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Beacon Lights of History, Volume XI by John Lord

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From that time, as Franklin suffered from a severe illness, Jay was the
life of the negotiations, and the credit is generally given to him for
the treaty which followed, and which was hurried through hastily for
fear that a change in the British ministry would hazard its success. It
came near alienating France, however, since it had been distinctly
understood that peace should not be made without the consent of all the
contracting powers, and this treaty was made with England alone.
Franklin, in the transaction, was the more honest, and Jay the
more astute.

Strictly speaking, all these three commissioners rendered important
services in their various ways. Franklin's urbanity and frankness, and
the high esteem in which he was held both in France and in England, made
easy the opening of the negotiations, and he gained a special point in
avoiding any agreement of indemnity to American royalists who had
suffered in person or property during the war, while he maintained
pleasant relations with France when Vergennes was pursuing his selfish
policy to prevent the United States from becoming too strong, and when
he became indignant that the treaty had been concluded with England
irrespective of France. Jay, with keen sagacity, fathomed the schemes of
the French minister, and persistently refused to sign a treaty of peace
unless it was satisfactory and promised to be permanent and mutually
advantageous. Adams was especially acquainted with the fisheries
question and its great importance to New England; and he insisted on the
right of Americans to fish on the banks of Newfoundland. All three
persisted in the free navigation of the Mississippi, which it was the
object of Spain to prevent. Great Britain, Spain, and France would have
enclosed the United States by territories of their own, and would have
made odious commercial restrictions. By the firmness and sagacity of
these three diplomatists the United States finally secured all they
wanted and more than they expected. The preliminary articles were signed
November 30, 1782, and the final treaties of peace between England,
France, and the United States on September 3, 1783.

These negotiations at last having been happily concluded, Franklin
wished to return home, but he remained, at the request of Congress, to
arrange commercial treaties with the various European nations.
Reluctantly at last his request to be relieved was granted, and he left
France in July, 1785. Thomas Jefferson was appointed to the position.
"You replace Dr. Franklin," said the Count de Vergennes to the new
plenipotentiary. "I succeed him," replied Jefferson; "no one can
replace him."

Franklin would have been the happiest man in Europe at the conclusion of
peace negotiations, but for his increasing bodily infirmities,
especially the gout, from which at times he suffered excruciating
agonies. He was a universal favorite, admired and honored as one of the
most illustrious men living. His house in Paris was the scene of
perpetual hospitalities. Among his visitors were the younger Pitt,
Wilberforce, Romilly, and a host of other celebrities, French and
English, especially eminent scientific men. He was then seventy-eight
years of age, but retained all the vivacity of youth. His conversation
is said to have been as enchanting as it was instructive. His wit and
humor never ceased to flow. His pregnant sentences were received as
oracles. He was a member of the French Academy and attended most of its
meetings. He was a regular correspondent of the most learned societies
of Europe.

When the time came for him to return home he was too ill to take leave
of the king, or even of the minister of foreign affairs. But Louis XVI,
ordered one of the royal litters to convey the venerable sufferer to the
coast, as he could not bear the motion of a carriage. In his litter,
swung between two mules, Franklin slowly made his way to Havre, and
thence proceeded to Southampton to embark for America. The long voyage
agreed with him, and he arrived in Philadelphia in September, in
improved health, after an absence of nine years. No one would have
thought him old except in his walk, his feet being tender and swollen
with the gout. His voice was still firm, his cheeks were ruddy, his eyes
bright, and his spirits high.

Settled in his fine house in Market Street, surrounded by his
grandchildren, and idolatrous neighbors and friends, he was a rare
exception to the rule that a prophet is not without honor save in his
own country. He had fortune, friends, fame, and a numerous family who
never disgraced his name. Of all the great actors in the stormy times in
which he lived, he was one of the most fortunate. He had both genius
and character which the civilized world appreciated, and so prudent had
been his early business life and his later investments, that he left a
fortune of about one hundred and fifty thousand dollars,--a great sum to
accumulate in his times.

The last important service rendered by Franklin to his country was as a
member of the memorable convention which gave the Constitution to the
American nation in 1787. Of this assembly, in which sat Washington,
Hamilton, Madison, Dickinson, Livingstone, Ellsworth, Sherman, and other
great men, Franklin was the Nestor, in wisdom as well as years. He was
too feeble to take a conspicuous part in the discussions, but his
opinions and counsel had great weight whenever he spoke, for his
judgment was never clearer than when he had passed fourscore years. The
battle of words had to be fought by younger and more vigorous men, of
whom, perhaps, Madison was the most prominent. At no time of his life,
however, was Franklin a great speaker, except in conversation, but his
mind was vigorous to the end.

This fortunate man lived to see the complete triumph of the cause to
which he had devoted his public life. He lived also to see the beginning
of the French Revolution, to which his writings had contributed. He
lived to see the amazing prosperity of his country when compared with
its condition under royal governors. One of his last labors was to write
an elaborate address in favor of negro emancipation, and as president of
an abolition society to send a petition to Congress to suppress the
slave-trade. A few weeks before his death he replied to a letter of
President Stiles of Yale College setting forth his theological belief.
Had he been more orthodox, he would have been more extolled by those men
who controlled the religious opinions of his age.

Franklin died placidly on the 17th of April, 1790, in the eighty-fifth
year of his age, and his body was followed to the grave by most of the
prominent citizens of Philadelphia in the presence of twenty thousand
spectators. James Madison pronounced his eulogy in Congress, and
Mirabeau in the French National Assembly, while the most eminent
literary men in both Europe and America published elaborate essays on
his deeds and fame, recognizing the extent of his knowledge, the breadth
of his wisdom, his benevolence, his patriotism, and his moral worth. He
modestly claimed to be only a printer, but who, among the great lights
of his age, with the exception of Washington, has left a nobler record?


Mr. James Parton has, I think, written the most interesting and
exhaustive life of Franklin, although it is not artistic and is full of
unimportant digressions. Sparks has collected most of his writings,
which are rather dull reading. The autobiography of Franklin was never
finished,--a unique writing, as frank as the "Confessions" of Rousseau.
A good biography is the one by Morse, in the series of "American
Statesmen" which he is editing. Not a very complimentary view of
Franklin is taken by McMaster, in the series of "American Men of
Letters." See also Bancroft's "United States."




One might shrink from writing on such a subject as General Washington
were it not desirable to keep his memory and deeds perpetually fresh in
the minds of the people of this great country, of which he is called the
Father,--doubtless the most august name in our history, and one of the
grandest in the history of the world.

Washington was not, like Franklin, of humble origin; neither can he
strictly be classed with those aristocrats who inherited vast landed
estates in Virginia during the eighteenth century, and who were
ambitious of keeping up the style of living common to wealthy country
gentlemen in England at that time. And yet the biographers of Washington
trace his family to the knights and squires who held manors by grant of
kings and nobles of England, centuries ago. About the middle of the
seventeenth century John and Lawrence Washington, two brothers, of a
younger branch of the family, both Cavaliers who had adhered to the
fortunes of Charles I., emigrated to Virginia, and purchased extensive
estates in Westmoreland County, between the Potomac and the Rappahannock
rivers. The grandson of one of these brothers was the father of our
hero, and was the owner of a moderate plantation on Bridges Creek, from
which he removed, shortly after the birth of his son, George, in 1732,
to an estate in Stafford County, opposite Fredericksburg.

It was here that the early years of Washington were passed, in sports
and pleasures peculiar to the sons of planters. His education was not
entirely neglected, but beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic, his
youthful attainments were small. In general knowledge he was far behind
the sons of wealthy farmers in New England at that time,--certainly far
behind Franklin when a mere apprentice to a printer. But he wrote a
fair, neat, legible hand, and kept accounts with accuracy. His
half-brother Lawrence had married a relative of Lord Fairfax, who had
settled in Virginia on the restoration of Charles II. Lawrence was also
the owner of the estate of Mount Vernon, on the Potomac,--the wealthiest
member of his family, and a prominent member of the Virginia House of
Burgesses. Through this fortunate brother, George became intimate with
the best families in Virginia. His associates were gentlemen of
position, with whom he hunted and feasted, and with whose sisters he
danced, it is said, with uncommon grace.

In person, young Washington was tall,--over six feet and two
inches,--his manners easy and dignified, his countenance urbane and
intelligent, his health perfect, his habits temperate, his morals
irreproachable, and his sentiments lofty. He was a model in all athletic
exercises and all manly sports,--strong, muscular, and inured to
exposure and fatigue. He was quick and impetuous in temper, a tendency
which he early learned to control. He was sullied with none of the vices
then so common with the sons of planters, and his character extorted
admiration and esteem.

Such a young man of course became a favorite in society. His most marked
peculiarities were good sense and the faculty of seeing things as they
are without exaggeration. He was truthful, practical, straight-forward,
and conscientious, with an uncommon insight into men, and a power of
inspiring confidence. I do not read that he was brilliant in
conversation, although he had a keen relish for the charms of society,
or that he was in any sense learned or original. He had not the
qualities to shine as an orator, or a lawyer, or a literary man; neither
in any of the learned professions would he have sunk below mediocrity,
being industrious, clear-headed, sagacious, and able to avail himself
of the labors and merits of others. As his letters show, he became a
thoroughly well-informed man. In surveying, farming, stock-raising, and
military matters he read the best authorities, often sending to London
for them. He steadily fitted himself for his life as a country gentleman
of Virginia, and doubtless aspired to sit in the House of Burgesses. He
never claimed to be a genius, and was always modest and unassuming, with
all his self-respect and natural dignity.

In the middle of the eighteenth century the cultivation of tobacco, to
which the wealth and enterprise of Virginia were directed, was not as
lucrative as it had been, and among the planters, aristocratic as they
were in sentiments and habits, there were many who found it difficult to
make two ends meet, and some, however disdainful of manual labor, were
compelled to be as economical and saving as New England farmers. Their
sons found it necessary to enter the learned professions or become men
of business, since they could not all own plantations. Washington, whose
family was neither rich nor poor, prepared himself for the work of a
surveyor, for which he was admirably fitted, by his hardihood,
enterprise, and industry.

Lord Fairfax, who had become greatly interested in the youth and had
made him a frequent companion, giving him the inestimable advantage of
familiar intercourse with a thoroughbred gentleman of varied
accomplishments, in 1748 sent this sixteen-year-old lad to survey his
vast estates in the unexplored lands at the base of the Alleghany
Mountains. During this rough expedition young Washington was exposed to
the hostilities of unfriendly Indians and the fatigues and hardships of
the primeval wilderness; but his work was thoroughly and accurately
performed, and his courage, boldness, and fidelity attracted the notice
of men of influence and rank. Through the influence of his friend Lord
Fairfax he was appointed a public surveyor, and for three years he
steadfastly pursued this laborious profession.

A voyage to Barbadoes in 1751 cultivated his habits of clear
observation, and in 1752 his brother's death imposed on him the
responsibility of the estates and the daughter left to his care by his
brother Lawrence.

Young Washington had already, through the influence of his brother, been
appointed major and adjutant-general of one of the military districts of
Virginia. The depredations of the French and Indians on the border had
grown into dangerous aggression, and in 1753 Major Washington was sent
as a commissioner through the wilderness to the French headquarters in
Ohio, to remonstrate. His admirable conduct on this occasion resulted in
his appointment as lieutenant-colonel of the Virginia regiment of six
companies sent to the Ohio frontier; and in this campaign Washington
gained new laurels, surprising and defeating the French. His native and
acquired powers and his varied experience in Indian warfare now marked
him out as a suitable aide to the British General Braddock, who, early
in 1755, arrived with two regiments of English soldiers to operate
against the French and Indians. This was the beginning of the memorable
Seven Years' War.

