The Life of George Washington
Chapter Nine: 1782 & 1783
The military establishment for 1782 was passed with unusual celerity shortly after the surrender of lord Cornwallis; but no exertions of America alone could do more than confine the British to the sea coast. To dislodge them from their strong holds in New-York and Charleston, occupied the unceasing attention of Washington.
While he was concerting plans for farther combined operations with the French, and at the same time endeavouring by circular letters to rouse his countrymen to spirited measures, intelligence arrived that sundry motions for discontinuing the American war had been debated in the British Parliament, and nearly carried. Fearing that this would relax the exertions of the states, he added in his circular letters to their respective Governors —
"I have perused these debates with great attention and care, with a view, if possible, to penetrate their real design; and upon the most mature deliberation I can bestow, I am obliged to declare it as my candid opinion, that the measure in all its views, so far as it respects America, is merely delusory, having no serious intention to admit our independence upon its true principles; but is calculated to produce a change of ministers to quiet the minds of their own people, and reconcile them to a continuance of the war; while it is meant to amuse this country with a false sense of peace, to draw us from our connexion with France, and to lull us into a state of security and inactivity; which taking place, the ministry will be left to prosecute the war in other parts of the world with greater vigour and effect.
"Your excellency will permit me on this occasion to observe, that even if the nation and parliament are really in earnest to obtain peace with America, it will undoubtedly be wisdom in us to meet them with great caution and circumspection, and by all means to keep our arms firm in our hands; and instead of relaxing one iota in our exertions, rather to spring forward with redoubled vigour, that we may take the advantage of every favourable opportunity, until our wishes are fully obtained. No nation yet suffered in treaty by preparing (even in the moment of negociations) most vigorously for the field."
Early in May, Sir Guy Carleton, who had succeeded Sir Henry Clinton as commander in chief of the British forces in America, arrived in New-York, and announced in successive communications, the increasing probability of a speedy peace, and his disapprobation of farther hostilities, which, he observed, "could only tend to multiply the miseries of individuals, without a possible advantage to either nation."
The cautious temper of Washington gradually yielded to increasing evidence that the British were seriously inclined to terminate the war; but in proportion as this opinion prevailed, the exertions of the states relaxed. No more than 80,000 dollars had been received from all of them, when the month of August was far advanced. Every expenditure yielded to the subsistence of the army. A sufficiency of money could scarcely be obtained for that indispensably necessary purpose. To pay the troops was impossible.
Washington, whose sagacity anticipated events, foresaw with concern the probable consequences likely to result from the tardiness of the states to comply with the requisitions of Congress. These had been ample. Eight millions of dollars had been called for, to be paid in four equal quarterly instalments, for the service of the year 1782.
In a confidential letter to the Secretary of War, Washington observed — "I cannot help fearing the result of reducing the army, where I see such a number of men, goaded by a thousand stings of reflection on the past, and of anticipation on the future, about to be turned into the world, soured by penury, and what they call the ingratitude of the public; involved in debts without one farthing of money to carry them home, after having spent the flower of their days, and many of them their patrimonies, in establishing the freedom and independence of their country, and having suffered every thing which human nature is capable is enduring on this side of death. I repeat it, when I reflect on these irritable circumstances, I cannot avoid apprehending that a train of evils will follow, of a very serious and distressing nature.
"I wish not to heighten the shades of the picture so far as the real life would justify me in doing, or I would give anecdotes of patriotism and distress, which have scarcely ever been paralleled, never surpassed, in the history of mankind. But you may rely upon it; the patience and long sufferance of this army are almost exhausted, and there never was so great a spirit of discontent as at this instant. While in the field, it may be kept from breaking out into acts of outrage; but when we retire into winter quarters (unless the storm be previously dissipated), I cannot be at ease respecting the consequences. It is high time for a peace."
These apprehensions were well founded. To watch the discontents of his troops, the American chief continued in camp after they had retired into winter quarters, though there was no prospect of any military operation which might require his presence. Soon after their retirement, the officers presented a petition to Congress respecting their pay, and deputed a committee of their body to solicit their interests while under consideration.
Nothing had been decided on the claims of the army, when intelligence (in March, 1783) arrived that preliminary and eventual articles of peace between the United States and Great-Britain had been signed on the 30th of the preceding November, in which the independence of the United States was amply recognized. In the general joy excited by this event, the army partook; but one unpleasant idea mingled itself with their exultations. They suspected that as justice had not been done to them while their services were indispensable, they would be less likely to obtain it when they ceased to be necessary.
Their fears on this account were increased by a letter which about the same time was received from their committee in Philadelphia, announcing that the objects which they had solicited from Congress had not yet been obtained. Smarting as they were under past sufferings, and present wants, their exasperation became violent and almost universal.
While they were brooding over their gloomy prospects, and provoked at the apparent neglect with which they had been treated, an anonymous paper was circulated, proposing a meeting of the General and Field Officers on the next day. The avowed object of this meeting was to consider the late letter from their committee with Congress, and what measures should be adopted to obtain that redress of grievances which they seemed to have solicited in vain. On the same day the following address was privately circulated:
"TO THE OFFICERS OF THE ARMY.
"A FELLOW-SOLDIER, whose interest and affections bind him strongly to you; whose past sufferings have been as great, and whose future fortune may be as desperate as yours — would beg leave to address you. Age has its claims, and rank is not without its pretensions to advise; but though unsupported by both, he flatters himself that the plain language of sincerity and experience, will neither be unheard nor unregarded. Like many of you, he loved private life, and left it with regret. He left it, determined to retire from the field with the necessity that called him to it, and not till then; not till the enemies of his country, the slaves of power, and the hirelings of injustice, were compelled to abandon their schemes, and acknowledge America as terrible in arms as she had been humble in remonstrance.
"With this object in view, he has long shared in your toils, and mingled in your dangers; he has felt the cold hand of poverty without a murmur, and has seen the insolence of wealth without a sigh. But, too much under the direction of his wishes, and sometimes weal enough to mistake desire for opinion, he has, till lately, very lately, believed in the justice of his country. He hoped, that as the clouds of adversity scattered, and as the sun-shine of peace and better fortune broke in upon us, the coldness and severity of government would relax, and that, more than justice, that gratitude would blaze forth upon those hands which had upheld her in the darkest stages of her passage, from impending servitude to acknowledged independence.
