Part 16 out of 16
"In the course of the afternoon he appeared to be in great pain and
distress, from the difficulty of breathing, and frequently changed his
posture in the bed. On these occasions I lay upon the bed and
endeavored to raise him and turn him with as much ease as possible. He
appeared penetrated with gratitude for my attentions, and often said,
'I am afraid I shall fatigue you too much,' and upon assuring him that
I could feel nothing but a wish to give him ease, he replied, 'Well, it
is a debt we must pay to each other, and I hope when you want aid of
this kind you will find it.'
"About 5 o'clock Dr. Craik came again into the room, and, upon going to
the bedside, the general said to him, 'Doctor, I die hard, but I am not
afraid to go. I believed, from my first attack, that I should not
survive it. My breath cannot last long.' The doctor pressed his hand,
but could not utter a word. He retired from the bedside and sat by the
fire, absorbed in grief.
"Between 5 and 6 o'clock Dr. Craik, Dr. Dick, and Dr. Brown came again
into the room, and with Dr. Craik went to the bed, when Dr. Craik asked
him if he could sit up in the bed. He held out his hand and I raised
him up. He then said to the physicians, 'I feel myself going; I thank
you for your attentions, but I pray you to take no more trouble about
me. Let me go off quietly. I cannot last long.' They found that all
which had been done was without effect. He lay down again, and all
retired except Dr. Craik. He continued in the same situation, uneasy
and restless, but without complaining, frequently asking what hour it
was. When I helped him to move at this time he did not speak, but
looked at me with strong expressions of gratitude.
"About 8 o'clock the physicians came again into the room and applied
blisters and cataplasms of wheat bran to his legs and feet, after which
they went out, except Dr. Craik, without a ray of hope. I went out
about this time and wrote a line to Mr. Law and Mr. Peter, requesting
them to come with their wives (Mrs. Washington's granddaughters) as
soon as possible to Mount Vernon.
"About 10 o'clock he made several attempts to speak to me before he
could effect it. At length he said, 'I am just going. Have me decently
buried, and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three
days after I am dead.' I bowed assent, for I could not speak. He then
looked at me again and said, 'Do you understand me?' I replied, 'Yes.'
'Tis well,' said he.
"About ten minutes before he expired (which was between 10 and 11
o'clock) his breathing became easier. He lay quietly; he withdrew his
hand from mine and felt his own pulse. I saw his countenance change. I
spoke to Dr. Craik, who sat by the fire. He came to the bedside. The
general's hand fell from his wrist. I took it in mine and pressed it to
my bosom. Dr. Craik put his hands over his eyes, and he expired without
a struggle or a sigh (December 14, 1799).
"While we were fixed in silent grief, Mrs. Washington, who was sitting
at the foot of the bed, asked, with a firm and collected voice, 'Is he
gone?' I could not speak, but held up my hand as a signal that he was
no more. 'Tis well,' said she, in the same voice, 'all is over now. I
shall soon follow him. I have no more trials to pass through.'
"During his whole illness," adds Mr. Lear, "he spoke but seldom, and
with great difficulty and distress, and in so low and broken a voice as
at times hardly to be understood. His patience, fortitude, and
resignation never forsook him for a moment. In all his distress he
uttered not a sigh nor a complaint, always endeavoring, from a sense of
duty, as it appeared, to take what was offered him and to do as he was
desired by the physicians."
By this simple and touching record of the last moments of Washington,
it will be perceived that his conduct, in the last trying scene, was in
all respects consistent with his whole life and character. His habitual
serenity and self-command, and the ever-present sense of duty, are
apparent through the whole. He died as he had lived, a hero in the
highest sense of the word and a true Christian.
The deep and wide-spreading grief occasioned by this melancholy event
assembled a great concourse of people for the purpose of paying the
last tribute of respect to the first of Americans, and on Wednesday,
the 18th of December, his body, attended by military honors, and with
religious and Masonic ceremonies, was deposited in the family vault on
In December, 1837, the remains of the great father of our nation, after
a slumber of thirty-eight years, were again exposed by the circumstance
of placing his body once and forever within the marble sarcophagus made
by Mr. Struthers, of Philadelphia. The body, as Mr. Struthers related,
was still in a wonderful state of preservation, the high pale brow wore
a calm and serene expression, and the lips, pressed together, had a
grave and solemn smile.
