George Washington
William Roscoe Thayer

Part 2 out of 4

have been, by a determination to remove their causes. Probably the
delegates came to regard the jeremiads as a matter of course and
assumed that Washington would pull through somehow. Very remarkable is
it that the Commander-in-Chief of any army in such a struggle should
have expressed himself as he did, bluntly, in regard to its glaring
imperfections. Doing this, however, he managed to hold the loyalty and
spirit of his men. In the American Civil War, McClellan contrived to
infatuate his troops with the belief that his plans were perfect, and
that only the annoying fact that the Confederate generals planned
better caused him to be defeated; and yet to his obsessed soldiers
defeat under McClellan was more glorious than victory under Lee or
Stonewall Jackson. I take it that Washington's frankness simply
reflected his passion for veracity, which was the cornerstone of his
character. The strangest fact of all was that it did not lessen his
popularity or discourage his troops.

To his intimates Washington wrote with even more unreserve. Thus he
says to Lund Washington (30th September):

In short, such is my situation that if I were to wish the
bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should
put him in my stead with my feelings; and yet I do not know what
plan of conduct to pursue. I see the impossibility of serving
with reputation, or doing any essential service to the cause by
continuing in command, and yet I am told that if I quit the
command, inevitable ruin will follow from the distraction that
will ensue. In confidence I tell you that I never was in such an
unhappy, divided state since I was born. To lose all comfort and
happiness on the one hand, whilst I am fully persuaded that under
such a system of management as has been adopted, I cannot have the
least chance for reputation, nor those allowances made which the
nature of the case requires; and to be told, on the other, that if
I leave the service all will be lost, is, at the same time that I
am bereft of every peaceful moment, distressing to a degree. But I
will be done with the subject, with the precaution to you that it
is not a fit one to be publicly known or discussed. If I fall,
it may not be amiss that these circumstances be known, and
declaration made in credit to the justice of my character. And
if the men will stand by me (which by the by I despair of), I am
resolved not to be forced from this ground while I have life;
and a few days will determine the point, if the enemy should not
change their place of operations; for they certainly will not--I
am sure they ought not--to waste the season that is now fast
advancing, and must be precious to them.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, IV, 458.]

The British troops almost succeeded in surrounding Washington's force
north of Harlem. Washington retreated to White Plains, where, on
October 28th, the British, after a severe loss, took an outpost
and won what is called the "Battle of White Plains." Henceforward
Washington's movements resembled too painfully those of the proverbial
toad under the harrow; and yet in spite of Lord Howe's efforts to
crush him, he succeeded in escaping into New Jersey with a small
remnant--some six thousand men--of his original army. The year 1776
thus closed in disaster which seemed to be irremediable. It showed
that the British, having awakened to the magnitude of their task, were
able to cope with it. Having a comparatively unlimited sea-power, they
needed only to embark their regiments, with the necessary provisions
and ammunition, on their ships and send them across the Atlantic,
where they were more than a match for the nondescript, undisciplined,
ill-equipped, and often badly nourished Americans. The fact that
at the highest reckoning hardly a half of the American people were
actively in favor of Independence, is too often forgotten. But from
this fact there followed much lukewarmness and inertia in certain
sections. Many persons had too little imagination or were too sordidly
bound by their daily ties to care. As one planter put it: "My business
is to raise tobacco, the rest doesn't concern me."

Over the generally level plains of New Jersey, George Washington
pushed the remnant of the army that remained to him. He had now hardly
five thousand men, but they were the best, most seasoned, and in
many respects the hardiest fighters. In addition to the usual
responsibility of warfare, of feeding his troops, finding quarters
for them, and of directing the line of march, he had to cope with
wholesale desertions and to make desperate efforts to raise money and
to persuade some of those troops, whose term was expiring, to stay on.
His general plan now was to come near enough to the British centre and
to watch its movements. The British had fully twenty-five thousand men
who could be centred at a given point. This centre was now Trenton,
and the objective of the British was so plainly Philadelphia that the
Continental Congress, after voting to remain in permanence there, fled
as quietly as possible to Baltimore. On December 18th Washington wrote
from the camp near the Falls of Trenton to John Augustine Washington:

If every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all
possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up, owing,
in great measure, to the insidious acts of the Enemy, and
disaffection of the Colonies before mentioned, but principally to
the accursed policy of short enlistments, and placing too great
a dependence on the militia, the evil consequences of which were
foretold fifteen months ago, with a spirit almost Prophetic. ...
You can form no idea of the perplexity of my situation. No man, I
believe, ever had a greater choice of difficulties, and less means
to extricate himself from them. However, under a full persuasion
of the justice of our cause, I cannot entertain an idea that it
will finally sink, though it may remain for some time under a

[Footnote 1: Ford, V, 111.]

Washington stood with his forlorn little array on the west bank of
the Delaware above Trenton. He had information that the British had
stretched their line very far and thin to the east of the town.
Separating his forces into three bodies, he commanded one of these
himself, and during the night of Christmas he crossed the river in
boats. The night was stormy and the crossing was much interrupted by
floating cakes of ice; in spite of which he landed his troops safely
on the eastern shore. They had to march nine miles before they reached
Trenton, taking Colonel Rall and his garrison of Hessians by surprise.
More than a thousand surrendered and were quickly carried back over
the river into captivity.

The prestige of the Battle of Trenton was enormous. For the first time
in six months Washington had beaten the superior forces of the British
and beaten them in a fortified town of their own choosing. The result
of the victory was not simply military; it quickly penetrated the
population of New Jersey which had been exasperatingly Loyalist, had
sold the British provisions, and abetted their intrigues. Now the New
Jersey people suddenly bethought them that they might have chosen the
wrong side after all. This feeling was deepened in them a week later
when, at Princeton, Washington suddenly fell upon and routed several
British regiments. By this success he cleared the upper parts of New
Jersey of British troops, who were shut once more within the limits of
New York City and Long Island.

In January, 1777, no man could say that the turning-point in the
American Revolution had been passed. There were still to come long
months, and years even, of doubt and disillusion and suffering; the
agony of Valley Forge; the ignominy of betrayal; and the slowly
gnawing pain of hope deferred. But the fact, if men could have but
seen it, was clear--Trenton and Princeton were prophetic of the
end. And what was even clearer was the supreme importance of George
Washington. Had he been cut off after Princeton or had he been forced
to retire through accident, the Revolution would have slackened, lost
head and direction, and spent itself among thinly parcelled rivulets
without strength to reach the sea. Washington was a Necessary Man.
Without him the struggle would not then have continued. Sooner
or later America would have broken free from England, but he was
indispensable to the liberty and independence of the Colonies then.
This thought brooded over him at all times, not to make him boastful
or imperious, but to impress him with a deeper awe, and to impress
also his men with the supreme importance of his life to them all. They
grew restive when, at Princeton, forgetful of self, he faced a volley
of muskets only thirty feet away. One of his officers wrote after the
Trenton campaign:

Our army love their General very much, but they have one thing
against him, which is the little care he takes of himself in any
action. His personal bravery, and the desire he has of animating
his troops by example, makes him fearless of danger. This
occasions us much uneasiness. But Heaven, which has hitherto been
his shield, I hope will still continue to guard so valuable a

[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 171.]

Robert Morris, who had already achieved a very important position
among the Patriots of New York, wrote to Washington:

Heaven, no doubt for the noblest purposes, has blessed you with
a firmness of mind, steadiness of countenance, and patience in
sufferings, that give you infinite advantages over other men. This
being the case, you are not to depend on other people's exertions
being equal to your own. One mind feeds and thrives on misfortunes
by finding resources to get the better of them; another sinks
under their weight, thinking it impossible to resist; and, as the
latter description probably includes the majority of mankind, we
must be cautious of alarming them.

Washington doubtless thanked Morris for his kind advice about issuing
reports which had some streaks of the rainbow and less truth in them.
He did not easily give up his preference for truth.

Common prudence [he said] dictates the necessity of duly attending
to the circumstances of both armies, before the style of
conquerors is assumed by either; and I am sorry to add, that this
does not appear to be the case with us; nor is it in my power to
make Congress fully sensible of the real situation of our affairs,
and that it is with difficulty (if I may use the expression) that
I can, by every means in my power, keep the life and soul of this
army together. In a word, when they are at a distance, they think
it is but to say, Presto begone, and everything is done. They
seem not to have any conception of the difficulty and perplexity
attending those who are to execute.

After the Battle of Princeton, Washington drew his men off to the
Heights of Morristown where he established his winter quarters. The
British had gone still farther toward New York City. Both sides seemed
content to enjoy a comparative truce until spring should come with
better weather; but true to his characteristic of being always
preparing something, Howe had several projects in view, any one of
which might lead to important activity. If ever a war was fought at
long range, that war was the American Revolution. Howe received his
orders from the War Office in London. Every move was laid down; no
allowance was made for the change which unforeseeable contingencies
might render necessary; the young Under-Secretaries who carefully
drew up the instructions in London knew little or nothing about the
American field of operations and simply relied upon the fact that
their callipers showed that it was so many miles between Point X and
Point Y and that the distance should ordinarily be covered in so many

With Washington himself the case was hardly better. There were few
motions that he could make of his own free will. He had to get
authority from the Continental Congress at Philadelphia. The Congress
was not made up of military experts and in many cases it knew nothing
about the questions he asked. The members of the Congress were
talkers, not doers, and they sometimes lost themselves in endless
debate and sometimes they seemed quite to forget the questions
Washington put to them. We find him writing in December to beg them to
reply to the urgent question which he had first asked in the preceding
October. He was scrupulous not to take any step which might seem
dictatorial. The Congress and the people of the country dreaded
military despotism. That dread made them prefer the evil system
of militia and the short-term enlistments to a properly organized
standing army. To their fearful imagination the standing army would
very quickly be followed by the man on horseback and by hopeless

The Olympians in London who controlled the larger issues of war and
peace whispered to the young gentlemen in the War Office to draw up
plans for the invasion, during the summer of 1777, of the lower Hudson
by British troops from Canada. General Burgoyne should march down and
take Ticonderoga and then proceed to Albany. There he could meet a
smaller force under Colonel St. Leger coming from Oswego and following
the Mohawk River. A third army under Sir William Howe could ascend
the Hudson and meet Burgoyne and St. Leger at the general
rendezvous--Albany. It was a brave plan, and when Burgoyne started
with his force of eight thousand men high hopes flushed the British
hearts. These hopes seemed to be confirmed when a month later Burgoyne
took Ticonderoga. The Americans attributed great importance to this
place, an importance which might have been justified at an earlier
time, but which was now really passed, and it proved of little value
to Burgoyne. Pursuing his march southward, he found himself entangled
in the forest and he failed to meet boats which were to ferry him over
the streams.

The military operations during the summer and autumn of 1777 might
well cause the Americans to exult. The British plan of sending three
armies to clear out the forces which guarded or blocked the road from
Canada to the lower Hudson burst like a bubble. The chief contingent
of 8000 men, under General Burgoyne, seems to have strayed from its
route and to have been in need of food. Hearing that there were
supplies at Bennington, Burgoyne turned aside to that place. He
little suspected the mettle of John Stark and of his Green Mountain
volunteers. Their quality was well represented by Stark's address to
his men: "They are ours to-night, or Molly Stark is a widow." He did
not boast. By nightfall he had captured all of Burgoyne's men who were
alive (August 16, 1777).