"But faith has its limits, as well as temper; and there are points beyond which neither can be stretched, without sinking into cowardice, or plunging into credulity. This, my friends, I conceive to be your situation. Hurried to the very verge of both, another step would ruin you forever. To be tame and unprovoked when injuries press hard upon you, is more than weakness; but to look up for kinder usage, without one manly effort of your own, would fix your character, and show the world how richly you deserve those chains you broke. To guard against this evil, let us take a review of the ground upon which we now stand, and from thence carry our thoughts forward for a moment, into the unexplored field of expedient.
"After a pursuit of seven long years, the object for which we set out is at length brought within our reach! — Yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours, was active once — it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war! It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace again returns to bless — whom? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services; a country courting your return to private life, with tears of gratitude, and smiles of admiration; longing to divide with you that independency which your gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved? Is this the case? Or is it rather, a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses? Have you not, more than once, suggested your wishes, and made known your wants to Congress? Wants and wishes which gratitude and policy should have anticipated, rather than evaded. And have you not lately, in the meek language of entreating memorial, begged from their justice, what you would no longer expect from their favour? How have you been answered? Let the letter which you are called to consider to-morrow, make reply.
"If this, then, be your treatment, while the swords you wear are necessary for the defence of America, what have you to expect from peace, when your voice shall sink, and your strength dissipate by division?
"When these very swords, the instruments and companions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of military distinction left, but your wants, infirmities, and scars! can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honour? — if you can, go — and carry with you the jest of tories, and the scorn of whigs — the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world! Go, starve, and be forgotten!
"But if your spirit should revolt at this; if you have sense enough to discover, and spirit enough to oppose tyranny, under whatever garb it may assume; whether it be the plain coat of republicanism, or the splendid robe of royalty; if you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a cause, between men and principles — awake! — attend to your situation, and redress yourselves. If the present moment be lost, every future effort is in vain; and your threats then will be as empty as your entreaties now.
"I would advise you, therefore, to come to some final opinion, upon what you can bear, and what you will suffer. If your determination be in any proportion to your wrongs, carry your appeal from the justice to the fears of government — change the milk and water style of your last memorial; assume a bolder tone — decent, but lively — spirited and determined; and suspect the man who would advise to more moderation and longer forbearance. Let two or three men, who can feel as well as write, be appointed to draw up your last remonstrance; for I would no longer give it the sueing, soft, unsuccessful epithet of memorial. Let it be represented (in language that will neither dishonour you by its rudeness, nor betray you by its fears) what has been promised by Congress, and what has been performed; how long and how patiently you have suffered; how little you have asked, and how much of that little has been denied. Tell them that though you were the first, and would wish to be the last, to encounter danger; though despair itself can never drive you into dishonour, it may drive you from the field; that the wound often irritated, and never healed, may at length become incurable; and that the slightest mark of indignity from Congress now, must operate like the grave, and part you for ever; that in any political event, the army has its alternative. If peace, that nothing shall separate you from your arms but death; if war, that courting the auspices and inviting the directions of your illustrious leader, you will retire to some unsettled country, smile in your turn, and 'mock when their fear cometh on.'
"But let it represent also, that should they comply with the request of your late memorial, it would make you more happy, and them more respectable: that while the war should continue, you would follow their standard into the field — and when it came to an end, you would withdraw into the shade of private life, and give the world another subject of wonder and applause — an army victorious over its enemies — victorious over itself."
This artful address found in almost every bosom such congenial sentiments, as prepared the way for its favourable reception. It operated like a torch on combustible materials. The passions of the army quickly caught the flame it was well calculated to excite. Every appearance threatened that the proposed convention of the officers would produce an explosion which might tarnish the reputation of the army, disturb the peace of the country, and, under certain circumstances, most probably terminate in the subversion of the recent liberties of the new formed states.
Accustomed as Washington had been to emergencies of great delicacy and difficulty, yet none had occurred, which called more pressingly than the present, for the utmost exertion of all his powers. He knew well that it was much easier to avoid intemperatemeasures than to recede from them after they had been adopted. He therefore considered it as a matter of the last importance, to prevent the meeting of the officers on the succeeding day, as proposed in the anonymous summons.
The sensibilities of the army were too high to admit of this being forbidden by authority, as a violation of discipline; but the end was answered in another way, and without irritation. The commander in chief, in general orders, noticed the anonymous summons as a disorderly proceeding, not to be countenanced; and the more effectually to divert the officers from paying any attention to it, he requested them to meet for the same nominal purpose, but on a day four days subsequent to the one proposed by the anonymous addresser.
The intervening period was improved in preparing the officers for the adoption of moderate measures. Gen. Washington sent for one officer after another, and enlarged in private on the fatal consequences, and particularly on the loss of character, which would result from the adoption of intemperate resolutions. His whole personal influence was excited to calm the prevailing agitation.
When the officers assembled, their venerable chief preparing to address them, found his eye-sight to fail him, on which he observed, "My eyes have grown dim in my country's service, but I never doubted of its justice," and proceeded as follows:
"By an anonymous summons, an attempt has been made to convene you together — how inconsistent with the rules of propriety! — how unmilitary! — and how subversive of all order and discipline, let the good sense of the army decide.
"In the moment of this summons, another anonymous production was sent into circulation; addressed more to the feelings of passions, than to the reason & judgment of the army. — The author of the piece, is entitled to much credit for the goodness of his pen: — and I could wish he had as much credit for the rectitude of his heart — for, as men we see thro' different optics, and are induced by the reflecting faculties of the mind, to use different means to attain the same end: — the author of the address, should have had more charity, than to mark for suspicion, the man who should recommend moderation and longer forbearance — or, in others words, who should not think as he thinks, and act as he advises. — But he had another plan in view, in which candor and liberality of sentiment, regard to justice, and love of ountry, have no part, and he was right, to insinuate the darkest suspicion, to effect the blackest designs.
