Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

George Washington, Vol. II by Henry Cabot Lodge

Part 4 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download George Washington, Vol. II pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"Aurora" at this time that Washington had debauched and deceived
the nation, and that his administration had shown that the mask of
patriotism may be worn to conceal the foulest dangers to the liberties
of the people. Over and over again it was said by these writers that
he had betrayed France and was the slave of England.

This charge of being a British sympathizer was the only one of all the
abuse heaped upon him by the opposition that Washington seems really
to have resented. In August, 1794, when this slander first started
from the prolific source of all attacks against the government, he
wrote to Henry Lee: "With respect to the words said to have been
uttered by Mr. Jefferson, they would be enigmatical to those who are
acquainted with the characters about me, unless supposed to be spoken
ironically; and in that case they are too injurious to me, and have
too little foundation in truth, to be ascribed to him. There could not
be the trace of doubt in his mind of predilection in mine toward Great
Britain or her politics, unless, which I do not believe, he has set me
down as one of the most deceitful and uncandid men living; because,
not only in private conversations between ourselves on this subject,
but in my meetings with the confidential servants of the public, he
has heard me often, when occasions presented themselves, express very
different sentiments, with an energy that could not be mistaken by any
one present.

"Having determined, as far as lay within the power of the executive,
to keep this country in a state of neutrality, I have made my public
conduct accord with the system; and whilst so acting as a public
character, consistency and propriety as a private man forbid those
intemperate expressions in favor of one nation, or to the prejudice of
another, which may have wedged themselves in, and, I will venture to
add, to the embarrassment of government, without producing any good to
the country."

He had shown by his acts as well as by his words his real friendship
for France, such as a proper sense of gratitude required. As has been
already pointed out, rather than run the risk of seeming to reflect in
the slightest degree upon the government of the French republic, he
had refused even to receive distinguished _emigres_ like Noailles,
Liancourt, and Talleyrand.[1] He was so scrupulous in this respect
that he actually did violence to his own strong desires in not taking
into his house at once the son of Lafayette; and when it became
necessary to choose a successor to Morris, his anxiety was so great
to select some one agreeable to France that he took such an avowed
opponent of his administration as Monroe.

[Footnote 1: See the Letter to the Due de Liancourt explaining the
reasons for his not being received by the President. (Sparks, xi.

On the other hand, he had never lost the strong feeling of hostility
toward England which he, above all men, had felt during the
Revolution. The conduct of England, when he was seeking an honorable
peace with her, tried his patience severely. He wrote to Morris in
1795: "I give you these details (and if you should again converse with
Lord Grenville on the subject, you are at liberty, unofficially,
to mention them, or any of them, according to circumstances), as
evidences of the unpolitic conduct (for so it strikes me) of the
British government towards these United States; that it may be
seen how difficult it has been for the executive, under such an
accumulation of irritating circumstances, to maintain the ground of
neutrality which had been taken; and at a time when the remembrance
of the aid we had received from France in the Revolution was fresh in
every mind, and while the partisans of that country were continually
contrasting the affections of _that_ people with the unfriendly
disposition of the _British government_. And that, too, as I have
observed before, while _their own_ sufferings during the war with the
latter had not been forgotten." The one man in the country who above
all others had the highest conception of American nationality, who
was the first to seek to lift up our politics from the low level of
colonialism, who was the author of the neutrality policy, had reason
to resent the bitter irony of an attack which represented him as a
British sympathizer. The truth is, that the only foreign party at that
time was that which identified itself with France, and which was
the party of Jefferson and the opposition. The Federalists and
the administration under the lead of Washington and Hamilton were
determined that the government should be American and not French, and
this in the eyes of their opponents was equivalent to being in the
control of England. In after years, when the Federalists fell from
power and declined into the position of a factious minority, they
became British sympathizers, and as thoroughly colonial in their
politics as the party of Jefferson had been. If they had had the
wisdom of their better days they would then have made themselves the
champions of the American idea, and would have led the country in the
determined effort to free itself once for all from colonial politics,
even if they were obliged to fight somebody to accomplish it. They
proved unequal to the task, and it fell to a younger generation led by
Henry Clay and his contemporaries to sweep Federalist and Jeffersonian
republican alike, with their French and British politics, out of
existence. In so doing the younger generation did but complete the
work of Washington, for he it was who first trod the path and marked
the way for a true American policy in the midst of men who could not
understand his purposes.

Bitter and violent as had been the attacks upon Washington while he
held office, they were as nothing compared to the shout of fierce
exultation which went up from the opposition journals when he finally
retired from the presidency. One extract will serve as an example of
the general tone of the opposition journals throughout the country. It
is to be found in the "Aurora" of March 6, 1797:--

"'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,' was the
pious ejaculation of a pious man who beheld a flood of happiness
rushing in upon mankind. If ever there was a time that would
license the reiteration of the ejaculation, that time has now
arrived, for the man who is the source of all the misfortunes
of our country is this day reduced to a level with his
fellow-citizens, and is no longer possessed of power to multiply
evils upon the United States. If ever there was a period for
rejoicing, this is the moment. Every heart in unison with the
freedom and happiness of the people ought to beat high with
exultation that the name of Washington ceases from this day to
give currency to political insults, and to legalize corruption. A
new era is now opening upon us, an era which promises much to the
people, for public measures must now stand upon their own merits,
and nefarious projects can no longer be supported by a name. When
a retrospect has been taken of the Washingtonian administration
for eight years, it is a subject of the greatest astonishment
that a single individual should have cankered the principles of
republicanism in an enlightened people just emerged from the gulf
of despotism, and should have carried his designs against the
public liberty so far as to have put in jeopardy its very
existence. Such, however, are the facts, and with these staring us
in the face, the day ought to be a JUBILEE in the United States."

This was not the outburst of a single malevolent spirit. The article
was copied and imitated in New York and Boston, and wherever the
party that called Jefferson leader had a representative among the
newspapers. It is not probable that stuff of this sort gave Washington
himself a moment's anxiety, for he knew too well what he had done, and
he was too sure of his own hold upon the hearts of the people, to be
in the least disturbed by the attacks of hostile editors. But the
extracts are of interest as showing that the opposition party of that
time, the party organized and led by Jefferson, regarded Washington as
their worst enemy, and assailed him and slandered him to the utmost.
They even went so far as to borrow materials from the enemies of the
country with whom we had lately been at war, by publishing the forged
letters attributed to Washington, and circulated by the British in
1777, in order to discredit the American general. One of Washington's
last acts, on March 3, 1797, was to file in the State Department a
solemn declaration that these letters, then republished by an American
political party, were base forgeries, of English origin in a time of
war. His own view of this performance is given in a letter to Benjamin
Walker, in which he said: "Amongst other attempts, ... spurious
letters, known at the time of their first publication (I believe in
the year 1777) to be forgeries, are (or extracts from them) brought
forward with the highest emblazoning of which they are susceptible,
with a view to attach principles to me which every action of my life
has given the lie to. But that is no stumbling-block with the editors
of these papers and their supporters."

Two or three extracts from private letters will show how Washington
regarded the course of the opposition, and the interpretation he put
upon their attacks. After sketching in a letter to David Stuart the
general course of the hostilities toward his administration, he said:
"This not working so well as was expected, from a supposition that
there was too much confidence in, and perhaps personal regard for, the
present chief magistrate and his politics, the batteries have lately
been leveled against him particularly and personally. Although he is
soon to become a private citizen, his opinions are knocked down, and
his character reduced as low as they are capable of sinking it, even
by resorting to absolute falsehoods." Again he said, just before
leaving office: "To misrepresent my motives, to reprobate my
politics, and to weaken the confidence which has been reposed in my
administration, are objects which cannot be relinquished by those who
will be satisfied with nothing short of a change in our political
system." He at least labored under no misapprehension after eight
years of trial as to the position or purposes of the party which had
fought him and his administration, and which had savagely denounced
his measures at every step, and with ever-increasing violence.

Having defined the attitude of the opposition, we can now consider
that of Washington himself after he had retired from office, and no
longer felt restrained by the circumstances of his election to the
presidency from openly declaring his views, or publicly identifying
himself with a political party. He rightly regarded the administration
of Mr. Adams as a continuation of his own, and he gave to it a cordial
support. He was equally clear and determined in his distrust and
dislike of the opposition. Not long before leaving office he had
written a letter to Jefferson, which, while it exonerated that
gentleman from being the author of certain peculiarly malicious
attacks, showed very plainly that the writer completely understood the
position occupied by his former secretary. It was a letter which
must have been most unpleasant reading for the person to whom it
was addressed. A year later he wrote to John Nicholas in regard
to Jefferson: "Nothing short of the evidence you have adduced,
corroborative of intimations which I had received long before through
another channel, could have shaken my belief in the sincerity of a
friendship which I had conceived was possessed for me by the person to
whom you allude." There was no doubt in his mind now as to Jefferson's
conduct, and he knew at last that he had been his foe even when a
member of his political household.

When the time came to fill the offices in the provisional army made
necessary by the menace of war with France, Washington wrote to the
President that he ought to have generals who were men of activity,
energy, health, and "sound politics," carrying apparently his
suspicion of the opposition even to disbelieving in them as soldiers.
He repeated the same idea in a letter to McHenry, in which he said:
"I do not conceive that a desirable set could be formed from the old
generals, some having never displayed any talent for enterprise,
and others having shown a general opposition to the government, or
predilection to French measures, be their present conduct what it

When the question arose in regard to the relative rank of the
major-generals, Washington said to Knox: "No doubt remained in my mind
that Colonel Hamilton was designated second in command (and first, if
I should decline an acceptance) by the Federal characters of Congress;
whence alone anything like a public sentiment relative thereto could
be deduced." He was quite clear that there was no use in looking
beyond the confines of the Federal party for any public sentiment
worth considering. He had serious doubts also as to the advisability
of having the opponents of the government in the army, and wrote to
McHenry on September 30, 1798, that brawlers against the government in
certain parts of Virginia had suddenly become silent and were seeking
commissions in the army. "The motives ascribed to them are that in
such a situation they would endeavor to divide and contaminate the
army by artful and seditious discourses, and perhaps at a critical
moment bring on confusion. What weight to give to these conjectures
you can judge as well as I. But as there will be characters enough
of an opposite description who are ready to receive appointments,
circumspection is necessary. Finding the resentment of the people
at the conduct of France too strong to be resisted, they have in
appearance adopted their sentiments, and pretend that, notwithstanding
the misconduct of the government has brought it upon us, yet if an
invasion should take place, it will be found that _they_ will be among
the first to defend it. This is their story at all elections and
election meetings, and told in many instances with effect." He wrote
again in the same strain to McHenry, on October 21: "Possibly no
injustice would be done, if I were to proceed a step further, and give
it as an opinion that most of the candidates [for the army] brought
forward by the opposition members possess sentiments similar to their
own, and might poison the army by disseminating them, if they were
appointed." In this period of danger, when the country was on the
verge of war, the attitude of the opposition gave Washington much food
for thought because it appeared to him so false and unpatriotic. In
a letter to Lafayette, written on Christmas day, 1798, he gave the
following brief sketch of the opposition: "A party exists in the
United States, formed by a combination of causes, which opposed the
government in all its measures, and are determined, as all their
conduct evinces, by clogging its wheels indirectly to change the
nature of it, and to subvert the Constitution. The friends of
government, who are anxious to maintain its neutrality and to preserve
the country in peace, and adopt measures to secure these objects, are
charged by them as being monarchists, aristocrats, and infractors of
the Constitution, which according to their interpretation of it would
be a mere cipher. They arrogated to themselves ... the sole merit of
being the friends of France, when in fact they had no more regard for
that nation than for the Grand Turk, further than their own views
were promoted by it; denouncing those who differed in opinion (those
principles are purely American and whose sole view was to observe
a strict neutrality) as acting under British influence, and being
directed by her counsels, or as being her pensioners."

