Henry Cabot Lodge.

George Washington (Volume 1) online

. (page 8 of 22)
Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


have got off easily enough, but when he put Wash-
ington's life in imminent peril, the wild fighting
spirit flared up as usual.

The hunting season was of course that of the
most lavish hospitality. There was always a great
deal of dining about, but Mount Vernon was the
chief resort, and its doors, ever open, were flung
far back when people came for a meet, or gathered
to talk over the events of a good run. Company
was the rule and solitude the exception. When
only the family were at dinner, the fact was written
down in the diary with great care as an unusual
event, for Washington was the soul of hospitality,
and although he kept early hours, he loved society
and a houseful of people. Profoundly reserved and
silent as to himself, a lover of solitude so far as
his own thoughts and feelings were concerned, he
was far from being a solitary man in the ordinary
acceptation of the word. He liked life and gayety
and conversation, he liked music and dancing or a
game of cards when the weather was bad, and he
enjoyed heartily the presence of young people and
of his own friends. So Mount Vernon was always
full of guests, and the master noted in his diary
that although he owned more than a hundred cows
he was obliged, nevertheless, to buy butter, which
suggests an experience not unknown to gentlemen
farmers of any period, and also that company was
never lacking in that generous, open house over-
looking the Potomac.

Beyond the bounds of his own estate he had also



114 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

many occupations and pleasures. He was a mem-
ber of the House of Burgesses, diligent in his at-
tention to the work of governing the colony. He
was diligent also in church affairs, and very active
in the vestry, which was the seat of ^local govern-
ment in Virginia. We hear of him also as the man-
ager of lotteries, which were a common form of rais-
ing money for local purposes, in preference to direct
taxation. In a word, he was thoroughly public-spir-
ited, and performed all the small duties which his
position demanded in the same spirit that he after-
wards brought to the command of armies and t©
the government of the nation. He had pleasure too,
as well as business, away from Mount Vernon. He
liked to go to his neighbors' houses and enjoy their
hospitality as they enjoyed his. We hear of \\\m
at the court-house on court days, where all the coun-
tryside gathered to talk and listen to the lawyers
and hear the news, and when he went to Williams-
burg his diary tells us of a round of dinners, begin-
ning with the governor, of visits to the club, and of
a regular attendance at the theatre whenever actors
came to the little capital. Whether at home or
abroad, he took part in all the serious pursuits,
in all the interests, and in every reasonable pleasure
offered by the colony.

Take it for all in all, it was a manly, wholesome,
many-sided life. It kept Washington young and
strong, both mentally and physically. When he
was forty he flung the iron bar, at some village
sports, to a point which no comjietitor could ap



t



LOVE AND MARRIAGE. 115

proach. There was no man in all Virginia who
could ride a horse witli such a powerful and assured
seat. There was no one who could journey farther
on foot, and no man at Williamsburg who showed
at the governor's receptions such a commanding
presence, or who walked with such a strong and
elastic step. As with the body so with the mind.
He never rusted. A practical carpenter and smith,
he brought the same quiet intelligence and firm
will to the forging of iron or the felling and sawing
of trees that he had displayed in fighting France.
The life of a country gentleman did not dull or
stupefy him, or lead him to gross indulgences.
He remained well-made and athletic, strong and
enduring, keen in perception and in sense, and warm
in his feelings and affections. Many men would
have become heavy and useless in these years of
quiet country life, but Washington simply ripened,
and, like all slowly maturing men, grew stronger,
abler, and wiser in the happy years of rest and
waiting which intervened between youth and middle
age.

