Benson John Lossing.

Harper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) online

. (page 16 of 76)
Online LibraryBenson John LossingHarper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) → online text (page 16 of 76)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

York convention by the splendor of his

But the multitudes whom no arguments
could convince, who saw in the executive
pow r er and centralized force of the Con
stitution, under another name, the dread
ed usurpation of king and ministry, were
satisfied only with the assurance, " Wash
ington will be President." " Good," cried
John Lamb, the able leader of the Sons
of Liberty, as he dropped his opposition,
" for to no other mortal would I trust
authority so enormous." " Washington
will be President " was the battle-cry of
the Constitution. It quieted alarm and
gave confidence to the timid and courage
to the weak. The country responded with
enthusiastic unanimity, but the chief with
the greatest reluctance. In the supreme
moment of victory, when the world ex
pected him to follow the precedents of the
past and perpetuate the power a grateful
country would willingly have left in his
hands, he had resigned and retired to
Mount Vernon to enjoy in private sta
tion his well-earned rest. The convention
created by his exertions to prevent, as he
said, " the decline of our federal dignity
into insignificant and wretched fragments
of empire," had called him to preside over
its deliberations. Its work made possible
the realization of his hope that "we
might survive as an independent repub
lic," and again he sought the seclusion of
his home. But, after the triumph of the
war and the formation of the Constitu
tion, came the third and final crisis: the
initial movements of government which
were to teach the infant State the steadier
steps of empire.

He alone could stay assault and in-
nr. o fl

spire confidence while the great and com
plicated machinery of organized govern
ment was put in order and set in motion.
Doubt existed nowhere except in his mod
est and unambitious heart. " My move
ments to the chair of government," he
said, " will be accompanied by feelings
not unlike those of a culprit who is going
to the place of his execution. So unwill
ing am I, in the evening of life, nearly
consumed in public cares, to quit a peace
ful abode for an ocean of difficulties, with
out that competency of political skill,
abilities, and inclination, which are neces
sary to manage the helm." His whole
life had been spent in repeated sacrifices
for his country s welfare, and he did not
hesitate now, though there is an under
tone of inexpressible sadness in this entry
in his diary on the night of his departure:
" About 10 o clock I bade adieu to Mount
Vernon, to private life, and to domestic
felicity, and with a mind oppressed with
more anxious and painful sensations than
I have words to express, set out for New
York with the best disposition to render
service to my country in obedience to its
call, but with less hope of answering its

No conqueror was ever accorded such a
triumph, no ruler ever accorded such a
welcome. In this memorable march of
six days to the capital, it was the pride
of States to accompany him with the
masses of their people to their borders,
that the citizens of the next common
wealth might escort him through its terri
tory. It was the glory of cities to re
ceive him with every civic honor at their
gates, and entertain him as the savior of
their liberties. He rode under triumphal
arches from which children lowered laurel
wreaths upon his brow. The roadways
were strewn with flowers, and as they
were crushed beneath his horse s hoofs,
their sweet incense wafted to heaven the
ever-ascending prayers of his loving
countrymen for- his life and safety. The
swelling anthem of gratitude and rever
ence greeted and followed him along the
country - side and through the crowded
streets: "Long live George Washington!
Long live the father of his people!"

His entry into New York was worthy
the city and State. He was met by the
chief officers of the retiring government


of the country, by the governor of the and of hope from the generous assistance

commonwealth, and the whole population, of France, and peace had come and inde-

This superb harbor was alive with fleets pendence triumphed. As the last soldier

and flags, and the ships of other na- of the invading enemy embarks, Wash-

tions, with salutes from their guns and ington, at the head of the patriotic host,

the cheers of their crews, added to the enters the city, receives the welcome and

joyous acclaim. But as the captains who gratitude of its people, and in the tavern

had asked the privilege, bending proudly which faces us across the way, in silence