Shortly before this sharp definition was written, an incident had
occurred which had given Washington an opportunity of impressing his
views directly and personally upon a distinguished leader of the
opposite party. Dr. Logan of Philadelphia, under the promptings of
Jefferson, as was commonly supposed, had gone on a volunteer mission
to Paris for the purpose of bringing about peace between the two
republics. He had apparently a fixed idea that there was something
very monstrous in our having any differences with France, and being
somewhat of a busybody, although a most worthy man, he felt called
upon to settle the international complications which were then
puzzling the brains and trying the patience of the ablest men in
America. It is needless to say that his mission was not a success, and
he was eventually so unmercifully ridiculed by the Federalist editors
that he published a long pamphlet in his own defense. Upon his return,
however, he seems to have been not a little pleased with himself, and
he took occasion to call upon Washington, who was then in Philadelphia
on business. It would be difficult to conceive anything more
distasteful to Washington than such a mission as Logan's, or that he
could have a more hearty contempt for any one than for a meddler of
this description, who by his interference might help to bring his
country into contempt. He was sufficiently impressed, however, by Dr.
Logan's call to draw up a memorandum, which gave a very realistic and
amusing account of it. It may be surmised that when Washington wished
to be cold in his manner, he was capable of being very freezing, and
he was not very apt at concealing his emotions when he found himself
in the presence of any one whom he disliked and disapproved. The
memorandum is as follows:--

"_Tuesday, November_ 13, 1798.--Mr. Lear, my secretary, being from our
lodgings on business, one of my servants came into the room where
I was writing and informed me that a gentleman in the parlor below
desired to see me; no name was sent up. In a few minutes I went down,
and found the Rev. Dr. Blackwell and Dr. Logan there. I advanced
towards and gave my hand to the former; the latter did the same
towards me. I was backward in giving mine. He, possibly supposing from
hence that I did not recollect him, said his name was Logan. Finally,
in a very cold manner, and with an air of marked indifference, I gave
him my hand and asked _Dr. Blackwell to be seated_; the other _took_
a seat at the same time. I addressed _all_ my conversation to Dr.
Blackwell; the other all his to me, to which I only gave negative or
affirmative answers as laconically as I could, except asking him how
Mrs. Logan did. He seemed disposed to be very polite, and while Dr.
Blackwell and myself were conversing on the late calamitous fever,
offered me an asylum at his house, if it should return or I thought
myself in any danger in the city, and two or three rooms, by way of
accommodation. I thanked him slightly, observing there would be no
call for it."

"About this time Dr. Blackwell took his leave. We all rose from our
seats, and I moved a few paces toward the door of the room, expecting
the other would follow and take his leave also."

The worthy Quaker, however, was not to be got rid of so easily. He
literally stood his ground, and went on talking of a number of things,
chiefly about Lafayette and his family, and an interview with Mr.
Murray, our minister in Holland. Washington, meanwhile, stood facing
him, and to use his own words, "showed the utmost inattention," while
his visitor described his journey to Paris. Finally Logan said that
his purpose in going to France was to ameliorate the condition of
our relations with that country. "This," said Washington, "drew my
attention more pointedly to what he was saying and induced me to
remark that there was something very singular in this; that _he_,
who could only be viewed as a private character, unarmed with proper
powers, and presumptively unknown in France, should suppose he could
effect what three gentlemen of the first respectability in our
country, especially charged under the authority of the government,
were unable to do." One is not surprised to be then told that Dr.
Logan seemed a little confounded at this observation; but he recovered
himself, and went on to say that only five persons knew of his going,
and that his letters from Mr. Jefferson and Mr. McKean obtained for
him an interview with M. Merlin, president of the Directory, who had
been most friendly in his expressions. To this Washington replied
with some very severe strictures on the conduct of France; and the
conversation, which must by this time have become a little strained,
soon after came to an end. One cannot help feeling a good deal of
sympathy for the excellent doctor, although he was certainly a
busybody and, one would naturally infer, a bore as well. It would have
been, however, a pity to have lost this memorandum, and there is every
reason to regret that Washington did not oftener exercise his evident
powers for realistic reporting. Nothing, moreover, could bring out
better his thorough contempt for the opposition and their attitude
toward France than this interview with the volunteer commissioner.

There were, however, much more serious movements made by the
Democratic party than well-meant and meddling attempts to make
peace with France. This was the year of the Kentucky and Virginia
resolutions, the first note of that disunion sentiment which was
destined one day to involve the country in civil war and be fought out
on a hundred battlefields. Washington, with his love for the Union and
for nationality ever uppermost in his heart, was quick to take alarm,
and it cut him especially to think that a movement which he esteemed
at once desperate and wicked should emanate from his own State, and as
we now know, and as he perhaps suspected, from a great Virginian
whom he had once trusted. He straightway set himself to oppose this
movement with all his might, and he summoned to his aid that other
great Virginian who in his early days had been the first to rouse the
people against oppression, and who now in his old age, in response to
Washington's appeal, came again into the forefront in behalf of the
Constitution and the union of the States. The letter which Washington
wrote to Patrick Henry on this occasion is one of the most important
that he ever penned, but there is room to quote only a single passage

"At such a crisis as this," he said, "when everything dear and
valuable to us is assailed, when this party hangs upon the wheels of
government as a dead weight, opposing every measure that is calculated
for defense and self-preservation, abetting the nefarious views of
another nation upon our rights, preferring, as long as they dare
contend openly against the spirit and resentment of the people, the
interest of France to the welfare of their own country, justifying
the former at the expense of the latter; when every act of their own
government is tortured, by constructions they will not bear, into
attempts to infringe and trample upon the Constitution with a view to
introduce monarchy; when the most unceasing and the purest exertions
which were making to maintain a neutrality ... are charged with being
measures calculated to favor Great Britain at the expense of France,
and all those who had any agency in it are accused of being under
the influence of the former and her pensioners; when measures are
systematically and pertinaciously pursued, which must eventually
dissolve the Union or produce coercion; I say, when these things have
become so obvious, ought characters who are best able to rescue their
country from the pending evil to remain at home?...

"Vain will it be to look for peace and happiness, or for the security
of liberty or property, if civil discord should ensue. And what else
can result from the policy of those among us, who, by all the measures
in their power, are driving matters to extremity, if they cannot be
counteracted effectually? The views of men can only be known, or
guessed at, by their words or actions. Can those of the _leaders_ of
opposition be mistaken, then, if judged by this rule? That they are
followed by numbers, who are unacquainted with their designs and
suspect as little the tendency of their principles, I am fully
persuaded. But if their conduct is viewed with indifference, if there
are activity and misrepresentations on one side and supineness on
the other, their numbers accumulated by intriguing and discontented
foreigners under proscription, who were at war with their own
government, and the greater part of them with _all_ governments, they
will increase, and nothing short of omniscience can foretell the

It would have been difficult to draw a severer indictment of the
opposition party than that given in this letter, but there is one
other letter even more striking in its contents, without which no
account of the relation of Washington to the two great parties which
sprang up under his administration would be complete. It was addressed
to Governor Trumbull of Connecticut, was written on July 21, 1799,
less than six months before his death, and although printed, has
been hidden away in the appendix to the "Life of Benjamin Silliman."
Governor Trumbull, who bore the name and filled the office of
Washington's old revolutionary friend, had written to the general, as
many other Federalists were writing at that time, urging him to come
forward and stand once more for the presidency, that he might heal the
dissensions in his own party and save the country from the impending
disaster of Jefferson's election. That Washington refused all these
requests is of course well known, but his reasons as stated to
Trumbull are of great interest. "I come now," he said, "my dear sir,
to pay particular attention to that part of your letter which respects

"I remember well the conversation which you allude to. I have not
forgot the answer I gave you. In my judgment it applies with as much
force _now_ as _then_; nay, more, because at that time the line
between the parties was not so clearly drawn, and the views of the
opposition so clearly developed as they are at present. Of course
allowing your observation (as it respects myself) to be well founded,
personal influence would be of no avail.

"Let that party set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of
liberty,--a democrat,--or give it any other epithet that will suit
their purpose, and it will command their votes _in toto_![1] Will not
the Federalists meet, or rather defend, their cause on the opposite
ground? Surely they must, or they will discover a want of policy,
indicative of weakness and pregnant of mischief, which cannot be
admitted. Wherein, then, would lie the difference between the present
gentleman in office and myself?

[Footnote 1: "As an analysis of this position, look to the pending
election of governor in Pennsylvania."]

"It would be matter of grave regret to me if I could believe that a
serious thought was turned toward me as his successor, not only as
it respects my ardent wishes to pass through the vale of life in
retirement, undisturbed in the remnant of the days I have to sojourn
here, unless called upon to defend my country (which every citizen is
bound to do); but on public grounds also; for although I have abundant
cause to be thankful for the good health with which I am blessed, yet
I am not insensible to my declination in other respects. It would
be criminal, therefore, in me, although it should be the wish of my
countrymen and I could be elected, to accept an office under this
conviction which another would discharge with more ability; and this,
too, at a time when I am thoroughly convinced I should not draw a
_single_ vote from the anti-Federal side, and of course should stand
upon no other ground _than any other Federal character_[1] well
supported; and when I should become a mark for the shafts of envenomed
malice and the basest calumny to fire at,--when I should be charged
not only with irresolution but with concealed ambition, which waits
only an occasion to blaze out, and, in short, with dotage and

[Footnote 1: These italics are mine.]

"All this, I grant, ought to be like dust in the balance, when put in
competition with a _great_ public good, when the accomplishment of it
is apparent. But, as no problem is better defined in my mind than that
principle, not men, is now, and will be, the object of contention; and
that I could not obtain a _solitary_ vote from that party; _that any
other respectable Federal character could receive the same suffrages
that I should_;[1] that at my time of life (verging towards threescore
and ten) I should expose myself without rendering any essential
service to my country, or answering the end contemplated; prudence on
my part must avert any attempt of the well-meant but mistaken views of
my friends to introduce me again into the chair of government."

[Footnote 1: These italics are mine.]

It does not fall within the scope of this biography to attempt to
portray the history or weigh the merits of the two parties which came
into existence at the close of the last century, and which, under
varying names, have divided the people of the United States ever
since. But it is essential here to define the relation of Washington
toward them because one hears it constantly said and sees it as
constantly written down, that Washington belonged to no party, which
is perhaps a natural, but is certainly a complete misconception.
Washington came to the presidency by a unanimous vote. He had in his
mind very strongly the idea of the framers of the Constitution that
the President, by the method of his election and by his independence
of the other departments of government, was to be above and beyond
party, and the representative of the whole people. In addition to this
he was so absorbed by the great conception which he had of the future
of the country, and was so confident of the purity and rectitude of
his own purposes, that he was loath to think that party divisions
could arise while he held the chief magistracy. It was not long
before he was undeceived on this point, and he soon found that party
divisions sprang up from the measures of his own administration.
Nevertheless, he clung to his determination to govern without the
assistance of a party as such. When this, too, became impossible, he
still felt that the unanimity of his election required that he should
not declare himself to be the head of a party; but he had become
thoroughly convinced that under the representative system of the
Constitution party government could not be avoided. In his farewell
address he warned the people against the excesses of that party
spirit which he deplored; but he did not suggest that it could be
extinguished. Being a wise and far-seeing man, he saw that if party
government was an evil, it also was under a free representative
system, and in the present condition of human nature a necessary evil,
furnishing the only machinery by which public affairs could be carried

In a time of deep political excitement and strong party feeling,
Washington was the last man in the world not to be decidedly on one
side or the other. He was possessed of too much sense, force, and
virility to be content to hold himself aloof and croak over the
wickedness of people, who were trying to do something, even if
they did not always try in the most perfect way. He was himself
preeminently a doer of deeds, and not a critic or a phrase-maker, and
we can read very distinctly in the extracts which have been brought
together in this chapter what he thought on party and public
questions. He was opposed to the party which had resisted all the
great measures of his administration from the foundation of the
government of the United States. They had assailed and maligned him
and his ministers, and he regarded them as political enemies. He
believed in the principles of that party which had supported the
financial policy of Hamilton and his own policy of neutrality toward
foreign nations. He was opposed to the party which introduced the
interests of France as the leading issue of American politics, and
which embodied the doctrines of nullification and separatism in the
resolutions of Kentucky and Virginia. In one word, Washington, in
policies and politics, was an American and a Nationalist; and the
National and American party, from 1789 to 1801, was the Federalist
party. It may be added that it was the only party which, at that
precise time, could claim those qualities. While he remained in the
presidency he would not declare himself to be of any party; but as
soon as this fetter was removed, he declared himself freely after his
fashion, expressing in words what he had formerly only expressed in
action. His feelings warmed and strengthened as the controversy with
France deepened, and as the attitude of the opposition became more
un-American and leaned more and more to separatism. They culminated
at last in the eloquent letter to Patrick Henry, and in the carefully
weighed words with which he tells Trumbull that he can hope for no
more votes than "any other Federal character."