When intelligence reached Congress of the death of Washington, they
instantly adjourned until the next day, when John Marshall, then a
member of the House of Representatives and afterward chief justice of
the United States and biographer of Washington, addressed the speaker
in the following words:
"The melancholy event which was yesterday announced with doubt has been
rendered but too certain. Our Washington is no more. The hero, the
patriot, and the sage of America; the man on whom, in times of danger,
every eye was turned, and all hopes were placed, lives now only in his
own great actions and in the hearts of an affectionate and afflicted
"If, sir, it had even not been usual openly to testify respect for the
memory of those whom Heaven has selected as its instruments for
dispensing good to man, yet such has been the uncommon worth and such
the extraordinary incidents which have marked the life of him whose
loss we all deplore, that the whole American nation, impelled by the
same feelings, would call with one voice for a public manifestation of
that sorrow, which is so deep and so universal.
"More than any other individual, and as much as to any one individual
was possible, has he contributed to found this, our wide-spreading
empire, and to give to the western world independence and freedom.
"Having effected the great object for which he was placed at the head
of our armies, we have seen him convert the sword into the ploughshare
and sink the soldier into the citizen.
"When the debility of our Federal system had become manifest, and the
bonds which connected this vast continent were dissolving, we have seen
him the chief of those patriots who formed for us a constitution,
which, by preserving the Union, will, I trust, substantiate and
perpetuate those blessings which our Revolution had promised to bestow.
"In obedience to the general voice of his country, calling him to
preside over a great people, we have seen him once more quit the
retirement he loved, and, in a season more stormy and tempestuous than
war itself, with calm and wise determination, pursue the true interests
of the nation and contribute more than any other could contribute to
the establishment of that system of policy which will, I trust, yet
preserve our peace, our honor, and our independence. Having been twice
unanimously chosen the chief magistrate of a free people, we have seen
him, at a time when his re-election with universal suffrage could not
be doubted, afford to the world a rare instance of moderation, by
withdrawing from his high station to the peaceful walks of private
life. However the public confidence may change, and the public
affections fluctuate with respect to others, with respect to him they
have, in war and in peace, in public and in private life, been as
steady as his own firm mind and as constant as his own exalted virtues.
Let us then, Mr. Speaker, pay the last tribute of respect and affection
to our departed friend. Let the grand council of the nation display
those sentiments which the nation feels. For this purpose I hold in my
hand some resolutions which I take the liberty of offering to the
"_Resolved_, That this House will wait on the President in condolence
of this mournful event.
"_Resolved_, That the speaker's chair be shrouded with black, and that
the members and officers of the House wear black during the session.
"_Resolved_, That a committee, in conjunction with one from the Senate,
be appointed to consider on the most suitable manner of paying honor to
the memory of the man first in war, first in peace, and first in the
hearts of his fellow-citizens."
The Senate, on this melancholy occasion, addressed to the President the
"The Senate of the United States respectfully take leave, sir, to
express to you their deep regret for the loss their country sustains in
the death of Gen. George Washington.
"This event, so distressing to all our fellow-citizens, must be
peculiarly heavy to you, who have long been associated with him in
deeds of patriotism. Permit us, sir, to mingle our tears with yours. On
this occasion it is manly to weep. To lose such a man at such a crisis
is no common calamity to the world. Our country mourns a father. The
Almighty Disposer of human events has taken from us our greatest
benefactor and ornament. It becomes us to submit with reverence to Him
'who maketh darkness His pavilion.'
"With patriotic pride we review the life of our Washington and compare
its events with those of other countries who have been preeminent in
fame. Ancient and modern times are diminished before him. Greatness and
guilt have too often been allied, but his fame is whiter than it is
brilliant. The destroyers of nations stood abashed at the majesty of
his virtues. It reproved the intemperance of their ambition and
darkened the splendor of victory. The scene is closed, and we are no
longer anxious lest misfortune should sully his glory; he has traveled
on to the end of his journey and carried with him an increasing weight
of honor; he has deposited it safely where misfortune cannot tarnish
it, where malice cannot blast it. Favored of Heaven, he departed
without exhibiting the weakness of humanity. Magnanimous in death, the
darkness of the grave could not obscure his brightness.
