
to the Senate, thus equalizing the small and large States in that branch of the
Government. The House, on the other hand, represented the People, and the
number of members elected from each State corresponded, therefore, to the
As I do not attempt to make even a summary of the details of
the Convention, I should pass over many of the other topics which it
considered, often with very heated discussion. The fundamental problem was how
to preserve the rights of the States and at the same time give the Central
Government sufficient power. By devices which actually worked, and for many
years continued to work, this conflict was smoothed over, although sixty years
later the question of State rights, intertwined with that of slavery, nearly
split the Nation in the War of Secession. There was much question as to the
term for which the President should be elected and whether by the People or by
Congress. Some were for one, two, three, four, ten, and even fifteen years.
Rufus King, grown sarcastic, said: "Better call it twenty--it's the
average reign of princes." Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris stood
for a life service with provision for the President's removal in case of
malfeasance. These gentlemen, in spite of their influence in the Convention,
stirred up a deep-seated enmity to their plan. Few instincts were more general
than that which drew back from any arrangement which might embolden the
monarchists to make a man President for a ten or fifteen years' term or for
life. This could not fail to encourage those who wished for the equivalent of
an hereditary prince. The Convention soon made it evident that they would have
none but a short term, and they chose, finally, four years. There was a debate
over the question of his election; should he be chosen directly by the
legislature, or by electors? The strong men--Mason, Rutledge, Roger Sherman,
and Strong--favored the former; stronger men--Washington, Madison, Gerry, and
Gouverneur Morris--favored the latter, and it prevailed. Nevertheless, the
Electoral College thus created soon became, and has remained, as useless as a
Towards the end of the summer the Convention had completed
its first draft of the Constitution; then they handed their work over to a
Committee for Style and Arrangement, composed of W.S. Johnson of North
Carolina, Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Madison, and King. Then, on September
17th, the Constitution of the United
States was formally published. This
document, done "by the Unanimous Consent of the States present," was
sent to the Governor or Legislature of each State with the understanding that
its ratification by nine States would be required before it was proclaimed the
law of the land.
In his diary for Monday, the seventeenth of September, 1787,
makes this entry:
Met in Convention, when the Constitution received the
unanimous consent of 11 States and Colo. Hamilton's from New York [the only
delegate from thence in Convention], and was subscribed to by every member
present, except Governor Randolph and Colo. Mason from Virginia, & Mr.
Gerry from Massachusetts.
The business being thus closed, the members adjourned to the
City Tavern, dined together, and took a cordial leave of each other. After
which I returned to my lodgings, did some business with, and received the
papers from the Secretary of the Convention, and retired to meditate on the
momentous wk. which had been executed, after not less than five, for a large
part of the time six and sometimes 7 hours sitting every day, [except] Sundays
& the ten days adjournment to give a Comee. [Committee] opportunity &
time to arrange the business for more than four months.
[Footnote 1: Ford, XI, 155.]
One likes to think of Washington
presiding over that Convention for more than four months, seeing one suggestion
after another brought forward and debated until finally disposed of, he saying
little except to enforce the rules of parliamentary debate. No doubt his asides
(and part of his conversation) frankly gave his opinion as to each measure,
because he never disguised his thoughts and he seems to have voted when the
ballots were taken--a practice unusual to modern presiding officers except in
case of a tie. His summing-up of the Constitution, which he wrote on the day
after the adjournment in a hurried letter to Lafayette, is given briefly in these lines:
It is the result of four months' deliberation. It is now a
child of fortune, to be fostered by some and buffeted by others. What will be
the general opinion, or the reception of it, is not for me to decide; nor shall
I say anything for or against it. If it be good, I suppose it will work its
way; if bad, it will recoil on the framers.
A month later, in the seclusion of Mount Vernon, he spread the same news before
his friend General Knox:
... The Constitution is now before the judgment-seat. It
as was expected, its adversaries and supporters. Which will
preponderate is yet to be decided. The former more than probably will be most
active, as the major part of them will, it is to be feared, be governed by
sinister and self-important motives, to which everything in their breasts must
The other class, he said, would probably ask itself whether
the Constitution now submitted was not better than the inadequate and
precarious government under which they had been living. If there were defects,
as doubtless there were, did it not provide means for amending them? Then he
concludes with a gleam of optimism:
... Is it not likely that real defects will be as readily
discovered after as before trial? and will not our
successors be as ready to apply the remedy as ourselves, if occasion should
require it? To think otherwise will, in my judgment, be ascribing more of the
amor patriae, more wisdom and more virtue to ourselves, than I think we
[Footnote 1: Ford, XI, 173.]
Nearly five months later, February 7, 1788, he wrote Lafayette what we may
consider a more deliberate opinion:
As to my sentiments with respect to the merits of the new
constitution, I will disclose them without reserve, (although by passing
through the post-office they should become known to all the world,) for in
truth I have nothing to conceal on that subject. It appears to me, then, little
short of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different States (which
States you know are also different from each other), in their manners,
circumstances, and prejudices, should unite in forming a system of national
government, so little liable to well-founded objections. Nor am I yet such an
enthusiastic, partial, or indiscriminating admirer of it, as not to perceive it
is tinctured with some real (though not radical) defects. The limits of a
letter would not suffer me to go fully into an examination of them; nor would
the discussion be entertaining or profitable. I therefore forbear to touch upon
it. With regard to the two great points (the pivots upon which the whole
machine must move), my creed is simply,
1st. That the general government is not invested with more
powers, than are indispensably necessary to perform the functions of a good
government; and consequently, that no objection ought to be made against the
quantity of power delegated to it.
2nd. That these powers (as the appointment of all rulers
will for ever arise from, and at short, stated intervals recur to, the free
suffrage of the people), are so distributed among the legislative, executive,
and judicial branches, into which the general government is arranged, that it
can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an
aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form, so long as there shall
remain any virtue in the body of the people.
I would not be understood, my dear Marquis, to speak of
consequences, which may be produced in the revolution of ages, by corruption of
morals, profligacy of manners and listlessness for the preservation of the
natural and unalienable rights of mankind, nor of the successful usurpations,
that may be established at such an unpropitious juncture upon the ruins of
liberty, however providently guarded and secured; as these are contingencies
against which no human prudence can effectually provide. It will at least be a
recommendation to the proposed constitution, that it is provided with more
checks and barriers against the introduction of tyranny, and those of a nature
less liable to be surmounted, than any government hitherto instituted among
mortals hath possessed. We are not to expect perfection in this world; but
mankind, in modern times, have apparently made some progress in the science of
government. Should that which is now offered to the people of America, be found on experiment
less perfect than it can be made, a constitutional door is left open for its
[Footnote 1: Ford, XI, 218-21.]
Thus was accomplished the American Constitution. Gladstone
has said of it in well-known words that, just "as the British Constitution
is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from the womb and the long
gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is so far as I
can see the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain
and purpose of man." Note that Gladstone
does not name a single or an individual man, which would have been wholly
untrue, for the American Constitution was struck off by the wisdom and
foresight of fifty-five men collectively. There were among them two or three
who might be called transcendent men. It gained its peculiar value from the
fact that it represents the composite of many divergent opinions and different
[Footnote 1: W.E. Gladstone, _North American Review_,
Just before the members broke up at their final meeting in
Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin amused them with a characteristic bit of
raillery. On the back of the President's black chair, a half sun was carved and
emblazoned. "During all these weeks," said Franklin, "I have often wondered whether
that sun was rising or setting. I know now that it is a rising sun."
The first State to ratify the Constitution was Delaware, on December 6,
1787. Pennsylvania followed on December 12th,
and New Jersey
on December 18th. Ratifications continued without haste until New Hampshire, the ninth State, signed on
June 21, 1788. Four days later, Virginia,
a very important State, ratified. New
York, which had been Anti-Federalist throughout,
joined the majority on July 26th. North Carolina
waited until November 21st, and little Rhode
Island, the last State of all, did not come in until
May 29, 1790. But, as the adherence of nine States sufficed, the affirmative
action of New Hampshire on June 21, 1788,
constituted the legal beginning of the United States of America.
No test could be more winnowing than that to which the
Constitution was subjected during more than eighteen months before its
adoption. In each State, in each section, its friends and enemies discussed it
at meetings and in private gatherings. In New York,
for instance, it was only the persistence of Alexander Hamilton and his unfailing
oratory, unmatched until then in this country, that routed the Anti-Federalists
and caused the victory of the Federalists in the State. In Virginia, Patrick Henry, who had said on the
eve of the Revolution, "I am not a Virginian, but an American," still
held out. Nevertheless, the more the people of the country discussed the
matter, the surer was their conviction that Washington was right when he intimated that
they must prefer the new Constitution unless they could show reason for
supposing that the anarchy towards which the old order was swiftly driving them
During the autumn of 1788 peaceful electioneering went on
throughout the country. Among the last acts of that thin wraith, the
Continental Congress, was a decree that Presidential Electors should be chosen
on the first Wednesday of January, 1789; that they should vote for President on
the first Wednesday in February, and that the new Congress should meet on the
first Wednesday in March. The State of New York,
where Anti-Federalists swarmed, did not follow the decree--with the result that
that State, which had been behindhand in signing the Declaration of
Independence, failed through the intrigues of the Anti-Federalists to choose
electors, and so had no part in the choice of Washington
as President of the United
States. The other ten States performed their
duty on time. They elected Washington President by a unanimous vote of
sixty-nine out of sixty-nine votes cast.
The Vice-Presidential contest was perplexing, there being
many candidates who received only a few votes each. Many persons thought that
it would be fitting that Samuel Adams, the father of the Revolution, should be
chosen to serve with Washington,
the father of his country; but too many remembered that he had been hostile to
the Federalists until almost the end of the preliminary canvass and so they did
not think that he ought to be chosen. The successful man was John Adams, who
had been a robust Patriot from the beginning and had served honorably and devotedly
in every position which he had held since 1775.
On April 14th Washington's
election was notified to him, and on the 16th he bade farewell to Mount Vernon, where he had hoped to pass the rest of his
days in peace and home duties and agriculture, and he rode in what proved to be
a triumphal march to New York.
That city was chosen the capital of the new Nation. Streams of enthusiastic and
joyous citizens met and acclaimed him at every town through which he passed. At
Trenton a party of thirteen young girls decked
out in muslin and wreaths represented the thirteen States, and perhaps brought
to his mind the contrast between that day and thirteen years before when he
crossed the Delaware
on boats amid floating cakes of ice and the pelting of sleet and rain. On April
23d he entered New York City.
A week later at noon a military escort attended him from his lodging to Federal
Hall at the corner of Wall and Nassau Streets, where a vast crowd awaited him. Washington stood on a
balcony. All could witness the ceremony. The Secretary of the Senate bore a
Bible upon a velvet cushion, and Chancellor Livingston administered the oath of
office. Washington's head was still bowed when
Livingston shouted: "Long live George Washington, President of the United States!"
The crowds took up the cheer, which spread to many parts of the city and was
repeated in all parts of the United
THE FIRST AMERICAN PRESIDENT
The inauguration of Washington
on April 30, 1789, brought a new type of administration into the world. The
democracy which it initiated was very different from that of antiquity, from
the models of Greece and of Rome, and quite different
from that of the Italian republics during the Middle Age. The head of the new
State differed essentially from the monarchs across the sea. Although there
were varieties of traditions and customs in what had been the Colonies, still
their dominant characteristic was British. According to the social traditions
George Washington was an aristocrat, but in contrast with the British, he was a
He believed, however, that the President must guard his
office from the free-and-easy want of decorum which some of his countrymen
regarded as the stamp of democracy. At his receptions he wore a black velvet
suit with gold buckles at the knee and on his shoes, and yellow gloves, and
profusely powdered hair carried in a silk bag behind. In one hand he held a
cocked hat with an ostrich plume; on his left thigh he wore a sword in a white
scabbard of polished leather. He shook hands with no one; but acknowledged the
courtesy of his visitors by a very formal bow. When he drove, it was in a coach
with four or six handsome horses and outriders and lackeys dressed in
After his inauguration he spoke his address to the Congress,
and several days later members of the House and of the Senate called on him at
his residence and made formal replies to his Inaugural Address. After a few
weeks, experience led him to modify somewhat his daily schedule. He found that
unless it was checked, the insatiate public would consume all his time. Every
Tuesday afternoon, between three and four o'clock, he had a public reception
which any one might attend. Likewise, on Friday afternoons, Mrs. Washington had
receptions of her own. The President accepted no invitations to dinner, but at
his own table there was an unending succession of invited guests, except on
Sunday, which he observed privately. Interviews with the President could be had
at any time that suited his convenience. Thus did he arrange to transact his
regular or his private business.
Inevitably, some of the public objected to his rules and
pretended to see very strong monarchical leanings in them. But the country took
them as he intended, and there can be no doubt that it felt the benefit of his
promoting the dignity of his office. Equally beneficial was his rule of not
appointing to any office any man merely because he was the President's friend. Washington knew that
such a consideration would give the candidate an unfair advantage. He knew
further that office-holders who could screen themselves behind the plea that
they were the President's friends might be very embarrassing to him. As
office-seekers became, with the development of the Republic, among the most
pernicious of its evils and of its infamies, we can but feel grateful that so
far as in him lay Washington
tried to keep them within bounds.
In all his official acts he took great pains not to force
his personal wishes. He knew that both in prestige and popularity he held a
place apart among his countrymen, and for this reason he did not wish to have
measures passed simply because they were his. Accordingly, in the matter of
receiving the public and in granting interviews and of ceremonials at the Presidential
Residence, he asked the advice of John Adams, John Jay, Hamilton, and
Jefferson, and he listened to many of their suggestions. Colonel Humphreys, who
had been one of his aides-de-camp and was staying in the Presidential
Residence, acted as Chamberlain at the first reception. Humphreys took an
almost childish delight in gold braid and flummery. At a given moment the door
of the large hall in which the concourse of guests was assembled was opened and
he, advancing, shouted, with a loud voice: "The President of the United States!"
followed him and went through the paces prescribed by the Colonel with
punctilious exactness, but with evident lack of relish. When the levee broke up
and the party had gone, Washington
said to Colonel Humphreys: "Well, you have taken me in once, but, by God,
you shall never take me in a second time." Irving, who borrows this
story from Jefferson, warns us that perhaps Jefferson
was not a credible witness.
[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 14.]
Congress transacted much important business at this first
session. It determined that the President should have a Cabinet of men whose
business it was to administer the chief departments and to advise the
President. Next in importance were the financial measures proposed by the Secretary
of the Treasury. Washington
chose for his first Cabinet Ministers: Thomas Jefferson, who had not returned
from Paris, as Secretary of State, or Foreign Minister as he was first called;
Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury; General Henry Knox, Secretary of
War; and Edmund Randolph, Attorney-General. Of these, Hamilton had to face the most bitter
opposition. Throughout the Revolution the former Colonies had never been able
to collect enough money to pay the expense of the war and the other charges of
the Confederation. The Confederation handed over a considerable debt to the new
Government. Besides this many of the States had paid each its own cost of
equipping and maintaining its contingent. Hamilton
now proposed that the United States Government should assume these various
State debts, which would aggregate $21,000,000 and bring the National debt to a
total of $75,000,000. Hamilton's
suggestion that the State debts be assumed caused a vehement outcry. Its
opponents protested that no fair adjustment could be reached. The
Assumptionists retorted that this would be the only fair settlement, but the
Anti-Assumptionists voted them down by a majority of two. In other respects, Hamilton's financial
measures prospered, and before many months he seized the opportunity of making
a bargain by which the next Congress reversed its vote on Assumption. In less
than a year the members of Congress and many of the public had reached the
conclusion that New York City
was not the best place to be the capital of the Nation. The men from the South
argued that it put the South to a disadvantage, as its ease of access to New York, New
Jersey, and the Eastern States gave that section of
the country a too favorable situation. There was a strong party in favor of Philadelphia, but it was remembered that in the days of
the Confederation a gang of turbulent soldiers had dashed down from Lancaster and put to flight the Convention sitting at Philadelphia.
Nevertheless, Philadelphia was chosen
temporarily, the ultimate choice of a situation being farther south on the Potomac.
