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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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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. At the same
time, to do justice to my own feelings, 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 power and influence in a constitutional
way extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to
effect it, should there be 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. I am, sir, &c. GEORGE WASHINGTON.'

In May 1782, Sir Guy Carleton arrived at New York, having been
appointed to succeed Sir Henry Clinton in the command of the



British army. It was apparent, from the tone of his first letters to
Washington, that the British government was inclined to make
concessions ; and in August he gave formal notice that negotiations
for a general peace had commenced at Paris, and ' that the inde-
pendence of the United States would be conceded as a preliminary
step.' By Washington's advice, however, the army was kept entire
until the spring of 1783, when the news arrived that the treaty-
recognising the independence of the states had been actually signed.
Nor was this a task of small difficulty ; for so large were the arrears
. of pay due to the officers and men, that it required all the prudence
and authority of Washington to prevent the troops from rising in
rebellion against the congress which had employed them.

The proclamation of the final cessation of hostilities was made to
the American army on the iQth of April 1783, 'exactly eight years
from the day on which the first blood was shed in this memorable
contest at Lexington.' Eight years' war had converted what had
been a few flourishing colonies of Great Britain into a new and
independent state, likely to become ere long one of the most power-
ful nations on the face of the earth. The war had not been one of
daring achievements and brilliant exploits. If viewed in this light,
the war of American independence would seem but paltry and insig-
nificant compared with other struggles recorded in history. We do
not see in it any of those glorious victories of hundreds over
thousands, those flashing acts of individual heroism, or those daring
stratagems of military genius, which characterise other wars of
similar importance. It was a cool, cautious, defensive war, in which
patience and perseverance were the qualities most essential. Nor
was Washington a Caesar or a Napoleon. It would be absurd to
name him as a military genius along with these two. But he was
gifted with those great moral qualities which the circumstances of
the American people required ; and if he gained no victories of the
first class, and astonished the world by no feats of warlike skill, it is
still not the less true, that if the British colonies had not possessed
such a man, they would in all probability have failed in the struggle,
and remained British colonies still. Let the truth, indeed, be spoken.
It was not the bulk of the American people, as represented in con-
gress, who achieved the independence of their country. That con-
gress, by its perverse wrangling and incapability ; that people, by
their slowness in furnishing supplies, would have ruined all, but for
the intrepidity, the patience, and the powers of management of
George Washington. Although not what might be called an amiable
man, or a man of refined sentiment, few have ever appeared of so
well balanced a character, and uniting the same power of command
over men's minds with the same self-denial and want of personal
ambition ; and probably none but a man of his rigid methodical
habits would have been able to preserve order in the American
army. Some of Washington's orderly-books during the period of his


holding command, contain striking proofs of his strictness as a dis-
ciplinarian, and of his watchfulness of everything going on among
the troops likely to injure the cause for which they were contending.
To complete our idea of Washington as commander-in-chief, we
shall select one or two of these entries in the orderly-book.

' November 5, 1775. As the commander-in-chief has been ap-
prised of a design formed for the observance of that ridiculous and
childish custom of burning the effigy of the pope, he cannot help
expressing his surprise that there should be officers and soldiers in
this army so void of common sense as not to see the impropriety of
such a step at this juncture at a time when we are soliciting, and
have really obtained, the friendship and alliance of the people of
Canada, whom we ought to consider as brethren embarked in the
same cause the defence of the general liberty of America. At such
a juncture, and in such circumstances, to be insulting their religion
is so monstrous as not to be suffered or excused ; indeed, instead of
offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to express public thanks
to these our brethren, as to them we are indebted for every late happy
success over the common enemy in Canada.'

' August 3, 1776. That the troops may have an opportunity of
attending public worship, as well as to take some rest after the great
fatigue they have gone through, the general in future excuses them
from fatigue-duty on Sundays, except at the ship-yards, and on
special occasions, until further orders. The general is sorry to be
informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and
swearing a vice heretofore little known in an American army is
growing into fashion ; he hopes the officers will, by example as well
as by influence, endeavour to check it ; and that both they and the
men will reflect that we can have little hope of the blessing of Heaven
on our arms, if we insult it by our impiety and folly ; added to this,
it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man
of sense and character detests and despises it.'