to their oars, rowed the President s barge more eloquent than speech, and with

swiftly through these inspiring scenes, tears which choke the words, he bids

Washington s mind and heart were full farewell forever to his companions in

of reminiscence and foreboding. arms. Such were the crowding memories

He had visited New York thirty-three of the past suggested to Washington in

years before, also in the month of April, 1789 by his approach to New York. But

in the full perfection of his early man- the future had none of the splendor of

hood, fresh from Braddock s bloody field, precedent and brilliance of promise which

and wearing the only laurels of the battle, have since attended the inauguration of

bearing the prophetic blessing of the ven- our Presidents. An untried scheme,

erable President Davies, of Princeton Col- adopted mainly because its administra-

lege, as " that heroic youth Colonel Wash- tion was to be confided to him, was to

ington, whom I cannot but hope Provi- be put in practice. He knew that he was

dence has hitherto preserved in so signal to be met at every step of constitutional

a manner for some important service to progress by factions temporarily hushed

the country. * It was a fair daughter of into unanimity by the terrific force of

our State whose smiles allured him here, the tidal wave which was bearing him to

and whose coy confession that her heart the President s seat, but fiercely hostile

was another s recorded his only failure upon questions affecting every power of

and saddened his departure. Twenty years nationality and the existence of the

passed, and he stood before the New York federal government.

Congress, on this very spot, the unani- Washington was never dramatic, but

mously chosen commander-in-chief of the on great occasions he not only rose to the

Continental army, urging the people to full ideal of the event, he became him-

more vigorous measures, and made pain- self the event. One hundred years ago to-

fully aware of the increased despera- day, the procession of foreign ambassa-

tion of the struggle, from the aid dors, of statesmen and generals, of civic

to be given to the enemy by domestic societies and military companies, which

sympathizers, when he knew that the escorted him, marched from Franklin

same local military company which es- Square to Pearl street, through Pearl to

corted him was to perform the like ser- Broad, and up Broad to this spot, but

vice for the British Governor Tryon on the people saw only Washington. As he

his landing on the morrow. Returning stood upon the steps of the old govern-

for the defence of the city the next sum- ment building here, the thought must

nier, he executed the retreat from Long have occurred to him that it was a cradle

Island, which secured from Frederick the of liberty, and, as such, giving a bright

Great the opinion that a great com- omen for the future. In these halls in

mander had appeared, and at Harlem 1735, in the trial of John Zenger, had

Heights he woii the first American vie- been established, for the first time in its

tory of the Revolution, which gave that history, the liberty of the press. Here

confidence to our raw recruits against the the New York Assembly, in 1764, made

famous veterans of Europe which carried the protest against the Stamp Act, and

our army triumphantly through the war. proposed the general conference, which

Six years more of untold sufferings, was the beginning of united colonial ac-

of freezing and starving camps, of tion. In this old State-house, in 1765,

marches over the snow by barefooted the Stamp Act Congress, the first and the

soldiers to heroic attack and splendid father of American congresses, assembled

victory, of despair with an unpaid army, and presented to the English government



that vigorous protest which caused the with responding acclaim all over the

repeal of the act and checked the first land: "Long live George Washington,

step towards the usurpation which lost the President of the United States!"

American colonies to the British Empire. The simple and imposing ceremony over,

Within these walls the Congress of the the inaugural read, the blessing of God

Confederation had commissioned its am- prayerfully petitioned in old St. Paul s,

bassadors abroad, and in ineffectual efforts the festivities passed, and Washington

at government had created the necessity stood alone. No one else could take

for the concentration of federal authority, the helm of state, and enthusiast and