Meantime, while the current of daily life flowed
on thus gently at Mount Vernon, the great stream
of public events poured by outside. It ran very
calmly at first, after the war, and then with a
quickening murmur, which increased to an ominous
roar when the passage of the Stamp Act became
known in America. Washington was always a
constant attendant at the assembly, in which by
sheer force of character, and despite his lack of



116 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

the talking and debating faculty, he carried more
weiglit tlian any other member. He was present
on May 29, 1765, when Patrick Henry introduced
his famous resolutions and menaced the king's
government in words which rang through the con-
tinent. The resolutions were adopted, and Wash-
ington went home, with many anxious thoughts,
to discuss the political outlook with his friend and
neighbor George Mason, one of the keenest and
ablest men in Virginia. The utter folly of the
policy embodied in the Stamp Act struck Washing-
ton very forcibly. With that foresight for which
he was so remarkable, he perceived what scarcely
any one else even dreamt of, that persistence in
this course must surely lead to a violent separation
from the mother country, and it is interesting to note
in this, the first instance when he was called upon
to consider a political question of great magnitude,
his clearness of vision and grasp of mind. In what
he wrote there is no trace of the ambitious schemer,
no threatening nor blustering, no undue despond-
ency nor excited hopes. But there is a calm under-
standing of all the conditions, an entire freedom
from self-deception, and the power of seeing facts
exactly as they were, which were all characteristic
of his intellectual strength, and to which we shall
need to recur again and again.

The repeal of the Stamp Act was received by
Washington with sober but sincere pleasure. He
had anticipated " direful " results and " unhappy
consequences " from its enforcement, and he freely



LOVE AND MARRIAGE. 117

said that those who were iustrumental in its repeal
had his cordial thanks. He was no agitator, and
had not come forward in this affair, so he now re-
tired again to Mount Vernon, to his farming and
hunting, where he remained, watching very closely
the progress of events. He had marked the dan-
gerous reservation of the principle in the very act
of repeal ; he observed at Boston the gathering
strength of what the wise ministers of George III.
called sedition ; he noted the arrival of British
troops in the rebellious Puritan town ; and he saw
plainly enough, looming in the background, the
final appeal to arms. He wrote to Mason (April
5, 1769), that " at a time when our lordty masters
in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less
than the deprivation of American freedom, some-
thing should be done to avert the stroke and main-
tain the liberty which we have derived from our
ancestors. But the manner of doing it, to answer
the purpose effectually, is the point in question.
That no man should scruple or hesitate a moment
to use arms in defence of so valuable a blessing is
clearly my opinion. Yet arms, I would beg leave
to add, should be the last resource, the dernier res-
sort.''' He then urged the adoption of the only
middle course, non-importation, but he had not
much hope in this expedient, although an honest
desire is evident that it may prove effectual.

When the assembly met in May, they received
the new governor. Lord Botetourt, with much
cordiality, and then fell to passing spirited and



118 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

sharp-spoken resolutions declaring their own rights
and defending Massachusetts. The result was a
dissolution. Thereupon the burgesses repaired to
the Raleigh tavern, where they adopted a set of
non-importation resolutions and formed an associa-
tion. The resolutions were offered by Washing-
ton, and were the result of his quiet country talks
with Mason. When the moment for action ar-
rived, Washington came naturally to the front,
and then returned quietly to Mount Vernon, once
more to go about his business and watch the threat-
ening political horizon. Virginia did not live
up to this first non-importation agreement, and
formed another a year later. But Washington
was not in the habit of presenting resolutions
merely for effect, and there was nothing of the
actor in his composition. His resolutions meant
business, and he lived up to them rigidly himself.
Neither tea nor any of the proscribed articles were
allowed in his house. Most of the leaders did not
realize the seriousness of the situation, but Wash-
ington, looking forward with clear and sober gaze,
was in grim earnest, and was fully conscious that
when he offered his resolutions the colony was tvy-
ing the last peaceful remedy, and that the next step
would be war.

Still he went calmly about his many affairs as
usual, and gratified the old passion for the frontier
by a journey to Pittsburgh for the sake of lands
and soldiers' claims, and thence down the Ohio and
into the wilderness with his old friends the trap-



LOVE AND MARRIAGE. 119

pers and pioneers. He visited the Indian villages
as in the days of the French mission, and noted in
the savages an ominous restlessness, which seemed,
like the flight of birds, to express the dumb instinct
of an approaching storm. The clouds broke away
somewhat under the kindly management of Lord
Botetourt, and then gathered again more thickly
on the accession of his successor, Lord Dunmore.
With both these gentlemen Washington was on
the most friendly terms. He visited them often,
and was consulted by them, as it behooved them to
consult the strongest man within the limits of their
government. Still he waited and watched, and
scanned carefully the news from the North. Be-
fore long he heard that tea-chests were floating in
Boston harbor, and then from across the water
came intelligence of the passage of the Port Bill
and other measures destined to crush to earth the
little rebel town.

