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in October, 1782, he wrote to the Secretary of War
in words warm with indignant feeling : " While
I premise that no one I have seen or heard of ap-
pears opposed to the principle of reducing the army
as circumstances may require, yet I cannot help
fearing the result of the measure in contemplation,
under present circumstances, when I see such a num-
ber of men, goaded by a thousand stings of reflec-
tion on the past and of anticipation on the future,
about to be turned into the world, soured by pen-
ury and what they call the ingratitude of the pub-



326 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

lie, involved in debts, without one farthing of money
to carry them home after having spent the flower
of their days, and many of them their patrimonies,
in establishing the freedom and independence of
their country, and suffered everything that human
nature is capable of enduring on this side of death.
. . . You may rely upon it, the patriotism and long-
suft'ering of this army are almost exhausted, and
that there never was so great a spirit of discontent
as at this instant. While in the field I think it
may be kept from breaking into acts of outrage ;
but when we retire into winter-quarters, unless the
storm is previously dissipated, I cannot be at ease
respecting the consequences. It is high time for a
peace."

These were grave words, coming from such a
man as Washington, but they passed unheeded.
Congress and the States went blandly along as
if everything was all right, and as if the army
had no grievances. But the soldiers thought dif-
ferently. " Dissatisfactions rose to a great and
alarming height, and combinations among officers
to resign at given periods in a body were begin-
ning to take place." The outlook was so threat-
ening that Washington, who had intended to go
to Mount Vernon, remained in camp, and by man-
ajrement and tact thwarted these combinations and
converted these dangerous movements into an ad-
dress to Congress from the officers, asking for
half -pay, arrearages, and some other equally proper
concessions. Still Congress did not stir. Some



PEACE. 327

indefinite resolutions were passed, but nothing was
done as to the commutation of half -pay into a fixed
sum, and after such a display of indifference the dis-
satisfaction increased rapidly, and the army became
more and more restless. In March a call was is-
sued for a meeting of officers, and an anonymous
address, written with much skill, — the work, as
afterwards appeared, of Major John Armstrong, —
was published at the same time. The address
was well calculated to inflame the passions of the
troops ; it advised a resort to force, and was scat-
tered broadcast through the camp. The army was
now in a ferment, and the situation was full of
peril. A weak man would have held his peace ;
a rash one would have tried to suppress the meet-
ing. Washington did neither, but quietly took
control of the whole movement himself. In gen-
eral orders he censured the call and the address as
irregular, and then appointed a time and place for
the meeting. Another anonymous address there-
upon appeared, quieter in tone, but congratulat-
ing the army on the recognition accorded by the
commander-in-chief.

When the officers assembled, Washington arose
with a manuscript in his hand, and as he took out
his glasses said, simply, " You see, gentlemen, I
have grown both blind and gray in your service."
His address was brief, calm, and strong. The clear,
vigorous sentences were charged with meaning and
with deep feeling. He exhorted them one and all,
both officers and men, to remain loyal and obedient.



328 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

true to their glorious past and to tlieir country.
He appealed to their patriotism, and promised them
that which they had always had, his own earnest
support in obtaining justice from Congress. When
he had finished he quietly withdrew. The officers
were deeply moved by his words, and his influence
prevailed. Resolutions were passed, reiterating the
demands of the army, but professing entire faith
in the government. This time Congress listened,
and the measures granting half-pay in commuta-
tion and certain other requests were passed. Thus
this very serious danger was averted, not by the
reluctant action of Congress, but by the wisdom
and strength of the general, who was loved by his
soldiers after a fashion that few conquerors could
boast.

Underlying all these general discontents, there
was, besides, a well-defined movement, which saw
a solution of all difficulties and a redress of all
wrongs in a radical change of the form of govern-
ment, and in the elevation of Washington to su-
preme power. This party was satisfied that the
existing system was a failure, and that it was not
and could not i)e made either strong, honest, or re-
spectable. The obvious relief was in some kind of
monarchy, with a large infusion of the one-man
power; and it followed, as a matter of course, that
the one man could be no other than the commander-
in-chief. In May, 1782, when the feeling in the
army had risen very high, this party of reform
brought their ideas before Washington through an



PEACE. 329

old and respected friend of his, Colonel Nicola.
The colonel set forth very clearly the failure and
shortcomings of the existing government, argued
in favor of the substitution of something nmch
stronger, and wound up by hinting very plainly
that his correspondent was the man for the crisis
and the proper savior of society. The letter was
forcible and well written, and Colonel Nicola was
a man of character and standing. It could not be
passed over lightly or in silence, and Washington
replied as follows : —

" With a mixture of surprise and astonishment,
I have read with attention the sentiments you have
submitted to my perusal. Be assured, sir, no occur-
rence in the course of the war has given me more
painful sensations than your information of there
being such ideas existing in the army as you have
expressed, and [which] I must view with abhorrence
and reprehend with severity. For the present, the
communication of them will rest in my own bosom,
unless some further agitation of the matter shall
make a disclosure necessary. I am much at a loss
to conceive what part of my conduct could have
given encouragement to an address which seems to
me big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall
my country. If I am not deceived in the knowl-
edge of myself, you could not have found a per-
son to whom your schemes are more disagreeable.
At the same time, in justice to my own feelings,
I must add that no man possesses a more sincere
wish to see justice done to the army than I do ; and



330 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

as far as my power and influence in a constitutional
way extend, they shall be employed to the utmost
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 or any one else, a sentiment of the
like nature."