Washington was now a young man of twenty-three, full of manly vigor and
the spirit of adventure, brave as a lion,--a natural fighter, but
prudent and far-seeing. He fortunately and almost alone escaped being
wounded in the disastrous campaign which the British general lost
through his own obstinacy and self-confidence, by taking no advice from
those used to Indian warfare. Braddock insisted upon fighting foes
concealed behind trees, as if he were in the open field. After the
English general's inglorious defeat and death, Washington continued in
active service as commander of the Virginia forces for two years, until
toil, exposure, and hardship produced an illness which compelled him to
withdraw for several months from active service. When at the close of
the war he returned to private life, Colonel Washington had won a name
as the most efficient commander in the whole conflict, displaying
marvellous resources in the constant perils to which he was exposed.
Among his exploits was the capture of Port Duquesne, now Pittsburgh, in
1758, which terminated the French domination of the Ohio, and opened up
Western Pennsylvania to enterprising immigrants. For his rare services
this young man of twenty-six received the thanks of the House of
Burgesses, of which he had been elected a member at the close of the
war. When he entered that body to take his place, the welcome extended
to him was so overwhelming that he stood silent and abashed. But the
venerable Speaker of the House exclaimed, "Sit down, Mr. Washington;
your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses the power of any
language I possess."

Meanwhile, Mount Vernon, a domain which extended ten miles along the
Potomac River, fell into Washington's possession by the death of his
brother Lawrence's daughter, which made him one of the richest planters
in Virginia. And his fortunes were still further advanced by his
marriage in 1759 with the richest woman in the region, Martha, the widow
of Daniel Parke Custis. This lady esteemed his character as much as
Kadijah revered Mohammed, to say nothing of her admiration for his manly
beauty and military renown. His style of life as the lord of Mount
Vernon was almost baronial. He had a chariot and four, with black
postilions in livery, for the use of his wife, while he himself always
appeared on horseback, the finest rider in Virginia. His house was
filled with aristocratic visitors. He had his stud of the highest breed,
his fox hounds, and all the luxuries of a prosperous country gentleman.
His kitchens, his smoke-houses, his stables, his stewards, his
tobacco-sheds, his fields of wheat and corn, his hundred cows, his vast
poultry-yards, his barges, all indicated great wealth, and that generous
hospitality which is now a tradition. His time was passed in overseeing
his large estate, and in out-of-door sports, following the hounds or
fishing, exchanging visits with prominent Virginia families, amusing
himself with card-playing, dancing, and the social frivolities of the
day. But he neglected no serious affairs; his farm, his stock, the sale
of his produce, were all admirably conducted and on a plane of widely
recognized honor and integrity. He took great interest in the State at
large, explored on foot the Dismal Swamp and projected its draining,
made several expeditions up the Potomac and over the mountains, laying
out routes for new roads to the Ohio country, gained much influence in
the House of Burgesses, and was among the foremost in discussing
privately and publicly the relations of the Colonies with the
Mother Country.

Thus nine years were passed, in luxury, in friendship, and in the
pleasures of a happy, useful life. What a contrast this life was to
that of Samuel Adams in Boston at the same time,--a man too poor to keep
a single servant, or to appear in a decent suit of clothes, yet all the
while the leader of the Massachusetts bar and legislature and the most
brilliant orator in the land!

When the Stamp Act was passed by the infatuated Parliament of Great
Britain, Washington was probably the richest man in the country, but as
patriotic as Patrick Henry. He deprecated a resort to arms, and desired
a reconciliation with England, but was ready to abandon his luxurious
life, and buckle on his sword in defence of American liberties. As a
member of the first general Congress, although no orator, his voice was
heard in favor of freedom at any loss or hazard. He was chairman of the
Committee on Military Affairs, and did much to organize the defensive
operations set on foot. When the battle of Lexington was fought, and it
became clear that only the sword could settle the difficulties,
Washington, at the nomination of John Adams in the Second Congress, was
unanimously chosen commander-in-chief of the American armies. With frank
acknowledgment of a doubt whether his abilities and experience were
equal to the great trust, and yet without reluctance, he accepted the
high and responsible command, pledging the exertion of all his powers,
under Providence, to lead the country through its trials and
difficulties. He declined all pay for his services, asking only that
Congress would discharge his expenses, of which he would "keep an exact
account." And this he did, to the penny.

Doubtless, no man in the Colonies was better fitted for this exalted
post. His wealth, his military experience, his social position, his
political influence, and his stainless character, exciting veneration
without envy, marked out Washington as the leader of the American
forces. On the whole, he was the foremost man in all the land for the
work to be done. In his youth he had been dashing, adventurous, and
courageous almost to rashness; but when the vast responsibilities of
general-in-chief in a life-and-death struggle weighed upon his mind his
character seemed to be modified, and he became cautious, reticent,
prudent, distant, and exceedingly dignified. He allowed no familiarity
from the most beloved of his friends and the most faithful of his
generals. He stood out apart from men, cold and reserved in manner,
though capable of the warmest affections. He seemed conscious of his
mission and its obligations, resolved to act from the severest sense of
duty, fearless of praise or blame, though not indifferent to either. He
had no jealousy of his subordinates. He selected, so far as he was
allowed by Congress, the best men for their particular duties, and with
almost unerring instinct. So far as he had confidants, they were
Greene, the ablest of his generals, and Hamilton, the wisest of his
counsellors,--ostensibly his aide-de-camp, but in reality his private
secretary, the officer to whom all great men in high position are
obliged to confide their political secrets.

Washington was "the embodiment of both virtue and power" in the eyes of
his countrymen, who gave him their confidence, and never took it back in
the darkest days of their calamities. On the whole, in spite of calumny
and envy, no benefactor was ever more fully trusted,--supremely
fortunate even amid gloom and public duties. This confidence he strove
to merit, as his highest reward.

Such was Washington when, at the age of forty-three, he arrived at
Cambridge in Massachusetts, to take command of the American army, a few
days after the battle of Bunker Hill, on the 17th June, 1775.

Although the English had been final victors at Bunker Hill, the American
militia, behind their intrenchments, under Prescott, had repulsed twice
their number of the best soldiers of Europe, and retired at last only
for want of ammunition. Washington was far from being discouraged by the
defeat. His question and comment show his feeling: "Did the militia
fight? Then the liberties of the country are safe." It was his first aim
to expel the enemy from Boston, where they were practically surrounded
by the hastily collected militia of New England, full of enthusiasm and
confidence in the triumph of their cause. But these forces had been
injudiciously placed; they were not properly intrenched; they were
imperfectly supplied with arms, ammunition, military stores, uniforms,
and everything necessary for an army. There was no commissary
department, nor was any department provided with adequate resources. The
soldiers were inexperienced, raw sons of farmers and mechanics, led by
officers who knew but little of scientific warfare, and numbered less
than fifteen thousand effective men. They were undisciplined and full of
sectional jealousies, electing, for the most part, their own officers,
who were too dependent upon their favor to enforce discipline.

Washington's first task, therefore, was to bring order out of confusion;
to change the disposition of the forces; to have their positions
adequately fortified; to effect military discipline, and subordination
of men to their officers; to cultivate a large and general patriotism,
which should override all distinctions between the Colonies. This work
went on rapidly; but the lack of supplies became distressing. At the
close of July the men had but nine rounds of ammunition each, and more
was nowhere to be procured. It was necessary to send messengers into
almost every town to beg for powder, and there were few mills in the
country to manufacture it.

As the winter approached a new trouble appeared. The brief enlistment
terms of many of the men were expiring, and, wearied and discouraged,
without proper food or clothing, these men withdrew from the army, and
the regiments rapidly decreased in numbers. Recruiting and re-enlisting
in the face of such conditions became almost impossible; yet
Washington's steady persistence, his letters to Congress, his masterly
hold on the siege of the British in Boston, his appeals for men and
ammunition, were actually successful. His army was kept up by new and
renewed material. Privateers, sent out by him upon the sea, secured
valuable supplies. Henry Knox, a Boston bookseller, whom he had made
colonel of artillery and despatched to New York and Ticonderoga,
returned to the camps with heavy cannon and ammunition.

The right wing of the American army was stationed at Roxbury, under
General Artemas Ward, and the left wing, under Major-General Charles Lee
and Brigadier-Generals Greene and Sullivan, at Prospect Hill. The
headquarters of Washington were in the centre, at Cambridge, with
Generals Putnam and Heath. Lee was not allied with the great Virginia
family of that name. He was an Englishman by birth, somewhat of a
military adventurer. Conceited, vain, and disobedient, he afterwards
came near wrecking the cause which he had ambitiously embraced. Ward was
a native of Massachusetts, a worthy man, but not distinguished for
military capacity. Putnam was a gallant hero, taken from the plough, but
more fitted to head small expeditions than for patient labor in siege
operations, or for commanding a great body of troops.

Meanwhile the British troops, some fifteen thousand veterans, had
remained inactive in Boston, under Sir William Howe, who had succeeded
Gage, unwilling or unable to disperse the militia who surrounded them,
or to prevent the fortification of point after point about the city by
the Americans. It became difficult to get provisions. The land side was
cut off by the American forces, and the supply-ships from the sea were
often wrecked or captured by Washington's privateers. At length the
British began to think of evacuating Boston and going to a more
important point, since they had ships and the control of the harbor. No
progress had been made thus far in the conquest of New England, for it
was thought unwise to penetrate into the interior with the forces at
command, against the army of Washington with a devoted population to
furnish him provisions. Howe could undoubtedly have held the New England
capital, but it was not a great strategic point. What was it to occupy
a city at the extreme end of the continent, when the British government
expected to hear that the whole country was overrun? At last Washington
felt strong enough to use his eight months' preparations for a sudden
blow. He seized the heights commanding the city and his intention became
evident. The active movements of the Americans towards an attack
precipitated Howe's half-formed plan for evacuating the city, and in a
single day he and his army sailed away, on March 17, 1776.

Washington made no effort to prevent the embarkation of the British
troops, since it freed New England, not again to be the theatre of
military operations during the war. It was something to deliver the most
populous part of the country from English domination and drive a
superior army out of Massachusetts. The wonder is that the disciplined
troops under the British generals, with guns and ammunition and ships,
should not have dispersed in a few weeks the foes they affected to
despise. But Washington had fought the long battle of patience and
sagacity until he was ready to strike. Then by one bold, sudden move he
held the enemy at his mercy. Howe was out-generalled, and the American
remained master of the field. Washington had accomplished his errand in
New England. He received the thanks of the Congress, and with his
little army proceeded to New York, where matters urgently demanded

To my mind the most encouraging part of the Revolutionary struggle,
until the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga, was that period of eight
months when the British were cooped up in Boston, surrounded by the
Americans, who had plenty of provisions even if they were deficient in
military stores; when the Yankees were stimulated to enthusiasm by every
influence which could be brought to bear upon them by their families, at
no great distance from the seat of war, and when no great calamity had
as yet overtaken them.

But here everything like success for two years disappeared, and a gloomy
cloud hung over the land, portentous of disasters and dismay. Evils
thickened, entirely unexpected, which brought out what was greatest in
the character and genius of Washington; for he now was the mainstay of
hope. The first patriotic gush of enthusiasm had passed away. War, under
the most favorable circumstances, is no play; but under great
difficulties, has a dismal and rugged look before which delusions
rapidly disappear. England was preparing new and much larger forces. She
was vexed, but not discouraged, having unlimited resources for
war,--money, credit, and military experience. She proceeded to hire the
services of seventeen thousand Hessian and other German troops. All
Europe looked upon the contest as hopeless on the part of a scattered
population, without credit, or money, or military stores, or a settled
army, or experienced generals, or a central power. Washington saw on
every hand dissensions, jealousies, abortive attempts to raise men, a
Congress without power and without prestige, State legislatures
inefficient and timid, desertions without number and without redress,
men returning to their farms either disgusted or feeling that there was
no longer a pressing need of their services.

There were, moreover, jealousies among his generals, and suppressed
hostility to him, as an aristocrat, a slaveholder, and an Episcopalian.

As soon as Boston was evacuated General Howe sailed for Halifax, to meet
his brother, Admiral Howe, with reinforcements for New York. Washington
divined his purpose and made all haste. When he reached New York, on the
13th of April, he found even greater difficulties to contend with than
had annoyed him in Boston: raw troops, undisciplined and undrilled, a
hostile Tory population, conspiracies to take his life, sectional
jealousies,--and always a divided Congress, and the want of experienced
generals. There was nothing of that inspiring enthusiasm which animated
the New England farmers after the battle of Bunker Hill.

Washington held New York, and the British fleet were masters of the Bay.
He might have withdrawn his forces in safety, but so important a place
could not be abandoned without a struggle. Therefore, although he had
but eight thousand effective men, he fortified as well as he could the
heights on Manhattan Island, to the north, and on Long Island, to the
south and east, and held his place.

