George Washington
William Roscoe Thayer

Part 3 out of 4

another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If, to please the
people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward
defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest
can repair; the event is in the hand of God."[1] Among the obstacles
which seemed very serious--and many believed they would wreck the
Convention--was the question of slavery. By this time all the northern
part of the country favored its abolition. Even Virginia was on that
side. For practical planters like George Washington knew that it was
the most costly and least productive form of labor. They opposed it on
economic rather than moral grounds. Farther South, however, especially
in South Carolina where the negroes seemed to be the only kind
of laborers for the rice-fields, and in those regions where they
harvested the cotton, the whites insisted that slavery should be
maintained. The contest seemed likely to be very fierce between the
disputants, and then, with true Anglo-Saxon instinct, they sought
for a compromise. The South had regarded slaves as chattels. The
compromise brought forward by Madison consisted in agreeing that five
slaves should count in population as three. By this curious device a
negro was equivalent to three fifths of a white man. Such a compromise
was, of course, illogical, leaving the question whether negroes were
chattels or human beings with even a theoretical civil character
undecided. But many of the members, who saw the illogic quite plainly,
voted for it, being dazzled if not seduced by the thought that it was
a compromise which would stave off an irreconcilable conflict at least
for the present; so Washington, who wished the abolition of slavery,
voted for the compromise along with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the
South Carolinian who regarded slavery as higher than any of the Ten

[Footnote 1: Fiske, _Critical Period_, 250.]

The second compromise referred to the slave trade, which was
particularly defended by South Carolina and Georgia. The raising of
rice and indigo in those States caused an increasing death-rate among
the slaves. The slave trade, which brought many kidnapped slaves from
Africa to those States was needed to replenish the number of slaves
who died. Virginia had not yet become an important breeding-place of
slaves who were sold to planters farther south. The members of the
Convention who wished to put an end to this hideous traffic proposed
that it should be prohibited, and that the enforcement of the
prohibition should be assigned to the General Government. Pinckney,
however, keen to defend his privileged institution and the special
interests of his State, bluntly informed the Convention that if they
voted to abolish the slave trade, South Carolina would regard it as a
polite way of telling her that she was not wanted in the new Union. To
think of attempting to form a Union without South Carolina amazed them
all and made them pliable. Although there was considerable opposition
to giving the General Government control over shipping, this provision
was passed. The Northerners saw in it the germs of a tariff act which
would benefit their manufacturers, and they agreed that the slave
trade should not be interfered with before 1808 and that no export tax
should be authorized.

The third compromise affected representation. The Convention had
already voted that the Congress should consist of two parts, a Senate
and a House of Representatives. By a really clever device each State
sent two members to the Senate, thus equalizing the small and large
States in that branch of the Government. The House, on the other hand,
represented the People, and the number of members elected from each
State corresponded, therefore, to the population.

As I do not attempt to make even a summary of the details of the
Convention, I should pass over many of the other topics which it
considered, often with very heated discussion. The fundamental problem
was how to preserve the rights of the States and at the same time give
the Central Government sufficient power. By devices which actually
worked, and for many years continued to work, this conflict was
smoothed over, although sixty years later the question of State
rights, intertwined with that of slavery, nearly split the Nation in
the War of Secession. There was much question as to the term for
which the President should be elected and whether by the People or by
Congress. Some were for one, two, three, four, ten, and even fifteen
years. Rufus King, grown sarcastic, said: "Better call it twenty--it's
the average reign of princes." Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur
Morris stood for a life service with provision for the President's
removal in case of malfeasance. These gentlemen, in spite of their
influence in the Convention, stirred up a deep-seated enmity to their
plan. Few instincts were more general than that which drew back from
any arrangement which might embolden the monarchists to make a man
President for a ten or fifteen years' term or for life. This could not
fail to encourage those who wished for the equivalent of an hereditary
prince. The Convention soon made it evident that they would have none
but a short term, and they chose, finally, four years. There was a
debate over the question of his election; should he be chosen directly
by the legislature, or by electors? The strong men--Mason,
Rutledge, Roger Sherman, and Strong--favored the former; stronger
men--Washington, Madison, Gerry, and Gouverneur Morris--favored the
latter, and it prevailed. Nevertheless, the Electoral College thus
created soon became, and has remained, as useless as a vermiform

Towards the end of the summer the Convention had completed its first
draft of the Constitution; then they handed their work over to a
Committee for Style and Arrangement, composed of W.S. Johnson of North
Carolina, Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Madison, and King. Then, on
September 17th, the Constitution of the United States was formally
published. This document, done "by the Unanimous Consent of the States
present," was sent to the Governor or Legislature of each State with
the understanding that its ratification by nine States would be
required before it was proclaimed the law of the land.

In his diary for Monday, the seventeenth of September, 1787,
Washington makes this entry:

Met in Convention, when the Constitution received the unanimous
consent of 11 States and Colo. Hamilton's from New York [the only
delegate from thence in Convention], and was subscribed to by
every member present, except Governor Randolph and Colo. Mason
from Virginia, & Mr. Gerry from Massachusetts.

The business being thus closed, the members adjourned to the City
Tavern, dined together, and took a cordial leave of each other.
After which I returned to my lodgings, did some business with,
and received the papers from the Secretary of the Convention, and
retired to meditate on the momentous wk. which had been executed,
after not less than five, for a large part of the time six and
sometimes 7 hours sitting every day, [except] Sundays & the ten
days adjournment to give a Comee. [Committee] opportunity & time
to arrange the business for more than four months.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, XI, 155.]

One likes to think of Washington presiding over that Convention for
more than four months, seeing one suggestion after another brought
forward and debated until finally disposed of, he saying little except
to enforce the rules of parliamentary debate. No doubt his asides (and
part of his conversation) frankly gave his opinion as to each measure,
because he never disguised his thoughts and he seems to have voted
when the ballots were taken--a practice unusual to modern presiding
officers except in case of a tie. His summing-up of the Constitution,
which he wrote on the day after the adjournment in a hurried letter to
Lafayette, is given briefly in these lines:

It is the result of four months' deliberation. It is now a child
of fortune, to be fostered by some and buffeted by others. What
will be the general opinion, or the reception of it, is not for me
to decide; nor shall I say anything for or against it. If it be
good, I suppose it will work its way; if bad, it will recoil on
the framers.

A month later, in the seclusion of Mount Vernon, he spread the same
news before his friend General Knox:

... The Constitution is now before the judgment-seat. It has,
as was expected, its adversaries and supporters. Which will
preponderate is yet to be decided. The former more than probably
will be most active, as the major part of them will, it is to be
feared, be governed by sinister and self-important motives, to
which everything in their breasts must yield....

The other class, he said, would probably ask itself whether the
Constitution now submitted was not better than the inadequate and
precarious government under which they had been living. If there
were defects, as doubtless there were, did it not provide means for
amending them? Then he concludes with a gleam of optimism:

... Is it not likely that real defects will be as readily
discovered after as before trial? and will not our successors be
as ready to apply the remedy as ourselves, if occasion should
require it? To think otherwise will, in my judgment, be ascribing
more of the amor patriae, more wisdom and more virtue to
ourselves, than I think we deserve.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, XI, 173.]

Nearly five months later, February 7, 1788, he wrote Lafayette what we
may consider a more deliberate opinion:

As to my sentiments with respect to the merits of the new
constitution, I will disclose them without reserve, (although by
passing through the post-office they should become known to
all the world,) for in truth I have nothing to conceal on that
subject. It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that
the delegates from so many different States (which States you
know are also different from each other), in their manners,
circumstances, and prejudices, should unite in forming a system of
national government, so little liable to well-founded objections.
Nor am I yet such an enthusiastic, partial, or indiscriminating
admirer of it, as not to perceive it is tinctured with some real
(though not radical) defects. The limits of a letter would not
suffer me to go fully into an examination of them; nor would the
discussion be entertaining or profitable. I therefore forbear to
touch upon it. With regard to the two great points (the pivots
upon which the whole machine must move), my creed is simply,

1st. That the general government is not invested with more powers,
than are indispensably necessary to perform the functions of a
good government; and consequently, that no objection ought to be
made against the quantity of power delegated to it.

2nd. That these powers (as the appointment of all rulers will for
ever arise from, and at short, stated intervals recur to, the free
suffrage of the people), are so distributed among the legislative,
executive, and judicial branches, into which the general
government is arranged, that it can never be in danger of
degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any
other despotic or oppressive form, so long as there shall remain
any virtue in the body of the people.

I would not be understood, my dear Marquis, to speak of
consequences, which may be produced in the revolution of ages, by
corruption of morals, profligacy of manners and listlessness for
the preservation of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind,
nor of the successful usurpations, that may be established at
such an unpropitious juncture upon the ruins of liberty, however
providently guarded and secured; as these are contingencies
against which no human prudence can effectually provide. It will
at least be a recommendation to the proposed constitution, that it
is provided with more checks and barriers against the introduction
of tyranny, and those of a nature less liable to be surmounted,
than any government hitherto instituted among mortals hath
possessed. We are not to expect perfection in this world; but
mankind, in modern times, have apparently made some progress in
the science of government. Should that which is now offered to the
people of America, be found on experiment less perfect than it
can be made, a constitutional door is left open for its

[Footnote 1: Ford, XI, 218-21.]

Thus was accomplished the American Constitution. Gladstone has said of
it in well-known words that, just "as the British Constitution is the
most subtle organism which has proceeded from the womb and the long
gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is so
far as I can see the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given
time by the brain and purpose of man."[1] Note that Gladstone does
not name a single or an individual man, which would have been wholly
untrue, for the American Constitution was struck off by the wisdom and
foresight of fifty-five men collectively. There were among them two
or three who might be called transcendent men. It gained its peculiar
value from the fact that it represents the composite of many divergent
opinions and different characters.

[Footnote 1: W.E. Gladstone, _North American Review_, September,

Just before the members broke up at their final meeting in
Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin amused them with a characteristic
bit of raillery. On the back of the President's black chair, a
half sun was carved and emblazoned. "During all these weeks," said
Franklin, "I have often wondered whether that sun was rising or
setting. I know now that it is a rising sun."

The first State to ratify the Constitution was Delaware, on December
6, 1787. Pennsylvania followed on December 12th, and New Jersey
on December 18th. Ratifications continued without haste until New
Hampshire, the ninth State, signed on June 21, 1788. Four days later,
Virginia, a very important State, ratified. New York, which had been
Anti-Federalist throughout, joined the majority on July 26th. North
Carolina waited until November 21st, and little Rhode Island, the
last State of all, did not come in until May 29, 1790. But, as the
adherence of nine States sufficed, the affirmative action of New
Hampshire on June 21, 1788, constituted the legal beginning of the
United States of America.

No test could be more winnowing than that to which the Constitution
was subjected during more than eighteen months before its adoption. In
each State, in each section, its friends and enemies discussed it at
meetings and in private gatherings. In New York, for instance, it was
only the persistence of Alexander Hamilton and his unfailing oratory,
unmatched until then in this country, that routed the Anti-Federalists
at Poughkeepsie and caused the victory of the Federalists in the
State. In Virginia, Patrick Henry, who had said on the eve of the
Revolution, "I am not a Virginian, but an American," still held out.
Nevertheless, the more the people of the country discussed the matter,
the surer was their conviction that Washington was right when he
intimated that they must prefer the new Constitution unless they could
show reason for supposing that the anarchy towards which the old order
was swiftly driving them was preferable.

