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George Washington, Vol. II by Henry Cabot Lodge

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American Statesmen


[Illustration: Mount Vernon]

* * * * *






* * * * *







From the painting by Gilbert Stuart in the Museum of Fine Arts,
Boston. This painting is owned by the Boston Athenaeum and is known as
the Athenaeum portrait.

Autograph from letter written from Valley Forge, March 7, 1778, now in
the possession of Hon. Winslow Warren.

The vignette of Mount Vernon is from a photograph.


From the original painting by Trumbull in the Art Gallery of Yale


From a contemporary French folio engraving in the Emmet collection,
New York Public Library, Lenox Building.


From the original portrait by Gilbert Stuart in the Museum of Fine
Arts, Boston.

Autograph from Winsor's "America."


From the original painting by C.W. Peale, by kind permission of its
present owner, Mrs. Wm. Brenton Greene, Jr., Princeton, N.J.

Autograph from Winsor's "America."

* * * * *




Having resigned his commission, Washington stood not upon the order of
his going, but went at once to Virginia, and reached Mount Vernon the
next day, in season to enjoy the Christmas-tide at home. It was with
a deep sigh of relief that he sat himself down again by his own
fireside, for all through the war the one longing that never left his
mind was for the banks of the Potomac. He loved home after the fashion
of his race, but with more than common intensity, and the country life
was dear to him in all its phases. He liked its quiet occupations and
wholesome sports, and, like most strong and simple natures, he loved
above all an open-air existence. He felt that he had earned his rest,
with all the temperate pleasures and employments which came with it,
and he fondly believed that he was about to renew the habits which he
had abandoned for eight weary years. Four days after his return he
wrote to Governor Clinton: "The scene is at last closed. I feel myself
eased of a load of public care. I hope to spend the remainder of my
days in cultivating the affections of good men and in the practice of
the domestic virtues." That the hope was sincere we may well suppose,
but that it was more than a hope may be doubted. It was a wish, not a
belief, for Washington must have felt that there was still work which
he would surely be called to do. Still for the present the old life
was there, and he threw himself into it with eager zest, though age
and care put some of the former habits aside. He resumed his hunting,
and Lafayette sent him a pack of splendid French wolf-hounds. But they
proved somewhat fierce and unmanageable, and were given up, and after
that the following of the hounds was never resumed. In other respects
there was little change. The work of the plantation and the affairs of
the estate, much disordered by his absence, once more took shape and
moved on successfully under the owner's eye. There were, as of old,
the long days in the saddle, the open house and generous hospitality,
the quiet evenings, and the thousand and one simple labors and
enjoyments of rural life. But with all this were the newer and deeper
cares, born of the change which had been wrought in the destiny of the
country. The past broke in and could not be pushed aside, the future
knocked at the door and demanded an answer to its questionings.

He had left home a distinguished Virginian; he returned one of the
most famous men in the world, and such celebrity brought its usual
penalties. Every foreigner of any position who came to the country
made a pilgrimage to Mount Vernon, and many Americans did the same.
Their coming was not allowed to alter the mode of life, but they were
all hospitably received, and they consumed many hours of their host's
precious time. Then there were the artists and sculptors, who came
to paint his portrait or model his bust. "_In for a penny, in for
a pound_ is an old adage," he wrote to Hopkinson in 1785. "I am so
hackneyed to the touches of painters' pencils that I am now altogether
at their beck, and sit 'like patience on a monument,' whilst they are
delineating the lines of my face. It is a proof, among many others, of
what habit and custom can accomplish." Then there were the people who
desired to write his memoirs, and the historians who wished to have
his reminiscences, in their accounts of the Revolution. Some of these
inquiring and admiring souls came in person, while others assailed him
by letter and added to the vast flood of correspondence which poured
in upon him by every post. His correspondence, in fact, in the
needless part of it, was the most formidable waste of his time. He
seems to have formed no correct idea of his own fame and what it
meant, for he did not have a secretary until he found not only that he
could not arrange his immense mass of papers, but that he could not
even keep up with his daily letters. His correspondence came from all
parts of his own country, and of Europe as well. The French officers
who had been his companions in arms wrote him with affectionate
interest, and he was urged by them, one and all, and even by the king
and queen, to visit France. These were letters which he was only too
happy to answer, and he would fain have crossed the water in response
to their kindly invitation; but he professed himself too old, which
was a mere excuse, and objected his ignorance of the language, which
to a man of his temperament was a real obstacle. Besides these letters
of friendship, there were the schemers everywhere who sought his
counsel and assistance. The notorious Lady Huntington, for example,
pursued him with her project of Christianizing the Indians by means of
a missionary colony in our western region, and her persistent ladyship
cost him a good deal of time and thought, and some long and careful
letters. Then there was the inventor Kumsey, with his steamboat, to
which he gave careful attention, as he did to everything that seemed
to have merit. Another class of correspondents were his officers, who
wanted his aid with Congress and in a thousand other ways, and to
these old comrades he never turned a deaf ear. In this connection also
came the affairs of the Society of the Cincinnati. He took an active
part in the formation of the society, became its head, steered it
through its early difficulties, and finally saved it from the wreck
with which it was threatened by unreasoning popular prejudice. All
these things were successfully managed, but at much expense of time
and thought.


Then again, apart from this mass of labor thrust upon him by
outsiders, there were his own concerns. His personal affairs required
looking after, and he regulated accounts, an elaborate business always
with him, put his farms in order, corresponded with his merchants
in England, and introduced agricultural improvements, which always
interested him deeply. He had large investments in land, of which from
boyhood he had been a bold and sagacious purchaser. These investments
had been neglected and needed his personal inspection; so in
September, 1784, he mounted his horse, and with a companion and a
servant rode away to the western country to look after his property.
He camped out, as in the early days, and heartily enjoyed it, although
reports that the Indians were moving in a restless and menacing manner
shortened his trip, and prevented his penetrating beyond his settled
lands to the wild tracts which he owned to the westward. Still he
managed to ride some six hundred and eighty miles and get a good taste
of that wild life which he never ceased to love, besides gathering a
stock of information on many points of deeper and wider interest than
his own property.

In the midst of all these employments, too, he attended closely to his
domestic duties. At frequent intervals he journeyed to Fredericksburg
to visit his mother, who still lived, and to whom he was always a
dutiful and affectionate son. He watched over Mrs. Washington's
grandchildren, and two or three nephews of his own, whose education
he had undertaken, with all the solicitude of a father, and at the
expense again of much thought and many wise letters of instruction and

Even from this brief list it is possible to gain some idea of the
occupations which filled Washington's time, and the only wonder is
that he dealt with them so easily and effectively. Yet the greatest
and most important work, that which most deeply absorbed his mind, and
which affected the whole country, still remains to be described. With
all his longing for repose and privacy, Washington could not separate
himself from the great problems which he had solved, or from the
solution of the still greater problems which he had done more than any
man to bring into existence. In reality, despite his reiterated wish
for the quiet of home, he never ceased to labor at the new questions
which confronted the country, and the old issues which were the legacy
of the Revolution.

In the latter class was the peace establishment, on which he advised
Congress, much in vain; for their idea of a peace establishment was
to get rid of the army as rapidly as possible, and retain only a
corporal's guard in the service of the confederation. Another question
was that concerning the western posts. As has been already pointed
out, Washington's keen eye had at once detected that this was the
perilous point in the treaty, and he made a prompt but unavailing
effort to secure these posts in the first flush of good feeling when
peace had just been made. After he had retired he observed with regret
the feebleness of Congress in this matter, and he continued to write
about it. He wrote especially to Knox, who was in charge of the war
department, and advised him to establish posts on our side, since we
could not obtain the withdrawal of the British. This deep anxiety as
to the western posts was due not merely to his profound distrust of
the intention of England, but to his extreme solicitude as to the
unsettled regions of the West. He repeatedly referred to the United
States, even before the close of the war, as an infant empire, and he
saw before any one else the destined growth of the country.

No man of that time, with the exception of Hamilton, ever grasped and
realized as he did the imperial future which stretched before the
United States. It was a difficult thing for men who had been born
colonists to rise to a sense of national opportunities, but Washington
passed at a single step from being a Virginian to being an American,
and in so doing he stood alone. He was really and thoroughly national
from the beginning of the war, at a time when, except for a few
oratorical phrases, no one had ever thought of such a thing as a
practical and living question. In the same way he had passed rapidly
to an accurate conception of the probable growth and greatness of
the country, and again he stood alone. Hamilton, born outside the
colonies, unhampered by local prejudices and attachments, and living
in Washington's family, as soon as he turned his mind to the subject,
became, like his chief, entirely national and imperial in his views;
but the other American statesmen of that day, with the exception
of Franklin, only followed gradually and sometimes reluctantly in
adopting their opinions. Some of them never adopted them at all, but
remained imbedded in local ideas, and very few got beyond the region
of words and actually grasped the facts with the absolutely clear
perception which Washington had from the outset. Thus it was that when
the war closed, one of the two ruling ideas in Washington's mind was
to assure the future which he saw opening before the country. He
perceived at a glance that the key and the guarantee of that future
were in the wild regions of the West. Hence his constant anxiety as to
the western posts, as to our Indian policy, and as to the maintenance
of a sufficient armed force upon our borders to check the aggressions
of Englishmen or of savages, and to secure free scope for settlement.
In advancing these ideas on a national scale, however, he was rendered
helpless by the utter weakness of Congress, which even his influence
was powerless to overcome. He therefore began, immediately after his
retreat to private life, to formulate and bring into existence such
practical measures as were possible for the development of the West,
believing that if Congress could not act, the people would, if any
opportunity were given to their natural enterprise.

The scheme which he proposed was to open the western country by means
of inland navigation. The thought had long been in his mind. It had
come to him before the Revolution, and can be traced back to the early
days when he was making surveys, buying wild lands, and meditating
very deeply, but very practically, on the possible commercial
development of the colonies. Now the idea assumed much larger
proportions and a much graver aspect. He perceived in it the first
step toward the empire which he foresaw, and when he had laid down
his sword and awoke in the peaceful morning at Mount Vernon, "with
a strange sense of freedom from official cares," he directed his
attention at once to this plan, in which he really could do something,
despite an inert Congress and a dissolving confederation. His first
letter on the subject was written in March, 1784, and addressed
to Jefferson, who was then in Congress, and who sympathized with
Washington's views without seeing how far they reached. He told
Jefferson how he despaired of government aid, and how he therefore
intended to revive the scheme of a company, which he had started in
1775, and which had been abandoned on account of the war. He showed
the varying interests which it was necessary to conciliate, asked
Jefferson to see the governor of Maryland, so that that State might
be brought into the undertaking, and referred to the danger of being
anticipated and beaten by New York, a chord of local pride which he
continued to touch most adroitly as the business proceeded. Very
characteristically, too, he took pains to call attention to the fact
that by his ownership of land he had a personal interest in the
enterprise. He looked far beyond his own lands, but he was glad to
have his property developed, and with his usual freedom from anything
like pretense, he drew attention to the fact of his personal

On his return from his tour in the autumn, he proceeded to bring
the matter to public attention and to the consideration of the
legislature. With this end in view he addressed a long letter to
Governor Harrison, in which he laid out his whole scheme. Detroit was
to be the objective point, and he indicated the different routes by
which inland navigation could thence be obtained, thus opening the
Indian trade, and affording an outlet at the same time for the
settlers who were sure to pour in when once the fear of British
aggression was removed. He dwelt strongly upon the danger of Virginia
losing these advantages by the action of other States, and yet at the
same time he suggested the methods by which Maryland and Pennsylvania
could be brought into the plan. Then he advanced a series of arguments
which were purely national in their scope. He insisted on the
necessity of binding to the old colonies by strong ties the Western
States, which might easily be decoyed away if Spain or England had the
sense to do it. This point he argued with great force, for it was now
no longer a Virginian argument, but an argument for all the States.