When the Virginia assembly met again, they
proceeded to congratulate the governor on the ar-
rival of Lady Dunmore, and then suddenly, as all
was flowing smoothly along, there came a letter
through the corresponding committee which Wash-
ington had helped to establish, telling of the meas-
ures against Boston. Everything else was thrown
aside at once, a vigorous protest was entered on
the journal of the House, and June 1st, when the
Port Bill was to go into operation, was appointed
a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. The
first result was prompt dissolution of the assem-



120 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

bly. The next was another meeting in the long
room of the Raleigh tavern, where the Boston bill
was denounced, non-importation renewed, and the
committee of correspondence instructed to take
steps for calling a general congress. Events were
beginning to move at last with perilous rapidity.
Washington dined with Lord Dunmore on the
evening of that day, rode with him, and appeared
at her ladyship's ball the next night. It was not
his way to bite his thumb at men from whom he
differed politically, nor to call the motives of his
opponents in question. But when the 1st of June
arrived, he noted in his diary that he fasted all day
and attended the appointed services. He always
meant what he said, being of a simple nature, and
when he fasted and prayed there was something
ominously earnest about it, something that his
excellency the governor, who liked the society of
this agreeable man and wise counsellor, would have
done well to consider and draw conclusions from,
and which he probably did not heed at all. He
might well have reflected, as he undoubtedly failed
to do, that when men of the George Washington
type fast and pray on account of political mis-
doings, it is well for their opijonents to look to it
carefully.

Meantime Boston had sent forth appeals to form
a league among the colonies, and thereupon an-
other meeting was held in the Raleigh tavern, and
a letter was dispatched advising the burgesses to
consider this matter of a general league and take



LOVE AND MARRIAGE. 121

the sense of their respective counties. Virginia and
Massachusetts had joined hands now, and they
were sweeping the rest of the continent irresisti-
bly forward with them. As for Washington, he
returned to Mount Vernon and at once set about
taking the sense of his county, as he had agreed.
Before doing so he had some correspondence with
his old friend Bryan Fairfax. The Fairfaxes nat-
urally sided with the mother-country, and Bryan
was much distressed by the course of Virginia,
and remonstrated strongly, and at length by letter,
against violent measures. Washington replied to
him : " Does it not appear as clear as the sun in its
meridian brightness that there is a regular, system-
atic plan formed to fix the right and practice of
taxation on us ? Does not the uniform conduct of
Parliament for some years past confirm this ? Do
not all the debates, especially those just brought to
us in the House of Commons, on the side of gov-
ernment expressly declare that America must be
taxed in aid of the British funds, and that she has
no longer resources within herself? Is there any-
thing to be expected from petitioning after this ? Is
not the attack upon the liberty and property of the
people of Boston, before restitution of the loss to
the India Company was demanded, a plain and self-
evident proof of what they are aiming at ? Do
not the subsequent bills (now I dare say acts) for
depriving the Massachusetts Bay of its charter,
and for transporting offenders into other colonies,
or to Great Britain for trial, where it is impossible



122 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

from the nature of the thing that justice can be
obtained, convince us that the administration is
determined to stick at nothing to carry its point ?
Ought we not, then, to put our virtue and fortitude
to the severest test ? " He was prepared, he con-
tinued, for anything except confiscating British
debts, which struck him as dishonorable. These
were plain but pregnant questions, but what we
mark in them, and in all his letters of this time,
is the absence of constitutional discussion, of which
America was then full. They are confined to a
direct presentation of the broad political question,
whicb underlay everything. Washington always
went straight to the mark, and he now saw, through
all the dust of legal and constitutional strife, that
the only real issue was whether America was to be
allowed to govern herself in her own way or not.
In the acts of the ministry he perceived a policy
which aimed at substantial power, and he believed
that such a policy, if insisted on, could have but
one result.

