George Washington, Vol. I
Henry Cabot Lodge

Part 2 out of 6

and injustice.

Meantime this Virginian campaigning had started a great movement.
England was aroused, and it was determined to assail France in Nova
Scotia, from New York and on the Ohio. In accordance with this plan
General Braddock arrived in Virginia February 20, 1755, with two
picked regiments, and encamped at Alexandria. Thither Washington used
to ride and look longingly at the pomp and glitter, and wish that he
wore engaged in the service. Presently this desire became known, and
Braddock, hearing of the young Virginian's past experience, offered
him a place on his staff with the rank of colonel where he would
be subject only to the orders of the general, and could serve as a
volunteer. He therefore accepted at once, and threw himself into
his new duties with hearty good-will. Every step now was full of
instruction. At Annapolis he met the governors of the other
colonies, and was interested and attracted by this association with
distinguished public men. In the army to which he was attached he
studied with the deepest attention the best discipline of Europe,
observing everything and forgetting nothing, thus preparing himself
unconsciously to use against his teachers the knowledge he acquired.

He also made warm friends with the English officers, and was treated
with consideration by his commander. The universal practice of all
Englishmen at that time was to behave contemptuously to the colonists,
but there was something about Washington which made this impossible.
They all treated him with the utmost courtesy, vaguely conscious that
beneath the pleasant, quiet manner there was a strength of character
and ability such as is rarely found, and that this was a man whom it
was unsafe to affront. There is no stronger instance of Washington's
power of impressing himself upon others than that he commanded now
the respect and affection of his general, who was the last man to be
easily or favorably affected by a young provincial officer.

Edward Braddock was a veteran soldier, a skilled disciplinarian, and a
rigid martinet. He was narrow-minded, brutal, and brave. He had led a
fast life in society, indulging in coarse and violent dissipations,
and was proud with the intense pride of a limited intelligence and a
nature incapable of physical fear. It would be difficult to conceive
of a man more unfit to be entrusted with the task of marching through
the wilderness and sweeping the French from the Ohio. All the
conditions which confronted him were unfamiliar and beyond his
experience. He cordially despised the provincials who were essential
to his success, and lost no opportunity of showing his contempt for
them. The colonists on their side, especially in Pennsylvania, gave
him, unfortunately, only too much ground for irritation and disgust.
They were delighted to see this brilliant force come from England to
fight their battles, but they kept on wrangling and holding back,
refusing money and supplies, and doing nothing. Braddock chafed and
delayed, swore angrily, and lingered still. Washington strove to help
him, but defended his country fearlessly against wholesale and furious

Finally the army began to move, but so slowly and after so much delay
that they did not reach Will's Creek until the middle of May. Here
came another exasperating pause, relieved only by Franklin, who,
by giving his own time, ability, and money, supplied the necessary
wagons. Then they pushed on again, but with the utmost slowness. With
supreme difficulty they made an elaborate road over the mountains as
they marched, and did not reach the Little Meadows until June 16. Then
at last Braddock turned to his young aide for the counsel which had
already been proffered and rejected many times. Washington advised the
division of the army, so that the main body could hurry forward in
light marching order while a detachment remained behind and brought
up the heavy baggage. This plan was adopted, and the army started
forward, still too heavily burdened, as Washington thought, but in
somewhat better trim for the wilderness than before. Their progress,
quickened as it was, still seemed slow to Washington, but he was taken
ill with a fever, and finally was compelled by Braddock to stop for
rest at the ford of Youghiogany. He made Braddock promise that he
should be brought up before the army reached Fort Duquesne, and wrote
to his friend Orme that he would not miss the impending battle for
five hundred pounds.

As soon as his fever abated a little he left Colonel Dunbar, and,
being unable to sit on a horse, was conveyed to the front in a wagon,
coming up with the army on July 8. He was just in time, for the next
day the troops forded the Monongahela and marched to attack the fort.
The splendid appearance of the soldiers as they crossed the river
roused Washington's enthusiasm; but he was not without misgivings.
Franklin had already warned Braddock against the danger of surprise,
and had been told with a sneer that while these savages might be
a formidable enemy to raw American militia, they could make no
impression on disciplined troops. Now at the last moment Washington
warned the general again and was angrily rebuked.

The troops marched on in ordered ranks, glittering and beautiful.
Suddenly firing was heard in the front, and presently the van was
flung back on the main body. Yells and war-whoops resounded on every
side, and an unseen enemy poured in a deadly fire. Washington begged
Braddock to throw his men into the woods, but all in vain. Fight in
platoons they must, or not at all. The result was that they did not
fight at all. They became panic-stricken, and huddled together,
overcome with fear, until at last when Braddock was mortally wounded
they broke in wild rout and fled. Of the regular troops, seven
hundred, and of the officers, who showed the utmost bravery, sixty-two
out of eighty-six, were killed or wounded. Two hundred Frenchmen and
six hundred Indians achieved this signal victory. The only thing
that could be called fighting on the English side was done by
the Virginians, "the raw American militia," who, spread out as
skirmishers, met their foes on their own ground, and were cut off
after a desperate resistance almost to a man.

Washington at the outset flung himself headlong into the fight. He
rode up and down the field, carrying orders and striving to rally "the
dastards," as he afterwards called the regular troops. He endeavored
to bring up the artillery, but the men would not serve the guns,
although to set an example he aimed and discharged one himself. All
through that dreadful carnage he rode fiercely about, raging with the
excitement of battle, and utterly exposed from beginning to end. Even
now it makes the heart beat quicker to think of him amid the smoke and
slaughter as he dashed hither and thither, his face glowing and his
eyes shining with the fierce light of battle, leading on his own
Virginians, and trying to stay the tide of disaster. He had two horses
shot under him and four bullets through his coat. The Indians thought
he bore a charmed life, while his death was reported in the colonies,
together with his dying speech, which, he dryly wrote to his brother,
he had not yet composed.

When the troops broke it was Washington who gathered the fugitives and
brought off the dying general. It was he who rode on to meet Dunbar,
and rallying the fugitives enabled the wretched remnants to take up
their march for the settlements. He it was who laid Braddock in the
grave four days after the defeat, and read over the dead the solemn
words of the English service. Wise, sensible, and active in the
advance, splendidly reckless on the day of battle, cool and collected
on the retreat, Washington alone emerged from that history of disaster
with added glory. Again he comes before us as, above all things,
the fighting man, hot-blooded and fierce in action, and utterly
indifferent to the danger which excited and delighted him. But the
earlier lesson had not been useless. He now showed a prudence and
wisdom in counsel which were not apparent in the first of his
campaigns, and he no longer thought that mere courage was
all-sufficient, or that any enemy could be despised. He was plainly
one of those who could learn. His first experience had borne good
fruit, and now he had been taught a series of fresh and valuable
lessons. Before his eyes had been displayed the most brilliant
European discipline, both in camp and on the march. He had studied
and absorbed it all, talking with veterans and hearing from them many
things that he could have acquired nowhere else. Once more had he
been taught, in a way not to be forgotten, that it is never well to
underrate one's opponent. He had looked deeper, too, and had seen what
the whole continent soon understood, that English troops were not
invincible, that they could be beaten by Indians, and that they were
after all much like other men. This was the knowledge, fatal in
after days to British supremacy, which Braddock's defeat brought to
Washington and to the colonists, and which was never forgotten. Could
he have looked into the future, he would have seen also in this
ill-fated expedition an epitome of much future history. The expedition
began with stupid contempt toward America and all things American, and
ended in ruin and defeat. It was a bitter experience, much heeded by
the colonists, but disregarded by England, whose indifference was paid
for at a heavy cost.

After the hasty retreat, Colonel Dunbar, stricken with panic, fled
onward to Philadelphia, abandoning everything, and Virginia was left
naturally in a state of great alarm. The assembly came together, and
at last, thoroughly frightened, voted abundant money, and ordered a
regiment of a thousand men to be raised. Washington, who had returned
to Mount Vernon ill and worn-out, was urged to solicit the command,
but it was not his way to solicit, and he declined to do so now.
August 14, he wrote to his mother: "If it is in my power to avoid
going to the Ohio again, I shall; but if the command is pressed upon
me by the general voice of the country, and offered upon such terms as
cannot be objected against, it would reflect dishonor on me to refuse
it." The same day he was offered the command of all the Virginian
forces on his own terms, and accepted. Virginia believed in
Washington, and he was ready to obey her call.

He at once assumed command and betook himself to Winchester, a general
without an army, but still able to check by his presence the existing
panic, and ready to enter upon the trying, dreary, and fruitless work
that lay before him. In April, 1757, he wrote: "I have been posted
then, for more than twenty months past, upon our cold and barren
frontiers, to perform, I think I may say, impossibilities; that is, to
protect from the cruel incursions of a crafty, savage enemy a line of
inhabitants, of more than three hundred and fifty miles in extent,
with a force inadequate to the task." This terse statement covers
all that can be said of the next three years. It was a long struggle
against a savage foe in front, and narrowness, jealousy, and stupidity
behind; apparently without any chance of effecting anything, or
gaining any glory or reward. Troops were voted, but were raised with
difficulty, and when raised were neglected and ill-treated by the
wrangling governor and assembly, which caused much ill-suppressed
wrath in the breast of the commander-in-chief, who labored day and
night to bring about better discipline in camp, and who wrote long
letters to Williamsburg recounting existing evils and praying for a
new militia law.

The troops, in fact, were got out with vast difficulty even under the
most stinging necessity, and were almost worthless when they came.
Of one "noble captain" who refused to come, Washington wrote: "With
coolness and moderation this great captain answered that his wife,
family, and corn were all at stake; so were those of his soldiers;
therefore it was impossible for him to come. Such is the example
of the officers; such the behavior of the men; and upon such
circumstances depends the safety of our country!" But while the
soldiers were neglected, and the assembly faltered, and the militia
disobeyed, the French and Indians kept at work on the long, exposed
frontier. There panic reigned, farmhouses and villages went up in
smoke, and the fields were reddened with slaughter at each fresh
incursion. Gentlemen in Williamsburg bore these misfortunes with
reasonable fortitude, but Washington raged against the abuses and the
inaction, and vowed that nothing but the imminent danger prevented his
resignation. "The supplicating tears of the women," he wrote, "and
moving petitions of the men melt me into such deadly sorrow that
I solemnly declare, if I know my own mind, I could offer myself
a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy, provided that would
contribute to the people's ease." This is one of the rare flashes
of personal feeling which disclose the real man, warm of heart and
temper, full of human sympathy, and giving vent to hot indignation in
words which still ring clear and strong across the century that has
come and gone.

Serious troubles, moreover, were complicated by petty annoyances. A
Maryland captain, at the head of thirty men, undertook to claim rank
over the Virginian commander-in-chief because he had held a king's
commission; and Washington was obliged to travel to Boston in order to
have the miserable thing set right by Governor Shirley. This affair
settled, he returned to take up again the old disheartening struggle,
and his outspoken condemnation of Dinwiddie's foolish schemes and of
the shortcomings of the government began to raise up backbiters
and malcontents at Williamsburg. "My orders," he said, "are dark,
doubtful, and uncertain; to-day approved, to-morrow condemned. Left
to act and proceed at hazard, accountable for the consequences, and
blamed without the benefit of defense." He determined nevertheless
to bear with his trials until the arrival of Lord Loudon, the new
commander-in-chief, from whom he expected vigor and improvement.
Unfortunately he was destined to have only fresh disappointment from
the new general, for Lord Loudon was merely one more incompetent man
added to the existing confusion. He paid no heed to the South, matters
continued to go badly in the North, and Virginia was left helpless. So
Washington toiled on with much discouragement, and the disagreeable
attacks upon him increased. That it should have been so is not
surprising, for he wrote to the governor, who now held him in much
disfavor, to the speaker, and indeed to every one, with a most galling
plainness. He was only twenty-five, be it remembered, and his high
temper was by no means under perfect control. He was anything but
diplomatic at that period of his life, and was far from patient, using
language with much sincerity and force, and indulging in a blunt irony
of rather a ferocious kind. When he was accused finally of getting up
reports of imaginary dangers, his temper gave way entirely. He wrote
wrathfully to the governor for justice, and added in a letter to
his friend, Captain Peachey: "As to Colonel C.'s gross and infamous
reflections on my conduct last spring, it will be needless, I dare
say, to observe further at this time than that the liberty which he
has been pleased to allow himself in sporting with my character is
little else than a comic entertainment, discovering at one view his
passionate fondness for your friend, his inviolable love of truth,
his unfathomable knowledge, and the masterly strokes of his wisdom in
displaying it. You are heartily welcome to make use of any letter or
letters which I may at any time have written to you; for although
I keep no copies of epistles to my friends, nor can remember the
contents of all of them, yet I am sensible that the narrations are
just, and that truth and honesty will appear in my writings; of which,
therefore, I shall not be ashamed, though criticism may censure my

Perhaps a little more patience would have produced better results,
but it is pleasant to find one man, in that period of stupidity and
incompetency, who was ready to free his mind in this refreshing way.
The only wonder is that he was not driven from his command. That they
insisted on keeping him there shows beyond everything that he
had already impressed himself so strongly on Virginia that the
authorities, although they smarted under his attacks, did not dare to
meddle with him. Dinwiddie and the rest could foil him in obtaining a
commission in the king's army, but they could not shake his hold upon
the people.

