The Life of George Washington
THE sensations of Washington on retiring from public business are thus expressed:
"I feel as a wearied traveller must do, who, after treading many a painful step with a heavy burden on his shoulders, is eased of the latter, having reached the haven to which all the former were directed, and from his house top is looking back and tracing with an eager eye, the meanders by which he escaped the quicksands and mires which lay in his way, and into which none but the All Powerful Guide and Dispenser of human events, could have prevented his falling. "I have become a private citizen on the banks of the Potowmac, and, under the shadow of my own vine and in own fig-tree, free from the bustle of a camp, and the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments of which the soldier, who is ever in pursuit of fame — the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries, as if this globe was insufficient for us all — and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his prince, in the hope of catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception. I have not only retired from all public employments, but am retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life with heartfelt satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order of my march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my fathers."
Agriculture, which had always been the favourite employment of Washington, was now resumed with increasing delight. The energies of his active mind were devoted to this first and most useful art. No improvements in the construction of farming utensils, no valuable experiments in husbandry, escaped his attention. He saw with regret, the miserable system of cultivation which prevailed too generally in his Native country, and wished to introduce a better. With this view, he engaged in a correspondence with some of the distinguished agriculturists in Great-Britain, particularly the celebrated Arthur Young.
He traced the different states of agriculture in the two countries, in a great degree to the following obvious principles. In Great-Britain, land was dear, and labour cheap. In America the reverse took place to such a degree, that manuring land was comparatively neglected, on the mistaken, shortsighted idea, that it was cheaper to clear and cultivate new fields, than to improve and repair such as were old. To this radical error, which led to idleness and a vagabond dispersed population, he opposed the whole weight of his influence. His example and recommendations tended to revolutionize the agriculture of his country, as his valour had revolutionized its government.
The extension of inland navigation occupied much of Washington's attention, at this period of exemption from public cares. Soon after peace was proclaimed, he made a tour as far west as Pittsburgh, and also traversed the western parts of New-England and New-York, and examined for himself the difficulties of bringing the trade of the west to different points on the Atlantic. Possessed of an accurate knowledge of the subject, he corresponded with the governors of different, states, and other influential characters.
To them he suggested the propriety of making "by public authority," an appointment of commissioners of integrity and ability, whose duty it should be, after accurate examination, to ascertain the nearest and best portages between such of the eastern and western rivers as headed near to each other, though they ran in opposite directions; and also to trace the rivers west of the Ohio, to their sources and mouths, as they respectively emptied either into the Ohio, or the lakes of Canada, and to make an accurate map of the whole, with observations on the impediments to be overcome, and the advantages to be acquired on the completion of the work.
The views of Washington in advocating the extension of inland navigation were grand, and magnificent. He considered it as an effectual mean of cementing the union of the states. In his letter to the Governor of Virginia he observed:
"I need not remark to you, sir, that the flanks and rear of the United States are possessed by other powers, and formidable ones too; nor need I press the necessity of applying the cement of interest to bind all parts of the union together by indissoluble bonds — especially of binding that part of it which lies immediately west of us, to the middle states. For what ties, let me ask, should we have upon those people; how entirely unconnected with them shall we be, and what troubles may we not apprehend, if the Spaniards on their right, and great Britain on their left, instead of throwing impediments in their way as they do now, should hold out lures for their trade and alliance?
When they get strength, which will be sooner than most people conceive, what will be the consequence of their having formed those commercial connexions with both or either of those powers? It needs not, in my opinion, the gift of prophecy to foretell." After stating the same thing to a member of Congress, he proceeds, "It may be asked, how we are to prevent this? Happily for us the way is plain. Other immediate interests, as well as remote political advantages, point to it; whilst a combination of circumstances render the present time more favourable than any other to accomplish it. Extend the inland navigation of the eastern waters ; communicate them as near as possible with those which run westward ; open these to the Ohio; open also such as extend from the Ohio towards lake Erie; and we shall not only draw the produce of the western settlers, but the peltry and fur trade of the lakes also, to our ports; thus adding an immense increase to our ex-ports, and binding those people to us by a chain which never can be broken."
The Virginia legislature acted on the recommendation of Gen. Washington, to the extent of his wishes; and in consequence thereof, works of the greatest utility have been nearly accomplished.