Jefferson returned from France in the early winter. The
discussion over Assumption was going on very virulently. It happened that one
day Jefferson met Hamilton,
and this is his account of what followed:
As I was going to the President's one day, I met him
[Hamilton] in the street. He walked me backwards and forwards before the
President's door for half an hour. He painted pathetically the temper into
which the legislature had been wrought; the disgust of those who were called
the creditor States; the danger of the secession of their members, and the
separation of the States. He observed that the members of the administration
ought to act in concert; that though this question was not of my department,
yet a common duty should make it a common concern; that the President was the
centre on which all administrative questions ultimately rested, and that all of
us should rally around him and support, with joint efforts, measures approved
by him; and that the question having been lost by a small majority only, it was
probable that an appeal from me to the judgment and discretion of some of my
friends, might effect a change in the vote, and the machine of government now
suspended, might be again set into motion. I told him that I was really a
stranger to the whole subject, that not having yet informed myself of the
system of finance adopted, I knew not how far this was a necessary sequence;
that undoubtedly, if its rejection endangered a dissolution of our Union at this
incipient stage, I should deem it most unfortunate of all consequences to avert
which all partial and temporary evils should be yielded, I proposed to him,
however, to dine with me the next day, and I would invite another friend or
two, bring them into conference together, and I thought it impossible that
reasonable men, consulting together coolly, could fail, by some mutual
sacrifices of opinion, to form a compromise which was to save the Union. The
discussion took place. I could take no part in it but an exhortatory one,
because I was a stranger to the circumstances which should govern it. But it
was finally agreed, that whatever importance had been attached to the rejection
of this proposition, the preservation of the Union and of concord among the States
was more important, and that, therefore, it would be better that the vote of
rejection should be rescinded, to effect which some members should change their
votes. But it was observed that this pill would be peculiarly bitter to the
Southern States, and that some concomitant measure should be adopted to sweeten
it a little to them. There had before been projects to fix the seat of
government either at Philadelphia or at Georgetown on the Potomac; and it was
thought that, by giving it to Philadelphia for ten years, and to Georgetown
permanently afterwards, this might, as an anodyne, solve in some degree the
ferment which might be excited by the other measure alone. So two of the
Potomac members (White and Lee, but White with a revulsion of stomach almost convulsive)
agreed to change their votes, and Hamilton
undertook to carry the other point. In doing this, the influence he had
established over the eastern members, with the agency of Robert Morris with
those of the Middle States, effected his side of the engagement.
[Footnote 1: _Jefferson's Works_, IX, 93.]
As a result of Hamilton's
bargain, the bill for Assumption was passed, and it was agreed that Philadelphia should be the capital for ten years and that
afterwards a new city should be built on the banks
of the Potomac and made the capital
During the summer of 1789 Washington suffered the most serious
sickness of his entire life. The cause was anthrax in his thigh, and at times
it seemed that it would prove fatal. For many weeks he was forced to lie on one
side, with frequent paroxysms of great pain. After a month and a half he began
to mend, but very slowly, so that autumn came before he got up and could go
about again. His medical adviser was Dr. Samuel Bard of New
York, and Irving reports the
following characteristic conversation between him and his patient: "Do not
flatter me with vain hopes," said Washington,
with placid firmness; "I am not afraid to die, and therefore can bear the
worst." The doctor expressed hope, but owned that he had apprehensions.
"Whether to-night or twenty hence, makes no difference," observed Washington. "I know
that I am in the hands of a good Providence."
His friends thought that he never really recovered his old-time vigor. That
autumn, as soon as Congress had adjourned, he took a journey through New
England, going as far as Portsmouth
and returning in time for the opening of the Second Congress.
[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 22.]
The Government was now settling down into what became its
normal routine. The Cabinet was completed by the appointment of Jefferson as
Secretary of State and Edmund Randolph as Attorney-General. Jefferson would
have preferred to go back to France
as American Minister, but in a fulsome letter he declared himself willing to
accept any office which Washington
wished him to fill. The Supreme Court was organized with John Jay as Chief
Justice, and five Associate Justices. Washington
could not fail to be aware that parties were beginning to shape themselves. At
first the natural divisions consisted of the Federalists, who believed in
adopting the Constitution, and those who did not. As soon as the thirteen
States voted to accept the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists had no definite
motive for existing. Their place was taken principally by the Republicans over
against whom were the Democrats. A few years later these parties exchanged
names. A fundamental difference in the ideas of the Americans sprang from their
views in regard to National and State rights. Some of them regarded the State
as the ultimate unit. Others insisted that the Nation was sovereign. These two
conflicting views run through American history down to the Civil War, and even
time they existed in outline. Washington himself was a Federalist, believing
that the Federation of the former Colonies should be made as compact and
strongly knit as possible. He had had too much evidence during the Revolution
of the weakness of uncentralized government, and yet his Virginia origin and training had planted in
him a strong sympathy for State rights. In Washington's
own Cabinet dwelt side by side the leaders of the two parties: Thomas
Jefferson, the Secretary of State, though born in Virginia of high aristocratic stock, was the
most aggressive and infatuated of Democrats. Alexander Hamilton, born in the West Indies and owing nothing to family connections, was
a natural aristocrat. He believed that the educated and competent few must
inevitably govern the incompetent masses. His enemies suspected that he leaned
strongly towards monarchy and would have been glad to see Washington crowned king.
President Washington, believing in Assumption, took
satisfaction in Hamilton's bargain with Jefferson which made Assumption possible. For the
President saw in the act a power making for union, and union was one of the
chief objects of his concern. The foremost of Hamilton's measures, however, for good or for
ill, was the protective tariff on foreign imports. Experience has shown that
protection has been much more than a financial device. It has been deeply and
inextricably moral. It has caused many American citizens to seek for tariff
favors from the Government. Compared with later rates, those which Hamilton's tariff set
were moderate indeed. The highest duties it exacted on foreign imports were
fifteen per cent, while the average was only eight and a half per cent. And yet
it had not been long in force when the Government was receiving $200,000 a
month, which enabled it to defray all the necessary public charges. Hamilton, in the words of
Daniel Webster, "smote the rock of National resources and copious streams
of wealth poured forth. He touched the dead corpse of public credit and it
stood forth erect with life." The United States of all modern countries
have been the best fitted by their natural resources to do without artificial
stimulation, in spite of which fact they still cling, after one hundred and
thirty-five years, to the easy and plausible tariff makeshift. Washington
himself believed that the tariff should so promote industries as to provide for
whatever the country needed in time of war.
Two other financial measures are to be credited to Hamilton. The first was
the excise, an internal revenue on distilled spirits. It met with opposition
from the advocates of State rights, but was passed after heated debate. The
last was the establishment of a United States Bank. All of Hamilton's measures tended directly to
centralization, the object which he and Washington regarded as paramount.
In 1790 Washington made a second trip through the Eastern
States, taking pains to visit Rhode Island, which was the last State to ratify
the Constitution (May 29, 1790). These trips of his, for which the hostile
might have found parallels in the royal progresses of the British sovereigns,
really served a good purpose; for they enabled the people to see and hear their
President; which had a good effect in a newly established nation. Washington lost no
opportunity for teaching a moral. Thus, when he came to Boston,
John Hancock, the Governor of Massachusetts, seemed to wish to indicate that
the Governor was the highest personage in the State and not at all subservient
even to the President of the United
States. He wished to arrange it so that Washington should call on him first, but this Washington had no idea
of doing. Hancock then wrote and apologized for not greeting the President
owing to an unfortunate indisposition. Washington
replied regretting the Governor's illness and announcing that the schedule on
which he was travelling required him to quit Boston at a given time. Governor Hancock,
whose spectacular signature had given him prominence everywhere, finding that
he could not make the President budge, sent word that he was coming to pay his
respects. Washington replied that he should be much pleased to welcome him, but
expressed anxiety lest the Governor might increase his indisposition by coming
out. This little comedy had a far-reaching effect. It settled the question as
to whether the Governor of a State or the President of the United States
should take precedence. From that day to this, no Governor, so far as I am
aware, has set himself above the President in matters of ceremonial.
One of the earliest difficulties which Washington's administration had to overcome
was the hostility of the Indians. Indian discontent and even lawlessness had
been going on for years, with only a desultory and ineffectual show of vigor on
the part of the whites. Washington, who detested whatever was ineffectual and
lacking in purpose, determined to beat down the Indians into submission. He
sent out a first army under General St. Clair, but it was taken in ambush by
the Indians and nearly wiped out--a disaster which caused almost a panic
throughout the Western country. Washington
felt the losses deeply, but he had no intention of being beaten there. He
organized a second army, gave it to General Wayne to command, who finally
brought the Six Nations to terms. The Indians in the South still remained
unpacified and lawless.
made another prolonged trip, this time through the Southern States, which
greatly improved his health and gave an opportunity of seeing many of the
public men, and enabled the population to greet for the first time their
President. Meanwhile the seeds of partisan feuds grew apace, as they could not
fail to do where two of the ablest politicians ever known in the United States
sat in the same Cabinet and pursued with unremitting energy ideas that were
mutually uncompromising. Thomas Jefferson, although born of the old
aristocratic stock of Virginia,
had early announced himself a Democrat, and had led that faction throughout the
Revolution. His facile and fiery mind gave to the Declaration of Independence
an irresistible appeal, and it still remains after nearly one hundred and fifty
years one of the most contagious documents ever drawn up. Going to France at the
outbreak of the French Revolution, he found the French nation about to put into
practice the principles on which he had long fed his imagination--principles
which he accepted without qualification and without scruple. Returning to America after the organization of the
Government, he accepted with evident reluctance the position of Secretary of
State which Washington
offered to him. In the Cabinet his chief adversary or competitor was Alexander
Hamilton, his junior by fourteen years, a man equally versatile and equally
facile--and still more enthralling as an orator. Hamilton
harbored the anxiety that the United
States under their new Constitution would be
too loosely held together. He promoted, therefore, every measure that tended to
strengthen the Central Government and to save it from dissolution either by the
collapse of its unifying bonds or by anarchy. In the work of the first two
years of Washington's administration, Hamilton was plainly victorious.
The Tariff Law, the Excise, the National Bank, the National Funding Bill, all
centralizing measures, were his. Washington
approved them all, and we may believe that he talked them over with Hamilton and gave them
his approval before they came under public discussion.
Thus, as Hamilton gained, Jefferson plainly lost. But Washington did not abandon his sound
position as a neutral between the two. He requested Jefferson and Edmund
Randolph to draw up objections to some of Hamilton's
schemes, so that he had in writing the arguments of very strong opponents.
Meanwhile the French Revolution had broken all bounds, and Jefferson, as the sponsor of the French over here, was
kept busy in explaining and defending the Gallic horrors. The Americans were in
a large sense law-abiding, but in another sense they were lawless.
Nevertheless, they heard with horror of the atrocities of the French
Revolutionists--of the drownings, of the guillotining, of the imprisonment and
execution of the King and Queen--and they had a healthy distrust of the Jacobin
Party, which boasted that these things were natural accompaniments of Liberty with which they
planned to conquer the world. Events in France
inevitably drove that country into war with England. Washington and his chief advisers
believed that the United
States ought to remain neutral as between
the two belligerents. But neutrality was difficult. In spite of their horror at
the French Revolution, the memory of our debt to France
during our own Revolution made a very strong bond of sympathy, whereas our long
record of hostility to England
during our Colony days, and since the Declaration of Independence, kept alive a
traditional hatred for Great
Britain. While it was easy, therefore, to
preach neutrality, it was very difficult to enforce it. An occurrence which
could not have been foreseen further added to the difficulty of neutrality.
In the spring of 1793 the French
Republic appointed Edmond Charles
Genet, familiarly called "Citizen Genet," Minister to the United States.
He was a young man, not more than thirty, of very quick parts, who had been
brought up in the Bureau of Foreign Affairs, had an exorbitant idea of his own
importance, and might be described without malice as a master of effrontery.
The ship which brought him to this country was driven by adverse winds to Charleston and landed him
there on April 8th. He lost no time in fitting out a privateer against British
mercantile vessels. The fact that by so doing he broke the American rule of
neutrality did not seem to trouble him at all; on the contrary, he acted as if
he were simply doing what the United
States would do if they really did what they
wished. As soon as he had made his arrangements, he proceeded by land up the
coast to Philadelphia.
Jefferson was exuberant, and he wrote in exultation to Madison on the fifth of May, concluding with
the phrase, "I wish we may be able to repress the spirit of the people
within the limits of a fair neutrality." If there be such things as
crocodile tears, perhaps there may also be crocodile wishes, of which this
would seem to be one. A friend of Hamilton's,
writing about the same time, speaks in different terms, as follows:
He has a good person, a fine ruddy complexion, quite active,
and seems always in a bustle, more like a busy man than a man of business. A
Frenchman in his manners, he announces himself in all companies as the Minister
of the Republic, etc., talks freely of his commission, and, like most
Europeans, seems to have adopted mistaken notions of the penetration and knowledge
of the people of the United
States. His system, I think, is to laugh us
into war if he can.
[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 151.]
Citizen Genet did not allow his progress up the coast to be
so rapid that he was deprived of any ovation. The banquets, luncheons,
speech-makings, by which he was welcomed everywhere, had had no parallel in the
country up to that time. They seemed to be too carefully prepared to be
unpremeditated, and probably many of those who took part in them did not
understand that they were cheering for a cause which they had never espoused.
One wonders why he was allowed to carry on this personal campaign and to show
rude unconcern for good manners, or indeed for any manners except those of a
wayward and headstrong boy. It might be thought that the Secretary of State
abetted him and in his infatuation for France
did not check him; but, so far as I have discovered, no evidence exists that Jefferson was in collusion with the truculent and
impertinent "Citizen." No doubt, however, the shrewd American
politician took satisfaction in observing the extravagances of his fellow
countrymen in paying tribute to the representative of France. At
Philadelphia, for instance, the city which already was beginning to have a
reputation for spinster propriety which became its boast in the next century,
we hear that "... before Genet had presented his credentials and been
acknowledged by the President, he was invited to a grand republican dinner, 'at
which,' we are told, 'the company united in singing the Marseillaise Hymn. A
deputation of French sailors presented themselves, and were received by the
guests with the fraternal embrace.' The table was decorated with the 'tree of
liberty,' and a red cap, called the cap of liberty, was placed on the head of
the minister, and from his travelled in succession from head to head round the
[Footnote 1: Jay's _Life_, I, 30.]
But not all the Americans were delirious enthusiasts. Hamilton kept his head amid the whirling words which, he
said, might "do us much harm and could do France no good." In a letter,
which deserves to be quoted in spite of its length, he states very clearly the
opinions of one of the sanest of Americans. He writes to a friend:
It cannot be without danger and inconvenience to our interests,
to impress on the nations of Europe an idea that we are actuated by the same
spirit which has for some time past fatally misguided the measures of those who
conduct the affairs of France, and sullied a cause once glorious, and that
might have been triumphant. The cause of France
is compared with that of America
during its late revolution. Would to Heaven that the comparison were just!
Would to Heaven we could discern, in the mirror of French affairs, the same
decorum, the same gravity, the same order, the same dignity, the same
solemnity, which distinguished the cause of the American Revolution! Clouds and
darkness would not then rest upon the issue as they now do. I own I do not like
the comparison. When I contemplate the horrid and systematic massacres of the
2nd and 3rd of September, when I observe that a Marat and a Robespierre, the
notorious prompters of those bloody scenes, sit triumphantly in the convention,
and take a conspicuous part in its measures--that an attempt to bring the
assassins to justice has been obliged to be abandoned--when I see an
unfortunate prince, whose reign was a continued demonstration of the goodness
and benevolence of his heart, of his attachment to the people of whom he was
the monarch, who, though educated in the lap of despotism, had given repeated
proofs that he was not the enemy of liberty, brought precipitately and
ignominiously to the block without any substantial proof of guilt, as yet
disclosed--without even an authentic exhibition of motives, in decent regard to
the opinions of mankind; when I find the doctrine of atheism openly advanced in
the convention, and heard with loud applause; when I see the sword of
fanaticism extended to force a political creed upon citizens who were invited
to submit to the arms of France as the harbingers of liberty; when I behold the
hand of rapacity outstretched to prostrate and ravish the monuments of
religious worship, erected by those citizens and their ancestors; when I
perceive passion, tumult, and violence usurping those seats, where reason and
cool deliberation ought to preside, I acknowledge that I am glad to believe
there is no real resemblance between what was the cause of America and what is
the cause of France; that the difference is no less great than that between
liberty and licentiousness. I regret whatever has a tendency to confound them,
and I feel anxious, as an American, that the ebullitions of inconsiderate men
among us may not tend to involve our reputation in the issue.
[Footnote 1: _Hamilton's Works_, 566.]