In the winter of 1758 his health broke down completely. He was so
ill that he thought that his constitution was seriously injured;
and therefore withdrew to Mount Vernon, where he slowly recovered.
Meantime a great man came at last to the head of affairs in England,
and inspired by William Pitt, fleets and armies went forth to conquer.
Reviving at the prospect, Washington offered his services to General
Forbes, who had come to undertake the task which Braddock had failed
to accomplish. Once more English troops appeared, and a large army
was gathered. Then the old story began again, and Washington, whose
proffered aid had been gladly received, chafed and worried all summer
at the fresh spectacle of delay and stupidity which was presented
to him. His advice was disregarded, and all the weary business of
building new roads through the wilderness was once more undertaken. A
detachment, sent forward contrary to his views, met with the fate of
Braddock, and as the summer passed, and autumn changed to winter, it
looked as if nothing would be gained in return for so much toil and
preparation. But Pitt had conquered the Ohio in Canada, news arrived
of the withdrawal of the French, the army pressed on, and, with
Washington in the van, marched into the smoking ruins of Fort
Duquesne, henceforth to be known to the world as Fort Pitt.

So closed the first period in Washington's public career. We have seen
him pass through it in all its phases. It shows him as an adventurous
pioneer, as a reckless frontier fighter, and as a soldier of great
promise. He learned many things in this time, and was taught much in
the hard school of adversity. In the effort to conquer Frenchmen and
Indians he studied the art of war, and at the same time he learned
to bear with and to overcome the dullness and inefficiency of the
government he served. Thus he was forced to practise self-control in
order to attain his ends, and to acquire skill in the management of
men. There could have been no better training for the work he was to
do in the after years, and the future showed how deeply he profited by
it. Let us turn now, for a moment, to the softer and pleasanter side
of life, and having seen what Washington was, and what he did as a
fighting man, let us try to know him in the equally important and far
more attractive domain of private and domestic life.



Lewis Willis, of Fredericksburg, who was at school with Washington,
used to speak of him as an unusually studious and industrious boy, but
recalled one occasion when he distinguished himself and surprised his
schoolmates by "romping with one of the largest girls."[1] Half a
century later, when the days of romping were long over and gone, a
gentleman writing of a Mrs. Hartley, whom Washington much admired,
said that the general always liked a fine woman.[2] It is certain that
from romping he passed rapidly to more serious forms of expressing
regard, for by the time he was fourteen he had fallen deeply in love
with Mary Bland of Westmoreland, whom he calls his "Lowland Beauty,"
and to whom he wrote various copies of verses, preserved amid the
notes of surveys, in his diary for 1747-48. The old tradition
identified the "Lowland Beauty" with Miss Lucy Grymes, perhaps
correctly, and there are drafts of letters addressed to "Dear Sally,"
which suggest that the mistake in identification might have arisen
from the fact that there were several ladies who answered to that
description. In the following sentence from the draft of a letter to a
masculine sympathizer, also preserved in the tell-tale diary of 1748,
there is certainly an indication that the constancy of the lover was
not perfect. "Dear Friend Robin," he wrote: "My place of residence at
present is at his Lordship's, where I might, were my heart disengaged,
pass my time very pleasantly, as there is a very agreeable young lady
in the same house, Colonel George Fairfax's wife's sister. But that
only adds fuel to the fire, as being often and unavoidably in company
with her revives my former passion for your Lowland Beauty; whereas
were I to live more retired from young women, I might in some measure
alleviate my sorrow by burying that chaste and troublesome passion in
oblivion; I am very well assured that this will be the only antidote
or remedy." Our gloomy young gentleman, however, did not take to
solitude to cure the pangs of despised love, but preceded to calm his
spirits by the society of this same sister-in-law of George Fairfax,
Miss Mary Cary. One "Lowland Beauty," Lucy Grymes, married Henry Lee,
and became the mother of "Legion Harry," a favorite officer and friend
of Washington in the Revolution, and the grandmother of Robert E. Lee,
the great soldier of the Southern Confederacy. The affair with Miss
Cary went on apparently for some years, fitfully pursued in the
intervals of war and Indian fighting, and interrupted also by matters
of a more tender nature. The first diversion occurred about 1752, when
we find Washington writing to William Fauntleroy, at Richmond, that he
proposed to come to his house to see his sister, Miss Betsy, and that
he hoped for a revocation of her former cruel sentence.[3] Miss Betsy,
however, seems to have been obdurate, and we hear no more of love
affairs until much later, and then in connection with matters of a
graver sort.

[Footnote 1: Quoted from the Willis MS. by Mr. Conway, in _Magazine of
American History_, March, 1887, p. 196.]

[Footnote 2: _Magazine of American History_, i. 324.]

[Footnote 3: _Historical Magazine_, 3d series, 1873. Letter
communicated by Fitzhugh Lee.]

[Illustration: Mary Cary]

When Captain Dagworthy, commanding thirty men in the Maryland
service, undertook in virtue of a king's commission to outrank the
commander-in-chief of the Virginian forces, Washington made up his
mind that he would have this question at least finally and properly
settled. So, as has been said, he went to Boston, saw Governor
Shirley, and had the dispute determined in his own favor. He made
the journey on horseback, and had with him two of his aides and two
servants. An old letter, luckily preserved, tells us how he looked,
for it contains orders to his London agents for various articles, sent
for perhaps in anticipation of this very expedition. In Braddock's
campaign the young surveyor and frontier soldier had been thrown among
a party of dashing, handsomely equipped officers fresh from London,
and their appearance had engaged his careful attention. Washington was
a thoroughly simple man in all ways, but he was also a man of
taste and a lover of military discipline. He had a keen sense of
appropriateness, a valuable faculty which stood him in good stead in
grave as well as trivial matters all through his career, and which in
his youth came out most strongly in the matter of manners and personal
appearance. He was a handsome man, and liked to be well dressed and to
have everything about himself or his servants of the best. Yet he
was not a mere imitator of fashions or devoted to fine clothes. The
American leggins and fringed hunting-shirt had a strong hold on his
affections, and he introduced them into Forbes's army, and again into
the army of the Revolution, as the best uniform for the backwoods
fighters. But he learned with Braddock that the dress of parade has as
real military value as that of service, and when he traveled northward
to settle about Captain Dagworthy, he felt justly that he now was
going on parade for the first time as the representative of his troops
and his colony. Therefore with excellent sense he dressed as befitted
the occasion, and at the same time gratified his own taste.

Thanks to these precautions, the little cavalcade that left Virginia
on February 4, 1756, must have looked brilliant enough as they rode
away through the dark woods. First came the colonel, mounted of course
on the finest of animals, for he loved and understood horses from the
time when he rode bareback in the pasture to those later days when he
acted as judge at a horse-race and saw his own pet colt "Magnolia"
beaten. In this expedition he wore, of course, his uniform of buff
and blue, with a white and scarlet cloak over his shoulders, and a
sword-knot of red and gold. His "horse furniture" was of the best
London make, trimmed with "livery lace," and the Washington arms were
engraved upon the housings. Close by his side rode his two aides,
likewise in buff and blue, and behind came his servants, dressed in
the Washington colors of white and scarlet and wearing hats laced with
silver. Thus accoutred, they all rode on together to the North.

The colonel's fame had gone before him, for the hero of Braddock's
stricken field and the commander of the Virginian forces was known by
reputation throughout the colonies. Every door flew open to him as he
passed, and every one was delighted to welcome the young soldier. He
was dined and wined and feted in Philadelphia, and again in New York,
where he fell in love at apparently short notice with the heiress Mary
Philipse, the sister-in-law of his friend Beverly Robinson. Tearing
himself away from these attractions he pushed on to Boston, then
the most important city on the continent, and the head-quarters of
Shirley, the commander-in-chief. The little New England capital had at
that time a society which, rich for those days, was relieved from its
Puritan sombreness by the gayety and life brought in by the royal
officers. Here Washington lingered ten days, talking war and politics
with the governor, visiting in state the "great and general court,"
dancing every night at some ball, dining with and being feted by the
magnates of the town. His business done, he returned to New York,
tarried there awhile for the sake of the fair dame, but came to no
conclusions, and then, like the soldier in the song, he gave his
bridle-rein a shake and rode away again to the South, and to the
harassed and ravaged frontier of Virginia.

How much this little interlude, pushed into a corner as it has been by
the dignity of history,--how much it tells of the real man! How the
statuesque myth and the priggish myth and the dull and solemn myth
melt away before it! Wise and strong, a bearer of heavy responsibility
beyond his years, daring in fight and sober in judgment, we have here
the other and the more human side of Washington. One loves to picture
that gallant, generous, youthful figure, brilliant in color and manly
in form, riding gayly on from one little colonial town to another,
feasting, dancing, courting, and making merry. For him the myrtle and
ivy were entwined with the laurel, and fame was sweetened by youth. He
was righteously ready to draw from life all the good things which
fate and fortune then smiling upon him could offer, and he took his
pleasure frankly, with an honest heart.

We know that he succeeded in his mission and put the captain of thirty
men in his proper place, but no one now can tell how deeply he was
affected by the charms of Miss Philipse. The only certain fact is that
he was able not long after to console himself very effectually. Riding
away from Mount Vernon once more, in the spring of 1758, this time to
Williamsburg with dispatches, he stopped at William's Ferry to dine
with his friend Major Chamberlayne, and there he met Martha Dandridge,
the widow of Daniel Parke Custis. She was young, pretty, intelligent,
and an heiress, and her society seemed to attract the young soldier.
The afternoon wore away, the horses came to the door at the appointed
time, and after being walked back and forth for some hours were
returned to the stable. The sun went down, and still the colonel
lingered. The next morning he rode away with his dispatches, but on
his return he paused at the White House, the home of Mrs. Custis, and
then and there plighted his troth with the charming widow. The wooing
was brief and decisive, and the successful lover departed for the
camp, to feel more keenly than ever the delays of the British officers
and the shortcomings of the colonial government. As soon as Fort
Duquesne had fallen he hurried home, resigned his commission in the
last week of December, and was married on January 6, 1759. It was a
brilliant wedding party which assembled on that winter day in the
little church near the White House. There were gathered Francis
Fauquier, the gay, free-thinking, high-living governor, gorgeous in
scarlet and gold; British officers, redcoated and gold-laced, and all
the neighboring gentry in the handsomest clothes that London credit
could furnish. The bride was attired in silk and satin, laces and
brocade, with pearls on her neck and in her ears; while the bridegroom
appeared in blue and silver trimmed with scarlet, and with gold
buckles at his knees and on his shoes. After the ceremony the bride
was taken home in a coach and six, her husband riding beside her,
mounted on a splendid horse and followed by all the gentlemen of the

[Illustration: Mary Morris born Mary Philipse]

The sunshine and glitter of the wedding-day must have appeared to
Washington deeply appropriate, for he certainly seemed to have all
that heart of man could desire. Just twenty-seven, in the first flush
of young manhood, keen of sense and yet wise in experience, life
must have looked very fair and smiling. He had left the army with a
well-earned fame, and had come home to take the wife of his choice and
enjoy the good-will and respect of all men. While away on his last
campaign he had been elected a member of the House of Burgesses, and
when he took his seat on removing to Williamsburg, three months after
his marriage, Mr. Robinson, the speaker, thanked him publicly in
eloquent words for his services to the country. Washington rose to
reply, but he was so utterly unable to talk about himself that he
stood before the House stammering and blushing, until the speaker
said, "Sit down, Mr. Washington; your modesty equals your valor, and
that surpasses the power of any language I possess." It is an old
story, and as graceful as it is old, but it was all very grateful to
Washington, especially as the words of the speaker bodied forth the
feelings of Virginia. Such an atmosphere, filled with deserved respect
and praise, was pleasant to begin with, and then he had everything
else too.