"Such was the man whom we deplore. Thanks to God, his glory is
consummated. Washington yet lives on earth in his spotless example; his
spirit is in Heaven. Let his countrymen consecrate the memory of the
heroic general, the patriotic statesman, and the virtuous sage. Let
them teach their children never to forget that the fruits of his labors
and his example are their inheritance."
To this address the President returned the following answer:
"I receive with the most respectful and affectionate sentiments, in
this impressive address, the obliging expressions of your regret for
the loss our country has sustained in the death of her most esteemed,
beloved, and admired citizen.
"In the multitude of my thoughts and recollections on this melancholy
event, you will permit me to say that I have seen him in the days of
adversity, in some of the scenes of his deepest distress and most
trying perplexities. I have also attended him in the highest elevation
and most prosperous felicity, with uniform admiration of his wisdom,
moderation, and constancy.
"Among all our original associates in that memorable league of this
continent in 1774, which first expressed the sovereign will of a free
nation in America, he was the only one remaining in the general
government. Although with a constitution more enfeebled than his, at an
age when he thought it necessary to prepare for retirement, I feel
myself alone bereaved of my last brother; yet I derive a strong
consolation from the unanimous disposition which appears in all ages
and classes to mingle their sorrows with mine on this common calamity
to the world.
"The life of our Washington cannot suffer by a comparison with those of
other countries, who have been most celebrated and exalted by fame. The
attributes and decorations of royalty could only have served to eclipse
the majesty of those virtues which made him, from being a modest
citizen, a more resplendent luminary. Misfortune, had he lived, could
hereafter have sullied his glory only with those superficial minds,
who, believing that character and actions are marked by success alone,
rarely deserve to enjoy it. Malice could never blast his honor, and
envy made him a singular exception to her universal rule. For himself,
he had lived long enough to life and to glory; for his fellow-citizens,
if their prayers could have been answered, he would have been immortal;
for me, his departure is at a most unfortunate moment. Trusting,
however, in the wise and righteous dominion of Providence over the
passions of men and the results of their actions, as well as over their
lives, nothing remains for me but humble resignation.
"His example is now complete, and it will teach wisdom and virtue to
magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age, but in
future generations, as long as our history shall be read."
The committee of both Houses appointed to devise the mode by which the
nation should express its grief reported the following resolutions,
which were unanimously adopted:
"That a marble monument be erected by the United States at the capitol
of the city of Washington, and that the family of General Washington be
requested to permit his body to be deposited under it, and that the
monument be so designed as to commemorate the great events of his
military and political life.
"That there be a funeral from Congress Hall to the German Lutheran
Church, in memory of Gen. George Washington, on Thursday, the 26th
instant, and that an oration be prepared at the request of Congress, to
be delivered before both Houses that day; and that the president of the
Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives be desired to
request one of the members of Congress to prepare and deliver the same.
"That the President of the United States be requested to direct a copy
of these resolutions to be transmitted to Mrs. Washington, assuring her
of the profound respect Congress will ever bear to her person and
character, of their condolence on the late affecting dispensation of
Providence, and entreating her assent to the interment of the remains
of General Washington in the manner expressed in the first resolution.
"That the President be requested to issue his proclamation, notifying
the people throughout the United States the recommendation contained in
the third resolution."
These resolutions passed both Houses unanimously, and those which would
admit of immediate execution were carried into effect. The whole nation
appeared in mourning. The funeral procession was grand and solemn, and
the eloquent oration, which was delivered on the occasion by General
Lee, was heard with profound attention and with deep interest.
Throughout the United States similar marks of affliction were
exhibited. In every part of the continent funeral orations were
delivered, and the best talents of the nation were devoted to an
expression of the nation's grief.