This simple but exceedingly plain letter checked
the whole movement at once ; but the feeling of
hostility to the existing system of government and
of confidence in Washington increased steadily
through the summer and winter. When the next
spring had come round, and the "Newburgh ad-
dresses " had been published, the excitement was
at fever heat. All the army needed was a leader.
It was as easy for Washington to have grasped
supreme power then, as it would have been for
Caesar to have taken the crown from Antony upon
the Lupercal. He repelled Nicola's suggestion
with quiet reproof, and took the actual movement,
when it reared its head, into his own hands and
turned it into other channels. This incident has
been passed over altogether too carelessly by his-
torians and biographers. It has generally been
used merely to show the general nobility of Wash-
ington's sentiments, and no proper stress has been
laid upon the facts of the time which gave birth
to such an idea and such a proposition. It would
have been a perfectly feasible thing at that par-



PEACE. 331

ticular moment to have altered the frame of gov-
ernment and placed the successful soldier in pos-
session of supreme power. The notion of kingly
government was, of course, entirely familiar to
everybody, and had in itself nothing repulsive.
The confederation was disintegrated, the States
were demoralized, and the whole social and politi-
cal life was weakened. The army was the one
coherent, active, and thoroughly organized body in
the country. Six years of war had turned them
from militia into seasoned veterans, and they stood
armed and angry, ready to respond to the call of
the great leader to whom they were entirely de-
voted. When the English troops were once with-
drawn, there was nothing on the continent that
could have stood against them. If they had moved,
they would have been everywhere supported by
their old comrades who had returned to the ranks
of civil life, by all the large class who wanted peace
and order in the quickest and surest way, and by
the timid and tired generally. There would have
been in fact no serious opposition, probably because
there would have been no means of sustaining it.

The absolute feebleness of the general govern-
ment was shown a few weeks later, when a recently
recruited regiment of Pennsylvania troops mu-
tinied, and obliged Congress to leave Philadelphia,
unable either to defend themselves or procure de-
fence from the State. This mutiny was put down
suddenly and effectively by Washington, very
wroth at the insubordination of raw troops, who had



332



GEORGE WASHINGTON.



neither fought nor suffered. Yet even such muti-
neers as these would have succeeded in a large meas-
ure, had it not been for Washington, and one can
easily imagine from this incident the result of dis-
ciplined and well-planned action on the part of the
army led by their great chief. In that hour of
debility and relaxation, a military seizure of the
government and the erection of some form of mon-
archy would not have been difficult. Whether such
a change would have lasted is another question, but
there is no reason to doubt that at the moment it
might have been effected. Washington, however,
not only refused to have anything to do with the
scheme, but he used the personal loyalty which
might have raised him to supreme power to check
all dangerous movements and put in motion the
splendid and unselfish patriotism for which the
army was conspicuous, and which underlay all their
irritations and discontents.

The obvious view of Washington's action in this
crisis as a remarkable exhibition of patriotism is
at best somewhat superficial. In a man in any
way less great, the letter of refusal to Nicola and
the treatment of the opportunity presented at the
time of the Newburgh addresses would have been
fine in a high degree. In Washington they were
not so extraordinary, for the situation offered him
no temptation. Carlyle was led to think slight-
ingly of Washington, one may believe, because he
did not seize the tottering government with a
strong hand, and bring order out of chaos on the



PEACE. 333

instant. But this is a woful misunderstanding of
the man. To put aside a crown for love of coun-
try is noble, but to look down upon such an op-
portunity indicates a much greater loftiness and
strength of mind. Washington was wholly free
from the vulgar ambition of the usurper, and the
desire of mere personal aggrandizement found no
place in his nature. His ruling passion was the
passion for success, and for thorough and complete
success. What he could not bear was the least
shadow of failure. To have fought such a war
to a victorious finish, and then turned it to his
own advantage, would have been to him failure of
the meanest kind. He fought to free the colo-
nies from England, and make them independent,
not to play the part of a Caesar or a Cromwell in
the wreck and confusion of civil war. He flung
aside the suggestion of supreme power, not simply
as dishonorable and unpatriotic, but because such
a result would have defeated the one great and
noble object at which he aimed. Nor did he act
in this way through any indolent shrinking from
the great task of making what he had won worth
winning, by crushing the forces of anarchy and
separation, and bringing order and unity out of
confusion. From the surrender of Yorktown to
the day of his retirement from the Presidency, he
worked unceasingly to establish union and strong
government in the country he had made indepen-
dent. He accomplished this great labor more suc-
cessfully by honest and lawful methods than if