He not only continued to sit in the House year after year and help to
rule Virginia, but he served on the church vestry, and so held in his
hands the reins of local government. He had married a charming
woman, simple, straightforward, and sympathetic, free from gossip or
pretense, and as capable in practical matters as he was himself. By
right of birth a member of the Virginian aristocracy, he had widened
and strengthened his connections through his wife. A man of handsome
property by the death of Lawrence Washington's daughter, he had become
by his marriage one of the richest men of the country. Acknowledged
to be the first soldier on the continent, respected and trusted in
public, successful and happy in private life, he had attained before
he was thirty to all that Virginia could give of wealth, prosperity,
and honor, a fact of which he was well aware, for there never breathed
a man more wisely contented than George Washington at this period.

He made his home at Mount Vernon, adding many acres to the estate, and
giving to it his best attention. It is needless to say that he was
successful, for that was the ease with everything he undertook. He
loved country life, and he was the best and most prosperous planter in
Virginia, which was really a more difficult achievement than the mere
statement implies. Genuinely profitable farming in Virginia was not
common, for the general system was a bad one. A single great staple,
easily produced by the reckless exhaustion of land, and varying widely
in the annual value of crops, bred improvidence and speculation.
Everything was bought upon long credits, given by the London
merchants, and this, too, contributed largely to carelessness and
waste. The chronic state of a planter in a business way was one of
debt, and the lack of capital made his conduct of affairs extravagant
and loose. With all his care and method Washington himself was often
pinched for ready money, and it was only by his thoroughness and
foresight that he prospered and made money while so many of his
neighbors struggled with debt and lived on in easy luxury, not knowing
what the morrow might bring forth.

A far more serious trouble than bad business methods was one which was
little heeded at the moment, but which really lay at the foundation of
the whole system of society and business. This was the character of
the labor by which the plantations were worked. Slave labor is well
known now to be the most expensive and the worst form of labor that
can be employed. In the middle of the eighteenth century, however, its
evils were not appreciated, either from an economical or a moral point
of view. This is not the place to discuss the subject of African
slavery in America. But it is important to know Washington's opinions
in regard to an institution which was destined to have such a powerful
influence upon the country, and it seems most appropriate to consider
those opinions at the moment when slaves became a practical factor in
his life as a Virginian planter.

Washington accepted the system as he found it, as most men accept the
social arrangements to which they are born. He grew up in a world
where slavery had always existed, and where its rightfulness had never
been questioned. Being on the frontier, occupied with surveying and
with war, he never had occasion to really consider the matter at all
until he found himself at the head of large estates, with his own
prosperity dependent on the labor of slaves. The first practical
question, therefore, was how to employ this labor to the best
advantage. A man of his clear perceptions soon discovered the defects
of the system, and he gave great attention to feeding and clothing
his slaves, and to their general management. Parkinson[1] says in a
general way that Washington treated his slaves harshly, spoke to them
sharply, and maintained a military discipline, to which he attributed
the General's rare success as a planter. There can be no doubt of
the success, and the military discipline is probably true, but the
statement as to harshness is unsupported by any other authority.
Indeed, Parkinson even contradicts it himself, for he says elsewhere
that Washington never bought or sold a slave, a proof of the highest
and most intelligent humanity; and he adds in his final sketch of the
General's character, that he "was incapable of wrong-doing, but did to
all men as he would they should do to him. Therefore it is not to be
supposed that he would injure the negro." This agrees with what we
learn from all other sources. Humane by nature, he conceived a great
interest and pity for these helpless beings, and treated them with
kindness and forethought. In a word, he was a wise and good master,
as well as a successful one, and the condition of his slaves was
as happy, and their labor as profitable, as was possible to such a

[Footnote 1: _Tour in America_, 1798-1800.]

So the years rolled by; the war came and then the making of the
government, and Washington's thoughts were turned more and more, as
was the case with all the men of his time in that era of change and
of new ideas, to the consideration of human slavery in its moral,
political, and social aspects. To trace the course of his opinions
in detail is needless. It is sufficient to summarize them, for the
results of his reflection and observation are more important than the
processes by which they were reached. Washington became convinced that
the whole system was thoroughly bad, as well as utterly repugnant to
the ideas upon which the Revolution was fought and the government of
the United States founded. With a prescience wonderful for those days
and on that subject, he saw that slavery meant the up-growth in the
United States of two systems so radically hostile, both socially and
economically, that they could lead only to a struggle for political
supremacy, which in its course he feared would imperil the Union. For
this reason he deprecated the introduction of the slavery question
into the debates of the first Congress, because he realized its
character, and he did not believe that the Union or the government
at that early day could bear the strain which in this way would be
produced. At the same time he felt that a right solution must be found
or inconceivable evils would ensue. The inherent and everlasting wrong
of the system made its continuance, to his mind, impossible. While
it existed, he believed that the laws which surrounded it should be
maintained, because he thought that to violate these only added one
wrong to another. He also doubted, as will be seen in a later chapter,
where his conversation with John Bernard is quoted, whether the
negroes could be immediately emancipated with safety either to
themselves or to the whites, in their actual condition of ignorance,
illiteracy, and helplessness. The plan which he favored, and which,
it would seem, was his hope and reliance, was first the checking
of importation, followed by a gradual emancipation, with proper
compensation to the owners and suitable preparation and education for
the slaves. He told the clergymen Asbury and Coke, when they visited
him for that purpose, that he was in favor of emancipation, and was
ready to write a letter to the assembly to that effect.[1] He wished
fervently that such a spirit might take possession of the people of
the country, but he wrote to Lafayette that he despaired of seeing it.
When he died he did all that lay within his power to impress his views
upon his countrymen by directing that all his slaves should be set
free on the death of his wife. His precepts and his example in this
grave matter went unheeded for many years by the generations which
came after him. But now that slavery is dead, to the joy of all men,
it is well to remember that on this terrible question Washington's
opinions were those of a humane man, impatient of wrong, and of a
noble and far-seeing statesman, watchful of the evils that threatened
his country.[2]

[Footnote 1: _Magazine of American History_, 1880, p. 158.]

[Footnote 2: For some expressions of Washington's opinions on slavery,
see Sparks, viii. 414, ix. 159-163, and x. 224.]

After this digression let us return to the Virginian farmer, whose
mind was not disturbed as yet by thoughts of the destiny of the United
States, or considerations of the rights of man, but who was much
exercised by the task of making an honest income out of his estates.
To do this he grappled with details as firmly as he did with the
general system under which all plantations in that day were carried
on. He understood every branch of farming; he was on the alert for
every improvement; he rose early, worked steadily, gave to everything
his personal supervision, kept his own accounts with wonderful
exactness, and naturally enough his brands of flour went unquestioned
everywhere, his credit was high, and he made money--so far as it
was possible under existing conditions. Like Shakespeare, as Bishop
Blougram has it, he

"Saved money, spent it, owned the worth of things."

He had no fine and senseless disregard for money or the good things of
this world, but on the contrary saw in them not the value attached to
them by vulgar minds, but their true worth. He was a solid, square,
evenly-balanced man in those days, believing that whatever he did was
worth doing well. So he farmed, as he fought and governed, better than
anybody else.

While thus looking after his own estates at home, he went further
afield in search of investments, keeping a shrewd eye on the western
lands, and buying wisely and judiciously whenever he had the
opportunity. He also constituted himself now, as in a later time, the
champion of the soldiers, for whom he had the truest sympathy and
affection, and a large part of the correspondence of this period is
devoted to their claims for the lands granted them by the assembly.
He distinguished carefully among them, however, those who were
undeserving, and to the major of the regiment, who had been excluded
from the public thanks on account of cowardice at the Great Meadows,
he wrote as follows: "Your impertinent letter was delivered to me
yesterday. As I am not accustomed to receive such from any man, nor
would have taken the same language from you personally without letting
you feel some marks of my resentment, I would advise you to be
cautious in writing me a second of the same tenor. But for your
stupidity and sottishness you might have known, by attending to the
public gazette, that you had your full quantity of ten thousand acres
of land allowed you. But suppose you had really fallen short, do you
think your superlative merit entitles you to greater indulgence than
others?... All my concern is that I ever engaged in behalf of so
ungrateful a fellow as you are." The writer of this letter, be it said
in passing, was the man whom Mr. Weems and others tell us was knocked
down before his soldiers, and then apologized to his assailant. It may
be suspected that it was well for the recipient of this letter that
he did not have a personal interview with its author, and it may
be doubted if he ever sought one subsequently. Just, generous, and
magnanimous to an extraordinary degree, Washington had a dangerous
temper, held well under control, but blazing out now and again against
injustice, insolence, or oppression. He was a peaceful man, leading a
peaceful life, but the fighting spirit only slumbered, and it
would break out at wrong of any sort, in a way which was extremely
unpleasant and threatening to those who aroused it.

Apart from lands and money and the management of affairs, public and
private, there were many other interests of varied nature which all
had their share of Washington's time and thought. He was a devoted
husband, and gave to his stepchildren the most affectionate care. He
watched over and protected them, and when the daughter died, after a
long and wasting illness, in 1773, he mourned for her as if she
had been his own, with all the tenderness of a deep and reserved
affection. The boy, John Custis, he made his friend and companion from
the beginning, and his letters to the lad and about him are wise and
judicious in the highest degree. He spent much time and thought on the
question of education, and after securing the best instructors took
the boy to New York and entered him at Columbia College in 1773. Young
Custis, however, did not remain there long, for he had fallen in love,
and the following year was married to Eleanor Calvert, not without
some misgivings on the part of Washington, who had observed his ward's
somewhat flighty disposition, and who gave a great deal of anxious
thought to his future. At home as abroad he was an undemonstrative
man, but he had abundance of that real affection which labors for
those to whom it goes out more unselfishly and far more effectually
than that which bubbles and boils upon the surface like a shallow,
noisy brook.