Only one reverse marred the victories of the summer. This was at
Oriskany in August, 1777. An American force of 400 or 500 men fell
into an ambush, and its leader, General Herkimer, though mortally
wounded, refused to retire, but continued to give directions to the
end. Oriskany was reputed to be the most atrocious fight of the
Revolution. Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief, led the Indians, who were
allies of the English.

In spite of this, Burgoyne seemed to lose resolution, uncertain
whither to turn. He instinctively groped for a way that would take him
down the Hudson and bring him to Albany, where he was to meet British
reenforcements. But he missed his bearings and found himself near
Saratoga. Here General Gates confronted him with an army larger than
his own in regulars. On October 7th they fought a battle, which the
British technically claimed as a victory, as they were not driven from
their position, but it left them virtually hemmed in without a line
of escape. Burgoyne waited several days irresolute. He hoped that
something favorable to him might turn up. He had a lurking hope that
General Clinton was near by, coming to his rescue. He wavered, gallant
though he was, and would not give the final order of desperation--to
cut their way through the enemy lines. Instead of that he sought a
truce with Gates, and signed the Convention of Saratoga (October
17th), by which he surrendered his army with the honors of war, and it
was stipulated that they should be sent to England by English ships
and paroled against taking any further part in the war.

The victory of Saratoga had much effect on America; it reverberated
through Europe. Only the peculiar nature of the fighting in America
prevented it from being decisive. Washington himself had never dared
to risk a battle which, if he were defeated in it, would render it
impossible for him to continue the war. The British, on the other
hand, spread over much ground, and the destruction of one of their
armies would not necessarily involve the loss of all. So it was
now; Burgoyne's surrender did little to relieve the pressure on
Washington's troops on the Hudson, but it had a vital effect across
the sea.

Since the first year of the war the Americans had hoped to secure a
formal alliance with France against England, and among the French who
favored this scheme there were several persons of importance. Reasons
were easily found to justify such an alliance. The Treaty of Paris in
1763 had dispossessed France of her colonies in America and had left
her inferior to England in other parts of the world. Here was her
chance to take revenge. The new King, Louis XVI, had for Foreign
Minister Count de Vergennes, a diplomat of some experience, who warmly
urged supporting the cause of the American Colonists. He had for
accomplice Beaumarchais, a nimble-witted playwright and seductive man
of the world who talked very persuasively to the young King and many

The Americans on their side had not been inactive, and early in 1776
Silas Deane, a member of Congress from Connecticut, was sent over
to Paris with the mission to do his utmost to cement the friendship
between the American Colonies and France. Deane worked to such good
purpose that by October, 1776, he had sent clothing for twenty
thousand men, muskets for thirty thousand and large quantities of
ammunition. A fictitious French house, which went by the name of
Hortalaz et Cie, acted as agent and carried on the necessary business
from Paris. By this time military adventurers in large numbers began
to flock to America to offer their swords to the rebellious Colonials.
Among them were a few--de Kalb, Pulaski, Steuben, and Kosciuszko--who
did good service for the struggling young rebels, but most of them
were worthless adventurers and marplots.

Almost any American in Paris felt himself authorized to give a letter
of introduction to any Frenchman or other European who wished to try
his fortunes in America. One of the notorious cases was that of a
French officer named Ducoudray, who brought a letter from Deane
purporting to be an agreement that Ducoudray should command the
artillery of the Continental army with the rank and pay of a
major-general. Washington would take no responsibility for this
appointment, which would have displaced General Knox, a hardy veteran,
an indefectible patriot, and Washington's trusted friend. When
the matter was taken up by the Congress, the demand was quickly
disallowed. The absurdity of allowing Silas Deane or any other
American in Paris, no matter how meritorious his own services might
be, to assign to foreigners commissions of high rank in the American
army was too obvious to be debated.

To illustrate the character of Washington's miscellaneous labors in
addition to his usual household care of the force under him, I borrow
a few items from his correspondence. I borrow at random, the time
being October, 1777, when the Commander-in-Chief is moving from place
to place in northern New Jersey, watching the enemy and avoiding an
engagement. A letter comes from Richard Henry Lee, evidently intended
to sound Washington, in regard to the appointment of General Conway to
a high command in the American army. Washington replies with corroding

[Matuchin Hill, 17 October, 1777.] If there is any truth in
the report that Congress hath appointed ... Brigadier Conway a
Major-general in this army, it will be as unfortunate a measure as
ever was adopted. I may add, (and I think with truth) that it
will give a fatal blow to the existence of the army. Upon so
interesting a subject, I must speak plain. The duty I owe my
country, the ardent desire I have to promote its true interests,
and justice to individuals, requires this of me. General Conway's
merit, then, as an officer, and his importance in this army,
exists more in his imagination, than in reality. For it is a maxim
with him, to leave no service of his own untold, nor to want
anything, which is to be obtained by importunity.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 121.]

It does not appear that Lee fished for letters of introduction for
himself or any of his friends after this experiment. He needed no
further proof that George Washington had the art of sending _complete_

[Footnote 2: For the end of Conway and his cabal see _post_, 112,

On October 25, 1777, desertions being frequent among the officers and
men, Washington issued this circular to Pulaski and Colonels of Horse:

I am sorry to find that the liberty I granted to the light
dragoons of impressing horses near the enemy's line has been most
horribly abused and perverted into a mere plundering scheme.
I intended nothing more than that the horses belonging to the
disaffected in the neighborhood of the British Army, should be
taken for the use of the dismounted dragoons, and expected, that
they would be regularly reported to the Quartermaster General,
that an account might be kept of the number and the persons from
whom they were taken, in order to a future settlement.--Instead of
this, I am informed that under pretence of the authority derived
from me, they go about the country plundering whomsoever they are
pleased to denominate tories, and converting what they get to
their own private profit and emolument. This is an abuse that
cannot be tolerated; and as I find the license allowed them, has
been made a sanction for such mischievous practices, I am under
the necessity of recalling it altogether. You will therefore
immediately make it known to your whole corps, that they are not
under any pretence whatever to meddle with the horses or other
property of any inhabitant whatever on pain of the severest
punishment, for they may be assured as far as it depends upon me
that military execution will attend all those who are caught in
the like practice hereafter.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 141.]

One finds nothing ambiguous in this order to Pulaski and the Colonels
of Horse. A more timid commander would have hesitated to speak so
curtly at a time when the officers and men of his army were deserting
at will; but to Washington discipline was discipline, and he would
maintain it, cost what it might, so long as he had ten men ready to
obey him.

Passing over three weeks we find Washington writing from Headquarters
on November 14th to Sir William Howe, the British Commander-in-Chief,
in regard to the maltreatment of prisoners and to proposals of
exchanging officers on parole.

I must also remonstrate against the maltreatment and confinement
of our officers--this, I am informed, is not only the case of
those in Philadelphia, but of many in New York. Whatever plausible
pretences may be urged to authorize the condition of the former,
it is certain but few circumstances can arise to justify that of
the latter. I appeal to you to redress these several wrongs; and
you will remember, whatever hardships the prisoners with us may be
subjected to will be chargeable on you. At the same time it is but
justice to observe, that many of the cruelties exercised towards
prisoners are said to proceed from the inhumanity of Mr.
Cunningham, provost-martial, without your knowledge or

[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 195.]

The letter was sufficiently direct for Sir William to understand it.
If these extracts were multiplied by ten they would represent more
nearly the mass of questions which came daily to Washington for
decision. The decision had usually to be made in haste and always
with the understanding that it would not only settle the question
immediately involved, but it would serve as precedent.

The victory of Saratoga gave a great impetus to the party in France
which wished Louis XVI to come out boldly on the side of the Americans
in their war with the British. The King was persuaded. Vergennes also
secured the cooeperation of Spain with France, for Spain had views
against England, and she agreed that if a readjustment of sovereignty
were coming in America, it would be prudent for her to be on hand to
press her own claims. On February 6, 1778, the treaty between France
and America was signed.[1] Long before this, however, a young French
enthusiast who proved to be the most conspicuous of all the foreign
volunteers, the Marquis de Lafayette, had come over with magnificent
promises from Silas Deane. On being told, however, that the Congress
found it impossible to ratify Deane's promises, he modestly requested
to enlist in the army without pay. Washington at once took a fancy to
him and insisted on his being a member of the Commander's family.

[Footnote 1: The treaty was ratified by Congress May 4, 1778.]

While Burgoyne's surrendered army was marching to Boston and
Cambridge, to be shut up as prisoners, Washington was taking into
consideration the best place in which to pass the winter. Several were
suggested, Wilmington, Delaware, and Valley Forge--about twenty-five
miles from Philadelphia--being especially urged upon him. Washington
preferred the latter, chiefly because it was near enough to
Philadelphia to enable him to keep watch on the movements of the
British troops in that city. Valley Forge! One of the names in human
history associated with the maximum of suffering and distress, with
magnificent patience, sacrifice, and glory.

The surrounding hills were covered with woods and presented an
inhospitable appearance. The choice was severely criticised, and
de Kalb described it as a wilderness. But the position was central
and easily defended. The army arrived there about the middle of
December, and the erection of huts began. They were built of logs
and were 14 by 15 feet each. The windows were covered with oiled
paper, and the openings between the logs were closed with clay.
The huts were arranged in streets, giving the place the appearance
of a city. It was the first of the year, however, before they
were occupied, and previous to that the suffering of the army had
become great. Although the weather was intensely cold, the men
were obliged to work at the buildings, with nothing to support
life but flour unmixed with water, which they baked into cakes at
the open fires ... the horses died of starvation by hundreds, and
the men were obliged to haul their own provisions and firewood. As
straw could not be found to protect the men from the cold ground,
sickness spread through their quarters with fearful rapidity. "The
unfortunate soldiers," wrote Lafayette in after years, "they were
in want of everything; they had neither coats, hats, shirts nor
shoes; their feet and their legs froze till they became black, and
it was often necessary to amputate them." ... The army frequently
remained whole days without provisions, and the patient endurance
of the soldiers and officers was a miracle which each moment
served to renew ... while the country around Valley Forge was so
impoverished by the military operations of the previous summer as
to make it impossible for it to support the army. The sufferings
of the latter were chiefly owing to the inefficiency of

[Footnote 1: F.D. Stone, _Struggle for the Delaware_, vi, ch. 5.]