' September 20. Any soldier or officer who, upon the approach or
attack of the enemy's forces by land or water, shall presume to turn
his back and flee, shall be instantly shot down ; and all good officers
are hereby authorised and required to see this done, that the brave
and gallant part of the army may not fall a sacrifice to the base and
cowardly part, nor share their disgrace in a cowardly and unmanly

' November 22, 1777. The commander-in-chief offers a reward
of ten dollars to any person who shall, by nine o'clock on Monday
morning, produce the best substitute for shoes, made of raw hides.
The commissary of hides is to furnish the hides, and the major-
general of the day is to judge of the essays and assign the reward
to the best artist.'

What were Washington's thoughts and feelings at the restoration
of peace, may be gathered from the following extract from a letter


which he wrote to Lafayette in April 1783 : 'We are now an inde-
pendent people, and have yet to learn political tactics. We are placed
-among the nations of the earth, and have a char-acter to establish ;
but how we shall acquit ourselves, time must discover. The proba-
bility is (at least I fear it), that local or state politics will interfere
too much with the more liberal and extensive plan of government
which wisdom and foresight, freed from the mist of prejudice, would
dictate ; and that we shall be guilty of many blunders in treading
this boundless theatre, before we shall have arrived at any perfection
in this art.'

Part of the summer of 1783 was spent by Washington in a tour
through the northern states ; and it was during this tour that he
struck out a plan of great importance, which has since been carried
into effect a water-communication between the Hudson and the
great lakes. Returning from this tour he attended the congress then
sitting at Princetovvn, where he was received with the highest honours.
On the 1 8th of October the army was disbanded by congress ; on
the 2d of November Washington issued his farewell address to it ;
on the 4th of December he dined with his officers at New York, now
evacuated by the British troops ; and on the 23d of the same month
he resigned his commission into the hands of congress. ' Having
now,' he said in the conclusion of his address, ' 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.' Next day he left Annapolis,
and proceeded to Mount Vernon, which he had only visited twice
during more than eight years.


Washington was now once more a private citizen, devoting him-
self to those agricultural pursuits in which he took so much delight.
Arrived at the age of fifty-two, he again ' trod the paths of private
life with heartfelt satisfaction.' ' Envious of none,' he wrote to a
friend, ' I am determined to be pleased with all ; and this, my dear
friend, being the order for my march, I shall move gently down the
stream of life until I sleep with my fathers.'

For three years Washington pursued this equable course of life,
finding his delight in farming, planting, and gardening. Mount
Vernon had been celebrated for its hospitality even before Washington
had risen to the high station which he had recently occupied ; and
now, when visitors were constantly pouring in upon him, Europeans
and Americans, noblemen and commoners, old friends and new
acquaintances, authors and ordinary men, authoresses and ordinary
women, the hospitality had to be resumed on a more extensive
scale, and Mrs Washington's powers of household arrangement were


sufficiently tested. During these three years of private life, Mr
Sparks informs us, Washington's ' 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 labourers. Horses were likewise pre-
pared 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 circum-

The even tenor of Washington's life was soon to be interrupted.
The war was now over, but much remained to be done. The great
difficulty was, to devise a federal form of government, one which
would give the states the strength of a united nation, without
trenching on the privileges and interests of each particular state.
The general feeling was against investing congress with much con-
trolling authority. Washington saw the evil of this ; and, in his
letters to his friends, he spoke strongly on the necessity of a central
and supreme government.

At length, after considerable prevarication and delay, a conven-
tion of deputies from all the states was agreed upon, for the purpose
of framing a constitution. Washington was unanimously elected
one of the deputies to this convention from the state of Virginia ;
and although somewhat reluctant, he consented to attend. Imme-
diately on his appointment, he set about preparing himself diligently,
by the study of history, for the important duties which, as a member
of the convention, he would be called upon to perform. He examined
carefully, we are told, all those confederacies of the ancient and
modern world which appeared most to resemble that which he was
about to assist in erecting. He also read and abridged several
standard works on political science, to store his mind with those
general ideas for which he supposed he would have occasion in the
convention. Thus prepared, he set out for Philadelphia, where the
convention met on the I4th of May 1787, consisting of deputies
from all the states except Rhode Island. Washington was unani-
mously called to the chair. After sitting five or six hours daily for
nearly four months, the convention announced the results of its
deliberations in the form of a new constitution for the United States
of America. This constitution was accepted with remarkable
unanimity all over the states. Benjamin Franklin, one of the members
of the convention, thus expressed his opinion of it : 'I consent to



this constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not
sure it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I
sacrifice to the public good.' And Washington's opinion was exactly
the same. ' In the aggregate,' he said, ' it is the best constitution
that can be obtained at this epoch.'