They went one step farther and vested in him at the expense of the state, one hundred and fifty shares in the navigation of the rivers Potowmac and James. The act for this purpose was introduced with the following preamble: "Whereas it is the desire of the representatives of this commonwealth, to embrace ever suitable occasion of testifying their sense of the unexampled merits of George Washington, Esq. towards his country ; and it is their wish in particular that those great works for its improvement, which, both springing from the liberty which he has been so instrumental in establishing, and as encouraged by his patronage, will be durable monuments of' his glory, may be made monuments also of the gratitude of his country. Be it enacted," &c. To the friend who conveyed to Washington the first intelligence of this bill, he replied--
"It is not easy for me to decide, by which my mind was most affected upon the receipt of' your letter of the sixth instant, surprise or gratitude. Both were greater than I had words to express. The attention aid good wishes which the assembly have evidenced by their act for vesting in me one hundred and fifty shares in the navigation of the rivers Potowmac and James, is more than mere compliment. There is an unequivocal and substantial meaning annexed. But believe me, sir, no circumstance has happened since left the walks of public life, which has so much embarrassed me. On the one hand, I consider this act as noble and unequivocal proof of the good opinion, the affection, and disposition of my country to serve me; and I should be hurt, if by declining the acceptance of it, my refusal should be construed into disrespect or the smallest slight upon the generous intention of the legislature, or that an ostentatious display of disinterestedness or public virtue was the source of refusal.
"On the other hand, it is really my wish to have my mind and my actions, which are the result of reflection, as free and independent as the air, that I may be more at liberty to express my sentiments, and if necessary to suggest what may occur to me under the fullest conviction, that although my judgment may be arraigned, there will be no suspicion that sinister motives had the smallest influence in the suggestion. Not content then with the bare consciousness of my having, in all this navigation business, acted upon the clearest conviction of the political importance of the measure, I would wish that every individual who may hear that it was a favourite plan of mine, may know also that I had no other motive for promoting it than the advantage of which I conceived it would be productive to the union at large, and to this state in particular, by cementing the eastern and western territory together, at the same time, that it will give vigor to and, increase our commerce, and be a convenience to our citizens.
"How would this matter be viewed then by the eye of the world, and what opinion would be formed, when it comes to be related that G_______ W__________ exerted himself to effect, this work, and that G_______ W___________ has received twenty thousand Dollars, and five thousand pounds sterling of the public money as an interest therein? Would not this, (if I am entitled to any merit for the part I have performed, and without it there is no foundation for the act,) deprive me of the principal thing which is laudable in my conduct? "Would it not in some respects be considered in the same light as a pension? And would not the apprehensions of this induce me to offer my sentiments in future with the more reluctance? In a word, under whatever pretence, and however customary these gratuities may be in other countries, should I not thenceforward be considered as a dependent? One moment's thought of which would give me more pain, than I should receive pleasure from the product of all the tolls, was every farthing of them vested in me."
To the Governor of the state, on receiving from him an official copy of the aforesaid act, Washington replied as follows:
"Your excellency having been pleased to transmit me a copy of the act appropriating to my benefit certain shares in the companies for opening the navigation of James and Potowmac rivers; I take the liberty of returning to the general assembly, through your hands, the profound and grateful acknowledgments inspired by so signal a mark of their beneficent intentions towards me. I beg you, sir, to assure them that I am filled on this occasion with every sentiment which can flow from a heart warm with love to my country, sensible to every token of its approbation and affection, and solicitous to testify in every instance a respectful submission to its wishes.
"With these sentiments in my bosom, I need not dwell on the anxiety I feel, in being obliged, in this instance, to decline a favour which is rendered no less flattering by the manner in which it is conveyed, than it is affectionate in itself. In explaining this, I pass over a comparison of my endeavours in the public service, with the many honourable testimonies of approbation which I have already so far over-rated and overpaid them; reciting one consideration only, which supersedes the necessity of recurring to every other.
"When I was first called to the station with which I was honoured during the late conflict for our liberties, to the diffidence which I had so many reasons to feel in accepting it, I thought it my duty to join a firm resolution to shut my hand against every pecuniary recompense. To this resolution I have invariably adhered, and from it, (of I had the inclination,) I do not consider myself at liberty now to depart.