No one felt more keenly than did Washington the horrors, of Valley
Forge. He had not believed in forming such an encampment, and from the
start he denounced the neglect and incompetence of the commissions.
In a letter to the President of the Congress on December 3, 1777, he

Since the month of July we have had no assistance from the
quartermaster-general, and to want of assistance from this
department the commissary-general charges great part of his
deficiency. To this I am to add, that, notwithstanding it is a
standing order, and often repeated that the troops shall always
have two days' provisions by them, that they might be ready at
any sudden call; yet an opportunity has scarcely ever offered of
taking an advantage of the enemy, that has not either been totally
obstructed or greatly impeded, on this account. And this, the
great and crying evil, is not all. The soap, vinegar, and other
articles allowed by Congress, we see none of, nor have we seen
them, I believe, since the Battle of Brandywine. The first,
indeed, we have now little occasion for; few men having more than
one shirt, many only the moiety of one, and some none at all. In
addition to which, as a proof of the little benefit received from
a clothier-general, and as a further proof of the inability of
an army, under the circumstances of this, to perform the common
duties of soldiers, (besides a number of men confined to hospitals
for want of shoes, and others in farmers' houses on the same
account,) we have, by a field-return this day made, no less than
two thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight men now in camp unfit
for duty, because they are barefoot and otherwise naked. By the
same return it appears, that our whole strength in Continental
troops, including the eastern brigades, which have joined us since
the surrender of General Burgoyne, exclusive of the Maryland
troops sent to Wilmington, amounts to no more than eight thousand
two hundred in camp fit for duty; notwithstanding which, and that
since the 4th instant our numbers fit for duty, from the hardships
and exposures they have undergone, particularly on account of
blankets (numbers having been obliged, and still are, to sit
up all night by fires, instead of taking comfortable rest in a
natural and common way), have decreased near two thousand men.

We find gentlemen, without knowing whether the army was really
going into winter-quarters or not (for I am sure no resolution of
mine would warrant the Remonstrance), reprobating the measure as
much as if they thought the soldiers were made of stocks or stones
and equally insensible of frost and snow; and moreover, as if they
conceived it easily practicable for an inferior army, under the
disadvantages I have described ours to be, which are by no
means exaggerated, to confine a superior one, in all respects
well-appointed and provided for a winter's campaign within the
city of Philadelphia, and to cover from depredation and waste the
States of Pennsylvania and Jersey. But what makes this matter
still more extraordinary in my eye is, that these very
gentlemen,--who were well apprized of the nakedness of the troops
from ocular demonstration, who thought their own soldiers worse
clad than others, and who advised me near a month ago to postpone
the execution of a plan I was about to adopt, in consequence of a
resolve of Congress for seizing clothes, under strong assurances
that an ample supply would be collected in ten days agreeably to a
decree of the State (not one article of which, by the by, is yet
come to hand)--should think a winter's campaign, and the covering
of these States from the invasion of an enemy, so easy and
practicable a business. I can assure those gentlemen, that it is a
much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a
comfortable room by a good fireside, than to occupy a cold, bleak
hill, and sleep under frost and snow, without clothes or blankets.
However, although they seem to have little feeling for the naked
and distressed soldiers, I feel superabundantly for them, and,
from my soul, I pity those miseries, which it is neither in my
power to relieve or prevent.

It is for these reasons, therefore, that I have dwelt upon the
subject, and it adds not a little to my other difficulties and
distress to find, that much more is expected of me than is
possible to be performed, and that upon the ground of safety and
policy I am obliged to conceal the true state of the army
from public view, and thereby expose myself to detraction and

[Footnote 1: Ford, VI, 259, 262.]

Mrs. Washington, as was her custom throughout the war, spent part of
the winter with the General. Her brief allusions to Valley Forge would
hardly lead the reader to infer the horrors that nearly ten thousand
American soldiers were suffering.

"Your Mamma has not yet arrived," Washington writes to Jack
Custis, "but ...expected every hour. [My aide] Meade set off
yesterday (as soon as I got notice of her intention) to meet her.
We are in a dreary kind of place, and uncomfortably provided." And
of this reunion Mrs. Washington wrote: "I came to this place, some
time about the first of February when I found the General very
well, ... in camp in what is called the great valley on the Banks
of the Schuylkill. Officers and men are chiefly in Hutts, which
they say is tolerably comfortable; the army are as healthy as
can be well expected in general. The General's apartment is very
small; he has had a log cabin built to dine in, which has made our
quarters much more tolerable than they were at first."[1]

[Footnote 1: P.L. Ford, _The True George Washington_, 99.]

While the Americans languished and died at Valley Forge during the
winter months, Sir William Howe and his troops lived in Philadelphia
not only in great comfort, but in actual luxury. British gold paid out
in cash to the dealers in provisions bought full supplies from one of
the best markets in America. And the people of the place, largely made
up of Loyalists, vied with each other in providing entertainment for
the British army. There were fashionable balls for the officers and
free-and-easy revels for the soldiers. Almost at any time the British
army might have marched out to Valley Forge and dealt a final blow to
Washington's naked and starving troops, but it preferred the good food
and the dissipations of Philadelphia; and so the winter dragged on to

Howe was recalled to England and General Sir Henry Clinton succeeded
him in the command of the British forces. He was one of those
well-upholstered carpet knights who flourished in the British army at
that time, and was even less energetic than Howe. We must remember,
however, that the English officers who came over to fight in America
had had their earlier training in Europe, where conditions were quite
different from those here. Especially was this true of the terrain.
Occasionally a born fighter like Wolfe did his work in a day, but this
was different from spending weeks and months in battleless campaigns.
The Philadelphians arranged a farewell celebration for General Howe
which they called the _Meschianza_, an elaborate pageant, said to be
the most beautiful ever seen in America, after which General Howe and
General Clinton had orders to take their army back to New York. As
much as could be shipped on boats went that way, but the loads that
had to be carried in wagons formed a cavalcade twelve miles long, and
with the attending regiment advanced barely more than two and a half
miles a day. Washington, whose troops entered Philadelphia as soon as
the British marched out, hung on the retreating column and at Monmouth
engaged in a pitched battle, which was on the point of being a
decisive victory for the Americans when, through the blunder
of General Lee, it collapsed. The blunder seemed too obviously
intentional, but Washington appeared in the midst of the melee and
urged on the men to retrieve their defeat. This was the battle of
which one of the soldiers said afterwards, "At Monmouth the General
swore like an angel from Heaven." He prevented disaster, but that
could not reconcile him to the loss of the victory which had been
almost within his grasp. Those who witnessed it never forgot
Washington's rage when he met Lee and asked him what he meant and then
ordered him to the rear. Washington prepared to renew the battle on
the following day, but during the night Clinton withdrew his army, and
by daylight was far on his way to the seacoast.

Washington followed up the coast and took up his quarters at White



This month of July, 1778, marked two vital changes in the war. The
first was the transfer by the British of the field of operations to
the South. The second was the introduction of naval warfare through
the coming of the French. The British seemed to desire, from the day
of Concord and Lexington on, to blast every part of the Colonies with
military occupation and battles. After Washington drove them out
of Boston in March, 1776, they left the seaboard, except Newport,
entirely free. Then for nearly three years they gave their chief
attention to New York City and its environs, and to Jersey down to,
and including, Philadelphia. On the whole, except for keeping their
supremacy in New York, they had lost ground steadily, although they
had always been able to put more men than the Americans could match in
the field, so that the Americans always had an uphill fight. Part of
this disadvantage was owing to the fact that the British had a fleet,
often a very large fleet, which could be sent suddenly to distant
points along the seacoast, much to the upsetting of the American

The French Alliance, ratified during the spring, not only gave the
Americans the moral advantage of the support of a great nation, but
actually the support of a powerful fleet. It opened French harbors to
American vessels, especially privateers, which could there take refuge
or fit out. It enabled the Continentals to carry on commerce, which
before the war had been the monopoly of England. Above all it brought
a large friendly fleet to American waters, which might aid the land
forces and must always be an object of anxiety to the British.

Such a fleet was that under Count d'Estaing, who reached the mouth of
Delaware Bay on July 8, 1778, with twelve ships of the line and four
frigates. He then went to New York, but the pilots thought his heavy
draught ships could not cross the bar above Sandy Hook; and so he
sailed off to Newport where a British fleet worsted him and he was
obliged to put into Boston for repairs. Late in the autumn he took up
his station in the West Indies for the winter. This first experiment
of French naval cooeperation had not been crowned by victory as the
Americans had hoped, but many of the other advantages which they
expected from the French Alliance did ensue. The opening of the
American ports to the trade of the world, and incidentally the
promotion of American privateering, proved of capital assistance to
the cause itself.

The summer and autumn of 1778 passed uneventfully for Washington and
his army. He was not strong enough to risk any severe fighting, but
wished to be near the enemy's troops to keep close watch on them and
to take advantage of any mistake in their moves. We cannot see how he
could have saved himself if they had attacked him with force. But that
they never made the attempt was probably owing to orders from London
to be as considerate of the Americans as they could; for England in
that year had sent out three Peace Commissioners who bore the most
seductive offers to the Americans. The Government was ready to pledge
that there should never again be an attempt to quell the Colonists by
an army and that they should be virtually self-governing. But while
the Commissioners tried to persuade, very obviously, they did not
receive any official recognition from the Congress or the local
conventions, and when winter approached, they sailed back to England
with their mission utterly unachieved. Rebuffed in their purpose of
ending the war by conciliation, the British now resorted to treachery
and corruption. I do not know whether General Sir Henry Clinton was
more or less of a man of honor than the other high officers in the
British army at that time. We feel instinctively loath to harbor a
suspicion against the honor of these officers; and yet, the truth
demands us to declare that some one among them engaged in the
miserable business of bribing Americans to be traitors. Where the full
guilt lies, we shall never know, but the fact that so many of the
trails lead back to General Clinton gives us a reason for a strong
surmise. We have lists drawn up at British Headquarters of the
Americans who were probably approachable, and the degree of ease with
which it was supposed they could be corrupted. "Ten thousand guineas
and a major-general's commission were the price for which West Point,
with its garrison, stores, and outlying posts, was to be placed in the
hands of the British."[1] The person with whom the British made this
bargain was Benedict Arnold, who had been one of the most efficient of
Washington's generals, and of unquestioned loyalty. Major John Andre,
one of Clinton's adjutants, served as messenger between Clinton
and Arnold. On one of these errands Andre, somewhat disguised, was
captured by the Americans and taken before Washington, who ordered a
court-martial at once. Fourteen officers sat on it, including Generals
Greene, Lafayette, and Steuben. In a few hours they brought in a
verdict to the effect that "Major Andre ought to be considered a spy
from the enemy, and that agreeable to the law and usage of nations,
it is their opinion he ought to suffer death." [2] Throughout the
proceedings Andre behaved with great dignity. He was a young man
of sympathetic nature. Old Steuben, familiar with the usage in the
Prussian army, said: "It is not possible to save him. He put us to no
proof, but a premeditated design to deceive."[3]

[Footnote 1: Channing, III, 305.]

[Footnote 2: Channing, III, 307.]

[Footnote 3: _Ibid_., 307.]

He was sentenced to death by hanging--the doom of traitors. He did
not fear to die, but that doom repelled him and he begged to be shot
instead. Washington, however, in view of his great crime and as a
most necessary example in that crisis, firmly refused to commute the
sentence. So, on the second of October, 1780, Andre was hanged.