After all the states had signified their acceptance of the constitu-
tion, congress passed an act, appointing the first Wednesday of
February 1789 as the day on which the people were to choose the
electors of the president, according to the provision made in the
constitution, and the first Wednesday of March as the day on which
these electors were to meet and choose the president. When the
day of election came, the electors did their duty, by unanimously
declaring George Washington the first president of the United States.
Leaving Mount Vernon on the i6th of April 1789, he set out for
New York. The journey was a triumphal procession ; people
gathered all along the road ; and his entry into every town was
celebrated by the ringing of bells and the firing of cannons. He
made his public entry into New York on the 23d of April ; and on
the 3Oth, he was solemnly inaugurated, and took the oaths of office.
He was now fifty-seven years of age.


As soon as Washington had assumed the presidency, he requested
the heads of the various departments of the government, as it was
then carried on the secretary of -state, the secretary of war, the
secretary of foreign affairs, and the secretaries of the treasury to
draw up an elaborate report, each of the affairs of his own department.
These reports Washington read and condensed with his own hand ;
and at the same time he perused with care the whole of the official
records from the treaty of peace down to his own election to the
presidency, making an abridgment of them for his own use. Thus
he acquired a thorough understanding of the condition of the nation
over which he presided.

We have seen that, while commander-in-chief of the armies,
Washington exercised a vigilant superintendence over his private
affairs, and this superintendence he continued to exercise while
burdened with the cares of civil government. Every week he received
accurate reports from the manager he had left in charge of Mount
Vernon, these reports being drawn up according to a form which he
had himself prepared. In this way he perceived what was going on
at Mount Vernon almost as distinctly as if he had been on the spot ;
and once a week at least he wrote a letter of directions to his
bailiff, in reply to the reports sent. So laboriously accurate was he,
that this letter of directions was usually copied from a rough draft.
It is another proof of the extreme interest which Washington took
in agricultural pursuits, that, during his presidency, he kept up a


correspondence with the most skilful agriculturists both in Europe
and America, exchanging his ideas on the subject with them.

At first there was no established etiquette at Washington's court
as to the times when he should receive visitors ; and the consequence
was, that he had to receive them at all times, from morning till night,
just as they pleased to come. To put a stop to this torrent of people,
it was arranged that Washington should receive ordinary visitors on
Tuesdays only, from three to four o'clock ; while Mrs Washington
in like manner received visitors on Fridays, from three to five o'clock,
the president being always present at her levees. He never accepted
any invitations to dinner ; but every day, except Sunday, he invited
to his own table a number of guests, official persons, private friends,
or foreigners who were introduced to him. On Sundays he received
no company : in the mornings he regularly attended church ; and the
evenings he spent in the society of his own family, and such intimate
friends as were privileged to drop in. During the first year of
Washington's presidency his mother died at the age of eighty-two.

The first session of congress under his presidency was spent in
organising the several departments of the executive. Washington,
as president, nominated the heads of these departments. The cele-
brated Thomas Jefferson he appointed secretary of state ; Alexander
Hamilton, whose political opinions were considerably less democratic
than Jefferson's, was named secretary of the treasury ; Henry Knox
was continued in the office of secretary of war ; Edmund Randolph
was made attorney-general ; and John Jay chief-justice. These
appointments reflected great credit on Washington's sagacity and

It is impossible, in such a paper as the present, to sketch the
history of Washington's presidency ; suffice it to say, that the same
talents and probity which had characterised him hitherto, appeared
conspicuously in the discharge of the new duties which now fell to
his lot. In nothing was his ability more manifest than in the manner
in which he maintained the balance between the two political parties
into which his own cabinet and the nation generally split the federal
party, whose aim was to strengthen the central authority, and the
democratic party, whose aim was to increase the power of the citizens
in their local courts, and in the separate state legislatures. The head
of the former party was Henderson ; the head of the latter was
Jefferson. Washington personally inclined to the former ; but, as
president, he made it his object to make the different elements work
as harmoniously as possible. It was impossible, however, to prevent
the parties from diverging more and more ; and as Washington's
term of presidency was drawing to a close, fears began to be enter-
tained of the consequences which might result from such a division
of opinion. The nation had not yet been consolidated, and a struggle
between the federal and the democratic party might produce the
most disastrous effects. The only means of preventing such a