From the suggestions that he made in regard to young Custis, it is
evident that Washington valued and respected education, and that he
had that regard for learning for its own sake which always exists
in large measure in every thoughtful man. He read well, even if his
active life prevented his reading much, as we can see by his vigorous
English, and by his occasional allusions to history. From his London
orders we see, too, that everything about his house must have denoted
that its possessor had refinement and taste. His intense sense
of propriety and unfailing instinct for what was appropriate are
everywhere apparent. His dress, his furniture, his harnesses, the
things for the children, all show the same fondness for simplicity,
and yet a constant insistence that everything should be the best of
its kind. We can learn a good deal about any man by the ornaments of
his house, and by the portraits which hang on his walls; for these
dumb things tell us whom among the great men of earth the owner
admires, and indicate the tastes he best loves to gratify. When
Washington first settled with his wife at Mount Vernon, he ordered
from Europe the busts of Alexander the Great, Charles XII. of Sweden,
Julius Caesar, Frederick of Prussia, Marlborough, and Prince Eugene,
and in addition he asked for statuettes of "two wild beasts." The
combination of soldier and statesman is the predominant admiration,
then comes the reckless and splendid military adventurer, and lastly
wild life and the chase. There is no mistaking the ideas and fancies
of the man who penned this order which has drifted down to us from the

But as Washington's active life was largely out of doors, so too were
his pleasures. He loved the fresh open-air existence of the woods
and fields, and there he found his one great amusement. He shot and
fished, but did not care much for these pursuits, for his hobby was
hunting, which gratified at once his passion for horses and dogs and
his love for the strong excitement of the chase, when dashed with just
enough danger to make it really fascinating. He showed in his sport
the same thoroughness and love of perfection that he displayed in
everything else. His stables were filled with the best horses that
Virginia could furnish. There were the "blooded coach-horses" for Mrs.
Washington's carriage, "Magnolia," a full-blooded Arabian, used by
his owner for the road, the ponies for the children, and finally, the
high-bred hunters Chinkling and Valiant, Ajax and Blueskin, and the
rest, all duly set down in the register in the handwriting of the
master himself. His first visit in the morning was to the stables;
the next to the kennels to inspect and criticise the hounds, also
methodically registered and described, so that we can read the names
of Vulcan and Ringwood, Singer and Truelove, Music and Sweetlips, to
which the Virginian woods once echoed nearly a century and a half ago.
His hounds were the subject of much thought, and were so constantly
and critically drafted as to speed, keenness, and bottom, that when in
full cry they ran so closely bunched that tradition says, in classic
phrase, they could have been covered with a blanket. The hounds met
three times a week in the season, usually at Mount Vernon, sometimes
at Belvoir. They would get off at daybreak, Washington in the midst of
his hounds, splendidly mounted, generally on his favorite Blueskin, a
powerful iron-gray horse of great speed and endurance. He wore a blue
coat, scarlet waistcoat, buckskin breeches, and a velvet cap. Closely
followed by his huntsman and the neighboring gentlemen, with the
ladies, headed, very likely, by Mrs. Washington in a scarlet habit,
he would ride to the appointed covert and throw in. There was no
difficulty in finding, and then away they would go, usually after a
gray fox, sometimes after a big black fox, rarely to be caught. Most
of the country was wild and unfenced, rough in footing, and offering
hard and dangerous going for the horses, but Washington always made it
a rule to stay with his hounds. Cautious or timid riders, if they were
so minded, could gallop along the wood roads with the ladies, and
content themselves with glimpses of the hunt, but the master rode at
the front. The fields, it is to be feared, were sometimes small, but
Washington hunted even if he had only his stepson or was quite alone.

His diaries abound with allusions to the sport. "Went a-hunting with
Jacky Custis, and catched a fox after three hours chase; found it in
the creek." "Mr. Bryan Fairfax, Mr. Grayson, and Phil. Alexander came
home by sunrise. Hunted and catched a fox with these. Lord Fairfax,
his brother, and Colonel Fairfax, all of whom, with Mr. Fairfax and
Mr. Wilson of England, dined here." Again, November 26 and 29, "Hunted
again with the same party." "1768, Jan. 8th. Hunting again with same
company. Started a fox and run him 4 hours. Took the hounds off at
night." "Jan. 15. Shooting." "16. At home all day with cards; it
snowing." "23. Rid to Muddy Hole and directed paths to be cut for
foxhunting." "Feb. 12. Catched 2 foxes." "Feb. 13. Catched 2 more
foxes." "Mar. 2. Catched fox with bob'd tail and cut ears after
7 hours chase, in which most of the dogs were worsted." "Dec. 5.
Fox-hunting with Lord Fairfax and his brother and Colonel Fairfax.
Started a fox and lost it. Dined at Belvoir and returned in the

[Footnote 1: MS. Diaries in State Department.]

So the entries run on, for he hunted almost every day in the season,
usually with success, but always with persistence. Like all true
sportsmen Washington had a horror of illicit sport of any kind, and
although he shot comparatively little, he was much annoyed by a
vagabond who lurked in the creeks and inlets on his estate, and
slaughtered his canvas-back ducks. Hearing the report of a gun one
morning, he rode through the bushes and saw his poaching friend just
shoving off in a canoe. The rascal raised his gun and covered his
pursuer, whereupon Washington, the cold-blooded and patient person
so familiar in the myths, dashed his horse headlong into the water,
seized the gun, grasped the canoe, and dragging it ashore pulled the
man out of the boat and beat him soundly. If the man had yielded at
once he would probably have got off easily enough, but when he put
Washington's life in imminent peril, the wild fighting spirit flared
up as usual.

The hunting season was of course that of the most lavish hospitality.
There was always a great deal of dining about, but Mount Vernon was
the chief resort, and its doors, ever open, were flung far back when
people came for a meet, or gathered to talk over the events of a good
run. Company was the rule and solitude the exception. When only the
family were at dinner, the fact was written down in the diary with
great care as an unusual event, for Washington was the soul of
hospitality, and although he kept early hours, he loved society and a
houseful of people. Profoundly reserved and silent as to himself,
a lover of solitude so far as his own thoughts and feelings were
concerned, he was far from being a solitary man in the ordinary
acceptation of the word. He liked life and gayety and conversation, he
liked music and dancing or a game of cards when the weather was bad,
and he enjoyed heartily the presence of young people and of his own
friends. So Mount Vernon was always full of guests, and the master
noted in his diary that although he owned more than a hundred cows he
was obliged, nevertheless, to buy butter, which suggests an experience
not unknown to gentlemen farmers of any period, and also that company
was never lacking in that generous, open house overlooking the

Beyond the bounds of his own estate he had also many occupations and
pleasures. He was a member of the House of Burgesses, diligent in his
attention to the work of governing the colony. He was diligent also in
church affairs, and very active in the vestry, which was the seat of
local government in Virginia. We hear of him also as the manager
of lotteries, which were a common form of raising money for local
purposes, in preference to direct taxation. In a word, he was
thoroughly public-spirited, and performed all the small duties which
his position demanded in the same spirit that he afterwards brought
to the command of armies and to the government of the nation. He had
pleasure too, as well as business, away from Mount Vernon. He liked
to go to his neighbors' houses and enjoy their hospitality as they
enjoyed his. We hear of him at the courthouse on court days, where all
the country-side gathered to talk and listen to the lawyers and hear
the news, and when he went to Williamsburg his diary tells us of a
round of dinners, beginning with the governor, of visits to the club,
and of a regular attendance at the theatre whenever actors came to the
little capital. Whether at home or abroad, he took part in all the
serious pursuits, in all the interests, and in every reasonable
pleasure offered by the colony.

Take it for all in all, it was a manly, wholesome, many-sided life. It
kept Washington young and strong, both mentally and physically. When
he was forty he flung the iron bar, at some village sports, to a point
which no competitor could approach. There was no man in all Virginia
who could ride a horse with such a powerful and assured seat.
There was no one who could journey farther on foot, and no man at
Williamsburg who showed at the governor's receptions such a commanding
presence, or who walked with such a strong and elastic step. As with
the body so with the mind. He never rusted. A practical carpenter and
smith, he brought the same quiet intelligence and firm will to the
forging of iron or the felling and sawing of trees that he had
displayed in fighting France. The life of a country gentleman did not
dull or stupefy him, or lead him to gross indulgences. He remained
well-made and athletic, strong and enduring, keen in perception and in
sense, and warm in his feelings and affections. Many men would have
become heavy and useless in these years of quiet country life, but
Washington simply ripened, and, like all slowly maturing men, grew
stronger, abler, and wiser in the happy years of rest and waiting
which intervened between youth and middle age.

Meantime, while the current of daily life flowed on thus gently at
Mount Vernon, the great stream of public events poured by outside. It
ran very calmly at first, after the war, and then with a quickening
murmur, which increased to an ominous roar when the passage of the
Stamp Act became known in America. Washington was always a constant
attendant at the assembly, in which by sheer force of character, and
despite his lack of the talking and debating faculty, he carried more
weight than any other member. He was present on May 29, 1765, when
Patrick Henry introduced his famous resolutions and menaced the king's
government in words which rang through the continent. The resolutions
were adopted, and Washington went home, with many anxious thoughts,
to discuss the political outlook with his friend and neighbor George
Mason, one of the keenest and ablest men in Virginia. The utter
folly of the policy embodied in the Stamp Act struck Washington very
forcibly. With that foresight for which he was so remarkable, he
perceived what scarcely any one else even dreamt of, that persistence
in this course must surely lead to a violent separation from the
mother-country, and it is interesting to note in this, the first
instance when he was called upon to consider a political question of
great magnitude, his clearness of vision and grasp of mind. In what he
wrote there is no trace of the ambitious schemer, no threatening nor
blustering, no undue despondency nor excited hopes. But there is a
calm understanding of all the conditions, an entire freedom from
self-deception, and the power of seeing facts exactly as they were,
which were all characteristic of his intellectual strength, and to
which we shall need to recur again and again.

The repeal of the Stamp Act was received by Washington with sober but
sincere pleasure. He had anticipated "direful" results and "unhappy
consequences" from its enforcement, and he freely said that those who
were instrumental in its repeal had his cordial thanks. He was no
agitator, and had not come forward in this affair, so he now retired
again to Mount Vernon, to his farming and hunting, where he remained,
watching very closely the progress of events. He had marked the
dangerous reservation of the principle in the very act of repeal; he
observed at Boston the gathering strength of what the wise ministers
of George III. called sedition; he noted the arrival of British troops
in the rebellious Puritan town; and he saw plainly enough, looming in
the background, the final appeal to arms. He wrote to Mason (April 5,
1769), that "at a time when our lordly masters in Great Britain will
be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American
freedom, something should be done to avert the stroke and maintain the
liberty which we have derived from our ancestors. But the manner of
doing it, to answer the purpose effectually, is the point in question.
That no man should scruple or hesitate a moment to use arms in defense
of so valuable a blessing is clearly my opinion. Yet arms, I would beg
leave to add, should be the last resource, the _dernier ressort_." He
then urged the adoption of the only middle course, non-importation,
but he had not much hope in this expedient, although an honest desire
is evident that it may prove effectual.

When the assembly met in May, they received the new governor, Lord
Botetourt, with much cordiality, and then fell to passing spirited
and sharp-spoken resolutions declaring their own rights and defending
Massachusetts. The result was a dissolution. Thereupon the burgesses
repaired to the Raleigh tavern, where they adopted a set of
non-importation resolutions and formed an association. The resolutions
were offered by Washington, and were the result of his quiet country
talks with Mason. When the moment for action arrived, Washington came
naturally to the front, and then returned quietly to Mount Vernon,
once more to go about his business and watch the threatening political
horizon. Virginia did not live up to this first non-importation
agreement, and formed another a year later. But Washington was not in
the habit of presenting resolutions merely for effect, and there
was nothing of the actor in his composition. His resolutions meant
business, and he lived up to them rigidly himself. Neither tea nor
any of the proscribed articles were allowed in his house. Most of
the leaders did not realize the seriousness of the situation, but
Washington, looking forward with clear and sober gaze, was in grim
earnest, and was fully conscious that when he offered his resolutions
the colony was trying the last peaceful remedy, and that the next step
would be war.

Still he went calmly about his many affairs as usual, and gratified
the old passion for the frontier by a journey to Pittsburgh for the
sake of lands and soldiers' claims, and thence down the Ohio and into
the wilderness with his old friends the trappers and pioneers. He
visited the Indian villages as in the days of the French mission, and
noted in the savages an ominous restlessness, which seemed, like the
flight of birds, to express the dumb instinct of an approaching storm.
The clouds broke away somewhat under the kindly management of Lord
Botetourt, and then gathered again more thickly on the accession of
his successor, Lord Dunmore. With both these gentlemen Washington was
on the most friendly terms. He visited them often, and was consulted
by them, as it behooved them to consult the strongest man within the
limits of their government. Still he waited and watched, and scanned
carefully the news from the North. Before long he heard that
tea-chests were floating in Boston harbor, and then from across the
water came intelligence of the passage of the Port Bill and other
measures destined to crush to earth the little rebel town.

When the Virginia assembly met again, they proceeded to congratulate
the governor on the arrival of Lady Dunmore, and then suddenly, as
all was flowing smoothly along, there came a letter through the
corresponding committee which Washington had helped to establish,
telling of the measures against Boston. Everything else was thrown
aside at once, a vigorous protest was entered on the journal of the
House, and June 1, when the Port Bill was to go into operation, was
appointed a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. The first result
was prompt dissolution of the assembly. The next was another meeting
in the long room of the Raleigh tavern, where the Boston bill
was denounced, non-importation renewed, and the committee of
correspondence instructed to take steps for calling a general
congress. Events were beginning to move at last with perilous
rapidity. Washington dined with Lord Dunmore on the evening of that
day, rode with him, and appeared at her ladyship's ball the next
night, for it was not his way to bite his thumb at men from whom he
differed politically, nor to call the motives of his opponents in
question. But when the 1st of June arrived, he noted in his diary that
he fasted all day and attended the appointed services. He always meant
what he said, being of a simple nature, and when he fasted and prayed
there was something ominously earnest about it, something that his
excellency the governor, who liked the society of this agreeable
man and wise counselor, would have done well to consider and draw
conclusions from, and which he probably did not heed at all. He might
well have reflected, as he undoubtedly failed to do, that when men
of the George Washington type fast and pray on account of political
misdoings, it is well for their opponents to look to it carefully.