This is an appropriate place to refer briefly to one of the most
trying features of Washington's career as Commander-in-Chief. From
very early in the war jealousy inspired some of his associates with a
desire to have him displaced. He was too conspicuously the very head
and front of the American cause. Some men, doubtless open to dishonest
suggestions, wished to get rid of him in order that they might carry
on their treasonable conspiracy with greater ease and with a better
chance of success. Others bluntly coveted his position. Perhaps some
of them really thought that he was pursuing wrong methods or policy.
However it may be, few commanders-in-chief in history have had to
suffer more than Washington did from malice and faction.

The most serious of the plots against him was the so-called Conway
Cabal, whose head was Thomas Conway, an Irishman who had served in the
French army and had come over early in the war to the Colonies to make
his way as a soldier of fortune. He seems to have been one of the
typical Irishmen who had no sense of truth, who was talkative and
boastful, and a mirthful companion. It happened that Washington
received a letter from one of his friends which drew from him the
following note to Brigadier-General Conway:

A letter, which I received last night, contained the following

"In a letter from General Conway to General Gates he says, 'Heaven
has been determined to save your country, or a weak General and
bad counsellors would have ruined it.'"[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 180.]

It was characteristic of Washington that he should tell Conway at once
that he knew of the latter's machinations. Nevertheless Washington
took no open step against him. The situation of the army at Valley
Forge was then so desperately bad that he did not wish to make it
worse, perhaps, by interjecting into it what might be considered a
matter personal to himself. In the Congress also there were members
who belonged to the Conway Cabal, and although it was generally known
that Washington did not trust him, Congress raised his rank to that of
Major-General and appointed him Inspector-General to the Army. On this
Conway wrote to Washington: "If my appointment is productive of any
inconvenience, or otherwise disagreeable to your Excellency, as I
neither applied nor solicited for this place, I am very ready to
return to France." The spice of this letter consists in the fact that
Conway's disavowal was a plain lie; for he had been soliciting for the
appointment "with forwardness," says Mr. Ford, "almost amounting to
impudence." Conway did not enjoy his new position long. Being wounded
in a duel with an American officer, and thinking that he was going to
die, he wrote to Washington: "My career will soon be over, therefore
justice and truth prompt me to declare my last sentiments. You are
in my eyes the great and good man. May you long enjoy the love,
veneration, and esteem of these states, whose liberties you have
asserted by your virtues."[1] But he did not die of his wound, and in
a few months he left for France. After his departure the cabal, of
which he seemed to be the centre, died.

[Footnote 1: Sparks, 254.]

The story of this cabal is still shrouded in mystery. Whoever had the
original papers either destroyed them or left them with some one who
deposited them in a secret place where they have been forgotten.
Persons of importance, perhaps of even greater importance than some of
those who are known, would naturally do their utmost to prevent being
found out.

Two other enemies of Washington had unsavory reputations in their
dealings with him. One of these was General Horatio Gates, who was
known as ambitious to be made head of the American army in place
of Washington. Gates won the Battle of Saratoga at which Burgoyne
surrendered his British army. Washington at that time was struggling
to keep his army in the Highlands, where he could watch the other
British forces. It was easy for any one to make the remark that
Washington had not won a battle for many months, whereas Gates was
the hero of the chief victory thus far achieved by the Americans.
The shallow might think as they chose, however: the backbone of the
country stood by Washington, and the trouble between him and Gates
came to no further outbreak.

The third intriguer was General Charles Lee, who, like Gates, was
an Englishman, and had served under General Braddock, being in the
disaster of Fort Duquesne. When the Revolution broke out, he took
sides with the Americans, and being a glib and forth-putting person he
talked himself into the repute of being a great general. The Americans
proudly gave him a very high commission, in which he stood second to
Washington, the Commander-in-Chief. But being taken prisoner by the
British, he had no opportunity of displaying his military talents for
more than two years. Then, when Washington was pursuing the enemy
across Jersey, Lee demanded as his right to lead the foremost
division. At Monmouth he was given the post of honor and he attacked
with such good effect that he had already begun to beat the British
division opposed to him when he suddenly gave strange orders which
threw his men into confusion.

Lafayette, who was not far away, noticed the disorder, rode up to Lee
and remarked that the time seemed to be favorable for cutting off a
squadron of the British troops. To this Lee replied: "Sir, you do not
know the British soldiers; we cannot stand against them; we shall
certainly be driven back at first, and we must be cautious."[1]
Washington himself had by this time perceived that something was wrong
and galloped up to Lee in a towering passion. He addressed him words
which, so far as I know, no historian has reported, not because there
was any ambiguity in them, and Lee's line was sufficiently re-formed
to save the day. Lee, however, smarted under the torrent of reproof,
as well he might. The next day he wrote Washington a very insulting
letter. Washington replied still more hotly. Lee demanded a
court-martial and was placed under arrest on three charges: "First,
disobedience of orders in not attacking the enemy agreeably to
repeated instructions; secondly, misbehavior before the enemy, in
making an unnecessary, disorderly and shameful retreat; thirdly,
disrespect to the Commander-in-Chief in two letters written after the
action."[2] By the ruling of the court all the charges against General
Lee were sustained with the exception that the word "shameful" was
omitted. Lee left the army, retired to Philadelphia, and died before
the end of the Revolution. General Mifflin, another conspicuous member
of the cabal, resigned at the end of the year, December, 1777. So the
traducers of Washington were punished by the reactions of their own

[Footnote 1: Sparks, 275, note 1.]

[Footnote 2: Sparks, 278. Sparks tells the story that when Washington
administered the oath of allegiance to his troops at Valley Forge,
soon after Lee had rejoined the army, the generals, standing together,
held a Bible. But Lee deliberately withdrew his hand twice. Washington
asked why he hesitated. He replied, "As to King George, I am ready
enough to absolve myself from all allegiance to him, but I have some
scruples about the Prince of Wales." (Ibid., 278.)]

That the malicious hostility of his enemies really troubled
Washington, such a letter as the following from him to President
Laurens of the Congress well indicates. He says:

I cannot sufficiently express the obligation I feel to you, for
your friendship and politeness upon an occasion in which I am so
deeply interested. I was not unapprized that a malignant faction
had been for some time forming to my prejudice; which, conscious
as I am of having ever done all in my power to answer the
important purposes of the trust reposed in me, could not but give
me some pain on a personal account. But my chief concern arises
from an apprehension of the dangerous consequences, which
intestine dissensions may produce to the common cause.

As I have no other view than to promote the public good, and
am unambitious of honors not founded in the approbation of my
country, I would not desire in the least degree to suppress a free
spirit of inquiry into any part of my conduct, that even faction
itself may deem reprehensible. The anonymous paper handed to you
exhibits many serious charges, and it is my wish that it should
be submitted to Congress. This I am the more inclined to
the suppression or concealment may possibly involve you in
embarrassments hereafter, since it is uncertain how many or who
may be privy to the contents.

My enemies take an ungenerous advantage of me. They know the
delicacy of my situation, and that motives of policy deprive me
of the defence, I might otherwise make against their insidious
attacks. They know I cannot combat their insinuations, however
injurious, without disclosing secrets, which it is of the utmost
moment to conceal. But why should I expect to be exempt from
censure, the unfailing lot of an elevated station? Merit and
talents, with which I can have no pretensions of rivalship, have
ever been subject to it. My heart tells me, that it has been my
unremitted aim to do the best that circumstances would permit; yet
I may have been very often mistaken in my judgment of the means,
and may in many instances deserve the imputation of error. (Valley
Forge, 31 January, 1778.)[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, vi, 353.]

Such was the sort of explanation which was wrung from the Silent Man
when he explained to an intimate the secrets of his heart.

To estimate the harassing burden of these plots we must bear in mind
that, while Washington had to suffer them in silence, he had also to
deal every day with the Congress and with an army which, at Valley
Forge, was dying slowly of cold and starvation. There was literally no
direction from which he could expect help; he must hold out as long as
he could and keep from the dwindling, disabled army the fact that some
day they would wake up to learn that the last crumb had been eaten
and that death only remained for them. On one occasion, after he had
visited Philadelphia and had seen the Congress in action, he unbosomed
himself about it in a letter which contained these terrible words:

If I was to be called upon to draw a picture of the times and of
men, from what I have seen, and heard, and in part know, I should
in one word say that idleness, dissipation and extravagance
seems to have laid fast hold of most of them. That
speculation--peculation--and an insatiable thirst for riches seems
to have got the better of every other consideration and almost of
every order of men. That party disputes and personal quarrels are
the great business of the day whilst the momentous concerns of an
empire--a great and accumulated debt--ruined finances--depreciated
money--and want of credit (which in their consequences is the want
of everything) are but secondary considerations, and postponed
from day to day--from week to week as if our affairs wear the
most-promising aspect.

The events of 1778 made a lasting impression on King George III.
The alliance of France with the Americans created a sort of reflex
patriotism which the Government did what it could to foster. British
Imperialism flamed forth as an ideal, one whose purposes must be to
crush the French. The most remarkable episode was the return of the
Earl of Chatham, much broken and in precarious health, to the King's
fold. To the venerable statesman the thought that any one with British
blood in his veins should stand by rebels of British blood, or by
their French allies, was a cause of rage. On April 7, 1778, the great
Chatham appeared in the House of Lords and spoke for Imperialism and
against the Americans and French. There was a sudden stop in his
speaking, and a moment later, confusion, as he fell in a fit. He never
spoke there again, and though he was hurried home and cared for by the
doctors as best they could, he died on the eleventh of May. At the
end he reverted to the dominant ideal of his life--the supremacy of
England. So his chief rival in Parliament, Edmund Burke, who shocked
more than half of England by seeming to approve the nascent French
Revolution, died execrating it.

The failure of the Commission on Reconciliation to get even an
official hearing in America further depressed George III, and there
seemed to have flitted through his unsound mind more and more frequent
premonitions that England might not win after all. Having made
friendly overtures, which were rejected, he now planned to be more
savage than ever. In 1779 the American privateers won many victories
which gave them a reputation out of proportion to the importance of
the battles they fought, or the prizes they took. Chief among the
commanders of these vessels was a Scotchman, John Paul Jones, who
sailed the Bonhomme Richard and with two companion ships attacked the
Serapis and the Scarborough, convoying a company of merchantmen off
Flamborough Head. Night fell, darkness came, the Bonhomme Richard and
the Serapis kept up bombarding each other at short range. During a
brief pause, Pearson, the British captain, called out, "Have you
struck your colors?" at which Jones shouted back, "I have not yet
begun to fight." Before morning the Serapis surrendered and in the
forenoon the victorious Bonhomme Richard sank. Europe rang with the
exploit; not merely those easily thrilled by a spectacular engagement,
but those who looked deeper began to ask themselves whether the naval
power that must be reckoned with was not rising in the West.

Meanwhile, Washington kept his uncertain army near New York. The city
swarmed with Loyalists, who at one time boasted of having a volunteer
organization larger than Washington's army. These later years seem
to have been the hey-day of the Loyalists in most of the Colonies,
although the Patriots passed severe laws against them, sequestrating
their property and even banishing them. In places like New York, where
General Clinton maintained a refuge, they stayed on, hoping, as they
had done for several years, that the war would soon be over and the
King's authority restored.