Citizen Genet continued his campaign unabashed. He attempted
to force the United States
to give arms and munitions to the French. Receiving cool answers to his
demands, he lost patience, and intended to appeal to the American People, over
the head of the Government. He sent his communication for the two Houses of
Congress, in care of the Secretary of State, to be delivered. But Washington, whose
patience had seemed inexhaustible, believed that the time had come to act
boldly. By his instruction Jefferson returned
the communication to Genet with a note in which he curtly reminded the
obstreperous Frenchman of a diplomat's proper behavior. As the American
Government had already requested the French to recall Genet, his amazing
inflation collapsed like a pricked bladder. He was too wary, however, to return
which he had served so devotedly. He preferred to remain in this country, to
become an American citizen, and to marry the daughter of Governor Clinton of New York. Perhaps he had
time for leisure, during the anticlimax of his career, to recognize that
President Washington, whom he had looked down upon as a novice in diplomacy,
knew how to accomplish his purpose, very quietly, but effectually. A century
and a quarter later, another foreigner, the German Ambassador, Count
Bernstorff, was allowed by the American Government to weave an even more
menacing plot, but the sound sense of the country awoke in time to sweep him
and his truculence and his conspiracies beyond the Atlantic.
The intrigues of Genet emphasized the fact that a party had
arisen and was not afraid to speak openly against President Washington. He held
in theory a position above that of parties, but the theory did not go closely
with fact, for he made no concealment of his fundamental Federalism, and every
one saw that, in spite of his formal neutrality, in great matters he almost
always sided with Hamilton instead of with Jefferson. When he himself recognized that the rift was
spreading between his two chief Cabinet officers, he warned them both to avoid
exaggerating their differences and pursuing any policy which must be harmful to
the country. Patriotism was the chief aim of every one, and patriotism meant
sinking one's private desires in order to achieve liberty through unity.
Washington himself was a man of such strict virtue that he could work with men
who in many matters disagreed with him, and as he left the points of
disagreement on one side, he used the more effectively points of agreement. I
do not think that Jefferson could do this, or Hamilton
either, and I cannot rid myself of the suspicion that Jefferson furnished
Philip Freneau, who came from New York to Philadelphia to edit the
anti-Washington newspaper, with much of his inspiration if not actual articles.
The objective of the "Gazette" was, of course, the destruction of Hamilton and his policy
of finance. If Hamilton could be thus destroyed,
it would be far easier to pull down Washington
also. Lest the invectives in the "Gazette" should fail to shake Washington in his regard for Hamilton,
Jefferson indited a serious criticism of the Treasury, and he took pains to
have friends of his leave copies of the indictment so that Washington could not fail to see them. The
latter, however, by a perfectly natural and characteristic stroke which
Jefferson could not foresee, sent the indictment to Hamilton and asked him to explain. This Hamilton did straightforwardly and point-blank--and Jefferson had the mortification of perceiving that his
ruse had failed. Hamilton,
under a thin disguise, wrote a series of newspaper assaults on Jefferson, who
could not parry them or answer them. He was no match for the most terrible
controversialist in America;
but he could wince. And presently B.F. Bache, the grandson of Benjamin
Franklin, brought his unusual talents in vituperation, in calumny, and in
nastiness to the "Aurora," a
blackguard sheet of Philadelphia.
doubtless thought himself so hardened to abuse by the experience he had had of
it during the Revolution that nothing which Freneau, Bache, and their kind
could say or do, would affect him. But he was mistaken. And one cannot fail to
see that they saddened and annoyed him. He felt so keenly the evil which must
come from the deliberate sowing of dissensions. He cared little what they might
say against himself, but he cared immensely for their sin against patriotism.
Before his term as President drew to a close, he was already deciding not to be
a candidate for a second term. He told his intention to a few intimates--from
them it spread to many others. His best friends were amazed. They foresaw great
trials for the Nation and a possible revolution. Hamilton tried to move him by every sort of
appeal. Jefferson also was almost boisterous
in denouncing the very idea. He impressed upon him the importance of his
continuing at that crisis. He had not been President long enough to establish
precedents for the new Nation. There were many volatile incidents which, if
treated with less judgment than his, might do grievous harm. One wonders how
sincere all the entreaties to Washington were, but one cannot doubt that the
great majority of the country was perfectly sincere in wishing to have him
continue; for it had sunk deep into the hearts of Americans that Washington was
himself a party, a policy, an ideal above all the rest. And when the election
was held in the autumn of 1792, he was reelected by the equivalent of a
THE JAY TREATY
There is no doubt that Washington in his Olympian quiet took a real
satisfaction in his election. On January 20, 1793, he wrote to Governor Henry
Lee of Virginia:
A mind must be insensible indeed not to be gratefully
impressed by so distinguished and honorable a testimony of public approbation
and confidence; and as I suffered my name to be contemplated on this occasion,
it is more than probable that I should, for a moment, have experienced chagrin,
if my reelection had not been by a pretty respectable vote. But to say I feel
pleasure from the prospect of commencing another term of duty would be a departure
from the truth,--for, however it might savor of affectation in the opinion of
the world (who, by the by, can only guess at my sentiments, as it never has
been troubled with them), my particular and confidential friends well know,
that it was after a long and painful conflict in my own breast, that I was
withheld, (by considerations which are not necessary to be mentioned), from
requesting in time, that no vote might be thrown away upon me, it being my
fixed determination to return to the walks of private life at the end of my
[Footnote 1: Ford, XII, 256.]
felt at his reelection not merely egotistic pleasure for a personal success,
but the assurance that it involved a triumph of measures which he held to be of
far more importance than any success of his own. The American Nation's new
organism which he had set in motion could now continue with the uniformity of
its policy undisturbed by dislocating checks and interruptions. Much, very much
depended upon the persons appointed to direct its progress, and they depended
upon the President who appointed them. In matters of controversy or dispute, Washington upheld a
perfectly impartial attitude. But he did not believe that this should shackle
his freedom in appointing. According to him a man must profess right views in
order to be considered worthy of appointment. The result of this was that Washington's appointees
must be orthodox in his definition of orthodoxy.
His first important act in his new administration was to
issue a Proclamation of Neutrality on April 22d. Although this document was
clear in intent and in purpose, and was evidently framed to keep the United States from being involved in the war
between France and England, it
gave offence to partisans of either country. They used it as a weapon for
attacking the Government, so that Washington found to his sorrow that the
partisan spites, which he had hoped would vanish almost of their own accord,
were become, on the contrary, even more formidable and irritating. At this
juncture the coming of Genet and his machinations added greatly to the
embarrassment, and, having no sense of decency, Genet insinuated that the
President had usurped the powers of Congress and that he himself would seek
redress by appealing to the people over the President. I have already stated
that, having tolerated Genet's insults and menaces as far as he deemed
put forth his hand and crushed the spluttering Frenchman like a bubble.
Persons who like to trace the sardonic element in history--the
element which seems to laugh derisively at the ineffectual efforts of us poor
mortals to establish ourselves and lead rational lives in the world as it
is--can find few better examples of it than these early years of the American Republic. In the war which brought about
the independence of the American Colonies, England had been their enemy and
France their friend. Now their instinctive gratitude to France induced many, perhaps a majority of them,
to look with effusive favor on France,
although her character and purpose had quite changed and it was very evident
that for the Americans to side with France would be against sound
policy and common sense. Neutrality, the strictest neutrality, between England and France was therefore the only
rational course; but the American partisans of these rivals did their utmost to
render this unachievable. Much of Washington's
second term see-sawed between one horn and the other of this dilemma. The
sardonic aspect becomes more glaring if we remember that the United States were
a new-born nation which ought to have been devoting itself to establishing
viable relations among its own population and not to have been dissipating its
strength taking sides with neighbors who lived four thousand miles away.
In the autumn of 1793 Jefferson
insisted upon resigning as Secretary of State. Washington used all his persuasiveness to
dissuade him, but in vain. Jefferson saw the
matter in its true light, and insisted. Perhaps it at last occurred to him, as
it must occur to every dispassionate critic, that he could not go on forever
acting as an important member of an administration which pursued a policy
diametrically opposed to his own. After all, even the most adroit politicians
must sometimes sacrifice an offering to candor, not to say honesty. At the end
of the year he retired to the privacy of his home at Monticello, where he remained in seclusion,
not wholly innocuous, until the end of 1796. Edmund Randolph succeeded him as
Secretary of State.
Whether it was owing to the departure of Jefferson from the
Cabinet or not, the fact remains that Washington
concluded shortly thereafter the most difficult diplomatic negotiation of his
career. This was the treaty with England, commonly called Jay's
Treaty. The President wished at first to appoint Hamilton, the ablest member of
the Cabinet, but, realizing that it would be unwise to deprive himself and his
administration of so necessary a supporter, he offered the post to John Jay,
the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The quality, deemed most desirable,
which it was feared Jay might lack, was audacity. But he had discretion, tact,
and urbanity in full share, besides that indefinable something which went with
his being a great gentleman.
The President, writing to Gouverneur Morris, who had recently
been recalled as Minister to France,
My primary objects, to which I have steadily adhered, have
been to preserve the country in peace, if I can, and to be prepared for war if
I cannot, to effect the first, upon terms consistent with the respect which is
due to ourselves, and with honor, justice and good faith to all the world.
Mr. Jay (and not Mr. Jefferson) as has been suggested to
you, embarked as envoy extraordinary for England about the middle of May. If
he succeed, well; if he does not, why, knowing the worst, we must take measures
[Footnote 1: Ford, XII, 436. Mount Vernon, June 25, 1794.]
Jay reached London early in
June, 1794, and labored over the treaty with the British negotiators during the
summer and autumn, started for home before Christmas, and put the finished
document in Washington's
hands in March. From the moment of his going enemies of all kinds talked
bitterly against him. The result must be a foregone conclusion, since John Jay
was regarded as the chief Anglo-maniac in America
They therefore condemned in advance any treaty he might agree to. But their
criticism went deeper than mere hatred of him: it sprang from an inveterate
hatred of England,
which dated from before the Revolution. Since the Treaty of 1783 the English
seemed to act deliberately with studied truculence, as if the Americans would
not and could not retaliate. They were believed to be instigating the Indians
to continuous underhand war. They had reached that dangerous stage of truculence,
when they did not think it mattered whether they spoke with common diplomatic
reticence. Lord Dorchester, the Governor-General of Canada, and to-day better
known as Sir Guy Carleton, his name before they made him a peer, addressed a
gathering of Indian chiefs at Quebec on the assumption that war would come in a
few weeks. President Washington kept steady watch of every symptom, and he knew
that it would not require a large spark to kindle a conflagration. "My
objects are, to prevent a war," he wrote to Edmund Randolph, on April 15,
1794, "if justice can be obtained by fair and strong representations (to
be made by a special envoy) of the injuries which this country has sustained
from Great Britain in various ways, to put it into a complete state of military
defence, and to provide _eventually_ for such measures as seem to be now
pending in Congress for execution, if negotiations in a reasonable time proves
[Footnote 1: Ford, XIII, 4-9.]
The year 1794 marked the sleepless anxiety of the Silent
President. Day and night his thoughts were in London, with Jay. He said little; he had few
letters from Jay--it then required from eight to ten weeks for the mail
clippers to make a voyage across the Atlantic.
Opposition to the general idea of such a treaty as the mass of Republicans and
Anti-Federalists supposed Washington
hoped to secure, grew week by week. The Silent Man heard the cavil and said
At last early in 1795 Jay returned. His Treaty caused an
uproar. The hottest of his enemies found an easy explanation on the ground that
he was a traitor. Stanch Federalists suffered all varieties of mortification.
Washington himself entered into no discussion, but he ruminated over those
which came to him. I am not sure that he invented the phrase "Either the
Treaty, or war," which summed up the alternatives which confronted Jay;
but he used it with convincing emphasis. When it came before the Senate, both
sides had gathered every available supporter, and the vote showed only a
majority of one in its favor. Still, it passed. But that did not satisfy its
pertinacious enemies. Neither were they restrained by the President's
proclamation. The Constitution assigned the duty of negotiating and ratifying
treaties to the President and Senate; but to the perfervid Anti-Britishers the
Constitution was no more than an old cobweb to be brushed away at pleasure. The
Jay Treaty could not be put into effect without money for expenses; all bills
involving money must pass the House of Representatives; therefore, the House
would actually control the operation of the Treaty.
The House at this time was Republican by a marked majority.
In March, 1796, the President laid the matter before the House. In a twinkling
the floodgates of speechifying burst open; the debates touched every aspect of
the question. James Madison, the wise supporter of Washington and Hamilton in
earlier days and the fellow worker on "The Federalist," led the
Democrats in their furious attacks. He was ably seconded by Albert Gallatin,
the high-minded young Swiss doctrinaire from Geneva, a terrible man, in whose head
principles became two-edged weapons with Calvinistic precision and
mercilessness. The Democrats requested the President to let them see the
correspondence in reference to the Treaty during its preparation. This he
wisely declined to do. The Constitution did not recognize their right to make
the demand, and he foresaw that, if granted by him then, it might be used as a
For many weeks the controversy waxed hot in the House.
Scores of speakers hammered at every argument, yet only one speech eclipsed all
the rest, and remains now, after one hundred and thirty years, a paragon. There
are historians who assert that this was the greatest speech delivered in
Congress before Daniel Webster spoke there--an implication which might lead
irreverent critics to whisper that too much reading may have dulled their
discrimination. But fortunately not only the text of the speech remains; we
have also ample evidence of the effect it produced on its hearers. Fisher Ames,
a Representative from Massachusetts,
uttered it. He was a young lawyer, feeble in health, but burning, after the
manner of some consumptives, with intellectual and moral fire which strangely
belied his slender thread of physical life. Ames pictured the horrors which would ensue
if the Treaty were rejected. Quite naturally he assumed the part of a man on
the verge of the grave, which increased the impressiveness of his words. He
spoke for three hours. The members of the House listened with feverish
attention; the crowds in the balconies could not smother their emotion. One
witness reports that Vice-President John Adams sat in the gallery, the tears
running down his cheeks, and that he said to the friend beside him, "My God,
how great he is!"
began, no doubt the Anti-British groups which swelled the audience turned
towards him an unsympathetic if not a scornful attention--they had already
taken a poll of their members, from which it appeared that they could count on
a majority of six to defeat the Treaty. As he proceeded, however, and they
observed how deeply he was moving the audience, they may have had to keep up
their courage by reflecting that speeches in Congress rarely change votes. They
are intended to be read by the public outside, which is not under the spell of
the orator or the crowd. But when Fisher Ames, after what must have seemed to
them a whirlwind speech, closed with these solemn, restrained words, they must
have doubted whether their victory was won:
Even the minutes I have spent in expostulating, have their
value [he said] because they protract the crisis and the short period in which
alone we may resolve to escape it. Yet I have, perhaps, as little personal
interest in the event as any one here. There is, I believe, no member, who will
not think his chance to be a witness of the consequences greater than mine. If,
however, the vote should pass to reject--even I, slender and almost broken as
my hold on life is, may outlive the government and Constitution of my
[Footnote 1: Elson, 359.]
The next day when the vote was taken it appeared that the
Republicans, instead of winning by a majority of six, had lost by three.
The person who really triumphed was George Washington,
although Fisher Ames, who won the immediate victory, deserved undying laurel.
The Treaty had all the objections that its critics brought against it then, but
it had one sterling virtue which outweighed them all. It not only made peace
between the United States
and Great Britain
the normal condition, but it removed the likelihood that the wrangling over
petty matters might lead to war. For many years Washington had a fixed idea
that if the new country could live for twenty years without a conflict with its
chief neighbors, its future would be safe; for he felt that at the end of that
time it would have grown so strong by the natural increase in population and by
the strength that comes from developing its resources, that it need not fear
the attack of any people in the world. The Jay Treaty helped towards this end;
it prevented war for sixteen years only; but even that delay was of great
service to the Americans and made them more ready to face it than they would
have been in 1795.