Washington had entered upon the presidency with the utmost reluctance,
and at the sacrifice of all he considered pleasantest and best in
life. He took it and held it for eight years from a sense of duty,
and with no desire to retain it beyond that which every man feels
who wishes to finish a great work that he has undertaken. He looked
forward to the approaching end of his second term with a feeling of
intense relief, and compared himself to the wearied traveler who sees
the resting-place where he is at length to have repose. On March 3 he
gave a farewell dinner to the President and Vice-President elect, the
foreign ministers and their wives, and other distinguished persons,
from one of whom we learn that it was a very pleasant and lively
gathering. When the cloth was removed Washington filled his glass and
said: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the last time I shall drink
your health as a public man. I do it with sincerity, wishing you all
possible happiness." The company did not take the same cheerful view
as their host of this leave-taking. There was a pause in the gayety,
some of the ladies shed tears, and the little incident only served to
show the warm affection felt for Washington by every one who came in
close contact with him.

The next day the last official ceremonies were performed. After
Jefferson had taken the oath as Vice-President and had proceeded with
the Senate to the House of Representatives, which was densely crowded,
Washington entered and was received with cheers and shouts, the waving
of handkerchiefs, and an enthusiasm which seemed to know no bounds.
Mr. Adams followed him almost immediately and delivered his inaugural
address, in which he paid a stately compliment to the great virtues of
his predecessor. It was the setting and not the rising sun, however,
that drew the attention of the multitude, and as Washington left the
hall there was a wild rush from the galleries to the corridors and
then into the streets to see him pass. He took off his hat and bowed
to the people, but they followed him even to his own door, where
he turned once more and, unable to speak, waved to them a silent

In the evening of the same day a great banquet was given to him by
the merchants of Philadelphia, and when he entered the band played
"Washington's March," and a series of emblematic paintings were
disclosed, the chief of which represented the ex-President at Mount
Vernon surrounded by the allegorical figures then so fashionable.
After the festivities Washington lingered for a few days in
Philadelphia to settle various private matters and then started for
home. Whether he was going or coming, whether he was about to take the
great office of President or retire to the privacy of Mount Vernon,
the same popular enthusiasm greeted him. When he was really brought in
contact with the people, the clamors of the opposition press and the
attacks of the Jeffersonian editors all faded away and were forgotten.
On March 12 he reached Baltimore, and the local newspaper of the next
day said:--

"Last evening arrived in this city, on his way to Mount Vernon, the
illustrious object of veneration and gratitude, GEORGE WASHINGTON. His
excellency was accompanied by his lady and Miss Custis, and by the son
of the unfortunate Lafayette and his preceptor. At a distance from
the city, he was met by a crowd of citizens, on horse and foot, who
thronged the road to greet him, and by a detachment from Captain
Hollingsworth's troop, who escorted him in through as great a
concourse of people as Baltimore ever witnessed. On alighting at the
Fountain Inn, the general was saluted with reiterated and thundering
huzzas from the spectators. His excellency, with the companions of his
journey, leaves town, we understand, this morning."

Thus with the cheers and the acclamations still ringing in his ears
he came home again to Mount Vernon, where he found at once plenty
of occupation, which in some form was always a necessity to him. An
absence of eight years had not improved the property. On April 3 he
wrote to McHenry: "I find myself in the situation nearly of a new
beginner; for, although I have not houses to build (except one, which
I must erect for the accommodation and security of my military, civil,
and private papers, which are voluminous and may be interesting),
yet I have scarcely anything else about me that does not require
considerable repairs. In a word, I am already surrounded by joiners,
masons, and painters; and such is my anxiety to get out of their
hands, that I have scarcely a room to put a friend into or to sit
in myself without the music of hammers or the odoriferous scent of
paint." He easily dropped back into the round of country duties and
pleasures, and the care of farms and plantations, which had always
had for him so much attraction. "To make and sell a little flour
annually," he wrote to Wolcott, "to repair houses going fast to ruin,
to build one for the security of my papers of a public nature, will
constitute employment for the few years I have to remain on this
terrestrial globe." Again he said to McHenry: "You are at the source
of information, and can find many things to relate, while I have
nothing to say that would either inform or amuse a secretary of war at
Philadelphia. I might tell him that I begin my diurnal course with the
sun; that if my hirelings are not in their places by that time I send
them messages of sorrow for their indisposition; that having put these
wheels in motion I examine the state of things further; that the more
they are probed the deeper I find the wounds which my buildings have
sustained by an absence and neglect of eight years; that by the time
I have accomplished these matters breakfast (a little after seven
o'clock, about the time I presume that you are taking leave of Mrs.
McHenry) is ready; that this being over I mount my horse and ride
round my farms, which employs me until it is time to dress for dinner,
at which I rarely miss seeing strange faces, come, as they say, out of
respect for me. Pray, would not the word curiosity answer as well?
And how different this from having a few social friends at a cheerful
board. The usual time of sitting at table, a walk, and tea bring me
within the dawn of candle-light; previous to which, if not prevented
by company, I resolve that as soon as the glimmering taper supplies
the place of the great luminary I will retire to my writing-table and
acknowledge the letters I have received; that when the lights
are brought I feel tired and disinclined to engage in this work,
conceiving that the next night will do as well. The next night comes
and with it the same causes for postponement, and so on. Having given
you the history of a day, it will serve for a year, and I am persuaded
you will not require a second edition of it. But it may strike you
that in this detail no mention is made of any portion of time allotted
for reading. The remark would be just, for I have not looked into a
book since I came home; nor shall I be able to do it until I have
discharged my workmen; probably not before the nights grow longer,
when possibly I may be looking in Doomsday book."

There is not much that can be added to his own concise description of
the simple life he led at home. The rest and quiet were very pleasant,
but still there was a touch of sadness in his words. The long interval
of absence made the changes which time had wrought stand out more
vividly than if they had come one by one in the course of daily life
at home. Washington looked on the ruins of Belvoir, and sighed to
think of the many happy hours he had passed with the Fairfaxes, now
gone from the land forever. Other old friends had been taken away
by death, and the gaps were not filled by the new faces of which he
speaks to McHenry. Indeed, the crowd of visitors coming to Mount
Vernon from all parts of his own country and of the world, whether
they came from respect or curiosity, brought a good deal of weariness
to a man tired with the cares of state and longing for absolute
repose. Yet he would not close his doors to any one, for the Virginian
sense of hospitality, always peculiarly strong in him, forbade such
action. To relieve himself, therefore, in this respect, he sent
for his nephew Lawrence Lewis, who took the social burden from
his shoulders. But although the visitors tired him when he felt
responsible for their pleasure, he did not shut himself up now any
more than at any other time in self-contemplation. He was constantly
thinking of others; and the education of his nephews, the care of
young Lafayette until he should return to France, as well as the
happy love-match of Nellie Custis and his nephew, supplied the human
interest without which he was never happy.

Before we trace his connection with public affairs in these
closing years, let us take one look at him, through the eyes of a
disinterested but keen observer. John Bernard, an English actor,
who had come to this country in the year when Washington left the
presidency, was playing an engagement with his company at Annapolis,
in 1798. One day he mounted his horse and rode down below Alexandria,
to pay a visit to an acquaintance who lived on the banks of the
Potomac. When he was returning, a chaise in front of him, containing a
man and a young woman, was overturned, and the occupants were thrown
out. As Bernard rode to the scene of the accident, another horseman
galloped up from the opposite direction. The two riders dismounted,
found that the driver was not hurt, and succeeded in restoring the
young woman to consciousness; an event which was marked, Bernard tells
us, by a volley of invectives addressed to her unfortunate husband.
"The horse," continues Bernard, "was now on his legs, but the vehicle
still prostrate, heavy in its frame, and laden with at least half a
ton of luggage. My fellow-helper set me an example of activity in
relieving it of the internal weight; and when all was clear, we
grasped the wheel between us, and to the peril of our spinal columns
righted the conveyance. The horse was then put in, and we lent a
hand to help up the luggage. All this helping, hauling, and lifting
occupied at least half an hour, under a meridian sun, in the middle of
July, which fairly boiled the perspiration out of our foreheads." The
possessor of the chaise beguiled the labor by a full personal history
of himself and his wife, and when the work was done invited the two
Samaritans to go with him to Alexandria, and take a drop of "something
sociable." This being declined, the couple mounted into the chaise and
drove on. "Then," says Bernard, "my companion, after an exclamation at
the heat, offered very courteously to dust my coat, a favor the return
of which enabled me to take deliberate survey of his person. He was
a tall, erect, well-made man, evidently advanced in years, but who
appeared to have retained all the vigor and elasticity resulting from
a life of temperance and exercise. His dress was a blue coat buttoned
to his chin, and buckskin breeches. Though the instant he took off his
hat I could not avoid the recognition of familiar lineaments, which
indeed I was in the habit of seeing on every sign-post and over every
fireplace, still I failed to identify him, and to my surprise I found
that I was an object of equal speculation in his eyes." The actor
evidently did not have the royal gift of remembering faces, but the
stranger possessed that quality, for after a moment's pause he said,
"Mr. Bernard, I believe," and mentioned the occasion on which he had
seen him play in Philadelphia. He then asked Bernard to go home with
him for a couple of hours' rest, and pointed out the house in the
distance. At last Bernard knew to whom he was speaking. "'Mount
Vernon!' I exclaimed; and then drawing back with a stare of wonder,
'Have I the honor of addressing General Washington?' With a smile
whose expression of benevolence I have rarely seen equaled, he offered
his hand and replied: 'An odd sort of introduction, Mr. Bernard; but
I am pleased to find you can play so active a part in private, and
without a prompter.'" So they rode on together to the house and had a
chat, to which we must recur further on.

There is no contemporary narrative of which I am aware that shows
Washington to us more clearly than this little adventure with Bernard,
for it is in the common affairs of daily life that men come nearest
to each other, and the same rule holds good in history. We know
Washington much better from these few lines of description left by
a chance acquaintance on the road than we do from volumes of state
papers. It is such a pleasant story, too. There is the great man,
retired from the world, still handsome and imposing in his old age,
with the strong and ready hand to succor those who had fallen by the
wayside; there are the genuine hospitality, the perfect manners, and
the well-turned little sentence with which he complimented the actor,
put him at his ease, and asked him to his house. Nothing can well be
added to the picture of Washington as we see him here, not long before
the end of all things came. We must break off, however, from the quiet
charm of home life, and turn again briefly to the affairs of state.
Let us, therefore, leave these two riding along the road together in
the warm Virginia sunshine to the house which has since become one of
the Meccas of humanity, in memory of the man who once dwelt in it.