To the letter of the President which transmitted to Mrs. Washington the
resolutions of Congress, and of which his secretary was the bearer,
that lady answered:
"Taught by the great example which I have so long had before me, never
to oppose my private wishes to the public will, I must consent to the
request made by Congress which you have had the goodness to transmit to
me; and in doing this I need not, I cannot, say what a sacrifice of
individual feeling I make to a sense of public duty."
On receiving intelligence of the death of Washington, Napoleon, then
First Consul of France, issued the following order of the day to the
"Washington is dead. This great man fought against tyranny; he
established the liberty of his country. His memory will always be dear
to the French people, as it will be to all freemen of the two worlds;
and especially to French soldiers, who, like him and the American
soldiers, have combated for liberty and equality."
Napoleon ordered that during ten days black crape should be suspended
from all the standards and flags throughout the republic. On the 9th of
February, 1800, a splendid funeral solemnity took place in the Champ de
Mars; and a funeral oration in honor of Washington was pronounced by M.
de la Fontaines, in the Hotel des Invalides, at which the First Consul
and the civil and military authorities were present. 
The British admiral in command of the fleet lying at Torbay, on
receiving the news of Washington's death, honored his memory by
lowering his flag to half-mast; and his example was followed by the
whole fleet. 
Judge Marshall, who had enjoyed the advantage of an intimate personal
acquaintance with Washington, who was one of his most steadfast
political supporters, and whose able biography shows a thorough
appreciation of his extraordinary abilities and virtues, gives the
following summary view of his character:
"General Washington was rather above the common size, his frame was
robust, and his constitution vigorous--capable of enduring great
fatigue and requiring a considerable degree of exercise for the
preservation of his health. His exterior created in the beholder the
idea of strength, united with manly gracefulness.
"His manners were rather reserved than free, though they partook
nothing of that dryness and sternness which accompany reserve when
carried to an extreme, and on all proper occasions he could relax
sufficiently to show how highly he was gratified by the charms of
conversation and the pleasures of society. His person and whole
deportment exhibited an unaffected and indescribable dignity, unmingled
with haughtiness, of which all who approached him were sensible; and
the attachment of those who possessed his friendship and enjoyed his
intimacy was ardent, but always respectful.
"His temper was humane, benevolent, and conciliatory, but there was a
quickness in his sensibility to anything apparently offensive which
experience had taught him to watch, and to correct.
"In the management of his private affairs he exhibited an exact yet
liberal economy. His funds were not prodigally wasted on capricious and
ill-examined schemes, nor refused to beneficial though costly
improvements. They remained, therefore, competent to that expensive
establishment which his reputation, added to a hospitable temper, had,
in some measure, imposed upon him, and to those donations which real
distress has a right to claim from opulence.
"He made no pretensions to that vivacity which fascinates, or to that
wit which dazzles and frequently imposes on the understanding. More
solid than brilliant, judgment rather than genius, constituted the most
prominent feature of his character.
"Without making ostentatious professions of religion, he was a sincere
believer in the Christian faith and a truly devout man.
"As a military man, he was brave, enterprising, and cautious. That
malignity which has sought to strip him of all the higher qualities of
a general, has conceded to him personal courage and a firmness of
resolution which neither dangers nor difficulties could shake. But
candor will allow him other great and valuable endowments. If his
military course does not abound with splendid achievements, it exhibits
a series of judicious measures adopted to circumstances, which probably
saved his country.
"Placed, without having studied the theory or been taught in the school
of experience the practice of war, at the head of an undisciplined,
ill-organized multitude, which was impatient of the restraints and
unacquainted with the ordinary duties of a camp, without the aid of
officers possessing those lights which the Commander-in-Chief was yet
to acquire, it would have been a miracle indeed had his conduct been
absolutely faultless. But, possessing an energetic and distinguishing
mind, on which the lessons of experience were never lost, his errors,
if he committed any, were quickly repaired, and those measures which
the state of things rendered most advisable were seldom, if ever,
neglected. Inferior to his adversary in the numbers, in the equipment,
and in the discipline of his troops, it is evidence of real merit that
no great and decisive advantages were ever obtained over him, and that
the opportunity to strike an important blow never passed away unused.