Meantime Boston had sent forth appeals to form a league among the
colonies, and thereupon another meeting was held in the Raleigh
tavern, and a letter was dispatched advising the burgesses to consider
this matter of a general league and take the sense of their respective
counties. Virginia and Massachusetts had joined hands now, and they
were sweeping the rest of the continent irresistibly forward with
them. As for Washington, he returned to Mount Vernon and at once set
about taking the sense of his county, as he had agreed. Before doing
so he had some correspondence with his old friend Bryan Fairfax. The
Fairfaxes naturally sided with the mother-country, and Bryan was much
distressed by the course of Virginia, and remonstrated strongly, and
at length by letter, against violent measures. Washington replied
to him: "Does it not appear as clear as the sun in its meridian
brightness that there is a regular, systematic plan formed to fix the
right and practice of taxation on us? Does not the uniform conduct of
Parliament for some years past confirm this? Do not all the debates,
especially those just brought to us in the House of Commons, on the
side of government expressly declare that America must be taxed in
aid of the British funds, and that she has no longer resources within
herself? Is there anything to be expected from petitioning after this?
Is not the attack upon the liberty and property of the people of
Boston, before restitution of the loss to the India Company was
demanded, a plain and self-evident proof of what they are aiming at?
Do not the subsequent bills (now I dare say acts) for depriving the
Massachusetts Bay of its charter, and for transporting offenders into
other colonies, or to Great Britain for trial, where it is impossible
from the nature of the thing that justice can be obtained, convince us
that the administration is determined to stick at nothing to carry
its point? Ought we not, then, to put our virtue and fortitude to the
severest test?" He was prepared, he continued, for anything except
confiscating British debts, which struck him as dishonorable. These
were plain but pregnant questions, but what we mark in them, and
in all his letters of this time, is the absence of constitutional
discussion, of which America was then full. They are confined to a
direct presentation of the broad political question, which underlay
everything. Washington always went straight to the mark, and he now
saw, through all the dust of legal and constitutional strife, that
the only real issue was whether America was to be allowed to govern
herself in her own way or not. In the acts of the ministry he
perceived a policy which aimed at substantial power, and he believed
that such a policy, if insisted on, could have but one result.

The meeting of Fairfax County was held in due course, and Washington
presided. The usual resolutions for self-government and against
the vindictive Massachusetts measures were adopted. Union and
non-importation were urged; and then the congress, which they
advocated, was recommended to address a petition and remonstrance to
the king, and ask him to reflect that "from our sovereign there can
be but one appeal." Everything was to be tried, everything was to be
done, but the ultimate appeal was never lost sight of where Washington
appeared, and the final sentence of these Fairfax County resolves is
very characteristic of the leader in the meeting. Two days later he
wrote to the worthy and still remonstrating Bryan Fairfax, repeating
and enlarging his former questions, and adding: "Has not General
Gage's conduct since his arrival, in stopping the address of his
council, and publishing a proclamation more becoming a Turkish bashaw
than an English governor, declaring it treason to associate in any
manner by which the commerce of Great Britain is to be affected,--has
not this exhibited an unexampled testimony of the most despotic system
of tyranny that ever was practiced in a free government?... Shall we
after this whine and cry for relief, when we have already tried it in
vain? Or shall we supinely sit and see one province after another fall
a sacrifice to despotism?" The fighting spirit of the man was rising.
There was no rash rushing forward, no ignorant shouting for war, no
blinking of the real issue, but a foresight that nothing could dim,
and a perception of facts which nothing could confuse. On August 1
Washington was at Williamsburg, to represent his county in the
meeting of representatives from all Virginia. The convention passed
resolutions like the Fairfax resolves, and chose delegates to a
general congress. The silent man was now warming into action. He "made
the most eloquent speech that ever was made," and said, "I will raise
a thousand men, subsist them at my own expense, and march them to the
relief of Boston." He was capable, it would seem, of talking to the
purpose with some fire and force, for all he was so quiet and so
retiring. When there was anything to say, he could say it so that it
stirred all who listened, because they felt that there was a mastering
strength behind the words. He faced the terrible issue solemnly and
firmly, but his blood was up, the fighting spirit in him was aroused,
and the convention chose him as one of Virginia's six delegates to
the Continental Congress. He lingered long enough to make a few
preparations at Mount Vernon. He wrote another letter to Fairfax,
interesting to us as showing the keenness with which he read in the
meagre news-reports the character of Gage and of the opposing people
of Massachusetts. Then he started for the North to take the first step
on the long and difficult path that lay before him.



In the warm days of closing August, a party of three gentlemen rode
away from Mount Vernon one morning, and set out upon their long
journey to Philadelphia. One cannot help wondering whether a tender
and somewhat sad remembrance did not rise in Washington's mind, as he
thought of the last time he had gone northward, nearly twenty years
before. Then, he was a light-hearted young soldier, and he and his
aides, albeit they went on business, rode gayly through the forests,
lighting the road with the bright colors they wore and with the
glitter of lace and arms, while they anticipated all the pleasures of
youth in the new lands they were to visit. Now, he was in the prime of
manhood, looking into the future with prophetic eyes, and sober as was
his wont when the shadow of coming responsibility lay dark upon his
path. With him went Patrick Henry, four years his junior, and Edmund
Pendleton, now past threescore. They were all quiet and grave enough,
no doubt; but Washington, we may believe, was gravest of all, because,
being the most truthful of men to himself as to others, he saw more
plainly what was coming. So they made their journey to the North, and
on the memorable 5th of September they met with their brethren from
the other colonies in Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia.

The Congress sat fifty-one days, occupied with debates and discussion.
Few abler, more honest, or more memorable bodies of men have ever
assembled to settle the fate of nations. Much debate, great and
earnest in all directions, resulted in a declaration of colonial
rights, in an address to the king, in another to the people of Canada,
and a third to the people of Great Britain; masterly state papers,
seldom surpassed, and extorting even then the admiration of England.
In these debates and state papers Washington took no part that is now
apparent on the face of the record. He was silent in the Congress, and
if he was consulted, as he unquestionably was by the committees, there
is no record of it now. The simple fact was that his time had not
come. He saw men of the most acute minds, liberal in education,
patriotic in heart, trained in law and in history, doing the work
of the moment in the best possible way. If anything had been done
wrongly, or had been left undone, Washington would have found his
voice quickly enough, and uttered another of the "most eloquent
speeches ever made," as he did shortly before in the Virginia
convention. He could speak in public when need was, but now there was
no need and nothing to arouse him. The work of Congress followed
the line of policy adopted by the Virginia convention, and that had
proceeded along the path marked out in the Fairfax resolves, so that
Washington could not be other than content. He occupied his own time,
as we see by notes in his diary, in visiting the delegates from
the other colonies, and in informing himself as to their ideas and
purposes, and those of the people whom they represented. He was
quietly working for the future, the present being well taken care of.
Yet this silent man, going hither and thither, and chatting pleasantly
with this member or that, was in some way or other impressing himself
deeply on all the delegates, for Patrick Henry said: "If you speak
of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel Washington is
unquestionably the greatest man on the floor."

We have a letter, written at just this time, which shows us how
Washington felt, and we see again how his spirit rose as he saw more
and more clearly that the ultimate issue was inevitable. The letter is
addressed to Captain Mackenzie, a British officer at Boston, and an
old friend. "Permit me," he began, "with the freedom of a friend (for
you know I always esteemed you), to express my sorrow that fortune
should place you in a service that must fix curses to the latest
posterity upon the contrivers, and, if success (which, by the by, is
impossible) accompanies it, execrations upon all those who have been
instrumental in the execution." This was rather uncompromising talk
and not over peaceable, it must be confessed. He continued: "Give me
leave to add, and I think I can announce it as a fact, that it is not
the wish or intent of that government [Massachusetts], or any other
upon this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for
independence; but this you may at the same time rely on, that none
of them will ever submit to the loss of those valuable rights and
privileges which are essential to the happiness of every free state,
and without which life, liberty, and property are rendered totally
insecure.... Again give me leave to add as my opinion that more blood
will be spilled on this occasion, if the ministry are determined
to push matters to extremity, than history has ever yet furnished
instances of in the annals of North America, and such a vital wound
will be given to the peace of this great country, as time itself
cannot cure or eradicate the remembrance of." Washington was not a
political agitator like Sam Adams, planning with unerring intelligence
to bring about independence. On the contrary, he rightly declared that
independence was not desired. But although he believed in exhausting
every argument and every peaceful remedy, it is evident that he felt
that there now could be but one result, and that violent separation
from the mother country was inevitable. Here is where he differed from
his associates and from the great mass of the people, and it is to
this entire veracity of mind that his wisdom and foresight were so
largely due, as well as his success when the time came for him to put
his hand to the plough.

When Congress adjourned, Washington returned to Mount Vernon, to the
pursuits and pleasures that he loved, to his family and farm, and to
his horses and hounds, with whom he had many a good run, the last that
he was to enjoy for years to come. He returned also to wait and
watch as before, and to see war rapidly gather in the east. When the
Virginia convention again assembled, resolutions were introduced to
arm and discipline men, and Henry declared in their support that
an "appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts" was all that was left.
Washington said nothing, but he served on the committee to draft a
plan of defense, and then fell to reviewing the independent companies
which were springing up everywhere. At the same time he wrote to his
brother John, who had raised a troop, that he would accept the command
of it if desired, as it was his "full intention to devote his life and
fortune in the cause we are engaged in, if needful." At Mount Vernon
his old comrades of the French war began to appear, in search of
courage and sympathy. Thither, too, came Charles Lee, a typical
military adventurer of that period, a man of English birth and of
varied service, brilliant, whimsical, and unbalanced. There also came
Horatio Gates, likewise British, and disappointed with his prospects
at home; less adventurous than Lee, but also less brilliant, and not
much more valuable.

Thus the winter wore away; spring opened, and toward the end of April
Washington started again for the North, much occupied with certain
tidings from Lexington and Concord which just then spread over the
land. He saw all that it meant plainly enough, and after noting the
fact that the colonists fought and fought well, he wrote to George
Fairfax in England: "Unhappy it is to reflect that a brother's sword
has been sheathed in a brother's breast, and that the once happy and
peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched in blood or
inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative. But can a virtuous man hesitate
in his choice?" Congress, it would seem, thought there was a good deal
of room for hesitation, both for virtuous men and others, and after
the fashion of their race determined to do a little more debating and
arguing, before taking any decisive step. After much resistance and
discussion, a second "humble and dutiful petition" to the king was
adopted, and with strange contradiction a confederation was formed at
the same time, and Congress proceeded to exercise the sovereign powers
thus vested in them. The most pressing and troublesome question before
them was what to do with the army surrounding Boston, and with the
actual hostilities there existing.

Washington, for his part, went quietly about as before, saying
nothing and observing much, working hard as chairman of the military
committees, planning for defense, and arranging for raising an army.
One act of his alone stands out for us with significance at this
critical time. In this second Congress he appeared habitually on the
floor in his blue and buff uniform of a Virginia colonel. It was his
way of saying that the hour for action had come, and that he at least
was ready for the fight whenever called upon.