The meeting of Fairfax County was held in due
course, and Washington presided. The usual reso-
lutions for self-government and against the vindic-
tive Massachusetts measures were adopted. Union
and non-importation were urged ; and then the
congress, which they advocated, was recommended
to address a petition and remonstrance to the king,
and ask him to reflect that " from our sovereign
there can be but one appeal." Everything was to
be tried, everything was to be done, but the ulti«



LOVE AND MARRIAGE. 123

mate appeal was never lost sight of where Wash-
ington appeared, and the final sentence of these
Fairfax County resolves is very characteristic of the
leader in the meeting. Two days later he wrote
to the worthy and still remonstrating Bryan Fair-
fax, repeating and enlarging his former questions,
and adding : '' Has not General Gage's conduct
since his arrival, in stopping the address of his
council, and publishing a proclamation more be-
coming a Turkish bashaw than an English gover-
nor, declaring it treason to associate in any man-
ner by which the commerce of Great Britain is to
be affected, — has not this exhibited an unexampled
testimony of the most despotic system of tyranny
that ever was practised in a free government ? . . .
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 sacrifice to despotism ? " The fighting spirit of
the man was rising. There was no rash rushing
forward, no ignorant shouting for war, no blinking
of the real issue, but a foresight that nothing could
dim, and a perception of facts which nothing could
confuse.

On August 1st Washington was at Williams-
burg, to represent his county in the meeting of
representatives from all Virginia. The conven-
tion passed resolutions like the Fairfax resolves,
and chose delegates to a general congress. The
silent man was now warming into action. He
" made the most eloquent speech that ever was



124 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

made," and said, " I will raise a thousand men, sub-
sist them at my own expense, and march them to
the relief of Boston." He was capable, it would
seem, of talking to the purpose with some fire and
force, for all he was so quiet and so retiring. When
there was anything to say, he could say it so that
it stirred all who listened, because they felt that
there was a mastering strength behind the words.
He faced the terrible issue solemnly and firmly, but
his blood was up, the fighting spirit in him was
aroused, and the convention chose him as one of
Virginia's six delegates to the Continental Con-
gress. He lingered long enough to make a few
preparations at Mount Vernon. He wrote another
letter to Fairfax, interesting to us as showing the
keenness with which he read in the meagre news-
reports the character of Gage and of the opposing
people of Massachusetts. Then he started for the
North to take the first step on the long and diffi-
cult path that lay before him.



CHAPTER V.

TAKING COMMAND.

In the warm days of closing August, a party of
three gentlemen rode away from Mount Vernon one
morning, and set out upon their long journey to
Philadelphia. One cannot help wondering whether
a tender and somewhat sad remembrance did not
rise in Washington's mind, as he thought of the
last time he had gone northward, nearly twenty
years before. Then, he was a light-hearted young
soldier, and he and his aides, albeit they went on
business, rode gayly through the forests, lighting
the road with the bright colors they wore and with
the glitter of lace and arms, while they anticipated
all the pleasures of youth in the new lands they
were to visit. Now, he was in the prime of man-
hood, looking into the future with prophetic eyes,
and sober as was his wont when the shadow of com-
ing responsibility lay dark upon his path. With
him went Patrick Henry, four years his junior, and
Edmund Pendleton, now past threescore. They
were all quiet and grave enough, no doubt; but
Washington, we may believe, was gravest of all,
because, being the most truthful of men to him-
self as to others, he saw more plainly what was
coming. So they made their journey to the North,



126 GEORGE WASHINGTON.

and on the memorable 5th of September they met
with their brethren from the other colonies in Car-
penters' Hall in Philadelphia.