During the autumn of 1788 peaceful electioneering went on throughout
the country. Among the last acts of that thin wraith, the Continental
Congress, was a decree that Presidential Electors should be chosen
on the first Wednesday of January, 1789; that they should vote for
President on the first Wednesday in February, and that the new
Congress should meet on the first Wednesday in March. The State of New
York, where Anti-Federalists swarmed, did not follow the decree--with
the result that that State, which had been behindhand in signing the
Declaration of Independence, failed through the intrigues of the
Anti-Federalists to choose electors, and so had no part in the choice
of Washington as President of the United States. The other ten States
performed their duty on time. They elected Washington President by a
unanimous vote of sixty-nine out of sixty-nine votes cast.

The Vice-Presidential contest was perplexing, there being many
candidates who received only a few votes each. Many persons thought
that it would be fitting that Samuel Adams, the father of the
Revolution, should be chosen to serve with Washington, the father of
his country; but too many remembered that he had been hostile to the
Federalists until almost the end of the preliminary canvass and so
they did not think that he ought to be chosen. The successful man was
John Adams, who had been a robust Patriot from the beginning and had
served honorably and devotedly in every position which he had held
since 1775.

On April 14th Washington's election was notified to him, and on the
16th he bade farewell to Mount Vernon, where he had hoped to pass the
rest of his days in peace and home duties and agriculture, and he rode
in what proved to be a triumphal march to New York. That city was
chosen the capital of the new Nation. Streams of enthusiastic and
joyous citizens met and acclaimed him at every town through which
he passed. At Trenton a party of thirteen young girls decked out
in muslin and wreaths represented the thirteen States, and perhaps
brought to his mind the contrast between that day and thirteen years
before when he crossed the Delaware on boats amid floating cakes of
ice and the pelting of sleet and rain. On April 23d he entered New
York City. A week later at noon a military escort attended him from
his lodging to Federal Hall at the corner of Wall and Nassau Streets,
where a vast crowd awaited him. Washington stood on a balcony. All
could witness the ceremony. The Secretary of the Senate bore a Bible
upon a velvet cushion, and Chancellor Livingston administered the oath
of office. Washington's head was still bowed when Livingston shouted:
"Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" The
crowds took up the cheer, which spread to many parts of the city and
was repeated in all parts of the United States.



The inauguration of Washington on April 30, 1789, brought a new type
of administration into the world. The democracy which it initiated was
very different from that of antiquity, from the models of Greece and
of Rome, and quite different from that of the Italian republics during
the Middle Age. The head of the new State differed essentially
from the monarchs across the sea. Although there were varieties of
traditions and customs in what had been the Colonies, still their
dominant characteristic was British. According to the social
traditions of Virginia, George Washington was an aristocrat, but in
contrast with the British, he was a democrat.

He believed, however, that the President must guard his office from
the free-and-easy want of decorum which some of his countrymen
regarded as the stamp of democracy. At his receptions he wore a black
velvet suit with gold buckles at the knee and on his shoes, and yellow
gloves, and profusely powdered hair carried in a silk bag behind. In
one hand he held a cocked hat with an ostrich plume; on his left thigh
he wore a sword in a white scabbard of polished leather. He shook
hands with no one; but acknowledged the courtesy of his visitors by
a very formal bow. When he drove, it was in a coach with four or six
handsome horses and outriders and lackeys dressed in resplendent

After his inauguration he spoke his address to the Congress, and
several days later members of the House and of the Senate called on
him at his residence and made formal replies to his Inaugural Address.
After a few weeks, experience led him to modify somewhat his daily
schedule. He found that unless it was checked, the insatiate public
would consume all his time. Every Tuesday afternoon, between three and
four o'clock, he had a public reception which any one might attend.
Likewise, on Friday afternoons, Mrs. Washington had receptions of her
own. The President accepted no invitations to dinner, but at his own
table there was an unending succession of invited guests, except on
Sunday, which he observed privately. Interviews with the President
could be had at any time that suited his convenience. Thus did he
arrange to transact his regular or his private business.

Inevitably, some of the public objected to his rules and pretended to
see very strong monarchical leanings in them. But the country took
them as he intended, and there can be no doubt that it felt the
benefit of his promoting the dignity of his office. Equally beneficial
was his rule of not appointing to any office any man merely because he
was the President's friend. Washington knew that such a consideration
would give the candidate an unfair advantage. He knew further that
office-holders who could screen themselves behind the plea that they
were the President's friends might be very embarrassing to him. As
office-seekers became, with the development of the Republic, among
the most pernicious of its evils and of its infamies, we can but feel
grateful that so far as in him lay Washington tried to keep them
within bounds.

In all his official acts he took great pains not to force his personal
wishes. He knew that both in prestige and popularity he held a place
apart among his countrymen, and for this reason he did not wish to
have measures passed simply because they were his. Accordingly, in
the matter of receiving the public and in granting interviews and of
ceremonials at the Presidential Residence, he asked the advice of John
Adams, John Jay, Hamilton, and Jefferson, and he listened to many
of their suggestions. Colonel Humphreys, who had been one of his
aides-de-camp and was staying in the Presidential Residence, acted as
Chamberlain at the first reception. Humphreys took an almost childish
delight in gold braid and flummery. At a given moment the door of the
large hall in which the concourse of guests was assembled was opened
and he, advancing, shouted, with a loud voice: "The President of the
United States!" Washington followed him and went through the paces
prescribed by the Colonel with punctilious exactness, but with evident
lack of relish. When the levee broke up and the party had gone,
Washington said to Colonel Humphreys: "Well, you have taken me in
once, but, by God, you shall never take me in a second time."[1]
Irving, who borrows this story from Jefferson, warns us that perhaps
Jefferson was not a credible witness.

[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 14.]

Congress transacted much important business at this first session.
It determined that the President should have a Cabinet of men whose
business it was to administer the chief departments and to advise the
President. Next in importance were the financial measures proposed by
the Secretary of the Treasury. Washington chose for his first Cabinet
Ministers: Thomas Jefferson, who had not returned from Paris, as
Secretary of State, or Foreign Minister as he was first called;
Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury; General Henry Knox,
Secretary of War; and Edmund Randolph, Attorney-General. Of these,
Hamilton had to face the most bitter opposition. Throughout the
Revolution the former Colonies had never been able to collect enough
money to pay the expense of the war and the other charges of the
Confederation. The Confederation handed over a considerable debt to
the new Government. Besides this many of the States had paid each its
own cost of equipping and maintaining its contingent. Hamilton now
proposed that the United States Government should assume these various
State debts, which would aggregate $21,000,000 and bring the National
debt to a total of $75,000,000. Hamilton's suggestion that the State
debts be assumed caused a vehement outcry. Its opponents protested
that no fair adjustment could be reached. The Assumptionists
retorted that this would be the only fair settlement, but the
Anti-Assumptionists voted them down by a majority of two. In other
respects, Hamilton's financial measures prospered, and before many
months he seized the opportunity of making a bargain by which the next
Congress reversed its vote on Assumption. In less than a year the
members of Congress and many of the public had reached the conclusion
that New York City was not the best place to be the capital of the
Nation. The men from the South argued that it put the South to a
disadvantage, as its ease of access to New York, New Jersey, and
the Eastern States gave that section of the country a too favorable
situation. There was a strong party in favor of Philadelphia, but
it was remembered that in the days of the Confederation a gang of
turbulent soldiers had dashed down from Lancaster and put to flight
the Convention sitting at Philadelphia. Nevertheless, Philadelphia was
chosen temporarily, the ultimate choice of a situation being farther
south on the Potomac.

Jefferson returned from France in the early winter. The discussion
over Assumption was going on very virulently. It happened that one day
Jefferson met Hamilton, and this is his account of what followed:

As I was going to the President's one day, I met him [Hamilton]
in the street. He walked me backwards and forwards before the
President's door for half an hour. He painted pathetically the
temper into which the legislature had been wrought; the disgust
of those who were called the creditor States; the danger of the
secession of their members, and the separation of the States. He
observed that the members of the administration ought to act in
concert; that though this question was not of my department, yet
a common duty should make it a common concern; that the President
was the centre on which all administrative questions ultimately
rested, and that all of us should rally around him and support,
with joint efforts, measures approved by him; and that the
question having been lost by a small majority only, it was
probable that an appeal from me to the judgment and discretion of
some of my friends, might effect a change in the vote, and the
machine of government now suspended, might be again set into
motion. I told him that I was really a stranger to the whole
subject, that not having yet informed myself of the system of
finance adopted, I knew not how far this was a necessary sequence;
that undoubtedly, if its rejection endangered a dissolution of our
Union at this incipient stage, I should deem it most unfortunate
of all consequences to avert which all partial and temporary evils
should be yielded, I proposed to him, however, to dine with me the
next day, and I would invite another friend or two, bring them
into conference together, and I thought it impossible that
reasonable men, consulting together coolly, could fail, by some
mutual sacrifices of opinion, to form a compromise which was to
save the Union. The discussion took place. I could take no part
in it but an exhortatory one, because I was a stranger to the
circumstances which should govern it. But it was finally agreed,
that whatever importance had been attached to the rejection of
this proposition, the preservation of the Union and of concord
among the States was more important, and that, therefore, it would
be better that the vote of rejection should be rescinded, to
effect which some members should change their votes. But it was
observed that this pill would be peculiarly bitter to the Southern
States, and that some concomitant measure should be adopted to
sweeten it a little to them. There had before been projects to fix
the seat of government either at Philadelphia or at Georgetown on
the Potomac; and it was thought that, by giving it to Philadelphia
for ten years, and to Georgetown permanently afterwards, this
might, as an anodyne, solve in some degree the ferment which might
be excited by the other measure alone. So two of the Potomac
members (White and Lee, but White with a revulsion of stomach
almost convulsive) agreed to change their votes, and Hamilton
undertook to carry the other point. In doing this, the influence
he had established over the eastern members, with the agency of
Robert Morris with those of the Middle States, effected his side
of the engagement.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Jefferson's Works_, IX, 93.]

As a result of Hamilton's bargain, the bill for Assumption was passed,
and it was agreed that Philadelphia should be the capital for ten
years and that afterwards a new city should be built on the banks of
the Potomac and made the capital permanently.

During the summer of 1789 Washington suffered the most serious
sickness of his entire life. The cause was anthrax in his thigh, and
at times it seemed that it would prove fatal. For many weeks he was
forced to lie on one side, with frequent paroxysms of great pain.
After a month and a half he began to mend, but very slowly, so that
autumn came before he got up and could go about again. His medical
adviser was Dr. Samuel Bard of New York, and Irving reports the
following characteristic conversation between him and his patient:
"Do not flatter me with vain hopes," said Washington, with placid
firmness; "I am not afraid to die, and therefore can bear the worst."
The doctor expressed hope, but owned that he had apprehensions.
"Whether to-night or twenty hence, makes no difference," observed
Washington. "I know that I am in the hands of a good Providence."[1]
His friends thought that he never really recovered his old-time vigor.
That autumn, as soon as Congress had adjourned, he took a journey
through New England, going as far as Portsmouth and returning in time
for the opening of the Second Congress.

[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 22.]