Presently he was summoned. Weary of waiting, John Adams at last
declared that Congress must adopt the army and make Washington, who at
this mention of his name stepped out of the room, commander-in-chief.
On June 15, formal motions were made to this effect and unanimously
adopted, and the next day Washington appeared before Congress and
accepted the trust. His words were few and simple. He expressed his
sense of his own insufficiency for the task before him, and said that
as no pecuniary consideration could have induced him to undertake the
work, he must decline all pay or emoluments, only looking to Congress
to defray his expenses. In the same spirit he wrote to his soldiers
in Virginia, to his brother, and finally, in terms at once simple
and pathetic, to his wife. There was no pretense about this, but the
sternest reality of self-distrust, for Washington saw and measured as
did no one else the magnitude of the work before him. He knew that he
was about to face the best troops of Europe, and he had learned by
experience that after the first excitement was over he would be
obliged to rely upon a people who were brave and patriotic, but also
undisciplined, untrained, and unprepared for war, without money,
without arms, without allies or credit, and torn by selfish local
interests. Nobody else perceived all this as he was able to with his
mastery of facts, but he faced the duty unflinchingly. He did not put
it aside because he distrusted himself, for in his truthfulness he
could not but confess that no other American could show one tithe
of his capacity, experience, or military service. He knew what was
coming, knew it, no doubt, when he first put on his uniform, and he
accepted instantly.

John Adams in his autobiography speaks of the necessity of choosing a
Southern general, and also says there were objectors to the selection
of Washington even among the Virginia delegates. That there were
political reasons for taking a Virginian cannot be doubted. But the
dissent, even if it existed, never appeared on the surface, excepting
in the case of John Hancock, who, with curious vanity, thought that he
ought to have this great place. When Washington's name was proposed
there was no murmur of opposition, for there was no man who could for
one moment be compared with him in fitness. The choice was inevitable,
and he himself felt it to be so. He saw it coming; he would fain have
avoided the great task, but no thought of shrinking crossed his mind.
He saw with his entire freedom from constitutional subtleties that an
absolute parliament sought to extend its power to the colonies. To
this he would not submit, and he knew that this was a question which
could be settled only by one side giving way, or by the dread appeal
to arms. It was a question of fact, hard, unrelenting fact, now to be
determined by battle, and on him had fallen the burden of sustaining
the cause of his country. In this spirit he accepted his commission,
and rode forth to review the troops. He was greeted with loud acclaim
wherever he appeared. Mankind is impressed by externals, and those
who gazed upon Washington in the streets of Philadelphia felt their
courage rise and their hearts grow strong at the sight of his virile,
muscular figure as he passed before them on horseback, stately,
dignified, and self-contained. The people looked upon him, and were
confident that this was a man worthy and able to dare and do all

On June 21 he set forth accompanied by Lee and Schuyler, and with a
brilliant escort. He had ridden but twenty miles when he was met by
the news of Bunker Hill. "Did the militia fight?" was the immediate
and characteristic question; and being told that they did fight, he
exclaimed, "Then the liberties of the country are safe." Given the
fighting spirit, Washington felt he could do anything. Full of this
important intelligence he pressed forward to Newark, where he was
received by a committee of the provincial congress, sent to conduct
the commander-in-chief to New York. There he tarried long enough to
appoint Schuyler to the charge of the military affairs in that colony,
having mastered on the journey its complicated social and political
conditions. Pushing on through Connecticut he reached Watertown, where
he was received by the provincial congress of Massachusetts, on July
2, with every expression of attachment and confidence. Lingering less
than an hour for this ceremony, he rode on to the headquarters at
Cambridge, and when he came within the lines the shouts of the
soldiers and the booming of cannon announced his arrival to the
English in Boston.

The next day he rode forth in the presence of a great multitude, and
the troops having been drawn up before him, he drew his sword beneath
the historical elm-tree, and took command of the first American army.
"His excellency," wrote Dr. Thatcher in his journal, "was on horseback
in company with several military gentlemen. It was not difficult to
distinguish him from all others. He is tall and well proportioned, and
his personal appearance truly noble and majestic." "He is tall and of
easy and agreeable address," the loyalist Curwen had remarked a few
weeks before; while Mrs. John Adams, warm-hearted and clever, wrote
to her husband after the general's arrival: "Dignity, ease, and
complacency, the gentleman and the soldier, look agreeably blended in
him. Modesty marks every line and feature of his face. Those lines of
Dryden instantly occurred to me,--

'Mark his majestic fabric! He's a temple
Sacred by birth, and built by hands divine;
His soul's the deity that lodges there;
Nor is the pile unworthy of the God.'"

Lady, lawyer, and surgeon, patriot and tory, all speak alike, and as
they wrote so New England felt. A slave-owner, an aristocrat, and a
churchman, Washington came to Cambridge to pass over the heads
of native generals to the command of a New England army, among a
democratic people, hard-working and simple in their lives, and
dissenters to the backbone, who regarded episcopacy as something
little short of papistry and quite equivalent to toryism. Yet the
shout that went up from soldiers and people on Cambridge common on
that pleasant July morning came from the heart and had no jarring
note. A few of the political chiefs growled a little in later days at
Washington, but the soldiers and the people, high and low, rich and
poor, gave him an unstinted loyalty. On the fields of battle and
throughout eight years of political strife the men of New England
stood by the great Virginian with a devotion and truth in which was no
shadow of turning. Here again we see exhibited most conspicuously
the powerful personality of the man who was able thus to command
immediately the allegiance of this naturally cold and reserved people.
What was it that they saw which inspired them at once with so much
confidence? They looked upon a tall, handsome man, dressed in plain
uniform, wearing across his breast a broad blue band of silk, which
some may have noticed as the badge and symbol of a certain solemn
league and covenant once very momentous in the English-speaking world.
They saw his calm, high bearing, and in every line of face and figure
they beheld the signs of force and courage. Yet there must have been
something more to call forth the confidence then so quickly given, and
which no one ever long withheld. All felt dimly, but none the less
surely, that here was a strong, able man, capable of rising to the
emergency, whatever it might be, capable of continued growth and
development, clear of head and warm of heart; and so the New England
people gave to him instinctively their sympathy and their faith, and
never took either back.

The shouts and cheers died away, and then Washington returned to his
temporary quarters in the Wadsworth house, to master the task before
him. The first great test of his courage and ability had come, and he
faced it quietly as the excitement caused by his arrival passed by. He
saw before him, to use his own words, "a mixed multitude of people,
under very little discipline, order, or government." In the language
of one of his aides:[1] "The entire army, if it deserved the name, was
but an assemblage of brave, enthusiastic, undisciplined, country lads;
the officers in general quite as ignorant of military life as the
troops, excepting a few elderly men, who had seen some irregular
service among the provincials under Lord Amherst." With this force,
ill-posted and very insecurely fortified, Washington was to drive the
British from Boston. His first step was to count his men, and it took
eight days to get the necessary returns, which in an ordinary army
would have been furnished in an hour. When he had them, he found that
instead of twenty thousand, as had been represented, but fourteen
thousand soldiers were actually present for duty. In a short time,
however, Mr. Emerson, the chaplain, noted in his diary that it
was surprising how much had been done, that the lines had been so
extended, and the works so shrewdly built, that it was morally
impossible for the enemy to get out except in one place purposely left
open. A little later the same observer remarked: "There is a great
overturning in the camp as to order and regularity; new lords, new
laws. The Generals Washington and Lee are upon the lines every day.
The strictest government is taking place, and great distinction is
made between officers and soldiers." Bodies of troops scattered here
and there by chance were replaced by well-distributed forces, posted
wisely and effectively in strong intrenchments. It is little wonder
that the worthy chaplain was impressed, and now, seeing it all from
every side, we too can watch order come out of chaos and mark the
growth of an army under the guidance of a master-mind and the steady
pressure of an unbending will.

[Footnote 1: John Trumbull, _Reminiscences_, p. 18.]

Then too there was no discipline, for the army was composed of raw
militia, who elected their officers and carried on war as they
pleased. In a passage suppressed by Mr. Sparks, Washington said:
"There is no such thing as getting officers of this stamp to carry
orders into execution--to curry favor with the men (by whom they were
chosen, and on whose smile they may possibly think that they may again
rely) seems to be one of the principal objects of their attention.
I have made a pretty good slam amongst such kind of officers as the
Massachusetts government abounds in, since I came into this camp,
having broke one colonel and two captains for cowardly behavior in
the action on Bunker Hill, two captains for drawing more pay and
provisions than they had men in their company, and one for being
absent from his post when the enemy appeared there and burnt a house
just by it. Besides these I have at this time one colonel, one major,
one captain, and two subalterns under arrest for trial. In short, I
spare none, and yet fear it will not all do, as these people seem to
be too attentive to everything but their own interests." This may
be plain and homely in phrase, but it is not stilted, and the quick
energy of the words shows how the New England farmers and fishermen
were being rapidly brought to discipline. Bringing the army into
order, however, was but a small part of his duties. It is necessary
to run over all his difficulties, great and small, at this time, and
count them up, in order to gain a just idea of the force and capacity
of the man who overcame them.

Washington, in the first place, was obliged to deal not only with his
army, but with the general congress and the congress of the province.
He had to teach them, utterly ignorant as they were of the needs and
details of war, how to organize and supply their armies. There was no
commissary department, there were no uniforms, no arrangements for
ammunition, no small arms, no cannon, no resources to draw upon for
all these necessaries of war. Little by little he taught Congress
to provide after a fashion for these things, little by little he
developed what he needed, and by his own ingenuity, and by seizing
alertly every suggestion from others, he supplied for better or worse
one deficiency after another. He had to deal with various governors
and various colonies, each with its prejudices, jealousies, and
shortcomings. He had to arrange for new levies from a people unused
to war, and to settle with infinite anxiety and much wear and tear of
mind and body, the conflict as to rank among officers to whom he could
apply no test but his own insight. He had to organize and stimulate
the arming of privateers, which, by preying on British commerce, were
destined to exercise such a powerful influence on the fate of the war.
It was neither showy nor attractive, such work as this, but it was
very vital, and it was done.

By the end of July the army was in a better posture of defense;
and then at the beginning of the next month, as the prospect was
brightening, it was suddenly discovered that there was no gunpowder.
An undrilled army, imperfectly organized, was facing a disciplined
force and had only some nine rounds in the cartridge-boxes. Yet there
is no quivering in the letters from headquarters. Anxiety and strain
of nerve are apparent; but a resolute determination rises over all,
supported by a ready fertility of resource. Couriers flew over the
country asking for powder in every town and in every village. A vessel
was even dispatched to the Bermudas to seize there a supply of powder,
of which the general, always listening, had heard. Thus the immediate
and grinding pressure was presently relieved, but the staple of war
still remained pitifully and perilously meagre all through the winter.

Meantime, while thus overwhelmed with the cares immediately about him,
Washington was watching the rest of the country. He had a keen eye
upon Johnson and his Indians in the valley of the Mohawk; he followed
sharply every movement of Tryon and the Tories in New York; he refused
with stern good sense to detach troops to Connecticut and Long Island,
knowing well when to give and when to say No, a difficult monosyllable
for the new general of freshly revolted colonies. But if he would not
detach in one place, he was ready enough to do so in another. He sent
one expedition by Lake Champlain, under Montgomery, to Montreal, and
gave Arnold picked troops to march through the wilds of Maine and
strike Quebec. The scheme was bold and brilliant, both in conception
and in execution, and came very near severing Canada forever from the
British crown. A chapter of little accidents, each one of which proved
as fatal as it was unavoidable, a moment's delay on the Plains of
Abraham, and the whole campaign failed; but there was a grasp of
conditions, a clearness of perception, and a comprehensiveness about
the plan, which stamp it as the work of a great soldier, who saw
besides the military importance, the enormous political value held out
by the chance of such a victory.

The daring, far-reaching quality of this Canadian expedition was much
more congenial to Washington's temper and character than the wearing
work of the siege. All that man could do before Boston was done, and
still Congress expected the impossible, and grumbled because without
ships he did not secure the harbor. He himself, while he inwardly
resented such criticism, chafed under the monotonous drudgery of the
intrenchments. He was longing, according to his nature, to fight, and
was, it must be confessed, quite ready to attempt the impossible in
his own way. Early in September he proposed to attack the town in
boats and by the neck of land at Roxbury, but the council of officers
unanimously voted against him. A little more than a month later he
planned another attack, and was again voted down by his officers.
Councils of war never fight, it is said, and perhaps in this case
it was well that such was their habit, for the schemes look rather
desperate now. To us they serve to show the temper of the man, and
also his self-control in this respect at the beginning of the war, for
Washington became ready enough afterwards to override councils when he
was wholly free from doubt himself.