In the South there were several minor fights, in which now the British
and now the Americans triumphed. At the end of December, 1779, Clinton
and Cornwallis with nearly eight thousand men went down to South
Carolina intending to reduce that State to submission. One of
Washington's lieutenants, General Lincoln, ill-advisedly thought that
he could defend Charleston. But as soon as the enemy were ready, they
pressed upon him hard and he surrendered. The year ended in gloom. The
British were virtually masters in the Carolinas and in Georgia. The
people of those States felt that they had been abandoned by the
Congress and that they were cut off from relations with the Northern
States. The glamour of glory at sea which had brightened them all
the year before had vanished. John Paul Jones might win a striking
sea-fight, but there was no navy, nor ships enough to transport troops
down to the Southern waters where they might have turned the tide
of battle on shore. During the winter the British continued their
marauding in the South. For lack of troops Washington was obliged
to stay in his quarters near New York and feel the irksomeness of
inactivity. General Nathanael Greene, a very energetic officer, next
indeed to Washington himself in general estimation, commanded in
the South. At the Cowpens (January 17, 1781) one of his
lieutenants--Morgan, a guerilla leader--killed or captured nearly all
of Tarleton's men, who formed a specially crack regiment. A little
later Washington marched southward to Virginia, hoping to cooeperate
with the French fleet under Rochambeau and to capture Benedict Arnold,
now a British Major-General, who was doing much damage in Virginia.
Arnold was too wary to be caught. Cornwallis, the second in command of
the British forces, pursued Lafayette up and down Virginia. Clinton,
the British Commander-in-Chief, began to feel nervous for the
safety of New York and wished to detach some of his forces thither.
Cornwallis led his army into Yorktown and proceeded to fortify it, so
that it might resist a siege. Now at last Washington felt that he
had the enemy's army within his grasp. Sixteen thousand American and
French troops were brought down from the North to furnish the fighting
arm he required.

Yorktown lay on the south shore of the York River, an estuary of
Chesapeake Bay. On the opposite side the little town of Gloucester
projected into the river. In Yorktown itself the English had thrown up
two redoubts and had drawn some lines of wall. The French kept up an
unremitting cannonade, but it became evident that the redoubts must be
taken in order to subdue the place. Washington, much excited, took his
place in the central battery along with Generals Knox and Lincoln and
their staff. Those about him recognized the peril he was in, and one
of his adjutants called his attention to the fact that the place was
much exposed. "If you think so," said he, "you are at liberty to
step back." Shortly afterward a musket ball struck the cannon in the
embrasure and rolled on till it fell at his feet. General Knox took
him by the arm. "My dear General," he exclaimed, "we can't spare you
yet." "It is a spent ball," Washington rejoined calmly; "no harm is
done." When the redoubts were taken, he drew a long breath and said to
Knox: "The work is done, and well done."[1] Lord Cornwallis saw that
his position was desperate, if not hopeless. And on October 16th
he made a plucky attempt to retard the final blow, but he did not
succeed. That evening he thought of undertaking a last chance. He
would cross the York River in flatboats, land at Gloucester, and march
up the country through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York.
Any one who knew the actual state of that region understood that
Cornwallis's plan was crazy; but it is to be judged as the last
gallantry of a brave man. During the night he put forth on his
flatboats, which were driven out of their course and much dispersed by
untoward winds. They had to return to Yorktown by morning, and at ten
o'clock Cornwallis ordered that a parley should be beaten. Then he
despatched a flag of truce with a letter to Washington proposing
cessation of hostilities for twenty-four hours. Washington knew that
British ships were on their way from New York to bring relief and he
did not wish to grant so much delay. He, therefore, proposed that the
formal British terms should be sent to him in writing; upon which he
would agree to a two hours' truce. It was the morning of the 10th of
October that the final arrangement was made. Washington, on horseback,
attended by his staff, headed the American line. His troops, in
worn-out uniforms, but looking happy and victorious, were massed near
him. Count Rochambeau, with his suite, held place on the left of the
road, the French troops all well-uniformed and equipped; and they
marched on the field with a military band playing--the first time, it
was said, that this had been known in America. "About two o'clock the
garrison sallied forth and passed through with shouldered arms, slow
and solemn steps, colors cased, and drums beating a British march."[2]
General O'Hara, who led them, rode up to Washington and apologized for
the absence of Lord Cornwallis, who was indisposed. Washington pointed
O'Hara to General Lincoln, who was to receive the submission of the
garrison. They were marched off to a neighboring field where they
showed a sullen and dispirited demeanor and grounded their arms so
noisily and carelessly that General Lincoln had to reprove them.

[Footnote 1: Irving, iv, 378.]

[Footnote 2: Irving, iv, 383.]

With little delay Washington went back to the North with his army,
expecting to see the first fruits of the capitulation. There were
nearly seventeen thousand Allied troops at Yorktown of whom three
thousand were militia of Virginia. The British force under Cornwallis
numbered less than eight thousand men.

Months were required before the truce between the two belligerents
resulted in peace. But the people of America hailed the news of
Yorktown as the end of the war. They had hardly admitted to themselves
the gravity of the task while the war lasted, and being now
relieved of immediate danger, they gave themselves up to surprising
insouciance. A few among them who thought deeply, Washington above
all, feared that the British might indulge in some surprise which they
would find it hard to repel.

But the American Revolution was indeed ended, and the American
Colonies of 1775 were indeed independent and free. Even in the brief
outline of the course of events which I have given, it must appear
that the American Revolution was almost the most hare-brained
enterprise in history. After the first days of Lexington and Concord,
when the farmers and country-folk rushed to the centres to check
the British invaders, the British had almost continuously a large
advantage in position and in number of troops. And in those early days
the Colonists fought, not for Independence, but for the traditional
rights which the British Crown threatened to take from them. Now they
had their freedom, but what a freedom! There were thirteen unrelated
political communities bound together now only by the fact of having
been united in their common struggle against England. Each had adopted
a separate constitution, and the constitutions were not uniform nor
was there any central unifying power to which they all looked up and
obeyed. The vicissitudes of the war, which had been fought over the
region of twelve hundred miles of coast, had proved the repellent
differences of the various districts. The slave-breeder and the
slave-owner of Virginia and the States of the South had little in
common with the gnarled descendants of the later Puritans in New
England. What principle could be found to knit them together? The war
had at least the advantage of bringing home to all of them the evils
of war which they all instinctively desired to escape. The numbers of
the disaffected, particularly of the Loyalists who openly sided with
the King and with the British Government, were much larger than we
generally suppose, and they not only gave much direct help and comfort
to the enemy, but also much indirect and insidious aid. In the great
cities like New York and Philadelphia they numbered perhaps two fifths
of the total population, and, as they were usually the rich and
influential people, they counted for more than their showing in the
census. How could they ever be unified in the American Republic? How
many of them, like the traitorous General Charles Lee, would confess
that, although they were willing to pass by George III as King, they
still felt devotion and loyalty to the Prince of Wales?

Some of those who had leaned toward Loyalism, to be on what they
supposed would prove the winning side, quickly forgot their lapse and
were very enthusiastic in acclaiming the Patriotic victory. Those
Irreconcilables who had not already fled did so at once, leaving their
property behind them to be confiscated by the Government. On only one
point did there seem to be unanimity and accord. That was that the
dogged prosecution of the war and the ultimate victory must be
credited to George Washington. Others had fought valiantly and endured
hardships and fatigues and gnawing suspense, but without him, who
never wavered, they could not have gone on. He had among them some
able lieutenants, but not one who, had he himself fallen out of the
command by wound or sickness for a month, could have taken his place.
The people knew this and they now paid him in honor and gratitude for
what he had done for them. If there were any members of the old cabal,
any envious rivals, they either held their peace or spoke in whispers.
The masses were not yet weary of hearing Aristides called the Just.



Nearly two years elapsed before the real settlement of the war. The
English held New York City, Charleston, and Savannah, the strong
garrisons. It seemed likely that they would have been glad to arrange
the terms of peace sooner, but there was much inner turmoil at home.
The men who, through thick and thin, had abetted the King in one plan
after another to fight to the last ditch had nothing more to propose.
Lord North, when he heard of the surrender of Yorktown, almost
shrieked, "My God! It is all over; it is all over!" and was plunged in
gloom. A new ministry had to be formed. Lord North had been succeeded
by Rockingham, who died in July, 1782, and was followed by Shelburne,
supposed to be rather liberal, but to share King George's desire to
keep down the Whigs. Negotiations over the terms of peace were carried
on with varying fortune for more than a year. John Adams, John Jay,
and Benjamin Franklin were the American Peace Commissioners. The
preliminaries between Great Britain and America were signed on
December 30, 1782, and with France and Spain nearly two months
later. The Dutch held out still longer into 1783. Washington, at his
Headquarters in Newburgh, New York, had been awaiting the news of
peace, not lazily, but planning for a new campaign and meditating upon
the various projects which might be undertaken. To him the news of the
actual signing of the treaty came at the end of March. He replied at
once to Theodorick Bland; a letter which gave his general views
in regard to the needs and rights of the army before it should be

It is now the bounden duty of every one to make the blessings
thereof as diffusive as possible. Nothing would so effectually
bring this to pass as the removal of those local prejudices which
intrude upon and embarrass that great line of policy which alone
can make us a free, happy and powerful People. Unless our Union
can be fixed upon such a basis as to accomplish these, certain
I am we have toiled, bled and spent our treasure to very little

We have now a National character to establish, and it is of the
utmost importance to stamp favorable impressions upon it; let
justice be then one of its characteristics, and gratitude another.
Public creditors of every denomination will be comprehended in the
first; the Army in a particular manner will have a claim to the
latter; to say that no distinction can be made between the claims
of public creditors is to declare that there is no difference in
circumstances; or that the services of all men are equally alike.
This Army is of near eight years' standing, six of which they have
spent in the Field without any other shelter from the inclemency
of the seasons than Tents, or such Houses as they could build for
themselves without expense to the public. They have encountered
hunger, cold and nakedness. They have fought many Battles and bled
freely. They have lived without pay and in consequence of it,
officers as well as men have subsisted upon their Rations.

They have often, very often, been reduced to the necessity of
eating Salt Porke, or Beef not for a day, or a week only but
months together without Vegetables or money to buy them; or a
cloth to wipe on.

Many of them do better, and to dress as Officers have contracted
heavy debts or spent their patrimonies. The first see the Doors of
gaols open to receive them, whilst those of the latter are shut
against them. Is there no discrimination then--no extra exertion
to be made in favor of men in these peculiar circumstances, in the
event of their military dissolution? Or, if no worse cometh of it,
are they to be turned adrift soured and discontented, complaining
of the ingratitude of their Country, and under the influence of
these passions to become fit subjects for unfavorable impressions,
and unhappy dissentions? For permit me to add, tho every man in
the Army feels his distress--it is not every one that will reason
to the cause of it.