The practical result was that the legislature took the question up,
more in deference to the writer's wishes and in gratitude for his
services, than from any comprehension of what the scheme meant. The
companies were duly organized, and the promoter was given a hundred
and fifty shares, on the ground that the legislature wished to take
every opportunity of testifying their sense of "the unexampled merits
of George Washington towards his country." Washington was much touched
and not a little troubled by this action. He had been willing, as he
said, to give up his cherished privacy and repose in order to forward
the enterprise. He had gone to Maryland even, and worked to engage
that State in the scheme, but he could not bear the idea of taking
money for what he regarded as part of a great public policy. "I would
wish," he said, "that every individual who may hear that it was a
favorite plan of mine may know also that I had no other motive for
promoting it than the advantage of which I conceived it would be
productive to the Union, and to this State in particular, by cementing
the eastern and western territory together, at the same time that it
will give vigor and increase to our commerce, and be a convenience to
our citizens."

"How would this matter be viewed, then, by the eye of the world, and
what would be the opinion of it, when it comes to be related that
George Washington has received twenty thousand dollars and five
thousand pounds sterling of the public money as an interest therein?"
He thought it would make him look like a "pensioner or dependent"
to accept this gratuity, and he recoiled from the idea. There is
something entirely frank and human in the way in which he says "George
Washington," instead of using the first pronoun singular. He always
saw facts as they were; he understood the fact called "George
Washington" as perfectly as any other, and although he wanted
retirement and privacy, he had no mock modesty in estimating his own
place in the world. At the same time, while he wished to be rid of the
kindly gift, he shrank from putting on what he called the appearance
of "ostentatious disinterestedness" by refusing it. Finally he took
the stock and endowed two charity schools with the dividends. The
scheme turned out successfully, and the work still endures, like the
early surveys and various other things of a very different kind to
which Washington put his hand. In the greater forces which were
presently set in motion for the preservation of the future empire,
the inland navigation, started in Virginia, dropped out of sight, and
became merely one of the rills which fed the mighty river. But it was
the only really practical movement possible at the precise moment when
it was begun, and it was characteristic of its author, who always
found, even in the most discouraging conditions, something that could
be done. It might be only a very little something, but still that was
better than nothing to the strong man ever dealing with facts as they
actually were on this confused earth, and not turning aside because
things were not as they ought to be. Thus many a battle and campaign
had been saved, and so inland navigation played its part now. It
helped, among other things, to bring Maryland and Virginia together,
and their combination was the first step toward the Constitution of
the United States. There is nothing fanciful in all this. No one would
pretend that the Constitution of the United States was descended from
Washington's James River and Potomac River companies. But he worked at
them with that end in view, and so did what was nearest to his hand
and most practical toward union, empire, and the development of
national sentiment.

Ah, says some critic in critic's fashion, you are carried away by your
subject; you see in a simple business enterprise, intended merely to
open western lands, the far-reaching ideas of a statesman. Perhaps
our critic is right, for as one goes on living with this Virginian
soldier, studying his letters and his thoughts, one comes to believe
many things of him, and to detect much meaning in his sayings and
doings. Let us, however, show our evidence at least. Here is what he
wrote to his friend Humphreys a year after his scheme was afoot: "My
attention is more immediately engaged in a project which I think big
with great political as well as commercial consequences to the
States, especially the middle ones;" and then he went on to argue the
necessity of fastening the Western States to the Atlantic seaboard
and thus thwarting Spain and England. This looks like more than a
money-making scheme; in fact, it justifies all that has been said,
especially if read in connection with certain other letters of this
period. Great political results, as well as lumber and peltry, were
what Washington intended to float along his rivers and canals.

In this same letter to Humphreys he touched also on another point
in connection with the development of the West, which was of vast
importance to the future of the country, and was even then agitating
men's minds. He said: "I may be singular in my ideas, but they are
these: that, to open a door to, and make easy the way for those
settlers to the westward (who ought to advance regularly and
compactly), before we make any stir about the navigation of the
Mississippi, and before our settlements are far advanced towards that
river, would be our true line of policy." Again he wrote: "However
singular the opinion may be, I cannot divest myself of it, that the
navigation of the Mississippi, _at this time_ [1785], ought to be no
object with us. On the contrary, until we have a little time allowed
to open and make easy the ways between the Atlantic States and the
western territory, the obstructions had better remain." He was right
in describing himself as "singular" in his views on this matter, which
just then was exciting much attention.

At that time indeed much feeling existed, and there were many sharp
divisions about the Mississippi question. One party, for the sake of a
commercial treaty with Spain, and to get a troublesome business out of
the way, was ready to give up our claims to a free navigation of
the great river; and this was probably the prevalent sentiment in
Congress, for to most of the members the Mississippi seemed a very
remote affair indeed. On the other side was a smaller and more violent
party, which was for obtaining the free navigation immediately and
at all hazards, and was furious at the proposition to make such a
sacrifice as its opponents proposed. Finally, there was Spain herself
intriguing to get possession of the West, holding out free navigation
as a bait to the settlers of Kentucky, and keeping paid agents in that
region to foster her schemes. Washington saw too far and too
clearly to think for one moment of giving up the navigation of the
Mississippi, but he also perceived what no one else seems to have
thought of, that free navigation at that moment would give the western
settlements "the habit of trade" with New Orleans before they had
formed it with the Atlantic seaboard, and would thus detach them from
the United States. He wished, therefore, to have the Mississippi
question left open, and all our claims reserved, so that trade by
the river should be obstructed until we had time to open our inland
navigation and bind 'the western people to us by ties too strong to
be broken. The fear that the river would be lost by waiting did not
disturb him in the least, provided our claims were kept alive. He
wrote to Lee in June, 1786: "Whenever the new States become so
populous, and so extended to the westward, as really to need it,
there will be no power which can deprive them of the use of the
Mississippi." Again, a year later, while the convention was sitting in
Philadelphia, he said: "My sentiments with respect to the navigation
of the Mississippi have been long fixed, and are not dissimilar to
those which are expressed in your letter. I have ever been of opinion
that the true policy of the Atlantic States, instead of contending
prematurely for the free navigation of that river (which eventually,
and perhaps as soon as it will be our true interest to obtain it, must
happen), would be to open and improve the natural communications
with the western country." The event justified his sagacity in all
respects, for the bickerings went on until the United States were able
to compel Spain to give what was wanted to the western communities,
which by that time had been firmly bound to those of the Atlantic

Much as Washington thought about holding fast the western country,
there was yet one idea that overruled it as well as all others. There
was one plan which he knew would be a quick solution of the dangers
and difficulties for which inland navigation and trade connections
were at best but palliatives. He had learned by bitter experience, as
no other man had learned, the vital need and value of union. He felt
it as soon as he took command of the army, and it rode like black care
behind him from Cambridge to Yorktown. He had hoped something from the
confederation, but he soon saw that it was as worthless as the utter
lack of system which it replaced, and amounted merely to substituting
one kind of impotence and confusion for another. Others might be
deceived by phrases as to nationality and a general government, but
he had dwelt among hard facts, and he knew that these things did not
exist. He knew that what passed for them, stood in their place and
wore their semblance, were merely temporary creations born of the
common danger, and doomed, when the pressure of war was gone, to fall
to pieces in imbecility and inertness. To the lack of a proper
union, which meant to his mind national and energetic government, he
attributed the failures of the campaigns, the long-drawn miseries, and
in a word the needless prolongation of the Revolution. He saw, too,
that what had been so nearly ruinous in war would be absolutely so in
peace, and before the treaty was actually signed he had begun to call
attention to the great question on the right settlement of which the
future of the country depended.

To Hamilton he wrote on March 4, 1783: "It is clearly my opinion,
unless Congress have powers competent to all general purposes, that
the distresses we have encountered, the expense we have incurred, and
the blood we have spilt, will avail us nothing." Again he wrote to
Hamilton, a few weeks later: "My wish to see the union of these States
established upon liberal and permanent principles, and inclination
to contribute my mite in pointing out the defects of the present
constitution, are equally great. All my private letters have teemed
with these sentiments, and whenever this topic has been the subject
of conversation, I have endeavored to diffuse and enforce them." His
circular letter to the governors of the States at the close of the
war, which was as eloquent as it was forcible, was devoted to urging
the necessity of a better central government. "With this conviction,"
he said, "of the importance of the present crisis, silence in me would
be a crime. I will therefore speak to your Excellency the language of
freedom and of sincerity without disguise.... There are four things
which I humbly conceive are essential to the well-being, I may
even venture to say, to the existence, of the United States, as an
independent power:--

"First. An indissoluble union of the States under one federal head.

"Second. A regard to public justice.

"Third. The adoption of a proper peace establishment; and,

"Fourth. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among
the people of the United States, which will induce them to forget
their local prejudices and policies; to make those mutual concessions
which are requisite to the general prosperity; and in some instances
to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the
community." The same appeal went forth again in his last address to
the army, when he said: "Although the general has so frequently given
it as his opinion, in the most public and explicit manner, that unless
the principles of the federal government were properly supported, and
the powers of the Union increased, the honor, dignity, and justice of
the nation would be lost forever; yet he cannot help repeating on
this occasion so interesting a sentiment, and leaving it as his last
injunction to every soldier, who may view the subject in the same
serious point of light, to add his best endeavors to those of his
worthy fellow-citizens towards effecting those great and valuable
purposes on which our very existence as a nation so materially

These two papers were the first strong public appeals for union. The
letter to the governors argued the question elaborately, and was
intended for the general public. The address to the army was simply a
watchword and last general order; for the army needed no arguments to
prove the crying need of better government. Before this, Hamilton had
written his famous letters to Duane and Morris, and Madison was
just beginning to turn his thoughts toward the problem of federal
government; but with these exceptions Washington stood alone. In
sending out these two papers he began the real work that led to the
Constitution. What he said was read and heeded throughout the country,
for at the close of the war his personal influence was enormous, and
with the army his utterances were those of an oracle. By his appeal he
made each officer and soldier a missionary in the cause of the Union,
and by his arguments to the governors he gave ground and motive for
a party devoted to procuring better government. Thus he started the
great movement which, struggling through many obstacles, culminated in
the Constitution and the union of the States. No other man could
have done it, for no one but Washington had a tithe of the influence
necessary to arrest public attention; and, save Hamilton, no other
man then had even begun to understand the situation which Washington
grasped so easily and firmly in all its completeness.