The Government was now settling down into what became its normal
routine. The Cabinet was completed by the appointment of Jefferson as
Secretary of State and Edmund Randolph as Attorney-General. Jefferson
would have preferred to go back to France as American Minister, but
in a fulsome letter he declared himself willing to accept any office
which Washington wished him to fill. The Supreme Court was organized
with John Jay as Chief Justice, and five Associate Justices.
Washington could not fail to be aware that parties were beginning to
shape themselves. At first the natural divisions consisted of the
Federalists, who believed in adopting the Constitution, and those
who did not. As soon as the thirteen States voted to accept the
Constitution, the Anti-Federalists had no definite motive for
existing. Their place was taken principally by the Republicans over
against whom were the Democrats. A few years later these parties
exchanged names. A fundamental difference in the ideas of the
Americans sprang from their views in regard to National and State
rights. Some of them regarded the State as the ultimate unit. Others
insisted that the Nation was sovereign. These two conflicting views
run through American history down to the Civil War, and even in
Washington's time they existed in outline. Washington himself was
a Federalist, believing that the Federation of the former Colonies
should be made as compact and strongly knit as possible. He had
had too much evidence during the Revolution of the weakness of
uncentralized government, and yet his Virginia origin and training had
planted in him a strong sympathy for State rights. In Washington's
own Cabinet dwelt side by side the leaders of the two parties: Thomas
Jefferson, the Secretary of State, though born in Virginia of high
aristocratic stock, was the most aggressive and infatuated of
Democrats. Alexander Hamilton, born in the West Indies and owing
nothing to family connections, was a natural aristocrat. He believed
that the educated and competent few must inevitably govern the
incompetent masses. His enemies suspected that he leaned strongly
towards monarchy and would have been glad to see Washington crowned

President Washington, believing in Assumption, took satisfaction in
Hamilton's bargain with Jefferson which made Assumption possible. For
the President saw in the act a power making for union, and union was
one of the chief objects of his concern. The foremost of Hamilton's
measures, however, for good or for ill, was the protective tariff on
foreign imports. Experience has shown that protection has been much
more than a financial device. It has been deeply and inextricably
moral. It has caused many American citizens to seek for tariff favors
from the Government. Compared with later rates, those which Hamilton's
tariff set were moderate indeed. The highest duties it exacted on
foreign imports were fifteen per cent, while the average was only
eight and a half per cent. And yet it had not been long in force when
the Government was receiving $200,000 a month, which enabled it to
defray all the necessary public charges. Hamilton, in the words of
Daniel Webster, "smote the rock of National resources and copious
streams of wealth poured forth. He touched the dead corpse of public
credit and it stood forth erect with life." The United States of all
modern countries have been the best fitted by their natural resources
to do without artificial stimulation, in spite of which fact they
still cling, after one hundred and thirty-five years, to the easy
and plausible tariff makeshift. Washington himself believed that the
tariff should so promote industries as to provide for whatever the
country needed in time of war.

Two other financial measures are to be credited to Hamilton. The first
was the excise, an internal revenue on distilled spirits. It met with
opposition from the advocates of State rights, but was passed after
heated debate. The last was the establishment of a United States Bank.
All of Hamilton's measures tended directly to centralization, the
object which he and Washington regarded as paramount.

In 1790 Washington made a second trip through the Eastern States,
taking pains to visit Rhode Island, which was the last State to ratify
the Constitution (May 29, 1790). These trips of his, for which the
hostile might have found parallels in the royal progresses of the
British sovereigns, really served a good purpose; for they enabled the
people to see and hear their President; which had a good effect in a
newly established nation. Washington lost no opportunity for teaching
a moral. Thus, when he came to Boston, John Hancock, the Governor of
Massachusetts, seemed to wish to indicate that the Governor was the
highest personage in the State and not at all subservient even to
the President of the United States. He wished to arrange it so that
Washington should call on him first, but this Washington had no idea
of doing. Hancock then wrote and apologized for not greeting the
President owing to an unfortunate indisposition. Washington replied
regretting the Governor's illness and announcing that the schedule on
which he was travelling required him to quit Boston at a given time.
Governor Hancock, whose spectacular signature had given him prominence
everywhere, finding that he could not make the President budge, sent
word that he was coming to pay his respects. Washington replied that
he should be much pleased to welcome him, but expressed anxiety lest
the Governor might increase his indisposition by coming out. This
little comedy had a far-reaching effect. It settled the question as to
whether the Governor of a State or the President of the United States
should take precedence. From that day to this, no Governor, so far
as I am aware, has set himself above the President in matters of

One of the earliest difficulties which Washington's administration had
to overcome was the hostility of the Indians. Indian discontent and
even lawlessness had been going on for years, with only a desultory
and ineffectual show of vigor on the part of the whites. Washington,
who detested whatever was ineffectual and lacking in purpose,
determined to beat down the Indians into submission. He sent out a
first army under General St. Clair, but it was taken in ambush by the
Indians and nearly wiped out--a disaster which caused almost a panic
throughout the Western country. Washington felt the losses deeply, but
he had no intention of being beaten there. He organized a second army,
gave it to General Wayne to command, who finally brought the Six
Nations to terms. The Indians in the South still remained unpacified
and lawless.

Washington made another prolonged trip, this time through the Southern
States, which greatly improved his health and gave an opportunity of
seeing many of the public men, and enabled the population to greet for
the first time their President. Meanwhile the seeds of partisan feuds
grew apace, as they could not fail to do where two of the ablest
politicians ever known in the United States sat in the same Cabinet
and pursued with unremitting energy ideas that were mutually
uncompromising. Thomas Jefferson, although born of the old
aristocratic stock of Virginia, had early announced himself a
Democrat, and had led that faction throughout the Revolution. His
facile and fiery mind gave to the Declaration of Independence an
irresistible appeal, and it still remains after nearly one hundred and
fifty years one of the most contagious documents ever drawn up. Going
to France at the outbreak of the French Revolution, he found the
French nation about to put into practice the principles on which he
had long fed his imagination--principles which he accepted without
qualification and without scruple. Returning to America after the
organization of the Government, he accepted with evident reluctance
the position of Secretary of State which Washington offered to him. In
the Cabinet his chief adversary or competitor was Alexander Hamilton,
his junior by fourteen years, a man equally versatile and equally
facile--and still more enthralling as an orator. Hamilton harbored the
anxiety that the United States under their new Constitution would be
too loosely held together. He promoted, therefore, every measure
that tended to strengthen the Central Government and to save it
from dissolution either by the collapse of its unifying bonds or
by anarchy. In the work of the first two years of Washington's
administration, Hamilton was plainly victorious. The Tariff Law, the
Excise, the National Bank, the National Funding Bill, all centralizing
measures, were his. Washington approved them all, and we may believe
that he talked them over with Hamilton and gave them his approval
before they came under public discussion.

Thus, as Hamilton gained, Jefferson plainly lost. But Washington
did not abandon his sound position as a neutral between the two. He
requested Jefferson and Edmund Randolph to draw up objections to some
of Hamilton's schemes, so that he had in writing the arguments of very
strong opponents.

Meanwhile the French Revolution had broken all bounds, and Jefferson, as
the sponsor of the French over here, was kept busy in explaining and
defending the Gallic horrors. The Americans were in a large sense
law-abiding, but in another sense they were lawless. Nevertheless, they
heard with horror of the atrocities of the French Revolutionists--of the
drownings, of the guillotining, of the imprisonment and execution of the
King and Queen--and they had a healthy distrust of the Jacobin Party,
which boasted that these things were natural accompaniments of Liberty
with which they planned to conquer the world. Events in France
inevitably drove that country into war with England. Washington and his
chief advisers believed that the United States ought to remain neutral
as between the two belligerents. But neutrality was difficult. In spite
of their horror at the French Revolution, the memory of our debt to
France during our own Revolution made a very strong bond of sympathy,
whereas our long record of hostility to England during our Colony days,
and since the Declaration of Independence, kept alive a traditional
hatred for Great Britain. While it was easy, therefore, to preach
neutrality, it was very difficult to enforce it. An occurrence which
could not have been foreseen further added to the difficulty of

In the spring of 1793 the French Republic appointed Edmond Charles
Genet, familiarly called "Citizen Genet," Minister to the United
States. He was a young man, not more than thirty, of very quick parts,
who had been brought up in the Bureau of Foreign Affairs, had an
exorbitant idea of his own importance, and might be described without
malice as a master of effrontery. The ship which brought him to this
country was driven by adverse winds to Charleston and landed him there
on April 8th. He lost no time in fitting out a privateer against
British mercantile vessels. The fact that by so doing he broke the
American rule of neutrality did not seem to trouble him at all; on the
contrary, he acted as if he were simply doing what the United States
would do if they really did what they wished. As soon as he had made
his arrangements, he proceeded by land up the coast to Philadelphia.
Jefferson was exuberant, and he wrote in exultation to Madison on the
fifth of May, concluding with the phrase, "I wish we may be able
to repress the spirit of the people within the limits of a fair
neutrality." If there be such things as crocodile tears, perhaps there
may also be crocodile wishes, of which this would seem to be one. A
friend of Hamilton's, writing about the same time, speaks in different
terms, as follows:

He has a good person, a fine ruddy complexion, quite active, and
seems always in a bustle, more like a busy man than a man of
business. A Frenchman in his manners, he announces himself in all
companies as the Minister of the Republic, etc., talks freely of
his commission, and, like most Europeans, seems to have adopted
mistaken notions of the penetration and knowledge of the people of
the United States. His system, I think, is to laugh us into war if
he can.[1]

[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 151.]

Citizen Genet did not allow his progress up the coast to be so
rapid that he was deprived of any ovation. The banquets, luncheons,
speech-makings, by which he was welcomed everywhere, had had no
parallel in the country up to that time. They seemed to be too
carefully prepared to be unpremeditated, and probably many of those
who took part in them did not understand that they were cheering for a
cause which they had never espoused. One wonders why he was allowed to
carry on this personal campaign and to show rude unconcern for good
manners, or indeed for any manners except those of a wayward and
headstrong boy. It might be thought that the Secretary of State
abetted him and in his infatuation for France did not check him; but,
so far as I have discovered, no evidence exists that Jefferson was
in collusion with the truculent and impertinent "Citizen." No doubt,
however, the shrewd American politician took satisfaction in observing
the extravagances of his fellow countrymen in paying tribute to the
representative of France. At Philadelphia, for instance, the city
which already was beginning to have a reputation for spinster
propriety which became its boast in the next century, we hear that
"... before Genet had presented his credentials and been acknowledged
by the President, he was invited to a grand republican dinner, 'at
which,' we are told, 'the company united in singing the Marseillaise
Hymn. A deputation of French sailors presented themselves, and were
received by the guests with the fraternal embrace.' The table was
decorated with the 'tree of liberty,' and a red cap, called the cap
of liberty, was placed on the head of the minister, and from his
travelled in succession from head to head round the table."[1]

[Footnote 1: Jay's _Life_, I, 30.]

But not all the Americans were delirious enthusiasts. Hamilton kept
his head amid the whirling words which, he said, might "do us much
harm and could do France no good." In a letter, which deserves to be
quoted in spite of its length, he states very clearly the opinions of
one of the sanest of Americans. He writes to a friend:

It cannot be without danger and inconvenience to our interests, to
impress on the nations of Europe an idea that we are actuated by
the same spirit which has for some time past fatally misguided the
measures of those who conduct the affairs of France, and sullied
a cause once glorious, and that might have been triumphant. The
cause of France is compared with that of America during its late
revolution. Would to Heaven that the comparison were just! Would
to Heaven we could discern, in the mirror of French affairs, the
same decorum, the same gravity, the same order, the same dignity,
the same solemnity, which distinguished the cause of the American
Revolution! Clouds and darkness would not then rest upon the
issue as they now do. I own I do not like the comparison. When I
contemplate the horrid and systematic massacres of the 2nd and 3rd
of September, when I observe that a Marat and a Robespierre, the
notorious prompters of those bloody scenes, sit triumphantly in
the convention, and take a conspicuous part in its measures--that
an attempt to bring the assassins to justice has been obliged to
be abandoned--when I see an unfortunate prince, whose reign was
a continued demonstration of the goodness and benevolence of his
heart, of his attachment to the people of whom he was the monarch,
who, though educated in the lap of despotism, had given repeated
proofs that he was not the enemy of liberty, brought precipitately
and ignominiously to the block without any substantial proof of
guilt, as yet disclosed--without even an authentic exhibition of
motives, in decent regard to the opinions of mankind; when I find
the doctrine of atheism openly advanced in the convention, and
heard with loud applause; when I see the sword of fanaticism
extended to force a political creed upon citizens who were invited
to submit to the arms of France as the harbingers of liberty; when
I behold the hand of rapacity outstretched to prostrate and ravish
the monuments of religious worship, erected by those citizens and
their ancestors; when I perceive passion, tumult, and violence
usurping those seats, where reason and cool deliberation ought to
preside, I acknowledge that I am glad to believe there is no real
resemblance between what was the cause of America and what is the
cause of France; that the difference is no less great than that
between liberty and licentiousness. I regret whatever has a
tendency to confound them, and I feel anxious, as an American,
that the ebullitions of inconsiderate men among us may not tend to
involve our reputation in the issue.[1]

[Footnote 1: _Hamilton's Works_, 566.]