I would not from the observations here made, be understood to mean
that Congress should (because I know they cannot, nor does
the army expect it) pay the full arrearages due to them till
Continental or State funds are established for the purpose. They
would, from what I can learn, go home contented--nay--_thankful_
to receive what I have mentioned in a more public letter of this
date, and in the manner there expressed. And surely this may be
effected with proper exertions. Or what possibility was there of
keeping the army together, if the war had continued, when the
victualls, clothing, and other expenses of it were to have been
added? Another thing, Sir, (as I mean to be frank and free in my
communications on this subject,) I will not conceal from you--it
is the dissimilarity in the payments to men in Civil and Military
life. The first receive everything--the others get nothing but
bare subsistence--they ask what this is owing to? and reasons have
been assigned, which, say they, amount to this--that men in Civil
life have stronger passions and better pretensions to indulge
them, or less virtue and regard for their Country than
us,--otherwise, as we are all contending for the same prize and
equally interested in the attainment of it, why do we not bear the
burthen equally?[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, X, 203.]

The army was indeed the incubus of the Americans. They could not fight
the war without it, but they had never succeeded in mastering the
difficulties of maintaining and strengthening it. The system of a
standing army was of course not to be thought of, and the uncertain
recruits who took its place were mostly undisciplined and unreliable.
When the exigencies became pressing, a new method was resorted to, and
then the usual erosion of life in the field, the losses by casualties
and sickness, caused the numbers to dwindle. Long ago the paymaster
had ceased to pretend to pay off the men regularly so that there was
now a large amount of back pay due them. Largely through Washington's
patriotic exhortations had they kept fighting to the end; and, with
peace upon them, they did not dare to disband because they feared
that, if they left before they were paid, they would never be paid.
Washington felt that, if thousands of discontented and even angry
soldiers were allowed to go back to their homes without the means of
taking up any work or business, great harm would be done. The love of
country, which he believed to be most important to inculcate, would
not only be checked but perverted. They already had too many reasons
to feel aggrieved. Why should they, the men who risked their lives
in battle and actually had starved or frozen in winter quarters, go
unpaid, whereas every civilian who had a post under the Government
lived at least safely and healthily and was paid with fair
promptitude? They felt now that their best hope for justice lay in
General Washington's interest in their behalf; and that interest of
his seems now one of the noblest and wisest and most patriotic of his

Washington had need to be prepared for any emergency. Thus a body
of officers deliberated not only a mutiny of the army, but a _coup
d'etat_, in which they planned to overthrow the flimsy Federation of
the thirteen States and to set up a monarchy. They wrote to Washington
announcing their intention and their belief that he would make an
ideal monarch. He was amazed and chagrined. He replied in part as
follows, to the Colonel who had written him:

I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have
given encouragement to an address, which to me seems big with
the greatest mischiefs, that can befall my country. If I am not
deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a
person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. I must add,
that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see ample justice
done to the army than I do; and, as far as my powers and
influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed
to the extent of my abilities to effect it, should there be any
occasion. Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for
your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for
me, to banish these thoughts from your mind and never communicate,
as from yourself to any one else, a sentiment of the like

[Footnote 1: Sparks, 355.]

The turmoil of the army continued throughout the year and into the
next. The so-called "Newburgh Address" set forth the quarrel of the
soldiers and Washington's discreet reply. On April 19, 1783, the
eighth anniversary of the first fighting at Concord, a proclamation
was issued to the American army announcing the official end of all
hostilities. In June Washington issued a circular letter to the
Governors of the States, bidding them farewell and urging them to
guard their precious country. Many of the American troops were allowed
to go home on furlough. In company with Governor Clinton he went up
the Hudson to Ticonderoga and then westward to Fort Schuyler. Being
invited by Congress, which was then sitting at Annapolis, he journeyed
thither. Before he left New York City arrangements were made for a
formal farewell to his comrades in arms. I quote the description of it
from Chief Justice Marshall's "Life of Washington":

This affecting interview took place on the 4th of December. At
noon, the principal officers of the army assembled at Frances'
tavern; soon after which, their beloved commander entered the
room. His emotions were too strong to be concealed. Filling a
glass, he turned to them and said, "with a heart full of love and
gratitude, I now take leave of you; I most devoutly wish that your
latter days may be as prosperous and happy, as your former ones
have been glorious and honorable." Having drunk, he added, "I
cannot come to each of you to take my leave, but shall be obliged
to you, if each of you will come and take me by the hand." General
Knox, being nearest, turned to him. Incapable of utterance,
Washington grasped his hand, and embraced him. In the same
affectionate manner, he took leave of each succeeding officer. In
every eye was the tear of dignified sensibility; and not a
word was articulated to interrupt the majestic silence and the
tenderness of the scene. Leaving the room, he passed through the
corps of light infantry, and walked to White hall, where a barge
waited to convey him to Powles' hook (Paulus Hook). The whole
company followed in mute and solemn procession, with dejected
countenances, testifying feelings of delicious melancholy, which
no language can describe. Having entered the barge, he turned to
the company; and waving his hat, bade them a silent adieu. They
paid him the same affectionate compliment, and after the barge had
left them, returned in the same solemn manner to the place where
they had assembled.[1]

[Footnote 1: Marshall, IV, 561.]

Marshall's description, simple but not commonplace, reminds one of
Ville-Hardouin's pictures, so terse, so rich in color, of the Barons
of France in the Fifth Crusade. The account once read, you can never
forget that majestic, silent figure of Washington being rowed across
to Paulus Hook with no sound but the dignified rhythm of the oars. Not
a cheer, not a word!

His reception by Congress took place on Tuesday, the twenty-third
of December, at twelve o'clock. Again I borrow from Chief Justice
Marshall's account:

When the hour arrived for performing a ceremony so well calculated
to recall to the mind the various interesting scenes which had
passed since the commission now to be returned was granted, the
gallery was crowded with spectators, and many respectable persons,
among whom were the legislative and executive characters of the
state, several general officers, and the consul general of France,
were admitted on the floor of Congress.

The representatives of the sovereignty of the union remained
seated and covered. The spectators were standing and uncovered.
The General was introduced by the secretary and conducted to a
chair. After a decent interval, silence was commanded, and a short
pause ensued. The President (General Mifflin) then informed him
that "the United States in Congress assembled were prepared to
receive his communications." With a native dignity improved by
the solemnity of the occasion, the General rose and delivered the
following address:

"_Mr. President_:

"The great events on which my resignation depended, having at
length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere
congratulations to Congress, and on presenting myself before them,
to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me and to
claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.

"Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty
and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States, of
becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the
appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my
abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which, however, was
superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the
support of the supreme power of the union, and the patronage of

"The successful termination of the war has verified the most
sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of
Providence, and the assistance I have received from my countrymen,
increases with every review of the momentous contest.

"While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do
injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place, the
peculiar services and distinguished merits of the gentlemen who
have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible
the choice of confidential officers to compose my family should
have been more fortunate. Permit me, sir, to recommend in
particular, those who have continued in the service to the present
moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of

"I consider it as an indispensable duty to close this last act
of my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest
country, to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the
superintendence of them to his holy keeping.

"Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great
theatre of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this
august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer
my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public

After advancing to the chair, and delivering his commission to the
President, he returned to his place, and received standing, the
answer of Congress which was delivered by the President. In the
course of his remarks, General Mifflin said:

"Having defended the standard of liberty in this new world: having
taught a new lesson useful to those who inflict, and to those who
feel oppression, you retire from the great theatre of action,
with the blessings of your fellow citizens; but the glory of your
virtues will not terminate with your military command: it will
continue to animate remotest ages."[1]

[Footnote 1: Marshall, IV, 563.]

The meeting then broke up, and Washington departed. He went that same
afternoon to Virginia and reached Mount Vernon in the evening. We can
imagine with what satisfaction and gratitude he, to whom home was the
dearest place in the world, returned to the home he had seen only once
by chance since the beginning of the Revolution, eight years before.
Probably few of those who had risen to the highest station in their
country said, and felt more honestly, that they were grateful at being
allowed by Fate to retire from office, than did Washington. To be
relieved of responsibility, free from the hourly spur, day and night,
of planning and carrying out, of trying to find food for starving
soldiers, of leading forlorn hopes against the truculent enemy, must
have seemed to the weary and war-worn General like a call from the
Hesperides. Men of his iron nature, and of his capacity for work and
joy in it, do not, of course, really delight in idleness. They may
think that they crave idleness, but in reality they crave the power of
going on.

It took comparatively little effort for Washington to fall into
his old way of life at Mount Vernon, although there, too, much was
changed. Old buildings had fallen out of repair. There were new
experiments to be tried, and the general purpose to be carried out of
making Mount Vernon a model place in that part of the country. Whether
he would or not, he was sought for almost daily by persons who came
from all parts of the United States, and from overseas. Hospitality
being not merely a duty, but a passion with him, he gladly received
the strangers and learned much from them. From their accounts of their
interviews we see that, although he was really the most natural of
men, some of them treated him as if he were some strange creature--a
holy white elephant of Siam, or the Grand Lama of Tibet. Age had
brought its own deductions and reservations. It does not appear that
parties rode to hounds after the fox any more at Mount Vernon. And
then there were the irreparable gaps that could not be filled. At
Belvoir, where his neighbors the Fairfaxes, friends of a lifetime,
used to live, they lived no more. One of them, more than ninety years
old, had turned his face to the wall on hearing of the surrender at
Yorktown. Another had gone back to England to live out his life there,
true to his Tory convictions.

Washington had sincerely believed, no doubt, that he was to spend the
rest of his life in dignified leisure, and especially that he would
mix no more in political or public worries; but he soon found that he
had deceived himself. The army, until it officially disbanded at the
end of 1783, caused him constant anxiety interspersed with fits of
indignation over the indifference and inertia of the Congress, which
showed no intention of being just to the soldiers. The reason for its
attitude seems hard to state positively. May it be that the Congress,
jealous since the war began of being ruled by the man on horseback,
feared at its close to grant Washington's demands for it lest they
should bring about the very thing they had feared and avoided--the
creation of a military dictatorship under Washington? When Vergennes
proposed to entrust to Washington a new subsidy from France, the
Congress had taken umbrage and regarded such a proposal as an insult
to the American Government. Should they admit that the Government
itself was not sufficiently sound and trustworthy, and that,
therefore, a private individual, even though he had been a leader of
the Revolution, must be called into service?

From among persons pestered by this obsession, it was not surprising
that the idea should spring up that Washington was at heart a believer
in monarchy and that he might, when the opportunity favored, allow
himself to be proclaimed king. Several years later he wrote to his
trusted friend, John Jay:

I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical
form of government without horror. From thinking proceeds
speaking; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how
irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to
verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of
despotism to find, that we are incapable of governing ourselves,
and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely
ideal and fallacious! Would to God, that wise measures may be
taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much
reason to apprehend.[1]

[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 285.]

In the renewal of his life at Mount Vernon, Washington gave almost
as much attention to the cultivation of friendship as to that of his
estate. He pursued with great zest the career of planter-farmer. "I
think," he wrote a friend, "with you, that the life of a husbandman
of all others is the most delectable. It is honorable, it is amusing,
and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants rise
from the earth and flourish by the superior skill and bounty of the
laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy to
be conceived than expressed."[1]

[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 288.]