"Whilst I repeat, therefore, my fervent acknowledgments to the legislature for their very kind sentiments and intentions in my favour, and at the same time beg them to be persuaded, that a remembrance of this singular proof of their goodness towards me will never cease to cherish returns of the warmest affection and, gratitude; I must pray that their act, so far as it has for its Object my personal emolument, may not have its effect; but if it should please the general assembly to permit me to turn the destination of the fund vested in me, from my private emolument to objects of a public nature, it will be my study in selecting these, to prove the sincerity of my gratitude for the honour conferred upon me, by preferring such as may appear most subservient to the enlightened and patriotic views of the legislature."
The wishes suggested in this letter were sanctioned by the legislature; and, at a subsequent time, the trust was executed by conveying the shares to the use of a seminary of learning in the vicinity of each river.
Near the close of the revolutionary war, the officers of the American army, with a view of perpetuating their friendships, formed themselves into a society, to be named after the famous Roman patriot, Cincinnatus. At the head of the society, Gen. Washington was placed. By the rules of their institution, the honours of the society were to be hereditary in their respective families, and distinguished individuals' might be admitted as honorary members for life. These circumstances, together with the union of the officers of the army, gave an alarm to the community; several individuals of which supposed that the hereditary part of the institution would be a germ of nobility. It was the usual policy of Washington to respect the opinions of the people, in matters indifferent, or of small magnitude, though he might think them mistaken. Having ascertained to his own satisfaction, that a degree of jealousy pervaded the mass of the people, respecting the probable tendency of this perpetual hereditary society, he successfully exerted his influence to new model its rules, by relinquishing the hereditary principle and the power of adopting honorary members. The result proved the wisdom of the measure; for all jealousies of the society henceforward were done away, and the members thereof were received as brethren, by the most suspicious of their fellow-citizens.
When Washington, at the close of the revolutionary war, became a private citizen, his country confidently anticipated every possible blessing from peace, independence, and self-government. But experience soon proved the inefficacy of existing systems for promoting national happiness, or preserving national dignity. Congress had neither the power nor the means of doing justice to public creditors, nor of enforcing the respect of foreign nations. — Gold and silver vanished — commerce languished — property was depreciated — and credit expired. The lovers of liberty and independence began to be less sanguine in their hopes from the American revolution, and to fear that they had built a visionary fabric of government on the fallacious ideas of public virtue.
For the first five or six years immediately following peace, the splendour which surrounded the infant states from their successful struggle in the cause of independence and self-government, was daily darkening. This state of things could not be indifferent to Washington. He was among the first to discover the cause, and to point out the remedy. The inefficient support he received while commander in chief, proved the inefficacy of the articles of confederation, for raising and supporting a requisite military force. The experience of the first years of peace, proved their total inadequacy for the purpose of national government From want of vigour in the federal head, the United States were fast dwindling into separate sovereignties, unconnected by any bond of union, equal to public exigency. The private letters of Washington at this time, show his anxiety for his country's welfare, and his wisdom in pointing out a remedy for its degradation.
In one of them he observes:
"The confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance, and Congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to. To me it is a solecism in politics; indeed it is one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation, who are the creatures of our own making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action, recallable at any moment, and subject to all the evils which they may be instrumental in producing sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same. By such policy the wheels of government are clogged, and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation, which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonishment; and from the high ground on which we stood, we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness.
"That we have it in our power to become one of the most respectable nations upon earth, admits, in my humble opinion, of no doubt, if we would but pursue a wise, just, and liberal policy towards one another, and would keep good faith with the rest of the world. That our resources are ample, and increasing, none can deny; but while they are grudgingly applied, or not applied at all, we give a vital stab to public faith, and will sink in the eyes of Europe into contempt."
"It is one of the evils of democratic governments, that the people, not always seeing, and frequently misled, must often feel before they are set right, But evils of this nature seldom fall to work their own cure. It is to be lamented, nevertheless, that the remedies are so slow, and that those who wish to apply them seasonably, are not attended to before they suffer in person, in interest, and in reputation. I am not without hopes that matters will soon take a favourable turn in the federal constitution. The discerning part of the community have long since seen the necessity of giving adequate powers to Congress for national purposes, and those of a different description must yield to it ere long."