He sent out these appeals as his last words to his countrymen at the
close of their conflict; but he had no intention of stopping there.
He had written and spoken, as he said, to every one on every occasion
upon this topic, and he continued to do so until the work was done. He
had no sooner laid aside the military harness than he began at once to
push on the cause of union. In the bottom of his heart he must have
known that his work was but half done, and with the same pen with
which he reiterated his intention to live in repose and privacy, and
spend his declining years beneath his own vine and fig-tree, he wrote
urgent appeals and wove strong arguments addressed to leaders in
every State. He had not been at home five days before he wrote to the
younger Trumbull, congratulating him on his father's vigorous message
in behalf of better federal government, which had not been very well
received by the Connecticut legislature. He spoke of "the jealousies
and contracted temper" of the States, but avowed his belief that
public sentiment was improving. "Everything," he concluded, "my dear
Trumbull, will come right at last, as we have often prophesied.
My only fear is that we shall lose a little reputation first." A
fortnight later he wrote to the governor of Virginia: "That the
prospect before us is, as you justly observe, fair, none can deny; but
what use we shall make of it is exceedingly problematical; not but
that I believe all things will come right at last, but like a young
heir come a little prematurely to a large inheritance, we shall wanton
and run riot until we have brought our reputation to the brink of
ruin, and then like him shall have to labor with the current of
opinion, when compelled, perhaps, to do what prudence and common
policy pointed out as plain as any problem in Euclid in the first
instance." The soundness of the view is only equaled by the accuracy
of the prediction. He might five years later have repeated this
sentence, word for word, only altering the tenses, and he would have
rehearsed exactly the course of events.

While he wrote thus he keenly watched Congress, and marked its sure
and not very gradual decline. He did what he could to bring about
useful measures, and saw them one after the other come to naught. He
urged the impost scheme, and felt that its failure was fatal to the
financial welfare of the country, on which so much depended. He
always was striving to do the best with existing conditions, but the
hopelessness of every effort soon satisfied him that it was a waste of
time and energy. So he turned again in the midst of his canal schemes
to renew his exhortations to leading men in the various States on the
need of union as the only true solution of existing troubles.

To James McHenry, of Maryland, he wrote in August, 1785: "I confess to
you candidly that I can foresee no evil greater than disunion; than
those unreasonable jealousies which are continually poisoning our
minds and filling them with imaginary evils for the prevention of real
ones." To William Grayson of Virginia, then a member of Congress,
he wrote at the same time: "I have ever been a friend to adequate
congressional powers; consequently I wish to see the ninth article of
the confederation amended and extended. Without these powers we cannot
support a national character, and must appear contemptible in the eyes
of Europe. But to you, my dear Sir, I will candidly confess that in
my opinion it is of little avail to give them to Congress." He was
already clearly of opinion that the existing system was hopeless, and
the following spring he wrote still more sharply as to the state of
public affairs to Henry Lee, in Congress. "My sentiments," he said,
"with respect to the federal government are well known. Publicly and
privately have they been communicated without reserve; but my opinion
is that there is more wickedness than ignorance in the conduct of the
States, or, in other words, in the conduct of those who have too
much influence in the government of them; and until the curtain is
withdrawn, and the private views and selfish principles upon which
these men act are exposed to public notice, I have little hope of
amendment without another convulsion."

He did not confine himself, however, to letters, important as the work
done in this way was, but used all his influence toward practical
measures outside of Congress, of whose action he quite despaired. The
plan for a commercial agreement between Maryland and Virginia was
concerted at Mount Vernon, and led to a call to all the States to
meet at Annapolis for the same object. This, of course, received
Washington's hearty approval and encouragement, but he evidently
regarded it, although important, as merely a preliminary step to
something wider and better. He wrote to Lafayette describing the
proposed gathering at Annapolis, and added: "A general convention
is talked of by many for the purpose of revising and correcting the
defects of the federal government; but whilst this is the wish of
some, it is the dread of others, from an opinion that matters are
not yet sufficiently ripe for such an event." This expressed his own
feeling, for although he was entirely convinced that only a radical
reform would do, he questioned whether the time had yet arrived, and
whether things had become bad enough, to make such a reform either
possible or lasting. He was chiefly disturbed because he felt that
there was "more wickedness than ignorance mixed in our councils,"
and he grew more and more anxious as public affairs declined without
apparently producing a reaction. The growing contempt shown by foreign
nations and the arrogant conduct of Great Britain especially alarmed
him, while the rapid sinking of the national reputation stung him to
the quick. "I do not conceive," he wrote to Jay, in August, 1786, "we
can exist long as a nation without having lodged somewhere a power
which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the
authority of the state governments extends over the several States."
Thus with unerring judgment he put his finger on the vital point in
the whole question, which was the need of a national government that
should deal with the individual citizens of the whole country and
not with the States. "To be fearful," he continued, "of investing
Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for
national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity
and madness.... Requisitions are actually little better than a jest
and a byword throughout the land. If you tell the legislatures they
have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the
confederacy, they will laugh in your face.... It is much to be feared,
as you observe, that the better kind of people, being disgusted with
the circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution
whatever.... I am told that even respectable characters speak of
a monarchical government without horror. From thinking proceeds
speaking; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how
irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify
their predictions!... It is not my business to embark again upon a sea
of troubles. Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions
would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been
neglected, though given as a last legacy in the most solemn manner. I
had then perhaps some claims to public attention. I consider myself as
having none at present."

It is interesting to observe the ease and certainty with which, in
dealing with the central question, he grasped all phases of the
subject and judged of the effect of the existing weakness with regard
to every relation of the country and to the politics of each State.
He pointed out again and again the manner in which we were exposed
to foreign hostility, and analyzed the designs of England, rightly
detecting a settled policy on her part to injure and divide where she
had failed to conquer. Others were blind to the meaning of the
English attitude as to the western posts, commerce, and international
relations. Washington brought it to the attention of our leading men,
educating them on this as on other points, and showing, too, the
stupidity of Great Britain in her attempt to belittle the trade of a
country which, as he wrote Lafayette in prophetic vein, would one day
"have weight in the scale of empires."

He followed with the same care the course of events in the several
States. In them all he resisted the craze for issuing irredeemable
paper money, writing to his various correspondents, and urging
energetic opposition to this specious and pernicious form of public
dishonesty. It was to Massachusetts, however, that his attention was
most strongly attracted by the social disorders which culminated in
the Shays rebellion. There the miserable condition of public affairs
was bearing bitter fruit, and Washington watched the progress of the
troubles with profound anxiety. He wrote to Lee: "You talk, my
good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in
Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or,
if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders.
_Influence_ is not _government_. Let us have a government by which our
lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the
worst at once." Through "all this mist of intoxication and folly,"
however, Washington saw that the Shays insurrection would probably be
the means of frightening the indifferent, and of driving those who
seemed impervious to every appeal to reason into an active support
of some better form of government. He rightly thought that riot and
bloodshed would prove convincing arguments.

In order to understand the utter demoralization of society, politics,
and public opinion at that time, the offspring of a wasting civil war
and of colonial habits of thought, it is interesting to contrast the
attitude of Washington with that of another distinguished American in
regard to the Shays rebellion. While Washington was looking solemnly
at this manifestation of weakness and disorder, and was urging strong
measures with passionate vehemence, Jefferson was writing from Paris
in the flippant vein of the fashionable French theorists, and uttering
such ineffable nonsense as the famous sentence about "once in twenty
years watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants." There
could be no better illustration of what Washington was than this
contrast between the man of words and the man of action, between the
astute leader of a party, the shrewd manager of men, and the silent
leader of armies, the master builder of states and governments.

I have followed Washington through the correspondence of this time
with some minuteness, because it is the only way by which his work in
overcoming the obstacles in the path to good government can be seen.
He held no public office; he had no means of reaching the popular ear.
He was neither a professional orator nor a writer of pamphlets, and
the press of that day, if he had controlled it, had no power to mould
or direct public thought. Yet, despite these obstacles, he set himself
to develop public opinion in favor of a better government, and he
worked at this difficult and impalpable task without ceasing, from
the day that he resigned from the army until he was called to the
presidency of the United States. He did it by means of private
letters, a feeble instrument to-day, but much more effective then.
Jefferson never made speeches nor published essays, but he built up a
great party, and carried himself into power as its leader by means
of letters. In the same fashion Washington started the scheme for
internal waterways, in order to bind the East and the West together,
set on foot the policy of commercial agreements between the States,
and argued on the "imperial theme" with leading men everywhere. A
study of these letters reveals a strong, logical, and deliberate
working towards the desired end. There was no scattering fire. Whether
he was writing of canals, or the Mississippi, or the Western posts,
or paper money, or the impost, or the local disorders, he always was
arguing and urging union and an energetic central government. These
letters went to the leaders of thought and opinion, and were quoted
and passed from hand to hand. They brought immediately to the cause
all the soldiers and officers of the army, and they aroused and
convinced the strongest and ablest men in every State. Washington's
personal influence was very great, something we of this generation,
with a vast territory and seventy millions of people, cannot readily
understand. To many persons his word was law; to all that was best in
the community, everything he said had immense weight. This influence
he used with care and without waste. Every blow he struck went home.
It is impossible to estimate just how much he effected, but it is safe
to say that it is to Washington, aided first by Hamilton and then
by Madison, that we owe the development of public opinion and the
formation of the party which devised and carried the Constitution.
Events of course worked with them, but they used events, and did not
suffer the golden opportunities, which without them would have been
lost, to slip by.

When Washington wrote of the Shays rebellion to Lee, the movement
toward a better union, which he had begun, was on the brink of
success. That ill-starred insurrection became, as he foresaw, a
powerful spur to the policy started at Mount Vernon, and adopted by
Virginia and Maryland. From this had come the Annapolis convention,
and thence the call for another convention at Philadelphia. As soon
as the word went abroad that a general convention was to be held, the
demand for Washington as a delegate was heard on all sides. At first
he shrank from it. Despite the work which he had been doing, and which
he must have known would bring him once more into public service, he
still clung to the vision of home life which he had brought with him
from the army. November 18, 1786, he wrote to Madison, that from a
sense of obligation he should go to the convention, were it not that
he had declined on account of his retirement, age, and rheumatism to
be at a meeting of the Cincinnati at the same time and place. But
no one heeded him, and Virginia elected him unanimously to head
her delegation at Philadelphia. He wrote to Governor Randolph,
acknowledging the honor, but reiterating what he had said to Madison,
and urging the choice of some one else in his place. Still Virginia
held the question open, and on February 3 he wrote to Knox that his
private intention was not to attend. The pressure continued, and, as
usual when the struggle drew near, the love of battle and the sense of
duty began to reassert themselves. March 8 he again wrote to Knox that
he had not meant to come, but that the question had occurred to him,
"Whether my non-attendance in the convention will not be considered
as dereliction of republicanism; nay, more, whether other motives may
not, however injuriously, be ascribed for my not exerting myself
on this occasion in support of it;" and therefore he wished to be
informed as to the public expectation on the matter. On March 28 he
wrote again to Randolph that ill-health might prevent his going, and
therefore it would be well to appoint some one in his place. April 2
he said that if representation of the States was to be partial, or
powers cramped, he did not want to be a sharer in the business. "If
the delegates assemble," he wrote, "with such powers as will enable
the convention to probe the defects of the constitution to the bottom
and point out radical cures, it would be an honorable employment;
otherwise not." This idea of inefficiency and failure in the
convention had long been present to his mind, and he had already said
that, if their powers were insufficient, the convention should go
boldly over and beyond them and make a government with the means of
coercion, and able to enforce obedience, without which it would be, in
his opinion, quite worthless. Thus he pondered on the difficulties,
and held back his acceptance of the post; but when the hour of action
drew near, the rheumatism and the misgivings alike disappeared before
the inevitable, and Washington arrived in Philadelphia, punctual as
usual, on May 13, the day before the opening of the convention.