Citizen Genet continued his campaign unabashed. He attempted to force
the United States to give arms and munitions to the French. Receiving
cool answers to his demands, he lost patience, and intended to appeal
to the American People, over the head of the Government. He sent his
communication for the two Houses of Congress, in care of the Secretary
of State, to be delivered. But Washington, whose patience had seemed
inexhaustible, believed that the time had come to act boldly. By his
instruction Jefferson returned the communication to Genet with a note
in which he curtly reminded the obstreperous Frenchman of a diplomat's
proper behavior. As the American Government had already requested the
French to recall Genet, his amazing inflation collapsed like a pricked
bladder. He was too wary, however, to return to France which he had
served so devotedly. He preferred to remain in this country, to become
an American citizen, and to marry the daughter of Governor Clinton of
New York. Perhaps he had time for leisure, during the anticlimax of
his career, to recognize that President Washington, whom he had
looked down upon as a novice in diplomacy, knew how to accomplish his
purpose, very quietly, but effectually. A century and a quarter later,
another foreigner, the German Ambassador, Count Bernstorff, was
allowed by the American Government to weave an even more menacing
plot, but the sound sense of the country awoke in time to sweep him
and his truculence and his conspiracies beyond the Atlantic.

The intrigues of Genet emphasized the fact that a party had arisen and
was not afraid to speak openly against President Washington. He held
in theory a position above that of parties, but the theory did not
go closely with fact, for he made no concealment of his fundamental
Federalism, and every one saw that, in spite of his formal neutrality,
in great matters he almost always sided with Hamilton instead of with
Jefferson. When he himself recognized that the rift was spreading
between his two chief Cabinet officers, he warned them both to avoid
exaggerating their differences and pursuing any policy which must be
harmful to the country. Patriotism was the chief aim of every one, and
patriotism meant sinking one's private desires in order to achieve
liberty through unity. Washington himself was a man of such strict
virtue that he could work with men who in many matters disagreed with
him, and as he left the points of disagreement on one side, he
used the more effectively points of agreement. I do not think that
Jefferson could do this, or Hamilton either, and I cannot rid myself
of the suspicion that Jefferson furnished Philip Freneau, who came
from New York to Philadelphia to edit the anti-Washington newspaper,
with much of his inspiration if not actual articles. The objective
of the "Gazette" was, of course, the destruction of Hamilton and his
policy of finance. If Hamilton could be thus destroyed, it would be
far easier to pull down Washington also. Lest the invectives in the
"Gazette" should fail to shake Washington in his regard for Hamilton,
Jefferson indited a serious criticism of the Treasury, and he took
pains to have friends of his leave copies of the indictment so that
Washington could not fail to see them. The latter, however, by a
perfectly natural and characteristic stroke which Jefferson could not
foresee, sent the indictment to Hamilton and asked him to explain.
This Hamilton did straightforwardly and point-blank--and Jefferson had
the mortification of perceiving that his ruse had failed. Hamilton,
under a thin disguise, wrote a series of newspaper assaults on
Jefferson, who could not parry them or answer them. He was no match
for the most terrible controversialist in America; but he could wince.
And presently B.F. Bache, the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, brought
his unusual talents in vituperation, in calumny, and in nastiness to
the "Aurora," a blackguard sheet of Philadelphia. Washington doubtless
thought himself so hardened to abuse by the experience he had had of
it during the Revolution that nothing which Freneau, Bache, and their
kind could say or do, would affect him. But he was mistaken. And one
cannot fail to see that they saddened and annoyed him. He felt
so keenly the evil which must come from the deliberate sowing of
dissensions. He cared little what they might say against himself, but
he cared immensely for their sin against patriotism. Before his term
as President drew to a close, he was already deciding not to be
a candidate for a second term. He told his intention to a few
intimates--from them it spread to many others. His best friends were
amazed. They foresaw great trials for the Nation and a possible
revolution. Hamilton tried to move him by every sort of appeal.
Jefferson also was almost boisterous in denouncing the very idea. He
impressed upon him the importance of his continuing at that crisis. He
had not been President long enough to establish precedents for the new
Nation. There were many volatile incidents which, if treated with less
judgment than his, might do grievous harm. One wonders how sincere all
the entreaties to Washington were, but one cannot doubt that the great
majority of the country was perfectly sincere in wishing to have him
continue; for it had sunk deep into the hearts of Americans that
Washington was himself a party, a policy, an ideal above all the rest.
And when the election was held in the autumn of 1792, he was reelected
by the equivalent of a unanimous vote.



There is no doubt that Washington in his Olympian quiet took a real
satisfaction in his election. On January 20, 1793, he wrote to
Governor Henry Lee of Virginia:

A mind must be insensible indeed not to be gratefully impressed by
so distinguished and honorable a testimony of public approbation
and confidence; and as I suffered my name to be contemplated on
this occasion, it is more than probable that I should, for a
moment, have experienced chagrin, if my reelection had not been
by a pretty respectable vote. But to say I feel pleasure from the
prospect of commencing another term of duty would be a departure
from the truth,--for, however it might savor of affectation in
the opinion of the world (who, by the by, can only guess at my
sentiments, as it never has been troubled with them), my
particular and confidential friends well know, that it was after a
long and painful conflict in my own breast, that I was withheld,
(by considerations which are not necessary to be mentioned), from
requesting in time, that no vote might be thrown away upon me, it
being my fixed determination to return to the walks of private
life at the end of my term.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, XII, 256.]

Washington felt at his reelection not merely egotistic pleasure for
a personal success, but the assurance that it involved a triumph of
measures which he held to be of far more importance than any success
of his own. The American Nation's new organism which he had set
in motion could now continue with the uniformity of its policy
undisturbed by dislocating checks and interruptions. Much, very much
depended upon the persons appointed to direct its progress, and
they depended upon the President who appointed them. In matters of
controversy or dispute, Washington upheld a perfectly impartial
attitude. But he did not believe that this should shackle his freedom
in appointing. According to him a man must profess right views in
order to be considered worthy of appointment. The result of this was
that Washington's appointees must be orthodox in his definition of

His first important act in his new administration was to issue a
Proclamation of Neutrality on April 22d. Although this document was
clear in intent and in purpose, and was evidently framed to keep
the United States from being involved in the war between France and
England, it gave offence to partisans of either country. They used it
as a weapon for attacking the Government, so that Washington found to
his sorrow that the partisan spites, which he had hoped would vanish
almost of their own accord, were become, on the contrary, even more
formidable and irritating. At this juncture the coming of Genet and
his machinations added greatly to the embarrassment, and, having no
sense of decency, Genet insinuated that the President had usurped the
powers of Congress and that he himself would seek redress by appealing
to the people over the President. I have already stated that, having
tolerated Genet's insults and menaces as far as he deemed necessary,
Washington put forth his hand and crushed the spluttering Frenchman
like a bubble.

Persons who like to trace the sardonic element in history--the element
which seems to laugh derisively at the ineffectual efforts of us poor
mortals to establish ourselves and lead rational lives in the world as
it is--can find few better examples of it than these early years of
the American Republic. In the war which brought about the independence
of the American Colonies, England had been their enemy and France
their friend. Now their instinctive gratitude to France induced many,
perhaps a majority of them, to look with effusive favor on France,
although her character and purpose had quite changed and it was very
evident that for the Americans to side with France would be against
sound policy and common sense. Neutrality, the strictest neutrality,
between England and France was therefore the only rational course; but
the American partisans of these rivals did their utmost to render this
unachievable. Much of Washington's second term see-sawed between one
horn and the other of this dilemma. The sardonic aspect becomes more
glaring if we remember that the United States were a new-born nation
which ought to have been devoting itself to establishing viable
relations among its own population and not to have been dissipating
its strength taking sides with neighbors who lived four thousand miles

In the autumn of 1793 Jefferson insisted upon resigning as Secretary
of State. Washington used all his persuasiveness to dissuade him, but
in vain. Jefferson saw the matter in its true light, and insisted.
Perhaps it at last occurred to him, as it must occur to every
dispassionate critic, that he could not go on forever acting as
an important member of an administration which pursued a policy
diametrically opposed to his own. After all, even the most adroit
politicians must sometimes sacrifice an offering to candor, not to say
honesty. At the end of the year he retired to the privacy of his home
at Monticello, where he remained in seclusion, not wholly innocuous,
until the end of 1796. Edmund Randolph succeeded him as Secretary of

Whether it was owing to the departure of Jefferson from the Cabinet or
not, the fact remains that Washington concluded shortly thereafter
the most difficult diplomatic negotiation of his career. This was
the treaty with England, commonly called Jay's Treaty. The President
wished at first to appoint Hamilton, the ablest member of the Cabinet,
but, realizing that it would be unwise to deprive himself and his
administration of so necessary a supporter, he offered the post to
John Jay, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The quality, deemed
most desirable, which it was feared Jay might lack, was audacity. But
he had discretion, tact, and urbanity in full share, besides that
indefinable something which went with his being a great gentleman.

The President, writing to Gouverneur Morris, who had recently been
recalled as Minister to France, said:

My primary objects, to which I have steadily adhered, have been to
preserve the country in peace, if I can, and to be prepared for
war if I cannot, to effect the first, upon terms consistent with
the respect which is due to ourselves, and with honor, justice and
good faith to all the world.

Mr. Jay (and not Mr. Jefferson) as has been suggested to you,
embarked as envoy extraordinary for England about the middle of
May. If he succeed, well; if he does not, why, knowing the worst,
we must take measures accordingly.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, XII, 436. Mount Vernon, June 25, 1794.]

Jay reached London early in June, 1794, and labored over the treaty
with the British negotiators during the summer and autumn, started for
home before Christmas, and put the finished document in Washington's
hands in March. From the moment of his going enemies of all kinds
talked bitterly against him. The result must be a foregone conclusion,
since John Jay was regarded as the chief Anglo-maniac in America after
Hamilton. They therefore condemned in advance any treaty he might
agree to. But their criticism went deeper than mere hatred of him: it
sprang from an inveterate hatred of England, which dated from before
the Revolution. Since the Treaty of 1783 the English seemed to act
deliberately with studied truculence, as if the Americans would not
and could not retaliate. They were believed to be instigating the
Indians to continuous underhand war. They had reached that dangerous
stage of truculence, when they did not think it mattered whether
they spoke with common diplomatic reticence. Lord Dorchester, the
Governor-General of Canada, and to-day better known as Sir Guy
Carleton, his name before they made him a peer, addressed a gathering
of Indian chiefs at Quebec on the assumption that war would come in a
few weeks. President Washington kept steady watch of every symptom,
and he knew that it would not require a large spark to kindle a
conflagration. "My objects are, to prevent a war," he wrote to Edmund
Randolph, on April 15, 1794, "if justice can be obtained by fair and
strong representations (to be made by a special envoy) of the injuries
which this country has sustained from Great Britain in various ways,
to put it into a complete state of military defence, and to provide
_eventually_ for such measures as seem to be now pending in
Congress for execution, if negotiations in a reasonable time proves

[Footnote 1: Ford, XIII, 4-9.]