The highly prized retirement to Mount Vernon did not now, more than
at any previous time, separate Washington from the affairs of the
country. He continued to take a keen interest in all that went on,
to correspond with his friends, and to use his influence for what he
thought wisest and best for the general welfare. These were stirring
times, too, and the progress of events brought him to take a more
active part than he had ever expected to play again; for France,
having failed, thanks to his policy, to draw us either by fair words
or trickery from our independent and neutral position, determined,
apparently, to try the effect of force and ill usage. Pinckney, sent
out as minister, had been rebuffed; and then Adams, with the cordial
support of the country, had made another effort for peace by sending
Pinckney, Marshall, and Gerry as a special commission. The history of
that commission is one of the best known episodes in our history. Our
envoys were insulted, asked for bribes, and browbeaten, until the two
who retained a proper sense of their own and their country's dignity
took their passports and departed. The publication of the famous X, Y,
Z letters, which displayed the conduct of France, roused a storm of
righteous indignation from one end of the United States to the other.
The party of France and of the opposition bent before the storm, and
the Federalists were at last all-powerful. A cry for war went up from
every corner, and Congress provided rapidly for the formation of an
army and the beginning of a navy.

Then the whole country turned, as a matter of course, to one man to
stand at the head of the national forces of the United States,
and Adams wrote to Washington, urging him to take command of the
provisional army. To any other appeal to come forward Washington would
have been deaf, but he could never refuse a call to arms. He wrote to
Adams on July 4, 1798: "In case of _actual invasion_ by a formidable
force, I certainly should not intrench myself under the cover of age
or retirement, if my services should be required by my country to
assist in repelling it." He agreed, therefore, to take command of the
army, provided that he should not be called into active service
except in the case of actual hostilities, and that he should have the
appointment of the general's staff. To these terms Adams of course
acceded. But out of the apparently simple condition relating to the
appointment of officers there grew a very serious trouble. There were
to be three major-generals, the first of them to have also the rank of
inspector-general, and to be the virtual commander-in-chief until the
army was actually called into the field. For these places, Washington
after much reflection selected Hamilton, Pinckney, and Knox, in the
order named, and in doing so he very wisely went on the general
principle that the army was to be organized _de novo_, without
reference to prior service. Apart from personal and political
jealousies, nothing could have been more proper and more sound than
this arrangement; but at this point the President's dislike of
Hamilton got beyond control, and he made up his mind to reverse the
order, and send in Knox's name first. The Federalist leaders were of
course utterly disgusted by this attempt to set Hamilton aside, which
was certainly ill-judged, and which proved to be the beginning of the
dissensions that ended in the ruin of the Federalist party. After
every effort, therefore, to move Adams had failed, Pickering and
others, including Hamilton himself, appealed to Washington. At a
distance from the scene of action, and unfamiliar with the growth of
differences within the party, Washington was not only surprised, but
annoyed by the President's conduct. In addition to the evils which he
believed would result in a military way from this change, he felt that
the conditions which he had made had been violated, and that he had
not been treated fairly. He therefore wrote to the President with
his wonted plainness, on September 25, and pointed out that his
stipulations had not been complied with, that the change of order
among the major-generals was thoroughly wrong, and that the
President's meddling with the inferior appointments had been hurtful
and injudicious. His views were expressed in the most courteous
way, although with an undertone of severe disapproval. There was no
mistaking the meaning of the letter, however, and Adams, bold man and
President as he was, gave way at once. Mr. Adams thought at the time
that there had been about this matter of the major-generals too much
intrigue, by which Washington had been deceived and he himself made a
victim; but there seems no good reason to take this view of it, for
there is no indication whatever that Washington did not know and
understand the facts; and it was on the facts that he made his
decision, and not on the methods by which they were conveyed to him.
The propriety of the decision will hardly now be questioned, although
it did not tend to make the relations between the ex-President and
his successor very cordial. They had always a great respect for
each other, but not much sympathy, for they differed too widely in
temperament. Even if Washington would have permitted it, it would have
been impossible for the President to have quarreled with him, but at
the same time he felt not a little awkwardness in dealing with his
successor, and was inclined to think that that gentleman did not show
him all the respect that was due. He wrote to McHenry on October 1:
"As no mode is yet adopted by the President by which the battalion
officers are to be appointed, and as I think I stand on very
precarious ground in my relation to him, I am not over-zealous
in taking _unauthorized_ steps when those that I thought _were
authorized_ are not likely to meet with much respect."

[Illustration: HENRY KNOX]

There was, however, another consequence of this affair which gave
Washington much more pain than any differences with the President. His
old friend and companion in arms, General Knox, was profoundly hurt at
the decision which placed Hamilton at the head of the army. One cannot
be surprised at Knox's feelings, for he had been a distinguished
officer, and had outranked both Hamilton and Pinckney. He felt that he
ought to command the army, and that he was quite capable of doing so;
and he did not relish being told in this official manner that he had
grown old, and that the time had come for younger and abler men to
pass beyond him. The archbishop in "Gil Blas" is one of the most
universal types of human nature that we have. Nobody feels kindly to
the monitor who points out the failings which time has brought, and we
are all inclined to dismiss him with every wish that he may fare well
and have a little more taste. Poor Knox could not dismiss his Gil
Blas, and he felt the unpleasant admonition all the more bitterly from
the fact that the blow was dealt by the two men whom he most loved and
admired. Hamilton wrote him the best and most graceful of letters, but
failed to soothe him; and Washington was no more fortunate. He tried
with the utmost kindliness, and in his most courteous manner, to
soften the disappointment, and to show Knox how convincing were the
reasons for his action. But the case was not one where argument could
be of avail, and when Knox persisted in his refusal to take the place
assigned him, Washington, with all his sympathy, was perfectly frank
in expressing his views.

In a second letter, complaining of the injustice with which he had
been treated, Knox intimated that he would be willing to serve on the
personal staff of the commander-in-chief. This was all very well; but
much as Washington grieved for his old friend's disappointment, there
was to be no misunderstanding in the matter. He wrote Knox on October
21: "After having expressed these sentiments with the frankness of
undisguised friendship, it is hardly necessary to add that, if you
should finally decline the appointment of major-general, there is none
to whom I would give a more decided preference as an aide-de-camp, the
offer of which is highly flattering, honorable, and grateful to my
feelings, and for which I entertain a high sense. But, my dear General
Knox, and here again I speak to you in a language of candor and
friendship, examine well your mind upon this subject. Do not unite
yourself to the suite of a man whom you may consider as the primary
cause of what you call a degradation, with unpleasant sensations.
This, while it was gnawing upon you, would, if I should come to the
knowledge of it, make me unhappy; as my first wish would be that my
military family and the whole army should consider themselves a band
of brothers, willing and ready to die for each other."

Knox would not serve; and his ill temper, irritated still further
by the apparent preference of the President and by the talk of his
immediate circle, prevailed. On the other hand, Pinckney, one of the
most generous and patriotic of men, accepted service at once without a
syllable of complaint on the score that he had ranked Hamilton in the
former war. It was with these two, therefore, that Washington
carried on the work of organizing the provisional army. Despite his
determination to remain in retirement until called to the field, his
desire for perfection in any work that he undertook brought him out,
and he gave much time and attention not only to the general questions
which were raised, but to the details of the business, and on November
10 he addressed a series of inquiries, both general and particular,
to Hamilton and Pinckney. These inquiries covered the whole scope of
possible events, probable military operations, and the formation of
the army. They were written in Philadelphia, whither he had gone, and
where he passed a month with the two major-generals in the discussion
of plans and measures. The result of their conferences was an
elaborate and masterly report on army organization drawn up by
Hamilton, upon whom, throughout this period of impending war, the
brunt of the work fell.

Careful and painstaking, however, as Washington was in the matter of
appointments and organization, dealing with them as if he was about to
take the field at the head of the army, there was never a moment when
he felt that there was danger of actual war. He had studied foreign
affairs and the conditions of Europe too well to be much deceived
about them, and least of all in regard to France. He felt from the
beginning that the moment we displayed a proper spirit, began to arm,
and fought one or two French ships successfully, that France would
leave off bullying and abusing us, and make a satisfactory peace. The
declared adherent of the maxim that to prepare for war was the most
effectual means of preserving peace, he felt that never was it more
important to carry out this doctrine than now; and it was for this
reason that he labored so hard and gave so much thought to army
organization at a time when he felt more than ever the need of repose,
and shrank from the least semblance of a return to public life. In
all his long career there was never a better instance of his devoted
patriotism than his coming forward in this way at the sacrifice of
every personal wish after his retirement from the presidency.

Yet, although he closely watched the course of politics, and gave, as
has been said, a cordial support to the administration, his sympathies
were rather with the opponents of the President within the ranks
of their common party. The conduct of Gerry, who had been Adams's
personal selection for a commissioner, was very distasteful to
Washington, and was very far from exciting in his mind the approval
which it drew from Mr. Adams. He wrote to Pickering on October 18:
"With respect to Mr. Gerry, his own character and public satisfaction
require better evidence than his letter to the minister of foreign
relations to prove the propriety of his conduct during his envoyship."
He did not believe that we were to have war with France, but he was
very confident that a bold and somewhat uncompromising attitude was
the best one for the country, and that above all we should not palter
with France after the affronts to which we had been subjected. When
President Adams, therefore, made his sudden change of policy by
nominating Murray as a special envoy, Washington, despite his desire
for peace, was by no means enthusiastic in his approval of the methods
by which it was sought. The President wrote him announcing the
appointment of Murray, and Washington acknowledged the letter and
the information without any comment. He saw, of course, that as the
President had seen fit to take the step he must be sustained, and he
wrote to Murray to impress upon him the gravity of the mission with
which he was intrusted; but he had serious doubts as to the success of
such a mission under such conditions, and when delays occurred he was
not without hopes of a final abandonment. The day after his letter to
Murray he wrote to Hamilton: "I was surprised at the _measure_,
how much more so at the manner of it! This business seems to have
commenced in an evil hour, and under unfavorable auspices. I wish
mischief may not tread in all its steps, and be the final result of
the measure. A wide door was open, through which a retreat might have
been made from the first _faux pas_, the shutting of which, to those
who are not behind the curtain and are as little acquainted with
the secrets of the cabinet as I am, is, from the present aspect of
European affairs, quite incomprehensible." He hoped but little good
from the mission, although it had his fervent wishes for its success,
expressed repeatedly in letters to members of the cabinet; and while
he was full of apprehension, he had a firm faith that all would end

For this anxiety, indeed, there was abundant reason. A violent change
of policy toward France, the disorders occasioned by political
dissensions at home, and the sudden appearance of the deadly doctrine
of nullification, all combined to excite alarm in the mind of a man
who looked as far into the future and as deep beneath the surface of
things as did Washington. It was then that he urged Patrick Henry to
reenter public life, and exerted his own influence wherever he could
to check the separatist movement set on foot by Jefferson. He was
deeply disturbed, too, by the tendencies of the times in other
directions. The delirium of the French Revolution was not confined
to France. Her soldiers bore with them the new doctrines, while far
beyond the utmost reach of her armies flew the ideas engendered in
the fevered air of Paris. Wherever they alighted they touched men and
stung them to madness, and the madness that they bred was not confined
to those who believed the new gospel, but was shared equally by those
who resisted and loathed it. Burke, in his way, was as much crazed as
Camille Desmoulins, and it seemed impossible for people living in the
midst of that terrific convulsion of society to retain their judgment.
Nowhere ought men to have been better able to withstand the contagion
of the revolution than in America, and yet even here it produced the
same results as in countries nearly affected by it. The party
of opposition to the government became first ludicrous and then
dangerous, in their wild admiration and senseless imitation of ideas
and practices as utterly alien to the people of the United States as
cannibalism or fire-worship. Then the Federalists, on their side, fell
beneath the spell. The overthrow of religion, society, property, and
morals, which they beheld in Paris, seemed to them to be threatening
their own country, and they became as extreme as their opponents in
the exactly opposite direction. Federalist divines came to look
upon Jefferson, the most timid and prudent of men, as a Marat or
Robespierre, ready to reproduce the excesses of his prototypes; while
Pickering, Wolcott, and all their friends in public life regarded
themselves as engaged in a struggle for the preservation of order and
society and of all that they held most dear. They were in the habit of
comparing French principles to a pestilence, and the French republic
to a raging tiger. Even Hamilton was so moved as to believe that the
United States were on the verge of anarchy, and he laid down his life
at last in a senseless duel because he thought that his refusal to
fight would disable him for leading the forces of order when the final
crash came.