The other members were by no means equally prompt, and a week elapsed
before a bare quorum was obtained and the convention enabled to
organize. In this interval of waiting there appears to have been some
informal discussion among the members present, between those who
favored an entirely new Constitution and those who timidly desired
only half-way measures. On one of these occasions Washington is
reported by Gouverneur Morris, in a eulogy delivered twelve years
later, to have said: "It is too probable that no plan we propose will
be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If,
to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can
we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the
wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God." The
language is no doubt that of Morris, speaking from memory and in a
highly rhetorical vein, but we may readily believe that the quotation
accurately embodied Washington's opinion, and that he took this high
ground at the outset, and strove from the beginning to inculcate upon
his fellow-members the absolute need of bold and decisive action.
The words savor of the orator who quoted them, but the noble and
courageous sentiment which they express is thoroughly characteristic
of the man to whom they were attributed.[1]

[Footnote 1: It is necessary to say a few words in regard to this
quotation of Washington's words made by Morris, because both Mr.
Bancroft (_History of the Constitution_, ii. 8) and Mr. John Fiske
(_The Critical Period of American History_, p. 232) quote them as if
they were absolutely and verbally authentic. It is perfectly certain
that from May 25 to September 17 Washington spoke but once; that
is, he spoke but once in the convention after it became such by
organization. This point is determined by Madison's statement (Notes,
in. 1600), that when Washington took the floor in behalf of Gorham's
amendment, "it was the only occasion on which the president entered _at
all_ into the discussions of the convention." (The italics are mine.)
I have examined the manuscript at the State Department, and these
words are written in Madison's own hand in the body of the text and
inclosed in brackets. Madison was the most accurate of men. His notes
are only abstracts of what was said, but he was never absent from
the convention, and there can be no question that if Washington had
uttered the words attributed to him by Morris, a speech so important
would have been given as fully as possible, and Madison would not have
said distinctly that the Gorham amendment was the only occasion when
the president entered into the discussions of the convention.

It is, therefore, certain that Washington said nothing in the
convention except on the occasion of the Gorham amendment, and Mr.
Bancroft rightly assigns the Morris quotation to some time during the
week which elapsed between the date fixed for the assembling of the
convention and that on which a quorum of States was obtained. The
words given by Morris, if uttered at all, must have been spoken
informally in the way of conversation before there was any convention,
strictly speaking, and of course before Washington was chosen
president. Mr. Fiske, who devotes a page to these sentences from the
eulogy, describes Washington as rising from his president's chair and
addressing the convention with great solemnity. There is no authority
whatever to show that he rose from the chair to address the other
delegates, and, if he used the words quoted by Morris, he was
certainly not president of the convention when he did so. The latter
blunder, however, is Morris's own, and in making it he contradicts
himself. These are his words: "He is their president. It is a question
previous to their first meeting what course shall be pursued." In
other words, he was their president before they had met and chosen a
president. This is a fair illustration of the loose and rhetorical
character of the passage in which Washington's admonition is quoted.
The entire paragraph, with its mixture of tenses arising from the use
of the historical present which Morris's classical fancies led him to
employ, is, in fact, purely rhetorical, and has only the authority
due to performances of that character. It seems to me impossible,
therefore, to fairly suppose that the words quoted by Morris were
anything more than his own presentation of a sentiment which he, no
doubt, heard Washington urge frequently and forcibly. Even in this
limited acceptation his account is both interesting and valuable,
as indicating Washington's opinion and the tone he took with his
fellow-members; but this, I think, is the utmost weight that can be
attached to it. I have discussed the point thus minutely because two
authorities so distinguished as Mr. Bancroft and Mr. Fiske have laid
so much stress on the words given by Morris, and have seemed to me to
accord to them a greater weight and a higher authenticity than the
facts warrant. Morris's eulogy on Washington was delivered in New
York, and may be found most readily in a little volume entitled
_Washingtoniana_ (p. 110), published at Lancaster in 1802.]

When a quorum was finally obtained, Washington was unanimously chosen
to preside over the convention; and there he sat during the sessions
of four months, silent, patient, except on a single occasion,[1]
taking no part in debate, but guiding the business, and using all his
powers with steady persistence to compass the great end. The debates
of that remarkable body have been preserved in outline in the full and
careful notes of Madison. Its history has been elaborately written,
and the arguments and opinions of its members have been minutely
examined and unsparingly criticised. We are still ignorant, and shall
always remain ignorant, of just how much was due to Washington for the
final completion of the work. His general views and his line of action
are clearly to be seen in his letters and in the words attributed to
him by Morris. That he labored day and night for success we know, and
that his influence with his fellow-members was vast we also know, but
the rest we can only conjecture. There came a time when everything
was at a standstill, and when it looked as if no agreement could
be reached by the men representing so many conflicting interests.
Hamilton had made his great speech, and, finding the vote of his State
cast against him by his two colleagues on every question, had gone
home in a frame of mind which we may easily believe was neither very
contented nor very sanguine. Even Franklin, most hopeful and buoyant
of men, was nearly ready to despair. Washington himself wrote to
Hamilton, on July 10: "When I refer you to the state of the counsels
which prevailed at the period you left this city, and add that they
are now, if possible, in a worse train than ever, you will find but
little ground on which the hope of a good establishment can be formed.
In a word, I almost despair of seeing a favorable issue to the
proceedings of our convention, and do therefore repent having had any
agency in the business." Matters were certainly in a bad state when
Washington could write in this strain, and when his passion for
success was so cooled that he repented of agency in the business.
There was much virtue, however, in that little word "almost." He did
not quite despair yet, and, after his fashion, he held on with grim
tenacity. We know what the compromises finally were, and how they were
brought about, but we can never do exact justice to the iron will
which held men together when all compromises seemed impossible, and
which even in the darkest hour would not wholly despair. All that can
be said is, that without the influence and the labors of Washington
the convention of 1787, in all probability, would have failed of

[Footnote 1: Just at the close of the convention, when the
Constitution in its last draft was in the final stage and on the eve
of adoption, Mr. Gorham of Massachusetts moved to amend by reducing
the limit of population in a congressional district from forty to
thirty thousand. Washington took the floor and argued briefly and
modestly in favor of the change. His mere request was sufficient, and
the amendment was unanimously adopted.]

At all events it did not fail, and after much tribulation the work was
done. On September 17, 1787, a day ever to be memorable, Washington
affixed his bold and handsome signature to the Constitution of the
United States. Tradition has it that as he stood by the table, pen in
hand, he said: "Should the States reject this excellent Constitution,
the probability is that opportunity will never be offered to cancel
another in peace; the next will be drawn in blood." Whether the
tradition is well or ill founded, the sentence has the ring of truth.
A great work had been accomplished. If it were cast aside, Washington
knew that the sword and not the pen would make the next Constitution,
and he regarded that awful alternative with dread. He signed first,
and was followed by all the members present, with three notable
exceptions. Then the delegates dined together at the city tavern, and
took a cordial leave of each other. "After which," the president of
the convention wrote in his diary, "I returned to my lodgings, did
some business with, and received the papers from, the secretary of the
convention, and retired to meditate upon the momentous work which had
been executed." It is a simple sentence, but how much it means! The
world would be glad to-day to know what the thoughts were which
filled Washington's mind as he sat alone in the quiet of that summer
afternoon, with the new Constitution lying before him. But he was then
as ever silent. He did not go alone to his room to exhibit himself on
paper for the admiration of posterity. He went there to meditate for
his own guidance on what had been done for the benefit of his country.
The city bells had rung a joyful chime when he arrived four months
before. Ought they to ring again with a new gladness, or should they
toll for the death of bright hopes, now the task was done? Washington
was intensely human. In that hour of silent thought his heart must
have swelled with a consciousness that he had led his people through
a successful Revolution, and now again from the darkness of political
confusion and dissolution to the threshold of a new existence. But at
the same time he never deceived himself. The new Constitution was but
an experiment and an opportunity. Would the States accept it? And
if they accepted it, would they abide by it? Was this instrument of
government, wrought out so painfully, destined to go to pieces after
a few years of trial, or was it to prove strong enough to become the
charter of a nation and hold the States together indissolubly against
all the shocks of politics and revolution? Washington, with his
foresight and strong national instinct, plainly saw these momentous
questions, somewhat dim then, although clear to all the world to-day.
We can guess how solemnly he thought about them as he meditated alone
in his room on that September afternoon. Whatever his reflections, his
conclusions were simple. He made up his mind that the only chance for
the country lay in the adoption of the new scheme, but he was sober
enough in his opinions as to the Constitution itself. He said of it to
Lafayette the day after the signing: "It is the result of four months'
deliberation. It is now a child of fortune, to be fostered by some and
buffeted by others. What will be the general opinion or the reception
of it is not for me to decide; nor shall I say anything for or against
it. If it be good, I suppose it will work its way; if bad, it will
recoil on the framers." We catch sight here of the old theory that his
public life was at an end, and now, when this exceptional duty had
been performed, that he would retire once more to remote privacy. This
fancy, as well as the extremely philosophical mood about the fate of
the Constitution, apparent in this letter, soon disappeared. Within a
week he wrote to Henry, in whom he probably already suspected the
most formidable opponent of the new plan in Virginia: "I wish the
Constitution, which is offered, had been more perfect; but I sincerely
believe it is the best that could be obtained at this time, and as a
constitutional door is opened for amendments hereafter, the adoption
of it under the present circumstances of the Union is, in my opinion,
desirable." Copies of this letter were sent to Harrison and Nelson,
and the correspondence thus started soon increased rapidly. He wrote
to Hamilton and Madison to counsel with them as to the prospects of
the Constitution, and to Knox to supply him with arguments and
urge him to energetic work. By January of the new year the tone of
indifference and doubt manifested in the letter to Lafayette had quite
gone, and we find him writing to Governor Randolph, in reply to that
gentleman's objections: "There are some things in the new form, I will
readily acknowledge, which never did, and I am persuaded never will,
obtain my cordial approbation, but I did then conceive and do now most
firmly believe that in the aggregate it is the best Constitution that
can be obtained at this epoch, and that this or a dissolution of the
Union awaits our choice, and is the only alternative before us. Thus
believing, I had not, nor have I now, any hesitation in deciding on
which to lean."

Thus the few letters to a few friends extended to many letters to many
friends, and traveled into every State. They all urged the necessity
of adopting the Constitution as the best that could be obtained. What
Washington's precise objections to the Constitution were is not clear.
In a general way it was not energetic enough to come up to his ideal,
but he never particularized in his criticisms. He may have admitted
the existence of defects in order simply to disarm opposition, and
doubtless he, like most of the framers, was by no means completely
satisfied with his work. But he brushed all faults aside, and drove
steadily forward to the great end in view. He was as far removed as
possible from that highly virtuous and very ineffective class of
persons who will not support anything that is not perfect, and who
generally contrive to do more harm than all the avowed enemies of
sound government. Washington did not stop to worry over and argue
about details, but sought steadily to bring to pass the main object
at which he aimed. As he had labored for the convention, so he now
labored for the Constitution, and his letters to his friends not
only had great weight in forming a Federal party and directing its
movements, but extracts from them were quoted and published, thus
exerting a direct and powerful influence on public opinion.