The cultivation of his friendships he carried on by letters and by
entertaining his friends as often as he could at Mount Vernon. To
Benjamin Harrison he wrote: "My friendship is not in the least
lessened by the difference, which has taken place in our political
sentiments, nor is my regard for you diminished by the part you have

[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., 289.]

How constantly the flock of guests frequented Mount Vernon we can
infer from this entry in his diary for June 30, 1785: "Dined with only
Mrs. Washington which, I believe, is the first instance of it since my
retirement from public life." To his young friend Lafayette he wrote
without reserve in a vein of deep affection:

At length, my dear Marquis, I am become a private citizen on the
banks of the Potomac; and under the shadow of my own vine and my
own fig-tree, free from the bustle of a camp, and the busy
scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil
enjoyments, of which the soldier, who is ever in pursuit of fame,
the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent
in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the
ruin of other countries, as if this globe was insufficient for us
all, and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of
his prince, in hopes of catching a gracious smile, can have
very little conception. I have not only retired from all public
employments, but I am retiring within myself, and shall be able to
view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life, with
heartful satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be
pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order of my
march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep
with my fathers.[1]

[Footnote 1: Hapgood, 287.]

In September, 1784, he made a journey on horseback, with a pack-train
to carry his tents and food, into the Northwestern country, which had
especially interested him since the early days when Fort Duquesne was
the goal of his wandering. He observed very closely and his mind was
filled with large imaginings of what the future would see in the
development of the Northwest. Since his youth he had never lost
the conviction that an empire would spring up there; only make the
waterways easy and safe and he felt sure that a very large commerce
would result and with it the extension of civilization. In a memorial
to the legislature he urged that Virginia was the best placed
geographically of all the States to undertake the work of establishing
connection with the States of the Northwest, and he suggested various
details which, when acted upon later, proved to be, as Sparks
remarked, "the first suggestion of the great system of internal
improvements which has since been pursued in the United States."

On returning to Mount Vernon, he entertained Lafayette for the last
time before he sailed for France. After he had gone, Washington wrote
him this letter in which appears the affection of a friend and the
reverie of an old man looking somewhat wistfully towards sunset, "and
after that the dark":

In the moment of our separation, upon the road as I travelled,
and every hour since, I have felt all that love, respect, and
attachment for you, with which length of years, close connection,
and your merits have inspired me. I often asked myself as our
carriages separated, whether that was the last sight I ever should
have of you? And, though I wished to say No, my fears answered
Yes. I called to mind the days of my youth, and found they had
long since fled to return no more; that I was now descending the
hill I had been fifty-two years climbing, and that, though I was
blest with a good constitution, I was of a short-lived family and
might soon expect to be entombed in the mansion of my fathers.
These thoughts darkened the shades, and gave a gloom to the
picture, and consequently to my prospect of seeing you again.

We should not overlook the fact that Washington declined all gifts,
including a donation from Virginia, for his services as General during
the war. He had refused to take any pay, merely keeping a strict
account of what he spent for the Government from 1775 to 1782. This
amounted to over L15,000 and covered only sums actually disbursed by
him for the army. Unlike Marlborough, Nelson, and Wellington, and
other foreign chieftains on whom grateful countrymen conferred
fortunes and high titles, Washington remains as the one great
state-founder who literally _gave_ his services to his country.

Sparks gives the following interesting account of the way in which
Washington spent his days after his return to Mount Vernon:

His habits were uniform, and nearly the same as they had been
previous to the war. He rose before the sun and employed himself
in his study, writing letters or reading, till the hour of
breakfast. When breakfast was over, his horse was ready at the
door, and he rode to his farms and gave directions for the day to
the managers and laborers. Horses were likewise prepared for
his guests, whenever they chose to accompany him, or to amuse
themselves by excursions into the country. Returning from his
fields, and despatching such business as happened to be on hand,
he went again to his study, and continued there till three
o'clock, when he was summoned to dinner. The remainder of the day
and the evening were devoted to company, or to recreation in the
family circle. At ten he retired to rest. From these habits
he seldom deviated, unless compelled to do so by particular

[Footnote 1: Sparks, 389, 390.]

This list does not include the item which Washington soon found the
greatest of his burdens--letter-writing. His correspondence increased
rapidly and to an enormous extent.

Many mistakenly think [he writes to Richard Henry Lee] that I am
retired to ease, and to that kind of tranquility which would grow
tiresome for want of employment; but at no period of my life, not
in the eight years I served the public, have I been obliged to
write so much myself, as I have done since my retirement.... It
is not the letters from my friends which give me trouble, or add
aught to my perplexity. It is references to old matters, with
which I have nothing to do; applications which often cannot
be complied with; inquiries which would require the pen of a
historian to satisfy; letters of compliment as unmeaning perhaps
as they are troublesome, but which must be attended to; and the
commonplace business which employs my pen and my time often
disagreeably. These, with company, deprive me of exercise, and
unless I can obtain relief, must be productive of disagreeable

[Footnote 1: Irving, IV, 466.]

When we remember that Washington used to write most of his letters
himself, and that from boyhood his handwriting was beautifully neat,
almost like copper-plate, in its precision and elegance, we shall
understand what a task it must have been for him to keep up his
correspondence. A little later he employed a young New Hampshire
graduate of Harvard, Tobias Lear, who graduated in 1783, who served
him as secretary until his death, and undoubtedly lightened the
epistolary cares of the General. But Washington continued to carry on
much of the letter-writing, especially the intimate, himself;
and, like the Adamses and other statesmen of that period, he kept
letter-books which contained the first drafts or copies of the letters

Another source of annoyance, to which, however, he resigned himself as
contentedly as he could, was the work of the artists who came to him
to beg him to sit for his picture or statue. Of the painters the most
eminent were Charles Peale and his son Rembrandt. Of the sculptors
Houdon undoubtedly made the best life-sized statue--that which still
adorns the Capitol at Richmond, Virginia--and from the time it was
first exhibited has been regarded as the best, most lifelike. Another,
sitting statue, was made for the State of North Carolina by the
Italian, Canova, the most celebrated of the sculptors of that day. The
artist shows a Roman costume, a favorite of his, unless, as in the
case of Napoleon, he preferred complete nudity. This statue was much
injured in a fire which nearly consumed the Capitol at Raleigh.
The English sculptor, Chantrey, executed a third statue in which
Washington was represented in military dress. This work used to be
shown at the State House in Boston.

Of the many painted portraits of Washington, those by Gilbert Stuart
have come to be accepted as authentic; especially the head in the
painting which hung in the Boston Athenaeum as a pendant to that of
Martha Washington, and is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. But
as I remarked earlier, the fact that none of the painters indicate the
very strong marks of smallpox (which he took on his trip to Barbados)
on Washington's face creates a natural suspicion as to accuracy in
detail of any of the portraits. Perhaps the divergence among them
is not greater than that among those of Mary, Queen of Scots, and
indicates only the marked incapacity of some of the painters who did
them. We are certainly justified in saying that Washington's features
varied considerably from his early prime to the days when he was
President. We have come to talk about him as an old man because
from the time when he was sixty years old he frequently used that
expression himself; although, as he died at sixty-seven, he was never
really "an old man." One wonders whether those who lived among pioneer
conditions said and honestly believed that they were old at the time
when, as we think, middle age would hardly have begun. Thus Abraham
Lincoln writes of himself as a patriarch, and no doubt sincerely
thought that he was, at a time when he had just reached forty. The two
features in Washington's face about which the portraitists differ most
are his nose and his mouth. In the early portrait by Charles Peale,
his nose is slightly aquiline, but not at all so massive and
conspicuous as in some of the later works. His mouth, and with it the
expression of the lower part of his face, changed after he began to
wear false teeth. Is it not fair to suppose that the effigies of
Washington, made in later years and usually giving him a somewhat
stiff and expansive grin, originated in the fact that his false set of
teeth lacked perfect adjustment?

Thus Washington dropped into the ways of peace; working each day what
would have been a long stint for a strong young man, and thinking,
besides, more than most men thought of the needs and future of the
country to which he had given liberty and independence. His chief
anxiety henceforth was that the United States of America should not
miss the great destiny for which he believed the Lord had prepared it.



The doubt, the drifting, the incongruities and inconsistencies, the
mistakes and follies which marked the five years after 1783 form what
has been well called "The Critical Period of American History." They
proved that the conquests of peace may not only be more difficult than
the conquests of war, but that they may outlast those of war. Who
should be the builders of the Ship of State? Those who had courage
and clear vision, who loved justice, who were patient and humble and
unflagging, and who believed with an ineluctable conviction that
righteousness exalteth a nation; they were the simple fishermen who
in the little church at Torcello predicted the splendor and power of
Venice; they were the stern pioneers of Plymouth and Boston who laid
the foundations of an empire greater than that of Rome.

It happened that during the American Revolution and immediately
afterward, a larger number of such men existed in what had been the
American Colonies than anywhere else at any other time in history. At
the beginning of the Revolution, within a few weeks of the Declaration
of Independence, some of these men, impelled by a common instinct,
adopted Articles of Confederation which should hold the former
Colonies together and enable them to maintain a common front against
the enemy during the war. The Congress controlled military and civic
affairs, but the framers of the Articles were wary and too timid to
grant the Congress sufficient powers, with the result that Washington,
who embodied the dynamic control of the war, was always most
inadequately supported; and as he fared, so fared his subordinates.

At the end of the war the Americans found that they had won, not only
freedom, but also Independence, the desire for which was not among
their original motives. Each of the thirteen States was independent;
they all felt the need of a union which would enable them to protect
themselves; of a common coinage and postage; of certain common laws
for criminal and similar cases; of a common government to direct their
affairs with other nations. But by habit and by training each was
local rather than National in its outlook. The Georgian had nothing
in common with the men of Massachusetts Bay whose livelihood depended
upon fisheries, or with the Virginian of the Western border, to whom
his relations with the Indians were his paramount concern. The Rhode
Islander, busy with his manufactures, knew and cared nothing for the
South Carolinian with his rice plantations. How to find a common
denominator for all these? That was the business of them all.

The one thing which Washington regarded as likely and against which he
wished to have every precaution taken, was a possible attempt of
the English to pick a quarrel over some small matter and bring on
a renewal of the war. Fortunately for the Americans, this did not
happen. Washington knew our weakness so well that he could see how
easy it would be for a bold and determined enemy to do us great if not
fatal harm. But he did not know that the English themselves were in
an almost desperate plight. By Rodney's decisive victory at sea they
began to recover their ascendancy against the Coalition, but it was
then too late to disavow the treaty. In Parliament George III had been
defeated; the defeat meaning a very serious check to the policy which
he had pursued for more than twenty years to fix royal tyranny on the
British people. King George's system of personal government, himself
being the person, had broken down and he could not revive it. Nearly
seventy years were to elapse before Queen Victoria, who was as putty
in the hands of her German husband, Prince Albert, rejoiced that she
had restored the personal power of the British sovereign to a pitch it
had not known since her grandfather George III.