Washington, with his strong, calm judgment and his penetrating vision,
was less affected than any of those who had followed and sustained
him; but he was by no means untouched, and if we try to put ourselves
in his place, his views seem far from unreasonable. He had at the
outset wished well to the great movement in France, although even then
he doubted its final success. Very soon, however, doubts changed
to suspicions, and suspicions to conviction. As he saw the French
revolution move on in its inevitable path, he came to hate and dread
its deeds, its policies, and its doctrines. To a man of his temper it
could not have been otherwise, for license and disorder were above all
things detestable to him. They were the immediate fruits of the French
revolution, and when he saw a party devoted to France preaching the
same ideas in the United States, he could not but feel that there was
a real and practical danger confronting the country. This was why he
felt that we needed an energetic policy, and it was on this account
that he distrusted the President's renewed effort for peace. The
course of the opposition, as he saw it, threatened not merely the
existence of the Union, but wittingly or unwittingly struck at the
very foundations of society. His anxiety did not make him violent, as
was the case with lesser men, but it convinced him of the necessity of
strong measures, and he was not a man to shrink from vigorous action.
He was quite prepared to do all that could be done to maintain the
authority of the government, which he considered equivalent to the
protection of society, and for this reason he approved of the Alien
and Sedition acts.

In the process of time these two famous laws have come to be
universally condemned, and those who have not questioned their
constitutionality have declared them wrong, inexpedient and impolitic,
and the immediate cause of the overthrow of the party responsible for
them. Everybody has made haste to disown them, and there has been a
general effort on the part of Federalist sympathizers to throw the
blame for them on persons unknown. Biographers, especially, have tried
zealously to clear the skirts of their heroes from any connection with
these obnoxious acts; but the truth is, that, whether right or wrong,
wise or unwise, these laws had the entire support of the ruling party
from the President down. Hamilton, who objected to the first draft
because it was needlessly violent, approved the purpose and principle
of the legislation; and Washington was no exception to the general
rule. He was calm about it, but his approbation was none the less
distinct, and he took pains to circulate a sound argument, when he
met with one, in justification of the Alien and Sedition acts.[1] In
November, 1798, Alexander Spotswood wrote to him, asking his judgment
on those laws. As the writer announced himself to be thoroughly
convinced of their unconstitutionally, Washington, with a little
sarcasm, declined to enter into argument with him. "But," he
continued, "I will take the liberty of advising such as are not
'thoroughly convinced,' and whose minds are yet open to conviction,
to read the pieces and hear the arguments which have been adduced
in favor of, as well as those against, the constitutionality and
expediency of those laws, before they decide and consider to what
lengths a certain description of men in our country have already
driven, and seem resolved further to drive matters, and then ask
themselves if it is not time and expedient to resort to protecting
laws against aliens (for citizens, you certainly know, are not
affected by that law), who acknowledge no allegiance to this country,
and in many instances are sent among us, as there is the best
circumstantial evidence to prove, for the express purpose of poisoning
the minds of our people and sowing dissensions among them, in order to
alienate their affections from the government of their choice, thereby
endeavoring to dissolve the Union, and of course the fair and happy
prospects which are unfolding to our view from the Revolution."

[Footnote 1: See letter to Bushrod Washington, Sparks, vi. p. 387.]

With these strong and decided feelings as to the proper policy to
be adopted, and with such grave apprehensions as to the outcome
of existing difficulties, Washington was deeply distressed by the
divisions which he saw springing up among the Federalists. From his
point of view it was bad enough to have the people of the country
divided into two great parties; but that one of those parties, that
which was devoted to the maintenance of order and the preservation
of the Union, should be torn by internal dissensions, seemed to him
almost inconceivable. He regarded the conduct of the party and of its
leaders with quite as much indignation as sorrow, for it seemed to him
that they were unpatriotic and false to their trust in permitting for
a moment these personal factions which could have but one result. He
wrote to Trumbull on August 30, 1799:--

"It is too interesting not to be again repeated, that if principles
instead of men are not the steady pursuit of the Federalists, their
cause will soon be at an end; if these are pursued they will not
_divide_ at the next election of President; if they do divide on
so _important_ a point, it would be dangerous to trust them on any
other,--and none except those who might be solicitous to fill the
chair of government would do it."[1]

[Footnote 1: _Life of Silliman_, vol. ii. p. 385.]

He was a true prophet, but he did not live to see the verification
of his predictions, which would have been to him a source of so much
grief. In the midst of his anxieties about public affairs, and of
the quiet, homely interests which made the days at Mount Vernon so
pleasant, the end suddenly came. There was no more forewarning than if
he had been struck down by accident or violence. He had always been a
man of great physical vigor, and although he had had one or two acute
and dangerous illnesses arising from mental strain and much overwork,
there is no indication that he had any organic disease, and since his
retirement from the presidency he had been better than for many years.
There was not only no sign of breaking up, but he appeared full of
health and activity, and led his usual wholesome outdoor life with
keen enjoyment.

The morning of December 12 was overcast. He wrote to Hamilton warmly
approving the scheme for a military academy; and having finished this,
which was probably the last letter he ever wrote, he mounted his horse
and rode off for his usual round of duties. He noted in his diary,
where he always described the weather with methodical exactness, that
it began to snow about one o'clock, soon after to hail, and then
turned to a settled cold rain. He stayed out notwithstanding for about
two hours, and then came back to the house and franked his letters.
Mr. Lear noticed that his hair was damp with snow, and expressed a
fear that he had got wet; but the General said no, that his coat had
kept him dry, and sat down to dinner without changing his clothes. The
next morning snow was still falling so that he did not ride, and he
complained of a slight sore throat, but nevertheless went out in the
afternoon to mark some trees that were to be cut down. His hoarseness
increased toward night, yet still he made light of it, and read the
newspapers and chatted with Mrs. Washington during the evening.

When he went to bed Mr. Lear urged him to take something for his cold.
"No," he replied, "you know I never take anything for a cold. Let
it go as it came." In the night he had a severe chill, followed by
difficulty in breathing; and between two and three in the morning he
awoke Mrs. Washington, but would not allow her to get up and call a
servant lest she should take cold. At daybreak Mr. Lear was summoned,
and found Washington breathing with difficulty and hardly able to
speak. Dr. Craik, the friend and companion of many years, was sent
for at once, and meantime the General was bled slightly by one of the
overseers. A futile effort was also made to gargle his throat, and
external applications were tried without affording relief. Dr. Craik
arrived between eight and nine o'clock with two other physicians, when
other remedies were tried and the patient was bled again, all without
avail. About half-past four he called Mrs. Washington to his bedside
and asked her to get two wills from his desk. She did so, and after
looking them over he ordered one to be destroyed and gave her the
other to keep. He then said to Lear, speaking with the utmost
difficulty, but saying what he had to say with characteristic
determination and clearness: "I find I am going; my breath cannot last
long. I believed from the first that the disorder would prove fatal.
Do you arrange and record all my late military letters and papers.
Arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more about them
than any one else; and let Mr. Rawlins finish recording my other
letters, which he has begun." He then asked if Lear recollected
anything which it was essential for him to do, as he had but a very
short time to continue with them. Lear replied that he could recollect
nothing, but that he hoped the end was not so near. Washington smiled,
and said that he certainly was dying, and that as it was the
debt which we must all pay, he looked to the event with perfect

The disease which was killing him was acute oedematous laryngitis,[1]
which is as simple as it is rare and fatal,[2] and he was being
slowly strangled to death by the closing of the throat. He bore
the suffering, which must have been intense, with his usual calm
self-control, but as the afternoon wore on the keen distress and the
difficulty of breathing made him restless. From time to time Mr. Lear
tried to raise him and make his position easier. The General said,
"I fear I fatigue you too much;" and again, on being assured to the
contrary, "Well, it is a debt we must pay to each other, and I hope
when you want aid of this kind you will find it." He was courteous and
thoughtful of others to the last, and told his servant, who had been
standing all day in attendance upon him, to sit down. To Dr. Craik he
said: "I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first
attack that I should not survive it. My breath cannot last long." When
a little later the other physicians came in and assisted him to sit
up, he said: "I feel I am going. I thank you for your attentions, but
I pray you will take no more trouble about me. Let me go off quietly.
I cannot last long." He lay there for some hours longer, restless and
suffering, but utterly uncomplaining, taking such remedies as the
physicians ordered in silence. About ten o'clock he spoke again to
Lear, although it required a most desperate effort to do so. "I am
just going," he said. "Have me decently buried, and do not let my body
be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead." Lear
bowed, and Washington said, "Do you understand me?" Lear answered,
"Yes." "'Tis well," he said, and with these last words again fell
silent. A little later he felt his own pulse, and, as he was counting
the strokes, Lear saw his countenance change. His hand dropped back
from the wrist he had been holding, and all was over. The end had
come. Washington was dead. He died as he had lived, simply and
bravely, without parade and without affectation. The last duties
were done, the last words said, the last trials borne with the quiet
fitness, the gracious dignity, that even the gathering mists of the
supreme hour could neither dim nor tarnish. He had faced life with a
calm, high, victorious spirit. So did he face death and the unknown
when Fate knocked at the door.

[Footnote 1: It was called at the time a quinsy.]

[Footnote 2: See Memoir on _The Last Sickness of Washington_, by James
Jackson, M.D. In response to an inquiry as to the modern treatment of
this disease, the late Dr. F.H. Hooper of Boston, well known as
an authority on diseases of the throat, wrote me: "Washington's
physicians are not to be criticised for their treatment, for they
acted according to their best light and knowledge. To treat such
a case in such a manner in the year 1889 would be little short
of criminal. At the present time the physicians would use the
laryngoscope and _look_ and _see_ what the trouble was. (The
laryngoscope has only been used since 1857.) In this disease the
function most interfered with is breathing. The one thing which saves
a patient in this disease is a _timely tracheotomy_. (I doubt if
tracheotomy had ever been performed in Virginia in Washington's time.)
Washington ought to have been tracheotomized, or rather that is the
way cases are saved to-day. No one would think of antimony, calomel,
or bleeding now. The point is to let in the air, and not to let out
the blood. After tracheotomy has been performed, the oedema and
swelling of the larynx subside in three to six days. The tracheotomy
tube is then removed, and respiration goes on again through the
natural channels."]



This last chapter cannot begin more fitly than by quoting again the
words of Mr. McMaster: "George Washington is an unknown man." Mr.
McMaster might have added that to no man in our history has greater
injustice of a certain kind been done, or more misunderstanding been
meted out, than to Washington, and although this sounds like the
merest paradox, it is nevertheless true. From the hour when the door
of the tomb at Mount Vernon closed behind his coffin to the present
instant, the chorus of praise and eulogy has never ceased, but has
swelled deeper and louder with each succeeding year. He has been set
apart high above all other men, and reverenced with the unquestioning
veneration accorded only to the leaders of mankind and the founders
of nations; and in this very devotion lies one secret at least of the
fact that, while all men have praised Washington, comparatively
few have understood him. He has been lifted high up into a lonely
greatness, and unconsciously put outside the range of human sympathy.
He has been accepted as a being as nearly perfect as it is given to
man to be, but our warm personal interest has been reserved for other
and lesser men who seemed to be nearer to us in their virtues and
their errors alike. Such isolation, lofty though it be, is perilous
and leads to grievous misunderstandings. From it has come the
widespread idea that Washington was cold, and as devoid of human
sympathies as he was free from the common failings of humanity.