RETIRES FROM PUBLIC LIFE
The Treaty with England
had scarely been put in operation before the Treaty with France, of which Washington also felt the importance, came to
the front. Monroe
was not an aggressive agent. Perhaps very few civilized Americans could have
filled that position to the satisfaction of his American countrymen. They
wished the French to acknowledge and explain various acts which they qualified
as outrages, whereas the French regarded as glories what they called
grievances. The men of the Directory which now ruled France did not profess the
atrocious methods of the Terrorists, but they could not afford in treating with
a foreigner to disavow the Terrorists. In the summer of '96, Washington,
being dissatisfied with Monroe's
results, recalled him, and sent in his place Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, to
whom President Adams afterwards added John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry, forming
a Commission of three. Some of the President's critics have regarded his
treatment of Monroe
as unfair, and they imply that it was inspired by partisanship. He had always
been an undisguised Federalist, whereas Monroe,
during the past year or more, had followed Jefferson
and become an unswerving Democrat. The publication here of a copy of Monroe's
letter to the French Committee of Public Safety caused a sensation; for he had
asserted that he was not instructed to ask for the repeal of the French decrees
by which the spoliation of American commerce had been practised, and he added
that if the decrees benefited France, the United States would submit not only
with patience but with pleasure. What wonder that Washington,
in reading this letter and taking in the full enormity of Monroe's words, should have allowed himself
the exclamation, "Extraordinary!" What wonder that in due course of
time he recalled Monroe from Paris and replaced him with a man whom he
The settlement of affairs with France
did not come until after Washington
ceased to be President. I will, therefore, say no more about it, except to
refer to the outrageous conduct of the French, who hurried two of the
Commissioners out of France, and, apparently at the instigation of Talleyrand,
declared that they must pay a great deal of money before they made any
arrangement, to which Charles Pinckney made the famous rejoinder,
"Millions for defence, but not one cent for tribute." The
negotiations became so stormy that war seemed imminent. Congress authorized
President Adams to enlist ten thousand men to be put into the field in case of
need, and he wrote to Washington:
"We must have your name, if you will in any case permit us to use it.
There will be more efficacy in it than in many an army." McHenry, the
Secretary of War, wrote: "You see how the storm thickens, and that our
vessel will soon require its ancient pilot. Will you--may we flatter ourselves,
that in a crisis so awful and important, you will accept the command of all our
armies? I hope you will, because you alone can unite all hearts and all hands,
if it is possible that they can be united."
[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 290.]
To President Adams Washington replied on July 4, 1799:
"As my whole life has been dedicated to my country in one shape or
another, for the poor remains of it, it is not an object to contend for ease
and quiet, when all that is valuable is at stake, further than to be satisfied
that the sacrifice I should make of these, is acceptable and desired by my
[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., 291.]
Congress voted to restore for Washington
the rank of Commander-in-Chief, and he agreed with the Secretary of War that
the three Major-Generals should be Alexander Hamilton, Inspector-General;
Charles C. Pinckney, who was still in Europe;
and Henry Knox. But a change came over the passions of France; Napoleon Bonaparte, the new despot who
had taken control of that hysterical republic for himself, was now aspiring to
something higher and larger than the humiliation of the United States
and his menace in that direction ceased.
We need to note two or three events before Washington's term ended because they were
thoroughly characteristic. First of these was the Whiskey Insurrection in
The inhabitants first grew surly, then broke out in insurrection on account of
the Excise Law. They found it cheaper to convert their corn and grain into
whiskey, which could be more easily transported, but the Government insisted
that the Excise Law, being a law, should be obeyed. The malcontents held a
great mass meeting on Braddock's Field, denounced the law and declared that
they would not obey it. Washington
issued a proclamation calling upon the people to resume their peaceable life.
He called also on the Governors of Pennsylvania,
Maryland, New Jersey,
for troops, which they furnished. His right-hand lieutenant was Alexander
Hamilton, who felt quite as keenly as he did himself the importance of putting
down such an insurrection. Washington
knew that if any body of the people were allowed unpunished to rise and disobey
any law which pinched or irritated them, all law and order would very soon go
by the board. His action was one of the great examples in government which he
set the people of the United
States. He showed that we must never parley
or haggle with sedition, treason, or lawlessness, but must strike a blow that
cannot be parried, and at once. The Whiskey Insurrectionists may have imagined
that they were too remote to be reached in their western wilderness, but he
taught them a most salutary lesson that, as they were in the Union, the power
of the Union could and would reach them.
One of the matters which Washington
could not have foreseen was the outrageous abuse of the press, which surpassed
in virulence and indecency anything hitherto known in the United States.
At first the journalistic thugs took care not to vilify Washington personally, but, as they became
more outrageous, they spared neither him nor his family. Freneau, Bache, and
Giles were among the most malignant of these infamous men; and most suspicious
is it that two of them at least were proteges of Thomas Jefferson. Once, when
the attack was particularly atrocious, and the average citizen might well be
excused if he believed that Jefferson wrote it, Jefferson, unmindful of the
full bearing of the French proverb, _Qui s'excuse s'accuse_, wrote to
Washington exculpating himself and protesting that he was not the author of
that particular attack, and added that he had never written any article of that
kind for the press. Many years later the editor of that newspaper, one of the
most shameless of the malignants, calmly reported in a batch of reminiscences
that Jefferson did contribute many of the most
flagrant articles. Senator Lodge, in commenting on this affair, caustically
remarks: "Strict veracity was not the strongest characteristic of either
Freneau or Jefferson, and it is really of but little consequence whether
Freneau was lying in his old age or in the prime of life."
[Footnote 1: Lodge, II, 223.]
An unbiassed searcher after truth to-day will find that the
circumstantial evidence runs very strongly against Jefferson.
He brought Freneau over from New York to Philadelphia, he knew the
sort of work that Freneau would and could do, he gave him an office in the
State Department, he probably discussed the topics which the "National
Gazette" was to take up, and he probably read the proof of the articles
which that paper was to publish. In his animosities the cloak of charity
neither became him nor fitted him.
Several years later, when Bache's paper, the "Aurora," printed some material which Washington's enemies hoped would damage him, Jefferson
again took alarm and wrote to Washington
to free himself from blame. To him, the magnanimous President replied in part:
If I had entertained any suspicions before, that the
queries, which have been published in Bache's paper, proceeded from you, the
assurances you have given of the contrary would have removed them; but the
truth is, I harbored none. I am at no loss to _conjecture_ from what source
they flowed, through what channel they were conveyed, and for what purpose they
and similar publications appear. They were known to be in the hands of Mr.
Parker in the early part of the last session of Congress. They were shown about
by Mr. Giles during the session, and they made their public exhibition about
the close of it.
Perceiving and probably hearing, that no abuse in the
gazettes would induce me to take notice of anonymous publications against me,
those, who were disposed to do me _such friendly offices_, have embraced
without restraint every opportunity to weaken the confidence of the people;
and, by having the whole game in their hands, they have scrupled not to publish
things that do not, as well as those which do exist, and to mutilate the
latter, so as to make them subserve the purposes which they have in view.
[Footnote 1: Ford, XIII, 229.]
opinion of the scurrilous crusade against him, he expressed in the following
letter to Henry Lee:
But in what will this abuse terminate? For the result, as it
respects myself, I care not; for I have a consolation within that no earthly
efforts can deprive me of, and that is, that neither ambition nor interested
motives have influenced my conduct. The arrows of malevolence, therefore,
however barbed and well pointed, never can reach the most vulnerable part of
me; though, whilst I am up as a mark, they will be continually aimed. The
publications in Freneau's and Bache's papers are outrages in that style in
proportion as their pieces are treated with contempt and are passed by in
silence by those at whom they are aimed. The tendency of them, however, is too
obvious to be mistaken by men of cool and dispassionate minds, and, in my
opinion, ought to alarm them, because it is difficult to prescribe bounds to
[Footnote 1: Lodge, II, 236.]
By his refusal to take notice of these indecencies, Washington set a high
example. In other countries, in France
for example, the victims of such abuse resorted to duels with their abusers: a
very foolish and inadequate practice, since it happened as often as not that
the aggrieved person was killed. In taking no notice of the calumnies,
therefore, Washington prevented the President
of the United States
from being drawn into an unseemly duel. We cannot fail to recognize also that Washington was very
sensitive to the maintenance of freedom of speech. He seems to have acted on
the belief that it was better that occasionally license should degenerate into
abuse than that liberty should be suppressed. He was the President of the first
government in the world which did not control the utterances of its people.
Perhaps he may have supposed that their patriotism would restrain them from
excesses, and there can be no doubt that the insane gibes of the Freneaus and
the Baches gave him much pain because they proved that those scorpions were not
up to the level which the new Nation offered them.
As the time for the conclusion of Washington's second term drew near, he left
no doubt as to his intentions. Though some of his best friends urged him to
stand for reelection, he firmly declined. He felt that he had done enough for
his country in sacrificing the last eight years to it. He had seen it through
its formative period, and had, he thought, steered it into clear, quiet water,
so that there was no threatening danger to demand his continuance at the helm.
Many persons thought that he was more than glad to be relieved of the
increasing abuse of the scurrilous editors. No doubt he was, but we can hardly
agree that merely for the sake of that relief he would abandon his Presidential
post. But does it not seem more likely that his unwillingness to convert the
Presidency into a life office, and so to give the critics of the American
experiment a valid cause for opposition, led him to establish the precedent
that two terms were enough? More than once in the century and a quarter since
he retired in 1797, over-ambitious Presidents have schemed to win a third
election and flattering sycophants have encouraged them to believe that they
could attain it. But before they came to the test Washington's example--"no more than
two"--has blocked their advance. In this respect also we must admit that
he looked far into the future and saw what would be best for posterity. The
second term as it has proved is bad enough, diverting a President during his
first term to devote much of his energy and attention to setting traps to
secure the second. It might be better to have only one term to last six years,
instead of four, which would enable a President to give all his time to the
duties of his office, instead of giving a large part of it to the chase after a
As soon as Washington
determined irrevocably to retire, he began thinking of the "Farewell
Address" which he desired to deliver to his countrymen as the best legacy
he could bequeath. Several years before he had talked it over with Madison,
with whom he was then on very friendly terms, and Madison had drafted a good
deal of it. Now he turned to Hamilton,
giving him the topics as far as they had been outlined, and bidding him to
rewrite it if he thought it desirable. In September, 1796, Washington read the "Address"
before the assembled Congress.
The "Farewell Address" belongs among the few
supreme utterances on human government. Its author seems to be completely
detached from all personal or local interests. He tries to see the thing as it
is, and as it is likely to be in its American environment. His advice applies
directly to the American people, and only in so far as what he says has in a
large sense human pertinence do we find in it more than a local application.
"Be united" is the summary and inspiration of the
entire "Address." "Be united and be American"; as an
individual each person must feel himself most strongly an American. He urges
against the poisonous effects of parties. He warns against the evils that may
arise when parties choose different foreign nations for their favorites.
The great rule of conduct for us [he says] in regard to
foreign Nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as
little _Political_ connection as possible. So far as we have already formed
engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.
Europe has a set of primary
interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be
engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign
to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate
ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, ...
Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to
pursue a different course. If we remain one People, under an efficient
government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from
external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the
neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected. When
belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us,
will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation when we may choose peace or
war, as our interest guided by justice shall counsel.
Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why
quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny
with that of any part of Europe, entangle our
peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest,
humour or caprice?
Compared with Machiavelli's "Prince," which must
come to the mind of every one who reads the "Farewell Address," one
sees at once that the "Prince" is more limber, it may be more
spontaneous, but the great difference between the two is in their fundamental
conception. The "Address" is frankly a preachment and much of its
impressiveness comes from that fact. The "Prince," on the other hand,
has little concern with the moral aspect of politics discussed and makes no pretence
of condemning immoral practices or making itself a champion of virtue. In other
addresses an audience which had passed through the Puritan Revolution, while
Machiavelli spoke to men who were familiar with the ideals and crimes of the
spread his gospel so clearly that all persons were sure to learn and inwardly
digest it, and many of them assented to it in their minds, although they did
not follow it In their conduct. His paramount exhortations--"Be
united"--"Be Americans"; "do not be drawn into
complications with foreign powers"--at times had a very real living
pertinence. The only doctrine which still causes controversy is that which
touches our attitude towards foreign countries. During the late World War we
heard it revived, and a great many persons who had never read the
"Farewell Address" gravely reminded us of Washington's warning against
"entangling alliances." As a matter of fact, that phrase does not
appear in the "Farewell Address" at all. It was first used by Thomas
Jefferson in his first Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801, sixteen months after Washington was dead and
buried. No doubt the meaning could be deduced from what Washington said in more than one passage of
his "Farewell." But to understand in 1914 what he said or implied in
1796, we must be historical. In 1796 the country was torn by conflicting
parties for and against strong friendship, if not an actual alliance, between
the United States on one
side and Great Britain or France
on the other. Any foreign alliance that could be made in 1914, however, could
not have been, for the same reason, with either Great
Britain or France. The aim proposed by its
advocates was to curb and destroy the German domination of the world. Now Washington was almost if
not quite the most actual of modern statesmen. All his arrangements at a given
moment were directed at the needs and likelihood of the moment, and in 1914 he
would have planned as 1914 demanded. He would have steered his ship by the wind
that blew then and not by the wind that had blown and vanished one hundred and
twenty years before.
Some one has remarked that, while Washington achieved a great victory in the
ratification of the Jay Treaty, that event broke up the Federalist Party. That
is probably inexact, but the break-up of the Federalist Party was taking place
during the last years of Washington's
second administration. The changes in Washington's
Cabinet were most significant, especially as they nearly all meant the change
from a more important to a less important Secretary. Thus John Jay, the first
Secretary of State, really only an incumbent _ad interim_, gave way to Thomas
Jefferson, who was replaced by Edmund Randolph in 1794, and who in turn was
succeeded by Timothy Pickering in 1795. Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of the
Treasury from the beginning in 1789 to 1795, when he made way for Oliver
Wolcott, Jr. Henry Knox, the original Secretary of War, was succeeded by
Timothy Pickering in 1795, who, after less than a year, was followed by James
McHenry. Edmund Randolph served as Attorney-General in 1789 to 1794, then
retiring for William Bradford who, after a brief year, was replaced by Charles
Lee. The Postmaster-Generalship was filled from 1789 to 1791 by Samuel Osgood,
and then by Timothy Pickering. Thus at the end of Washington's eight years we
find that in the place of two really eminent men, like Jefferson and Hamilton,
he was served by Edmund Randolph and Oliver Wolcott, Jr., and James McHenry,
good routine men at the best, mediocrities if judged by comparison with their
predecessors. Moreover, the reputation for discretion of some of them,
suffered. Thus Randolph had not long been
Secretary of State when Joseph Fauchet, the French Minister, produced some
papers which could be construed as implying that Randolph had accepted money. Randolph was known to be impecunious, but his
personal honor had never been suspected. Washington
with characteristic candor sent Randolph
the batch of incriminating letters. Randolph
protested that he "forgave" the President and tried to exculpate
himself in the newspapers. Even that process of deflation did not suffice and
he had recourse to a "Vindication," which was read by few and
popularly believed to vindicate nobody. Washington
is believed to have held Randolph
as guiltless, but as weak and as indiscreet. He pitied the ignominy, for Randolph had been in a way Washington's protege, whose career had much
interested him and whose downfall for such a cause was doubly poignant.
term as President ended at noon on March 4, 1797. He was present at the
inauguration of President John Adams which immediately followed. On the 3d,
besides attending to the final necessary routine, he wrote several letters of
farewell to his immediate friends, including Henry Knox, Jonathan Trumbull,
Timothy Pickering, and James McHenry. To all he expressed his grief at personal
parting, but also immense relief and happiness in concluding his public career.
He said, for instance, in his letter to Trumbull:
Although I shall resign the chair of government without a
single regret, or any desire to intermeddle in politics again, yet there are
many of my compatriots, among whom be assured I place you, from whom I shall
part sorrowing; because, unless I meet with them at Mount Vernon, it is not
likely that I shall ever see them more, as I do not expect that I shall ever be
twenty miles from it, after I am tranquilly settled there. To tell you how glad
I should be to see you at that place is unnecessary. To this I will add that it
would not only give me pleasure, but pleasure also to Mrs. Washington, and
others of the family with whom you are acquainted, and who all unite, in every
good wish for you and yours.
[Footnote 1: Ford, XIII, 377.]
In a few days he returned to Mount Vernon and there indulged himself in a
leisurely survey of the plantation. He rode from one farm to another and
reacquainted himself with the localities where the various crops were either
already springing or would soon be. Indoors there was an immense volume of
correspondence to be attended to with the aid of Tobias Lear, the faithful
secretary who had lived with the President during the New
York and Philadelphia
periods. When the letters were sorted, many answers had to be written, some of
dictated and others he wrote with his own hand. He admits to Secretary McHenry
that, when he goes to his writing table to acknowledge the letters he has
received, when the lights are brought, he feels tired and disinclined to do
this work, conceiving that the next night will do as well. "The next night
comes," he adds, "and with it the same causes for postponement, and
so on." He has not had time to look into a book. He is dazed by the
incessant number of new faces which appear at Mount Vernon. They come, he says, out of
"respect" for him, but their real reason is curiosity. He practises
Virginian hospitality very lavishly, but he cannot endure the late hours. So he
invites his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, to spend as much time as he can at Mount Vernon while he
himself and Mrs. Washington go to bed early, "soon after candle
light." Lewis accepted the invitation all the more willingly because he
found at the mansion Nelly Custis, a pretty and sprightly young lady with whom
he promptly fell in love and married later. Nelly and her brother George had
been adopted by Washington
and brought up in the family. She was his particular pet. Like other mature men
he found the boys of the younger generation somewhat embarrassing. I suppose
they felt, as well they might, a great and awful gulf yawning between them.