"That the address is drawn with great art, and is designed to answer the most insidious purposes. — That it is calculated to impress the mind, with an idea of premeditated injustice in the sovereign power of the United States, and rouse all those resentments which must unavoidably flow from such a belief. — That the secret mover of this scheme (whoever he may be) intended to take advantage of the passions, while they were warmed by the recollection of mind which is so necessary to give dignity & stability to measures, is rendered too obvious, by the mode of conducting the business to need other proof than a reference to the proceeding.
"Thus much, gentlemen, I have thought it incumbent on me to observe to you, to shew upon what principles I opposed the irregular and hasty meeting which was proposed to have been held on Tuesday last: — and not because I wanted a disposition to give you every opportunity, consistent with your own honor, and the dignity of the army, to make known your grievances. — If my conduct heretofore, has not evinced to you, that I have been a faithful friend to the army, my declaration of it at this time would be equally unavailing & improper. — But as I was among the first who embarked in the cause of our common country — As I have never left your side one moment, but when called from you, on public duty — As I have been the constant companion & witness of your distresses, and not among the last to feel, & acknowledge your merits — As I have ever considered my own military reputation as inseperably connected with that of the army — As my Heart has ever expanded with joy, when I have heard its praises — and my indignation has arisen, when the mouth of detraction has been opened against it — it can scarcely be supposed, at this late stage of the war, that I am indifferent to its interests.
"But — how are they to be promoted? The way is plain, says the anonymous addresser — If war continues, remove into the unsettled country — there establish yourselves, and leave an ungrateful country to defend itself — But who are they to defend? — Our wives, our children, our farms, and other property which we leave behind us. — or — in this state of hostile seperation, are we to take the two first (the latter cannot be removed) — to perish in a wilderness, with hunger cold & nakedness? — If peace takes place, never sheath your sword says he untill you have obtained full and ample justice — This dreadful alternative, of either deserting our country in the extremest hour of her distress, or turning our arms against it, (which is the apparent object, unless Congress can be compelled into instant compliance) has something so shocking in it, that humanity revolts at the idea.
"My God! What can this writer have in view, by recommending such measures? — Can he be a friend to the army? — Can he be a friend to this country? — Rather is he not an insidious foe? — Some emissary, perhaps, from New York, plotting the ruin of both, by sowing the seeds of discord & seperation between the civil & military powers of the continent? — And what compliment does he pay to our understandings, when he recommends measures in either alternative, impracticable in their nature?
"But here, gentlemen, I will drop the curtain; — and because it would be as imprudent in me to assign my reasons for this opinion, as it would be insulting to your conception, to suppose you stood in need of them. — A moment's reflection will convince every dispassionate mind of the physical impossibility of carrying either proposal into execution.
"There might, gentlemen, be an impropriety in my taking notice, in this address to you, of an anonymous production — but the manner in which that performance has been introduced to the army — the effect it was intended to have, together with some other circumstances, will amply justify my observations on the tendency of that writing. — With respect to the advice given by the author — to suspect the man, who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance — I spurn it — as every man, who regards that liberty, & reveres that justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must — for if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind; reason is of no use to us — the freedom of speech may be taken away — and, dumb & silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.
"I cannot, in justice to my own belief, & what I have great reason to conceive is the intention of Congress, conclude this address, without giving it as my decided opinion; that that honourable body, entertain exalted sentiments of the services of the army; — and, from a full conviction of its merits & sufferings, will do it complete justice: — That their endeavors, to discover & establish funds for this purpose, have been unwearied, and will not cease, till they have succeeded, I have succeeded, I have not a doubt. But, like all other large bodies, where there is a variety of different interests to reconcile, their deliberations are slow. — Why then should we distrust them? — and, in consequence of that distrust, adopt measures, which may cast a shade over that glory which, has been so justly acquired; and tarnish the reputation of an army which is celebrated thro' all Europe, for its fortitude and patriotism? — and for what is this done? — to bring the object we seek for nearer? — No! — most certainly, in my opinion, it will cast it at a greater distance. —
"For myself (and I take no merit in giving the assurance, being induced to it from principles of gratitude, veracity & Justice) — a grateful sence of the confidence you have ever placed in me — a recollection of the chearful assistance, & prompt obedience I have experienced from you, under every vicisitude of fortune, — and the sincere I feel for an army I have so long had the honor to command, will oblige me to declare, in this public & solemn manner, that, in the attainment of compleat justice for all your toils & dangers, and in the gratification of every wish, so far as may be done consistently with the great duty I owe my country, and those powers we are bound to respect, you may freely command my services to the utmost of my abilities.
"While I give you these assurances, and pledge my self in the most unequivocal manner, to exert whatever ability I am possessed of, in your favor — let me entreat you, gentlemen, on your part, not to take any measures, which, viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, & sully the glory you have hitherto maintained — let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress; that, previous to your dissolution as an Army they will cause all your accounts to be fairly liquidated, as directed in their resolutions, which were published to you two days ago — and that they will adopt the most effectual measures in their power, to render ample justice to you, for your faithful and meritorious Services. — And let me conjure you, in the name of our common country — as you value your own sacred honor — as you respect the rights of humanity; as you regard the military & national character of America, to express your utmost horror & detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our country, & who wickedly attempts to open the flood gates of civil discord, & deluge our rising empire in blood.
"By thus determining — & thus acting, you will pursue the plain & direct road to the attainment of your wishes. — You will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice. — You will give one more distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism & patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings; — And you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind, "had this day been wanting, the world has never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining."
The address being ended, Washington withdrew. No person was hardy enough to oppose the advice he had given. The impression made by his address was irresistible. The happy moment was seized. While the minds of the officers, softened by the eloquence of their beloved commander, were in a yielding state, a resolution was offered and adopted, in which they assured him "that they reciprocated his affectionate expressions with the greatest sincerity of which the heart was capable."
Before they dispersed, they unanimously adopted several other resolutions, in which they declared — "That no circumstance of distress or danger should induce a conduct that might tend to sully the reputation and glory they had acquired at the price of their blood and eight years faithful service —
That they continued to have an unshaken confidence in the justice of Congress and their country — That they viewed with abhorrence, and rejected with disdain, the infamous proposition contained in a late anonymous address to the officers of the army."