334 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

he had taken the path of the strong-handed savior
of society, and his work in this field did more for
the welfare of his country than all his battles. To
have restored order at the head of the army was
much easier than to effect it in the slow and law-
abiding fashion which he adopted. To have re-
fused supreme rule, and then to have effected in
the spirit and under the forms of free government
all and more than the most brilliant of military
chiefs could have achieved by absolute power, is a
glory which belongs to Washington alone.

Nevertheless, at that particular juncture it was,
as he himself had said, " high time for a peace."
The danger at Newburgh had been averted by his
commanding influence and the patriotic conduct of
the army. But it had been averted only, not re-
moved. The snake was scotched, not killed. The
finishing stroke was still needed in the form of an
end to hostilities, and it was therefore fortunate
for the United States that a fortnight later, on
March 23d, news came that a general treaty of
peace had been signed. This final consummation
of his work, in addition to the passage by Congress
of the half -pay commutation and the settlement of
the army accounts, filled Washington with deep
rejoicing. He felt that in a short time, a few
weeks at most, he would be free to withdraw to the
quiet life at Mount Vernon for which he longed.
But public bodies move slowly, and one delay after
another occurred to keep him still in the harness.
He chafed under the postponement, but it was not



PEACE. 335

possible to him to remain idle even when he
awaited iu almost daily expectation the hour of
dismissal. He saw with the instinctive glance of
statesmanship that the dangerous point in the
treaty of peace was in the provisions as to the
western posts on the one side, and those relating
to British debts on the other. A month therefore
had not passed before he brought to the attention
of Congress the importance of getting immediate
possession of those posts, and a little later he suc-
ceeded in having Steuben sent out as a special
envoy to obtain their surrender. The mission was
vain, as he had feared. He was not destined to ex-
tract this thorn for many years, and then only after
many trials and troubles. Soon afterward he made
a journey with Governor Clinton to Ticonderoga,
and along the valley of the Mohawk, " to wear
away the time," as he wrote to Congress. He wore
away time to more purpose than most people, for
where he travelled he observed closely, and his ob-
servations were lessons which he never forgot. On
this trip he had the western posts and the Indians
always in mind, and familiarized himself with the
conditions of a part of the country where these
matters were of great importance.

On his return he went to Princeton, where Con-
gress had been sitting since their flight from the
mutiny which he had recently suppressed, and
where a house had been provided for his use. He
remained there two months, aiding Congress in
their work. During the spring he had been en-



836 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

gaged on the matter of a peace establishment, and
he now gave Congress elaborate and well-matured
advice on that question, and on those of public
lands, western settlement, and the best Indian policy.
In all these directions his views were clear, far-
sighted, and wise. He saw that in these questions
was involved much of the future development and
wellbeing of the country, and he treated them with
a precision and an easy mastery which showed the
thought he had given to the new problems which
now were coming to the front. Unluckily, he was
so far ahead, both in knowledge and perception, of
the body with which he dealt, that he could get
little or nothing done, and in September he wrote
in plain but guarded terms of the incapacity of the
lawmakers. The people were not yet ripe for his
measures, and he was forced to bide his time, and
see the injuries caused by indifference and short-
sightedness work themselves out. Gradually, how-
ever, the absolutely necessary business was brought
to an end. Then Washington issued a circular
letter to the governors of the States, which was
one of the ablest he ever wrote, and full of the
profoundest statesmanship, and he also sent out a
touching address of farewell to the army, eloquent
with wisdom and with patriotism.

From Princeton he went to West Point, where
the army that still remained in service was stationed.
Thence he moved to Harlem, and on November
25th the British army departed, and Washington,
with his troops, accompanied by Governor Clinton



PEACE. 337

and some regiments of local militia, marched in aiul
took possession. This was the outward sign that
the war was over, and that American independence
had been won. Carleton feared that the entry of
the American army might be the signal for con-
fusion and violence, in which the Tory inhabitants
would suffer ; but everything passed off with perfect
tranquillity and good order, and in the evening
Clinton gave a public dinner to the commander-in-
chief and the officers of the army.