"I can govern men," he would say, "but I cannot govern
boys." With Nelly Custis, however, he found it easy to be chums. No one
can forget the mock-serious letter in which he wrote to her in regard to
becoming engaged and gave her advice about falling in love. The letter is
unexpected and yet it bears every mark of sincerity and reveals a genuine vein
in his nature. We must always think of Nelly as one of the refreshments of his
older life and as one of its great delights. He considered himself an old man
now. His hair no longer needed powder; years and cares had made it white. He
spoke of himself without affectation as a very old man, and apparently he often
thought, as he was engaged in some work, "this is the last time I shall do
this." He seems to have taken it for granted that he was not to live long;
but this neither slackened his industry nor made him gloomy. And he had in
truth spent a life of almost unremitting laboriousness. Those early years as
surveyor and Indian fighter and pathfinder were years of great hardships. The
eight years of the Revolution were a continuous physical strain, an unending
responsibility, and sometimes a bodily deprivation. And finally his last service
as President had brought him disgusts, pinpricks which probably wore more on
his spirits than did the direct blows of his opponents. Very likely he felt old
in his heart of hearts, much older than his superb physical form betokened. We
cannot but rejoice that Nelly Custis flashed some of the joyfulness and divine
insouciance of youth into the tired heart of the tired great man.
[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 277.]
Perhaps the best offhand description of Washington
in these later days is that given by an English actor, Bernard, who happened to
be driving near Mount Vernon
when a carriage containing a man and a woman was upset. Bernard dismounted to
give help, and presently another rider came up and joined in the work. "He
was a tall, erect, well-made man, evidently advanced in years, but who appeared
to have retained all the vigor and elasticity resulting from a life of
temperance and exercise. His dress was a blue coat buttoned to the chin, and
buckskin breeches." They righted the chaise, harnessed the horse, and
revived the young woman who, true to her time and place, had fainted. Then she
and her companion drove off towards Alexandria.
invited Bernard to come home with him and rest during the heat of the day. The
actor consented. From what the actor subsequently wrote about that chance
meeting I take the following paragraphs, some of which strike to the quick:
[Footnote 1: Lodge, II, 277.]
In conversation his face had not much variety of expression.
A look of thoughtfulness was given by the compression of the mouth and the
indentations of the brow (suggesting an habitual conflict with, and mastery
over, passion), which did not seem so much to disdain a sympathy with
trivialities as to be incapable of denoting them. Nor had his voice, so far as
I could discover in our quiet talk, much change or richness of intonation, but
he always spoke with earnestness, and his eyes (glorious conductors of the
light within) burned with a steady fire which no one could mistake for mere
affability; they were one grand expression of the well-known line: "I am a
man, and interested in all that concerns humanity." In one hour and a
half's conversation he touched on every topic that I brought before him with an
even current of good sense, if he embellished it with little wit or verbal
elegance. He spoke like a man who had felt as much as he had reflected, more
than he had spoken; like one who had looked upon society rather in the mass
than in detail, and who regarded the happiness of America but as the first link
in a series of universal victories; for his full faith in the power of those
results of civil liberty which he saw all around him led him to foresee that it
would erelong, prevail in other countries and that the social millennium of
Europe would usher in the political. When I mentioned to him the difference I
perceived between the inhabitants of New England and of the Southern States, he
remarked: "I esteem those people greatly, they are the stamina of the Union and its greatest benefactors. They are continually
spreading themselves too, to settle and enlighten less favored quarters. Dr.
Franklin is a New Englander." When I remarked that his observations were
flattering to my country, he replied, with great good humor, "Yes, yes,
Mr. Bernard, but I consider your country the cradle of free principles, not
their armchair. Liberty in England is a
sort of idol; people are bred up in the belief and love of it, but see little
of its doings. They walk about freely, but then it is between high walls; and
the error of its government was in supposing that after a portion of their
subjects had crossed the sea to live upon a common, they would permit their
friends at home to build up those walls about them."
[Footnote 1: Lodge, II, 338, 339.]
We find among the allusions of several strangers who
travelled in Virginia in Washington's
later days, who saw him or perhaps even stayed at Mount Vernon, some which are not
complimentary. More than one story implies that he was a hard taskmaster, not
only with the negroes, but with the whites. Some of the writers go out of their
way to pick up unpleasant things. For instance, during his absence from home a
mason plastered some of the rooms, and when Washington returned he found the work had
been badly done, and remonstrated. The mason died. His widow married another
mason, who advertised that he would pay all claims against his forerunner.
put in a claim for fifteen shillings, which was paid. Washington's detractors used this as a
strong proof of his harshness. But they do not inform us whether the man was
unable to pay, or whether the claim was dishonest. Since the man paid
voluntarily and did not question the lightness of the amount, may we not at
least infer that he had no quarrel? And if he had not, who else had?
Insinuations concerning Washington's lack of sympathy for his slaves
was a form which in later days most of the references to his care of them took.
But here also there are evident facts to be taken into account. The
Abolitionists very naturally were prejudiced against every slave-owner; they
were also prejudiced in favor of every slave. Washington, on the contrary, harbored no
prepossessions for or against the black man. He found the slaves idle,
incompetent, lazy, although he would not have denied that the very fact of
slavery caused and increased these evils. He treated the negroes justly, but
without any sentimentality. He found them in the order in which he lived. They
were the workmen of his plantation; he provided them with food, clothing, and a
lodging; in return they were expected to give him their labor. It does not
appear that the slaves on Washington's
plantation endured any special hardship. A physician attended them at their
master's expense when they were sick. That he obliged them to do their specified
work, that he punished them in case of dishonesty, just as he would have done
to white workmen, were facts which he never would have thought a rational
person would have regarded as heinous. In his will he freed his slaves, not for
the Abolitionist's reason, but because he regarded slavery as the most
pernicious form of labor, debasing alike the slave and his master, uneconomic
and most wasteful.
But in so general a matter as Washington's treatment of his slaves, we
must be careful not to take a solitary case and argue from it as if it were
habitual. By common report his slaves were so well treated that they regretted
it if there was talk of transferring them to other planters. We have many
instances cited which show his unusual kindness. When he found, for instance,
that a mulatto woman, who had lived many years with one of the negroes, had
been transferred to another part of his domain and that the negro pined for
her, he arranged to have her brought back so that they might pass their old age
together. The old negro was his servant, Billy Lee, who suffered an accident to
his knee, which made him a cripple for the rest of his life. This he spent at Mount Vernon well cared
continued to the end the old custom of supplying a hogshead of rum for the
negroes to drink at harvest time, always premising that they must partake of it
religious beliefs and practices have also occasioned much controversy. If we
accept his own statements at their plain value, we must regard him as a Church
of England man. I do not discover that he was in any sense an ardent believer.
He preferred to say "Providence"
rather than "God," probably because it was less definite. He attended
divine service on Sundays, whenever a church was near, but for a considerable
period at one part of his life he did not attend communion. He thoroughly
believed in the good which came from church-going in the army and he always
arranged to have a service on Sundays during his campaigns. When at Mount Vernon, on days
when he did not go out to the service, he spent several hours alone in
meditation in his study. The religious precepts which he had been taught in
childhood remained strong in him through life. He believed moral truths, and
belief with him meant putting in practice what he professed. While he had
imbibed much of the deistic spirit of the middle of the eighteenth century it
would be inaccurate to infer that he was not fundamentally a Christian.
After Washington withdrew
to Mount Vernon,
early in the spring of 1797, his time was chiefly devoted to agriculture and
the renewing of his life as a planter. He declined all public undertakings
except that which President Adams begged him to assume--the supreme command of
the army in case of the expected war with France. That new duty undoubtedly
was good for him, for it proved to him that at least all his official relations
with the Government had not ceased, and it also served to cheer the people of
the country to know that in case of military trouble their old commander would
lead them once more. Washington gave so much
attention to this work, which could be in the earlier stages arranged at Mount Vernon, that he
felt justified in accepting part of the salary which the President allotted to
him. But the war did not come. As Washington
prophesied, the French thought better of their truculence. The new genius who
was ruling France had in
mind something more grandiose than a war with the American Republic.
On December 10, 1799, Washington
sent a long letter to James Anderson in regard to agricultural plans for his
farm during the year 1800. He calculates closely the probable profits, and
specifies the rotation of crops on five hundred and twenty-five acres. The next
day, December 12th, he wrote a short note to Alexander Hamilton, in regard to
the organization of a National
a matter in which the President had long been deeply interested. The day was
stormy. "Morning snowing and about three inches drop. Wind at Northeast,
and mercury at 30. Continued snowing till one o'clock, and about four it became
perfectly clear. Wind in the same place, but not hard. Mercury 28 at
night." Washington, who scorned to take any account of weather, rode for
five hours during the morning to several of the farms on his plantations,
examining the conditions at each and conferring with the overseers.
On reaching home he complained a little of chilliness. His
secretary, Tobias Lear, observed that he feared he had got wet, but Washington protested
that his greatcoat had kept him dry; in spite of which the observant Lear saw
snow hanging to his hair and remarked that his neck was wet. Washington went in to dinner, which was
waiting, without changing his dress, as he usually did. "In the evening he
appeared as well as usual. The next day, Friday, there was a heavy fall of
snow, but having a severe cold, he went out for only a little while to mark
some trees, between the house and the river which were to be cut down. During
the day his hoarseness increased, but he made light of it, and paid no heed to
the suggestion that he should take something for it, only replying, as was his
custom, that he would 'let it go as it came.'"
went upstairs to a room on the floor above to chat with Mrs. Lewis (Nelly
Custis) who had recently been confined. Washington
remained in the parlor with Lear, and when the evening mail was brought in from
the post-office, they read the newspapers; Washington even reading aloud, as well as
his sore throat would allow, anything "which he thought diverting or
interesting." Then Lear read the debates of the Virginia Assembly on the
election of a Senator and Governor. "On hearing Mr. Madison's observations
respecting Mr. Monroe, he appeared much affected, and spoke with some degree of
asperity on the subject, which I endeavored to moderate," says Lear,
"as I always did on such occasions. On his returning to bed, he appeared
to be in perfect health, excepting the cold before mentioned, which he
considered as trifling, and had been remarkably cheerful all the evening."
At between two and three o'clock of Saturday morning,
December 14th, Washington awoke Mrs. Washington and told her
that he was very unwell and had had an ague. She observed that he could hardly
speak and breathed with difficulty. She wished to get up to call a servant, but
he, fearing she might take cold, dissuaded her. When daylight appeared, the
woman Caroline came and lighted the fire. Mrs. Washington
sent her to summon Mr. Lear, and Washington
asked that Mr. Rawlins, one of the overseers, should be summoned before the
Doctor could arrive. Lear got up at once, dressed hastily, and went to the
General's bedside. Lear wrote a letter to Dr. Craik, Washington's longtime friend and physician,
and sent it off post-haste by a servant. Mrs. Washington was up. They prepared a mixture
of molasses, vinegar, and butter, but the patient could not swallow a drop;
whenever he attempted it he appeared to be distressed, convulsed, and almost
"Mr. Rawlins came in soon after sunrise and prepared to
bleed him. When the arm was ready, the General, observing that Rawlins appeared
to be agitated, said, as well as he could speak, 'Don't be afraid,' and after
the incision was made, he observed, 'The orifice is not large enough,' However,
the blood ran pretty freely. Mrs. Washington, not knowing whether bleeding was
proper or not in the General's situation, begged that much might not be taken
from him, lest it should be injurious, and desired me to stop it; but when I
was about to untie the string, the General put up his hand to prevent it, and
as soon as he could speak, he said, 'More.' Mrs. Washington being still very uneasy, lest too
much blood should be taken, it was stopped after about half a pint was taken
"Finding that no relief was obtained from bleeding, and
that nothing would go down the throat, I proposed bathing the throat externally
with salvolatile which was done; during the operation, which was with the hand,
in the gentlest manner, he observed, ''Tis very sore.' A piece of flannel
dipped in salvolatile was then put round his neck. His feet were also bathed in
warm water. This, however, gave no relief. In the meantime, before Dr. Craik
arrived, Mrs. Washington
requested me to send for Dr. Brown, of Port Tobacco, whom Dr. Craik had
recommended to be called, if any case should ever occur that was seriously
alarming. I despatched a Messenger (Cyrus) to Dr. Brown immediately (between
eight and nine o'clock). Dr. Craik came in soon after, and after examining the
General, he put a blister of Cantharide on the throat and took some more blood
from him, and had some Vinegar and hot water put into a Teapot for the General
to draw in the steam from the nozel, which he did as well as he was able. He
also ordered sage tea and Vinegar to be mixed for a Gargle. This the General
used as often as desired; but when he held back his head to let it run down, it
put him into great distress and almost produced suffocation. When the mixture
came out of his mouth some phlegm followed it, and he would attempt to cough,
which the Doctor encouraged him to do as much as he could; but without
effect--he could only make the attempt.
"About eleven o'clock, Dr. Dick was sent for. Dr. Craik
requested that Dr. Dick might be sent for, as he feared Dr. Brown would not
come in time. A message was accordingly despatched for him. Dr. Craik bled the
General again about this time. No effect, however, was produced by it, and he
continued in the same state, unable to swallow anything. Dr. Dick came in about
three o'clock, and Dr. Brown arrived soon after. Upon Dr. Dick's seeing the
General, and consulting a few minutes with Dr. Craik, he was bled gain, the
blood ran very slowly and did not produce any symptoms of fainting. Dr. Brown
came Into the chamber room soon after, and upon feeling the General's pulse
&c., the Physicians went out together. Dr. Craik soon after returned. The
General could now swallow a little--about four o'clock Calomel and tartar
emetic were administered; but without any effect. About half past four o'clock,
he desired me to ask Mrs. Washington
to come to his bedside--when he requested her to go down into his room and take
from his desk two wills which she would find there, and bring them to him,
which she did. Upon looking at them he gave her one, which he observed was
useless, as it was superseded by the other, and desired her to burn it, which
she did, and then took the other and put it away into her closet. After this
was done, I returned again to his bedside and took his hand. He said to me, 'I
find I am going, my breath cannot continue long; I believed from the first
attack it would be fatal--do you arrange and record all my late military
letters and papers--arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more
about them than any one else, and let Mr. Rawlins finish recording my other
letters.' He then asked if I recollected anything which it was essential for
him to do, as he had but a very short time to continue with us. I told him that
I could recollect nothing, but that I hoped he was not so near his end. He
observed, smiling, that he certainly was, and that, as it was the debt which we
all must pay, he looked to the event with perfect resignation.
"In the course of the afternoon he appeared to be in
great pain and distress, from the difficulty of breathing, and frequently
changed his posture in the bed. On these occasions I lay upon the bed and
endeavored to raise him, and turn him with as much ease as possible. He
appeared penetrated with gratitude for my attentions, and often said, 'I am afraid
I shall fatigue you too much'; and upon my answering him, that I could feel
nothing but a wish to give him ease, he replied, 'Well, it is a debt we must
pay to each other, and I hope, when you want aid of this kind, you will find
it.' He asked when Mr. Lewis and Washington would return. They were then in
New Kent. I told him I believed about the 20th of the month. He made no reply.
[Footnote 1: George Washington Parke Custis.]
"About five o'clock Dr. Craik came again into the room,
and upon going to the bedside the General said to him: 'Doctor, I die hard, but
I am not afraid to go. I believed, from my first attack, that I should not
survive it. My breath cannot last long.' The Doctor pressed his hand, but could
not utter a word. He retired from the bedside, and sat by the fire absorbed in
grief. The physicians, Dr. Dick and Dr. Brown, again came in (between five and
six o'clock), and when they came to his bedside, Dr. Craik asked him if he
could sit up in the bed. He held out his hand to me and was raised up, when he
said to the Physicians: 'I feel myself going. I thank you for your
attention--you had better not take any more trouble about me; but let me go off
quietly; I cannot last long,' They found out that all which had been done was
of no effect. He lay down again, and all retired except Dr. Craik. He continued
in the same position, uneasy and restless, but without complaining; frequently
asking what hour it was. When I helped to move him at this, he did not speak,
but looked at me with strong expressions of gratitude. The Doctor pressed his
hand, but could not utter a word. He retired from the bedside, and sat by the
fire absorbed in grief. About eight o'clock the Physicians came again into the
Room and applied blisters, and cataplasms of wheat bran, to his legs and feet:
but went out (except Dr. Craik) without a ray of hope. I went out about this
time, and wrote a line to Mr. Low and Mr. Peter requesting them to come with
their wives (Mrs. Washington's
granddaughters) as soon as possible.