He made himself deeply felt in this way everywhere, but of course more
in his own State than anywhere else. His confidence at first in regard
to Virginia changed gradually to an intense and well-grounded anxiety,
and he not only used every means, as the conflict extended, to
strengthen his friends and gain votes, but he received and circulated
personally copies of "The Federalist," in order to educate public
opinion. The contest in the Virginia convention was for a long time
doubtful, but finally the end was reached, and the decision was
favorable. Without Washington's influence, it is safe to say that the
Constitution would have been lost in Virginia, and without Virginia
the great experiment would probably have failed. In the same spirit he
worked on after the new scheme had secured enough States to insure
a trial. The Constitution had been ratified; it must now be made to
work, and Washington wrote earnestly to the leaders in the various
States, urging them to see to it that "Federalists," stanch friends
of the Constitution, were elected to Congress. There was no vagueness
about his notions on this point. A party had carried the Constitution
and secured its ratification, and to that party he wished the
administration and establishment of the new system to be intrusted.
He did not take the view that, because the fight was over, it was
henceforth to be considered that there had been no fight, and that all
men were politically alike. He was quite ready to do all in his power
to conciliate the opponents of union and the Constitution, but he did
not believe that the momentous task of converting the paper system
into a living organism should be confided to any hands other than
those of its tried and trusty friends.

But while he was looking so carefully after the choice of the right
men to fill the legislature of the new government, the people of the
country turned to him with the universal demand that he should stand
at the head of it, and fill the great office of first President of the
Republic. In response to the first suggestion that came, he recognized
the fact that he was likely to be again called upon for another
great public service, and added simply that at his age it involved a
sacrifice which admitted of no compensation. He maintained this tone
whenever he alluded to the subject, in response to the numerous
letters urging him to accept. But although he declined to announce any
decision, he had made up his mind to the inevitable. He had put his
hand to the plough, and he would not turn back. His only anxiety was
that the people should know that he shrank from the office, and would
only leave his farm to take it from a sense of overmastering duty.
Besides his reluctance to engage in a fresh struggle, and his fear
that his motives might be misunderstood, he had the same diffidence in
his own abilities which weighed upon him when he took command of the
armies. His passion for success, which determined him to accept the
presidency, if it was deemed indispensable that he should do so, made
him dread failure with an almost morbid keenness, although his courage
was too high and his will too strong ever to draw back. Responsibility
weighed upon his spirits, but it could not daunt him. He wrote to
Trumbull in December, 1788, that he saw "nothing but clouds and
darkness before him," but when the hour came he was ready. The
elections were favorable to the Federalists. The electoral colleges
gave Washington their unanimous vote, and on April 16, having been
duly notified by Congress of his election, he left Mount Vernon for
New York, to assume the conduct of the government, and stand at the
head of the new Union in its first battle for life.

From the early day when he went out to seek Shirley and win redress
against the assumptions of British officers, Washington's journeys
to the North had been memorable in their purposes. He had traveled
northward to sit in the first continental congress, to take command of
the army, and to preside over the constitutional convention. Now
he went, in the fullness of his fame, to enter upon a task less
dangerous, perhaps, than leading armies, but more beset with
difficulties, and more perilous to his reputation and peace of mind,
than any he had yet undertaken. He felt all this keenly, and noted in
his diary: "About ten o'clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private
life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind oppressed with more
anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set
out for New York, with the best disposition to render service to my
country, in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its

The first stage of his journey took him only to Alexandria, a few
miles from his home, where a public dinner was given to him by his
friends and neighbors. He was deeply moved when he rose to reply to
the words of affection addressed to him by the mayor as spokesman of
the people. "All that now remains for me," he said, "is to commit
myself and you to the care of that beneficent Being who, on a former
occasion, happily brought us together after a long and distressing
separation. Perhaps the same gracious Providence will again indulge
me. But words fail me. Unutterable sensations must then be left to
more expressive silence, while from an aching heart I bid all my
affectionate friends and kind neighbors farewell."

So he left his home, sad at the parting, looking steadily, but not
joyfully, to the future, and silent as was his wont. The simple dinner
with his friends and neighbors at Alexandria was but the beginning of
the chorus of praise and Godspeed which rose higher and stronger as he
advanced. The road, as he traveled, was lined with people, to see him
and cheer him as he passed. In every village the people from the farm
and workshop crowded the streets to watch for his carriage, and the
ringing of bells and firing of guns marked his coming and his going.
At Baltimore a cavalcade of citizens escorted him, and cannon roared a
welcome. At the Pennsylvania line Governor Mifflin, with soldiers and
citizens, gathered to greet him. At Chester he mounted a horse, and
in the midst of a troop of cavalry rode into Philadelphia, beneath
triumphal arches, for a day of public rejoicing and festivity. At
Trenton, instead of snow and darkness, and a sudden onslaught upon
surprised Hessians, there was mellow sunshine, an arch of triumph,
and young girls walking before him, strewing flowers in his path, and
singing songs of praise and gratitude. When he reached Elizabethtown
Point, the committees of Congress met him, and he there went on board
a barge manned by thirteen pilots in white uniform, and was rowed to
the city of New York. A long procession of barges swept after him with
music and song, while the ships in the harbor, covered with flags,
fired salutes in his honor. When he reached the landing he declined
to enter a carriage, but walked to his house, accompanied by Governor
Clinton. He was dressed in the familiar buff and blue, and, as the
people caught sight of the stately figure and the beloved colors, hats
went off and the crowd bowed as he went by, bending like the ripened
grain when the summer wind passes over it, and breaking forth into
loud and repeated cheers.

From Mount Vernon to New York it had been one long triumphal march.
There was no imperial government to lend its power and military
pageantry. There were no armies, with trophies to dazzle the eyes
of the beholders; nor were there wealth and luxury to give pomp and
splendor to the occasion. It was the simple outpouring of popular
feeling, untaught and true, but full of reverence and gratitude to a
great man. It was the noble instinct of hero-worship, always keen
in humanity when the real hero comes to awaken it to life. Such an
experience, rightly apprehended, would have impressed any man, and it
affected Washington profoundly. He was deeply moved and touched, but
he was neither excited nor elated. He took it all with soberness,
almost with sadness, and when he was alone wrote in his diary:--

"The display of boats which attended and joined us on this occasion,
some with vocal and some with instrumental music on board; the
decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon and the loud acclamations
of the people, which rent the skies as I passed along the wharves,
filled my mind with sensations as painful (considering the reverse of
this scene, which may be the case after all my labors to do good) as
they were pleasing."

In the very moment of the highest personal glory, the only thought is
of the work which he has to do. There is neither elation nor cynicism,
neither indifference nor self-deception, but only deep feeling and a
firm, clear look into the future of work and conflict which lay silent
and unknown beyond the triumphal arches and the loud acclaim of the

On April 30 he was inaugurated. He went in procession to the hall, was
received in the senate chamber, and thence proceeded to the balcony
to take the oath. He was dressed in dark brown cloth of American
manufacture, with a steel-hilted sword, and with his hair powdered and
drawn back in the fashion of the time. When he appeared, a shout went
up from the great crowd gathered beneath the balcony. Much overcome,
he bowed in silence to the people, and there was an instant hush over
all. Then Chancellor Livingston administered the oath. Washington laid
his hand upon the Bible, bowed, and said solemnly when the oath was
concluded, "I swear, so help me God," and, bending reverently, kissed
the book. Livingston stepped forward, and raising his hand cried,
"Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" Then
the cheers broke forth again, the cannon roared, and the bells rang
out. Washington withdrew to the hall, where he read his inaugural
address to Congress, and the history of the United States of America
under the Constitution was begun.



Washington was deeply gratified by his reception at the hands of the
people from Alexandria to New York. He was profoundly moved by the
ceremonies of his inauguration, and when he turned from the balcony to
the senate chamber he showed in his manner and voice how much he felt
the meaning of all that had occurred. His speech to the assembled
Congress was solemn and impressive, and with simple reverence he
acknowledged the guiding hand of Providence in the fortunes of the
States. He made no recommendations to Congress, but expressed his
confidence in their wisdom and patriotism, adjured them to remember
that the success of republican government would probably be finally
settled by the success of their experiment, reminded them that
amendments to the Constitution were to be considered, and informed
them that he could not receive any pecuniary compensation for his
services, and expected only that his expenses should be paid as in the
Revolution. This was all. The first inaugural of the first President
expressed only one thought, but that thought was pressed home with
force. Washington wished the Congress to understand as he understood
the weight and meaning of the task which had been imposed upon them,
for he felt that if he could do this all would be well. How far he
succeeded it would be impossible to say, but there can be no doubt as
to the wisdom of his position. To have attempted to direct the first
movements of Congress before he had really grasped the reins of the
government would have given rise, very probably, to jealousy and
opposition at the outset. When he had developed a policy, then it
would be time to advise the senators and representatives how to carry
it out. Meanwhile it was better to arouse their patriotism, awaken
their sense of responsibility, and leave them free to begin their work
under the guidance of these impressions.

As for himself, his feelings remained unchanged. He had accepted the
great post with solemn anxiety, and when the prayers had all been
said, and the last guns fired, when the music had ceased and the
cheers had died away, and the illuminations had flickered and gone
out, he wrote that in taking office he had given up all expectation
of private happiness, but that he was encouraged by the popular
affection, as well as by the belief that his motives were appreciated,
and that, thus supported, he would do his best. In a few words,
written some months later, he tersely stated what his office meant to
him, and what grave difficulties surrounded his path.

"The establishment of our new government," he said, "seemed to be the
last great experiment for promoting human happiness by a reasonable
compact in civil society. It was to be, in the first instance, in
a considerable degree, a government of accommodation as well as
a government of laws. Much was to be done by prudence, much by
conciliation, much by firmness. Few who are not philosophical
spectators can realize the difficult and delicate part which a man in
my situation had to act. All see, and most admire, the glare which
hovers round the external happiness of elevated office. To me there
is nothing in it beyond the lustre which may be reflected from its
connection with a power of promoting human felicity. In our progress
towards political happiness my station is new, and, if I may use the
expression, I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely an action
the motive of which may not be subject to a double interpretation.
There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be
drawn into precedent. If, after all my humble but faithful endeavors
to advance the felicity of my country and mankind, I may indulge a
hope that my labors have not been altogether without success, it will
be the only real compensation I can receive in the closing scenes of

There is nothing very stimulating to the imagination in this soberness
of mind and calmness of utterance. The military conquerors and the
saviors of society, with epigrammatic sayings, dramatic effects and
rhythmic proclamations, are much more exciting and dazzle the fancy
much better. But it is this seriousness of mind, coupled with
intensity of purpose and grim persistence, which has made the
English-speaking race spread over the world and carry successful
government in its train. The personal empire of Napoleon had crumbled
before he died an exile in St. Helena, but the work of Washington
still endures. Just what that work was, and how it was achieved, is
all that still remains to be considered.