The year 1794 marked the sleepless anxiety of the Silent President.
Day and night his thoughts were in London, with Jay. He said little;
he had few letters from Jay--it then required from eight to ten weeks
for the mail clippers to make a voyage across the Atlantic. Opposition
to the general idea of such a treaty as the mass of Republicans and
Anti-Federalists supposed Washington hoped to secure, grew week by
week. The Silent Man heard the cavil and said nothing.

At last early in 1795 Jay returned. His Treaty caused an uproar. The
hottest of his enemies found an easy explanation on the ground that
he was a traitor. Stanch Federalists suffered all varieties of
mortification. Washington himself entered into no discussion, but he
ruminated over those which came to him. I am not sure that he
invented the phrase "Either the Treaty, or war," which summed up the
alternatives which confronted Jay; but he used it with convincing
emphasis. When it came before the Senate, both sides had gathered
every available supporter, and the vote showed only a majority of
one in its favor. Still, it passed. But that did not satisfy its
pertinacious enemies. Neither were they restrained by the President's
proclamation. The Constitution assigned the duty of negotiating and
ratifying treaties to the President and Senate; but to the perfervid
Anti-Britishers the Constitution was no more than an old cobweb to be
brushed away at pleasure. The Jay Treaty could not be put into effect
without money for expenses; all bills involving money must pass the
House of Representatives; therefore, the House would actually control
the operation of the Treaty.

The House at this time was Republican by a marked majority. In March,
1796, the President laid the matter before the House. In a twinkling
the floodgates of speechifying burst open; the debates touched
every aspect of the question. James Madison, the wise supporter of
Washington and Hamilton in earlier days and the fellow worker on "The
Federalist," led the Democrats in their furious attacks. He was ably
seconded by Albert Gallatin, the high-minded young Swiss doctrinaire
from Geneva, a terrible man, in whose head principles became two-edged
weapons with Calvinistic precision and mercilessness. The Democrats
requested the President to let them see the correspondence in
reference to the Treaty during its preparation. This he wisely
declined to do. The Constitution did not recognize their right to make
the demand, and he foresaw that, if granted by him then, it might be
used as a harmful precedent.

For many weeks the controversy waxed hot in the House. Scores of
speakers hammered at every argument, yet only one speech eclipsed
all the rest, and remains now, after one hundred and thirty years, a
paragon. There are historians who assert that this was the greatest
speech delivered in Congress before Daniel Webster spoke there--an
implication which might lead irreverent critics to whisper that too
much reading may have dulled their discrimination. But fortunately not
only the text of the speech remains; we have also ample evidence of
the effect it produced on its hearers. Fisher Ames, a Representative
from Massachusetts, uttered it. He was a young lawyer, feeble in
health, but burning, after the manner of some consumptives, with
intellectual and moral fire which strangely belied his slender thread
of physical life. Ames pictured the horrors which would ensue if the
Treaty were rejected. Quite naturally he assumed the part of a man
on the verge of the grave, which increased the impressiveness of his
words. He spoke for three hours. The members of the House listened
with feverish attention; the crowds in the balconies could not smother
their emotion. One witness reports that Vice-President John Adams sat
in the gallery, the tears running down his cheeks, and that he said to
the friend beside him, "My God, how great he is!"

When Ames began, no doubt the Anti-British groups which swelled
the audience turned towards him an unsympathetic if not a scornful
attention--they had already taken a poll of their members, from which
it appeared that they could count on a majority of six to defeat the
Treaty. As he proceeded, however, and they observed how deeply he was
moving the audience, they may have had to keep up their courage by
reflecting that speeches in Congress rarely change votes. They are
intended to be read by the public outside, which is not under the
spell of the orator or the crowd. But when Fisher Ames, after what
must have seemed to them a whirlwind speech, closed with these solemn,
restrained words, they must have doubted whether their victory was

Even the minutes I have spent in expostulating, have their value [he
said] because they protract the crisis and the short period in which
alone we may resolve to escape it. Yet I have, perhaps, as little
personal interest in the event as any one here. There is, I believe, no
member, who will not think his chance to be a witness of the
consequences greater than mine. If, however, the vote should pass to
reject--even I, slender and almost broken as my hold on life is, may
outlive the government and Constitution of my country.[1]

[Footnote 1: Elson, 359.]

The next day when the vote was taken it appeared that the Republicans,
instead of winning by a majority of six, had lost by three.

The person who really triumphed was George Washington, although Fisher
Ames, who won the immediate victory, deserved undying laurel. The
Treaty had all the objections that its critics brought against it
then, but it had one sterling virtue which outweighed them all. It not
only made peace between the United States and Great Britain the normal
condition, but it removed the likelihood that the wrangling over petty
matters might lead to war. For many years Washington had a fixed idea
that if the new country could live for twenty years without a conflict
with its chief neighbors, its future would be safe; for he felt that
at the end of that time it would have grown so strong by the natural
increase in population and by the strength that comes from developing
its resources, that it need not fear the attack of any people in the
world. The Jay Treaty helped towards this end; it prevented war for
sixteen years only; but even that delay was of great service to the
Americans and made them more ready to face it than they would have
been in 1795.



The Treaty with England had scarely been put in operation before the
Treaty with France, of which Washington also felt the importance, came
to the front. Monroe was not an aggressive agent. Perhaps very
few civilized Americans could have filled that position to the
satisfaction of his American countrymen. They wished the French to
acknowledge and explain various acts which they qualified as outrages,
whereas the French regarded as glories what they called grievances.
The men of the Directory which now ruled France did not profess the
atrocious methods of the Terrorists, but they could not afford in
treating with a foreigner to disavow the Terrorists. In the summer of
'96, Washington, being dissatisfied with Monroe's results, recalled
him, and sent in his place Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, to whom
President Adams afterwards added John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry,
forming a Commission of three. Some of the President's critics have
regarded his treatment of Monroe as unfair, and they imply that it
was inspired by partisanship. He had always been an undisguised
Federalist, whereas Monroe, during the past year or more, had followed
Jefferson and become an unswerving Democrat. The publication here of
a copy of Monroe's letter to the French Committee of Public Safety
caused a sensation; for he had asserted that he was not instructed to
ask for the repeal of the French decrees by which the spoliation of
American commerce had been practised, and he added that if the decrees
benefited France, the United States would submit not only with
patience but with pleasure. What wonder that Washington, in reading
this letter and taking in the full enormity of Monroe's words, should
have allowed himself the exclamation, "Extraordinary!" What wonder
that in due course of time he recalled Monroe from Paris and replaced
him with a man whom he could trust!

The settlement of affairs with France did not come until after
Washington ceased to be President. I will, therefore, say no more
about it, except to refer to the outrageous conduct of the French, who
hurried two of the Commissioners out of France, and, apparently at the
instigation of Talleyrand, declared that they must pay a great deal of
money before they made any arrangement, to which Charles Pinckney made
the famous rejoinder, "Millions for defence, but not one cent for
tribute." The negotiations became so stormy that war seemed imminent.
Congress authorized President Adams to enlist ten thousand men to be
put into the field in case of need, and he wrote to Washington: "We
must have your name, if you will in any case permit us to use it.
There will be more efficacy in it than in many an army." McHenry, the
Secretary of War, wrote: "You see how the storm thickens, and that our
vessel will soon require its ancient pilot. Will you--may we flatter
ourselves, that in a crisis so awful and important, you will accept
the command of all our armies? I hope you will, because you alone can
unite all hearts and all hands, if it is possible that they can be

[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 290.]

To President Adams Washington replied on July 4, 1799: "As my whole
life has been dedicated to my country in one shape or another, for the
poor remains of it, it is not an object to contend for ease and quiet,
when all that is valuable is at stake, further than to be satisfied
that the sacrifice I should make of these, is acceptable and desired
by my country."[1]

[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., 291.]

Congress voted to restore for Washington the rank of
Commander-in-Chief, and he agreed with the Secretary of War that the
three Major-Generals should be Alexander Hamilton, Inspector-General;
Charles C. Pinckney, who was still in Europe; and Henry Knox. But a
change came over the passions of France; Napoleon Bonaparte, the new
despot who had taken control of that hysterical republic for himself,
was now aspiring to something higher and larger than the humiliation
of the United States and his menace in that direction ceased.

We need to note two or three events before Washington's term ended
because they were thoroughly characteristic. First of these was the
Whiskey Insurrection in western Pennsylvania. The inhabitants first
grew surly, then broke out in insurrection on account of the Excise
Law. They found it cheaper to convert their corn and grain into
whiskey, which could be more easily transported, but the Government
insisted that the Excise Law, being a law, should be obeyed. The
malcontents held a great mass meeting on Braddock's Field, denounced
the law and declared that they would not obey it. Washington issued a
proclamation calling upon the people to resume their peaceable life.
He called also on the Governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, New
Jersey, and Virginia for troops, which they furnished. His right-hand
lieutenant was Alexander Hamilton, who felt quite as keenly as he
did himself the importance of putting down such an insurrection.
Washington knew that if any body of the people were allowed unpunished
to rise and disobey any law which pinched or irritated them, all law
and order would very soon go by the board. His action was one of the
great examples in government which he set the people of the United
States. He showed that we must never parley or haggle with sedition,
treason, or lawlessness, but must strike a blow that cannot be
parried, and at once. The Whiskey Insurrectionists may have imagined
that they were too remote to be reached in their western wilderness,
but he taught them a most salutary lesson that, as they were in the
Union, the power of the Union could and would reach them.

One of the matters which Washington could not have foreseen was the
outrageous abuse of the press, which surpassed in virulence and
indecency anything hitherto known in the United States. At first the
journalistic thugs took care not to vilify Washington personally,
but, as they became more outrageous, they spared neither him nor his
family. Freneau, Bache, and Giles were among the most malignant of
these infamous men; and most suspicious is it that two of them at
least were proteges of Thomas Jefferson. Once, when the attack was
particularly atrocious, and the average citizen might well be excused
if he believed that Jefferson wrote it, Jefferson, unmindful of the
full bearing of the French proverb, _Qui s'excuse s'accuse_, wrote
to Washington exculpating himself and protesting that he was not the
author of that particular attack, and added that he had never written
any article of that kind for the press. Many years later the editor of
that newspaper, one of the most shameless of the malignants, calmly
reported in a batch of reminiscences that Jefferson did contribute
many of the most flagrant articles. Senator Lodge, in commenting
on this affair, caustically remarks: "Strict veracity was not the
strongest characteristic of either Freneau or Jefferson, and it is
really of but little consequence whether Freneau was lying in his old
age or in the prime of life."[1]

[Footnote 1: Lodge, II, 223.]

An unbiassed searcher after truth to-day will find that the
circumstantial evidence runs very strongly against Jefferson. He
brought Freneau over from New York to Philadelphia, he knew the sort
of work that Freneau would and could do, he gave him an office in the
State Department, he probably discussed the topics which the "National
Gazette" was to take up, and he probably read the proof of the
articles which that paper was to publish. In his animosities the cloak
of charity neither became him nor fitted him.