Of this there will be something to say presently, but meantime there
is another more prolific source of error in regard to Washington to
be considered. Men who are loudly proclaimed to be faultless always
excite a certain kind of resentment. It is a dangerous eminence
for any one to occupy. The temples of Greece are in ruins, and her
marvelous literature is little more than a collection of fragments,
but the feelings of the citizens who exiled Aristides because they
were weary of hearing him called "just," exist still, unchanged and
unchangeable. Washington has not only been called "just," but he
has had every other good quality attributed to him by countless
biographers and eulogists with an almost painful iteration, and the
natural result has followed. Many persons have felt the sense of
fatigue which the Athenians expressed practically by their oyster
shells, and have been led to cast doubts on Washington's perfection
as the only consolation for their own sense of injury. Then, again,
Washington's fame has been so overshadowing, and his greatness so
immutable, that he has been very inconvenient to the admirers and the
biographers of other distinguished men. From these two sources, from
the general jealousy of the classic Greek variety, and the particular
jealousy born of the necessities of some other hero, much adverse and
misleading criticism has come. It has never been a safe or popular
amusement to assail Washington directly, and this course usually has
been shunned; but although the attacks have been veiled they have none
the less existed, and they have been all the more dangerous because
they were insidious.

In his lifetime Washington had his enemies and detractors in
abundance. During the Revolution he was abused and intrigued against,
thwarted and belittled, to a point which posterity in general scarcely
realizes. Final and conclusive victory brought an end to this, and
he passed to the presidency amid a general acclaim. Then the attacks
began again. Their character has been shown in a previous chapter, but
they were of no real moment except as illustrations of the existence
and meaning of party divisions. The ravings of Bache and Freneau,
and the coarse insults of Giles, were all totally unimportant in
themselves. They merely define the purposes and character of the party
which opposed Washington, and but for him would be forgotten. Among
his eminent contemporaries, Jefferson and Pickering, bitterly opposed
in all things else, have left memoranda and letters reflecting upon
the abilities of their former chief. Jefferson disliked him because he
blocked his path, but with habitual caution he never proceeded beyond
a covert sneer implying that Washington's mental powers, at no time
very great, were impaired by age during his presidency, and that he
was easily deceived by practised intriguers. Pickering, with more
boldness, set Washington down as commonplace, not original in his
thought, and vastly inferior to Hamilton, apparently because he was
not violent, and did not make up his mind before he knew the facts.

Adverse contemporary criticism, however, is slight in amount and vague
in character; it can be readily dismissed, and it has in no case
weight enough to demand much consideration. Modern criticism of the
same kind has been even less direct, but is much more serious and
cannot be lightly passed over. It invariably proceeds by negations
setting out with an apparently complete acceptance of Washington's
greatness, and then assailing him by telling us what he was not. Few
persons who have not given this matter a careful study realize how far
criticism of this sort has gone, and there is indeed no better way
of learning what Washington really was than by examining the various
negations which tell us what he was not.

Let us take the gravest first. It has been confidently asserted that
Washington was not an American in anything but the technical sense.
This idea is more diffused than, perhaps, would be generally supposed,
and it has also been formally set down in print, in which we are more
fortunate than in many other instances where the accusation has not
got beyond the elusive condition of loose talk.

In that most noble poem, the "Commemoration Ode," Mr. Lowell speaks of
Lincoln as "the first American." The poet's winged words fly far, and
find a resting-place in many minds. This idea has become widespread,
and has recently found fuller expression in Mr. Clarence King's
prefatory note to the great life of Lincoln by Hay and Nicolay.[1] Mr.
King says: "Abraham Lincoln was the first American to reach the lonely
height of immortal fame. Before him, within the narrow compass of our
history, were but two preeminent names,--Columbus the discoverer, and
Washington the founder; the one an Italian seer, the other an English
country gentleman. In a narrow sense, of course, Washington was an
American.... For all that he was English in his nature, habits, moral
standards, and social theories; in short, in all points which,
aside from mere geographical position, make up a man, he was as
thorough-going a British colonial gentleman as one could find anywhere
beneath the Union Jack. The genuine American of Lincoln's type came
later.... George Washington, an English commoner, vanquished George,
an English king."

[Footnote 1: Mr. Matthew Arnold, and more recently Professor Goldwin
Smith, have both spoken of Washington as an Englishman. I do not
mention this to discredit the statements of Mr. Lowell or Mr. King,
but merely to indicate how far this mistaken idea has traveled.]

In order to point his sentence and prove his first postulate, Mr.
King is obliged not only to dispose of Washington, but to introduce
Columbus, who never was imagined in the wildest fantasy to be an
American, and to omit Franklin. The omission of itself is fatal to Mr.
King's case. Franklin has certainly a "preeminent name." He has, too,
"immortal fame," although of course of a widely different character
from that of either Washington or Lincoln, but he was a great man
in the broad sense of a world-wide reputation. Yet no one has ever
ventured to call Benjamin Franklin an Englishman. He was a colonial
American, of course, but he was as intensely an American as any man
who has lived on this continent before or since. A man of the people,
he was American by the character of his genius, by his versatility,
the vivacity of his intellect, and his mental dexterity. In his
abilities, his virtues, and his defects he was an American, and so
plainly one as to be beyond the reach of doubt or question. There were
others of that period, too, who were as genuine Americans as Franklin
or Lincoln. Such were Jonathan Edwards, the peculiar product of New
England Calvinism; Patrick Henry, who first broke down colonial lines
to declare himself an American; Samuel Adams, the great forerunner
of the race of American politicians; Thomas Jefferson, the idol of
American democracy. These and many others Mr. King might exclude on
the ground that they did not reach the lonely height of immortal fame.
But Franklin is enough. Unless one is prepared to set Franklin down
as an Englishman, which would be as reasonable as to say that Daniel
Webster was a fine example of the Slavic race, it must be admitted
that it was possible for the thirteen colonies to produce in the
eighteenth century a genuine American who won immortal fame. If they
could produce one of one type, they could produce a second of another
type, and there was, therefore, nothing inherently impossible in
existing conditions to prevent Washington from being an American.

Lincoln was undoubtedly the first great American of his type, but that
is not the only type of American. It is one which, as bodied forth in
Abraham Lincoln, commands the love and veneration of the people of the
United States, and the admiration of the world wherever his name is
known. To the noble and towering greatness of his mind and character
it does not add one hair's breadth to say that he was the first
American, or that he was of a common or uncommon type. Greatness like
Lincoln's is far beyond such qualifications, and least of all is it
necessary to his fame to push Washington from his birthright. To say
that George Washington, an English commoner, vanquished George, an
English king, is clever and picturesque, but like many other pleasing
antitheses it is painfully inaccurate. Allegiance does not make race
or nationality. The Hindoos are subjects of Victoria, but they are not

Franklin shows that it was possible to produce a most genuine American
of unquestioned greatness in the eighteenth century, and with all
possible deference to Mr. Lowell and Mr. King, I venture the assertion
that George Washington was as genuine an American as Lincoln or
Franklin. He was an American of the eighteenth and not of the
nineteenth century, but he was none the less an American. I will go
further. Washington was not only an American of a pure and noble type,
but he was the first thorough American in the broad, national sense,
as distinct from the colonial American of his time.

After all, what is it to be an American? Surely it does not consist in
the number of generations merely which separate the individual from
his forefathers who first settled here. Washington was fourth in
descent from the first American of his name, while Lincoln was in
the sixth generation. This difference certainly constitutes no real
distinction. There are people to-day, not many luckily, whose families
have been here for two hundred and fifty years, and who are as utterly
un-American as it is possible to be, while there are others, whose
fathers were immigrants, who are as intensely American as any one can
desire or imagine. In a new country, peopled in two hundred and fifty
years by immigrants from the Old World and their descendants, the
process of Americanization is not limited by any hard and fast rules
as to time and generations, but is altogether a matter of individual
and race temperament. The production of the well-defined American
types and of the fixed national characteristics which now exist has
been going on during all that period, but in any special instance the
type to which a given man belongs must be settled by special study and

Washington belonged to the English-speaking race. So did Lincoln. Both
sprang from the splendid stock which was formed during centuries from
a mixture of the Celtic, Teutonic, Scandinavian, and Norman peoples,
and which is known to the world as English. Both, so far as we can
tell, had nothing but English blood, as it would be commonly called,
in their veins, and both were of that part of the English race which
emigrated to America, where it has been the principal factor in the
development of the new people called Americans. They were men of
English race, modified and changed in the fourth and sixth generations
by the new country, the new conditions, and the new life, and by the
contact and admixture of other races. Lincoln, a very great man, one
who has reached "immortal fame," was clearly an American of a type
that the Old World cannot show, or at least has not produced. The idea
of many persons in regard to Washington seems to be, that he was a
great man of a type which the Old World, or, to be more exact, which
England, had produced. One hears it often said that Washington was
simply an American Hampden. Such a comparison is an easy method of
description, nothing more. Hampden is memorable among men, not for
his abilities, which there is no reason to suppose were very
extraordinary, but for his devoted and unselfish patriotism, his
courage, his honor, and his pure and lofty spirit. He embodied what
his countrymen believe to be the moral qualities of their race in
their finest flower, and no nation, be it said, could have a nobler
ideal. Washington was conspicuous for the same qualities, exhibited
in like fashion. Is there a single one of the essential attributes of
Hampden that Lincoln also did not possess? Was he not an unselfish
and devoted patriot, pure in heart, gentle of spirit, high of honor,
brave, merciful, and temperate? Did he not lay down his life for
his country in the box at Ford's Theatre as ungrudgingly as Hampden
offered his in the smoke of battle upon Chalgrove field? Surely we
must answer Yes. In other words, these three men all had the great
moral attributes which are the characteristics of the English race in
its highest and purest development on either side of the Atlantic.
Yet no one has ever called Lincoln an American Hampden simply because
Hampden and Washington were men of ancient family, members of an
aristocracy by birth, and Lincoln was not. This is the distinction
between them; and how vain it is, in the light of their lives and
deeds, which make all pedigrees and social ranks look so poor and
worthless! The differences among them are trivial, the resemblances
deep and lasting.

I have followed out this comparison because it illustrates perfectly
the entirely superficial character of the reasons which have led men
to speak of Washington as an English country gentleman. It has been
said that he was English in his habits, moral standards, and social
theories, which has an important sound, but which for the most part
comes down to a question of dress and manners. He wore black velvet
and powdered hair, knee-breeches and diamond buckles, which are
certainly not American fashions to-day. But they were American
fashions in the last century, and every man wore them who could afford
to, no matter what his origin. Let it be remembered, however, that
Washington also wore the hunting-shirt and fringed leggins of the
backwoodsman, and that it was he who introduced this purely American
dress into the army as a uniform.

His manners likewise were those of the century in which he lived,
formal and stately, and of course colored by his own temperament. His
moral standards were those of a high-minded, honorable man. Are we
ready to say that they were not American? Did they differ in any vital
point from those of Lincoln? His social theories were simple in the
extreme. He neither overvalued nor underrated social conventions, for
he knew that they were a part of the fabric of civilized society, not
vitally important and yet not wholly trivial. He was a member of an
aristocracy, it is true, both by birth and situation. There was a
recognized social aristocracy in every colony before the Revolution,
for the drum-beat of the great democratic march had not then sounded.
In the northern colonies it was never strong, and in New England
it was especially weak, for the governments and people there were
essentially democratic, although they hardly recognized it themselves.
In Virginia and the southern colonies, on the other hand, there was a
vigorous aristocracy resting on the permanent foundation of slavery.
Where slaves are there must be masters, and where there are masters
there are aristocrats; but it was an American and not an English
aristocracy. Lineage and family had weight in the south as in the
north, but that which put a man undeniably in the ruling class was the
ownership of black slaves and the possession of a white skin. This
aristocracy lasted with its faults and its virtues until it perished
in the shock of civil war, when its foundation of human slavery was
torn from under it. From the slave-holding aristocracy of Virginia
came, with the exception of Patrick Henry, all the great men of that
State who did so much for American freedom, and who rendered such
imperishable service to the republic in law, in politics, and in war.
From this aristocracy came Marshall, and Mason, and Madison, the Lees,
the Randolphs, the Harrisons, and the rest. From it came also Thomas
Jefferson, the hero of American democracy; and to it was added Patrick
Henry, not by lineage or slave-holding, but by virtue of his brilliant
abilities, and because he, too, was an aristocrat by the immutable
division of race. It was this aristocracy into which Washington was
born, and amid which he was brought up. To say that it colored his
feelings and habits is simply to say that he was human; but to urge
that it made him un-American is to exclude at once from the ranks
of Americans all the great men given to the country by the South.
Washington, in fact, was less affected by his surroundings, and rose
above them more quickly, than any other man of his day, because he was
the greatest man of his time, with a splendid breadth of vision.