In a letter to Mr. Jay, Gen. Washington observed:
"Your sentiments that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own. What the event will be, is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct; we have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution, measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of coercive power. I do not conceive we can subsist long as a nation, without lodging somewhere a power which will pervade the whole union in as energetic a manner, as the authority of the state governments extends over the several states. To be fearful of investing Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the people, without injuring themselves in an equal or greater proportion ? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents? By the rotation of appointment, must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the powers before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously, for fear of losing their popularity and future election?
"We must take human nature as we find it — perfection falls not to the share of mortals. Many are of opinion, that Congress have too frequently made use of the suppliant humble tone of requisition, in applications to the states, when they had a right to assert their imperial dignity, and command obedience. Be that as it may, requisitions are a perfect nullity, where thirteen sovereign, independent, disunited states, are in the habit of discussing, and refusing or complying with them at their option. Requisitions are actually little better than a jest and a bye-word throughout the land. If you tell the legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy, they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train for ever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, being disgusted with these circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingencies, would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.
"What astounding changes are a few years capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government, without horror. From thinking, proceeds speaking; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and tremendous! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty, are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time, to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.
"Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge, I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles. "Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been neglected, though given as a last legacy, in the most solemn manner. I had then, perhaps, some claims to public attentions. I consider myself as having none at present."
Illumination, on the subject of enlarging the powers of Congress, was gradual. Washington, in his extensive correspondence and intercourse with the leading characters of the different states, urged the necessity of a radical reform in the existing system of government. The business was at length seriously taken up, and a proposition was made by Virginia, for electing deputies to a federal convention, for the sole purpose of revising the Federal system of government.
While this proposition was under consideration, an event took place, which pointed out the propriety of its adoption. The pressure of evils in a great degree resulting from the imbecility of government, aided by erroneous opinions, which confound liberty with licentiousness, produced commotions in Massachusetts, which amounted to treason and rebellion. On this occasion, Washington expressed himself in a letter as follows:--
"The commotions and temper of numerous bodies in the eastern country, present a state of things equally to be lamented and deprecated. They exhibit a melancholy verification of what our Transatlantic foes have predicted, and of another thing perhaps, which is still more to be regretted, and is yet more unaccountable, that mankind when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government. I am mortified beyond expression, when I view the clouds which have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon my country. In a word, I am lost in amazement, when I behold what intrigue the interested. Views of desperate characters, ignorance and jealousy of the minor part, are capable of affecting, as a scourge on the major part of our fellow-citizens of the union; for it is hardly to be supposed, that the great body of the people, though they will not act, can be so short-sighted, or enveloped in darkness, as not to see rays of a distant sun through all this mist of intoxication and folly.
"You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, nor, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for these disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties, will be secured, or let us know the worst at once. Under these impressions, my humble opinion is, that there is a call for decision. Know precisely what the insurgents aim at. If they have real grievances, redress them if possible, or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it in the present moment. If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once. If this is inadequate, all will be convinced that the superstructure is bad, or wants support.
"To be more exposed in the eyes of tile world, and more contemptible, is hardly possible. To delay one or the other of these expedients, is to exasperate on the one hand, or to give confidence on the other, and will add to their numbers; for like snow-balls such bodies increase by every movement, unless there is something in the way to obstruct and crumble them before their weight is too great and irresistible.
"These are my sentiments. Precedents are dangerous things. Let the reins of government, then, be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled upon while it has an existence."
Virginia placed the name of Washington at the head of her delegates for the proposed convention. Letters poured in upon him from all sides, urging his acceptance of the appointment. In answer to one from Mr. Madison, who had been the principal advocate of the measure in the Virginia legislature, Gen. Washington replied--
"Although I have bid a public adieu to the public walks of life, and had resolved never more to tread that theatre, yet, if upon any occasion so interesting to the well-being of our confederacy, it had been the wish of the Assembly that I should be an associate in the business of revising the Federal systems I should, from a sense of the obligation I am under for repeated proofs of confidence in me, more than from any opinion I could entertain of my usefulness, have obeyed its call; but it is now out of my power to do this with any degree of consistency The cause I will mention.