"From this time he appeared to breathe with less
difficulty than he had done; but was very restless, constantly changing his
position to endeavor to get ease. I aided him all in my power, and was
gratified in believing he felt it: for he would look upon me with his eyes
speaking gratitude; but unable to utter a word without great distress. About
ten o'clock he made several attempts to speak to me before he could effect it.
At length, he said: 'I am just going. Have me decently buried, and do not let
my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead.' I bowed
assent, for I could not speak. He then looked at me again, and said, 'Do you
understand me?' I replied, 'Yes, sir.'
"''Tis well,' said he. About ten minutes before he
expired his breathing became much easier; he lay quietly; he withdrew his hand
from mine and felt his own pulse. I spoke to Dr. Craik who sat by the fire; he
came to the bedside. The General's hand fell from his wrist. I took it in mine
and laid it upon my breast. Dr. Craik put his hand on his eyes and he expired
without a struggle or a Sigh! While we were fixed in silent grief, Mrs.
Washington, who was sitting at the foot of the bed, asked, with a firm and
collected voice, 'Is he gone?' I could not speak, but held up my hand as a
signal that he was. ''Tis well,' said she in a plain voice. 'All is now over. I
have no more trials to pass through. I shall soon follow him.'"
[Footnote 1: Ford, XIV, 246-52. I have copied Tobias Lear's
remarkable account of Washington's
death almost verbatim.]
Once read, honest Tobias Lear's account of Washington's death will hardly be forgotten.
It has a majestic simplicity which we feel must have accompanied Washington in his last
hours. The homely sick-bed details; his grim fortitude; his willingness to do
everything which the physicians recommended, not because he wanted to live, nor
because he thought they would help him, but because he wished to obey. We see
him there trying to force out the painful words from his constricted throat and
when he was unable to whisper even a "thank you" for some service
done, Lear read the unuttered gratitude in his eyes. The faithful Lear, lying
on the outside of the bed in order to be able to help turn Washington with less
pain, and poor old Dr. Craik, lifelong friend, who became too moved to speak,
so that he sat off near the fire in silence except for a stifled sob, and Mrs.
Washington, placed near the foot of the bed, waiting patiently in complete
self-control. She seemed to have determined that the last look which her mate
of forty years had of her should not portray helpless grief. And from time to
time the negro slaves came to the door that led into the entry and they peered
into the room very reverently, and with their emotions held in check, at their
dying master. And then there was a ceasing of the pain and the breathing became
easier and quieter and Dr. Craik placed his hand over the life-tired eyes and Washington was dead
without a struggle or even a sigh.
The pathos or tragedy of it lies in the fact that all the
devices and experiments of the doctors could avail nothing. The quinsy sore
throat which killed him could not be cured by any means then known to medical
art. The practice of bleeding, which by many persons was thought to have killed
him, was then so widely used that his doctors would have been censured If they
had omitted it. Sixty years later it was still in use, and no one can doubt
that it deprived Italy's
great statesman of his chance of living. The premonition of Washington on his first seizure with the
quinsy that the end had come proved fatally true.
The news of Washington's
death did not reach the capital until Wednesday, December 18th. The House
immediately adjourned. On the following day, when it reassembled, John Marshall
delivered a brief tribute and resolutions were passed to attend the funeral and
to pay honor "to the memory of the Man, first in war, first in peace, and
first in the hearts of his countrymen," The immortal phrase was by Colonel
Henry Lee, the father of General Robert E. Lee. President Adams, in response to
a letter from the Senate of the United
States, used the less happy phrase, "If
a Trajan found a Pliny, a Marcus Aurelius can never want biographers,
eulogists, or historians."
During the days immediately following Washington's
death, preparations were made at Mount
Vernon for the funeral. They sent to Alexandria for a coffin and Dr. Dick measured
the body, which he found to be exactly six feet three and one half inches in
length. The family vault was on the slope of the hill, a little to the south of
the house. Mrs. Washington desired that a door should be made for the vault
instead of having it closed up as formerly, after the body should be deposited,
observing that "it will soon be necessary to open it again." Mourning
clothes were prepared for the family and servants. The ceremony took place on
Wednesday. There were many troops. Eleven pieces of artillery were brought down
from Alexandria and a schooner belonging to Mr.
R. Hamilton came down and lay off Mount
Vernon to fire minute guns. The pall-holders were
Colonels Little, Charles Sims, Payne, Gilpin, Ramsay, and Marsteller, and
Colonel Blackburne walked before the corpse. Colonel Deneal marched with the
military. About three o'clock the procession began to move. Colonels Little,
Sims and Deneal and Dr. Dick directed the arrangements of the procession. This
moved out through the gate at the left wing of the house and proceeded around
in front of the lawn and down to the vault on the right wing of the house. The procession
was as follows: The troops; horse and foot; music playing a solemn dirge with
muffled drums; the clergy, viz.: the Reverends Mr. Davis, Mr. James Miner, and
Mr. Moffatt, and Mr. Addison; the General's horse, with his saddle, holsters,
and pistols, led by two grooms, Cyrus and Wilson, in black; the body borne by
officers and Masons who insisted upon carrying it to the grave; the principal
mourners, viz.: Mrs. Stuart and Mrs. Low, Misses Nancy and Sally Stuart, Miss
Fairfax, and Miss Dennison, Mr. Low and Mr. Peter, Dr. Craik and T. Lear; Lord
Fairfax and Ferdinando Fairfax; Lodge No. 23; Corporation of Alexandria. All
other persons, preceded by Mr. Anderson, Mr. Rawlins, the Overseers, etc., etc.
The Reverend Mr. Davis read the service and made a short
extempore speech. The Masons performed their ceremonies and the body was
deposited in the vault. All then returned to the house and partook of some
refreshment, and dispersed with the greatest good order and regularity. The
remains of the provisions were distributed among the blacks. Mr. Peter, Dr.
Craik, and Dr. Thornton tarried here all night.
[Footnote 1: From notes by T. Lear, Ford, XIV, 254-55.]
The Committee appointed by Congress to plan a suitable
memorial for Washington proposed a monument to
be erected in the city of Washington, to be
adorned with statuary symbolizing his career as General and as President, and
containing a tomb for himself and for Mrs. Washington. The latter replied to President
Adams that "taught by the great example which I have so long had before
me, never to oppose my private wishes to the public will, I must consent to the
request made by Congress, which you have had the goodness to transmit me, and
in doing this, I need not say, I cannot say, what a sacrifice of individual
feeling I make to a sense of public duty." The intended monument at the
capital was never erected. Martha Washington lies beside her husband where she
wished to be, in the family vault at Mount
Vernon. From her chamber window in the upper story of
the Mount Vernon
house she could look across the field to the vault. She died in 1802, a woman
of rare discretion and good sense who, during forty years, proved herself the
worthiest companion of the founder of his country.
I have wished to write this biography of George Washington
so that it would explain itself. There is no need of eulogy. All eulogy is
superfluous. We see the young Virginia
boy, born in aristocratic conditions, with but a meagre education, but trained
by the sports and rural occupations of his home in perfect manliness, in
courage, in self-reliance, in resourcefulness. Some one instilled into him
moral precepts which fastened upon his young conscience and would not let him
go. At twenty he was physically a young giant capable of enduring any hardship
and of meeting any foe. He ran his surveyor's chain far into the wilderness to
the west of Mount Vernon.
When hardly a man in age, the State of Virginia
knew of his qualities and made him an officer in its militia. At only
twenty-three he was invited to accompany General Braddock's staff, but neither
he nor angels from heaven could prevent Braddock from plunging with typical
British bull-headedness into the fatal Indian ambush. He gave up border
warfare, but did not cease to condemn the inadequacy of the Virginia military equipment and its
training. He devoted himself to the pursuits of a large planter, and on being
elected a Burgess, he attended regularly the sessions at Williamsburg. Wild conditions which in his
boyhood had reached almost to Fauquier
County, had drifted
rapidly westward. Within less than ten years of Braddock's defeat, Fort Duquesne
had become permanently English and the name of Pittsburgh
reminded men of the great British statesman who had urged on the fateful
British encroachment on the Ohio River. For Washington in person, the lasting effect of the early
training and fighting in western Pennsylvania
was that it gave him direct knowledge of the Indian and his ways, and that it
turned his imagination to thinking out the problem of developing the Middle West, and of keeping the connections between the
East and the West strong and open.
In the House of Burgesses Washington was a taciturn member, yet he
seemed to have got a great deal of political knowledge and wisdom so that his
colleagues thought of him as the solid man of the House and they referred many
matters to him as if for final decision. He followed political affairs in the
newspapers. Above all, at Mount
Vernon he heard all sides from the guests who passed
his domain and enjoyed his hospitality. From the moment that the irritation
between Great Britain
and the Colonies became bitter he seems to have made up his mind that the
contention of the Colonists was just. After that he never wavered, but he was
not a sudden or a shallow clamorer for Independence.
He believed that the sober second sense of the British would lead them to
perceive that they had made a mistake. When at length the Colonies had to
provide themselves with an army and to undertake a war, he was the only candidate
seriously considered for General, although John Hancock, who had made his
peacock way so successfully in many walks of life, thought that he alone was
worthy of the position. Who shall describe Washington's life as Commander-in-Chief of
the Colonial forces during the Revolutionary War? What other commander ever had
a task like his? For a few weeks the troops led by Napoleon--the barefooted and
ragged heroes of Lodi
and Arcola and Marengo--were equally destitute, but victory brought them food
and clothes and prosperity. Whereas Washington's
men had no comfort before victory and none after it.
Some of the military critics to-day deny Washington's right to be ranked among the
great military commanders of the world, but the truth is that he commanded during
nearly eight years and won one of the supreme crucial wars of history against
far superior forces. The General who did that was no understrapper. The man
whose courage diffused itself among the ten thousand starving soldiers at Valley Forge, and enabled them to endure against the
starvation and distress of a winter, may very well fail to be classified among
the Prince Ruperts and the Marshal Neys of battle, but he ranks first in a
higher class. His Fabian policy, which troubled so many of his contemporaries,
saved the American Revolution. His title as General is secure. Nor should we
forget that it was his scrupulous patriotism which prevented the cropping out
of militarism in this country.
Finally, a country which owed its existence to him chose him
to be for eight years its first President. He saw the planting of the roots of
the chief organs of its government. In every act he looked far forward into the
future. He shunned making or following evil precedents. He endured the most
virulent personal abuse that has ever been poured out on American public men,
preferring that to using the power which his position gave him, and denaturing
the President into a tyrant. Nor should we fail to honor him for his insistence
on dignity and a proper respect for his office. His enemies sneered at him for
that, but we see plainly how much it meant to this new Nation to have such
qualities exemplified. Had Thomas Jefferson been our first President in his
_sans-culotte_ days, our Government might not have outlasted the _sans-culottist_
enthusiasts in France.
A man is known by his friends. The chosen friends of Washington
were among the best of his time in America. Hamilton, Henry Knox,
Nathanael Greene, John Jay, John Marshall--these were some.
was less learned than many of the men of his time in political theory and
history, he excelled them all in a concrete application of principles. He had
the widest acquaintance among men of different sorts. He heard all opinions,
but never sacrificed his own. As I have said earlier, he was the most _actual_
statesman of his time; the people in Virginia
came very early to regard him as a man apart; this was true of the later days
when the Government sat in New York and Philadelphia. If they
sought a reason, they usually agreed that Washington excelled by his character, and if
you analyze most closely you will never get deeper than that. Reserved he was,
and not a loose or glib talker, but he always showed his interest and gave
close attention. After Yorktown, when the United
States proclaimed to the world that they were an
independent Republic, Europe recognized that
this was indeed a Republic unlike all those which had preceded it during
antiquity and the Middle Age. Foreigners doubted that it could exist. They
doubted that Democracy could ever govern a nation. They knew despots, like the
Prussian King, Frederic, who walked about the streets of Berlin and used his walking-stick on the
cringing persons whom he passed on the sidewalk and did not like the looks of.
They remembered the crazy Czar, Peter, and they knew about the insane
tendencies of the British sovereign, George. The world argued from these and
other examples that monarchy was safe; it could not doubt that the supply of
monarchs would never give out; but it had no hope of a Republic governed by a
President. It was George Washington more than any other agency who made the
world change its mind and conclude that the best President was the best kind of
It is reported that after he died many persons who had been
his neighbors and acquaintances confessed that they had always felt a peculiar
sense of being with a higher sort of person in his presence: a being not
superhuman, but far above common men. That feeling will revive in the heart of
any one to-day who reads wisely in the fourteen volumes of "Washington's
Correspondence," in which, as in a mine, are buried the passions and
emotions from which sprang the American Revolution and the American
Constitution. That George Washington lived and achieved is the justification
and hope of the United
Throughout the index, the initial _W_. is used for the name
of George Washington.
Adams, John, his _Diary_ quoted, 57 _n_.; on committee to
confer with Howe, 79; on Peace Commission, 130; chosen first Vice-President,
176; appoints _W_. Commander-in-Chief, in 1799, 217, 240; letter of _W_. to,
217; 49, 59, 155, 156, 162, 180, 212, 215,
217, 231, 251, 254.
Adams, Samuel, 49, 57, 59, 60, 162, 175, 176.
Addison, Rev. Mr., 253.
Agriculturist, _W_. as an, 37 _ff_.
Albert, Prince, 153.
Alleghany Mts., 7.
American Revolution, 64-126 _passim_; great extent of field
of operations, 67; really ended with surrender at Yorktown, 126; nature and
results of, 126-128; proclamation of end of hostilities, 135; saved by _W.'s_
Fabian policy, 257.
Fisher, speech on Jay Treaty, and its effect, 211-213.
Anderson, James, 240, 253.
Andre, John, Clinton's
messenger to Arnold,
court-martialed and hanged, 110, 111.
Anti-Assumptionists. _See_ State
Army, Colonial, at Boston, 69
_ff_.; brought into order by _W_., 72; lacks powder, 72; compels evacuation of Boston, 72,73; how
distributed, 76, 77; _W_. on proper organization of, 80, 81; his influence
over, 82,88; condition of, at end of 1776, 84; desertions from, 84, 97; at Valley Forge, 100 _ff_.; _W_. on condition of, after the
war, 131, 132; difficulties about back pay, 133, 134, 141; some officers of,
intrigue to make _W_. king, 134; _W.'s_ reply, 135; continued turmoil in, 135;
_W.'s_ farewell to officers of, 136, 137; attitude of Congress toward, 139,
Arnold, Benedict, repulsed at Quebec,
72; surrenders West Point, 110; in Virginia,
122, 123; 77.
Articles of Confederation, 152, 153, 156. And _see_ States
of the Confederation.
_Aurora. See_ Bache, B.F.
Bache, Benjamin F., attacks _W.'s_ administration, in the
_Aurora_, 201, 219, 221, 222.
Ball, Mary, marries Augustine Washington, 1. And _see_ Washington, Mary
_W.'s_ visit to, 9-11.
corsairs of, 155.
Bard, Dr. Samuel, 185, 186.
Beaumarchais, Caron de, 94.
Beefsteak and Tripe Club, 10.
Bennington, Battle of, 92.
Bernard, John, quoted on _W_. in retirement, 234-236.
_Blackwood's Magazine_, 3.
Blair, John, 161.
Bland, Theodorick, letter of _W_. to, 131, 132.
Bonhomme Richard, the. _See_ Jones, John Paul.
Boston, port of, transferred
to Salem, 58;
blockaded by _W_., 69; evacuated by Howe, 72, 73; _W.'s_ visit to, as
President, 189, 190.
Tea Party, 58.
Botetourt, Norborne Berkeley, Lord, 53.
Boucher, Rev. Jonathan, 41.
Braddock, Edward, his career, 19, 20; in America, 20; attacks Fort Duquesne,
and is defeated and killed, 21, 22; 255.
Bradford, William, 229.
Brant, Joseph, 92.
British troops, position of, at end of 1776, 83, 84, 85;
confined to New York City and Long Island, 86; _W_. on maltreatment of
prisoners by, 98; field of operations of, transferred to South, 107, 121-123;
surrender of, at Yorktown, 123 _ff_.
Brown, Dr., 244, 245, 247, 248.
Bunker Hill, Battle
of, 65, 68.
Burgoyne, John, takes Ticonderoga, 91; defeated at Bennington, 92; surrenders to Gates at Saratoga, 93.