When he first went among the New England troops at the siege of
Boston, the rough, democratic ways of the people jarred upon him, and
offended especially his military instincts, for he was not only a
Virginian but he was a great soldier, and military discipline is
essentially aristocratic. These volunteer soldiers, called together
from the plough and the fishing-smack, were free and independent men,
unaccustomed to any rule but their own, and they had still to learn
the first rudiments of military service. To Washington, soldiers who
elected and deposed their officers, and who went home when they felt
that they had a right to do so, seemed well-nigh useless and quite
incomprehensible. They angered him and tried his patience almost
beyond endurance, and he spoke of them at the outset in harsh terms by
no means wholly unwarranted. But they were part of his problem, and he
studied them. He was a soldier, but not an aristocrat wrapped up in
immutable prejudices, and he learned to know these men, and they came
to love, obey, and follow him with an intelligent devotion far better
than anything born of mere discipline. Before the year was out, he
wrote to Lund Washington praising the New England troops in the
highest terms, and at the close of the war he said that practically
the whole army then was composed of New England soldiers. They stayed
by him to the end, and as they were steadfast in war so they remained
in peace. He trusted and confided in New England, and her sturdy
democracy gave him a loyal and unflinching support to the day of his

This openness of mind and superiority to prejudice were American in
the truest and best sense; but Washington showed the same qualities in
private life and toward individuals which he displayed in regard to
communities. He was free, of course, from the cheap claptrap which
abuses the name of democracy by saying that birth, breeding, and
education are undemocratic, and therefore to be reckoned against a
man. He valued these qualities rightly, but he looked to see what a
man was and not who he was, which is true democracy. The two men who
were perhaps nearest to his affections were Knox and Hamilton. One
was a Boston bookseller, who rose to distinction by bravery and good
service, and the other was a young adventurer from the West Indies,
without either family or money at his back. It was the same with much
humbler persons. He never failed, on his way to Philadelphia, to stop
at Wilmington and have a chat with one Captain O'Flinn, who kept a
tavern and had been a Revolutionary soldier; and this was but a single
instance among many of like character. Any soldier of the Revolution
was always sure of a welcome at the hands of his old commander.
Eminent statesmen, especially of the opposition, often found his
manner cold, but no old soldier ever complained of it, no servant ever
left him, and the country people about Mount Vernon loved him as a
neighbor and friend, and not as the distant great man of the army and
the presidency.

He believed thoroughly in popular government. One does not find in his
letters the bitter references to democracy and to the populace which
can be discovered in the writings of so many of his party friends,
legacies of pre-revolutionary ideas inflamed by hatred of Parisian
mobs. He always spoke of the people at large with a simple respect,
because he knew that the future of the United States was in their
hands and not in that of any class, and because he believed that they
would fulfill their mission. The French Revolution never carried him
away, and when it bred anarchy and bloodshed he became hostile to
French influence, because license and disorder were above all
things hateful to him. Yet he did not lose his balance in the other
direction, as was the case with so many of his friends. He resisted
and opposed French ideas and French democracy, so admired and so
loudly preached by Jefferson and his followers, because he esteemed
them perilous to the country. But there is not a word to indicate that
he did not think that such dangers would be finally overcome, even
if at the cost of much suffering, by the sane sense and ingrained
conservatism of the American people. Other men talked more noisily
about the people, but no one trusted them in the best sense more than
Washington, and his only fear was that evils might come from their
being misled by false lights.

Once more, what is it to be an American? Putting aside all the outer
shows of dress and manners, social customs and physical peculiarities,
is it not to believe in America and in the American people? Is it not
to have an abiding and moving faith in the future and in the destiny
of America?--something above and beyond the patriotism and love which
every man whose soul is not dead within him feels for the land of his
birth? Is it not to be national and not sectional, independent and not
colonial? Is it not to have a high conception of what this great new
country should be, and to follow out that ideal with loyalty and

Has any man in our history fulfilled these conditions more perfectly
and completely than George Washington? Has any man ever lived who
served the American people more faithfully, or with a higher and truer
conception of the destiny and possibilities of the country? Born of an
old and distinguished family, he found himself, when a boy just out of
school, dependent on his mother, and with an inheritance that promised
him more acres than shillings. He did not seek to live along upon what
he could get from the estate, and still less did he feel that it was
only possible for him to enter one of the learned professions. Had
he been an Englishman in fact or in feeling, he would have felt very
naturally the force of the limitations imposed by his social position.
But being an American, his one idea was to earn his living honestly,
because it was the creed of his country that earning an honest living
is the most creditable thing a man can do. Boy as he was, he went out
manfully into the world to win with his own hands the money which
would make him self-supporting and independent. His business as a
surveyor took him into the wilderness, and there he learned that the
first great work before the American people was to be the conquest of
the continent. He dropped the surveyor's rod and chain to negotiate
with the savages, and then took up the sword to fight them and the
French, so that the New World might be secured to the English-speaking
race. A more purely American training cannot be imagined. It was not
the education of universities or of courts, but that of hard-earned
personal independence, won in the backwoods and by frontier fighting.
Thus trained, he gave the prime of his manhood to leading the
Revolution which made his country free, and his riper years to
building up that independent nationality without which freedom would
have been utterly vain.

He was the first to rise above all colonial or state lines, and grasp
firmly the conception of a nation to be formed from the thirteen
jarring colonies. The necessity of national action in the army was of
course at once apparent to him, although not to others; but he carried
the same broad views into widely different fields, where at the time
they wholly escaped notice. It was Washington, oppressed by a thousand
cares, who in the early days of the Revolution saw the need of Federal
courts for admiralty cases and for other purposes. It was he who
suggested this scheme, years before any one even dreamed of the
Constitution; and from the special committees of Congress, formed for
this object in accordance with this advice, came, in the process of
time, the Federal judiciary of the United States.[1] Even in that
early dawn of the Revolution, Washington had clear in his own mind the
need of a continental system for war, diplomacy, finance, and law, and
he worked steadily to bring this policy to fulfilment.

[Footnote 1: See the very interesting memoir on this subject by the
Hon. J.C. Bancroft Davis.]

When the war was over, the thought that engaged his mind most was
of the best means to give room for expansion, and to open up the
unconquered continent to the forerunners of a mighty army of settlers.
For this purpose all his projects for roads, canals, and surveys were
formed and forced into public notice. He looked beyond the limits of
the Atlantic colonies. His vision went far over the barriers of the
Alleghanies; and where others saw thirteen infant States backed by the
wilderness, he beheld the germs of a great empire. While striving thus
to lay the West open to the march of the settler, he threw himself
into the great struggle, where Hamilton and Madison, and all who
"thought continentally," were laboring for that union without which
all else was worse than futile.

From the presidency of the convention that formed the Constitution, he
went to the presidency of the government which that convention brought
into being; and in all that followed, the one guiding thought was to
clear the way for the advance of the people, and to make that people
and their government independent in thought, in policy, and in
character, as the Revolution had made them independent politically.
The same spirit which led him to write during the war that our battles
must be fought and our victories won by Americans, if victory and
independence were to be won at all, or to have any real and solid
worth, pervaded his whole administration. We see it in his Indian
policy, which was directed not only to pacifying the tribes, but
to putting it out of their power to arrest or even delay western
settlement. We see it in his attitude toward foreign ministers, and in
his watchful persistence in regard to the Mississippi, which ended in
our securing the navigation of the great river. We see it again in his
anxious desire to keep peace until we had passed the point where war
might bring a dissolution; and how real that danger was, and how clear
and just his perception of it, is shown by the Kentucky and Virginia
Resolutions and by the separatist movement in New England during the
later war of 1812. Even in 1812 the national existence was menaced,
but the danger would have proved fatal if it had come twenty years
earlier, with parties divided by their sympathies with contending
foreign nations. It was for the sake of the Union that Washington was
so patient with France, and faced so quietly the storm of indignation
aroused by the Jay treaty.

In his whole foreign policy, which was so peculiarly his own, the
American spirit was his pole star; and of all the attacks made upon
him, the only one which really tried his soul was the accusation that
he was influenced by foreign predilections. The blind injustice, which
would not comprehend that his one purpose was to be American and to
make the people and the government American, touched him more deeply
than anything else. As party strife grew keener over the issues raised
by the war between France and England, and as French politics and
French ideas became more popular, his feelings found more frequent
utterance, and it is interesting to see how this man, who, we are now
told, was an English country gentleman, wrote and felt on this matter
in very trying times. Let us remember, as we listen to him now in his
own defense, that he was an extremely honest man, silent for the most
part in doing his work, but when he spoke meaning every word he said,
and saying exactly what he meant. This was the way in which he
wrote to Patrick Henry in October, 1795, when he offered him the
secretaryship of State:--

"My ardent desire is, and my aim has been as far as depended upon the
executive department, to comply strictly with all our engagements,
foreign and domestic; but to keep the United States free from
political connection with every other country, to see them independent
of all and under the influence of none. In a word, I want an
_American_ character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced that
we act for _ourselves_, and not for others. This, in my judgment, is
the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home; and not, by
becoming partisans of Great Britain or France, create dissensions,
disturb the public tranquillity, and destroy, perhaps forever, the
cement which binds the Union."

Not quite a year later, when the Jay treaty was still agitating the
public mind in regard to our relations with France, he wrote to

"The Executive has a plain road to pursue, namely, to fulfill all the
engagements which duty requires; be influenced beyond this by none of
the contending parties; maintain a strict neutrality unless obliged
by imperious circumstances to depart from it; do justice to all, and
never forget that we are Americans, the remembrance of which will
convince us that we ought not to be French or English."

After leaving the presidency, when our difficulties with France seemed
to be thickening, and the sky looked very dark, he wrote to a friend
saying that he firmly believed that all would come out well, and then
added: "To me this is so demonstrable, that not a particle of doubt
could dwell on my mind relative thereto, if our citizens would
advocate their own cause, instead of that of any other nation under
the sun; that is, if, instead of being Frenchmen or Englishmen in
politics they would be Americans, indignant at every attempt of either
or any other powers to establish an influence in our councils or
presume to sow the seeds of discord or disunion among us."

A few days later he wrote to Thomas Pinckney:

"It remains to be seen whether our country will stand upon independent
ground, or be directed in its political concerns by any other nation.
A little time will show who are its true friends, or, what is
synonymous, who are true Americans."

But this eager desire for a true Americanism did not stop at our
foreign policy, or our domestic politics. He wished it to enter into
every part of the life and thought of the people, and when it was
proposed to bring over the entire staff of a Genevan university to
take charge of a national university here, he threw his influence
against it, expressing grave doubts as to the advantage of importing
an entire "seminary of foreigners," for the purpose of American
education. The letter on this subject, which was addressed to John
Adams, then continued:--

"My opinion with respect to emigration is that except of useful
mechanics, and some particular descriptions of men or professions,
there is no need of encouragement; while the policy or advantage of
its taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body) may
be much questioned; for by so doing they retain the language, habits,
and principles, good or bad, which they bring with them. Whereas by
an intermixture with our people, they or their descendants get
assimilated to our customs, measures, and laws; in a word, soon become
one people."