He has been termed the American Fabius, but those who compare his
actions with his means will perceive at least as much of Marcellus as
of Fabius in his character. He could not have been more enterprising
without endangering the cause he defended, nor have put more to hazard
without incurring justly the imputation of rashness. Not relying upon
those chances which sometimes give a favorable issue to attempts
apparently desperate, his conduct was regulated by calculations made
upon the capacities of his army and the real situation of his country.
When called a second time to command the armies of the United States a
change of circumstances had taken place, and he meditated a
corresponding change of conduct. In modeling the army of 1798 he sought
for men distinguished for their boldness of execution, not less than
for their prudence in council, and contemplated a system of continued
attack. 'The enemy,' said the general in his private letters, 'must
never be permitted to gain foothold on our shores.'
"In his civil administration, as in his military career, ample and
repeated proofs were exhibited of that practical good sense, of that
sound judgment, which is perhaps the most rare and is certainly the
most valuable quality of the human mind. Devoting himself to the duties
of his station, and pursuing no object distinct from the public good,
he was accustomed to contemplate at a distance those critical
situations in which the United States might probably be placed, and to
digest, before the occasion required action, the line of conduct which
it would be proper to observe.
"Taught to distrust first impressions, he sought to acquire all the
information which was attainable, and to hear, without prejudice, all
the reasons which could be urged for or against a particular measure.
His own judgment was suspended until it became necessary to determine,
and his decisions, thus maturely made, were seldom if ever to be
shaken. His conduct, therefore, was systematic, and the great objects
of his administration were steadily pursued.
"Respecting, as the first magistrate in a free government must ever do,
the real and deliberate sentiments of the people, their gusts of
passion passed over, without ruffling the smooth surface of his mind.
Trusting to the reflecting good sense of the nation for approbation and
support, he had the magnanimity to pursue its real interests, in
opposition to its temporary prejudices; and, though far from being
regardless of popular favor, he could never stoop to retain, by
deserving to lose it. In more instances than one we find him committing
his whole popularity to hazard, and pursuing steadily, in opposition to
a torrent which would have overwhelmed a man of ordinary firmness, that
course which had been dictated by a sense of duty.
"In speculation he was a real republican, devoted to the constitution
of his country and to that system of equal political rights on which it
is founded. But between a balanced republic and a democracy the
difference is like that between order and chaos. Real liberty, he
thought, was to be preserved only by preserving the authority of the
laws and maintaining the energy of government. Scarcely did society
present two characters which, in his opinion, less resembled each other
than a patriot and a demagogue.
"No man has ever appeared upon the theater of public action whose
integrity was more incorruptible, or whose principles were more
perfectly free from the contamination of those selfish and unworthy
passions which find their nourishment in the conflicts of party. Having
no views which required concealment, his real and avowed motives were
the same; and his whole correspondence does not furnish a single case
from which even an enemy would infer that he was capable, under any
circumstances, of stooping to the employment of duplicity. No truth can
be uttered with more confidence than that his ends were always upright
and his means always pure. He exhibits the rare example of a politician
to whom wiles were absolutely unknown, and whose professions to foreign
governments and to his own countrymen were always sincere. In him was
fully exemplified the real distinction which forever exists between
wisdom and cunning, and the importance as well as truth of the maxim,
that 'honesty is the best policy.'
"If Washington possessed ambition that passion was, in his bosom, so
regulated by principles or controlled by circumstances that it was
neither vicious nor turbulent. Intrigue was never employed as the means
of its gratification, nor was personal aggrandizement its object. The
various high and important stations to which he was called by the
public voice were unsought by himself; and, in consenting to fill them,
he seems rather to have yielded to a general conviction that the
interests of his country would be thereby promoted, than to an avidity
"Neither the extraordinary partiality of the American people, the
extravagant praises which were bestowed upon him, nor the inveterate
opposition and malignant calumnies which he encountered, had any
visible influence upon his conduct. The cause is to be looked for in
the texture of his mind.