The policies set on foot and carried through under the first federal
administration were so brilliant and so successful that we are apt
to forget that months elapsed before the first of them was even
announced. When Washington, on May 1, 1789, began his duties, there
was absolutely nothing of the government of the United States in
existence but a President and a Congress. The imperfect and broken
machinery of the confederation still moved feebly, and performed some
of the absolutely necessary functions of government. But the new
organization had nothing to work with except these outworn remnants of
a discarded system. There were no departments, and no arrangements for
the collection of revenue or the management of the postal service. A
few scattered soldiers formed the army, and no navy existed. There
were no funds and no financial resources. There were not even
traditions and forms of government, and, slight as these things may
seem, settled methods of doing public business are essential to its
prompt and proper transaction. These forms had to be devised and
adopted first, and although they seem matters of course now, after
a century of use, they were the subject of much thought and of some
sharp controversy in 1789. The manner in which the President was to be
addressed caused some heated discussion even before the inauguration.
America had but just emerged from the colonial condition, and the
colonial habits were still unbroken. In private letters we find
Washington referred to as "His Highness," and in some newspapers as
"His Highness the President-General," while the Senate committee
reported in favor of addressing him as "His Highness the President of
the United States and Protector of their Liberties." In the House,
however, the democratic spirit was strong, there was a fierce attack
upon the proposed titles, and that body ended by addressing Washington
simply as the "President of the United States," which, as it happened,
settled the question finally. Washington personally cared little for
titles, although, as John Adams wrote to Mrs. Warren, he thought them
appropriate to high office. But in this case he saw that there was a
real danger lurking in the empty name, and so he was pleased by the
decision of the House. Another matter was the relation between the
President and the Senate. Should he communicate with them in writing
or orally, being present during their deliberations as if they formed
an executive council? It was promptly decided that nominations should
be made in writing; but as to treaties, it was at first thought best
that the President should deliver them to the Senate in person, and
it was arranged with minute care where he should sit, beside
the Vice-President, while the matter was under discussion. This
arrangement, however, was abandoned after a single trial, and it was
agreed that treaties, like nominations, should come with written

Last and most important of all was the question of the mode of conduct
and the etiquette to be established with regard to the President
himself. In this, as in the matter of titles, Washington saw a real
importance in what many persons might esteem only empty forms, and he
proceeded with his customary thoroughness in dealing with the subject.
What he did would be a precedent for the future as well as a target
for present criticism, and he determined to devise a scheme which
would resist attack, and be worthy to stand as an example for his
successors. He therefore wrote to Madison: "The true medium, I
conceive, must lie in pursuing such a course as will allow him (the
President) time for all the official duties of his station. This
should be the primary object. The next, to avoid as much as may be the
charge of superciliousness, and seclusion from information, by too
much reserve and too great a withdrawal of himself from company on
the one hand, and the inconveniences, as well as a diminution of
respectability, from too free an intercourse and too much familiarity
on the other." This letter, with a set of queries, was also sent to
the Vice-President, to Jay, and to Hamilton. They all agreed in the
general views outlined by Washington. Adams, fresh from Europe, was
inclined to surround the office, of which he justly had a lofty
conception, with a good deal of ceremony, because he felt that these
things were necessary in our relations with foreign nations. In the
main, however, the advice of all who were consulted was in favor
of keeping the nice line between too much reserve and too much
familiarity, and this line, after all the advising, Washington of
course drew for himself. He did it in this way. He decided that he
would return no calls, and that he would receive no general visits
except on specified days, and official visitors at fixed hours.
The third point was in regard to dinner parties. The presidents of
Congress hitherto had asked every one to dine, and had ended by
keeping a sort of public table, to the waste of both time and dignity.
Many persons, disgusted with this system, thought that the President
ought not to ask anybody to dinner. But Washington, never given to
extremes, decided that he would invite to dinner persons of official
rank and strangers of distinction, but no one else, and that he would
accept no invitations for himself. After a time he arranged to have a
reception every Tuesday, from three to four in the afternoon, and Mrs.
Washington held a similar levee on Fridays. These receptions, with a
public dinner every week, were all the social entertainments for which
the President had either time or health.

By these sensible and apparently unimportant arrangements, Washington
managed to give free access to every one who was entitled to it, and
yet preserved the dignity and reserve due to his office. It was one
of the real although unmarked services which he rendered to the new
government, and which contributed so much to its establishment, for it
would have been very easy to have lowered the presidential office by a
false idea of republican simplicity. It would have been equally easy
to have made it odious by a cold seclusion on the one hand, or by pomp
and ostentation on the other. With his usual good judgment and perfect
taste, Washington steered between the opposing dangers, and yet
notwithstanding the wisdom of his arrangements, and in spite of
their simplicity, he did not escape calumny on account of them. One
criticism was that at his reception every one stood, which was thought
to savor of incipient monarchy. To this Washington replied, with the
directness of which he was always capable, that it was not usual to
sit on such occasions, and, if it were, he had no room large enough
for the number of chairs that would be required, and that, as the
whole thing was perfectly unceremonious, every one could come and go
as he pleased. Fault was also found with the manner in which he bowed,
an accusation to which he answered with an irony not untinged with
bitterness and contempt: "That I have not been able to make bows to
the taste of poor Colonel B. (who, by the by, I believe never saw one
of them) is to be regretted, especially too, as, upon those occasions,
they were indiscriminately bestowed, and the best I was master of.
Would it not have been better to throw the veil of charity over
them, ascribing their stiffness to the effects of age, or to the
unskillfulness of my teacher, rather than to pride and dignity of
office, which God knows has no charms for me?"

As party hostility developed, these attacks passed from the region of
private conversation to the columns of newspapers and the declamation
of mob orators, and an especial snarl was raised over the circumstance
that at some public ball the President and Mrs. Washington were
escorted to a sofa on a raised platform, and that guests passed before
them and bowed. Much monarchy and aristocracy were perceived in this
little matter, and Jefferson carefully set it down in that collection
of withered slanders which he gave to an admiring posterity, after the
grave had safely covered both him and those whom he feared and hated
in his lifetime. This incident, however, was but an example of
the political capital which was sought for in the conduct of the
presidential office. The celebration of the birthday, the proposition
to put Washington's head upon the coins, and many other similar
trifles, were all twisted to the same purpose. The dynasty of Cleon
has been a long one, so long that even the succession of the Popes
seems temporary beside it, and it flourished in Washington's time as
rankly as it did in Athens, or as it does to-day. The object of the
assault varies, but the motives and the purpose are as old and as
lasting as human nature. Envy and malice will always find a convenient
shelter in pretended devotion to the public weal, and will seek
revenge for their own lack of success by putting on the cloak of the
tribune of the people, and perverting the noblest of offices to the
basest uses.

But time sets all things even. The demagogues and the critics who
assailed Washington's demeanor and behavior are forgotten, while the
wise and simple customs which he established and framed for the great
office that he honored, still prevail by virtue of their good sense.
We part gladly with all remembrance of those bold defenders of liberty
who saw in these slight forms forerunners of monarchy. We would even
consent to drop into oblivion the precious legacy of Jefferson. But
we will never part with the picture drawn by a loving hand of that
stately figure, clad in black velvet, with the hand on the hilt of the
sword, standing at one of Mrs. Washington's levees, and receiving with
gentle and quiet dignity, full of kindliness but untinged by cheap
familiarity, the crowd that came to pay their respects. It was well
for the republic that at the threshold of its existence it had for
President a man who, by the kindness of his heart, by his good sense,
good manners, and fine breeding, gave to the office which he held and
the government he founded the simple dignity which was part of himself
and of his own high character.

Thus the forms and shows, important in their way, were dealt with,
while behind them came the sterner realities of government, demanding
regulation and settlement. At the outset Washington knew about the
affairs of the government, especially for the last six years, only
in a general way. He felt it to be his first duty, therefore, to
familiarize himself with all these matters, and, although he was in
the midst of the stir and bustle of a new government, he nevertheless
sent for all the papers of each department of the confederation
since the signature of the treaty of peace, went through them
systematically, and made notes and summaries of their contents. This
habit he continued throughout his presidency in dealing with all
official documents. The natural result followed. He knew more at the
start about the facts in each and every department of the public
business than any other one man, and he continued to know more
throughout his administration. In this method and this capacity for
taking infinite pains is to be found a partial explanation at least
of the easy mastery of affairs which he always showed, whether on the
plantation, in the camp, or in the cabinet. It was in truth a striking
instance of that "long patience" which the great French naturalist
said was genius.

While he was thus regulating forms of business, and familiarizing
himself with public questions, it became necessary to fix the manner
of dealing with foreign powers. There were not many representatives of
foreign nations present at the birth of the republic, but there was
one who felt, and perhaps not without reason, that he was entitled
to peculiar privileges. The Count de Moustier, minister of France,
desired to have private access to the President, and even to discuss
matters of business with him. Washington's reply to this demand was,
in its way, a model. After saying that the only matter which could
come up would relate to commerce, with which he was unfamiliar, he
continued: "Every one, who has any knowledge of my manner of acting in
public life, will be persuaded that I am not accustomed to impede
the dispatch or frustrate the success of business by a ceremonious
attention to idle forms. Any person of that description will also be
satisfied that I should not readily consent to lose one of the most
important functions of my office for the sake of preserving an
imaginary dignity. But perhaps, if there are rules of proceeding which
have originated from the wisdom of statesmen, and are sanctioned by
the common consent of nations, it would not be prudent for a young
state to dispense with them altogether, at least without some
substantial cause for so doing. I have myself been induced to think,
possibly from habits of experience, that in general the best mode of
conducting negotiations, the detail and progress of which might be
liable to accidental mistakes or unintentional misrepresentations, is
by writing. This mode, if I was obliged by myself to negotiate with
any one, I should still pursue. I have, however, been taught to
believe that there is in most polished nations a system established
with regard to the foreign as well as the other great departments,
which, from the utility, the necessity, and the reason of the thing,
provides that business should be digested and prepared by the heads of
those departments."

The Count de Moustier hastened to excuse himself on the ground that
he expressed himself badly in English, which was over-modest, for he
expressed himself extremely well. He also explained and defended his
original propositions by trying to show that they were reasonable and
usual; but it was labor lost. Washington's letter was final, and the
French minister knew it. The count was aware that he was dealing with
a good soldier, but in statecraft he probably felt he had to do with a
novice. His intention was to take advantage of the position of France,
secure for her peculiar privileges, and put her in the attitude of
patronizing inoffensively but effectively the new government founded
by the people she had helped to free. He found himself turned aside
quietly, almost deferentially, and yet so firmly and decidedly that
there was no appeal. No nation, he discovered, was to have especial
privileges. France was the good friend and ally of the United States,
but she was an equal, not a superior. It was also fixed by this
correspondence that the President, representing the sovereignty of
the people, was to have the respect to which that sovereignty was
entitled. The pomp and pageant of diplomacy in the old world were
neither desired nor sought in America; yet the President was not to be
approached in person, but through the proper cabinet officer, and all
diplomatic communications after the fashion of civilized governments
were to be in writing. Thus within a month France, and in consequence
other nations, were quietly given to understand that the new republic
was to be treated like other free and independent governments, and
that there was to be nothing colonial or subservient in her attitude
to foreign nations, whether those nations had been friends or foes in
the past.