The American Revolution had illustrated the fatal weakness of the
Congress as an organ of government, and the Articles merely embodied
the vagueness of the American people in regard to any real regime. The
Congress has been much derided for its shortcomings and its blunders,
although in truth not so much the Congress, as those who made it, was
to blame. They had refused, in their timidity, to give it power to
exercise control. It might not compel or enforce obedience. It did
require General Washington during the war to furnish a regular report
of his military actions and it put his suggestions on file where
many of them grew yellow and dusty; but he might not strike, do that
decisive act by which history is born. Their timidity made them see
what he had accomplished not nearly so plainly as the dictator on
horseback whom their fears conjured up.

During the war the sense of a common danger had lent the Congress a
not easily defined but quite real coherence, which vanished when
peace came, and the local ideals of the States took precedence. Take
taxation. Congress could compute the quota of taxes which each State
ought to pay, but it had no way of collecting or of enforcing payment.
It took eighteen months to collect five per cent of the taxes laid in
1783. Of course a nation could not go on with such methods. No law
binding all the States could be adopted unless every one of the
thirteen States assented. Unanimity was almost unattainable; as when
Governor Clinton of New York withheld his approval of a measure to
improve a system of taxation to which the other twelve States had
assented; so Rhode Island, the smallest of all, blocked another reform
which twelve States had approved. Our foreign relations must be
described as ignominious. Jefferson had taken Franklin's place as
Minister to France, but we had no credit and he could not secure the
loan he was seeking. John Adams in London, and John Jay in Madrid,
were likewise balked. Jay had to submit to the closing of the lower
Mississippi to American shipping. He did this in the hope of thereby
conciliating Spain to make a commercial treaty which he thought
was far more important than shipping. Our people in the Southwest,
however, regarded the closing of the river as portending their ruin,
and they threatened to secede if it were persisted in. Pennsylvania
and New Jersey threw their weight with the Southerners and Congress
voted against the Jay treaty. That was the time when the corsairs of
the Barbary States preyed upon American shipping in the Mediterranean
and seized crews of our vessels and sold them into slavery in Northern
Africa. That there was not in the thirteen States sufficient feeling
of dignity to resent and punish these outrages marks both their
dispersed power and lack of regard for National honor.

After 1783 the States, virtually bankrupt at home, discordant, fickle,
and aimless, and without credit or prestige abroad, were filled with
many citizens who recognized that the system was bad and must be
amended. The wise among them wrote treatises on the remedies they
proposed. The wisest went to school of experience and sought in
history how confederations and other political unions had fared.
Washington wrote for his own use an account of the classical
constitutions of Greece and Rome and of the more modern states; of the
Amphictyonic Council among the ancient, and the Helvetic, Belgic, and
Germanic among the more recent. John Adams devoted two massive volumes
to an account of the medieval Italian republics. James Madison studied
the Achaian League and other ancient combinations. There were many
other men less eminent than these--there was a Peletiah Webster, for

Washington viewed the situation as a pessimist. Was it because the
high hopes that he had held during the war, that America should be the
noblest among the nations, had been disappointed, or was it because he
saw farther into the future than his colleagues saw? On May 18, 1786,
he writes intimately to John Jay:

... We are certainly in a delicate situation; but my fear is that
the people are not yet sufficiently _misled_ to retract from
error. To be plainer, I think there is more wickedness than
ignorance mixed in our councils. Under this impression I scarcely
know what opinion to entertain of a general convention. That it
is necessary to revise and amend the Articles of Confederation, I
entertain no doubt; but what may be the consequences of such an
attempt is doubtful. Yet something must be done, or the fabric
must fall, for it certainly is tottering.

Ignorance and design are difficult to combat. Out of these proceed
illiberal sentiments, improper jealousies, and a train of evils
which oftentimes in republican governments must be sorely felt
before they can be removed. The former, that is ignorance, being
a fit soil for the latter to work in, tools are employed by them
which a generous mind would disdain to use; and which nothing but
time, and their own puerile or wicked productions, can show
the inefficacy and dangerous tendency of. I think often of our
situation, and view it with concern. From the high ground we stood
upon, from the plain path which invited our footsteps, to be so
fallen! so lost! it is really mortifying.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, xi, 31.]

One of the chief causes of the discontents which troubled the public
was the increasing number of persons who had been made debtors after
the war by the more and more pressing demands of their creditors.
These debtors knew nothing about economics; they only knew that
they were being crushed by persons more lucky than themselves. In
Massachusetts they broke out in actual rebellion named after the man
who led it, Daniel Shays. They were put down by the more or less
doubtful appeal to veterans of the National Army, but their ebullition
was not forgotten as a symptom of a very dangerous condition. In 1786
representatives from five States met in a convention at Annapolis
to consider the hard times and the troubles in trade. Washington,
Hamilton, and Madison were thought to be behind the convention, which
accomplished little, but made it clear that a large general convention
ought to meet and to discuss the way of securing a strong central
government. This convention was discussed during that summer and
autumn, and a call was issued for a meeting in the following spring
at Philadelphia. Virginia turned first to Washington to be one of its
delegates, but he had sincere scruples against entering public life
again. He wrote to James Madison on November 18th:

Although I had bid adieu to the public walks of life in a public
manner, and had resolved never more to tread upon public ground,
yet if, upon an occasion so interesting to the well-being of the
confederacy, it should have appeared to have been the wish of the
Assembly to have employed me with other associates in the business
of revising the federal system, I should, from a sense of
obligation I am under for repeated proof of confidence in me, more
than from any opinion I should have entertained of my usefulness,
have obeyed its call; but it is now out of my power to do so with
any degree of consistency.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, XI, 87.]

Washington's disinclination to abandon the quiet of Mount Vernon
and the congenial work he found there, and to be plunged again into
political labors, was perhaps his strongest reason for making this
decision. But a temporary aggravation ruled him. The Society of the
Cincinnati, of which he was president, had aroused much odium in the
country among those who were jealous or envious that such a special
privileged class should exist, and among those who really believed
that it had the secret design of establishing an aristocracy if not
actually a monarchy. Washington held that its original avowed purpose,
to keep the officers who had served in the Revolution together, would
perpetuate the patriotic spirit which enabled them to win, and might
be a source of strength in case of further ordeals. But when he found
that public sentiment ran so strongly against the Cincinnati, he
withdrew as its president and he told Madison that he would vote to
have the Society disbanded if it were not that it counted a minority
of foreign members. Stronger than a desire for a private life and for
the ease of Mount Vernon was his sense of duty as a patriot; so that
when this was strongly urged upon him he gave way and consented.

Spring came, the snows melted in the Northern States, and through the
month of April the delegates to this Convention started from their
homes in the North and in the South for Philadelphia. The first
regular session was held on May 25th, although some of the delegates
did not arrive until several weeks later. They sat in Independence
Hall in the same room where, eleven years before, the Declaration of
Independence had been adopted and signed. Of the members in the new
Convention, George Washington was easily the first. His commanding
figure, tall and straight and in no wise impaired by eight years'
campaigns and hardships, was almost the first to attract the attention
of any one who looked upon that assembly. He was fifty-five years old.
Next in reputation was the patriarch, Benjamin Franklin, twenty-seven
years his senior, shrewd, wise, poised, tart, good-natured; whose
prestige was thought to be sufficient to make him a worthy presiding
officer when Washington was not present. James Madison of Virginia was
among the young men of the Convention, being only thirty-six years
old, and yet almost at the top of them all in constitutional learning.
More precocious still was Alexander Hamilton of New York, who was
only thirty, one of the most remarkable examples of a statesman who
developed very early and whom Death cut off before he showed any
signs of a decline. One figure we miss--that of Thomas Jefferson of
Virginia, tall and wiry and red-curled, who was absent in Paris as
Minister to France.

Massachusetts sent four representatives, important but not
preeminent--Elbridge Gerry, Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King, and Caleb
Strong. New York had only two besides Hamilton; Robert Yates and John
Lansing. Pennsylvania trusted most to Benjamin Franklin, but she sent
the financier of the Revolution, Robert Morris, and Gouverneur Morris;
and with them went Thomas Mifflin, George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimmons,
Jared Ingersoll, James Wilson--all conspicuous public men at the time,
although their fame is bedraggled or quite faded now. Wilson ranked as
the first lawyer of the group. Of the five from little Delaware sturdy
John Dickinson, a man who thought, was no negligible quantity.

Connecticut also had as spokesmen two strong individualities--Roger
Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth. Maryland spoke through James McHenry and
Daniel Carroll and three others of greater obscurity. Virginia had
George Washington, President of the Convention, and James Madison,
active, resourceful, and really accomplishing; and in addition to
these two: Edmund Randolph, the Governor; George Mason, Washington's
hard-headed and discreet lawyer friend; John Blair, George Wythe, and
James McClurg. From South Carolina went three unusual orators, John
Rutledge, C.C. Pinckney and Charles Pinckney, and Pierce Butler.
Georgia named four mediocre but useful men.

In this gathering of fifty-five persons, the proportion between those
who were preeminent for common sense and those who were remarkable for
special knowledge and talents was very fairly kept. Most of them had
had experience in dealing with men either in local government offices
or in the army. Socially, they came almost without exception from
respectable if not aristocratic families. Of the fifty-five,
twenty-nine were university or college bred, their universities
comprising Oxford, Glasgow, and Edinburgh besides the American
Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia. The two
foremost members, Washington and Franklin, were not college bred.
Among the fifty-five we do not find John Adams and Thomas Jefferson,
who, as I have said, were in Europe on official business. John Jay
also was lacking, because, as it appears, the Anti-Federalists did
not wish him to represent them in the Convention; but his influence
permeated it and the wider public, who later read his unsigned
articles in "The Federalist." Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and Richard
Henry Lee stayed at home. General Nathanael Greene, the favorite
son of Rhode Island, would have been at the Convention but for his
untimely death a few weeks before the preceding Christmas.

Owing to delays the active business of the Convention halted, although
for at least a fortnight the members who had come promptly carried on
unofficial discussions. Washington, being chosen President without a
competitor, presided, with perhaps more than his habitual gravity and
punctilio. The members took their work very seriously. The debates
lasted five or six hours a day, and, as they were continued
consecutively until the autumn, there was ample time to discuss many
subjects. The Convention adopted strict secrecy as its rule, so that
its proceedings were not known by the public nor was any satisfactory
report of them kept and published. At the time there was objection to
this provision, and now, after more than a century and a third, we
must regret that we can never know many points in regard to the
actual give and take of discussion in this the most fateful of all
assemblies. But from Madison's memoranda and reminiscences we can
infer a good deal as to what went on.

The wisdom of keeping the proceedings secret was fully justified. The
framers of the Constitution knew that it was to a large degree a new
experiment, that it would be subjected to all kinds of criticism, but
that it must be judged by its entirety and not by its parts; and that
therefore it must be presented entire. At the outset some of the
members, foreseeing opposition, were for suggesting palliatives and
for sugar-coating. Some of the measures they feared might excite
hostility. To these suggestions Washington made a brief but very noble
remonstrance which seemed deeply to impress his hearers. And no one
could question that it gave the keynote on which he hoped to maintain
the business of the Convention. "It is too probable that no plan we
propose will be adopted," Washington said very gravely. "Perhaps


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