"I presume, sir, that you heard first that I was appointed, and have since been re-chosen, President of the Society of the Cincinnati; and you may have understood also, that the triennial general meeting of this body is to be held in Philadelphia the first Monday in May next. Some particular reasons, combining with the peculiar situation of my private concerns, the necessity of paying attention to them, a wish for retirement, and relaxation from public cares, and rheumatic pains, which begin to feel very sensibly, induced me, on the 31st ultimo, to address a circular letter to each state society, informing them of my intention not to be at the next meeting, and of my desire not to be re-chosen President. The Vice-president is also informed of this, that the business of the society may not be impeded by my absence. Under these circumstances it will readily be perceived, that I could not appear at the same time and place, on any other occasion, without giving offence to a very respectable and deserving part of the community — the late officers of the American army."
The meeting of the convention was postponed to a day subsequent to that of the meeting of the Cincinnati. This removed one of the difficulties in the way of Washington's acceptance of a seat in the convention, and, joined with the importance of the call, and his own eager desire to advance the public interest, finally induced his compliance with the wishes of his friends.
The convention met in Philadelphia, in May, and unanimously chose George Washington their President. On the 17th of September, 1787, they closed their labours, and submitted the result to Congress, with their opinion "that it should be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof, under the recommendation of its legislature for their assent, and ratification." By this new form of Government, ample powers were given to Congress without the intervention of the states, for every purpose that national dignity, interest, or happiness, required. The ablest pens and most eloquent tongues were employed for, and against, its acceptance. In this animated contest, Washington took no part. Having with his sword vindicated the right of his country to self-government, and having with his advice aided in digesting an efficient form of government, which he most thoroughly approved, it would seem as though he wished the people to decide for themselves, whether to accept or reject it.
The constitution being accepted by eleven states, and preparatory measures being taken for bringing it into operation, all eyes were turned to Washington, as being the fittest man for the office of President of the United States. His correspondents began to press his acceptance of the high office, as essential to the well-being of his country.
To those who think that Washington was like other men, it will scarcely appear possible, that supreme magistracy possessed no charms sufficient to tempt him from his beloved retirement, when he was healthy and strong, and only fifty seven years old; but if an opinion can be formed of his real sentiments, from the tenour of his life and confidential communications to his most intimate friends, a conviction will be produced, that his acceptance of the Presidency of the United States was the result of a victory obtained by a sense of duty over his inclinations, and was a real sacrifice of the latter, to the former.
In a letter to Col. Henry Lee, Washington observes:
"Notwithstanding my advanced season of life, my increasing fondness for agricultural amusements, and my growing love of retirement, augment and confirm my decided predilection for the character of a private citizen ; yet it will be no one of these motives, nor the hazard to which my former reputation might be exposed, nor the terror of encountering new fatigues and troubles, that would deter me from an acceptance, but a belief that some other person who had less pretence and less inclination to be excused, could execute all the duties full as satisfactorily as myself. To say more would be indiscreet, as a disclosure of a refusal before-hand might incur the application of the fable, in which the fox is represented as undervaluing the grapes he could not reach. You will perceive, my dear sir, by what is here observed, (an which you will be pleased to consider in the light of a confidential communication,) that my inclinations will dispose and decide me to remain as I am, unless a clear and insurmountable conviction should be impressed on my mind, that some very disagreeable consequences must in all human probability result from the indulgence of my wishes."
In a letter to Col. Hamilton, Washington observes:
"If I am not grossly deceived in myself, I should unfeignedly rejoice, in case the electors, by giving their votes to some other person, would save me from the dreadful dilemma of being forced to accept or refuse. If that may not be, I am in the next place, earnestly desirous of searching out the truth, and of knowing whether there does not exist a probability that the government would just as happily and effectually be carried into execution, without my aid, as with it. I am truely solicitous to obtain all the previous information which the circumstances will afford, and to determine, (when the determination can no longer be postponed,) according to the principles of right reason, and the dictates of a clear conscience, without too great a reference to the unforeseen consequences which may affect my person or reputation. Until that period, I may fairly hold myself open to conviction, though I allow your sentiments to have weight in them; and I shall not pass by your arguments, without giving them as dispassionate a consideration as I can possibly bestow upon them. "In taking a survey of the subject, in whatever point of light I have been able to place it, I will not suppress the acknowledgment, my dear sir, that 1 have always felt a kind of gloom upon my mind, as often as I have been taught to expect I might, and, perhaps, must be called upon ere long to make the decision. You will, I am well assured, believe the assertion, (though I have little expectation it would gain credit from those who are less acquainted with me,) that if I should receive the appointment, and should be prevailed upon to accept it, the acceptance would be attended with more difficulty and reluctance, than I ever experienced before. It would be, however, with a fixed and sole determination of lending whatever assistance might be in my power to promote the public weal, in hopes that at a convenient and early period, my services might be dispensed with; and that I might be permitted once more to retire, to pass an unclouded evening, after the stormy day of life, in the bosom of domestic tranquility."