Thus the planning of campaigns, both distant and near, went on, and at
the same time the current of details, difficult, vital, absolute in
demanding prompt and vigorous solution, went on too. The existence of
war made it necessary to fix our relations with our enemies, and that
these relations should be rightly settled was of vast moment to our
cause, struggling for recognition. The first question was the matter
of prisoners, and on August 11 Washington wrote to Gage:--

"I understand that the officers engaged in the cause of liberty and
their country, who by the fortune of war have fallen into your hands,
have been thrown indiscriminately into a common gaol appropriated
for felons; that no consideration has been had for those of the most
respectable rank, when languishing with wounds and sickness; and that
some have been even amputated in this unworthy situation.

"Let your opinion, sir, of the principle which actuates them be what
it may, they suppose that they act from the noblest of all principles,
a love of freedom and their country. But political principles, I
conceive, are foreign to this point. The obligations arising from the
rights of humanity and claims of rank are universally binding and
extensive, except in case of retaliation. These, I should have hoped,
would have dictated a more tender treatment of those individuals whom
chance or war had put in your power. Nor can I forbear suggesting
its fatal tendency to widen that unhappy breach which you, and those
ministers under whom you act, have repeatedly declared your wish is to
see forever closed.

"My duty now makes it necessary to apprise you, that for the future I
shall regulate all my conduct towards those gentlemen who are or may
be in our possession, exactly by the rule you shall observe towards
those of ours now in your custody.

"If severity and hardship mark the line of your conduct, painful as it
may be to me, your prisoners will feel its effects. But if kindness
and humanity are shown to ours, I shall with pleasure consider those
in our hands only as unfortunate, and they shall receive from me that
treatment to which the unfortunate are ever entitled."

This is a letter worthy of a little study. The affair does not look
very important now, but it went then to the roots of things; for this
letter would go out to the world, and America and the American cause
would be judged by their leader. A little bluster or ferocity, any
fine writing, or any absurdity, and the world would have sneered,
condemned, or laughed. But no man could read this letter and fail to
perceive that here was dignity and force, justice and sense, with just
a touch of pathos and eloquence to recommend it to the heart. Men
might differ with the writer, but they could neither laugh at him nor
set him aside.

Gage replied after his kind. He was an inconsiderable person, dull
and well meaning, intended for the command of a garrison town,
and terribly twisted and torn by the great events in which he was
momentarily caught. His masters were stupid and arrogant, and he
imitated them with perfect success, except that arrogance with him
dwindled to impertinence. He answered Washington's letter with denials
and recriminations, lectured the American general on the political
situation, and talked about "usurped authority," "rebels,"
"criminals," and persons destined to the "cord." Washington, being a
man of his word, proceeded to put some English prisoners into jail,
and then wrote a second note, giving Gage a little lesson in manners,
with the vain hope of making him see that gentlemen did not scold
and vituperate because they fought. He restated his case calmly
and coolly, as before, informed Gage that he had investigated the
counter-charge of cruelty and found it without any foundation, and
then continued: "You advise me to give free operation to truth, and
to punish misrepresentation and falsehood. If experience stamps value
upon counsel, yours must have a weight which few can claim. You best
can tell how far the convulsion, which has brought such ruin on both
countries, and shaken the mighty empire of Britain to its foundation,
may be traced to these malignant causes.

"You affect, sir, to despise all rank not derived from the same source
with your own. I cannot conceive one more honorable than that which
flows from the uncorrupted choice of a brave and free people, the
purest source and original fountain of all power. Far from making it a
plea for cruelty, a mind of true magnanimity and enlarged ideas would
comprehend and respect it."

Washington had grasped instinctively the general truth that Englishmen
are prone to mistake civility for servility, and become offensive,
whereas if they are treated with indifference, rebuke, or even
rudeness, they are apt to be respectful and polite. He was obliged to
go over the same ground with Sir William Howe, a little later, and
still more sharply; and this matter of prisoners recurred, although at
longer and longer intervals, throughout the war. But as the British
generals saw their officers go to jail, and found that their impudence
and assumption were met by keen reproofs, they gradually comprehended
that Washington was not a man to be trifled with, and that in him
was a pride and dignity out-topping theirs and far stronger, because
grounded on responsibility borne and work done, and on the deep sense
of a great and righteous cause.

It was probably a pleasure and a relief to give to Gage and Sir
William Howe a little instruction in military behavior and general
good manners, but there was nothing save infinite vexation in dealing
with the difficulties arising on the American side of the line. As the
days shortened and the leaves fell, Washington saw before him a New
England winter, with no clothing and no money for his troops. Through
long letters to Congress, and strenuous personal efforts, these
wants were somehow supplied. Then the men began to get restless and
homesick, and both privates and officers would disappear to their
farms, which Washington, always impatient of wrongdoing, styled "base
and pernicious conduct," and punished accordingly. By and by the terms
of enlistment ran out and the regiments began to melt away even before
the proper date. Recruiting was carried on slowly and with difficulty,
new levies were tardy in coming in, and Congress could not be
persuaded to stop limited enlistments. Still the task was done. The
old army departed and a new one arose in its place, the posts were
strengthened and ammunition secured.

Among these reinforcements came some Virginia riflemen, and it must
have warmed Washington's heart to see once more these brave and hardy
fighters in the familiar hunting shirt and leggins. They certainly
made him warm in a very different sense by getting into a
rough-and-tumble fight one winter's day with some Marblehead
fishermen. The quarrel was at its height, when suddenly into the brawl
rode the commander-in-chief. He quickly dismounted, seized two of the
combatants, shook them, berated them, if tradition may be trusted,
for their local jealousies, and so with strong arm quelled the
disturbance. He must have longed to take more than one colonial
governor or magnate by the throat and shake him soundly, as he did his
soldiers from the woods of Virginia and the rocks of Marblehead, for
to his temper there was nothing so satisfying as rapid and decisive
action. But he could not quell governors and assemblies in this way,
and yet he managed them and got what he wanted with a patience and
tact which it must have been in the last degree trying to him to
practice, gifted as he was with a nature at once masterful and

Another trial was brought about by his securing and sending out
privateers which did good service. They brought in many valuable
prizes which caused infinite trouble, and forced Washington not only
to be a naval secretary, but also made him a species of admiralty
judge. He implored the slow-moving Congress to relieve him from this
burden, and suggested a plan which led to the formation of special
committees and was the origin of the Federal judiciary of the United
States. Besides the local jealousies and the personal jealousies, and
the privateers and their prizes, he had to meet also the greed and
selfishness as well of the money-making, stock-jobbing spirit which
springs up rankly under the influence of army contracts and large
expenditures among a people accustomed to trade and unused to war.
Washington wrote savagely of these practices, but still, despite all
hindrances and annoyances, he kept moving straight on to his object.

In the midst of his labors, harassed and tried in all ways, he was
assailed as usual by complaint and criticism. Some of it came to him
through his friend and aide, Joseph Reed, to whom he wrote in reply
one of the noblest letters ever penned by a great man struggling with
adverse circumstances and wringing victory from grudging fortune. He
said that he was always ready to welcome criticism, hear advice, and
learn the opinion of the world. "For as I have but one capital object
in view, I could wish to make my conduct coincide with the wishes of
mankind, as far as I can consistently; I mean, without departing from
that great line of duty which, though hid under a cloud for some
time, from a peculiarity of circumstances, may, nevertheless, bear
a scrutiny." Thus he held fast to "the great line of duty," though
bitterly tried the while by the news from Canada, where brilliant
beginnings were coming to dismal endings, and cheered only by the
arrival of his wife, who drove up one day in her coach and four, with
the horses ridden by black postilions in scarlet and white liveries,
much to the amazement, no doubt, of the sober-minded New England folk.

Light, however, finally began to break on the work about him. Henry
Knox, sent out for that purpose, returned safely with the guns
captured at Ticonderoga, and thus heavy ordnance and gunpowder were
obtained. By the middle of February the harbor was frozen over, and
Washington arranged to cross the ice and carry Boston by storm.
Again he was held back by his council, but this time he could not be
stopped. If he could not cross the ice he would go by land. He had
been slowly but surely advancing his works all winter, and now he
determined on a decisive stroke. On the evening of Monday, March
4, under cover of a heavy bombardment which distracted the enemy's
attention, he marched a large body of troops to Dorchester Heights
and began to throw up redoubts. The work went forward rapidly, and
Washington rode about all night encouraging the men. The New England
soldiers had sorely tried his temper, and there were many severe
attacks and bitter criticisms upon them in his letters, which were
suppressed or smoothed over for the most part by Mr. Sparks, but
which have come to light since, as is sometimes the case with facts.
Gradually, however, the General had come to know his soldiers better,
and six months later he wrote to Lund Washington, praising his
northern troops in the highest terms. Even now he understood them as
never before, and as he watched them on that raw March night, working
with the energy and quick intelligence of their race, he probably felt
that the defects were superficial, but the virtues, the tenacity, and
the courage were lasting and strong.

When day dawned, and the British caught sight of the formidable works
which had sprung up in the night, there was a great excitement and
running hither and thither in the town. Still the men on the heights
worked on, and still Washington rode back and forth among them. He was
stirred and greatly rejoiced at the coming of the fight, which he now
believed inevitable, and as always, when he was deeply moved, the
hidden springs of sentiment and passion were opened, and he reminded
his soldiers that it was the anniversary of the Boston massacre, and
appealed to them by the memories of that day to prepare for battle
with the enemy. As with the Huguenots at Ivry,--

"Remember St. Bartholomew was passed from man to man."

But the fighting never came. The British troops were made ready, then
a gale arose and they could not cross the bay. The next day it
rained in torrents, and the next day it was too late. The American
intrenchments frowned threateningly above the town, and began to send
in certain ominous messengers in the shape of shot and shell. The
place was now so clearly untenable that Howe determined to evacuate
it. An informal request to allow the troops to depart unmolested was
not answered, but Washington suspended his fire and the British made
ready to withdraw. Still they hesitated and delayed, until Washington
again advanced his works, and on this hint they started in earnest, on
March 17, amid confusion, pillage, and disorder, leaving cannon and
much else behind them, and seeking refuge in their ships.

All was over, and the town was in the hands of the Americans. In
Washington's own words, "To maintain a post within musket-shot of the
enemy for six months together, without powder, and at the same time
to disband one army and recruit another within that distance of
twenty-odd British regiments, is more, probably, than ever was
attempted." It was, in truth, a gallant feat of arms, carried through
by the resolute will and strong brain of one man. The troops on
both sides were brave, but the British had advantages far more than
compensating for a disparity of numbers, always slight and often
more imaginary than real. They had twelve thousand men, experienced,
disciplined, equipped, and thoroughly supplied. They had the best arms
and cannon and gunpowder. They commanded the sea with a strong fleet,
and they were concentrated on the inside line, able to strike with
suddenness and overwhelming force at any point of widely extended
posts. Washington caught them with an iron grip and tightened it
steadily until, in disorderly haste, they took to their boats without
even striking a blow. Washington's great abilities, and the incapacity
of the generals opposed to him, were the causes of this result. If
Robert Clive, for instance, had chanced to have been there the end
might possibly have been the same, but there would have been some
bloody fighting before that end was reached. The explanation of the
feeble abandonment of Boston lies in the stupidity of the English
government, which had sown the wind and then proceeded to handle the
customary crop with equal fatuity.

There were plenty of great men in England, but they were not
conducting her government or her armies. Lord Sandwich had declared
in the House of Lords that all "Yankees were cowards," a simple and
satisfactory statement, readily accepted by the governing classes, and
flung in the teeth of the British soldiers as they fell back twice
from the bloody slopes of Bunker Hill. Acting on this pleasant idea,
England sent out as commanders of her American army a parcel of
ministerial and court favorites, thoroughly second-rate men, to whom
was confided the task of beating one of the best soldiers and hardest
fighters of the century. Despite the enormous material odds in favor
of Great Britain, the natural result of matching the Howes and Gages
and Clintons against George Washington ensued, and the first lesson
was taught by the evacuation of Boston.