Meantime Washington was laboring to strengthen his army, to suppress the
mischievous powers of the Tories, to procure the establishment by
Congress of a War Office and some permanent army organization, to quiet
jealousies among his troops, and to provide for their wants. In June,
Sir William Howe arrived in New York harbor and landed forces on Staten
Island, his brother the admiral being not far behind. News of disaster
from a bold but futile expedition to Canada in the North, and of the
coming from the South of Sir Henry Clinton, beaten off from Charleston,
made the clouds thicken, when on July 2 the Congress resolved that
"these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and
independent States," and on July 4 adopted the formal Declaration of
Independence,--an immense relief to the heart and mind of Washington,
and one which he joyfully proclaimed to his army.

Even then, however, and although his forces had been reinforced to
fifteen thousand serviceable troops and five thousand of raw militia,
there was reason to fear that the British, with their thirty-five
thousand men and strong naval force, would surround and capture the
whole American array. At last they did outflank the American forces on
Long Island, and, pouring in upon them a vastly superior force, defeated
them with great slaughter.

While the British waited at night for their ships to come up, Washington
with admirable quickness seized the single chance of escape, and under
cover of a fog withdrew his nine thousand men from Long Island and
landed them in New York once more.

This retreat of Washington, when he was to all appearances in the power
of the English generals, was masterly. In two short weeks thereafter the
British had sent ships and troops up both the Hudson and East rivers,
and New York was no longer tenable to Washington. He made his way up the
Harlem River, where he was joined by Putnam, who also had contrived to
escape with four thousand men, and strongly intrenched himself at
King's Bridge.

Washington waited a few days at Harlem Plains planning a descent on Long
Island, and resolved on making a desperate stand. Meanwhile Howe, in his
ships, passed the forts on the Hudson and landed at Throg's Neck, on
the Sound, with a view of attacking the American intrenchments in the
rear and cutting them off from New England. A brief delay on Howe's part
enabled Washington to withdraw to a still stronger position on the
hills; whereupon Howe retired to Dobbs' Ferry, unable to entrap with his
larger forces the wary Washington, but having now the complete command
of the lower Hudson,

There were, however, two strong fortresses on the Hudson which Congress
was anxious to retain at any cost, a few miles above New York,--Fort
Washington, on Manhattan Island, and Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side of
the river. These forts Howe resolved to capture. The commander-in-chief
was in favor of evacuating them, but Greene, who commanded at Fort
Washington, thought he was strong enough to defend it. He made a noble
defence, but was overwhelmed by vastly superior forces and was compelled
to surrender it, with more than two thousand men. And, as Lord
Cornwallis with six thousand men then crossed the Hudson, Washington
rapidly retreated into New Jersey with a dispirited army, that included
the little garrison of Fort Lee which had escaped in safety; and even
this small army was fast becoming smaller, from expiring enlistments and
other causes. General Lee, with a considerable division at North Castle,
N.J., was ordered to rejoin his commander, but, apparently from
ambition for independent command, disobeyed the order. From that moment
Washington distrusted Lee, who henceforth was his _bete noir_, who
foiled his plans and was jealous of his ascendency. Lee's obstinacy was
punished by his being overtaken and captured by the enemy.

Then followed a most gloomy period. We see Washington, with only the
shadow of an army, compelled to retreat southward in New Jersey, hotly
pursued by the well-equipped British,--almost a fugitive, like David
fleeing from the hand of Saul. He dared not risk an engagement against
greatly superior forces in pursuit, triumphant and confident of success,
while his followers were half-clad, without shoes, hungry, homesick, and
forlorn. So confident was Howe of crushing the only army opposed to him,
that he neglected opportunities and made mistakes. At last the remnant
of Lee's troops, commanded by Sullivan and Gates, joined Washington; but
even with this reinforcement, giving him barely three thousand men, he
could not face the enemy, more than double the number of his
inexperienced soldiers. The only thing to do was to put the Delaware
between himself and Howe's army. But it was already winter, and the
Delaware was full of ice. Cornwallis, a general of great ability, felt
sure that the dispirited men who still adhered to Washington could not
possibly escape him; so he lingered in his march,--a fatal confidence,
for, when he arrived at the Delaware, Washington was already safely
encamped on the opposite bank; nor could he pursue, since all the boats
on the river for seventy miles were either destroyed or in the hands of
Washington. This successful retreat from the Hudson over the Delaware
was another exhibition of high military qualities,--caution, quick
perception, and prompt action.

Washington had now the nucleus of an army and could not be dislodged by
the enemy, whose force was only about double his own. Howe was
apparently satisfied with driving the American forces out of New Jersey,
and, retaining his hold at certain points, sent the bulk of his army
back to New York.

The aim of Washington was now to expel the British troops from New
Jersey. It was almost a forlorn hope, but he never despaired. His
condition was not more hopeless than that of William the Silent when he
encountered the overwhelming armies of Spain. Always beaten, the heroic
Prince of Orange still held out when Holland was completely overrun. But
the United States were not overrun. New England was practically safe,
although the British held Newport; and all the country south of the
Delaware was free from them. The perplexities and discouragements of
Washington were great indeed, while he stubbornly held the field with a
beggarly makeshift for an army and sturdily continued his appeals to
Congress and to the country for men, arms, and clothing; yet only New
York City and New Jersey were really in the possession of the enemy. It
was one thing for England to occupy a few cities, and quite another to
conquer a continent; hence Congress and the leaders of the rebellion
never lost hope. So long as there were men left in peaceable possession
of their farms from Maine to Georgia, and these men accustomed to
fire-arms and resolved on freedom, there was no real cause of despair.
The perplexing and discouraging things were that the men preferred the
safety and comfort of their homes to the dangers and hardships of the
camp, and that there was no money in the treasury to pay the troops, nor
credit on which to raise it. Hence desertions, raggedness, discontent,
suffering; but not despair,--even in the breast of Washington, who
realized the difficulties as none else did. Men would not enlist unless
they were paid and fed, clothed and properly armed. Had there been an
overwhelming danger they probably would have rallied, as the Dutch did
when they opened their dikes, or as the Greeks rallied in their late
Revolution, when fortress after fortress fell into the hands of the
Turks, and as the American militia did in successive localities
threatened by the British,--notably in New Hampshire, Vermont, and New
York, when they swarmed about Burgoyne and captured him at Saratoga. But
this was by no means the same as enlisting for a long period in a
general army.

I mention these things, not to discredit the bravery and patriotism of
the Revolutionary soldiers. They made noble sacrifices and they fought
gallantly, but they did not rise above local patriotism and sustain the
Continental cause. Yet at no time, even when Washington with his small
army was flying before Cornwallis across New Jersey, were there grounds
of despair. There were discouragements, difficulties, and vexations; and
these could be traced chiefly to the want of a strong central
government. The government was divided against itself, without money or
credit,--in short, a mere advisory board of civilians, half the time
opposed to the plans of the commander-in-chief. But when Washington had
been driven beyond the Delaware, when Philadelphia, where Congress was
sitting, was in danger, then dictatorial powers were virtually conferred
on Washington,--"the most unlimited authority" was the phrase used,--and
he had scope to act as he saw fit.

Washington was, it is true, at times accused of incompetency, and
traitors slandered him, but Congress stood by him and the country had
confidence in him; as well it might, since, while he had not gained
great victories, and even perhaps had made military mistakes, he had
delivered Boston, had rescued the remnant of his army from the clutches
of Howe and Cornwallis, and had devoted himself by day and night to
labors which should never have been demanded of him, in keeping Congress
up to the mark, as well as in his arduous duties in the field,--evincing
great prudence, sagacity, watchfulness, and energy. He had proved
himself at least to be a Fabius, if he was not a Hannibal. But a
Hannibal is not possible without an army, and a steady-handed Fabius was
the need of the times. The Caesars of the world are few, and most of
them have been unfaithful to their trust, but no one doubted the
integrity and patriotism of Washington. Rival generals may have disliked
his austere dignity and proud self-consciousness, but the people and the
soldiers adored him; and while his general policy was, and had to be, a
defensive one, everybody knew that he would fight if he had any hope of
success. No one in the army was braver than he, as proved not only by
his early warfare against the French and Indians, but also by his whole
career after he was selected for the chief command, whenever a fair
fighting opportunity was presented, as seen in the following instance.

With his small army on the right bank of the Delaware, toilsomely
increased to about four thousand men, he now meditated offensive
operations against the unsuspecting British, who had but just chased him
out of New Jersey. Accordingly, with unexpected audacity, on Christmas
night he recrossed the Delaware, marched nine miles and attacked the
British troops posted at Trenton. It was not a formal battle, but a
raid, and proved successful. The enemy, amazed, retreated; then with
fresh reinforcements they turned upon Washington; he evaded them, and on
January 3, 1777, made a fierce attack on their lines at Princeton,
attended with the same success, utterly routing the British. These were
small victories, but they encouraged the troops, aroused the New Jersey
men to enthusiasm, and alarmed Cornwallis, who retreated northward to
New Brunswick, to save his military stores. In a few days the English
retained only that town, Amboy, and Paulus Hook, in all New Jersey. Thus
in three weeks, in the midst of winter, Washington had won two fights,
taken two thousand prisoners, and was as strong as he was before he
crossed the Hudson,--and the winter of 1777 opened with hope in the
Revolutionary ranks.

Washington then intrenched himself at Morristown and watched the forces
of the English generals; and for six months nothing of consequence was
done by either side. It became evident that Washington could not be
conquered except by large reinforcements to the army of Howe. Another
campaign was a necessity, to the disgust and humiliation of the British
government and the wrath of George III. The Declaration of Independence,
thus far, had not proved mere rhetoric.

The expulsion of the British troops from New Jersey by inferior forces
was regarded in Europe as a great achievement, and enabled Franklin at
Paris to secure substantial but at first secret aid from the French
Government. National independence now seemed to be a probability, and
perhaps a certainty. It was undoubtedly a great encouragement to the
struggling States. The more foresighted of British statesmen saw now the
hopelessness of a conflict which had lasted nearly two years, and in
which nothing more substantial had been gained by the English generals
than the occupation of New York and a few towns on the coast, while the
Americans had gained military experience and considerable prestige. The
whole civilized world pronounced Washington to be both a hero and
a patriot.

But the English government, with singular obstinacy, under the lash of
George III., resolved to make renewed efforts, to send to America all
the forces which could be raised, at a vast expense, and to plan a
campaign which should bring the rebels to obedience. The plan was to
send an army by way of Canada to take the fortresses on Lake Champlain,
and then to descend the Hudson, and co-operate with Howe in cutting off
New England from the rest of the country; in fact, dividing the land in
twain,--a plan seemingly feasible. It would be possible to conquer each
section, east and south of New York, in detail, with victorious and
overwhelming forces. This was the great danger that menaced the States
and caused the deepest solicitude.

So soon as the designs of the British government were known, it became
the aim and duty of the commander-in-chief to guard against them. The
military preparations of Congress were utterly inadequate for the
crisis, in spite of the constant and urgent expostulations of
Washington. There was, as yet, 110 regular army, and the militia
shamefully deserted. There was even a prejudice against a standing army,
and the militia of every State were jealous of the militia of other
States. Congress passed resolutions, and a large force was created on
paper. Popular enthusiasm was passing away in the absence of immediate
dangers; so that, despite the glorious success in New Jersey, the winter
of 1777 was passed gloomily, and in the spring new perils arose. But for
the negligence of General Howe, the well-planned British expedition from
the North might have succeeded. It was under the command of an able and
experienced veteran, General Burgoyne. There was apparently nothing to
prevent the junction of the forces of Howe and Burgoyne but the fortress
of West Point, which commanded the Hudson River. To oppose this movement
Benedict Arnold--"the bravest of the brave," as he was called, like
Marshal Ney--was selected, assisted by General Schuyler, a high-minded
gentleman and patriot, but as a soldier more respectable than able, and
Horatio Gates, a soldier of fortune, who was jealous of Washington, and
who, like Lee, made great pretensions,--both Englishmen by birth. The
spring and summer resulted in many reverses in the North, where Schuyler
was unable to cope with Burgoyne; and had Howe promptly co-operated,
that campaign would have been a great triumph for the British.