It required tact, firmness, and a sure judgment to establish proper
relations with foreign ministers. But once done, it was done for all
time. This was not the case with another and far more important
class of people, whose relation to the new administration had to be
determined at the very first hour of its existence. Indeed, before
Washington left Mount Vernon he had begun to receive letters from
persons who considered themselves peculiarly well fitted to serve the
government in return for a small but certain salary. In a letter to
Mrs. Wooster, for whom as the widow of an old soldier he felt the
tenderest sympathy, he wrote soon after his arrival in New York: "As
a public man acting only with reference to the public good, I must be
allowed to decide upon all points of my duty, without consulting my
private inclinations and wishes. I must be permitted, with the best
lights I can obtain, and upon a general view of characters and
circumstances, to nominate such persons alone to offices as in my
judgment shall be the best qualified to discharge the functions of
the departments to which they shall be appointed." This sentiment in
varying forms has been declared since 1789 by many Presidents and many
parties. Washington, however, lived up exactly to his declarations.
At the same time he did not by any means attempt to act merely as an
examining board.

Great political organizations, as we have known them since, did not
exist at the beginning of the government, but there were nevertheless
two parties, divided by the issue which had been settled by the
adoption of the Constitution. Washington took, and purposed to take,
his appointees so far as he could from those who had favored the
Constitution and were friends of the new system. It is also clear
that he made every effort to give the preference to the soldiers
and officers of the army, toward whom his affectionate thought ever
turned. Beyond this it can only be said that he was almost nervously
anxious to avoid any appearance of personal feeling in making
appointments, as was shown in the letter refusing to make his nephew
Bushrod a district attorney, and that he resented personal pressure
of any kind. He preferred always to reach his conclusions so far as
possible from a careful study of written testimony. These principles,
rigidly adhered to, his own keen perception of character, and his
knowledge of men, resulted in a series of appointments running through
eight years which were really marvelously successful. The only
rejection, outside the special case of John Rutledge, was that of
Benjamin Fishbourn for naval officer of the port of Savannah, which
was due apparently to the personal hostility of the Georgia senators.
Washington, conscious of his own painstaking, was not a little
provoked by this setting aside of an old soldier. He sent in a sharp
message on the subject, pointing out the trouble he took to make sure
of the fitness of an appointment, and intimated that the same effort
would not come amiss in the Senate when they rejected one of his
nominees. In view of the fact that it was a new government, the
absence of mistakes in the appointments is quite extraordinary,
and the value of such success can be realized by considering the
disastrous consequences which would have come from inefficient
officers or malfeasance in office when the great experiment was just
put on trial, and was surrounded by doubters and critics ready and
eager to pick flaws and find faults.

The general tone of the government and its reputation at widely
scattered points depended largely on the persons appointed to the
smaller executive offices. Important, however, as these were, the
fate of the republic under the new Constitution was infinitely more
involved in the men whom Washington called about him in his cabinet,
to decide with him as to the policies which were to be begun, and
on which the living vital government was to be founded. Congress,
troubled about many things, and struggling with questions of revenue
and taxation, managed in the course of the summer to establish and
provide for three executive departments and for an attorney-general.
To the selection of the men to fill these high offices Washington
gave, of course, the most careful thought, and succeeded in forming
a cabinet which, in its aggregate ability, never has been equaled in
this country.

Edmund Randolph was appointed attorney-general. Losing his father at
an early age, and entering the army, he had been watched over and
protected by Washington with an almost paternal care, and at the time
of his appointment he was one of the most conspicuous men in public
life, as well as a leading lawyer at the bar of Virginia. He came from
one of the oldest and strongest of the Virginian families, and had
been governor of his State, and a leader in the constitutional
convention, where he had introduced what was known as the Virginian
plan. He had refused to sign the Constitution, but had come round
finally to its support, largely through Washington's influence. There
was then, and there can be now, no question as to Randolph's really
fine talents, or as to his fitness for his post. His defect was a lack
of force of character and strength of will, which was manifested by a
certain timidity of action, and by an infirmity of purpose, such as
had appeared in his course about the Constitution. He performed the
duties of his office admirably, but in the decision of the momentous
questions which came before the cabinet he showed an uncertainty of
opinion which was felt by all his colleagues.[1]

[Footnote 1: This passage was written before the recent appearance of
Mr. Conway's _Life of Randolph_. That ample biography, in my opinion,
confirms the view of Randolph here given. If, in the light of this new
material, I have erred at all, it is, I think, on the charitable side.
Mr. Conway, in order to vindicate Randolph, has sacrificed so far as
he could nearly every conspicuous public man of that period. From
Washington, whom he charges with senility, down, there is hardly a
man who ever crossed Randolph's path whom he has not assailed. Yet he
presents no reason, so far as I can see, to alter the present opinion
of Randolph.]

Henry Knox of Massachusetts was head of the War Department under the
confederacy, and was continued in office by Washington, who appointed
him secretary of war under the new arrangement. It was a natural and
excellent selection. Knox was a distinguished soldier, he had served
well through the Revolution, and Washington was warmly attached to
him. He was not a statesman by training or habit of mind, nor was he
possessed of commanding talents. But he was an able man, sound in his
views and diligent in his office, devoted to his chief and unswerving
in his loyalty to the administration and all its measures. There was
never any doubt as to the attitude of Henry Knox, and Washington found
him as faithful and efficient in the cabinet as he had always been in
the field.

Second in rank, but first in importance, was the secretaryship of the
treasury. "Finance! Ah, my friend, all that remains of the American
Revolution grounds there." So Gouverneur Morris had written to Jay. So
might he have written again of the American Union, for the fate of the
experiment rested at the outset on the Treasury Department. Yet there
was probably less hesitation as to the proper man for this place than
for any other. Washington no doubt would have been glad to give it to
Robert Morris, whose great services in the Revolution he could never
forget. But this could not be, and acting on his own judgment,
fortified by that of Morris himself, he made Alexander Hamilton
secretary of the treasury.

It is one of the familiar marks of greatness to know how to choose the
right men to perform the tasks which no man, either in war or peace,
can complete single-handed. Napoleon's marshals were conspicuous
proofs of his genius, and Washington had a similar power of selection.
The generals whom he trusted were the best generals, the statesmen
whom he consulted stand highest in history. He was fallible, as other
mortals are fallible. He, too, had his Varus, and the time was coming
when he could echo the bitter cry of the great emperor for his lost
legions. But the mistakes were the exceptions. He chose with the
sureness of a strong and penetrating mind, and the most signal example
of this capacity was his secretary of the treasury. He knew Hamilton
well. He had known him as his staff officer, active, accomplished, and
efficient. He had seen him leave his side in a tempest of boyish rage,
and he had watched him charging with splendid gallantry the Yorktown
redoubts. He was familiar with Hamilton's extraordinary mastery of
financial and political problems, and he had found him a powerful
leader in the work of forming the Constitution. He understood
Hamilton's strength, and he knew where his dangers lay. Now he called
him to his cabinet, and gave into his hands the department on which
the immediate success of the government hinged. It was a brilliant
choice. The mark in his lifetime for all the assaults of his political
opponents, the leader and the victim of the schism which rent his own
party, Hamilton, after his death, was made the target for attack and
reprobation by his political foes, who for nearly sixty years, with
few intermissions, controlled the government. His work, however, could
not be undone, and as passions have subsided his fame has proved to
be of that highest and rarest kind which broadens and rises with the
lapse of years, until in the light of history it overtops that of any
of our statesmen, except of his own great chief and Abraham Lincoln.
The work to which he was called was that of organizing a national
government, and in the performance of this work he showed that he
belonged to the highest type of constructive statesmen, and was one of
the rare men who build, and whose building stands the test of time.

Last to be mentioned, but first in rank, was the Department of State.
For this high place Washington chose Thomas Jefferson, who was then
our minister in Paris, and who did not return to take up his official
duties until the following March. Of the four cabinet offices, this
was the only one where Washington proceeded entirely on public
grounds. He took Jefferson on account of his wide reputation, his
unquestioned ability, his standing before the country, and his
experience in our foreign relations. With the other three there was
a strong element of personal friendship and familiarity. With the
secretary of state his intercourse had been, so far as we can judge,
almost wholly of a public character, and, so far as can be inferred
from an expression of some years before, the selection was made by
Washington in deference simply to what he believed to be the public
interest. The only allusion to Jefferson in all the printed volumes of
correspondence prior to 1789 occurs in a letter to Robert Livingston,
of January 8, 1783. He there said: "What office is Mr. Jefferson
appointed to that he has, you say, lately accepted? If it is that of
commissioner of peace, I hope he will arrive too late to have any hand
in it." There is no indication that their personal relations were then
or afterwards other than pleasant. Yet this brief sentence is a
strong expression of distrust, and especially so from the fact that
Washington was not at all given to criticising other people in his
letters. What he distrusted was not Jefferson's ability, for that
no man could doubt, still less his patriotism. But Washington read
character well, and he felt that Jefferson might be lacking in the
qualities of boldness and determination, so needful in a negotiation
like that which resulted in the acknowledgment of our independence.

The truth was that the two men were radically different, and never
could have been sympathetic. Washington was strong, direct, masculine,
and at times fierce in anger. Jefferson was adroit, subtle, and
feminine in his sensitiveness. Washington was essentially a fighting
man, tamed by a stern self-control from the recklessness of his early
days, but always a fighter. Jefferson was a lover of peace, given to
quiet, hating quarrels and bloodshed, and at times timid in dealing
with public questions. Washington was deliberate and conservative,
after the fashion of his race. Jefferson was quick, impressionable,
and always fascinated by new notions, even if they were somewhat
fantastic. A thoroughly liberal and open-minded man, Washington never
turned a deaf ear to any new suggestion, whether it was a public
policy or a mechanical invention, but to all alike he gave careful
consideration before he adopted them. To Jefferson, on the other hand,
mere novelty had a peculiar charm, and he jumped at any device, either
to govern a state or improve a plough, provided that it had the
flavor of ingenuity. The two men might easily have thought the same
concerning the republic, but they started from opposite poles, and no
full communion of thought and feeling was possible between them. That
Washington chose fitly from purely public and outside considerations
can not be questioned, but he made a mistake when he put next to
himself a man for whom he did not have the personal regard and
sympathy which he felt for his other advisers. The necessary result
finally came, after many troubles in the cabinet, in dislike and
distrust, if not positive alienation.