calamity was the re-election of Washington for another term of four
years. Accordingly, all his friends and the members of his cabinet
earnestly solicited him to allow himself to be re-elected. With con-
siderable reluctance Washington yielded to these solicitations, and
suffered himself to be re-elected. The time of his re-election was
just that at which the French Revolution was at its height ; and it
required all Washington's skill and strength of purpose to prevent
the United States from being drawn into the vortex of a European
war. But although he succeeded in preserving the neutrality of the
states, there were many citizens who sympathised with the French
revolutionists, and the democratic party, with Jefferson at its head,
was gaining ground. So vehement did the struggle between the two
parties become towards the end of Washington's second presidency,
that even he did not escape the attacks of calumny, and the accusa-
tions of an excited public.

So disturbed was the state of political opinion in the union, that '
many were anxious that Washington should, for a third time, accept
the office of president ; but against this proposal he was resolute.
Accordingly, in 1797, the election of a new president took place.
John Adams, of the federalist party, having the largest number of
votes, was declared president ; Thomas Jefferson, of the democratic
party, having the next largest number, was appointed vice-president.
Adams was inaugurated on the 4th of March ; and immediately after
the ceremony Washington retired to Mount Vernon, where he resided
for two years and a half, finding a recreation in his old age in
those quiet agricultural pursuits which had always been his
delight. On the rumour of the probability of a war with France, he
was, indeed, appointed commander-in-chief; but he had no occasion
to take the field. His health continued to be remarkably good ; and,
to all appearance, the day of his death was yet distant. But on the
1 2th of December 1799, having gone out as usual to give directions
to his labourers, he was overtaken, when riding home, by a storm of
sleet and rain. When he came in, his neck was wet, and the snow
had lodged itself in the locks of his hair. Next day he felt that he
had taken a cold, but anticipated no danger. He read the news-
papers as usual, seemed very cheerful, and when asked to take some-
thing for his cold, said : ' No ; you know I never take anything for a
cold. Let it go as it came.' Before morning he was much worse ;
he breathed with difficulty, and could scarcely speak. He had him-
. self bled by one of his overseers, and his friend Dr Craik was sent
for. The remedies tried produced no effect. A little after four, he
desired Mrs Washington to bring two wills which she would find in
his desk. After looking at them, he gave her one, which he said was
useless, as it was superseded by the other, and desired her to burn
it ; which she did. Shortly after, he said to Mr Tobias Lear, who
lived with him in the capacity of secretary and superintendent of his
affairs : ' I find I am going. My breath cannot last long. I believed


from the first that the disorder 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, which he
has begun.' To Dr Craik he said : ' Doctor, I die hard, but I am
not afraid to go.' For some hours he was uneasy and restless, often
asking what o'clock it was. About ten, he said with some difficulty
to Mr Lear : ' 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.' Towards eleven o'clock, he died without a struggle or
sigh. Mrs Washington, who was sitting at the foot of the bed, asked :
' Is he gone?' ' It is well,' she said, when told that he was ; 'all is
now over ; I shall soon follow him ; I have no more trials to pass

Washington died on the I4th of December 1799, aged sixty-seven
years. He was buried at Mount Vernon on the i8th. The news
of his death was speedily carried through America, and all over
Europe ; and everywhere men vied with each other in doing honour
to his memory.

One circumstance connected with the death of this great man
it is gratifying to record. On his estate, as we have already men-
tioned, there was a large number of negro slaves. Part of these
belonged to Washington himself; the rest were the property of
Mrs Washington. During his life, the founder of American liberty
seems to have acted, in the matter of slaves, in no more humane
or enlightened spirit than any other Virginia gentleman of the time ;
but at his death he left a benevolent clause in his will, directing that
all the slaves he possessed in his own right should be emancipated
after Mrs Washington's death. During her life, they were still to
continue slaves, because their emancipation, during that period,
' though earnestly wished by him, would be attended with insuper-
able difficulties,' on account of their intermarriage with Mrs
Washington's own negroes, whom it was not in his power to manu-
mit. At Mrs Washington's death, however, his executors, or the
survivors of them, were solemnly enjoined to see the clause in his
will respecting the emancipation of the slaves, and every part
thereof, 'religiously fulfilled, without evasion, neglect, or delay.'
Such of the negroes thus emancipated as should be old and unable
to work, were to be comfortably fed and clothed by his heirs so long

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 32 of 58)