In a letter to Gen. Lincoln, Washington observes:
"I may, however, with great sincerity, and I believe without offending against modesty and propriety, say to you, that I most heartily wish the choice to which you allude, might not fall upon me; and that if it should, I must reserve to myself the right of making up my final decision, at the last moment when it can be brought into one view, and when the expediency or inexpediency of a refusal can be more judiciously determined than at present. But be assured, my dear sir, if, from any inducement, I shall be persuaded ultimately to accept, it will not be, (so far as I know my own heart,) from any of a private or personal nature. Every personal consideration conspires to rivet me, (if I may use the expression,) to retirement. At my time of life, and under my circumstances, nothing in this world can ever draw me from it, unless it be a conviction that the partiality of my country men had made my services absolutely necessary, joined to a fear that my refusal might induce a belief that I preferred the conservation of my own reputation and private ease, to the good of my country. After all, if I should conceive myself in a manner constrained to accept, I call heaven to witness, that this very act would be the greatest sacrifice of my personal feelings and wishes, that ever I have been called upon to make. It would be to forego repose and domestic enjoyment, for trouble, perhaps for public obloquy; for I should consider myself as entering upon an unexplored field, enveloped on every side with clouds and darkness.
"From this embarrassing situation, I had naturally supposed, that my declarations at the close of the war would have saved me, and that my sincere intentions then publicly made known, would have effectually precluded me for ever afterwards. from being looked upon as a candidate for any office. This hope, as a last anchor of worldly happiness in old age, I had carefully preserved, until the public papers and private letters from my correspondents in almost every quarter, taught me to apprehend that I might soon be obliged to answer the question, whether I would go again into public life or not."
In a letter to the Marquis de la Fayette, Washington Observes:
"Your sentiments indeed coincide much more nearly with those of my other friends, that with my own feelings. In truth, my difficulties increase and magnify as I draw towards the period, when, according to the common belief, it will be necessary for me to give a definitive answer in one way or other. Should circumstances render it in a manner inevitably necessary to be in the affirmative, be assured, my dear sir, I shall assume the task with the most unfeigned reluctance, and with a real diffidence, for which I shall probably receive no credit from the world. If I know my own heart, nothing short of a conviction of duty, will induce me again to take an active part in public affairs. And in that case, if I can form a plan for my own conduct, my endeavours shall be unremittingly exerted, (even at the hazard of former fame or present popularity,) to extricate my country from the embarrassments in which it is entangled through want of credit, and to establish a general system of policy, which, if pursued, will ensure permanent felicity to the commonwealth. I think I see a path as clear and as direct as a ray of light, which leads to the attainment of that object. Nothing but harmony, honesty, industry, and frugality, are necessary to make us a great and a happy people. Happily the present posture of affairs and the prevailing disposition of my countrymen, promise to co-operate in establishing those four great and essential pillars of public felicity."
Before the election of a President came on, so universal was the expectation that Washington would be elected, that numerous applications were made to him, in anticipation for offices in the government, which would be in his gift. To one of such applicants he wrote as follows:--
"Should it become absolutely necessary for me to occupy the station in which your letter presupposes me, I have determined to go into it perfectly free from all engagements of every nature whatsoever. A conduct in conformity to this resolution, would enable me in balancing the various pretensions of different candidates for appointments, to act with a sole reference to justice, and the public good. This is in substance, the answer that I have given to all applications, (and they are not few,) which have already been made."
End of Chapter Ten. Continue to
Chapter Eleven of The Life of Washington