It was the object of Howe to deceive Washington, if possible, and hence
he sent a large part of his army on board the fleet at New York, under
the command of Cornwallis, as if Boston were his destination. He
intended, however, to capture Philadelphia, the seat of the "rebel
Congress," with his main force, while other troops were to co-operate
with Burgoyne. Washington, divining the intentions of Howe, with his
ragged army crossed the Delaware once more, at the end of July, this
time to protect Philadelphia, leaving Arnold and Schuyler to watch
Burgoyne, and Putnam to defend the Hudson. When, late in August, Howe
landed his forces below Philadelphia, Washington made up his mind to
risk a battle, and chose a good position on the heights near the
Brandywine; but in the engagement of September 11 was defeated, through
the negligence of Sullivan to guard the fords above against the
overwhelming forces of Cornwallis, who was in immediate command. Still,
he rallied his army with the view of fighting again. The battle of
Germantown, October 4, resulted in American defeat and the occupation by
the British of Philadelphia,--a place desirable only for comfortable
winter quarters. When Franklin heard of it he coolly remarked that the
British had not taken Philadelphia, but Philadelphia had taken them,
since seventeen thousand veterans were here kept out of the field, when
they were needed most on the banks of the Hudson, to join Burgoyne, now
on his way to Lake Champlain.

This diversion of the main army of Howe to occupy Philadelphia was the
great British blunder of the war. It enabled the Vermont and New
Hampshire militia to throw obstacles in the march of Burgoyne, who
became entangled in the forests of northern New York, with his flank and
rear exposed to the sharpshooters of the enemy, fully alive to the
dangers which menaced them. Sluggish as they were, and averse to
enlistment, the New England troops always rallied when pressing
necessity stared them in the face, and fought with tenacious courage.
Although Burgoyne had taken Ticonderoga, on Lake Champlain, as was to be
expected, he was, after a most trying campaign, at last surrounded at
Saratoga, and on October 17 was compelled to surrender to the militia he
despised. It was not the generalship of the American commander which led
to this crushing disaster, but the obstacles of nature, utilized by the
hardy American volunteers. Gates, who had superseded Schuyler in the
command of the Northern department, claimed the chief merit of the
capture of the British army, nearly ten thousand strong; but this claim
is now generally disputed, and the success of the campaign is ascribed
to Arnold, while that of the final fighting and success is given to
Arnold together with Morgan and his Virginia riflemen, whom Washington
had sent from his own small force.

The moral and political effect of the surrender of Burgoyne was greater
than the military result. The independence of the United States was now
assured, not only in the minds of American statesmen, but to European
intelligence. The French Government then openly came out with its
promised aid, and money was more easily raised.

The influence of Washington in securing the capture of Burgoyne was
indirect, although the general plan of campaign and the arousing of the
Northern militia had been outlined by him to General Schuyler. He had
his hands full in watching Howe's forces at Philadelphia. His defeat at
Germantown, the result of accident which he could not prevent, compelled
him to retreat to Valley Forge, on the Schuylkill, about nine miles from
Philadelphia. There he took up his quarters in the winter of 1777-78.
The sufferings of the army in that distressing winter are among the
best-known events of the whole war. At Valley Forge the trials of
Washington culminated. His army was reduced to three thousand men,
incapable of offensive operations, without suitable clothing, food,
or shelter,

"As the poor soldiers," says Fiske, in his brilliant history, "marched
on the 17th of December to their winter quarters, the route could be
traced on the snow by the blood which oozed from bare, frost-bitten
feet. For want of blankets many were fain to sit up all night by fires.
Cold and hunger daily added to the sick list, and men died for want of
straw to put between them and the frozen ground."

Gates, instead of marching to the relief of Washington before
Philadelphia, as he was ordered, kept his victorious troops idle at
Saratoga; and it was only by the extraordinary tact of Alexander
Hamilton, the youthful aide, secretary, and counsellor of Washington,
who had been sent North for the purpose, that the return of Morgan with
his Virginia riflemen was secured. Congress was shaken by the intrigues
of Gates, who sought to supplant the commander-in-chief, and who had won
to his support both Morgan and Richard Henry Lee.

At this crisis, Baron Steuben, a Prussian officer who had served under
Frederic the Great, arrived at the headquarters of Washington. Some say
that he was a mere martinet, but he was exceedingly useful in drilling
the American troops, working from morning till night, both patient and
laborious. From that time Washington had regular troops, on which he
could rely, few in number, but loyal and true. La Fayette also was
present in his camp, chivalrous and magnanimous, rendering efficient
aid; and there too was Nathaniel Greene of Rhode Island, who had made
but one great mistake in his military career, the most able of
Washington's generals. With the aid of these trusted lieutenants,
Washington was able to keep his little army together, as the nucleus of
a greater one, and wait for opportunities, for he loved to fight when he
saw a chance of success.

And now it may be said that the desertions which had crippled
Washington, the reluctance to enlist on the part of the farmers, and the
tardy response to his calls for money, probably were owing to the
general sense of security after the surrender of Burgoyne. It was felt
that the cause of liberty was already won. With this feeling men were
slow to enlist when they were not sure of their pay, and it was at this
period that money was most difficult to be raised. Had there been a
strong central government, and not a mere league of States, some Moses
would have "smitten the rock of finance," as Hamilton subsequently did,
and Chase in the war of the Southern Rebellion, and abundant streams
would have gushed forth in the shape of national bonds, certain to be
redeemed, sooner or later, in solid gold and silver, and which could
have been readily negotiated by the leading bankers of the world. The
real difficulty with which Congress and Washington had to contend was a
financial one. There were men enough to enlist in the army if they had
been promptly paid. Yet, on the other hand, England, with ample means
and lavish promises, was able to induce only about three thousand Tories
out of all the American population to enlist in her armies in America
during the whole war.

By patience unparalleled and efforts unceasing, Washington slowly
wrought upon Congress to sustain him in building up a "Continental"
army, in place of the shifting bodies of militia. With Steuben as
inspector-general and Greene as quartermaster, the new levies as they
came in were disciplined and equipped; and in spite of the conspiracies
and cabals formed against him by ambitious subordinates,--which enlisted
the aid of many influential men even in Congress, but which came to
nought before the solid character and steady front of the man who was
really carrying the whole war upon his own shoulders,--Washington
emerged from the frightful winter at Valley Forge and entered the spring
of 1778 with greater resources at his command than he had ever
had before.

In January, 1778, France acknowledged the independence of the United
States of America and entered into treaty with them. In the spring Sir
William Howe resigned, and Sir Henry Clinton succeeded him in command.
After wintering in Philadelphia, the British commander discovered that
he could do nothing with his troops shut up in a luxurious city, while
Washington was watching him in a strongly intrenched position a few
miles distant, and with constantly increasing forces now trained to war;
and moreover, a French fleet with reinforcements was now looked for. So
he evacuated the Quaker City on the 18th of June, 1778, and began his
march to New York, followed by Washington with an army now equal to his
own. On the 28th of June Cornwallis was encamped near Monmouth, N.J.,
where was fought the most brilliant battle of the war, which Washington
nearly lost, nevertheless, by the disobedience of Lee, his second in
command, at a critical moment. Boiling with rage, the commander-in-chief
rode up to Lee and demanded why he had disobeyed orders. Then, it is
said, with a tremendous oath he sent the marplot to the rear, and Lee's
military career ignominiously ended. Four years after, this military
adventurer, who had given so much trouble, died in a mean tavern in
Philadelphia, disgraced, unpitied, and forlorn.

The battle of Monmouth did not prevent the orderly retreat of the
British to New York, when Washington resumed his old post at White
Plains, east of the Hudson in Westchester County, whence he had some
hopes of moving on New York, with the aid of the French fleet under the
Count d'Estaing. But the big French ships could not cross the bar, so
the fleet sailed for Newport with a view of recapturing that town and
repossessing Rhode Island. Washington sent Greene and La Fayette thither
with reinforcements for Sullivan, who was in command. The enterprise
failed from an unexpected storm in November, which compelled the French
admiral to sail to Boston to refit, after which he proceeded to the West
Indies. It would appear that the French, thus far, sought to embarrass
the English rather than to assist the Americans. The only good that
resulted from the appearance of D'Estaing at Newport was the withdrawal
of the British troops to New York.

It is singular that the positions of the opposing armies were very much
as they had been two years before. The headquarters of Washington were
at White Plains, on the Hudson, and those of Clinton at New York,
commanding the harbor and the neighboring heights. Neither army was
strong enough for offensive operations with any reasonable hope of
success, and the commanding generals seem to have acted on the maxim
that "discretion is the better part of valor." Both armies had been
strongly reinforced, and the opposing generals did little else than
fortify their positions and watch each other. A year passed in virtual
inaction on both sides, except that the British carried on a series of
devastating predatory raids in New England along the coast of Long
Island Sound, in New York State (with the savage aid of the Indians), in
New Jersey, and in the South,--there making a more formal movement and
seizing the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. No battles of any
account were fought. There was some skirmishing, but no important
military movements were made on either side. Washington, in December,
1778, removed his headquarters to Middlebrook, N.J., his forces being
distributed in a series of camps from the Delaware north and east to
Rhode Island. The winter he passed in patient vigilance; he wrote
expostulating letters to Congress, and even went personally to
Philadelphia to labor with its members. Meanwhile Clinton was taking his
ease, to the disgust of the British government.

There was a cavilling, criticising spirit among the different parties in
America; for there were many who did not comprehend the situation, and
who were disappointed that nothing decisive was done. Washington was
infinitely annoyed at the stream of detraction which flowed from
discontented officers, and civilians in power, but held his soul in
patience, rarely taking any notice of the innumerable slanders and
hostile insinuations. He held together his army, now chiefly composed of
veterans, and nearly as numerous as the troops of the enemy. One thing
he saw clearly,--that the maintenance of an army in the field, held
together by discipline, was of more importance, from a military point of
view, than the occupation of a large city or annoying raids of
destruction. While he was well intrenched in a strong position, and
therefore safe, the British had the command of the Hudson, and
ships-of-war could ascend the river unmolested as far as West Point,
which was still held by the Americans and was impregnable. Outside of
New York the British did not possess a strong fortress in the country,
at least in the interior, except on Lake Champlain,--not one in New
England. West Point, therefore, was a great eyesore to the English
generals and admirals. Its possession would be of incalculable advantage
in case any expedition was sent to the North.

And the enemy came very near getting possession of this important
fortress, not by force, but by treachery. Benedict Arnold, disappointed
in his military prospects, alienated from his cause, overwhelmed with
debts, and utterly discontented and demoralized, had asked to be ordered
from Philadelphia and put in command of West Point. He was sent there in
August, 1780. He was a capable and brave man; he had the confidence of
Washington, in spite of his defects of character, and moreover he had
rendered important services. In an evil hour he lost his head and
listened to the voice of the tempter, and having succeeded in getting
himself put in charge of the stronghold of the Hudson, he secretly
negotiated with Clinton for its surrender.

Everybody is familiar with the details of that infamy, which is
inexplicable on any other ground than partial insanity. No matter what
may be said in extenuation, Arnold committed the greatest crime known to
civilized nations. He contrived to escape the just doom which awaited
him, and, from having become traitor, even proceeded to enter the active
service of the enemy and to raise his hand against the country which,
but for these crimes, would have held him in honorable remembrance. The
heart of English-speaking nations has ever been moved to compassion for
the unfortunate fate of the messenger who conducted the treasonable
correspondence between Arnold and Clinton,--one of the most accomplished
officers in the British army, Major Andre. No influence--not even his
deeply moved sympathy--could induce Washington to interfere with the
decision of the court-martial that Andre should be hanged as a spy, so
dangerous did the commander deem the attempted treachery. The English
have erected to the unfortunate officer a monument in Westminster Abbey.

The contemplated surrender of West Point to the enemy suggests the
demoralization which the war had already produced, and which was
deplored by no one more bitterly than by Washington himself. "If I were
called upon," he writes, "to draw a picture of the times and of men,
from what I have seen, heard, and in part know, I should in one word say
that idleness, dissipation, and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold
of most of them; that speculation, peculation, and an insatiable thirst
for riches seem to have got the better of every other consideration...;
that party disputes and personal quarrels are the great business of the
day; whilst the momentous concerns of an empire, an accumulating debt,
ruined finances, depreciated money, and want of credit ... are but
secondary considerations."