All was now over, and Washington prepared to
go to Annapolis and lay down his commission. On
December 4th his ofi&cers assembled in Fraunces'
Tavern to bid him farewell. As he looked about
on his faithful friends, his usual self-command de-
serted him, and he could not control his voice.
Taking a glass of wine, he lifted it up, and said
simply, " With a heart full of love and gratitude
I now take my leave of you, most devoutly wishing
that your latter days may be as prosperous and
happy as your former ones have been glorious and
honorable." The toast was drunk in silence, and
then Washington added, " I cannot come to each
of you and take my leave, but shall be obliged if
you will come and take me by the hand." One by
one they approached, and Washington grasped the
hand of each man and embraced him. His eyes
were full of tears, and he could not trust himself to
speak. In silence he bade each and all farewell,
and then, accompanied by his officers, walked to
Whitehall Ferry. Entering his barge, the word



338 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

was given, and as the oars struck the water he
stood up and lifted his hat. In solemn silence his
officers returned the salute, and watched the noble
and gracious figure of their beloved chief until the
boat disappeared from sight behind the point of
the Battery.

At Philadelphia he stopped a few days and ad-
justed his accounts, which he had in characteristic
fashion kept himself in the neatest and most me-
thodical way. He had drawn no pay, and had ex-
pended considerable sums from his private fortune,
which he had omitted to charge to the government.
The gross amount of his expenses was about 15,000
pounds sterling, including secret service and other
incidental outlays. In these days of wild money-
hunting, there is something worth pondering in this
simple business settlement between a great general
and his government, at the close of eight years of
war. This done, he started again on his journey.
From Philadelphia he proceeded to Annapolis,
greeted with addresses and hailed with shouts at
every town and village on his route, and having
reached his destination, he addressed a letter to
Congress on December 20th, asking when it would
be agreeable to them to receive him. The 23d was
appointed, and on that day, at noon, he appeared
before Congress.

The following year a French orator and " maitre
avocat," in an oration delivered at Toulouse upon
the American Revolution, described this scene in
these words : *' On the day when Washington re-



PEACE. 339

signed his commission in the hall of Congress, a
crown decked with jewels was placed upon the Book
of the Constitutions. Suddenly Washington seizes
it, breaks it, and flings the pieces to the assembled
people. How small ambitious Caesar seems beside
the hero of America." It is worth while to recall
this contemporary French description, because its
theatrical and dramatic untruth gives such point
by contrast to the plain and dignified reality. The
scene was the hall of Congress. The members
representing the sovereign power were seated and
covered, while all the space about was filled by the
governor and state officers of Maryland, by military
officers, and by the ladies and gentlemen of the
neighborhood, who stood in respectful silence with
uncovered heads. Washington was introduced by
the Secretary of Congress, and took a chair which
had been assigned to him. There was a brief
pause, and then the president said that " the United
States in Congress assembled were prepared to re-
ceive his communication." Washington rose, and
replied as follows :

" Mr. President : 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 of presenting my-
self 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



340 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

afforded the United States of becoming a respec-
table nation, I resign with satisfaction the appoint-
ment I accepted with diflBdence ; 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 Heaven.
The successful termination of the war has verified
the most sanguine expectations ; and my grati-
tude for the interposition of Providence, and the
assistance I have received from my countrymen,
increases with every review of the momentous con-
test." Then, after a word of gratitude to the army
and to his staff, he concluded as follows : " I con-
sider it an indispensable duty to close this last sol-
emn act of my official life by commending the in-
terests of our dearest country to the protection of
Almighty God, and those who have the superinten-
dence of them to his holy keeping.

" Having now finished the work assigned me, I
retire from the great theatre of action ; and bid-
ding an affectionate farewell to this august body,
under whose orders I have so long acted, I here of-
fer my commission, and take my leave of all the
employments of public life."

In singularly graceful and eloquent words his
old opponent, Thomas Mifflin, the president, replied,
the simple ceremony ended, and Washington left
the room a private citizen.

The great master of English fiction, touching this
scene with skilful hand, has said : " Which was the



PEACE. 341

most splendid spectacle ever witnessed, the opening-
feast of Prince George in London, or the resigna-
tion of Washington ? Which is the noble charac-
ter for after ages to admire, — yon fribble dancing
in lace and spangles, or yonder hero who sheathes
his sword after a life of spotless honor, a purity
unreproached, a courage indomitable, and a con-
summate victory ? "

There is no need to say more. Comment or
criticism on such a farewell, from such a man, at
the close of a long civil war, would be not only
superfluous but impertinent. The contemporary
newspaper, in its meagre account, said that the oc-
casion was deeply solemn and affecting, and that
many persons shed tears. Well indeed might
those then present have been thus affected, for they
had witnessed a scene memorable forever in the
annals of all that is best and noblest in human na-
ture. They had listened to a speech which was not
equalled in meaning and spirit in American his-
tory until, eighty years later, Abraham Lincoln
stood upon the slopes of Gettysburg and uttered
his immortal words upon those who died that the
country might live.


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Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 22)