The storm which had been long gathering was suddenly dissipated. The army acquired additional reputation, and the commander in chief gave a new proof to the goodness of his heart, and the soundness of his judgment. Perhaps in no instance did the United States receive from heaven a more signal deliverance through the hands of Washington, than in the happy termination of this serious transaction. If ambition had possessed a single corner of his heart, the opportunity was too favourable, the temptation too splendid, to have been resisted. But his soul was superior to such views, and his love of country so ardent, and at the same time so pure, that the charms of power, though recommended by the imposing appearance of procuring justice for his unrewarded army, made no impression on his unshaken mind. He viewed the character of a patriot as superior to that of a sovereign. To be elevated to supreme power, was less in his esteem than to be a good man.
Instead of turning the discontents of an unpaid army to his own aggrandizement, he improved the late events to stimulate Congress to do them justice. His letter to their President on this occasion was as follows:
"Sir, the result of the proceedings of the grand convention of the officers, which I have the honour of enclosing to your excellency for the inspection of Congress, will, I flatter myself, be considered as the last glorious proof of patriotism which could have been given, by men who could have aspired to the distinction of a patriot army; and will not only confirm their claim to the justice, but will increase their title to the gratitude of their country.
"Having seen the proceedings on the part of the army terminate with perfect unanimity, and in a manner entirely consonant to my wishes; being impressed with the liveliest sentiments of affection for those who have so long, so patiently, and so cheerfully suffered and fought under my immediate direction; having from motives of justice, duty, and gratitude, spontaneously offered myself as an advocate for their rights; and, having been requested to write to your excellency, earnestly entreating the most speedy decision of Congress upon the subjects of the late address from the army to that honourable body; it now only remains for me to perform the task I have assumed, and to intercede in their behalf, as I now do, that the sovereign power will be pleased to verify the predictions I have pronounced of, and the confidence the army have reposed in, the justice of their country.
"And here I humbly conceive it is altogether unnecessary (while I am pleading the cause of an army which have done and suffered more than any other army ever did in the defence of the rights and liberties of human nature), to expatiate on their claims to the most ample compensation for their meritorious services, because they are known perfectly to the whole world, and because (although the topics are inexhaustible, enough has already been said on the subject. To prove these assertions, to evince that my sentiments have ever been uniform, and to show what my ideas of the rewards in question have always been, I appeal to the archives of Congress, and call on those sacred deposites to witness for me. And in order that my observations and arguments in favour of a future adequate provision for the officers of the army may be brought to remembrance again, and considered in a single point of view, without giving Congress the trouble of having recourse to their files, I will beg leave to transmit herewith an extract from a representation made by me to a committee of Congress, so long ago as the 29th of January, 1778, and also the transcript of a letter to the President of Congress, dated near Pasaic Falls, October 11th, 1780.
"That in the critical and perilous moment when the last mentioned communication was made, there was the utmost danger a dissolution of the army would have taken place, unless measures similar to those recommended had been adopted, will not admit a doubt. That the adoption of the resolution granting half pay for life has been attended with all the happy consequences I had foretold, so far as respected the good of the service, let the astonishing contrast between the state of the army at this instant, and at the former period, determine. And that the establishment of funds, and security of the payment of all the just demands of the army, will be the most certain means of preserving the national faith, and future tranquillity of this extensive continent, is my decided opinion.
"By the preceding remarks it will readily be imagined, that instead of retracting and reprehending (from farther experience and reflection), the mode of compensation so strenuously urged in the enclosures, I am more and more confirmed in the sentiment; and if in the wrong, suffer me to please myself with the grateful delusion.
"For if, besides the simple payment of their wages, a farther compensation is not due to the sufferings and sacrifices of the officers, then have I been mistaken indeed. If the whole army have not merited whatever a grateful people can bestow, then have I been beguiled by prejudice, and built opinion on the basis of error. If this country should not in the event perform every thing which has been requested in the late memorial to Congress, then will my belief become vain, and the hope that has been excited, void of foundation. And if (as has been suggested for the purpose of inflaming their passions), the officers of the army are to be the only sufferers by this revolution; "if retiring from the field they are to grow old in poverty, wretchedness, and contempt-if they are to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honour;" then shall I have learned what ingratitude is; then shall I have realized a tale which will embitter every moment of my future life.
"But I am under no such apprehensions: a country rescued by their arms from impending ruin, will never leave unpaid the debt of gratitude. Should any intemperate or improper warmth have mingled itself amongst the foregoing observations, I must entreat your Excellency and Congress, it may attributed to the effusion of an honest zeal in the best of causes, and that my peculiar situation may be my apology; and I hope I need not on this momentous occasion make any new protestations of personal disinterestedness, having ever renounced for myself the idea of pecuniary reward. The consciousness of having attempted faithfully to discharge my duty, and the approbation of my country, will be a sufficient recompense for my services.
"I have the honour to be, &c. &c.
"Geo: WASHINGTON "His Excellency the President in Congress."
This energetic letter, connected with recent events, induced Congress to decide on the claims of the army. These were liquidated, and the amount acknowledged to be due from the United States.
Soon after these events, intelligence of a general peace was received. The reduction of the army was therefore resolved upon, but the mode of effecting it required deliberation. To avoid the inconveniences of dismissing a great number of soldiers in a body, furloughs were freely granted on the application of individuals, and after their dispersion, they were not enjoined to return. By this arrangement a critical moment was got over. A great part of an unpaid army was dispersed over the states without tumult or disorder.
While the veterans serving under the immediate eye of their beloved commander in chief, manifested the utmost good temper and conduct, a mutinous disposition broke out among some new levies stationed at Lancaster, in Pennsylvania. About 80 of this description marched in a body to Philadelphia, where they were joined by some other troops, so as to amount in the whole to 300. They marched with fixed bayonets to the state house, in which Congress and the state executive council held their sessions. They placed guards at every door, and threatened the president and council of the state with letting loose an enraged soldiery upon them, unless they granted their demands in twenty minutes.