All war produces naturally and logically this demoralization, especially
in countries under a republican government. Profanity, drunkenness, and
general recklessness as to money matters were everywhere prevailing
vices; and this demoralization was, in the eyes of Washington, more to
be dreaded than any external dangers that had thus far caused alarm and
distress. "I have," wrote he, "seen without despondency even for a
moment, the hours which America has styled her gloomy ones; but I have
beheld no day since the commencement of hostilities that I have thought
her liberties were in such imminent danger as at present."

"He had faced," says Henry Cabot Lodge, in his interesting life of
Washington, "the enemy, the bleak winters, raw soldiers, and all the
difficulties of impecunious government, with a cheerful courage that
never failed. But the spectacle of wide-spread popular demoralization,
of selfish scramble for plunder, and of feeble administration at the
centre of government, weighed upon him heavily." And all this at the
period of the French alliance, which it was thought would soon end the
war. Indeed, hostilities were practically over at the North, and hence
the public lassitude. Nearly two years had passed without an
important battle.

When Clinton saw that no hope remained of subduing the Americans, the
British government should have made peace and recognized the
independence of the States. But the obstinacy of the king of England was
phenomenal, and his ministers were infatuated. They could not reconcile
themselves to the greatness of their loss. Their hatred of the rebels
was too bitter for reason to conquer. Hitherto the contest had not been
bloody nor cruel. Few atrocities had been committed, except by the
rancorous Tories, who slaughtered and burned without pity, and by the
Indians who were paid by the British government. Prisoners, on the
whole, had been humanely treated by both the contending armies, although
the British prison-ships of New York and their "thousand martyrs" have
left a dark shadow on the annals of the time. Neither in Boston nor New
York nor Philadelphia had the inhabitants uttered loud complaints
against the soldiers who had successively occupied their houses, and who
had lived as comfortably and peaceably as soldiers in English garrison
towns. Some villages had been burned, but few people had been
massacred. More inhumanity was exhibited by both Greeks and Turks in the
Greek Revolution in one month than by the forces engaged during the
whole American war. The prime minister of England, Lord North, was the
most amiable and gentle of men. The brothers Howe would fain have
carried the olive-branch in one hand while they bore arms in the other.
It seemed to be the policy of England to do nothing which would inflame
animosities, and prevent the speedy restoration of peace. Spies of
course were hanged, and traitors were shot, in accordance with the
uniform rules of war. I do not read of a bloodthirsty English general in
the whole course of the war, like those Russian generals who overwhelmed
the Poles; nor did the English generals seem to be really in earnest, or
they would have been bolder in their operations, and would not have been
contented to be shut up for two years in New York when they were
not besieged.

At length Clinton saw he must do something to satisfy the government at
home, and the government felt that a severer policy should be introduced
into warlike operations. Clinton perceived that he could not penetrate
into New England, even if he could occupy the maritime cities. He could
not ascend the Hudson. He could not retain New Jersey. But the South was
open to his armies, and had not been seriously invaded.

As Washington personally was not engaged in the military operations at
the South, I can make only a passing allusion to them. It is not my
object to write a history of the war, but merely to sketch it so far as
Washington was directly concerned. The South was left, in the main, to
defend itself against the raids which the British generals made in its
defenceless territories, and these were destructive and cruel. But Gates
was sent to cope with Cornwallis and Tarleton. Washington himself could
not leave his position near New York, as he had to watch Clinton, defend
the Hudson, and make journeys to Philadelphia to urge Congress to more
vigorous measures. Congress, however, was helpless and the State
governments were inactive.

In the meantime, early in May, 1780, Charleston, S.C., was abandoned to
the enemy,--General Lincoln, who commanded, finding it indefensible. In
September the news came North of the battle of Camden and the defeat of
Gates, who showed an incompetency equal to his self-sufficiency, and
Congress was obliged to remove him. Through Washington's influence, in
December, 1780, Greene was appointed to succeed him; had the chief's
advice been followed earlier he would have been sent originally instead
of Gates. Greene turned the tide, and began those masterly operations
which led to the final expulsion of the English from the South, and,
under the guiding mind and firm hand of Washington, to the surrender of

On January 17, 1781, Morgan won a brilliant victory at Cowpens, S.C.,
which seriously embarrassed Cornwallis; and then succeeded a vigorous
campaign between Cornwallis and Greene for several months, over the
Carolinas and the borders of Virginia. The losses of the British were so
great, even when they had the advantage, that Cornwallis turned his face
to the North, with a view of transferring the seat of war to Chesapeake
Bay. Washington then sent all the troops he could spare to Virginia,
under La Fayette. He was further aided by the French fleet, under De
Grasse, whom he persuaded to sail to the Chesapeake. La Fayette here did
good service, following closely the retreating army. Clinton failed to
reinforce Cornwallis, some say from jealousy, so that the latter felt
obliged to fortify himself at Yorktown. Washington, who had been
planning an attack on New York, now continued his apparent preparations,
to deceive Clinton, but crossed the Hudson on the 23d of August, to
co-operate with the French fleet and three thousand French troops in
Virginia, to support La Fayette. He rapidly moved his available force by
swift marches across New Jersey to Elkton, Maryland, at the head of
Chesapeake Bay. The Northern troops were brought down the Chesapeake in
transports, gathered by great exertions, and on September 28 landed at
Williamsburg, on the Yorktown Peninsula. Cornwallis was now hemmed in by
the combined French and American armies. Had he possessed the control of
the sea he might have escaped, but as the fleet commanded the Chesapeake
this was impossible. He had well fortified himself, however, and on the
5th of October the siege of Yorktown began, followed on the 14th by an
assault. On the 19th of October, 1781, Cornwallis was compelled to
surrender, with seven thousand troops. The besieging army numbered about
five thousand French and eleven thousand Americans. The success of
Washington was owing to the rapidity of his movements, and the influence
which, with La Fayette, he brought to bear for the retention at this
critical time and place of the fleet of the Count de Grasse, who was
disposed to sail to the West Indies, as D'Estaing had done the year
before. Washington's keen perception of the military situation,
energetic promptness of action, and his diplomatic tact and address in
this whole affair were remarkable.

The surrender of Cornwallis virtually closed the war. The swift
concentration of forces from North and South was due to Washington's
foresight and splendid energy, while its success was mainly due to the
French, without whose aid the campaign could not have been concluded.

The moral and political effect of this "crowning mercy" was prodigious.
In England it broke up the ministry of Lord North, and made the English
nation eager for peace, although it was a year or two before hostilities
ceased, and it was not until September 3, 1783, that the treaty was
signed which Franklin, Adams, and Jay had so adroitly negotiated. The
English king would have continued the contest against all hope,
encouraged by the possession of New York and Charleston, but his
personal government practically ceased with the acknowledgment of
American independence.

The trials of Washington, however, did not end with the great victory at
Yorktown. There was a serious mutiny in the army which required all his
tact to quell, arising from the neglect of Congress to pay the troops.
There was greater looseness of morals throughout the country than has
been generally dreamed of. I apprehend that farmers and mechanics were
more profane, and drank, _per capita_, more cider and rum for twenty
years succeeding the war than at any other period in our history. It was
then that it was intimated to Washington, in a letter from his friend
Colonel Louis Nicola, that the state of the country and the impotence of
Congress made it desirable that he should seize the government, and,
supported by the army, turn all the confusion into order,--which
probably would have been easy for him to do, and which would have been
justified by most historical writers. But Washington repelled the idea
with indignation, both for himself and the army; and not only on this
occasion but on others when disaffection was rife, he utilized his own
popularity to arouse anew the loyalty of the sorely tried patriots, his
companions in arms. Many are the precedents of usurpation on the part of
successful generals, and few indeed are those who have voluntarily
abdicated power from lofty and patriotic motives. It was this virtual
abdication which made so profound an impression on the European
world,--even more profound than was created by the military skill which
Washington displayed in the long war of seven years. It was a rare
instance of magnanimity and absence of ambition which was not without
its influence on the destinies of America, making it almost impossible
for any future general to retain power after his work was done, and
setting a proud and unique example of the superiority of moral
excellence over genius and power.

Washington is venerated not so much for his military genius and success
in bringing the war to a triumphant conclusion, as for his patriotism
and disinterestedness, since such moral worth as his is much rarer and
more extraordinary than military fame. Fortunately, his devotion to the
ultimate welfare of the country, universally conceded, was supreme
wisdom on his part, not only for the land he loved but for himself, and
has given him a name which is above every other name in the history of
modern times. He was tested, and he turned from the temptation with
abhorrence. He might, and he might not, have succeeded in retaining
supreme power,--the culmination of human ambition; but he neither sought
nor desired it. It was reward enough for him to have the consciousness
of virtue, and enjoy the gratitude of his countrymen.

Washington at last persuaded Congress to do justice to the officers and
men who had sacrificed so much for their country's independence; in
spite of the probability of peace, he was tireless in continuing
preparations for effective war. He was of great service to Congress in
arranging for the disbandment of the army after the preliminary treaty
of peace in March, 1783, and guided by wise counsel the earlier
legislation affecting civil matters in the States and on the frontiers.
The general army was disbanded November 3; on November 25 the British
evacuated New York and the American authorities took possession; on
December 4 Washington bade farewell to his assembled officers, and on
the 23d he resigned his commission to Congress,--a patriotic and
memorable scene. And then he turned to the placidities of domestic life
in his home at Mount Vernon.

But this life and this home, so dear to his heart, it was not long
permitted him to enjoy. On the formation and adoption of the Federal
Constitution, in 1789, he was unanimously chosen to be the first
president of the United States.

In a preceding lecture I have already presented the brilliant
constellation of statesmen who assembled at Philadelphia to construct
the fabric of American liberties. Washington was one of them, but this
great work was not even largely his. On June 8, 1783, he had addressed a
letter to the governors of all the States, concerning the essential
elements of the well-being of the United States, which showed the early,
careful, and sound thought he had given to the matter of what he termed
"an indissoluable union of the States under one Federal head." But he
was not a great talker, or a great writer, or a pre-eminently great
political genius. He was a general and administrator rather than an
original constructive statesman whose work involved a profound knowledge
of law and history. No one man could have done that work; it was the
result of the collected wisdom and experience of the nation,--of the
deliberations of the foremost intellects from the different
States,--such men as Hamilton, Madison, Wilson, Rutledge, Dickinson,
Ellsworth, and others. Jefferson and Adams were absent on diplomatic
missions. Franklin was old and gouty. Even Washington did little more
than preside over the convention; but he stimulated its members, with
imposing dignity and the constant exercise of his pre-eminent personal
influence, to union and conciliation.

So I turn to consider the administrations of President Washington, the
policy of which, in the main, was the rule of the succeeding
presidents,--of Adams and "the Virginia dynasty."

The cabinet which he selected was able and illustrious; especially so
were its brightest stars,--Jefferson as Secretary of State, and Hamilton
as Secretary of the Treasury, to whose opinions the President generally
yielded. It was unfortunate that these two great men liked each other so
little, and were so jealous of each other's ascendency. But their
political ideas diverged in many important points. Hamilton was the
champion of Federalism, and Jefferson of States' Rights; the one,
politically, was an aristocrat, and the other, though born on a
plantation, was a democrat. Washington had to use all his tact to keep
these statesmen from an open rupture. Their mutual hostility saddened
and perplexed him. He had selected them as the best men for their
respective posts, and in this had made no mistake; but their opposing
opinions prevented that cabinet unity so essential in government, and
possibly crippled Washington himself. This great country has produced no
administration comprising four greater men than President Washington,
the general who had led its armies in a desperate war; Vice-President
John Adams, the orator who most eloquently defined national rights;
Jefferson, the diplomatist who managed foreign relations on the basis of
perpetual peace; and Hamilton, the financier who "struck the rock from
which flowed the abundant streams of national credit." General Knox,
Secretary of War, had not the intellectual calibre of Hamilton and
Jefferson, but had proved himself an able soldier and was devoted to his
chief. Edmund Randolph, the Attorney-General, was a leading lawyer in
Virginia, and belonged to one of its prominent families.

Outside the cabinet, the judiciary had to be filled, and Washington made
choice of John Jay as chief-justice of the Supreme Court,--a most
admirable appointment,--and associated with him the great lawyers,
Wilson of Pennsylvania, Cushing of Massachusetts, Blair of Virginia,
Iredell of North Carolina, and Rutledge of South Carolina,--all of whom
were distinguished, and all selected for their abilities, without regard
to their political opinions.