Burke, Edmund, 55, 62, 120.
Bute, John Stuart, Earl of,
Byrd, William, letter of _W_. to, 20, 21.
Calvert, Nelly, 42.
_W_. takes command of army at, 65; _W.'s_ headquarters at, 69.
and Wolfe's victory at Quebec,
Canova, Antonio, statue of _W_. by, 148.
Capital, national, question of location of, 182-185.
Carlyle, Thomas, 17.
Carroll, Daniel, 161.
Cavour, Camillo, Count di, 30, 251.
Chamberlayne, Major, 33.
Charming, Edward, _History of the U.S._, 111 _n_.
Chantrey, Sir F.L., statue of _W_., 148.
Cherry-tree story, absurdity of, 2.
Society of the, public feeling against, 159; _W_. resigns presidency of, 159.
Clark, Major, 10.
Clinton, George, Governor of New York, 136, 199.
Clinton, Sir Henry, succeeds Howe as Commander-in-Chief,
105; takes troops to New York, 106; was he
responsible for bribing Arnold?
109, 110; _W.'s_ criticism of, 118, 119; 93, 121, 123.
Clive, Robert, Lord, 28.
Clymer, George, 161.
Colonies, effect of Seven Years' War on, 29; opposition to
taxation in, 49 _ff_.; at outbreak of war, 67; diversity in origin and customs,
67, 68; increasing urgency of demand for independence in, 75; relations of,
with England, in 1763, 47; how affected by the Imperial Spirit, 47, 48; in
1770, 53, 54; at beginning of Revolution, 66; lack of ardor for Independence,
Committees of Correspondence, 57, 58.
Compromises of the Constitution. _See_ Representation, Slave
Concord, Battle of, 64.
Congress of the U.S.: _First: W.'s_ first address
to, 179; votes to assume state debts and change location of capital, 182-185.
_Fourth_: Jay Treaty ratified by Senate, 210; bill to carry out treaty
provisions passed by House, 210-213. _Sixth_: revives rank of
Commander-in-Chief for _W_., 217; and _W_.'s death, 251, 253, 254.
population of, in 1775, 68.
Constitution of the U.S., in the making, 164-168;
promulgated, 168, 169; _W.'s_ views of, 170, 171, 172; ratified by States,
173-175; opposition to, in N.Y. and Virginia, 174.
Constitutional Convention, call for, 158; first meeting of,
160; members of, 160-162; _W_. President of, 161, 163; proceedings of, secret,
163; divers questions discussed, 164-168, 169, 170.
Continental Congress: _First_: members of, 59; work of,
59-61; adopts Declaration of Rights, 60; importance of, as a symbol, 61.
_Second_: elects _W_. Commander-in-Chief, 64; sectional intrigues in, 74; _W_.
quoted on, 75; appoints committee to confer with Howe, 79; and _W.'s_
"doleful reports," 81; removes to Baltimore, 85; method of conducting
the war, 90; _W.'s_ farewell reception by, and address to, 137-139; post-war
attitude of, toward the army, discussed, 141, 142; powers of, limited by
Articles of Confederation, 152, 153; its weakness, 153; lack of unanimity in,
155; rejects Spanish treaty, 155; orders first election under Constitution,
Conway, Thomas, and the Cabal, 112, 113; letters of, to
_W_., 113; 96.
Cabal, The, 112-114, 116, 117.
Cornwallis, Charles, Earl, surrenders at Yorktown,
Cowpens, Battle of the, 122.
Craik, Dr. James, attends _W_. in his last illness, 243
Critical Period of American History, 151 _ff_.
Custis, Daniel P., 33, 34.
Custis, Eleanor, _W.'s_ affection for, 233, 234. And _see_
Lewis, Eleanor (Custis).
Custis, George W P., 233, 247.
Custis, John Parke, _W.'s_ step-son, 40-42; 104.
Custis, Mrs. Martha (Dandridge), widow of D.P. Custis, is
courted by _W_., 33, 34, and marries him, 35. And _see_ Washington, Martha
Custis, Martha, W.'s step-daughter, 40, 41.
Dandridge, Francis, letter of _W_. to, 51, 52.
Davis, Rev. Mr., 252, 253.
Deane, Silas, sent to enlist aid of France, 94; his unauthorized promises to
Ducoudray, 95, and Lafayette,
Declaration of Independence,
"Declaration of Rights," 60.
Delaware River, _W.'s_
crossing of, 85, 86.
Democracy in the U.S., contrasted with earlier
Democratic Party, 186.
Dick, Dr., 245, 247, 248, 252.
Dickinson, John, 161.
Dinwiddie, Robert, sends _W_. on mission to French, 14;
sends expedition under Fry to take Duquesne, 15; 16, 17, 18, 20, 21.
Dorchester, Guy Carleton,
Heights, occupied by
Ducoudray, M., 95.
Election, first, under Constitution, 175, 176.
Ellsworth, Oliver. 161.
England, expeditions planned by, 19 _ff_.; effect of
Chatham's administration on power and prestige of, 27, 28; relations with
Colonies in 1763, 47; the Imperial Spirit in, 47 _ff_.; measures imposing
taxation on Colonies, 49 _ff_.; division of opinion in, in 1770, 53, 54, 55;
Hessians in service of, 76; effect of sea-power of, 84; plans for campaign of
1777, 90, 91; sends Commission to treat for peace, 109, 120; reconstruction of
government in, after Yorktown, 130; and _W.'s_ proclamation of neutrality
(1789), 204; hatred of, in U.S., and the Jay Treaty, 208 _ff_.; threat of war
with, 208, 209; and the U.S. in 1796 and 1914, 227, 228. And _see_ Paris, Treaty of (1783).
England and France, rivalry between in North America, 12,
13; actually at war, 19; effect of Wolfe's victory at Quebec, 28; war between
(1789), 193; difficulty in maintaining neutrality of U.S., 193 _ff_.
"Entangling alliances," authorship of the phrase,
Estaing, Charles H, Count d', brings French fleet to America, 108.
Excise tax, on distilled spirits, 189; and the Whiskey
letter of _W_. to, 62, 63; 253.
Fairfax, Sally, 31.
Fairfax, Thomas, Lord, employs _W_. to survey his estate, 5;
Farewell Address, the, 224 _ff_.; declarations of, how far
applicable in 1914, 227, 228.
Fauchet, Joseph, 229.
Fauntleroy, Betsy, 30.
Fauquier, Francis, 35.
_Federalist, The_, 162.
Federalist Party, break-up of, 228; 186, 187.
Fitzsimmons, Thomas, 161.
Fort Duquesne, built by French, 13; unsuccessfully
attacked by Braddock, 21 _ff_.; renamed Fort Pitt,
Necessity, surrender of,
Fox, Charles James, 55.
France, steps toward alliance with, 94 _ff_.; effect of
victory at Saratoga in, 99; treaty with, 99 and _n_.; results of alliance on
American commerce and privateering, 108; sends fleet to America, 108; effect in
England of alliance with, 119; and _W.'s_ proclamation of neutrality, 204;
effect of feeling of gratitude to, in U.S., 205; later relations with, 215,
216; and the U.S. in 1796 and 1914, 227, 228. And _see_ England and France.
Franklin, Benjamin, on committee to confer with Howe, 79; on
Peace Commission, 130; quoted, 173; 21, 155, 160, 161, 201, 236.
the Great, 259.
Freedom of speech, _W_. and, 222, 223.
Freemasons, at _W.'s_ funeral, 253.
French, westward and southward progress of, 13; build Fort Duquesne,
French Committee of Public Safety, Monroe's letter to, 216.
French and Indian War. _See_ Seven Years' War.
French Revolution, reaction of, in U.S., 193 _ff_.
Freneau, Philip, and his _National Gazette_, encouraged by Jefferson, 200, 201, 219, 220.
Fry, Colonel, 15.
Gage, Thomas, military and civil governor of Boston, 61; _W_. quoted on
his conduct, 63; recalled, 72.
Gallatin, Albert, opposes Jay Treaty, 210, 211.
Gates, Horatio, Adjutant-General, 71; defeats Burgoyne at Saratoga, 92, 93;
ambitious to supplant _W_., 114; 112.
Genet, Edmond Charles, mission of, to U.S., 194 _ff_.; would appeal to people over
government, 198,205; snubbed by Jefferson,
198; his recall requested, 199.
George II, 18.
George III, dismisses Pitt, 29; and the British
Empire, 48; makes North Prime Minister, 54; effect of events of
1778 on, 119; and of the failure of the Commission on Reconciliation, 120; 60,
130, 153, 259.
proposed as seat of national capital, 184.
only colony unrepresented in First Continental Congress, 59; British victories
in, 122; 165.
Gerry, Elbridge, on X.Y.Z. mission to France, 215; 161, 168, 169.
Giles, William B., and newspaper attacks on _W_., 219, 221.
Gist, Christopher, 14.
W.E., quoted, 173.
Gorham, Nathaniel, 161.
Britain. _See_ England.
Great Meadows. _See_ Fort Necessity.
Greene, Nathanael, commands in South, 122; 110, 162, 163,
"Half-King, the." _See_ Thanacarishon.
Hamilton, Alexander, influence of, ensures ratification of
Constitution in N.Y., 174; Secretary of Treasury, 181, 228, 229; opposition to,
181, 182; favors "Assumption," 182,183; obtains Jefferson's support
for compromise, 183, 184; his political status, 187; his protective tariff,
188; his measures tended to centralization, 189,192; quoted, on the French
Revolution, 197, 198; _W_. seeks to keep peace between Jefferson and, 199, 200;
attacked by Freneau, 200; attacks Jefferson in
newspapers, 201; urges _W_. to accept second term, 201; and the Whiskey
Insurrection, 218; and the Farewell Address, 224; 160, 167, 168, 180, 195, 208,
217, 241, 258.
Hancock, John, President of Congress, 64; letter of _W_. to,
80, 81; Governor of Massachusetts, and _W.'s_ visit to Boston, 189,
190; 64, 256.
Harlem, Heights of, army
stationed on, 80.
Harrison, Benjamin, letter of _W_. to, 143.
Hay, Anthony, 53.
Henry, Patrick, quoted, 50; opposed to Constitution, 174;
59, 60, 162.
Herkimer, Nicholas, 92.
Hessians, in British army, 76; defeated at Trenton, 86.
Hortalaz et Cie, 94.
Houdon, Jean A., statue of _W_. 148.
House of Representatives, representation of States in, 167.
Howe, Richard, Lord, takes fleet to N.Y., 76; 72, 83.
Howe, Sir William, evacuates Boston, 72, 73; fruitless peace overtures of,
79; in Phila. (1777-78), 104, 105; succeeded by Clinton, 105; 74, 78, 87, 91.
Humphreys, Colonel, as Chamberlain at President's
receptions, 180, 181.
Imperial Spirit, effect of, on relations between England
and Colonies, 47, 48; revived by events of 1778, 119.
Independence Hall, Phila., 160.
Indians, surprise attack by, 21, 22; difficulties of _W_.'s
administration with, 190, 191.
Ingersoll, Jared, 161.
Irving, Washington, _Life of Washington_, quoted,
186, 195. 217, 233.
Jackson, Robert, 24.
Jacobin Club, 193.
Jay, John, on Peace Commission, 130; concludes treaty with
Spain, 155; appointed Chief Justice, 186; mission of, to England in 1794-95,
207; his character, 207; prejudice against, in U.S., 208; Secretary of State,
228; letters of _W_. to, 142, 157; 59, 162, 180, 258. And _see_ Jay Treaty.
Jay Treaty, the, negotiated, 207, 208, 209; opposition of
Anti-Federalists to, 209; ratified by Senate, 210; violent struggle over, in
House, 210-213; how the controversy was settled, 213; effect of, 214; and the
Federalist Party, 228.
Jefferson, Thomas, _A Summary View_, 60; Secretary of State,
181, 186, 192, 228, 229; interview with Hamilton on Assumption, etc., 183-185;
most aggressive of Democrats, 187, 191; rivalry with Hamilton, 192; and the
French Revolution, 193; and Citizen Genet, 194, 195, 198; _W_. seeks to keep
peace between Hamilton and, 199, 200; and
Freneau's attacks on _W_., 200, 219, 220, 221; intrigues against Hamilton, 200, 201; urges
_W_. to accept second term, 201, 202; resigns as Secretary of State, 206;
155, 160, 161, 162, 180, 181, 207, 227, 258.
Johnson, W.S., 168.
Joncaire, M., 14.
Jones, John Paul, 120, 121.
Jumonville, M. de, 15, 18.
Kalb, Baron Johann de, 95, 100.
King, Rufus, 161, 167, 168.
Knox, Henry, Secretary of War, 181, 229; letters of _W_. to,
170, 171, 203;
95, 123, 124, 136, 217, 231, 258.
Kosciuszko, Tadeusz, 95.
Lafayette, Gilbert Motier, Marquis de, joins _W_.'s staff,
99; and Charles Lee, at Monmouth, 115; letters of _W_. to, 143, 144, 145, 170,
171, 172; 110, 123.
Lansing, John, 161.
Laurens, Henry, letters of _W_. to, 101-103, 117, 118.
Lear, Tobias, secretary to _W_., 148; quoted, 242; his
account of _W_.'s last hours, 243-249; notes on _W_.'s funeral, 252, 253; 232,
Lee, Billy (slave), 238, 239.
Lee, Charles, appointed Major-General, 70, 71; at Monmouth,
106, 115; censured by _W_., 106, 115, 116; early career of, 114, 115;
court-martialed, and leaves the army, 116; anecdote of, 116 _n_.; 65, 128.
Lee, Charles, Attorney-General, 229.
Lee, Henry, author of phrase, "First in war,"
etc., 251; letter of _W_. to, 221, 222.
Lee, Richard H., letters of _W_. to, 96, 147; 163.
Lewis, Mrs. Eleanor (Custis), 242.
Lewis, Lawrence, and Miss Custis, 232, 233; 247.
Lexington, Battle of, 63.
Lillo, George, _George Barnwell_, 10, 11.
Lincoln, Abraham, 149.
Benjamin, surrenders Charleston, S.C., 122;
receives surrender of British at Yorktown,
Livingston, Robert R., 177.
Lodge, H.C., _George Washington_, quoted, 15, 17, 220, 235,
Long Island, Battle
of, 77, 78.
Louis XVI, execution of, 193; 94, 99.
Low-Land Beauty, the, 30.
Loyalists, in the Colonies, 61, 62; during and after the
war, 127, 128.
McClellan, George B., 82.
McClurg, James, 162.
McHenry, James, Secretary of War, 229; letter of, to _W_.,
217; 161, 231, 232.
McKean, Thomas, 59.
MacKenzie, Robert, letter of _W_. to, 63.
Machiavelli, Niccolo, _The Prince_, and _W_.'s Farewell
Madison, James, opposes Jay Treaty, 210; and the Farewell
Address, 224; letter of _W_. to, 158;
156, 159, 160, 161, 163, 165, 168, 194, 242.
Marie Antoinette, execution of, 193.
Marshall, John, _Life of Washington_, quoted, 28, 136,
137-139; on X.Y.Z. mission to France,
215; 47, 251, 258.
Mason, George, plan of association, 52, 53; letter to _W_.
56; letter of _W_. to, 56; 161, 168, 169.
leads in opposing acts of British Crown, 49; charter of, suspended, 58, 59;
population of, in 1775, 67, 68; and Virginia, jealousy between, 64; freed from
British troops, 74.
Mather, W., _The Young Man's Companion_, 4.
Meil, Mrs., 30, 31.
Mifflin, Thomas, of the Conway Cabal, 116; 138, 139, 161.
Military dictatorship under _W_., fear of, 141, 142, 154.
Militia, _W_. quoted on, 81.
Miner, Rev. James, 252.
Mississippi River, Lower, closed to Americans by treaty with
Moffatt, Rev. Mr., 252.
Monarchy, fears of reversion to, 142.
Monongahela River, 13.
Monroe, James, Minister to France, recalled by _W_., 216; his
letter to Committee of Public Safety, 116; 242.
Montcalm, Louis Joseph, Marquis de, 28.
Montgomery, Richard, at Quebec, 71, 72; 77.
Morgan, Daniel, 122.
Morris, Gouverneur, 161, 167, 168, 207.
Morris, Robert, letter to _W_., 88; 161.
Morris, Roger, 32, 80.
winter quarters at, 89.
Mossum, Rev. Peter, 35.