Washington did not linger over his victory. Even while the British
fleet still hung about the harbor he began to send troops to New York
to make ready for the next attack. He entered Boston in order to see
that every precaution was taken against the spread of the smallpox,
and then prepared to depart himself. Two ideas, during his first
winter of conflict, had taken possession of his mind, and undoubtedly
influenced profoundly his future course. One was the conviction that
the struggle must be fought out to the bitter end, and must bring
either subjugation or complete independence. He wrote in February:
"With respect to myself, I have never entertained an idea of an
accommodation, since I heard of the measures which were adopted in
consequence of the Bunker's Hill fight;" and at an earlier date he
said: "I hope my countrymen (of Virginia) will rise superior to any
losses the whole navy of Great Britain can bring on them, and that the
destruction of Norfolk and threatened devastation of other places
will have no other effect than to unite the whole country in one
indissoluble band against a nation which seems to be lost to every
sense of virtue and those feelings which distinguish a civilized
people from the most barbarous savages." With such thoughts he
sought to make Congress appreciate the probable long duration of the
struggle, and he bent every energy to giving permanency to his army,
and decisiveness to each campaign. The other idea which had grown in
his mind during the weary siege was that the Tories were thoroughly
dangerous and deserved scant mercy. In his second letter to Gage he
refers to them, with the frankness which characterized him when he
felt strongly, as "execrable parricides," and he made ready to
treat them with the utmost severity at New York and elsewhere. When
Washington was aroused there was a stern and relentless side to his
character, in keeping with the force and strength which were his chief
qualities. His attitude on this point seems harsh now when the
old Tories no longer look very dreadful and we can appreciate the
sincerity of conviction which no doubt controlled most of them. But
they were dangerous then, and Washington, with his honest hatred of
all that seemed to him to partake of meanness or treason, proposed to
put them down and render them harmless, being well convinced, after
his clear-sighted fashion, that war was not peace, and that mildness
to domestic foes was sadly misplaced.

His errand to New England was now done and well done. His victory was
won, everything was settled at Boston; and so, having sent his army
forward, he started for New York, to meet the harder trials that still
awaited him.



After leaving Boston, Washington proceeded through Rhode Island and
Connecticut, pushing troops forward as he advanced, and reached New
York on April 13. There he found himself plunged at once into the same
sea of difficulties with which he had been struggling at Boston, the
only difference being that these were fresh and entirely untouched.
The army was inadequate, and the town, which was the central point
of the colonies, as well as the great river at its side, was wholly
unprotected. The troops were in large measure raw and undrilled, the
committee of safety was hesitating, the Tories were virulent and
active, corresponding constantly with Tryon, who was lurking in a
British man-of-war, while from the north came tidings of retreat
and disaster. All these harassing difficulties crowded upon the
commander-in-chief as soon as he arrived. To appreciate him it is
necessary to understand these conditions and realize their weight and
consequence, albeit the details seem petty. When we comprehend the
difficulties, then we can see plainly the greatness of the man who
quietly and silently took them up and disposed of them. Some he
scotched and some he killed, but he dealt with them all after a
fashion sufficient to enable him to move steadily forward. In his
presence the provincial committee suddenly stiffened and grew strong.
All correspondence with Tryon was cut off, the Tories were repressed,
and on Long Island steps were taken to root out "these abominable
pests of society," as the commander-in-chief called them in his
plain-spoken way. Then forts were built, soldiers energetically
recruited and drilled, arrangements made for prisoners, and despite
all the present cares anxious thought was given to the Canada
campaign, and ideas and expeditions, orders, suggestions, and
encouragement were freely furnished to the dispirited generals and
broken forces of the north.

One matter, however, overshadowed all others. Nearly a year before,
Washington had seen that there was no prospect or possibility of
accommodation with Great Britain. It was plain to his mind that the
struggle was final in its character and would be decisive. Separation
from the mother country, therefore, ought to come at once, so that
public opinion might be concentrated, and above all, permanency ought
to be given to the army. These ideas he had been striving to impress
upon Congress, for the most part less clearsighted than he was as to
facts, and as the months slipped by his letters had grown constantly
more earnest and more vehement. Still Congress hesitated, and at last
Washington went himself to Philadelphia and held conferences with
the principal men. What he said is lost, but the tone of Congress
certainly rose after his visit. The aggressive leaders found their
hands so much strengthened that little more than a month later they
carried through a declaration of independence, which was solemnly and
gratefully proclaimed to the army by the general, much relieved to
have got through the necessary boat-burning, and to have brought
affairs, military and political, on to the hard ground of actual fact.

Soon after his return from Philadelphia, he received convincing
proof that his views in regard to the Tories were extremely sound.
A conspiracy devised by Tryon, which aimed apparently at the
assassination of the commander-in-chief, and which had corrupted his
life-guards for that purpose, was discovered and scattered before it
had fairly hardened into definite form. The mayor of the city and
various other persons were seized and thrown into prison, and one of
the life-guards, Thomas Hickey by name, who was the principal tool in
the plot, was hanged in the presence of a large concourse of people.
Washington wrote a brief and business-like account of the affair to
Congress, from which one would hardly suppose that his own life had
been aimed at. It is a curious instance of his cool indifference to
personal danger. The conspiracy had failed, that was sufficient for
him, and he had other things besides himself to consider. "We expect
a bloody summer in New York and Canada," he wrote to his brother, and
even while the Canadian expedition was coming to a disastrous close,
and was bringing hostile invasion instead of the hoped-for conquest,
British men-of-war were arriving daily in the harbor, and a large army
was collecting on Staten Island. The rejoicings over the Declaration
of Independence had hardly died away, when the vessels of the enemy
made their way up the Hudson without check from the embryo forts, or
the obstacles placed in the stream.

July 12 Lord Howe arrived with more troops, and also with ample
powers to pardon and negotiate. Almost immediately he tried to open
a correspondence with Washington, but Colonel Reed, in behalf of the
General, refused to receive the letter addressed to "Mr. Washington."
Then Lord Howe sent an officer to the American camp with a second
letter, addressed to "George Washington, Esq., etc., etc." The bearer
was courteously received, but the letter was declined. "The etc., etc.
implies everything," said the Englishman. It may also mean "anything,"
Washington replied, and added that touching the pardoning power of
Lord Howe there could be no pardon where there was no guilt, and where
no forgiveness was asked. As a result of these interviews, Lord Howe
wrote to England that it would be well to give Mr. Washington his
proper title. A small question, apparently, this of the form of
address, especially to a lover of facts, and yet it was in reality
of genuine importance. To the world Washington represented the young
republic, and he was determined to extort from England the first
acknowledgment of independence by compelling her to recognize the
Americans as belligerents and not rebels. Washington cared as little
for vain shows as any man who ever lived, but he had the highest sense
of personal dignity, and of the dignity of his cause and country.
Neither should be allowed to suffer in his hands. He appreciated the
effect on mankind of forms and titles, and with unerring judgment
he insisted on what he knew to be of real value. It is one of the
earliest examples of the dignity and good taste which were of such
inestimable value to his country.

He had abundant occasion also for the employment of these same
qualities, coupled with unwearied patience and tact, in dealing with
his own men. The present army was drawn from a wider range than that
which had taken Boston, and sectional jealousies and disputes, growing
every day more hateful to the commander-in-chief, sprang up rankly.
The men of Maryland thought those of Connecticut ploughboys; the
latter held the former to be fops and dandies. These and a hundred
other disputes buzzed and whirled about Washington, stirring his
strong temper, and exercising his sternest self-control in the
untiring effort to suppress them and put them to death. "It
requires," John Adams truly said, "more serenity of temper, a deeper
understanding, and more courage than fell to the lot of Marlborough,
to ride in this whirlwind." Fortunately these qualities were all
there, and with them an honesty of purpose and an unbending directness
of character to which Anne's great general was a stranger.

Meantime, while the internal difficulties were slowly diminished, the
forces of the enemy rapidly increased. First it became evident that
attacks were not feasible. Then the question changed to a mere choice
of defenses. Even as to this there was great and harassing doubt, for
the enemy, having command of the water, could concentrate and attack
at any point they pleased. Moreover, the British had thirty thousand
of the best disciplined and best equipped troops that Europe could
furnish, while Washington had some twenty thousand men, one fourth of
whom were unfit for duty, and with the remaining three fourths, raw
recruits for the most part, he was obliged to defend an extended line
of posts, without cavalry, and with no means for rapid concentration.
Had he been governed solely by military considerations he would have
removed the inhabitants, burned New York, and drawing his forces
together would have taken up a secure post of observation. To have
destroyed the town, however, not only would have frightened the timid
and the doubters, and driven them over to the Tories, but would have
dispirited the patriots not yet alive to the exigencies of war, and
deeply injured the American cause. That Washington well understood the
need of such action is clear, both from the current rumors that the
town was to be burned, and from his expressed desire to remove the
women and children from New York. But political considerations
overruled the military necessity, and he spared the town. It was bad
enough to be thus hampered, but he was even more fettered in other
ways, for he could not even concentrate his forces and withdraw to the
Highlands without a battle, as he was obliged to fight in order to
sustain public feeling, and thus he was driven on to almost sure
defeat. With Brooklyn Heights in the hands of the enemy New York was
untenable, and yet it was obvious that to hold Brooklyn when the enemy
controlled the sea was inviting defeat. Yet Washington under the
existing conditions had no choice except to fight on Long Island and
to say that he hoped to make a good defense.

Everything, too, as the day of battle drew near, seemed to make
against him. On August 22 the enemy began to land on Long Island,
where Greene had drawn a strong line of redoubts behind the village of
Brooklyn, to defend the heights which commanded New York, and had made
every arrangement to protect the three roads through the wooded hills,
about a mile from the intrenchments. Most unfortunately, and just at
the critical moment, Greene was taken down with a raging fever, so
that when Washington came over on the 24th he found much confusion in
the camps, which he repressed as best he could, and then prepared for
the attack. Greene's illness, however, had caused some oversights
which were unknown to the commander-in-chief, and which, as it turned
out, proved fatal.

After indecisive skirmishing for two or three days, the British
started early on the morning of the 26th. They had nine thousand men
and were well informed as to the country. Advancing through woodpaths
and lanes, they came round to the left flank of the Americans. One
of the roads through the hills was unguarded, the others feebly
protected. The result is soon told. The Americans, out-generaled and
out-flanked, were taken by surprise and surrounded, Sullivan and
his division were cut off, and then Lord Stirling. There was some
desperate fighting, and the Americans showed plenty of courage, but
only a few forced their way out. Most of them were killed or taken
prisoners, the total loss out of some five thousand men reaching as
high as two thousand.

From the redoubts, whither he had come at the sound of the firing,
Washington watched the slaughter and disaster in grim silence. He saw
the British troops, flushed with victory, press on to the very edge
of his works and then withdraw in obedience to command. The British
generals had their prey so surely, as they believed, that they
mercifully decided not to waste life unnecessarily by storming the
works in the first glow of success. So they waited during that
night and the two following days, while Washington strengthened his
intrenchments, brought over reinforcements, and prepared for the
worst. On the 29th it became apparent that there was a movement in the
fleet, and that arrangements were being made to take the Americans in
the rear and wholly cut them off. It was an obvious and sensible plan,
but the British overlooked the fact that while they were lingering,
summing up their victory, and counting the future as assured, there
was a silent watchful man on the other side of the redoubts who for
forty-eight hours never left the lines, and who with a great capacity
for stubborn fighting could move, when the stress came, with the
celerity and stealth of a panther.

Washington swiftly determined to retreat. It was a desperate
undertaking, and a lesser man would have hesitated and been lost. He
had to transport nine thousand men across a strait of strong tides and
currents, and three quarters of a mile in width. It was necessary to
collect the boats from a distance, and do it all within sight and
hearing of the enemy. The boats were obtained, a thick mist settled
down on sea and land, the water was calm, and as the night wore away,
the entire army with all its arms and baggage was carried over,
Washington leaving in the last boat. At daybreak the British awoke,
but it was too late. They had fought a successful battle, they had had
the American army in their grasp, and now all was over. The victory
had melted away, and, as a grand result, they had a few hundred
prisoners, a stray boat with three camp-followers, and the deserted
works in which they stood. To grasp so surely the happy chance of wind
and weather and make such a retreat as this was a feat of arms as
great as most victories, and in it we see, perhaps as plainly as
anywhere, the nerve and quickness of the man who conducted it. It is
true, it was the only chance of salvation, but the great man is he who
is entirely master of his opportunity, even if he have but one.


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