"In him, that innate and unassuming modesty which adulation would have
offended, which the voluntary plaudits of millions could not betray
into indiscretion, and which never obtruded upon others his claims to
superior consideration, was happily blended with a high and correct
sense of personal dignity, and with a just consciousness of that
respect which is due to station. Without exertion he could maintain the
happy medium between that arrogance which wounds and that facility
which allows the office to be degraded in the person who fills it.
"It is impossible to contemplate the great events which have occurred
in the United States under the auspices of Washington without ascribing
them, in some measure, to him. If we ask the causes of the prosperous
issue of a war, against the successful termination of which there were
so many probabilities; of the good which was produced, and the ill
which was avoided, during an administration fated to contend with the
strongest prejudices that a combination of circumstances and of
passions could produce; of the constant favor of the great mass of his
fellow-citizens, and of the confidence which, to the last moment of his
life, they reposed in him, the answer, so far as these causes may be
found in his character, will furnish a lesson well meriting the
attention of those who are candidates for political fame.
"Endowed by nature with a sound judgment, and an accurate
discriminating mind, he feared not that laborious attention which made
him perfectly master of those subjects, in all their relations, on
which he was to decide; and this essential quality was guided by an
unvarying sense of moral right, which would tolerate the employment
only of those means that would bear the most rigid examination, by a
fairness of intention which neither sought nor required disguise, and
by a purity of virtue which was not only untainted but unsuspected."
The eulogies of Washington, at the time of his death, were almost as
numerous as the towns and cities of the republic; for everywhere
funeral honors were paid to his memory. The following, by the
celebrated orator, Fisher Ames, pronounced before the Legislature of
Massachusetts, is as remarkable for its conciseness as for its just and
comprehensive estimate of Washington's character.
"It is not impossible," he said, "that some will affect to consider the
honors paid to this great patriot by the nation as excessive,
idolatrous, and degrading to freemen who are all equal. I answer, that
refusing to virtue its legitimate honors would not prevent their being
lavished in future on any worthless and ambitious favorite. If this
day's example should have its natural effect, it will be salutary. Let
such honors be so conferred only when, in future, they shall be so
merited; then the public sentiment will not be misled nor the
principles of a just equality corrupted. The best evidence of
reputation is a man's whole life. We have now, alas, all of
Washington's before us. There has scarcely appeared a really great man
whose character has been more admired in his lifetime or less correctly
understood by his admirers. When it is comprehended it is no easy task
to delineate its excellencies in such a manner as to give the portrait
both interest and resemblance, for it requires thought and study to
understand the true ground of the superiority of his character over
many others, whom he resembled in the principles of action and even in
the manner of acting. But, perhaps, he excels all the great men that
ever lived, in the steadiness of his adherence to his maxims of life
and in the uniformity of all his conduct to those maxims. Those maxims,
though wise, were yet not so remarkable for their wisdom as for their
authority over his life, for if there were any errors in his judgment--
and he displayed as few as any man--we know of no blemishes in his
virtue. He was the patriot without reproach; he loved his country well
enough to hold success in serving it an ample recompense. Thus far,
self-love and love of country coincided, but when his country needed
sacrifices that no other man could, or perhaps would be willing to
make, he did not even hesitate. This was virtue in its most exalted
character. More than once he put his fame at hazard, when he had reason
to think it would be sacrificed, at least in this age. Two instances
cannot be denied: when the army was disbanded, and again when he stood,
like Leonidas at the pass of Thermopylae, to defend our independence
"It is indeed almost as difficult to draw his character as to draw the
portrait of virtue. The reasons are similar; our ideas of moral
excellence are obscure, because they are complex, and we are obliged to
resort to illustrations. Washington's example is the happiest to show
what virtue is, and to delineate his character, we naturally expatiate
on the beauty of virtue; much must be felt and much imagined. His
pre-eminence is not so much to be seen in the display of any one
virtue, as in the possession of them all and in the practice of the most
difficult. Hereafter, therefore, his character must be studied before
it will be striking, and then it will be admitted as a model--a
precious one to a free republic.
