Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

awful helm, and grasping it with equal firmness and ease, demonstrates that forms of power cause no embarrassment to him.

In so novel an experiment, as a nation framing a government for herself under no impulse but that of reason; adopting it through no force but the force of conviction ; and putting it into operation without bloodshed or violence, it was all important that her first magistrate should possess her unbounded good-will. Those elements of discord which lurked in the diversity of local interest ; in the collision of political theories ; in the irritations of party ; in the disappointed or gratified ambition of individuals; and which, notwithstanding her graceful transition, threatened the harmony of America, it was for Washington alone to control and repress. His tried integrity,

his ardent patriotism, were instead of a volume of arguments for the excellence of that system which he approved and supported. Among the simple and honest, whom no artifice was omitted to ensnare, there were thousands who knew little of the philosophy of government, and less of the nice machinery of the constitution ; but they knew that Washington was wise and good ; they knew it was impossible that he should betray them ; and by this they were rescued from the fangs of faction. Ages will not furnish so instructive a comment on that cardi. nal virtue of republicans, confidence in the men of their choice; nor a more salutary antedote against the pestilential principle, that the soul of a republic is jealousy. At the commencement of her federal government, mis. trust would have ruined America; in confidence, she found her safety.

The re-appearance of Washington as a statesman, excited the conjecture of the old world, and the anxiety of the new. His martial fame had fixed a criterion, however inaccurate, of his civil administration. Military genius does neither confer nor imply political ability. Whatever merit may be attached to the faculty of arranging the principles, and prosecuting the details, of an army, it must be conceded that vaster comprehensions belong to the statesman. Ignorance, vanity, the love of paradox, and the love of mischief, affecting to sneer at the “ mystery of government,” have indeed, taught, that common

sense and eommon honesty are his only rsquisites. The nature of things and the experience of every people, in every age, teach a different doctrine. America had multitudes who possessed both those qualities, but she had only one Washington. To adjust, in the best compromise, a thousand interfering views, so as to effect the greatest good of the whole with the least inconvenience to the parts; to curb the dragon of faction by means which ensure the safety of public liberty ; to marshal opinion and prejudice among the auxilaries of the law ; in fine, to touch the main spring of national agency, so as to preserve the equipoise of its powers, and to make the feeblest movement of the extremities accord with the impulse at the centre, is only for genius of the highest order. To excel equally in military and political science, has been the praise of a few chosen spirits, among whom, with a proud preference, we enrol the father of our country.

It was the fortune of Washington to direct transactions of which the repetition is hardly within the limits of human possibilities. When he entered on his first presidency, all the interests of the continent were vibrating through the arch of political uncertainty. The departments of the new government were to be marked out, and filled up; foreign relations to be regulated; the physical and moral strength of the nation to be organized; and that at a time when scepticism in politics, no less than religion and morals, was preparing, throughout Europe, to spring the mine of revolution and ruin. In discharing his first duties, that same intelligent, cautious, resolute procedure, which had rendered him the bulwark of war, now exhi. bited him as the guardian of peace. Appropriation of talent to employment, is one of the deep results of politi. cal sagacity. And in his selection of men for office, Washington displayed a knowledge of character and of business, a contempt of favouritism, and a devotion to the public welfare, which permitted the General to be rivalled only by the President.

Under such auspices, the fruit and the pledge of divine blessing, America rears her head, and recovers her vigours. Agriculture laughs on the land : Commerce ploughs the wave: Peace rejoices her at home; and she

grows into respect abroad. Ah! too happy, to progress without interruption. The explosions of Europe bring new vexations to her, and new trials and new glories to her Washington. Vigilant and faithful, he hears the tempest roar from afar, warns her of its approach, and prepares for averting its dangers. Black are the Heavens, and angry the billows, and narrow and perilous the passage. But his composure, dignity and firmness, are equal to the peril. Unseduced by fraud; unterrified by threat; unawed by clamour; he holds on his steady way, and again he saves his country. With less decision on the part of Washington, a generous but mistaken ardour would have plunged her into the whirlpool, and left her till this hour the sport of the contending elements. Americans ! bow to that magnanimous policy, which protected your dearest interests at the hazard of incurring your displeasure. It was thus that Washington proved himself, not in the cant of the day, but, in the procure. ment of substantial good, in stepping between them and perdition, the servant of the people.