He had this thought so constantly in his mind that it found expression
in his will, in the clause bequeathing certain property for the
foundation of a university in the District of Columbia. "I proceed,"
he said, "after this recital for the more correct understanding of the
case, to declare that it has always been a source of serious regret
with me to see the youth of these United States sent to foreign
countries for the purposes of education, often before their minds were
formed, or they had imbibed any adequate ideas of the happiness of
their own; contracting too frequently not only habits of dissipation
and extravagance, but _principles unfriendly to republican government
and to the true and genuine liberties of mankind_, which thereafter
are rarely overcome; for these reasons it has been my ardent wish to
see a plan devised on a liberal scale, which would have a tendency
to spread systematic ideas through all parts of this rising empire,
thereby to do away with local attachments and state prejudices, as
far as the nature of things would or indeed ought to admit, from our
national councils."

Were these the words of an English country gentleman, who chanced to
be born in one of England's colonies? Persons of the English country
gentleman pattern at that time were for the most part loyalists;
excellent people, very likely, but not of the Washington type. Their
hopes and ideals, their policies and their beliefs were in the mother
country, not here. The faith, the hope, the thought, of Washington
were all in the United States. His one purpose was to make America
independent in thought and action, and he strove day and night to
build up a nation. He labored unceasingly to lay the foundations of
the great empire which, with almost prophetic vision, he saw beyond
the mountains, by opening the way for the western movement. His
foreign policy was a declaration to the world of a new national
existence, and he strained every nerve to lift our politics from the
colonial condition of foreign issues. He wished all immigration to
be absorbed and moulded here, so that we might be one people, one in
speech and in political faith. His last words, given to the world
after the grave had closed over him, were a solemn plea for a home
training for the youth of the Republic, so that all men might think
as Americans, untainted by foreign ideas, and rise above all local
prejudices. He did not believe that mere material development was the
only or the highest goal; for he knew that the true greatness of a
nation was moral and intellectual, and his last thoughts were for the
up-building of character and intelligence. He was never a braggart,
and mere boasting about his country as about himself was utterly
repugnant to him. He never hesitated to censure what he believed to be
wrong, but he addressed his criticisms to his countrymen in order to
lead them to better things, and did not indulge in them in order
to express his own discontent, or to amuse or curry favor with
foreigners. In a word, he loved his country, and had an abiding faith
in its future and in its people, upon whom his most earnest thoughts
and loftiest aspirations were centred. No higher, purer, or more
thorough Americanism than his could be imagined. It was a conception
far in advance of the time, possible only to a powerful mind, capable
of lifting itself out of existing conditions and alien influences, so
that it might look with undazzled gaze upon the distant future. The
first American in the broad national sense, there has never been a man
more thoroughly and truly American than Washington. It will be a sorry
day when we consent to take that noble figure from "the forefront of
the nation's life," and rank George Washington as anything but an
American of Americans, instinct with the ideas, as he was devoted to
the fortunes of the New World which gave him birth.

There is another class of critics who have attacked Washington from
another side. These are the gentlemen who find him in the way of their
own heroes. Washington was a man of decided opinions about men as well
as measures, and he was extremely positive. He had his enemies as
well as his friends, his likes and his dislikes, strong and clear,
according to his nature. The respect which he commanded in his life
has lasted unimpaired since his death, and it is an awkward thing for
the biographers of some of his contemporaries to know that Washington
opposed, distrusted, or disliked their heroes. Therefore, in one way
or another they have gone round a stumbling-block which they could
not remove. The commonest method is to eliminate Washington by
representing him vaguely as the great man with whom every one agreed,
who belonged to no party, and favored all; then he is pushed quietly
aside. Evils and wrong-doing existed under his administration from the
opposition point of view, but they were the work of his ministers and
of wicked advisers. The king could do no wrong, and this pleasant
theory, which is untrue in fact, amounts to saying that Washington had
no opinions, but was simply a grand and imposing figure-head. The only
ground for it which is even suggested is that he sought advice, that
he used other men's ideas, and that he made up his mind slowly. All
this is true, and these very qualities help to show his greatness,
for only small minds mistake their relations with the universe, and
confuse their finite powers with omniscience. The great man, who
sees facts and reads the future, uses other men, knows the bounds of
possibility in action, can decide instantly if need be, but leaves
rash conclusions to those who are incapable of reaching any others.
In reality there never was a man who had more definite and vigorous
opinions than Washington, and the responsibility which he bore he
never shifted to other shoulders. The work of the Revolution and the
presidency, whether good or bad, was his own, and he was ready to
stand or fall by it.

There is a still further extension of the idea that Washington
represented all parties and all views, and had neither party nor
opinions of his own. This theory is to the effect that he was great by
character alone, but that in other respects he did not rise above the
level of dignified common-place. Such, for instance, is apparently the
view of Mr. Parton, who in a clever essay discusses in philosophical
fashion the possible advantages arising from the success attained by
mere character, as in the case of Washington. Mr. Parton points his
theory by that last incident of counting the pulse as death drew nigh.
How characteristic, he exclaims, of the methodical, common-place
man, is such an act. It was not common, be it said, even were it
common-place. It was certainly a very simple action, but rare enough
so far as we know on the every-day deathbed, or in the supreme hour of
dying greatness, and it was wholly free from that affectation which
Dr. Johnson thought almost inseparable from the last solemn moment.
Irregularity is not proof of genius any more than method, and of the
two, the latter is the surer companion of greatness. The last hour of
Washington showed that calm, collected courage which had never failed
in war or peace; and so far it was proof of character. But was it not
something more? The common-place action of counting the pulse was in
reality profoundly characteristic, for it was the last exhibition of
the determined purpose to know the truth, and grasp the fact. Death
was upon him; he would know the fact. He had looked facts in the face
all his life, and when the mists gathered, he would face them still.

High and splendid character, great moral qualities for after-ages to
admire, he had beyond any man of modern times. But to suppose that in
other respects he belonged to the ranks of mediocrity is not only a
contradiction in terms, but utterly false. It was not character that
fought the Trenton campaign and carried the revolution to victory.
It was military genius. It was not character that read the future of
America and created our foreign policy. It was statesmanship of the
highest order. Without the great moral qualities which he possessed,
his career would not have been possible; but it would have been quite
as impossible if the intellect had not equaled the character. There is
no need to argue the truism that Washington was a great man, for that
is universally admitted. But it is very needful that his greatness
should be rightly understood, and the right understanding of it is by
no means universal. His character has been exalted at the expense of
his intellect, and his goodness has been so much insisted upon both by
admirers and critics that we are in danger of forgetting that he had a
great mind as well as high moral worth.

This false attitude both of praise and criticism has been so persisted
in that if we accept the premises we are forced to the conclusion that
Washington was actually dull, while with much more openness it is
asserted that he was cold and at times even harsh. "In the mean time,"
says Mr. McMaster, "Washington was deprived of the services of the
only two men his cold heart ever really loved." "A Cromwell with the
juice squeezed out," says Carlyle somewhere, in his rough and summary
fashion. Are these judgments correct? Was Washington really, with
all his greatness, dull and cold? He was a great general and a great
President, first in war and first in peace and all that, says our
caviler, but his relaxation was in farm accounts, and his business war
and politics. He could plan a campaign, preserve a dignified manner,
and conduct an administration, but he could write nothing more
entertaining than a state paper or a military report. He gave himself
up to great affairs, he was hardly human, and he shunned the graces,
the wit, and all the salt of life, and passed them by on the other

That Washington was serious and earnest cannot be doubted, for no man
could have done what he did and been otherwise. He had little time
for the lighter sides of life, and he never exerted himself to say
brilliant and striking things. He was not a maker of phrases and
proclamations, and the quality of the charlatan, so often found in men
of the highest genius, was utterly lacking in him. He never talked or
acted with an eye to dramatic effect, and this is one reason for the
notion that he was dull and dry; for the world dearly loves a little
charlatanism, and is never happier than in being brilliantly duped.
But was he therefore really dull and juiceless, unlovable and
unloving? Responsibility came upon him when a boy, and he was hardly
of age when he was carrying in his hands the defense of his colony and
the heavy burden of other human lives. Experience like this makes a
man who is good for anything sober; but sobriety is not dullness, and
if we look a little below the surface we find the ready refutation of
such an idea. In his letters and even in the silent diaries we detect
the keenest observation. He looked at the country, as he traveled,
with the eye of the soldier and the farmer, and mastered its features
and read its meaning with rapid and certain glance. It was not to him
a mere panorama of fields and woods, of rivers and mountains. He
saw the beauties of nature and the opportunities of the farmer, the
trader, or the manufacturer wherever his gaze rested. He gathered
in the same way the statistics of the people and of their various
industries. In the West Indies, on the Virginian frontier, in his
journeys when he was President, he read the story of all he saw as he
would have read a book, and brought it home with him for use.

[Illustration: NATHANAEL GREENE]

In the same way he read and understood men, and had that power of
choosing among them which is essential in its highest form to the
great soldier or statesman. His selection never erred unless in a rare
instance like that of Monroe, forced on him by political exigencies,
or when the man of his choice would not serve. Congress chose Gates
for the southern campaign, but Washington selected Greene, in whom he
saw great military ability before any one else realized it. He took
Hamilton, young and unknown, from the captaincy of an artillery
company, and placed him on his personal staff. He bore with Hamilton's
outbreak of temper, kept him ever in his confidence, and finally gave
him the opportunity to prove himself the most brilliant of American
statesmen. In the crowd of foreign volunteers, the men whom he
especially selected and trusted were Lafayette and Steuben, each in
his way of real value to the service. Even more remarkable than the
ability to recognize great talent was his capacity to weigh and value
with a nice exactness the worth of men who did not rise to the level
of greatness. There is a recently published letter, too long for
quotation here, in which he gives his opinions of all the leading
officers of the Revolution,[1] and each one shows the most remarkable
insight, as well as a sharp definiteness of outline that indicates
complete mastery. These compact judgments were so sound that even the
lapse of a century and all the study of historians and biographers
find nothing in their keen analysis to alter and little to add. He did
not expect to discover genius everywhere, or to find a marshal's
baton in every knapsack, but he used men according to their value and
possibilities, which is quite as essential as the preliminary work
of selection. His military staff illustrated this faculty admirably.
Every man, after a few trials and changes, fitted his place and did
his particular task better than any one else could have done it.
Colonel Meade, loyal and gallant, a good soldier and planter, said
that Hamilton did the headwork of Washington's staff and he the
riding. When the war was drawing to a close, Washington said one day
to Hamilton, "You must go to the Bar, which you can reach in six
months." Then turning to Meade, "Friend Dick, you must go to your
plantation; you will make a good farmer, and an honest foreman of the
grand jury."[2] The prediction was exactly fulfilled, with all that it
implied, in both cases. But let it not be supposed that there was any
touch of contempt in the advice to Meade. On the contrary, there was
a little warmer affection, if anything, for he honored success in any
honest pursuit, especially in farming, which he himself loved. But he
distinguished the two men perfectly, and he knew what each was and
what each meant. It seems little to say, but if we stop to think of
it, this power to read men aright and see the truth in them and about
them is a power more precious than any other bestowed by the kindest
of fairy godmothers. The lame devil of Le Sage looked into the secrets
of life through the roofs of houses, and much did he find of the
secret story of humanity. But the great man looking with truth and
kindliness into men's natures, and reading their characters and
abilities in their words and acts, has a higher and better power than
that attributed to the wandering sprite, for such a man holds in his
hand the surest key to success. Washington, quiet and always on the
watch, after the fashion of silent greatness, studied untiringly the
ever recurring human problems, and his just conclusions were powerful
factors in the great result. He was slow, when he had plenty of time,
in adopting a policy or plan, or in settling a public question, but
he read men very quickly. He was never under any delusion as to Lee,
Gates, Conway, or any of the rest who engaged against him because they
were restless from the first under the suspicion that he knew them
thoroughly. Arnold deceived him because his treason was utterly
inconceivable to Washington, and because his remarkable gallantry
excused his many faults. But with this exception it may be safely

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit Twitter Pinterest