"It is no less difficult to speak of his talents. They were adapted to
lead, without dazzling mankind, and to draw forth and employ the
talents of others without being misled by them. In this he was
certainly superior, that he neither mistook nor misapplied his own. His
great modesty and reserve would have concealed them if great occasions
had not called them forth, and then, as he never spoke from the
affectation to shine nor acted from any sinister motives, it is from
their effects only that we are to judge of their greatness and extent.
In public trusts, where men, acting conspicuously, are cautious, and in
those private concerns where few conceal or resist their weakness,
Washington was uniformly great, pursuing right conduct from right
maxims. His talents were such as to assist a sound judgment and ripen
with it. His prudence was consummate and seemed to take the direction
of his powers and passions; for, as a soldier, he was more solicitous
to avoid mistakes that might be fatal than to perform exploits that are
brilliant; and, as a statesman, to adhere to just principles, however
old, than to pursue novelties; and, therefore, in both characters, his
qualities were singularly adapted to the interest and were tried in the
greatest perils of the country. His habits of inquiry were so far
remarkable that he was never satisfied with investigating, nor desisted
from it, so long as he had less than all the light that he could obtain
upon a subject, and then he made his decision without bias.
"This command over the partialities that so generally stop men short or
turn them aside in their pursuit of truth, is one of the chief causes
of his unvaried course of right conduct in so many difficult scenes,
where every human action must be presumed to err. If he had strong
passions he had learned to subdue them, and to be moderate and mild. If
he had weaknesses, he concealed them, which is rare, and excluded them
from the government of his temper and conduct, which is still more
rare. If he loved fame, he never made improper compliances for what is
called popularity. The fame he enjoyed is of the kind that will last
forever, yet it was rather the effect than the motive of his conduct.
Some future Plutarch will search for a parallel to his character.
Epaminondas is, perhaps, the brightest name of all antiquity. Our
Washington resembled him in the purity and ardor of his patriotism,
and, like him, he first exalted the glory of his country. There, it is
to be hoped, the parallel ends, for Thebes fell with Epamanondas. But
such comparisons cannot be pursued far without departing from the
similitude. For we shall find it as difficult to compare great men as
great rivers; some we admire for the length and rapidity of their
currents and the grandeur of their cataracts; others for the majestic
silence and fullness of their streams; we cannot bring them together,
to measure the difference of their waters. The unambitious life of
Washington, declining fame yet courted by it, seemed, like the Ohio, to
choose its long way through solitudes, diffusing fertility, or like his
own Potomac, widening and deepening its channel as it approaches the
sea, and displaying most the usefulness and serenity of its greatness
toward the end of its course. Such a citizen would do honor to any
country. The constant veneration and affection of his country will show
that it was worthy of such a citizen.
"However his military fame may excite the wonder of mankind, it is
chiefly by his civil magistracy that his example will instruct them.
Great generals have arisen in all ages of the world, and perhaps most
of them in despotism and darkness. In times of violence and convulsion
they rise, by the force of the whirlwind, high enough to ride in it and
direct the storm. Like meteors, they glare on the black clouds with a
splendor that, while it dazzles and terrifies, makes nothing visible
but the darkness. The fame of heroes is indeed growing vulgar; they
multiply in every long war; they stand in history and thicken in their
ranks almost as undistinguished as their own soldiers.
"But such a chief magistrate as Washington appears like the pole-star
in a clear sky to direct the skilful statesman. His presidency will
form an epoch and be distinguished as the age of Washington. Already it
assumes its high place in the political region. Like the milky-way, it
whitens along its allotted portion of the hemisphere. The latest
generations of men will survey, through the telescope of history, the
space where so many virtues blend their rays, and delight to separate
them into groups and distinct virtues. As the best illustration of
them, the living monument, to which the first of patriots would have
chosen to consign his fame, it is my earnest prayer to Heaven that our
country may subsist even to that late day in the plenitude of its
liberty and happiness, and mingle its mild glory with Washington's."
1. Footnote: Our authority for the details of Washington's last illness
and death is a statement carefully prepared by Mr. Lear at the time,
and published from the original in Sparks' "Life of Washington." It is
the most exact and reliable authority extant.
2. Footnote: Sparks, "Life of Washington."
3. Footnote: Sparks, "Life of Washington."