The historian of this period will have to record a revolt raised by infatuation, against the law of the land. He will have to record the necessity which compelled even Washington to suppress it by the sword. But he will have to record also his gentleness and his lenity. Deeds of severity were his sad tribute to justice : deeds of humanity, the native suggestions of his heart.

Eight years of glorious administration created a claim on the indulgence of his country, which none could think of disputing, but which all lamented should be urged. The ends which rendered his services indispensible, being mostly attained, he demands his restoration to private life. Resigning to an able successor the reins which he had guided with characteristic felicity, he once more bids adieu to public honours. Let not his motives be mistaken or forgotten. It was for him to set as great examples in the relinquishment, as in the acceptance, of power. No mortified ambition; no haughty disgusts ; no expectation of higher office, prompted his retreat. He knew that foreign nations considered his life as the bond, and his influence as the vital spirit of our union. He knew that his own lustre threw a shade over others, not more injurious to them than to his country. He wished to dispel the enchantment of his own name : he wished to relieve the apprehensions of America, by making her sensible of her riches in other patriots ; to be a spectator of her prosperity under their management; and to convince herself, and to convince the world, that she depended less on him, than either her enemies or her friends believed. And therefore he withdrew.

Having lavished all her honours, his country had no. thing more to bestow upon him except her blessing. But · he had more to bestow upon his country. His views

and his advice, the condensed wisdom of all his reflection, observation, and experience, he delivers to his compatriots, in a manual, worthy of them to study, and of him to compose. And now, when they could hope to enjoy only the satisfaction of still possessing him, the pleasure of recounting his acts, and the benefit of practising his lessons, they accompany his retirement with their aspirations, that his evening may be as serene, as his morning had been fair, and his noon resplendent.

That he should ever again endure the solicitudes of office, was rather to be deprecated than desired. Be. cause it must be a crisis singularly portentous, which could justify another invasion of his repose. From such a necessity we fondly promised ourselves exemption. Flattering, fallacious security! The sudden whirlwind springs out of a calm. The revolutions of a day proclaim that an empire was. However remote the position of America ; however peaceful her character ; however

cautious and equitable her policy; she was not to go i unmolested by the gigantic fiend of Gallic domination.

That she was free and happy, was crime and provocation enough. He fastened on her his murderous eye ; he was preparing for that deadly embrace, in which nations

supine and credulous had already perished. Reduced to = the alternative of swelling the catalogue of his victims,

or arguing her cause with the bayonet and the ball, she bursts the ill-fated bonds which had linked her to his destinies, and assumes the tone and attitude of defiance. The gauntlet is cast. To press on is perilous : to retreat destruction. She looks wistfully round, and calls for Washington. The well-known voice, that voice which he had ever acco

counted a law, pierces the retreats of Vernon, and thrills his bosom. Domestic enjoyments lose their charm; repose becomes to him inglorious ; every sacrifice is cheap, and every exertion easy, when his beloved country requires his aid. With all the alacrity of youth, he flies to her succour. The helmet of war presses his silver locks. His sword, which dishonour had never tarnished, nor corruption poisoned, he once more unsheaths, and prepares to receive on its point the insolence of that foe whose intrigue he had foiled by his wisdom.

It must ever be difficult to compare the merits of Washington's characters, because he always appeared greatest in that which he last sustained. Yet if there is a preference, it must be assigned to the Lieutenant General of the armies of America. Not because the duties of that station were more arduous than those which he had often performed, but because it more fully displayed his magnanimity. While others become great by elevation, Washington becomes greater by condescension. Matchless patriot ! to stoop, on public motives, to an inferior appointment, after possessing and dignifying the highest offices ! Thrice favoured country, which boasts of such a citizen! We gaze with astonishment: we exult that we are Americans. We augur every thing great, and good, and happy.- But whence this sudden horror? What means that cry of agony? Oh! 'tis the shriek of America ! The fairy vision is fled : Washington is

-no more! “ How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished !”

Daughters of America, who erst prepared the festal bower and the laurel-wreath, plant now the cypress. grove, and water it with tears.

“ How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished !"

The death of Washington, Americans, has revealed the extent of our loss. It has given us the final proof that we never mistook him. Take his affecting testament, and read the secrets of his soul. Read all the power of domestic virtue. Read his strong love of letters and of liberty. Read his fidelity to republican principle, and his

« ПредишнаНапред »