It is singular that, as this country has advanced in culture and
population, the men who have occupied the highest positions have been
inferior in genius and fame,--selected, not because they were great, but
because they were "available," that is, because they had few enemies,
and were supposed to be willing to become the tools of ambitious and
scheming politicians, intriguing for party interests and greedy for the
spoils of office. Fortunately, or providentially, some of these men
have disappointed those who elevated them, and have unexpectedly
developed in office both uncommon executive power and still rarer
integrity,--reminding us of those popes who have reigned more like foxes
and lions than like the asses that before their elevation sometimes they
were thought to be.

Trifling as it may seem, the first measure of the new government
pertained to the etiquette to be observed at receptions, dinners, etc.,
in which there was more pomp and ceremony than at the present time.
Washington himself made a greater public display, with his chariot and
four, than any succeeding president. His receptions were stately. The
President stood with dignity, clad in his velvet coat, never shaking
hands with any one, however high his rank. He walked between the rows of
visitors, pretty much as Napoleon did at the Tuileries, saying a few
words to each; but people of station were more stately and aristocratic
in those times than at the present day, even in New England towns.
Washington himself was an old-school gentleman of the most formal sort,
and, although benevolent in aspect and kindly in manner, was more
tenacious of his dignity than great men usually are. This had been
notable throughout the war. His most intimate friends and daily
associates, his most prominent and trusted generals, patriotic but
hot-headed complainants, turbulent malcontents,--all alike found him
courteous and considerate, yet hedged about with an impassive dignity
that no one ever dared to violate. A superb horseman, a powerful and
active swordsman, an unfailing marksman with rifle or pistol, he never
made a display of these qualities; but there are many anecdotes of such
prowess in sudden emergencies as caused him to be idolized by his
companions in arms, while yet their manifestations of feeling were
repressed by the veneration imposed upon all by his lofty
personal dignity.

Thus also as President. It was no new access of official pomposity, but
the man's natural bearing, that maintained a lofty reserve at these
public receptions. Possibly, too, he may have felt the necessity of
maintaining the prerogative of the Federal head of all these
independent, but now united, States. Hence, on his visit to Boston, soon
after his inauguration, he was offended with John Hancock, then
governor of Massachusetts, for neglecting to call on him, as etiquette
certainly demanded. The pompous, overrated old merchant, rich and
luxurious, though a genuine patriot, perhaps thought that Washington
would first call on him, as governor of the State; perhaps he was
withheld from his official duty by an attack of the gout; but at last he
saw the necessity, and was borne on men's shoulders into the presence of
the President.

In considering the vital points in the administration of Washington the
reader will not expect to find any of the spirited and exciting elements
of the Revolutionary period. The organization and ordering of
governmental policies is not romantic, but hard, patient, persevering
work. All questions were yet unsettled,--at least in domestic matters,
such as finance, tariffs, and revenue. One thing is clear enough, that
the national debt and the State debts and the foreign debt altogether
amounted to about seventy-five million dollars, the interest on which
was unpaid by reason of a depleted treasury and want of credit, which
produced great financial embarrassments. Then there were grave Indian
hostilities demanding a large military force to suppress them, and there
was no money to pay the troops. And when Congress finally agreed, in the
face of great opposition, to adopt the plans of Hamilton and raise a
revenue by excise on distilled spirits, manufactured chiefly in
Pennsylvania, there was a rebellion among the stubborn and warlike
Scotch-Irish, who were the principal distillers of whiskey, which
required the whole force of the government to put down.

In the matter of revenue, involving the most important of all the
problems to be solved, Washington adopted the views of Hamilton, and
contented himself with recommending them to Congress,--a body utterly
inexperienced, and ignorant of the principles of political economy.
Nothing was so unpopular as taxation in any form, and yet without it the
government could not be carried on. The Southern States wanted an
unrestricted commerce, amounting to "free trade," that they might get
all manufactured articles at the smallest possible price; and these came
chiefly from abroad. All import duties were an abomination to them, and
yet without these a national revenue could not be raised. It is true
that Washington had recommended the encouragement of domestic
manufactures, the dependence of country on foreigners for nearly all
supplies having been one of the chief difficulties of the war, but the
great idea of "protection" had not become a mooted point in national

Hamilton had further proposed a bank, but this also met with great
opposition in Congress among the anti-Federalists and the partisans of
Jefferson, fearful and jealous of a moneyed power. In the end the
measures which Hamilton suggested were generally adopted, and the good
results were beginning to be seen, but the financial position of the
country for several years after the formation of the Federal government
was embarrassing, if not alarming.

Again, there was no national capital, and Congress, which had begun its
labors in New York, could not agree upon the site, which was finally
adopted only by a sort of compromise,--the South accepting the financial
scheme of Hamilton if the capital should be located in Southern
territory. All the great national issues pertaining to domestic
legislation were in embryo, and no settled policy was possible amid so
many sectional jealousies.

It was no small task for Washington to steer the ship of state among
these breakers. No other man in the nation could have done so well as
he, for he was conciliatory and patient, ever ready to listen to reason
and get light from any quarter, modest in his recommendations, knowing
well that his training had not been in the schools of political economy.
His good sense and sterling character enabled him to surmount the
difficulties of his situation, which was anything but a bed of roses.

In the infancy of the republic the foreign relations of the government
were deemed more important and excited more interest than internal
affairs, and in the management of foreign affairs Jefferson displayed
great abilities, which Washington appreciated as much as he did the
financial genius of Hamilton. In one thing the President and his
Secretary of State were in full accord,--in keeping aloof from the
labyrinth of European politics, and maintaining friendly intercourse
with all nations. With a peace policy only would commerce thrive and
industries be developed, Both Washington and Jefferson were broad-minded
enough to see the future greatness of the country, and embraced the most
liberal views. Hence the foreign envoys were quietly given to understand
that the members of the American government were to be treated with the
respect due to the representatives of a free and constantly expanding
country, which in time would be as powerful as either England or France.

It was seen, moreover, that both France and England would take every
possible advantage of the new republic, and would seek to retain a
foothold in the unexplored territories of the Northwest, as well as to
gain all they could in commercial transactions. England especially
sought to hamper our trade with the West India Islands, and treated our
envoys with insolence and coldness. The French sought to entangle the
United States in their own revolution, with which most Americans
sympathized until its atrocities filled them with horror and disgust.
The English impressed American seamen into their naval service without a
shadow of justice or good faith.

In 1795 Jay succeeded in making a treaty with the English government,
which was ratified because it was the best he could get, not because it
was all that he wished. It bore hard on the cities of the Atlantic coast
that had commercial dealings with the West India Islands, and led to
popular discontent, and bitter animosity towards England, finally
culminating in the war of 1812. The French were equally irritating, and
unreasonable in their expectations. The Directory in 1793 sent an
arrogant and insulting envoy to the seat of government "Citizen Genet,"
as he was called, tried to engage the United States in the French war
against England. Although Washington promptly proclaimed neutrality as
the American policy, Genet gave no end of trouble and vexation. This
upstart paid no attention to the laws, no respect to the constituted
authorities, insulted governors and cabinet-ministers alike, insisted on
dealing with Congress directly instead of through the Secretary of
State, issued letters of marque for privateers against English commerce,
and defied the government. He did all that he could to embroil the
country in war with Great Britain; and there was a marked division of
sentiment among the people,--the new Democratic-Republican societies,
in imitation of the French Jacobin clubs, being potent disseminators of
democratic doctrine and sympathy with the French uprising against
despotism. The forbearance of Washington, in suffering the irascible and
boastful Genet to ride rough-shod over his own cabinet, was
extraordinary. In ordinary times the man would have been summarily
expelled from the country. At last his insults could no longer be
endured and his recall was demanded; but he did not return to France,
and, strange to say, settled down as a peaceful citizen in New York. The
lenient treatment of this insulting foreigner arose from the reluctance
of Washington to loosen the ties which bound the country to France, and
from gratitude for the services she had rendered in the war, whatever
may have been the motives that had influenced that government to yield

Washington, who had consented in 1794 to serve a second term as
president, now began to weary of the cares of office. The quarrel
between Hamilton and Jefferson, leading to the formation of the two
great political parties which, under different names, have since divided
the nation; the whiskey rebellion in Pennsylvania, which required the
whole strength of the government to subdue; the Indian atrocities in the
Northwest, resulting in the unfortunate expedition of St. Clair; the
opposition to the financial schemes of the Secretary of the Treasury to
restore the credit of the country; and the still greater popular
disaffection toward Jay's treaty with Great Britain,--these and other
annoyances made him long for the quiet life of Mount Vernon; and he
would have resigned the presidency in disgust but for patriotic motives
and the urgent remonstrances of his cabinet. Faithful to his trust, he
patiently labored on. If his administration was not dashingly brilliant,
any more than his career as a general, he was beset with difficulties
and discouragements which no man could have surmounted more gloriously
than he: and when his eight years of service had expired he had the
satisfaction to see that the country was at peace with all the world;
that his policy of non-interference with European politics was
appreciated; that no more dangers were to be feared from the Indians;
that the country was being opened for settlers westward to the Ohio
River; that the navigation of the Mississippi was free to the Gulf of
Mexico; that canals and internal improvements were binding together the
different States and introducing general prosperity; that financial
difficulties had vanished; and that the independence and assured growth
of the nation was no longer a matter of doubt in any European State.

Nothing could induce Washington to serve beyond his second term. He
could easily have been again elected, if he wished, but he longed for
rest and the pursuits of agricultural life. So he wrote his Farewell
Address to the American people, exhorting them to union and harmony,--a
document filled with noble sentiments for the meditation of all future
generations. Like all his other writings, it is pregnant with moral
wisdom and elevated patriotism, and in language is clear, forcible, and
to the point. He did not aim to advance new ideas or brilliant theories,
but rather to enforce old and important truths which would reach the
heart as well as satisfy the head. The burden of his song in this, and
in all his letters and messages and proclamations, is union and devotion
to public interests, unswayed by passion or prejudice.

On the 3d of March, 1797, the President gave his farewell dinner to the
most distinguished men of the time, and as soon as possible after the
inauguration of his successor, John Adams, he set out for his plantation
on the banks of the Potomac, where he spent his remaining days in
dignity and quiet hospitalities, amid universal regrets that his public
career was ended.

Even in his retirement, when there seemed to be imminent danger of war
with France, soon after his return to his home, he was ready to buckle
on his sword once more; but the troubles were not so serious as had
been feared, and soon blew over. They had arisen from the venality and
rapacity of Talleyrand, French minister of Foreign affairs, who demanded
a bribe from the American commissioners of two-and-a-half millions as
the price of his friendly services in securing favorable settlements.
Their scornful reply, and the prompt preparations in America for war,
brought the Directory to terms. When the crisis was past Washington
resumed the care of his large estates, which had become dilapidated
during the fifteen years of his public life. His retreat was invaded by
great numbers, who wished to see so illustrious a man, but no one was
turned away from his hospitable mansion.

In December, 1799, Washington caught cold from imprudent exposure, and
died on the 14th day of the month after a short illness,--not what we
should call a very old man. His life might probably have been saved but
that, according to the universal custom, he was bled, which took away
his vital forces. On the 16th of December he was buried quietly and
without parade in the family vault at Mount Vernon, and the whole nation
mourned for him as the Israelites mourned for Samuel of old, whom he
closely resembled in character and services.

It would be useless to dwell upon the traits of character which made
George Washington a national benefactor and a national idol. But one
inquiry is often made, when he is seriously discussed,--whether or no he
may be regarded as a man of genius. It is difficult to define genius,
which seems to me to be either an abnormal development of particular
faculties of mind, or an inspired insight into elemental truths so
original and profound that its discoveries pass for revelations. Such
genius as this is remarkably rare, I can recall but one statesman in our
history who had extraordinary creative power, and this was Hamilton. In
the history of modern times we scarcely can enumerate more than a dozen
statesmen, a dozen generals, and the same number of poets, philosophers,
theologians, historians, and artists who have had this creative power
and this divine insight. Washington did not belong to that class of
intellects. But he had what is as rare as transcendent genius,--he had a
transcendent character, united with a marvellous balance of intellectual
qualities, each in itself of a high grade, which gave him almost
unerring judgment and remarkable influence over other minds, securing
veneration. As a man he had his faults, but they were so few and so
small that they seem to be but spots upon a sun. These have been
forgotten; and as the ages roll on mankind will see naught but the
lustre of his virtues and the greatness of his services.