Several years later, when Bache's paper, the "Aurora," printed some
material which Washington's enemies hoped would damage him, Jefferson
again took alarm and wrote to Washington to free himself from blame.
To him, the magnanimous President replied in part:

If I had entertained any suspicions before, that the queries,
which have been published in Bache's paper, proceeded from you,
the assurances you have given of the contrary would have removed
them; but the truth is, I harbored none. I am at no loss to
_conjecture_ from what source they flowed, through what channel
they were conveyed, and for what purpose they and similar
publications appear. They were known to be in the hands of Mr.
Parker in the early part of the last session of Congress. They
were shown about by Mr. Giles during the session, and they made
their public exhibition about the close of it.

Perceiving and probably hearing, that no abuse in the gazettes
would induce me to take notice of anonymous publications against
me, those, who were disposed to do me _such friendly offices_,
have embraced without restraint every opportunity to weaken the
confidence of the people; and, by having the whole game in their
hands, they have scrupled not to publish things that do not, as
well as those which do exist, and to mutilate the latter, so as to
make them subserve the purposes which they have in view.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, XIII, 229.]

Washington's opinion of the scurrilous crusade against him, he
expressed in the following letter to Henry Lee:

But in what will this abuse terminate? For the result, as it
respects myself, I care not; for I have a consolation within that
no earthly efforts can deprive me of, and that is, that neither
ambition nor interested motives have influenced my conduct. The
arrows of malevolence, therefore, however barbed and well pointed,
never can reach the most vulnerable part of me; though, whilst I
am up as a mark, they will be continually aimed. The publications
in Freneau's and Bache's papers are outrages in that style in
proportion as their pieces are treated with contempt and are
passed by in silence by those at whom they are aimed. The tendency
of them, however, is too obvious to be mistaken by men of cool
and dispassionate minds, and, in my opinion, ought to alarm them,
because it is difficult to prescribe bounds to the effect.[1]

[Footnote 1: Lodge, II, 236.]

By his refusal to take notice of these indecencies, Washington set a
high example. In other countries, in France and England, for example,
the victims of such abuse resorted to duels with their abusers: a very
foolish and inadequate practice, since it happened as often as not
that the aggrieved person was killed. In taking no notice of the
calumnies, therefore, Washington prevented the President of the United
States from being drawn into an unseemly duel. We cannot fail to
recognize also that Washington was very sensitive to the maintenance
of freedom of speech. He seems to have acted on the belief that it was
better that occasionally license should degenerate into abuse than
that liberty should be suppressed. He was the President of the first
government in the world which did not control the utterances of its
people. Perhaps he may have supposed that their patriotism would
restrain them from excesses, and there can be no doubt that the insane
gibes of the Freneaus and the Baches gave him much pain because they
proved that those scorpions were not up to the level which the new
Nation offered them.

As the time for the conclusion of Washington's second term drew near,
he left no doubt as to his intentions. Though some of his best friends
urged him to stand for reelection, he firmly declined. He felt that he
had done enough for his country in sacrificing the last eight years to
it. He had seen it through its formative period, and had, he thought,
steered it into clear, quiet water, so that there was no threatening
danger to demand his continuance at the helm. Many persons thought
that he was more than glad to be relieved of the increasing abuse of
the scurrilous editors. No doubt he was, but we can hardly agree that
merely for the sake of that relief he would abandon his Presidential
post. But does it not seem more likely that his unwillingness to
convert the Presidency into a life office, and so to give the critics
of the American experiment a valid cause for opposition, led him to
establish the precedent that two terms were enough? More than once in
the century and a quarter since he retired in 1797, over-ambitious
Presidents have schemed to win a third election and flattering
sycophants have encouraged them to believe that they could attain it.
But before they came to the test Washington's example--"no more than
two"--has blocked their advance. In this respect also we must admit
that he looked far into the future and saw what would be best for
posterity. The second term as it has proved is bad enough, diverting
a President during his first term to devote much of his energy and
attention to setting traps to secure the second. It might be better
to have only one term to last six years, instead of four, which would
enable a President to give all his time to the duties of his office,
instead of giving a large part of it to the chase after a reelection.

As soon as Washington determined irrevocably to retire, he began
thinking of the "Farewell Address" which he desired to deliver to his
countrymen as the best legacy he could bequeath. Several years before
he had talked it over with Madison, with whom he was then on very
friendly terms, and Madison had drafted a good deal of it. Now he
turned to Hamilton, giving him the topics as far as they had been
outlined, and bidding him to rewrite it if he thought it desirable. In
September, 1796, Washington read the "Address" before the assembled

The "Farewell Address" belongs among the few supreme utterances on
human government. Its author seems to be completely detached from all
personal or local interests. He tries to see the thing as it is, and
as it is likely to be in its American environment. His advice applies
directly to the American people, and only in so far as what he says
has in a large sense human pertinence do we find in it more than a
local application.

"Be united" is the summary and inspiration of the entire "Address."
"Be united and be American"; as an individual each person must feel
himself most strongly an American. He urges against the poisonous
effects of parties. He warns against the evils that may arise when
parties choose different foreign nations for their favorites.

The great rule of conduct for us [he says] in regard to foreign
Nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with
them as little _Political_ connection as possible. So far as
we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with
perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or
a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent
controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our
concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate
ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her
politics, ... or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to
pursue a different course. If we remain one People, under an
efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy
material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an
attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve
upon to be scrupulously respected. When belligerent nations, under
the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly
hazard the giving us provocation when we may choose peace or war,
as our interest guided by justice shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our
own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny
with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity
in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humour or

Compared with Machiavelli's "Prince," which must come to the mind of
every one who reads the "Farewell Address," one sees at once that the
"Prince" is more limber, it may be more spontaneous, but the great
difference between the two is in their fundamental conception. The
"Address" is frankly a preachment and much of its impressiveness comes
from that fact. The "Prince," on the other hand, has little concern
with the moral aspect of politics discussed and makes no pretence of
condemning immoral practices or making itself a champion of virtue. In
other words, Washington addresses an audience which had passed through
the Puritan Revolution, while Machiavelli spoke to men who were
familiar with the ideals and crimes of the Italian Renaissance.

Washington spread his gospel so clearly that all persons were sure to
learn and inwardly digest it, and many of them assented to it in their
minds, although they did not follow it In their conduct. His paramount
exhortations--"Be united"--"Be Americans"; "do not be drawn into
complications with foreign powers"--at times had a very real living
pertinence. The only doctrine which still causes controversy is that
which touches our attitude towards foreign countries. During the late
World War we heard it revived, and a great many persons who had never
read the "Farewell Address" gravely reminded us of Washington's
warning against "entangling alliances." As a matter of fact, that
phrase does not appear in the "Farewell Address" at all. It was first
used by Thomas Jefferson in his first Inaugural Address, March 4,
1801, sixteen months after Washington was dead and buried. No doubt
the meaning could be deduced from what Washington said in more than
one passage of his "Farewell." But to understand in 1914 what he said
or implied in 1796, we must be historical. In 1796 the country was
torn by conflicting parties for and against strong friendship, if not
an actual alliance, between the United States on one side and Great
Britain or France on the other. Any foreign alliance that could be
made in 1914, however, could not have been, for the same reason, with
either Great Britain or France. The aim proposed by its advocates was
to curb and destroy the German domination of the world. Now Washington
was almost if not quite the most actual of modern statesmen. All
his arrangements at a given moment were directed at the needs and
likelihood of the moment, and in 1914 he would have planned as 1914
demanded. He would have steered his ship by the wind that blew then
and not by the wind that had blown and vanished one hundred and twenty
years before.

Some one has remarked that, while Washington achieved a great victory
in the ratification of the Jay Treaty, that event broke up the
Federalist Party. That is probably inexact, but the break-up of
the Federalist Party was taking place during the last years of
Washington's second administration. The changes in Washington's
Cabinet were most significant, especially as they nearly all meant the
change from a more important to a less important Secretary. Thus
John Jay, the first Secretary of State, really only an incumbent _ad
interim_, gave way to Thomas Jefferson, who was replaced by Edmund
Randolph in 1794, and who in turn was succeeded by Timothy Pickering
in 1795. Alexander Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury from the
beginning in 1789 to 1795, when he made way for Oliver Wolcott, Jr.
Henry Knox, the original Secretary of War, was succeeded by Timothy
Pickering in 1795, who, after less than a year, was followed by James
McHenry. Edmund Randolph served as Attorney-General in 1789 to 1794,
then retiring for William Bradford who, after a brief year, was
replaced by Charles Lee. The Postmaster-Generalship was filled from
1789 to 1791 by Samuel Osgood, and then by Timothy Pickering. Thus at
the end of Washington's eight years we find that in the place of two
really eminent men, like Jefferson and Hamilton, he was served by
Edmund Randolph and Oliver Wolcott, Jr., and James McHenry, good
routine men at the best, mediocrities if judged by comparison with
their predecessors. Moreover, the reputation for discretion of some
of them, suffered. Thus Randolph had not long been Secretary of State
when Joseph Fauchet, the French Minister, produced some papers which
could be construed as implying that Randolph had accepted money.
Randolph was known to be impecunious, but his personal honor had never
been suspected. Washington with characteristic candor sent Randolph
the batch of incriminating letters. Randolph protested that he
"forgave" the President and tried to exculpate himself in the
newspapers. Even that process of deflation did not suffice and he
had recourse to a "Vindication," which was read by few and popularly
believed to vindicate nobody. Washington is believed to have held
Randolph as guiltless, but as weak and as indiscreet. He pitied the
ignominy, for Randolph had been in a way Washington's protege, whose
career had much interested him and whose downfall for such a cause was
doubly poignant.



Washington's term as President ended at noon on March 4, 1797. He was
present at the inauguration of President John Adams which immediately
followed. On the 3d, besides attending to the final necessary routine,
he wrote several letters of farewell to his immediate friends,
including Henry Knox, Jonathan Trumbull, Timothy Pickering, and James
McHenry. To all he expressed his grief at personal parting, but also
immense relief and happiness in concluding his public career. He said,
for instance, in his letter to Trumbull:

Although I shall resign the chair of government without a single
regret, or any desire to intermeddle in politics again, yet there
are many of my compatriots, among whom be assured I place you,
from whom I shall part sorrowing; because, unless I meet with them
at Mount Vernon, it is not likely that I shall ever see them more,
as I do not expect that I shall ever be twenty miles from it,
after I am tranquilly settled there. To tell you how glad I should
be to see you at that place is unnecessary. To this I will add
that it would not only give me pleasure, but pleasure also to Mrs.
Washington, and others of the family with whom you are acquainted,
and who all unite, in every good wish for you and yours.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, XIII, 377.]