Looking at the cabinet, however, as it stood in the beginning, we can
only admire the wisdom of the selection and the high abilities which
were thus brought together for the administration and construction of
a great national government. It has always been the fashion to speak
of this first cabinet as made up without reference to party, but the
idea is a mistaken one from any point of view. Washington himself gave
it color, for he felt very rightly that he was the choice of the whole
people and not of a party. He wished to rise above party, and in fact
to have no party, but a devotion of all to the good of the country.
The time came when he sorrowed for and censured party bitterness and
party strife, but it is to be observed that the party feeling which he
most deplored was that which grew up against his own policies and his
own administration. The fact was that Washington, who rose above party
more than any other statesman in our history, was nevertheless, like
most men of strong will and robust mind, and like all great political
leaders, a party man, as we shall have occasion to see further on.
It is true that his cabinet contained the chiefs and founders of two
great schools of political thought, which have ever since divided
the country; but when these parties were once fairly developed, the
cabinet became a scene of conflict and went to pieces, only to be
reformed on party lines. When it was first made up, the two parties of
our subsequent history, with which we are familiar, did not exist, and
it was in the administration of Washington that they were developed.
Yet the cabinet of 1789 was, so far as there were parties, a partisan
body. The only political struggle that we had had was over the
adoption of the Constitution. The parties of the first Congress were
the Federalists and the anti-Federalists, the friends and the enemies
of the Constitution. Among those who opposed the Constitution were
many able and distinguished men, but Washington did not invite Sam
Adams, or George Mason, or Patrick Henry, or George Clinton to enter
his cabinet. On the contrary, he took only friends and supporters
of the Constitution. Hamilton was its most illustrious advocate.
Randolph, after some vacillation, had done very much to turn the
wavering scale in Virginia in its favor. Knox was its devoted friend;
and Jefferson, although he had carped at it and criticised it in
his letters, was not known to have done so, and was considered, and
rightly considered, to be friendly to the new system. In other words,
the cabinet was made up exclusively of the party of the Constitution,
which was the victorious party of the moment. This was of course
wholly right, and Washington was too great and wise a leader to have
done anything else. The cabinet was formed with regard to existing
divisions, and, when those divisions changed, the cabinet which gave
birth to them changed too.

Outside the cabinet, the most weighty appointments were those of the
Supreme Court. No one then quite appreciated, probably, the vast
importance which this branch of the government was destined to assume,
or the great part it was to play in the history of the country and the
development of our institutions. At the same time no one could fail to
see that much depended on the composition of the body which was to be
the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution. The safety of the entire
scheme might easily have been imperiled by the selection of men as
judges who were lacking in ability or character. Washington chose with
his wonted sureness. At the head of the court he placed John Jay, one
of the most distinguished of the public men of the day, who gave to
the office at once the impress of his own high character and spotless
reputation. With him were associated Wilson of Pennsylvania, Cushing
of Massachusetts, Blair of Virginia, Iredell of North Carolina, and
Rutledge of South Carolina. They were all able and well-known
men, sound lawyers, and also, be it noted, warm friends of the

Thus the business of organizing the government in the first great and
essential points was completed. It was the work of the President, and,
anxious and arduous as it was, it is worth remembering, too, that
it was done, and thoroughly done, in the midst of severe physical
suffering. Just after the inauguration, Washington was laid up with an
anthrax or carbuncle in his thigh, which brought him at one time very
near death. For six weeks he could lie only on one side, endured the
most constant and acute pain, and was almost incapable of motion. He
referred to his illness at the time in a casual and perfectly simple
way, and mind and will so prevailed over the bodily suffering that
the great task of organizing the government was never suspended nor

When the work was done and Congress had adjourned, Washington, feeling
that he had earned a little rest and recreation, proceeded to carry
out a purpose, which he had formed very early in his presidency, of
visiting the Eastern States. This was the first part of a general plan
which he had conceived of visiting while in office all portions of
the Union. The personal appearance of the President, representing
the whole people, would serve to bring home to the public mind the
existence and reality of a central government, which to many if not to
most persons in the outlying States seemed shadowy and distant. But
General Washington was neither shadowy nor distant to any one. Every
man, woman, and child had heard of and loved the leader of the
Revolution. To his countrymen everywhere, his name meant political
freedom and victory in battle; and when he came among them as the
head of a new government, that government took on in some measure the
character of its chief. His journey was a well-calculated appeal, not
for himself but for his cause, to the warm human interest which a man
readily excites, but which only gathers slowly around constitutions
and forms of government. The world owes a good deal to the right kind
of hero-worship, and the United States have been no exception.

The journey itself was uneventful, and was carried out with
Washington's usual precision. It served its purpose, too, and brought
out a popular enthusiasm which spoke well for the prospects of the
federal government, and which was the first promise of the loyal
support which New England gave to the President, as she had already
given it to the general. In the succession of crowds and processions
and celebrations which marked the public rejoicing, one incident of
this journey stands out as still memorable, and possessed of real
meaning. Mr. John Hancock was governor of Massachusetts. There is
no need to dwell upon him. He was a man of slender abilities,
large wealth, and ready patriotism, with a great sense of his own
importance, and a fine taste for impressive display. Every external
thing about him, from his handsome house and his Copley portrait to
his imposing gout and his immortal signature, was showy and effective.
He was governor of Massachusetts, and very proud of that proud old
commonwealth as well as of her governor. Within her bounds he was the
representative of her sovereignty, and he felt that deference was due
to him from the President of the United States when they both stood on
the soil of Massachusetts. He did not meet Washington on his arrival,
and Washington thereupon did not dine with the governor as he had
agreed to do. It looked a little stormy. Here was evidently a man with
some new views as to the sovereignty of States and the standing of the
union of States. It might have done for Governor Hancock to allow the
President of Congress to pass out of Massachusetts without seeing its
governor, and thereby learn a valuable lesson, but it would never
do to have such a thing happen in the case of George Washington, no
matter what office he might hold. A little after noon on Sunday,
October 26, therefore, the governor wrote a note to the President,
apologizing for not calling before, and asking if he might call
in half an hour, even though it was at the hazard of his health.
Washington answered at once, expressing his pleasure at the prospect
of seeing his excellency, but begging him, with a touch of irony, not
to do anything to endanger his health. So in half an hour Hancock
appeared. Picturesque, even if defeated, he was borne up-stairs on
men's shoulders, swathed in flannels, and then and there made his
call. The old house in Boston where this happened has had since then a
series of successors, but the ground on which it stood has been duly
remembered and commemorated. It is a more important spot than we are
wont to think; for there it was settled, on that autumn Sunday, that
the idea that the States were able to own and to bully the Union they
had formed was dead, and that the President of the new United States
was henceforth to be regarded as the official superior of every
governor in the land. It was a mere question of etiquette, nothing
more. But how the general government would have sunk in popular
estimation if the President had not asserted, with perfect dignity and
yet entire firmness, its position! Men are governed very largely by
impressions, and Washington knew it. Hence his settling at once and
forever the question of precedence between the Union and the States.
Everywhere and at all times, according to his doctrine, the nation was
to be first.[1]

[Footnote 1: The most lately published contemporary account of
this affair with Hancock can be found in the _Magazine of American
History_, June, 1888, p. 508, entitled "Incidents in the Life of John
Hancock, as related by Dorothy Quincy Hancock Scott (from the Diary of
Gen. W.H. Sumner)."]

So the President traveled on to the North, and then back by another
road to New York, and that excellent bit of work in familiarizing the
people with their federal government was accomplished. Meantime the
wheels had started, the machine was in motion, and the chief officers
were at their places. The preliminary work had been done, and the next
step was to determine what policies should be adopted, and to find out
if the new system could really perform the task for which it had been



To trace in detail the events of Washington's administration would be
to write the history of the country during that period. It is only
possible here to show, without much regard to chronological sequence,
the part of the President in developing the policy of the government
at home, and his attitude toward each question as it arose. We are
concerned here merely with the influence and effect of Washington in
our history, and not with the history itself. What did he do, and what
light do we get on the man himself from his words and deeds? These are
the only questions that a brief study of a career so far-reaching can
attempt to answer.

Congress came together for the first time with the government actually
organized on January 4, 1790. On the day when the session opened,
Washington drove down to the hall where the Congress met, alone in his
own coach drawn by four horses. He was preceded by Colonel Humphreys
and Major Jackson, mounted on his two white horses, while immediately
behind came his chariot with his private secretaries, and Mr. Lewis on
horseback. Then followed in their own coaches the chief justice and
the secretaries of war and of the treasury. When the President reached
the hall he was met at the entrance by the doorkeeper of the Congress,
and was escorted to the Senate chamber. There he passed between the
members of each branch, drawn up on either hand, and took his seat by
the Vice-President. When order and silence were obtained, he rose and
spoke to the assembled representatives of the people standing before
him. Having concluded his speech, he bowed and withdrew with his
suite as he had come. Jefferson killed this simple ceremonial, and
substituted for it the written message, sent by a secretary and read
by a clerk in the midst of talk and bustle, which is the form we
have to-day. Jefferson's change was made, of course, in the name of
liberty, and also because he was averse to public speaking. From the
latter point of view, it was reasonable enough, but the ostensible
cause was as hollow and meaningless as any of the French notions to
which it was close akin. It is well for the head of the state to meet
face to face the representatives of the same people who elected him.
For more than a century this has been the practice in Massachusetts,
to take a single instance, and liberty in that commonwealth has not
been imperiled, nor has the State been obliged to ask Federal aid to
secure to her a republican form of government because of her adherence
to this ancient custom.

The forms adopted by Washington had the grave and simple dignity which
marked all he did, and it was senseless to abandon what his faultless
taste and patriotic feeling approved. Forms are in their way important
things: they may conceal perils to liberty, or they may lend dignity
and call forth respect to all that liberty holds most dear. The net
result of all this business has been very curious. Jefferson's
written message prevails; and yet at the same time we inaugurate
our Presidents with a pomp and parade to which those of the dreaded
Federalists seem poor and quiet, and which would make the hero of the
message-in-writing fancy that the air was darkened by the shadows of
monarchy and despotism. The author of the Declaration of Independence
was a patriotic man and lover of freedom, but he who fought out the
Revolution in the field was quite as safe a guardian of American
liberty; and his clear mind was never confused by the fantasies of
that Parisian liberty which confused facts with names, and ended in
the Terror and the first Empire. The people of the United States
to-day surround the first office of the land with a respect and
dignity which they deem equal to the mighty sovereignty that it
represents, and in this is to be found the genuine American feeling
expressed by Washington in the plain and simple ceremonial which he
adopted for his meetings with the Congress.

In this first speech, thus delivered, Washington indicated the
subjects to which he wished Congress to direct their attention, and
which in their development formed the policies of his administration.
His first recommendation was to provide for the common defense by a
proper military establishment. His last and most elaborate was in
behalf of education, for which he invoked the aid of Congress and
urged the foundation of a national university, a scheme he had much at
heart, and to which he constantly returned. The history of these
two recommendations is soon told. Provision was made for the army,
inadequate enough, as Washington thought, but still without dispute,
and such additional provision was afterwards made from time to time as
the passing exigency of the moment demanded. For education nothing
was done, and the national university has never advanced beyond the
recommendation of the first President.

He also advised the adoption of a uniform standard of coinage,
weights, and measures. In two years a mint was duly established after
an able report from Hamilton, and out of his efforts and those of
Jefferson came our decimal system. There was debate over the devices
on the coins in which the ever-vigilant Jeffersonians scented
monarchical dangers, but with this exception the country got its
uniform coinage peacefully enough. The weights and measures did not
fare so well. They obtained a long report from Jefferson, and a still
longer and more learned disquisition from John Quincy Adams thirty
years later. But that was all. We still use the rule of thumb systems
inherited from our English ancestors, and Washington's uniform
standard, except for the two reports, has gone no further than the
national university.

Another recommendation to the effect that invention ought to be

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