The best and latest work on Washington is that of the Hon. Henry Cabot
Lodge, and leaves little more to be said; Marshall's Washington has long
been a standard; Botta's History of the Revolutionary War; Bancroft's
United States; McMaster's History of the American People. In connection
read the standard lives of Franklin, John Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson,
Jay, Marshall, La Fayette, and Greene, with Washington's writings. John
Fiske has written an admirable book on Washington's military career;
indeed his historical series on the early history of America and the
United States are both brilliant and trustworthy. Of the numerous
orations on Washington, perhaps the best is that of Edward Everett.


A. D. 1757-1804.


There is one man in the political history of the United States whom
Daniel Webster regarded as his intellectual superior. And this man was
Alexander Hamilton; not so great a lawyer or orator as Webster, not so
broad and experienced a statesman, but a more original genius, who gave
shape to existing political institutions. And he rendered transcendent
services at a great crisis of American history, and died, with no
decline of popularity, in the prime of his life, like Canning in
England, with a brilliant future before him. He was one of those fixed
stars which will forever blaze in the firmament of American lights, like
Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson; and the more his works are
critically examined, the brighter does his genius appear. No matter how
great this country is destined to be,--no matter what illustrious
statesmen are destined to arise, and work in a larger sphere with the
eyes of the world upon them,--Alexander Hamilton will be remembered and
will be famous for laying one of the corner-stones in the foundation of
the American structure.

He was not born on American soil, but on the small West India Island of
Nevis. His father was a broken-down Scotch merchant, and his mother was
a bright and gifted French lady, of Huguenot descent. The Scotch and
French blood blended, is a good mixture in a country made up of all the
European nations. But Hamilton, if not an American by birth, was
American in his education and sympathies and surroundings, and
ultimately married into a distinguished American family of Dutch
descent. At the age of twelve he was placed in the counting-house of a
wealthy American merchant, where his marked ability made him friends,
and he was sent to the United States to be educated. As a boy he was
precocious, like Cicero and Bacon; and the boy was father of the man,
since politics formed one of his earliest studies. Such a precocious
politician was he while a student in King's College, now Columbia, in
New York, that at the age of seventeen he entered into all the
controversies of the day, and wrote essays which, replying to pamphlets
attacking Congress over the signature of "A Westchester Farmer," were
attributed to John Jay and Governor Livingston. As a college boy he took
part in public political discussions on those great questions which
employed the genius of Burke, and occupied the attention of the leading
men of America.

This was at the period when the colonies had not actually rebelled, but
when they meditated resistance,--during the years between 1773 and 1776,
when the whole country was agitated by political tracts, indignation
meetings, patriotic sermons, and preparations for military struggle.
Hitherto the colonies had not been oppressed; they had most of the
rights and privileges they desired; but they feared that their
liberties--so precious to them, and which they had virtually enjoyed
from their earliest settlements--were in danger of being wrested away.
And their fears were succeeded by indignation when the Coercion Act was
passed by the English parliament, and when it was resolved to tax them
without their consent, and without a representation of their interests.
Nor did they desire war, nor even, at first, entire separation from the
Mother Country; but they were ready to accept war rather than to submit
to injustice, or any curtailment of their liberties. They had always
enjoyed self-government in such vital matters as schools, municipal and
local laws, taxes, colonial judges, and unrestricted town-meetings.
These privileges the Americans resolved at all hazard to keep: some,
because they had been accustomed to them all their days; others, from
the abstract idea of freedom which Rousseau had inculcated with so much
eloquence, which fascinated such men as Franklin and Jefferson; and
others again, from the deep conviction that the colonies were strong
enough to cope successfully with any forces that England could then
command, should coercion be attempted,--to which latter class
Washington, Pinckney, and Jay belonged; men of aristocratic sympathies,
but intensely American. It was no democratic struggle to enlarge the
franchise, and realize Rousseau's idea of fraternity and equality,--an
idea of blended socialism, infidelity, and discontent,--which united the
colonies in resistance; but a broad, noble, patriotic desire, first, to
conserve the rights of free English colonists, and finally to make
America independent of all foreign forces, combined with a lofty faith
in their own resources for success, however desperate the struggle
might be.

All parties now wanted independence, to possess a country of their own,
free of English shackles. They got tired of signing petitions, of being
mere colonists. So they sent delegates to Philadelphia to deliberate on
their difficulties and aspirations; and on July 4, 1776, these delegates
issued the Declaration of Independence, penned by Jefferson, one of the
noblest documents ever written by the hand of man, the Magna Charta of
American liberties, in which are asserted the great rights of
mankind,--that all men have the right to seek happiness in their own
way, and are entitled to the fruit of their labors; and that the people
are the source of power, and belong to themselves, and not to kings, or
nobles, or priests.

In signing this document the Revolutionary patriots knew that it meant
war; and soon the struggle came,--one of the inevitable and foreordained
events of history,--when Hamilton was still a college student. He was
eighteen when the battle of Lexington was fought; and he lost no time in
joining the volunteers. Dearborn and Stark from New Hampshire, Putnam
and Arnold from Connecticut, and Greene from Rhode Island, all now
resolved on independence, "liberty or death." Hamilton left his college
walls to join a volunteer regiment of artillery, of which he soon became
captain, from his knowledge of military science which he had been
studying in anticipation of the contest. In this capacity he was engaged
in the battle of White Plains, the passage of the Raritan, and the
battles at Princeton and Trenton.

When the army encamped at Morristown, in the gloomy winter of 1776-1777,
his great abilities having been detected by the commander-in-chief, he
was placed upon Washington's staff, as aide-de-camp with the rank of
lieutenant-colonel,--a great honor for a boy of nineteen. Yet he was not
thus honored and promoted on account of remarkable military abilities,
although, had he continued in active service, he would probably have
distinguished himself as a general, for he had courage, energy, and
decision; but he was selected by Washington on account of his marvellous
intellectual powers. So, half-aide and half-secretary, he became at once
the confidential adviser of the General, and was employed by him not
only in his multitudinous correspondence, but in difficult negotiations,
and in those delicate duties which required discretion and tact. He had
those qualities which secured confidence,--integrity, diligence,
fidelity, and a premature wisdom. He had brains and all those resources
which would make him useful to his country. Many there were who could
fight as well as he, but there were few who had those high qualities on
which the success of a campaign depended. Thus he was sent to the camp
of General Gates at Albany to demand the division of his forces and the
reinforcement of the commander-in-chief, which Gates was very unwilling
to accede to, for the capture of Burgoyne had turned his head. He was
then the most popular officer of the army, and even aspired to the chief
command. So he was inclined to evade the orders of his superior, under
the plea of military necessity. It required great tact in a young man to
persuade an ambitious general to diminish his own authority; but
Hamilton was successful in his mission, and won the admiration of
Washington for his adroit management. He was also very useful in the
most critical period of the war in ferreting out conspiracies, cabala,
and intrigues; for such there were, even against Washington, whose
transcendent wisdom and patriotism were not then appreciated as they
were afterwards.

The military services of Hamilton were concealed from the common eye,
and lay chiefly in his sage counsels; for, young as he was, he had more
intellect and sagacity than any man in the army. It was Hamilton who
urged decisive measures in that campaign which was nearly blasted by the
egotism and disobedience of Lee. It was Hamilton who was sent to the
French admiral to devise a co-operation of forces, and to the
headquarters of the English to negotiate for an exchange of prisoners.
It was Hamilton who dissuaded Washington from seizing the person of Sir
Harry Clinton, the English commander in New York, when he had the
opportunity. "Have you considered the consequences of seizing the
General?" said the aide. "What would these be?" inquired Washington.
"Why," replied Hamilton, "we should lose more than we should gain; since
we perfectly understand his plans, and by taking them off, we should
make way for an abler man, whose dispositions we have yet to learn."
Such was the astuteness which Hamilton early displayed, so that he
really rendered great military services, without commanding on
the field.

When quite a young man he was incidentally of great use in suggesting
to influential members of Congress certain financial measures which were
the germ of that fiscal policy which afterwards made him immortal as
Secretary of the Treasury; for it was in finance that his genius shone
out with the brightest lustre. It was while he was the aid and secretary
of Washington that he also unfolded, in a letter to Judge Duane, those
principles of government which were afterwards developed in "The
Federalist." He had "already formed comprehensive opinions on the
situation and wants of the infant States, and had wrought out for
himself a political system far in advance of the conceptions of his
contemporaries." It was by his opinions on the necessities and wants of
the country, and the way to meet them, that his extraordinary genius was
not only seen, but was made useful to those in power. His brain was too
active and prolific to be confined to the details of military service;
he entered into a discussion of all those great questions which formed
the early constitutional history of the United States,--all the more
remarkable because he was so young. In fact he never was a boy; he was a
man before he was seventeen. His ability was surpassed only by his
precocity. No man saw the evils of the day so clearly as he, or
suggested such wise remedies as he did when he was in the family of

We are apt to suppose that it was all plain sailing after the colonies
had declared their independence, and their armies were marshalled under
the greatest man--certainly the wisest and best--in the history of
America and of the eighteenth century. But the difficulties were
appalling even to the stoutest heart. In less than two years after the
battle of Bunker Hill popular enthusiasm had almost fled, although the
leaders never lost hope of ultimate success. The characters of the
leading generals were maligned, even that of the general-in-chief; trade
and all industries were paralyzed; the credit of the States was at the
lowest ebb; there were universal discontents; there were unforeseen
difficulties which had never been anticipated; Congress was nearly
powerless, a sort of advisory board rather than a legislature; the
States were jealous of Congress and of each other; there was a general
demoralization; there was really no central power strong enough to
enforce the most excellent measures; the people were poor; demagogues
sowed suspicion and distrust; labor was difficult to procure; the
agricultural population was decimated; there was no commerce; people
lived on salted meats, dried fish, baked beans, and brown bread; all
foreign commodities were fabulously dear; there was universal hardship
and distress; and all these evils were endured amid foreign contempt and
political disintegration,--a sort of moral chaos difficult to conceive.
It was amid these evils that our Revolutionary fathers toiled and
suffered. It was against these that Hamilton brought his great genius
to bear.

At the age of twenty-three, after having been four years in the family
of Washington as his adviser rather than subordinate, Hamilton,
doubtless ambitious, and perhaps elated by a sense of his own
importance, testily took offence at a hasty rebuke on the part of the
General and resigned his situation. Loath was Washington to part with
such a man from his household. But Hamilton was determined, and tardily
he obtained a battalion, with the brevet rank of general, and
distinguished himself in those engagements which preceded the capture of
Lord Cornwallis; and on the surrender of this general,--feeling that the
war was virtually ended,--he withdrew altogether from the army, and
began the study of law at Albany. He had already married the daughter of
General Schuyler, and thus formed an alliance with a powerful family.
After six months of study he was admitted to the Bar, and soon removed
to New York, which then contained but twenty-five thousand inhabitants.

His legal career was opened, like that of Cicero and Erskine, by a
difficult case which attracted great attention and brought him into
notice. In this case he rendered a political service as well as earned a
legal fame. An action was brought by a poor woman, impoverished by the
war, against a wealthy British merchant, to recover damages for the use
of a house he enjoyed when the city was occupied by the enemy. The
action was founded on a recent statute of the State of New York, which
authorized proceedings for trespass by persons who had been driven from
their homes by the invasion of the British. The plaintiff therefore had
the laws of New York on her side, as well as popular sympathies; and her
claim was ably supported by the attorney-general. But it involved a
grave constitutional question, and conflicted with the articles of peace
which the Confederation had made with England; for in the treaty with
Great Britain an amnesty had been agreed to for all acts done during the
war by military orders. The interests of the plaintiff were overlooked
in the great question whether the authority of Congress and the law of
nations, or the law of a State legislature, should have the ascendency.
In other words, Congress and the State of New York were in conflict as
to which should be paramount,--the law of Congress, or the law of a
sovereign State,--in a matter which affected a national treaty. If the
treaty were violated, new complications would arise with England, and
the authority of Congress be treated with contempt. Hamilton grappled
with the subject in the most comprehensive manner,--like a statesman
rather than a lawyer,--made a magnificent argument in favor of the
general government, and gained his case; although it would seem that
natural justice was in favor of the poor woman, deprived of the use of
her house by a wealthy alien, during the war. He rendered a service to
centralized authority, to the power of Congress. It was the incipient
contest between Federal and State authority. It was enlightened reason
and patriotism gaining a victory over popular passions, over the
assumptions of a State. It defined the respective rights of a State and
of the Nation collectively. It was one of those cases which settled the
great constitutional question that the authority of the Nation was
greater than that of any State which composed it, in matters where
Congress had a recognized jurisdiction.