In a few days he returned to Mount Vernon and there indulged himself
in a leisurely survey of the plantation. He rode from one farm to
another and reacquainted himself with the localities where the various
crops were either already springing or would soon be. Indoors there
was an immense volume of correspondence to be attended to with the
aid of Tobias Lear, the faithful secretary who had lived with the
President during the New York and Philadelphia periods. When the
letters were sorted, many answers had to be written, some of which
Washington dictated and others he wrote with his own hand. He admits
to Secretary McHenry that, when he goes to his writing table to
acknowledge the letters he has received, when the lights are brought,
he feels tired and disinclined to do this work, conceiving that the
next night will do as well. "The next night comes," he adds, "and with
it the same causes for postponement, and so on." He has not had time
to look into a book. He is dazed by the incessant number of new faces
which appear at Mount Vernon. They come, he says, out of "respect"
for him, but their real reason is curiosity. He practises Virginian
hospitality very lavishly, but he cannot endure the late hours. So he
invites his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, to spend as much time as he can
at Mount Vernon while he himself and Mrs. Washington go to bed early,
"soon after candle light." Lewis accepted the invitation all the more
willingly because he found at the mansion Nelly Custis, a pretty and
sprightly young lady with whom he promptly fell in love and married
later. Nelly and her brother George had been adopted by Washington
and brought up in the family. She was his particular pet. Like other
mature men he found the boys of the younger generation somewhat
embarrassing. I suppose they felt, as well they might, a great and
awful gulf yawning between them. "I can govern men," he would say,
"but I cannot govern boys."[1] With Nelly Custis, however, he found it
easy to be chums. No one can forget the mock-serious letter in which
he wrote to her in regard to becoming engaged and gave her advice
about falling in love. The letter is unexpected and yet it bears every
mark of sincerity and reveals a genuine vein in his nature. We must
always think of Nelly as one of the refreshments of his older life and
as one of its great delights. He considered himself an old man now.
His hair no longer needed powder; years and cares had made it white.
He spoke of himself without affectation as a very old man, and
apparently he often thought, as he was engaged in some work, "this is
the last time I shall do this." He seems to have taken it for granted
that he was not to live long; but this neither slackened his industry
nor made him gloomy. And he had in truth spent a life of almost
unremitting laboriousness. Those early years as surveyor and Indian
fighter and pathfinder were years of great hardships. The eight years
of the Revolution were a continuous physical strain, an unending
responsibility, and sometimes a bodily deprivation. And finally his
last service as President had brought him disgusts, pinpricks which
probably wore more on his spirits than did the direct blows of his
opponents. Very likely he felt old in his heart of hearts, much older
than his superb physical form betokened. We cannot but rejoice that
Nelly Custis flashed some of the joyfulness and divine insouciance of
youth into the tired heart of the tired great man.

[Footnote 1: Irving, V, 277.]

Perhaps the best offhand description of Washington in these later days
is that given by an English actor, Bernard, who happened to be driving
near Mount Vernon when a carriage containing a man and a woman was
upset. Bernard dismounted to give help, and presently another rider
came up and joined in the work. "He was a tall, erect, well-made man,
evidently advanced in years, but who appeared to have retained all the
vigor and elasticity resulting from a life of temperance and exercise.
His dress was a blue coat buttoned to the chin, and buckskin
breeches."[1] They righted the chaise, harnessed the horse, and
revived the young woman who, true to her time and place, had fainted.
Then she and her companion drove off towards Alexandria. Washington
invited Bernard to come home with him and rest during the heat of the
day. The actor consented. From what the actor subsequently wrote about
that chance meeting I take the following paragraphs, some of which
strike to the quick:

[Footnote 1: Lodge, II, 277.]

In conversation his face had not much variety of expression. A
look of thoughtfulness was given by the compression of the mouth
and the indentations of the brow (suggesting an habitual conflict
with, and mastery over, passion), which did not seem so much
to disdain a sympathy with trivialities as to be incapable of
denoting them. Nor had his voice, so far as I could discover in
our quiet talk, much change or richness of intonation, but he
always spoke with earnestness, and his eyes (glorious conductors
of the light within) burned with a steady fire which no one could
mistake for mere affability; they were one grand expression of the
well-known line: "I am a man, and interested in all that concerns
humanity." In one hour and a half's conversation he touched on
every topic that I brought before him with an even current of good
sense, if he embellished it with little wit or verbal elegance. He
spoke like a man who had felt as much as he had reflected, more
than he had spoken; like one who had looked upon society rather in
the mass than in detail, and who regarded the happiness of America
but as the first link in a series of universal victories; for his
full faith in the power of those results of civil liberty which
he saw all around him led him to foresee that it would erelong,
prevail in other countries and that the social millennium of
Europe would usher in the political. When I mentioned to him the
difference I perceived between the inhabitants of New England
and of the Southern States, he remarked: "I esteem those people
greatly, they are the stamina of the Union and its greatest
benefactors. They are continually spreading themselves too, to
settle and enlighten less favored quarters. Dr. Franklin is a New
Englander." When I remarked that his observations were flattering
to my country, he replied, with great good humor, "Yes, yes,
Mr. Bernard, but I consider your country the cradle of free
principles, not their armchair. Liberty in England is a sort of
idol; people are bred up in the belief and love of it, but see
little of its doings. They walk about freely, but then it is
between high walls; and the error of its government was in
supposing that after a portion of their subjects had crossed the
sea to live upon a common, they would permit their friends at home
to build up those walls about them."[1]

[Footnote 1: Lodge, II, 338, 339.]

We find among the allusions of several strangers who travelled in
Virginia in Washington's later days, who saw him or perhaps even
stayed at Mount Vernon, some which are not complimentary. More than
one story implies that he was a hard taskmaster, not only with the
negroes, but with the whites. Some of the writers go out of their way
to pick up unpleasant things. For instance, during his absence from
home a mason plastered some of the rooms, and when Washington returned
he found the work had been badly done, and remonstrated. The mason
died. His widow married another mason, who advertised that he would
pay all claims against his forerunner. Thereupon Washington put in a
claim for fifteen shillings, which was paid. Washington's detractors
used this as a strong proof of his harshness. But they do not inform
us whether the man was unable to pay, or whether the claim was
dishonest. Since the man paid voluntarily and did not question the
lightness of the amount, may we not at least infer that he had no
quarrel? And if he had not, who else had?

Insinuations concerning Washington's lack of sympathy for his slaves
was a form which in later days most of the references to his care of
them took. But here also there are evident facts to be taken into
account. The Abolitionists very naturally were prejudiced against
every slave-owner; they were also prejudiced in favor of every slave.
Washington, on the contrary, harbored no prepossessions for or against
the black man. He found the slaves idle, incompetent, lazy, although
he would not have denied that the very fact of slavery caused and
increased these evils. He treated the negroes justly, but without any
sentimentality. He found them in the order in which he lived. They
were the workmen of his plantation; he provided them with food,
clothing, and a lodging; in return they were expected to give him
their labor. It does not appear that the slaves on Washington's
plantation endured any special hardship. A physician attended them at
their master's expense when they were sick. That he obliged them to
do their specified work, that he punished them in case of dishonesty,
just as he would have done to white workmen, were facts which he never
would have thought a rational person would have regarded as heinous.
In his will he freed his slaves, not for the Abolitionist's reason,
but because he regarded slavery as the most pernicious form of labor,
debasing alike the slave and his master, uneconomic and most wasteful.

But in so general a matter as Washington's treatment of his slaves, we
must be careful not to take a solitary case and argue from it as if it
were habitual. By common report his slaves were so well treated that
they regretted it if there was talk of transferring them to other
planters. We have many instances cited which show his unusual
kindness. When he found, for instance, that a mulatto woman, who had
lived many years with one of the negroes, had been transferred to
another part of his domain and that the negro pined for her, he
arranged to have her brought back so that they might pass their old
age together. The old negro was his servant, Billy Lee, who suffered
an accident to his knee, which made him a cripple for the rest of
his life. This he spent at Mount Vernon well cared for. Washington
continued to the end the old custom of supplying a hogshead of rum for
the negroes to drink at harvest time, always premising that they must
partake of it sparingly.

Washington's religious beliefs and practices have also occasioned much
controversy. If we accept his own statements at their plain value, we
must regard him as a Church of England man. I do not discover that he
was in any sense an ardent believer. He preferred to say "Providence"
rather than "God," probably because it was less definite. He attended
divine service on Sundays, whenever a church was near, but for
a considerable period at one part of his life he did not attend
communion. He thoroughly believed in the good which came from
church-going in the army and he always arranged to have a service on
Sundays during his campaigns. When at Mount Vernon, on days when
he did not go out to the service, he spent several hours alone in
meditation in his study. The religious precepts which he had been
taught in childhood remained strong in him through life. He believed
moral truths, and belief with him meant putting in practice what he
professed. While he had imbibed much of the deistic spirit of the
middle of the eighteenth century it would be inaccurate to infer that
he was not fundamentally a Christian.

After Washington withdrew to Mount Vernon, early in the spring of
1797, his time was chiefly devoted to agriculture and the renewing of
his life as a planter. He declined all public undertakings except that
which President Adams begged him to assume--the supreme command of
the army in case of the expected war with France. That new duty
undoubtedly was good for him, for it proved to him that at least all
his official relations with the Government had not ceased, and it also
served to cheer the people of the country to know that in case of
military trouble their old commander would lead them once more.
Washington gave so much attention to this work, which could be in the
earlier stages arranged at Mount Vernon, that he felt justified in
accepting part of the salary which the President allotted to him. But
the war did not come. As Washington prophesied, the French thought
better of their truculence. The new genius who was ruling France
had in mind something more grandiose than a war with the American

On December 10, 1799, Washington sent a long letter to James Anderson
in regard to agricultural plans for his farm during the year 1800. He
calculates closely the probable profits, and specifies the rotation of
crops on five hundred and twenty-five acres. The next day, December
12th, he wrote a short note to Alexander Hamilton, in regard to the
organization of a National Military Academy, a matter in which the
President had long been deeply interested. The day was stormy.
"Morning snowing and about three inches drop. Wind at Northeast, and
mercury at 30. Continued snowing till one o'clock, and about four it
became perfectly clear. Wind in the same place, but not hard. Mercury
28 at night." Washington, who scorned to take any account of weather,
rode for five hours during the morning to several of the farms on his
plantations, examining the conditions at each and conferring with the

On reaching home he complained a little of chilliness. His secretary,
Tobias Lear, observed that he feared he had got wet, but Washington
protested that his greatcoat had kept him dry; in spite of which the
observant Lear saw snow hanging to his hair and remarked that his neck
was wet. Washington went in to dinner, which was waiting, without
changing his dress, as he usually did. "In the evening he appeared as
well as usual. The next day, Friday, there was a heavy fall of snow,
but having a severe cold, he went out for only a little while to mark
some trees, between the house and the river which were to be cut down.
During the day his hoarseness increased, but he made light of it, and
paid no heed to the suggestion that he should take something for it,
only replying, as was his custom, that he would 'let it go as it

Mrs. Washington went upstairs to a room on the floor above to chat
with Mrs. Lewis (Nelly Custis) who had recently been confined.
Washington remained in the parlor with Lear, and when the evening
mail was brought in from the post-office, they read the newspapers;
Washington even reading aloud, as well as his sore throat would allow,
anything "which he thought diverting or interesting." Then Lear read
the debates of the Virginia Assembly on the election of a Senator
and Governor. "On hearing Mr. Madison's observations respecting Mr.
Monroe, he appeared much affected, and spoke with some degree of
asperity on the subject, which I endeavored to moderate," says Lear,
"as I always did on such occasions. On his returning to bed, he
appeared to be in perfect health, excepting the cold before mentioned,
which he considered as trifling, and had been remarkably cheerful all
the evening."

At between two and three o'clock of Saturday morning, December 14th,
Washington awoke Mrs. Washington and told her that he was very unwell
and had had an ague. She observed that he could hardly speak and
breathed with difficulty. She wished to get up to call a servant,
but he, fearing she might take cold, dissuaded her. When daylight
appeared, the woman Caroline came and lighted the fire. Mrs.
Washington sent her to summon Mr. Lear, and Washington asked that Mr.
Rawlins, one of the overseers, should be summoned before the Doctor
could arrive. Lear got up at once, dressed hastily, and went to the
General's bedside. Lear wrote a letter to Dr. Craik, Washington's
longtime friend and physician, and sent it off post-haste by a
servant. Mrs. Washington was up. They prepared a mixture of molasses,
vinegar, and butter, but the patient could not swallow a drop;
whenever he attempted it he appeared to be distressed, convulsed, and
almost suffocated.