As soon as this outrage was known to Washington, he detached Gen. Howe with a competent force to suppress the mutiny. This was effected without bloodshed before his arrival. The mutineers were too inconsiderable to commit extensive mischief; but their disgraceful conduct excited the greatest indignation in the breast of the commander in chief, which was expressed in a letter to the president of Congress in the following words:
"While I suffer the most poignant distress in observing that a handful of men, contemptible in numbers, and equally so in point of service (if the veteran troops of the southward have not been seduced by their example), and who are not worthy to be called soldiers, should disgrace themselves and their country as the Pennsylvania mutineers have done, by insulting the sovereign authority of the United States, and that of their own, I feel an inexpressible satisfaction that even this behaviour cannot stain the name of the American soldiery. It cannot be imputable to, or reflect dishonour on, the army at large; but on the contrary, it will, by the striking contrast it exhibits, hold up to public view the other troops in the most advantageous point of light.
"Upon taking all the circumstances into consideration, I cannot sufficiently express my surprise and indignation at the arrogance, the folly, and the wickedness, of the mutineers; nor can I sufficiently admire the fidelity, the bravery, and patriotism, which must forever signalize the unsullied character of the corps of our army. For when we consider that these Pennsylvania levies who have now mutinied are recruits and soldiers of a day, who have not borne the heat and burden of the war, and who can have in reality very few hardships to complain of; and when we at the same time recollect that those soldiers who have lately been furloughed from this army, are the veterans who have patiently endured hunger, nakedness, and cold; who have suffered and bled without as murmur, and who, with perfect good order, have retired to their homes without a settlement of their accounts or a farthing of money in their pockets; we shall be as much astonished at the virtues of the latter, as we are struck with detestation of the proceedings of the former."
While arrangements were making for the final dismission of the army, Gen. Washington was looking forward with anxiety to the future destinies of the United States. Much of his attention was devoted to a serious consideration of such establishments as the independence of his country required. On these subjects, he freely communicated with Congress, and recommended that great diligence should be used in forming a well regulated and disciplined militia during peace, as the best means for securing the future tranquillity and respectability of the nation. He also addressed the following circular letter to the Governors of each of the States:
"HEAD-QUARTERS, Newburgh, June 18, 1783.
"Sir, the object for which I had the honour to hold an appointment in the service of my country, being accomplished, I am now preparing to resign it into the hands of Congress, and return to that domestic retirement, which, it is well known, I left with the greatest reluctance; a retirement for which I have never ceased to sigh through a long and painful absence, in which (remote from the noise and trouble of the world), I meditate to pass the remainder of life, in a state of undisturbed repose: but, before I carry this resolution into effect, I think it a duty incumbent on me to make this my last official communication, to congratulate you on the glorious events which heaven has been pleased to produce in our favour; to offer my sentiments respecting some important subjects, which appear to me to be intimately connected with the tranquillity of the United States; to take my leave of your excellency as a public character; and to give my final blessing to that country, in whose service I have spent the prime of my life; for whose sake I have consumed so many anxious days and watchful nights, and whose happiness, being extremely dear to me, will always constitute no inconsiderable part of my own.
"Impressed with the liveliest sensibility on this pleasing occasion, I will claim the indulgence of dilating the more copiously on the subject of our mutual felicitation. When we consider the magnitude of the prize we contended for, the doubtful nature of the contest, and the favourable manner in which it has terminated; we shall find the greatest possible reason for gratitude and rejoicing. This is a theme that will afford infinite delight to every benevolent and liberal mind, whether the event in contemplation be considered as a source of present enjoyment, or the parent of future happiness; and we shall have equal occasion to felicitate ourselves on the lot that Providence has assigned us, whether we view it in a natural, a political, or a moral point of light.
"The citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole lords and proprietors of a vast tract of continent, comprehending all the various soils and climates of the world, and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniences of the world, are now, by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and independency: they are from this period to be considered as the actors on a most conspicuous theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designed by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity. Here they are not only surrounded with every thing that can contribute to the completion of private and domestic enjoyment; but heaven has crowned all its other blessings, by giving a surer opportunity for political happiness, than any other nation has ever been favoured with.
"Nothing can illustrate these observations more forcibly than a recollection of the happy conjuncture of times and circumstances, under which our republic assumed its rank among the nations. — The foundation of our empire was not laid in a gloomy age of ignorance and superstition, but at an epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period. Researches of the human mind after social happiness have been carried to a great extent; the treasures of knowledge acquired by the labours of philosophers, sages, and legislators, through a long succession of years, are laid open for us, and their collective wisdom may be happily applied in the establishment of our forms of government. The free cultivation of letters, the unbounded extension of commerce, the progressive refinement of manners, the growing liberality of sentiment; and, above all, the pure and benign light of revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind, and increased the blessings of society. At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a nation; and if their citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be entirely their own.
"Such is our situation, and such are our prospects. But notwithstanding the cup of blessing is thus reached out to us; notwithstanding happiness is ours, if we have a disposition to seize the occasion, and make it our own; yet it appears to me there is an option still left to the United States of America, whether they will be respectable and prosperous, or contemptible and miserable as a nation. This is a time of their political probation: this is the moment when the eyes of the whole world are turned upon them: this is the time to establish or ruin their national character for ever: this is the favourable moment to give such a ton to the federal government, as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution; or, this may be the illfated moment for relaxing the powers of the union, annihilating the cement of the confederation, and exposing us to become the sport of European politics, which may play one state against another, to prevent their growing importance, and to serve their own interested purposes.
"For, according to the system of policy the states shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall; and, by their confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided, whether the revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse; — a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn millions be involved.
"With this conviction of the importance of the present crisis, silence in me would be a crime; I will therefore speak to your excellency the language of freedom and sincerity, without disguise. I am aware, however, those who differ from me in political sentiments may, perhaps, remark, I am stepping out of the proper line of my duty; and they may possibly ascribe to arrogance or ostentation, what I know is alone the result of the purest intention.
"But the rectitude of my own heart, which disdains such unworthy motives; the part I have hitherto acted in life; the determination I have formed of not taking any share in public business hereafter; the ardent desire I feel, and shall continue to manifest, of quietly enjoying in public life, after all the toils of war, the benefits of a wise and liberal government, will, I flatter myself, sooner or later, convince my countrymen, that I could have no sinister views in delivering with so little reserve the opinions contained in this address.
"There are four things which I humbly conceive are essential to the well being, I may even venture to say to the existence of the United States as an independent power.
"1st . An indissoluble union of the states under one federal head.
"2dly. A sacred regard to public justice.