now to be consummated. doubter alike trusted only him. The

The first Congress of the United States teachings and habits of the past had edu-
gathered in this ancient temple of liberty, cated the people to faith in the indepen-
greeted Washington, and accompanied him dence of their States, and for the supreme
to the balcony. The famous men visible authority of the new government there
about him were Chancellor Livingston, stood against the precedent of a century
Vice-President John Adams, Alexander and the passions of the hour little besides
Hamilton, Governor Clinton, Roger Sher- the arguments of Hamilton, Madison, and
man, Richard Henry Lee, General Knox, Jay in The Federalist, and the judgment
and Baron Steuben. But we believe that of Washington. With the first attempt
among the invisible host above him, at to exercise national power began the duel
this supreme moment of the culmination to the death between State sovereignty,
in permanent triumph of the thousands claiming the right to nullify federal laws
of years of struggle for self-government, or to secede from the Union, and the
were the spirits of the soldiers of the power of the republic to command the re-
Revolution who had died that their coun- sources of the country, to enforce its au-
try might enjoy this blessed day, and thority, and protect its life. It was the
with them were the barons of Runny- beginning of the sixty years war for the
mede, and William the Silent, and Sidney, Constitution and the nation. It seared
and Russell, and Cromwell, and Hampden, consciences, degraded politics, destroyed
and the heroes and martyrs of liberty of parties, ruined statesmen, and retarded
every race and age. the advance and development of the eoun-

As he came forward, the multitude in try; it sacrificed thousands of precious
the streets, in the windows, and on the lives and squandered thousands of
roofs sent up such a rapturous shout that millions of money; it desolated the fair-
Washington sat down overcome with emo- est portion of the land, and carried mourn-
tion. As he slowly rose and his tall and ing into every home, North and South;
majestic form again appeared, the people, but it ended at Appomattox in the abso-
deeply affected, in awed silence viewed the lute triumph of the republic,
scene. The chancellor solemnly read to Posterity owes to Washington s ad-
him the oath of office, and Washington, ministration the policy and measures, the
repeating, said: "I do solemnly swear force and direction, which made possible
that I will faithfully execute the office of this glorious result. In giving the organ-
President of the United States, and will, ization of the Department of State and
to the best of my ability, preserve, pro- foreign relations to Jefferson, the Treas-
tect, and defend the Constitution of the ury to Hamilton, and the Supreme Court
United States." Then he reverently bent to Jay, he selected for his cabinet and
low and kissed the Bible, uttering with called to his assistance the ablest and
profound emotion: "So help me, God." most eminent men of his time. Hamil-
The chancellor waved his robes and shout- ton s marvellous versatility and genius
ed: "It is done; long liva George Wash- designed the armory and the weapons for
ington, President of the United States!" the promotion of national power and
"Long live George Washington, our first greatness, but Washington s steady sup-
President!" was the answering cheer of port carried them through. Parties
the people, and from the belfries rang the crystallized, and party passions were in-
bells, and from forts and ships thundered tense, debates were intemperate, and the
the cannon, echoing and repeating the cry Union openly threatened and secretly



plotted against, as the firm pressure of the Deity and believed liberty impossible
this mighty personality funded the debt without law. He spoke to the sober judg-
and established credit, assumed the State ment of the nation, and made clear the
debts incurred in the War of the Revo- danger. He saved the infant government
lution and superseded the local by the from ruin, and expelled the French minis-
national obligation, imposed duties upon ter who had appealed from him to the
imports and excise upon spirits, and ere- people. The whole land, seeing safety only
ated revenue and resources, organized a in his continuance in office, joined Jeffer-
national banking system for public needs son in urging him to accept a second term,
and private business, and called out an " North and South," pleaded the Secre-
army to put down by force of arms resist- tary, " will hang together while they have
ance to the federal laws imposing un- you to hang to."

popular taxes. Upon the plan marked No man ever stood for so much to his
out by the Constitution, this great ar- country and to mankind as George Wash-
chitect, with unfailing faith and unfalter- ington. Hamilton, Jeft erson and Adams,
ing courage, builded the republic. He Madison and Jay, each represented some
gave to the government the principles of of the elements which formed the Union,
action and sources of power which carried Washington embodied them all. They
it successfully through the wars with fell, at times, under popular disapprov-
Great Britain in 1812 and Mexico in 1848, al, were burned in effigy, were stoned,
which enabled Jackson to defeat nullifica- but he, with unerring judgment, was
tion, and recruited and equipped millions always the leader of the people. Milton
of men for Lincoln, and justified and said of Cromwell, " that war made him
sustained his proclamation of emancipa- great, peace greater." The superiority
tion. of Washington s character and genius