"Mr. Rawlins came in soon after sunrise and prepared to bleed him.
When the arm was ready, the General, observing that Rawlins appeared
to be agitated, said, as well as he could speak, 'Don't be afraid,'
and after the incision was made, he observed, 'The orifice is not
large enough,' However, the blood ran pretty freely. Mrs. Washington,
not knowing whether bleeding was proper or not in the General's
situation, begged that much might not be taken from him, lest it
should be injurious, and desired me to stop it; but when I was about
to untie the string, the General put up his hand to prevent it, and as
soon as he could speak, he said, 'More.' Mrs. Washington being still
very uneasy, lest too much blood should be taken, it was stopped after
about half a pint was taken from him.

"Finding that no relief was obtained from bleeding, and that nothing
would go down the throat, I proposed bathing the throat externally
with salvolatile which was done; during the operation, which was with
the hand, in the gentlest manner, he observed, ''Tis very sore.' A
piece of flannel dipped in salvolatile was then put round his neck.
His feet were also bathed in warm water. This, however, gave no
relief. In the meantime, before Dr. Craik arrived, Mrs. Washington
requested me to send for Dr. Brown, of Port Tobacco, whom Dr. Craik
had recommended to be called, if any case should ever occur that was
seriously alarming. I despatched a Messenger (Cyrus) to Dr. Brown
immediately (between eight and nine o'clock). Dr. Craik came in soon
after, and after examining the General, he put a blister of Cantharide
on the throat and took some more blood from him, and had some Vinegar
and hot water put into a Teapot for the General to draw in the steam
from the nozel, which he did as well as he was able. He also ordered
sage tea and Vinegar to be mixed for a Gargle. This the General used
as often as desired; but when he held back his head to let it run
down, it put him into great distress and almost produced suffocation.
When the mixture came out of his mouth some phlegm followed it, and he
would attempt to cough, which the Doctor encouraged him to do as much
as he could; but without effect--he could only make the attempt.

"About eleven o'clock, Dr. Dick was sent for. Dr. Craik requested that
Dr. Dick might be sent for, as he feared Dr. Brown would not come in
time. A message was accordingly despatched for him. Dr. Craik bled the
General again about this time. No effect, however, was produced by it,
and he continued in the same state, unable to swallow anything. Dr.
Dick came in about three o'clock, and Dr. Brown arrived soon after.
Upon Dr. Dick's seeing the General, and consulting a few minutes with
Dr. Craik, he was bled gain, the blood ran very slowly and did not
produce any symptoms of fainting. Dr. Brown came Into the chamber room
soon after, and upon feeling the General's pulse &c., the Physicians
went out together. Dr. Craik soon after returned. The General could
now swallow a little--about four o'clock Calomel and tartar emetic
were administered; but without any effect. About half past four
o'clock, he desired me to ask Mrs. Washington to come to his
bedside--when he requested her to go down into his room and take from
his desk two wills which she would find there, and bring them to him,
which she did. Upon looking at them he gave her one, which he observed
was useless, as it was superseded by the other, and desired her to
burn it, which she did, and then took the other and put it away into
her closet. After this was done, I returned again to his bedside and
took his hand. He said to me, 'I find I am going, my breath cannot
continue long; I believed from the first attack it would be
fatal--do you arrange and record all my late military letters and
papers--arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more
about them than any one else, and let Mr. Rawlins finish recording my
other letters.' He then asked if I recollected anything which it was
essential for him to do, as he had but a very short time to continue
with us. I told him that I could recollect nothing, but that I hoped
he was not so near his end. He observed, smiling, that he certainly
was, and that, as it was the debt which we all must pay, he looked to
the event with perfect resignation.

"In the course of the afternoon he appeared to be in great pain and
distress, from the difficulty of breathing, and frequently changed
his posture in the bed. On these occasions I lay upon the bed and
endeavored to raise him, and turn him with as much ease as possible.
He appeared penetrated with gratitude for my attentions, and often
said, 'I am afraid I shall fatigue you too much'; and upon my
answering him, that I could feel nothing but a wish to give him ease,
he replied, 'Well, it is a debt we must pay to each other, and I hope,
when you want aid of this kind, you will find it.' He asked when Mr.
Lewis and Washington[1] would return. They were then in New Kent. I
told him I believed about the 20th of the month. He made no reply.

[Footnote 1: George Washington Parke Custis.]

"About five o'clock Dr. Craik came again into the room, and upon going
to the bedside the General said to him: 'Doctor, I die hard, but I am
not afraid to go. I believed, from my first attack, that I should not
survive it. My breath cannot last long.' The Doctor pressed his hand,
but could not utter a word. He retired from the bedside, and sat by
the fire absorbed in grief. The physicians, Dr. Dick and Dr. Brown,
again came in (between five and six o'clock), and when they came to
his bedside, Dr. Craik asked him if he could sit up in the bed.
He held out his hand to me and was raised up, when he said to the
Physicians: 'I feel myself going. I thank you for your attention--you
had better not take any more trouble about me; but let me go off
quietly; I cannot last long,' They found out that all which had been
done was of no effect. He lay down again, and all retired except Dr.
Craik. He continued in the same position, uneasy and restless, but
without complaining; frequently asking what hour it was. When I helped
to move him at this, he did not speak, but looked at me with strong
expressions of gratitude. The Doctor pressed his hand, but could
not utter a word. He retired from the bedside, and sat by the fire
absorbed in grief. About eight o'clock the Physicians came again into
the Room and applied blisters, and cataplasms of wheat bran, to his
legs and feet: but went out (except Dr. Craik) without a ray of hope.
I went out about this time, and wrote a line to Mr. Low and Mr.
Peter requesting them to come with their wives (Mrs. Washington's
granddaughters) as soon as possible.

"From this time he appeared to breathe with less difficulty than he
had done; but was very restless, constantly changing his position to
endeavor to get ease. I aided him all in my power, and was gratified
in believing he felt it: for he would look upon me with his eyes
speaking gratitude; but unable to utter a word without great distress.
About ten o'clock he made several attempts to speak to me before
he could effect it. At length, he said: 'I am just going. Have me
decently buried, and do not let my body be put into the Vault in less
than three days after I am dead.' I bowed assent, for I could not
speak. He then looked at me again, and said, 'Do you understand me?' I
replied, 'Yes, sir.'

"''Tis well,' said he. About ten minutes before he expired his
breathing became much easier; he lay quietly; he withdrew his hand
from mine and felt his own pulse. I spoke to Dr. Craik who sat by the
fire; he came to the bedside. The General's hand fell from his wrist.
I took it in mine and laid it upon my breast. Dr. Craik put his hand
on his eyes and he expired without a struggle or a Sigh! While we were
fixed in silent grief, Mrs. Washington, who was sitting at the foot of
the bed, asked, with a firm and collected voice, 'Is he gone?' I could
not speak, but held up my hand as a signal that he was. ''Tis well,'
said she in a plain voice. 'All is now over. I have no more trials to
pass through. I shall soon follow him.'"[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, XIV, 246-52. I have copied Tobias Lear's remarkable
account of Washington's death almost verbatim.]

Once read, honest Tobias Lear's account of Washington's death will
hardly be forgotten. It has a majestic simplicity which we feel must
have accompanied Washington in his last hours. The homely sick-bed
details; his grim fortitude; his willingness to do everything which
the physicians recommended, not because he wanted to live, nor because
he thought they would help him, but because he wished to obey. We see
him there trying to force out the painful words from his constricted
throat and when he was unable to whisper even a "thank you" for some
service done, Lear read the unuttered gratitude in his eyes. The
faithful Lear, lying on the outside of the bed in order to be able to
help turn Washington with less pain, and poor old Dr. Craik, lifelong
friend, who became too moved to speak, so that he sat off near the
fire in silence except for a stifled sob, and Mrs. Washington, placed
near the foot of the bed, waiting patiently in complete self-control.
She seemed to have determined that the last look which her mate of
forty years had of her should not portray helpless grief. And from
time to time the negro slaves came to the door that led into the entry
and they peered into the room very reverently, and with their emotions
held in check, at their dying master. And then there was a ceasing of
the pain and the breathing became easier and quieter and Dr. Craik
placed his hand over the life-tired eyes and Washington was dead
without a struggle or even a sigh.

The pathos or tragedy of it lies in the fact that all the devices and
experiments of the doctors could avail nothing. The quinsy sore throat
which killed him could not be cured by any means then known to medical
art. The practice of bleeding, which by many persons was thought to
have killed him, was then so widely used that his doctors would have
been censured If they had omitted it. Sixty years later it was still
in use, and no one can doubt that it deprived Italy's great statesman
of his chance of living. The premonition of Washington on his first
seizure with the quinsy that the end had come proved fatally true.

The news of Washington's death did not reach the capital until
Wednesday, December 18th. The House immediately adjourned. On the
following day, when it reassembled, John Marshall delivered a brief
tribute and resolutions were passed to attend the funeral and to pay
honor "to the memory of the Man, first in war, first in peace, and
first in the hearts of his countrymen," The immortal phrase was by
Colonel Henry Lee, the father of General Robert E. Lee. President
Adams, in response to a letter from the Senate of the United States,
used the less happy phrase, "If a Trajan found a Pliny, a Marcus
Aurelius can never want biographers, eulogists, or historians."

During the days immediately following Washington's death, preparations
were made at Mount Vernon for the funeral. They sent to Alexandria for
a coffin and Dr. Dick measured the body, which he found to be exactly
six feet three and one half inches in length. The family vault was
on the slope of the hill, a little to the south of the house. Mrs.
Washington desired that a door should be made for the vault instead of
having it closed up as formerly, after the body should be deposited,
observing that "it will soon be necessary to open it again." Mourning
clothes were prepared for the family and servants. The ceremony took
place on Wednesday. There were many troops. Eleven pieces of artillery
were brought down from Alexandria and a schooner belonging to Mr. R.
Hamilton came down and lay off Mount Vernon to fire minute guns.
The pall-holders were Colonels Little, Charles Sims, Payne, Gilpin,
Ramsay, and Marsteller, and Colonel Blackburne walked before the
corpse. Colonel Deneal marched with the military. About three o'clock
the procession began to move. Colonels Little, Sims and Deneal and
Dr. Dick directed the arrangements of the procession. This moved out
through the gate at the left wing of the house and proceeded around
in front of the lawn and down to the vault on the right wing of the
house. The procession was as follows: The troops; horse and foot;
music playing a solemn dirge with muffled drums; the clergy, viz.:
the Reverends Mr. Davis, Mr. James Miner, and Mr. Moffatt, and Mr.
Addison; the General's horse, with his saddle, holsters, and pistols,
led by two grooms, Cyrus and Wilson, in black; the body borne by
officers and Masons who insisted upon carrying it to the grave; the
principal mourners, viz.: Mrs. Stuart and Mrs. Low, Misses Nancy and
Sally Stuart, Miss Fairfax, and Miss Dennison, Mr. Low and Mr. Peter,
Dr. Craik and T. Lear; Lord Fairfax and Ferdinando Fairfax; Lodge No.
23; Corporation of Alexandria. All other persons, preceded by Mr.
Anderson, Mr. Rawlins, the Overseers, etc., etc.

The Reverend Mr. Davis read the service and made a short extempore
speech. The Masons performed their ceremonies and the body was
deposited in the vault. All then returned to the house and partook


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