The Congress sat fifty-one days, occupied with
debates and discussion. Few abler, more honest,
or more memorable bodies of men have ever as-
sembled to settle the fate of nations. Much de-
bate, great and earnest in all directions, resulted
in a declaration of colonial rights, in an address to
the king, in another to the people of Canada, and
a third to the people of Great Britain ; masterly
state papers, seldom surpassed, and extorting even
then the admiration of England. In these debates
and state papers Washington took no part that is
now apparent on the face of the record. He was
silent in the Congress, and if he was consulted, as
he unquestionably was by the committees, there is
no record of it now. The simple fact was that his
time had not come. He saw men of the most
acute minds, liberal in education, patriotic in heart,
trained in law and in history, doing the work of
the moment in the best possible way. If anything
had been done wrongly, or had been left undone,
Washington would have found his voice quickly
enough, and uttered another of the " most eloquent
speeches ever made," as he did shortly before in
the Virginia convention. He could speak in public
when need was, but now there was no need and
nothing to arouse him. The work of Congress
followed the line of policy adopted by the Virginia
convention, and that had proceeded along the path



TAKING COMMAND. 127

marked out in the Fairfax resolves, so that Wash-
ington could not be other than content. He occu-
pied his own time, as we see by notes in his diary,
in visiting the delegates from the other colonies,
and in informing himself as to their ideas and pur-
poses, and those of the people whom they repre-
sented. He was quietly working for the future,
the present being well taken care of. Yet this si-
lent man, going hither and thither, and chatting
pleasantly with this member or that, was in some
way or other impressing himself deeply on all the
delegates, for Patrick Henry said : "If you speak
of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel
Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on
the floor."

We have a letter, written at just this time, which
shows us how Washington felt, and we see again
how his spirit rose as he saw more and more clearly
that the ultimate issue was inevitable. The letter
is addressed to Captain Mackenzie, a British officer
at Boston, and an old friend. " Permit me," he
began, " with the freedom of a friend (for you
know I always esteemed you), to express my sor-
row that fortune should place you in a service that
must fix curses to the latest posterity upon the
contrivers, and, if success (which, by the by, is im-
possible) accompanies it, execrations upon all those
who have been instrumental in the execution."
This was rather uncompromising talk and not over
peaceable, it must be confessed. He continued :
"Give me leave to add, and I think I can an-



128 GEORGE WASHINGTON,

nounce 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 sub-
mit to the loss of those valuable rights and privi-
leges which are essential to the happiness of every
free state, and without which life, liberty, and
property are rendered totally insecure. . . . Again
give me leave to add as my opinion that more
blood will be spilled on this occasion, if the minis-
try are determined to push matters to extremity,
than history has ever yet furnished instances of
in the annals of North America, and such a vital
wound will be given to the peace of this great coun-
try, as time itself cannot cure or eradicate the re-
membrance of." Washington was not a political
agitator like Sam Adams, planning with unerring
intelligence to bring about independence. On the
contrary, he rightly declared that independence was
not desired. But although he believed in exhaust-
ing every argument and every peaceful remedy, it
is evident that he felt that there now could be but
one result, and that violent separation from the
mother country was inevitable. Here is where he
differed from his associates and from the great
mass of the people, and it is to this entire veracity
of mind that his wisdom and foresight were so
largely due, as well as his success when the time
came for him to put his hand to the plough.



TAKING COMMAND. 129

When Congress adjourned, Washington returned
to Mount Vernon, to the pursuits and pleasures that
he loved, to his family and farm, and to his horses
and hounds, with whom he had many a good run,
the last that he was to enjoy for years to come.
He returned also to wait and watch as before, and
to see war rapidly gather in the east. When the
Virginia convention again assembled, resolutions
were introduced to arm and discipline men, and
Henry declared in their support that an " appeal
to arms and to the God of Hosts " was all that
was left. Washington said nothing, but he served
on the committee to draft a plan of defence, and
then fell to reviewing the independent companies
which were springing up everywhere. At the same
time he wrote to his brother John, who had raised
a troop, that he would accept the command of it if
desired, as it was his " full intention to devote his


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeGeorge Washington (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 22)