"3dly. The adoption of a proper peace establishment. And,
"4thly. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies; to make those mutual concessions to the general prosperity; and, in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.
"These are the pillars on which the glorious fabric of our glorious independency and national character must be supported. Liberty is the basis-and whoever would dare to sap the foundation, or overturn the structure, under whatever specious pretext he may attempt it, will merit the bitterest execration, and the severest punishment, which can be inflicted by his injured country.
"On the first three articles I will make a few observations; leaving the last to the good sense and serious consideration of those immediately concerned.
"Under the first head, although it may not be necessary or proper for me in this place to enter into a particular disquisition of the principles of the union, and to take up the great question which has been frequently agitated, whether it be expedient and requisite for the states to delegate a larger proportion of power to Congress, or not; yet it will be a part of my duty, and that of every true patriot, to assert, without reserve, and to insist upon the following positions: —
"That unless the states will suffer Congress to exercise those prerogatives they are undoubtedly invested with by the constitution, every thing must very rapidly tend to anarchy and confusion:
"That it is indispensable to the happiness to the individual states, that there should be lodged, somewhere, a supreme power to regulate and govern the general concerns of the confederated republic, without which the union cannot be of long duration:
"That there must be a faithful and pointed compliance on the part of every state with the late proposals and demands of Congress, or the most fatal consequences will ensue:
"That whatever measures have a tendency to dissolve the union, or contribute to violate or lessen the sovereign authority, ought to be considered as hostile to the liberty and independency of America, and the authors of them treated accordingly.
"And, lastly, unless we can be enabled by the concurrence of the states to participate of the fruits of the revolution, and apply the essential benefits of civil society, under a form of government so free and uncorrupted, so happily guarded against the danger of oppression, as has been devised and adopted by the articles of confederation, it will be a subject of regret, that so much blood and treasure has been lavished for no purpose; that so many sufferings have been encountered without a compensation, and that so many sacrifices have been made in vain.
"Many other considerations might here be adduced to prove, that without an entire conformity to the spirit of the union, we cannot exist as an independent power. It will be sufficient for my purpose to mention but one or two, which seem to me of the greatest importance.
"It is only in our united character, as an empire, that our independence is acknowledged, that our power can be regarded, or our credit supported among foreign nations. The treaties of the European powers with the United States of America will have no validity on a dissolution of the union. We shall be left nearly in a state of nature; or we may find, by our own unhappy experience, that there is a natural and necessary progression from the extreme of anarchy to the extreme of tyranny; and that arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.
"As to the second article, which respects the performance of public justice, Congress have, in their late address to the United States, almost exhausted the subject; they have explained their ideas so fully, and have enforced the obligations the states are under to render complete justice to all the public creditors, with so much dignity and energy, that, in my opinion, that no real friend to the honour and independency of America can hesitate a single moment respecting the propriety of complying with the just and honourable measures proposed.
"If their arguments do not produce conviction, I know of nothing that will have greater influence, especially when we reflect that the system referred to, being the result of the collected wisdom of the continent, must be esteemed, if not perfect, certainly the least objectionable of any that could be devised; and that, if it should not be carried into immediate execution, a national bankruptcy, with all its deplorable consequences, will take place before any different plan can possibly be proposed or adopted; so pressing are the present circumstances, and such is the alternative now offered to the states.
"The ability of the country to discharge the debts which have been incurred in its defence, is not to be doubted; and inclination, I flatter myself, will not be wanting. The path of our duty is plain before us; honesty will be found, on every experiment, to be the best and only true policy. Let us then, as a nation, be just; let us fulfill the public contracts which Congress had undoubtedly a right to make for the purpose of carrying on the war, with the same good faith we suppose ourselves bound to perform our private engagements.
"In the mean time, let an attention to the cheerful performance of their proper business, as individuals, and as members of society, be earnestly inculcated on the citizens of America; then will they strengthen the bands of government, and be happy under its protection. Every one will reap the fruits of his labours: every one will enjoy his own acquisitions, without molestation and without danger.
"In this state of absolute freedom and perfect security, who will grudge to yield a very little of his property to support the common interests of society, and ensure the protection of our government? Who does not remember the frequent declarations at the commencement of the war, That we should be completely satisfied, if, at the expense of one half, we could defend the remainder of our possessions? Where is the man to be found, who wishes to remain in debt, for the defence of his own person and property, to the exertions, the bravery, and the blood of others, without making one generous effort to pay the debt of honour and of gratitude? In what part of the continent shall we find any man, or body of men, who would not blush to stand up and propose measures purposely calculated to rob the soldier of his stipend, and the public creditor of his due?
"And were it possible that such a flagrant instance of injustice could ever happen, would it not excite the general indignation, and tend to bring down the authors of such measures the aggravated vengeance of heaven? If, after all, a spirit of disunion, or a temper of obstinacy and perverseness should manifest itself in any of the states; if such an ungracious disposition should attempt to frustrate all the happy effects that might be expected to flow from the union; if there should be a refusal to comply for requisitions for funds to discharge the annual interest of the public debts; and if that refusal should revive all those jealousies, and produce all those evils, which are now happily removed, Congress, who have in all their transactions shown a great degree of magnanimity and justice, will stand justified in the sight of God and man! And that state alone, which puts itself in opposition to the aggregate wisdom of the continent, and follows such mistaken and pernicious councils, will be responsible for all the consequences.
"For my own part, conscious of having acted while a servant of the public, in the manner I conceived best suited to promote the real interests of my country; having in consequence of my fixed belief, in some measure pledged myself to the army, that their country would finally do them complete and ample justice; and not wishing to conceal any instance of my official conduct from the eyes of the world, I have thought proper to transmit to your excellency the enclosed collection of papers, relative to the half-pay and commutation granted by Congress, to the officers of the army. From these communications my decided sentiment will be clearly comprehended, together with the conclusive reasons which induced me, at an early period, to recommend the adoption of this measure in the most earnest and serious manner.
"As the proceedings of Congress, the army, and myself, are open to all, and contain, in my opinion, sufficient information to remove the prejudices and errors which may have been entertained by any, I think it unnecessary to say any thing more than just to observe, that the resolutions of Congress, now alluded to, are as undoubtedly and absolutely binding upon the United States, as the most solemn acts of confederation or legislation.