The French Revolution was the bloody were more conspicuous in the formation
reality of France and the nightmare of the of our government and in putting it
civilized world. The tyranny of centuries on indestructible foundations than in
culminated in frightful reprisals and reck- leading armies to victory and conquering
less revenges. As parties rose to power the independence of his country. "The
and passed to the guillotine, the frenzy of Union in any event," is the central
the revolt against all authority reached thought of his farewell address, and all
every country and captured the imagina- the years of his grand life were devoted
tions and enthusiasm of millions in every to its formation and preservation. He
land, who believed they saw that the mad- fought as a youth with Braddock and in
ness of anarchy, the overturning of all the capture of Fort Duquesne for the pro-
institutions, the confiscation and distribu- tection of the whole country. As com-
tion of property, would end in a millenni- mander-in-chief of the Continental army,
um for the masses and the universal his commission was from the Congress
brotherhood of man. Enthusiasm for of the united colonies. He inspired
France, our late ally, and the terrible the movement for the republic, was the
commercial and industrial distress occa- president and dominant spirit of the con-
sioned by the failure of the government vention which framed its Constitution,
under the Articles of Confederation, and its President for eight years, and
aroused an almost unanimous cry for guided its course until satisfied that, mov-
the young republic, not yet sure of its ing safely along the broad highway of
own existence, to plunge into the vor- time, it would be surely ascending towards
tex. The ablest and purest statesmen of the first place among the nations of the
the time bent to the storm, but Washing- world, the asylum of the oppressed, the
ton was unmoved. He stood like the rock- home of the free.

ribbed coast of a continent between the Do his countrymen exaggerate his vir-
surging billows of fanaticism and the child tues? Listen to Guizot, the historian of
of his love. Order is Heaven s first law, civilization: "Washington did the two
and the mind of Washington was order, greatest things which in politics it is
The Revolution defied God and derided permitted to man to attempt. He main-
the law. Washington devoutly reverenced tained by peace the independence of his



country which he conquered by war. He clouds overhead and no convulsions under
founded a free government in the name our feet. We reverently return thanks
of the principles of order and by re- to Almighty God for the past, and with
establishing their sway." Hear Lord confident and hopeful promise march upon
Erskine, the most fainous of English ad- sure ground towards the future. The sim-
vocates: "You are the only being for pie facts of these 100 years paralyze the
whom I have an awful reverence." Re- imagination, and we contemplate the vast
member the tribute of Charles James Fox, accumulations of the century with awe
the greatest parliamentary orator who and pride. Our population has grown
ever swayed the British House of Com- from 4,000,000 to 65,000,000. Its centre,
mons: "Illustrious man, before whom all moving westward 500 miles since 1789, is
borrowed greatness sinks into insig- eloquent with the founding of cities and
nificance." Contemplate the character the birth of States. New settlements,
of Lord Brougham, pre-eminent for two clearing the forests and subduing the
generations in every department of hu- prairies, and adding 4,000,000 to the few
man activity and thought, and then im- thousands of farms which were the sup
press upon the memories of your children port of Washington s republic, create one
his deliberate judgment: "Until time of the great granaries of the world, and
shall be no more will a test of the prog- open exhaustless reservoirs of national
ress which our race has made in wisdom wealth.

and virtue be derived from the venera- The infant industries, which the first
tion paid to the immortal name of Wash- act of our first administration sought to
ington." encourage, now give remunerative employ-
Chatham, who, with Clive, conquered ment to more people than inhabited the re-
an empire in the East, died broken- public at the beginning of Washington s
hearted at the loss of the empire in the Presidency. The grand total of their
West, by follies which even his power annual output of $7,000,000,000 in value
and eloquence could not prevent. Pitt places the United States first among the
saw the vast creations of his diplomacy manufacturing countries of the earth,
shattered at Austerlitz, and fell murmur- One-half the total mileage of all the rail
ing: "My country! how I leave my roads, and one-quarter of all the telegraph
country!" Napoleon caused a noble lines of the world within our borders,
tribute to Washington to be read at the testify to the volume, variety, and value
head of his armies, but, unable to rise of an internal commerce which makes
to Washington s greatness, witnessed the these States, if need be, independent
vast structure erected by conquest and and self-supporting. These 100 years of
cemented by blood, to minister to his own development under favoring political con-
ambition and pride, crumble into frag- ditions have brought the sum of our na-
ments, and, an exile and a prisoner, he tional wealth to a figure which has passed
breathed his last babbling of battle-fields the results of 1,000 years for the mother-
ami carnage. Washington, with his finger land herself, otherwise the richest of mod-
upon his pulse, felt the presence of death, ern empires.