It was about this time that Hamilton was brought in legal conflict with
another young man of great abilities, ambition, and popularity; and this
man was Aaron Burr, a grandson of Jonathan Edwards. Like Hamilton, he
had gained great distinction in the war, and was one of the rising young
men of the country. He was superior to Hamilton in personal popularity
and bewitching conversation; his equal in grace of manner, in forensic
eloquence and legal reputation, but his inferior in comprehensive
intellect and force of character. Hamilton dwelt in the region of great
ideas and principles; Burr loved to resort to legal technicalities,
sophistries, and the dexterous use of dialectical weapons. In arguing a
case he would descend to every form of annoyance and interruption, by
quibbles, notices, and appeals. Both lawyers were rapid, logical,
compact, and eloquent. Both seized the strong points of a case, like
Mason and Webster. Hamilton was earnest and profound, and soared to
elemental principles. Burr was acute, adroit, and appealed to passions.
Both admired each other's talents and crossed each other's
tracks,--rivals at the Bar and in political aspirations. The legal
career of both was eclipsed by their political labors. The lawyer, in
Hamilton's case, was lost in the statesman, and in Burr's in the
politician. And how wide the distinction between a statesman and a
politician! To be a great statesman a man must be conversant with
history, finance, and science; he must know everything, like Gladstone,
and he must have at heart the great interests of a nation; he must be a
man of experience and wisdom and reason; he must be both enlightened and
patriotic, merging his own personal ambition in the good of his
country,--an oracle and sage whose utterances are received with
attention and respect. To be a statesman demands the highest maturity of
reason, far-reaching views, and the power of taking in the interests of
a whole country rather than of a section. But to be a successful
politician a man may be ignorant, narrow, and selfish; most probably he
will be artful, dissembling, going in for the winning side, shaking
hands with everybody, profuse in promises, bland, affable, ready to do
anything for anybody, and seeking the interests and flattering the
prejudices of his own constituency, indifferent to the great questions
on which the welfare of a nation rests, if only his own private
interests be advanced. All politicians are not so small and
contemptible; many are honest, as far as they can see, but can see only
petty details, and not broad effects. Mere politicians,--observe, I
qualify what I say,--_mere_ politicians resemble statesmen,
intellectually, as pedants resemble scholars of large culture,
comprehensive intellects, and varied knowledge; they will consider a
date, or a name, or a comma, of more importance than the great universe,
which no one can ever fully and accurately explore.

I have given but a short notice of Hamilton as a lawyer, because his
services as a statesman are of so much greater importance, especially to
the student of history. His sphere became greatly enlarged when he
entered into those public questions on which the political destiny of a
nation rests. He was called to give a direction to the policy of the
young government that had arisen out of the storms of revolution,--a
policy which must be carried out when the nation should become powerful
and draw upon itself the eyes of the civilized world. "Just as the twig
is bent, the tree's inclined." It was the privilege and glory of
Hamilton to be one of the most influential of all the men of his day in
bending the twig which has now become so great a tree. We can see his
hand in the distinctive features of our Constitution, and especially in
that financial policy which extricated the nation from the poverty and
embarrassments bequeathed by the war, and which, on the whole, has been
the policy of the Government from his day to ours. Greater statesmen may
arise than he, but no future statesman will ever be able to shape a
national policy as he has done. He is one of the great fathers of the
Republic, and was as efficient in founding a government and a financial
policy, as Saint Augustine was in giving shape to the doctrines of the
Church in his age, and in mediaeval ages. Hamilton was therefore a
benefactor to the State, as Augustine was to the Church.

But before Hamilton could be of signal service to the country as an
organizer and legislator, it was necessary to have a national government
which the country would accept, and which would be lasting and
efficient. There was a political chaos for years after the war. Congress
had no generally recognized authority; it was merely a board of
delegates, whose decisions were disregarded, representing a league of
States, not an independent authority. There was no chief executive
officer, no court of national judges, no defined legislature. We were a
league of emancipated colonies drifting into anarchy. There was really
no central government; only an autonomy of States like the ancient
Grecian republics, and the lesser States were jealous of the greater.
The great questions pertaining to slavery were unsettled,--how far it
should extend, and how far it could be interfered with. We had ships and
commerce, but no commercial treaties with other nations. We imported
goods and merchandise, but there were no laws of tariff or of revenue.
If one State came into collision with another State, there was no
tribunal to settle the difficulty. No particular industries were
protected. Of all things the most needed was a national government
superior to State governments, taking into its own hands exclusively the
army and navy, tariffs, revenues, the post-office, the regulation of
commerce, and intercourse with foreign States. Oh, what times those
were! What need of statesmanship and patriotism and wisdom! I have
alluded to various evils of the day. I will not repeat them. Why, our
condition at the end of the War of the Rebellion, when we had a national
debt of three thousand millions, and general derangement and
demoralization, was an Elysium compared with that of our fathers at the
close of the Revolutionary War,--no central power, no constitution, no
government, with poverty, agricultural distress, and uncertainty, and
the prostration of all business; no national credit, no national
eclat,--a mass of rude, unconnected, and anarchic forces threatening to
engulf us in worse evils than those from which we had fled.

The thinking and sober men of the country were at last aroused, and the
conviction became general that the Confederacy was unable to cope with
the difficulties which arose on every side. So, through the influence of
Hamilton, a convention of five States assembled at Annapolis to provide
a remedy for the public evils. But it did not fully represent the varied
opinions and interests of the whole country. All it could do was to
prepare the way for a general convention of States; and twelve States
sent delegates to Philadelphia, who met in the year 1787. The great
public career of Hamilton began as a delegate from the State of New York
to this illustrious assembly. He was not the most distinguished member,
for he was still a young man; nor the most popular, for he had too much
respect for the British constitution, and was too aristocratic in his
sympathies, and perhaps in his manners, to be a favorite. But he was
probably the ablest man of the convention, the most original and
creative in his genius, the most comprehensive and far-seeing in his
views,--a man who inspired confidence and respect for his integrity and
patriotism, combining intellectual with moral force. He would have been
a great man in any age or country, or in any legislative assembly,--a
man who had great influence over superior minds, as he had over that of
Washington, whose confidence he had from first to last.

I am inclined to think that no such an assembly of statesmen has since
been seen in this country as that which met to give a constitution to
the American Republic. Of course, I cannot enumerate all the
distinguished men. They were all distinguished,--men of experience,
patriotism, and enlightened minds. There were fifty-four of these
illustrious men,--the picked men of the land, of whom the nation was
proud. Franklin, now in his eightieth year, was the Nestor of the
assembly, covered with honors from home and abroad for his science and
his political experience and sagacity,--a man who received more
flattering attentions in France than any American who ever visited it;
one of the great savants of the age, dignified, affable, courteous, whom
everybody admired and honored. Washington, too, was there,--the Ulysses
of the war, brave in battle and wise in council, of transcendent dignity
of character, whose influence was patriarchal, the synonym of moral
greatness, to be revered through all ages and countries; a truly
immortal man whose fame has been steadily increasing. Adams, Jefferson,
and Jay, three very great lights, were absent on missions to Europe;
but Rufus King, Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth, Livingston, Dickinson,
Rutledge, Randolph, Pinckney, Madison, were men of great ability and
reputation, independent in their views, but all disposed to unite in the
common good. Some had been delegates to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765;
some, members of the Continental Congress of 1774; some, signers of the
Declaration of Independence. There were no political partisans then, as
we now understand the word, for the division lines of parties were not
then drawn. All were animated with the desire of conciliation and union.
All felt the necessity of concessions. They differed in their opinions
as to State rights, representation, and slavery. Some were more
democratic, and some more aristocratic than the majority, but all were
united in maintaining the independence of the country and in distrust of

It is impossible within my narrow limits to describe the deliberations
of these patriots, until their work was consummated in the glorious
Constitution which is our marvel and our pride. The discussions first
turned on the respective powers to be exercised by the executive,
judicial, and legislative branches of the proposed central government,
and the duration of the terms of service. Hamilton's views favored a
more efficient executive than was popular with the States or delegates;
but it cannot be doubted that his powerful arguments, and clear
enunciation of fundamental principles of government had great weight
with men more eager for truth than victory. There were animated
discussions as to the ratio of representation, and the equality of
States, which gave rise to the political parties which first divided the
nation, and which were allied with those serious questions pertaining to
State rights which gave rise, in part, to our late war. But the root of
the dissensions, and the subject of most animated debates, was
slavery,--that awful curse and difficult question, which was not settled
until the sword finally cut that Gordian knot. But so far as compromises
could settle the question, they were made in the spirit of
patriotism,--not on principles of abstract justice, but of expediency
and common-sense. It was evident from the first that there could be no
federal, united government, no nation, only a league of States, unless
compromises were made in reference to slavery, whose evils were as
apparent then as they were afterwards. For the sake of nationality and
union and peace, slavery was tolerated by the Constitution. To some this
may appear to have been a grave error, but to the makers of the
Constitution it seemed to be a less evil to tolerate slavery than have
no Constitution at all, which would unite all the States. Harmony and
national unity seemed to be the paramount consideration.

So a compromise was made. We are apt to forget how great institutions
are often based on compromise,--not a mean and craven sentiment, as some
think, but a spirit of conciliation and magnanimity, without which there
can be no union or stability. Take the English Church, which has
survived the revolutions of human thought for three centuries, which has
been a great bulwark against infidelity, and has proved itself to be
dear to the heart of the nation, and the source of boundless blessings
and proud recollections,--it was a compromise, half-way indeed between
Rome and Geneva, but nevertheless a great and beneficent organization on
the whole. Take the English constitution itself, one of the grandest
triumphs of human reason and experience,--it was only gradually formed
by a series of bloodless concessions. Take the Roman constitution, under
which the whole civilized world was brought into allegiance,--it was a
series of concessions granted by the aristocratic classes. Most
revolutions and wars end in compromise after the means of fighting are
expended. Most governments are based on expediency rather than abstract
principles. The actions of governments are necessarily expedients,--the
wisest policy in view of all the circumstances. Even such an
uncompromising logician as Saint Paul accepted some customs which we
think were antagonistic to the spirit of his general doctrines. He was a
great temperance man, but recommended a little wine to Timothy for the
stomach's sake. And Moses, too, the great founder of the Jewish polity,
permitted polygamy because of the hardness of men's hearts. So the
fathers of the Constitution preferred a constitution with slavery to no
constitution at all. Had each of those illustrious men persisted in his
own views, we should have had only an autonomy of States instead of the
glorious Union, which in spite of storms stands unshaken to-day.

I cannot dwell on those protracted debates, which lasted four months, or
on the minor questions which demanded attention,--all centering in the
great question whether the government should be federative or national.
But the ablest debater of the convention was Hamilton, and his speeches
were impressive and convincing. He endeavored to impress upon the minds
of the members that liberty was found neither in the rule of a few
aristocrats, nor in extreme democracy; that democracies had proved more
short-lived than aristocracies, as illustrated in Greece, Rome, and
England. He showed that extreme democracies, especially in cities, would
be governed by demagogues; that universal suffrage was a dangerous
experiment when the people had neither intelligence nor virtue; that no
government could last which was not just and enlightened; that all
governments should be administered by men of experience and integrity;
that any central government should have complete control over commerce,
tariffs, revenues, post-offices, patents, foreign relations, the army
and navy, peace or war; and that in all these functions of national
interest the central government should be independent of State
legislatures, so that the State and National legislatures should not
clash. Many of his views were not adopted, but it is remarkable that the
subsequent changes and modifications of the Constitution have been in
the direction of his policy; that wars and great necessities have
gradually brought about what he advocated with so much calmness and
wisdom. Guizot asserts that "he must ever be classed among the men who
have best understood the vital principles and elemental conditions of

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