"As to the idea which, I am informed, has in some instances prevailed, that the half-pay and commutation are to be regarded merely in the odious light of a pension, it ought to be exploded for ever: that provision should be viewed,, as it really was, a reasonable compensation offered by Congress, at a time when they had nothing else to give to officers of the army, for services then to be performed. It was the only means to prevent a total dereliction of the service. It was a part of their hire; I may be allowed to say, it was the price of their blood, and of your independency. It is therefore more than a common debt; it is a debt of honour; it can never be considered as a pension, or gratuity, nor cancelled until it is fairly discharged.
"With regard to the distinction between officers and soldiers, it is sufficient that the uniform experience of every nation of the world combined with our own, proves the utility and propriety of the discrimination. Rewards in proportion to the aid the public draws from them, are unquestionably due to all its servants. In some lines, the soldiers have perhaps, generally, had as ample compensation for their services, by the large bounties which have been paid them, as their officers will receive in the proposed commutation; in others, if, besides the donation of land, the payment of arrearages of cloathing and wages (in which articles all the component parts of the army must be put upon the same footing), we take into estimate the bounties many of the soldiers have received, and the gratuity of one year's full pay, which is promised to all, possibly their situation (every circumstance being duly considered), will not be deemed less eligible than that of the officers.
"Should a farther reward, however, be judges equitable, I will venture to assert, no man will enjoy greater satisfaction than myself, in an exemption from taxes for a limited time (which has been petitioned for I some instances), or any other adequate immunity or compensation granted to the brave defenders of their country's cause. But neither the adoption or the rejection of this proposition will, in any manner, affect, much less militate against, the act of Congress, by which they have offered five years full pay, in lieu of the half-pay for life, which had been before promised to the officers of the army.
"Before I conclude the subject on public justice, I cannot omit to mention the obligations this country is under to that meritorious class of veterans, the non-commissioned officers and privates, who have been discharged for inability, in consequence of the resolution of Congress, of the 23rd of April, 1782, on an annual pension for life. Their peculiar sufferings, their singular merits and claims to that provisions, need only to be known, to interest the feelings of humanity in their behalf. Nothing but a punctual payment of their annual allowance, can rescue them from the most complicated misery; and nothing could be a more melancholy and distressing sight, than to behold those who have shed their blood, or lost their limbs in the service of their country, without a shelter, without a friend, and without the means of obtaining any of the comforts or necessaries of life, compelled to beg their bread daily from door to door. Suffer me to recommend those of this description, belonging to your state, to the warmest patronage of your excellency and your legislature.
"It is necessary to say but a few words on the third topic which was proposed, and which regards particularly the defence of the republic-as there can be little doubt but Congress will recommend a proper peace establishment for the United States, in which a due attention will be paid to the importance of placing the militia of the Union upon a regular and respectable footing. If this should be the case, I should beg leave to urge the great advantage of it in the strongest terms.
"The militia of this country must be considered as the palladium of our security, and the first effectual resort in case of hostility. It is essential, therefore, that the same system should pervade the whole; that the formation and discipline of the militia of the continent should be absolutely uniform; and that the same species of arms, accoutrements, and military apparatus, should be introduced in every part of the United States. No one, who has not learned it from experience, can conceive the difficulty, expense, and confusion, which result from a contrary system, or the vague arrangements which have hitherto prevailed.
"If, in treating of political points, a greater latitude than usual has been taken in the course of the address; the importance of the crisis, and the magnitude of the objects in discussion, must be my apology. It is, however, neither my wish nor expectation, that the preceding observations should claim any regard, except so far as they shall appear to be dictated by a good intention, consonant to the immutable rules of justice; calculated to produce a liberal system of policy, and founded on whatever experience may have been acquired, by a long and close attention to public business.
"Here I might speak with more confidence, from my actual observations; and if it would not swell this letter (already too prolix), beyond the bounds I had prescribed myself, I could demonstrate to every mind, open to conviction, that in less time, and with much less expense than has been incurred, the war might have been brought to the same happy conclusion, if the resources of the continent could have properly been called forth; that the distresses and disappointments which have very often occurred, have, in too many instances, resulted more from a want of energy in the continental government, than a deficiency of means in the particular states; that the efficacy of the measures, arising from the want of an adequate authority in the supreme power, from a partial compliance with the requisitions of Congress, in some of the states, and from a failure of punctuality in others, while they tended to damp the zeal of those who were more willing to exert themselves, served also to accumulate the expenses of the war, and to frustrate the best concerted plans; and that the discouragement occasioned by the complicated difficulties and embarrassments, in which our affairs were by this means involved, would have long ago produced the dissolution of any army, less patient, less virtuous, and less persevering, than that which I have had the honour to command.
"But while I mention those things which are notorious facts, as the defects of our federal constitution, particularly in the prosecution of a war, I beg it may be understood, that as I have ever taken a pleasure in gratefully acknowledging the assistance and support I have derived from every class of citizens; so shall I always be happy to do justice to the unparalleled exertions of the individual states, on many interesting occasions.
"I have thus freely disclosed what I wished to make known, before I surrendered up my public trust to those who committed it to me. The task is now accomplished; I now bid adieu to your excellency, as the chief magistrate of your state; at the same time, I bid a last farewell to the cares of office, and all the employments of public life.
"It remains, then, to be my final and only request, that your excellency will communicate these sentiments to your legislature, at their next meeting; and that they may be considered as the legacy of one who has ardently wished, on all occasions, to be useful to his country, and who, even in the shade of retirement, will not fail to implore the divine benediction upon it.
"I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the state over which you preside, in his holy protection; that he would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another; for their fellow-citizens for the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field; and, finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of the mind, which were the characteristics of the divine author of our blessed religion; without an humble imitation of whose example, in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.
"I have the honour to be, "with much esteem and respect,
"Sir, "your excellency's most obedient,
"and most humble servant,
The second of November was fixed for discharging that part of the army which was engaged to serve during the war. On that day, Gen. Washington issued his farewell orders to the armies of the United States in the most endearing language. After giving them his advice respecting their future conduct, and imploring the choicest of heaven's blessings in their favour, he bade them an affectionate farewell.