and, calmly reviewing the past and fore- During this generation, a civil war of

casting the future, answered to the sum- unequalled magnitude caused the expendi-

mons of the grim messenger, " It is well," ture and loss of $8,000,000,000, and kill-

and, as his mighty soul ascended to God, ed 600,000, and permanently disabled over

the land was deluged with tears and the 1,000,000 young men, and yet the impetu-

world united in his eulogy. Blot out from ous progress of the North and the mar-

the page of history the names of all the vellous industrial development of the new

great actors of his time in the drama of and free South have obliterated the evi-

nations, and preserve the name of Wash- dences of destruction, and made the war

ington, and the century would be re- a memory, and have stimulated pro-

nowned. Auction until our annual surplus nearly

We stand to-day upon the dividing line equals that of England, France, and Ger-

between the first and second century of many combined. The teeming millions of

constitutional government. There are no Asia till the patient soil and work the



shuttle and loom as their fathers have rope. Most of the kings, princes, dukes,

done for ages; modern Europe has felt the and margraves of Germany, who reigned

influence and received the benefit of the in- despotically, and sold their soldiers for

calculable multiplication of force by in- foreign service, have passed into history,

ventive genius since the Napoleonic wars; and their heirs have neither prerogatives

and yet, only 269 years after the little nor domain. Spain has gone through

band of Pilgrims landed on Plymouth many violent changes, and the permanency

Rock, our people, numbering less than of her present government seems to depend

one-fifteenth of the inhabitants of the upon the feeble life of an infant prince,

globe, do one-third of its mining, one- France, our ancient friend, with repeated

fourth of its manufacturing, one-fifth of and bloody revolution, has tried the gov-

its agriculture, and own one-sixth of its eminent of Bourbon and convention, of di-

vvealth. rectory and consulate, of empire and citi-

This realism of material prosperity, zen king, of hereditary sovereign and re-
surpassing the wildest creations of the ro- public, of empire, and again republic. The
mancers who have astonished and delighted Hapsburg and Hohenzollern, after convul-
mankind, would be full of dangers for sions which have rocked the foundations
the present and menace for the future, if of their thrones, have been compelled to
the virtue, intelligence, and independence concede constitutions to their people and
of the people were not equal to the wise to divide with them the arbitrary power
regulation of its uses and the stern pre- wielded so autocratically and brilliantly
vention of its abuses. But following the by Maria Theresa and Frederick the Great,
growth and power of the great factors, The royal will of George III. could crowd
whose aggregation of capital made possible the American colonies into rebellion, and
the tremendous pace of the settlement wage war upon them until they were lost
of our national domain, the building of to his kingdom, but the authority of the
our great cities and the opening of the crown has devolved upon ministers who
lines of communications which have hold office subject to the approval of
united our country and created our re- the representatives of the people, and
sources, have come national and State the equal powers of the House of Lords
legislation and supervision. Twenty mill- have been vested in the Commons, leaving
ions, a vast majority of our people of in- to the peers only the shadow of their an-
telligent age, acknowledging the author- cient privileges. But to-day the American
ity of their several churches, 12,000,000 people, after all the dazzling developments
of children in the common schools, 345 of the century, are still happily living un-
universities and colleges for the higher der the government of Washington. The
education of men and 200 for women, 450 Constitution during all that period has

Online LibraryBenson John LossingHarper's encyclopdia of United States history from 458 A.D. to 1905 (Volume 3) → online text (page 16 of 76)