Mount Vernon, inherited by Lawrence Washington,
5; hospitality of, 7, 45; _W_. manager of, 12; inherited by _W_., 33; a model
plantation of Its kind, 39, 43, 44; _W_. returns to, after the war, 139; his
life at, 146; his last days at, 232 _ff_.; his funeral at, 251-253.
Napoleon I, 218, 240.
_National Gazette_, 220, 222.
Neal, John, quoted, 3.
Neutrality, Proclamation of, gives offense to both England and France, 204; the only rational
New England, manufacturing
in, 68; freed from British troops, 74.
New York City,
_W_.'s headquarters at, 76; Howe's fleet arrives at, 76; loyalist sentiment in,
78, 79, 121; British troops return to, 105,106;
_W_.'s farewell to officers at, 136, 137;
_W_. inaugurated as President at, 176, 177;
ceases to be national capital, 182 _ff_.
State, fails to choose
electors in 1788, 175.
North, Frederick, Lord, Prime Minister, 54; his subservience
to the King, 54, 55; retires after Yorktown,
130; 60, 61.
British victories in, 122.
Northwest, the, _W_.'s vision of development of, 144, 145.
Office-seekers, _W_. and, 180.
O'Hara, General, 125.
Ohio River, 13.
Osgood, Samuel, 229.
Otis, James, 49.
Pall-holders at _W_.'s funeral, 252.
Treaty of (1763), 28, 29.
Treaty of (1783), 130, 131; _W_. quoted on, 131.
Parliament, passes and repeals Stamp Act, 49; lays duties on
paper, tea, etc., 49; other irritating measures passed by, 53, 58; enacts penal
laws, 58, 59.
"Parsons Cause, The," 50.
Parties, in _W_.'s first term, 186, 187.
Peale, Charles, portrait of _W_., 148, 150.
Peale, Rembrandt, portrait of _W_., 148.
Pearson, Captain, 120.
Pendleton, Edmund, 59.
population of, in 1775, 68; 58, 155.
Peter the Great, 259.
non-importation agreement of merchants of, 52; Continental Congresses meet at,
59, 64; _W_. at, 75 _ff_.; British troops at, in 1777-78, 104, 105; _W_. takes
possession of, 106; to be national capital for ten years, 183, 185; Genet at,
Philipse, Mary, 31, 32.
Pickering, Timothy, Cabinet offices held by, 228, 229; 231.
Pinckney, Charles, 162.
Pinckney, Charles C., on X.Y.Z. mission to France, 215,
165, 166, 217.
Pitt, William, Earl of Chatham, effect of his accession to
dismissed by George III, 29; his last appearance in the
Lords, 119, and death, 120.
Pitt, William, the younger, 55, 62.
Pittsburgh, on site of Fort Duquesne,
Plassey, Buttle of, 48.
Portraits of _W_., 148, 149, 150.
President, discussion as to term and method of election of,
_W_.'s view of office of, 178;
_W_.'s example as preventive of third term for, 223, 224.
Press, the, virulence and indecency of, 219 _ff_.
of, 86, 87.
Privateering, effect of French Alliance on, 108, 120, 121.
Protective tariff, Hamilton's,
Pulaski, Count Casimir, 95, 97.
Quebec, Battle of, 28, 48; abortive attack on, 71,
72; persistence in project of capturing, 77.
Quincy, Josiah, 49.
Rall, Colonel, 86.
Randolph, Edmund, Attorney-General, 181, 186, 229; Secretary
of State, 206,228; his "Vindication," 229, 230; letter of _W_. to,
208, 209; 161, 169, 193.
Randolph, Peyton, 59.
Rawlins, Mr., 243, 253.
Reconciliation, Commission on, 109, 120.
Representation of States in Congress, question of, settled
by compromise, 167.
Revolutionary War. _See_ American Revolution.
Robinson, Mr., Speaker of the House of Burgesses (Va.), quoted, 36.
Rochambeau, Jean B.D. de Vimeure, Count de, 122, 125.
Rockingham, Charles Wentworth, Marquis of, 130.
Rodney, George, Lord, 153.
Rutledge, Edward, on committee to confer with Howe, 79; 59.
Rutledge, John, 59, 162, 168.
St. Clair, General, 191.
St. Leger, Barry, 91.
of, Burgoyne defeated in, 93; effect of, in France, 99.
Schuyler, Philip, 65.
Senate of U.S.,
representation of States in, 167.
Seven Years' War, 27 _ff_.; effect of, 29.
Shays, Daniel, 158.
Shays's Rebellion, causes of, 157,158.
Shelburne, William Petty, Earl of, 130.
Sherman, Roger, 59, 161, 168.
Shirley, William, 32.
Slave labor, _W_.'s view of, 38; 68.
Slave trade, question of, settled by compromise, 165, 166.
Slavery, why _W_. disapproved of, 38, 39, 238; question of,
settled by compromise, 164, 165.
Slaves, _W_.'s relations with, 38, 237-239; number of, in
Colonies, in 1775, 68.
population of, in 1775, 68; British victories in, 122; 165.
Sparks, Jared, his _Life of Washington_, defects of, 3;
quoted, 113,116 and _n_., 146.
Spearing, Ann, 31.
Stamp Act, 49, 51, 52, 66.
Stark, John, defeats Burgoyne at Bennington, 92.
State debts, assumption of, by national government, how
favored by _W_., 188.
State rights, problem of, 167; a fundamental subject of
States of the Confederation, _W_.'s farewell letter to
governors of, 135; after the Revolution, 152, 156; their relations to one
another, 152, 153; lack of coherence among, 154, 155; foreign relations of,
ignominious, 155; delegates of, in Constitutional Convention, 160-162;
ratification by, 175, 174. And _see_ Paris,
Treaty of (1783).
Statues of _W_., 148.
Steuben, Baron Frederick W. von, 95, 110, 111.
Stone, F.D., _Struggle for the Delaware_, quoted, 100, 101.
Strong, Caleb, 161, 168.
Stuart, Gilbert, portraits of _W_., 149.
Sulgrave, English home of Washington family, 1.
Sullivan, John, defeated on Long Island,
Talleyrand-Perigord, Charles M. de, and the X.Y.Z. mission,
Tariff, _W_.'s view of a, 189.
Tarleton, Sir Banastre, 122.
"Taxation without representation," 55, 57.
Thanacarishon, Seneca chief, quoted, on _W_. 14, 15.
Thomas, John, 71.
Ticonderoga, taken by
Tobacco-raising in Virginia,
Toner, J.M., _The Daily Journal of George Washington_, 11
Trenton, Battle of, and its effect, 86, 87.
Trumbull, Jonathan, letter of _W_. to, 231.
Tryon, William, 79.
United States, debt of Confederation turned over to, 182;
excitement in, over Citizen Genet, 195 _ff_.; anomalous position of, between
France and England, 205, 206; the first country in which free speech existed,
222; effect of _W_.'s example on world's opinion of, 259.
United States Bank, 189.
Valley Forge, American army
in winter quarters at, 100 _ff_., 118.
Van Braam, Jacob, 14.
Vergennes, Charles Gravier, Count de, favors cause of the
Colonies, 94; secures cooeperation of Spain, 99; 142.
Edward, Admiral, 5, 9.
Victoria, Queen, 153.
Virginia, effect in, of Braddock's defeat, 24, 25; in the
1750's, 44, 45; fox-hunting and horse-racing, 45,46; opposition in, to acts of
the Crown, 50, 51; state of opinion in, 55, 56; population of, in 1775, 67, 68;
jealousy between Mass, and, 64; 164, 166.
Virginia House of Burgesses, _W_. a member of, 36, 37;
adopts Mason's plan of association, 53.
Walpole, Horace, 18.
Washington, Augustine, _W.'s_ father, marries Mary Ball, 1.
Washington, George, ancestry, 1; birth, 1, 2; childhood and
education, 2; errors of Weems's biography, 2, 3; absurdity of the cherry-tree
story, 2; Sparks's ill-advised editing of letters of, 3, 4; and Mather's _Young
Man's Companion_, 4; surveys Fairfax estate, 5; results of his experience as surveyor,
5; his journals, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 37, 38, 39, 169; his disposition, 7, 8;
attention, to dress, 8, 9; declines appointment as midshipman, 9; commissioned
major of militia, 9; visit to Barbados, 9, 10; as manager of Mt. Vernon, 12;
sent by Dinwiddie on mission of warning to French, 14; and the
"Half-King," 14, 15; second in command of Fry's expedition, 15_ff_.;
was he a "silent man"? 17, 18; a volunteer on Braddock's expedition,
20, 21; his account of the defeat, 22, 23; his conduct in the battle, 23; moral
results of his campaigning, 25, 26; his early love-affairs, 30, 31; and Mary
Philipse, 31, 32; his physique, 32, 69; a sound thinker, 33, 70; inherits Mt.
Vernon, 33; courts and marries Mrs. Custis, 33, 34, 35; in House of Burgesses,
36, 37; as an agriculturist, 37 _ff_.; his views on slave labor, 38, and
slavery, 38, 39, 238; relations with his slaves, 38, 237-239; and his
step-children, 40-42; by nature a man of business, 42, 43; improves his
education, 43, 44; as a country gentleman, 44_ff_.; the hospitality of Mt.
His view of the Stamp Act and other measures of the British
Government, 51, 52; a loyal American, 52; signs Mason's plan of association,
53; no doubt as to his position, 55, 56, 57; offers to raise 1000 men at his
own expense, 57; in first Continental Congress, 59, 60; his mind made up, 62,
63; chosen Commander-in-chief of Continental forces, 64, 65; takes command at
Cambridge, 65, 69; plans to blockade Boston, 69; jealousy among his officers,
70, 71; and military amateurs, 71; opposes expedition against Canada, 71; whips
his army into shape, 72; appeals for supply of powder, 72; forces evacuation of
Boston, 73; moves troops to New York, 74; before Congress in Phila., 74, 75;
his opinion of Congress, 75; retreats from Long Island after Sullivan's defeat,
77, 78; inadequacy of his resources, 78; moves army to Heights of Harlem, 80;
on the evils of American military system, 80, 81; his troops not discouraged by
his frankness, 82; on the difficulty of his position, 82, 83; his movements
after battle of White Plains, 83 _ff_.; crosses the Delaware and wins battles
of Trenton and Princeton, 86; a Necessary Man, 87; his fearlessness of danger,
87, 88; his movements impeded by dependence on Congress, 90, 118, 119; his
miscellaneous labors, 95 _ff_.; his circular on looting by his troops, 97, 98;
on the maltreatment of American prisoners, 98; takes Lafayette on his staff,
99; chooses Valley Forge for winter quarters, 100; describes its horrors,
101-103; enters Phila. on the heels of the British, 106; censures Charles Lee
at Monmouth, 106; the uneventful summer and autumn of 1778, 109; refuses to
commute Andre's sentence, 111; jealous ambitions of his associates: the Conway
Cabal, 111 _ff_.; and Gates, 114; and C. Lee, 114-116, 116_n_.; on the
intrigues of his enemies, 117, 118; difficulties of his position, 118; forced
inactivity of, 121; marches South to Virginia, 123; lays siege to Yorktown, and
forces Cornwallis to surrender, 122-125; the country unanimous in giving him
credit for the final victory 128,
His view of the problems to be solved after the peace, 131;
urges payment of troops in full, 131-133, 134; and the plan to make him king,
134, 135; his letter to governors of States, 135; his farewell to his officers,
136, 137; his reception by, and address to, Congress, 137-139; returns to Mt.
Vernon, 139; his life there, described,
140, 141, 143, 144, 146, 147; fears of military dictatorship under, 141, 142; his vision of the
development of the Northwest 144, 145; declines all gifts and pay for his
services, 146; his correspondence, 147, 148; fears further trouble with
England, 153; his pessimism over the outlook for the future, 156, 157;
reluctantly consents to sit in Constitutional Convention, 158, 159; and the
Society of the Cincinnati, 159; President of the Convention, 163, 164, 168,
169, 170; his view of the Constitution, 170 _ff_.; unanimously elected first
President of the U.S., 175; the journey to New York and inauguration, 176, 177.
His receptions as President, 178, 179, 180, 181; his
inaugural address, 179; dealings with office-seekers, 180; his first Cabinet,
181, 186; serious illness of, 185, 186; appoints Justices of Supreme Court,
186; a Federalist, 187, 199, 215; favors Assumption, 187, 188; his tariff
views, 189; his visit to Boston, 189, 190; sends expeditions against Indians,
191; approves Hamilton's centralizing measures, 192; determined to maintain
neutrality as between France and England, 193; deals firmly with Genet, 198;
open criticism of, 199, 200, 201, 219 _ff_.; his sympathies generally with
Hamilton against Jefferson, 199; effect on, of newspaper abuse, 201, 223;
disinclined to serve second term, 201; reelected, 202, 203, 204; issues
Proclamation of Neutrality, 204; its effect, 204, 205; appoints Randolph to succeed
Jefferson, 206; and the Jay Treaty, 207 _ff_.; sends C.C. Pinckney to replace
Monroe in Paris, 215; why he recalled Monroe, 215, 216; consents to act as
Commander-in-Chief in 1799, 217, 240; puts down Whiskey Insurrection, 218, 219;
favors maintenance of free speech, 222; declines to consider a third term, 223;
effect in later years of the precedent set by him, 223, 224; his "Farewell
Address," 224-227; what would he have done in 1914? 228; changes in his
Cabinet, 228, 229; and the charges against Randolph, 229, 230.
Again in retirement at Mt. Vernon, 231 _ff_.; and Nelly
Custis, 233; his career reviewed, 234, 254-260; Bernard quoted on, 234-236; his
detractors, 236, 237; his religious beliefs, 239, 240; declines all public
undertakings, 240; his last illness, 241 _ff_.; the last hours described by T.
Lear, 243-249; his death, 249; action of Congress and President Adams, 251; his
funeral at Mt. Vernon, 252, 253; project for memorial of, abandoned, 254; his
rank as a soldier, 256, 257; as President, 258; the most _actual_ statesman of
his time, 258; his example made the world change its mind about republics, 259.
_Portraits and statues of_, 148-150.
_Letters_ (quoted in whole or in part) to John Adams, 217;
Theodorick Bland, 131; Rev. Mr. Boucher, 41; William Byrd, 20; Thomas Conway,
112; Francis Dandridge, 51; Robert Dinwiddie, 17, 22; Bryan Fairfax, 62; John
Hancock, 9; Benjamin Harrison, 143; Sir W. Howe, 98; Robert Jackson, 24; John
Jay, 142, 157; Thomas Jefferson, 221;
Henry Knox, 170; Marquis de Lafayette, 143, 145, 170, 171; Henry Laurens, 101,
117; Henry Lee, 203, 221; Richard H. Lee, 96, 147; Robert Mackenzie, 63; George
Mason, 56; Gouverneur Morris, 207; Edmund Randolph, 208; Jonathan Trumbull,
231; John Augustine Washington, 23, 75, 85; Lund Washington, 82; Martha
(Custis) Washington, 34; Mary Ball Washington, 24.
Washington, John, _W_.'s great-grandfather settles in Virginia, 1.
Washington, John Augustine, _W_.'s brother, letters of _W_.
to, 75, 85; 1, 11, 23.
Washington, Lawrence,_W.'s_ half-brother, inherits Mount Vernon, 5; _W_.'s
guardian, 5; marries Lord Fairfax's daughter, 5; visits Barbados with _W_., 9-11; his
death, 11, 12; 7, 33.
Washington, Lund, letter of _W_. to,
Washington, Mrs. Martha (Custis), quoted, 104; and _W_.'s
last illness, 243 _ff_.; letter of, to President Adams, 254; buried at Mount
Vernon, 254; 9, 38, 41, 43, 45, 252, 253.
Washington, Mrs. Mary (Ball), _W_.'s mother, 2, 9, 24.
Washington, Mildred, _W_.'s niece, _W_. guardian of, 12; her
family, the, 1.
Wayne, Anthony, 191.
Webster, Daniel, quoted, 188; 211.
Webster, Peletiah, 156.
Weems, Rev. Mason L., his _Life of_ _Washington_,
discredited, 2, 3.
West Point, surrendered by Arnold, 110.
Whigs, in Parliament, favor Colonies, 54, 62.
Whiskey Insurrection, the, 218, 219.
White House (Custis estate), 34, 35, 36.
White Plains, Battle of, 83.
Wilson, James, 161.
Wister, Owen, 30 _n_.
Wolcott, Oliver, Jr., 228, 229.
Wolfe, James, 28, 105.
Wythe, George, 161.
X.Y.Z. mission to France, 215, 216.
Yates, Robert, 161.
Yorktown, Cornwallis surrenders at, 123 _ff_.; the war
really ended at, 126; effect in England,