On the 25th of the same month, the British evacuated New-York, and Gen. Washington made his public entry into it, where he was received with every mark of respect and attention.
The hour now approached in which it became necessary for the American chief to take leave of his officers who had been endeared to him by a long series of common sufferings and dangers. This was done in a solemn manner. The officers, having previously assembled for the purpose, Gen. Washington joined them, and calling for a glass of wine, thus addressed them: "With an heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honourable."
Having drank he added — "I cannot come to each of you, to take my leave, but shall be obliged to you, if each of you will come and take me by the hand." Gen. Knox being next, turned to him. Incapable of utterance, Washington grasped his hand and embraced him. The officers came up successively, and he took an affectionate leave of each of them. Not a word was articulated on either side. A majestic silence prevailed. The tear of sensibility glistened in every eye. The tenderness of the scene exceeded all description.
When the last of the officers had taken his leave, Washington left the room and passed through the corps of light infantry, to the place of embarkation. The officers followed in a solemn mute procession, with dejected countenances. On his entering the barge to cross the North river, he turned towards the companions of his glory, and by waving his hat, bid them a silent adieu. Some of them answered this last signal of respect and affection with tears; and all of them hung upon the barge which conveyed him from their sight, till they could no longer distinguish in it the person of their beloved commander in chief.
The army being disbanded, Washington proceeded to Annapolis, then the seat of Congress, to resign his commission. On his way thither, he, of his own accord, delivered to the comptroller of accounts in Philadelphia, an account of the expenditure of all the public money he had ever received. This was in his own hand writing, and every entry was made in a very particular manner. Vouchers were produced for every item except for secret intelligence and service, which amounted to no more than 1,982 pounds 10 sterling. The whole which in the course of eight years of war, had passed through his hands, amounted to only 14,479 pounds 18s 9d. Nothing was charged or retained for personal services; and actual disbursements had been managed with such economy and fidelity, that they were all covered by the above moderate sum.
After accounting for all his expenditures of public money (secret service money for obvious reasons excepted), with all the exactness which established forms required from the inferior officers of his army, he hastened to resign into the hands of the fathers of his country, the powers with which they had invested him. This was done in a public audience. Congress received him as the founder and guardian of the republic.
While he appeared before them, they silently retraced the scenes of danger and distress through which they had passed together. They recalled to mind the blessings of freedom and peace purchased by his arm. They gazed with wonder on their fellow-citizen who appeared more great and worthy of esteem in resigning his power, than he had done in gloriously using it. Every heart was big with emotion. Tears of admiration and gratitude burst from every eye. The general sympathy was felt by the resigning hero, and wet his cheek with a manly tear. After a decent pause, he addressed Thomas Mifflin, the President of Congress, in the following words:
"The great events on which my resignation depended, having at length taken place, I have now the honour of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.
"Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which, however, superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the union, and the patronage of Heaven.
"The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my country-men, increases with every review of the momentous contest.
"While I repeat my obligations to the army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings, not to acknowledge in this place, the peculiar services and distinguished merits of the persons who have been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible the confidential choice officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me, Sir, to recommend in particular, those who have continued in the service to the present moment, as worthy of the favourable notice and patronage of Congress.
"I consider it as an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life, by commending the interest of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping.
"Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action; and, bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have long acted, I here offer my commission, and take any leave of all the employments of public life."
This address being ended, Gen. Washington advanced and delivered his commission into the hands of the President of Congress, who replied as follows:
"The United States in Congress assembled, receive with emotions too affecting for utterance, the solemn resignation of the authorities under which you have led their troops with success, through a perilous and doubtful war.
"Called upon by your country to defend its invaded rights, you accepted the sacred charge before it had formed alliances, and whilst it was without friends or a government to support you.
"You have conducted the great military contest with wisdom and fortitude, invariable regarding the rights of the civil power through all disasters and changes. You have by the love and confidence of your fellow-citizens, enabled them to display their martial genius, and transmit their fame to posterity: you have persevered till these United States, aided by a magnanimous king and nation, have been enabled under a just Providence, to close the war in safety, freedom, and independence; on which happy event we sincerely join you in congratulations.
"Having defended the standard of liberty in this new world; having taught a lesson useful to those who inflict, and to those who feel oppression, you retire from the great theatre of action with the blessings of your fellow-citizens; but the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your military command, it will continue to animate remotest ages. We feel with you our obligations to the army in general, and will particularly charge ourselves with the interest of those confidential officers who have attended your person to this affecting moment.
"We join you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, beseeching him to dispose the hearts and minds of its citizens to improve the opportunity afforded them of becoming a happy and respectable nation; and for you, we address to Him our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved, may be fostered with all his care; that your days may be happy as they have been illustrious, and that he will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give."
The military services of Gen. Washington, which ended with this interesting day, were as great as ever were rendered by any man to any nation. They were at the same time disinterested. How dear would not a mercenary man have sold such toils, , such dangers, and above all, such successes? What schemes of grandeur and of power would not an ambitious man have built upon the affections of the people and of the army? The gratitude of America was so lively, that any thing asked by her resigning chief, would have been readily granted.
He asked nothing for himself, his family, or relations; but indirectly solicited favours for the confidential officers who were attached to his person. These were young gentlemen without fortune, who had served him in the capacity of Aid de Camp. To have omitted the opportunity which then offered, of recommending them to their country's notice, would have argued a degree of insensibility in the breast of their friend. The only privilege distinguishing him from other private citizens, which the retiring Washington did or would receive from his grateful country, was a right of sending and receiving letters free of postage.
The American chief, having by his own voluntary act, become one of the people, hastened with ineffable delight to his seat at Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potowmac. There, in a short time, the most successful General in the world, became the most diligent farmer in Virginia.
To pass suddenly from the toils of the first commission in the United States to the care of a farm — to exchange the instruments of war, for the instruments of husbandry, and to become at once the patron and example of ingenious agriculture, would to most men have been a difficult task. But to the elevated mind of Washington, it was natural and delightful. From his example, let the commanders of armies learn, that the fame which is acquired by the sword, without guilt or ambition, may be preserved without power or splendour in private life.
End of Chapter Nine. Continue to
Chapter Ten of The Life of Washington