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Art. I. The General Biographical Dictionary ; containing an
historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation :- new edition by A. CHALMERS, F. S. A. London. 1817. (Article “Washington,” Vol. 31st.) Our attention has been recently directed by a friend to the 31st Volume of Chalmers' General Biographical Dictionary; Article Washington, p. 204. We find there the following passage.
Much has been said, by the American Biographers of Washington, concerning his magnanimity during the ravages of a civil war, in which he acted so conspicuous a part; but, on the other hand, two instances have been mentioned, in which he is thought to have been deficient in this great quality of a hero. Granting (it has been said that duty required him to execute, as a spy, the accomplished Major Andrè, true magnanimity would have pre· vented him from insultingly erecting, in the view of that unfortunate officer, the gallows on which he was to be hung, several days before his execution. And, when Earl Cornwallis was overpowered by numbers and obliged at Yorktown to surrender to the • united armies of America and France, a magnanimous conqueror • would not have claimed, contrary to the usage of civilized war, the sword from the hands of that gallant nobleman. On these two occasions, and on some others, the conduct of Washington agreed so ill with his general character, that he has been supposed to be iufluenced by the leaders of the French Army.'
When a compiler of General Biography, assails the character of one of the first men of the age, it is surely incumbent upon him to VOL. II.
giye some sufficient naine, as an authority for the facts which he asserts; or in defect of this, to furnish proof of his having had the means of knowing them personally. On this occasion, however, Mr. Chalmers has thought proper to dispense with both these rules, and to substitute for them, a loose and illogical language, obviously calculated to leave it matter of doubt, whether the American Biographers of Washington, did or did not themselves furnish both the praise and the censure. His expression is substantially this “Much has been said by American Biographers in commendation " of the maguanimity of Washington ; but, on the other hand, two “ instances, which detract from this praise, have been mentioned." And by whom? This, is precisely what the compiler wished to conceal; because, had he told the public, that these two enormities in the conduct of Washington, had come down to bim through the Welds, the Parkinsons or the Bristeds of the day, the plan would have failed—the trap would have caught nobody, and like the accomplished Andrè, Mr. Chalmers would have had the satisfaction only, of having meditated a mischief, he was unable to effect. But let this pass : our business is less with the sources whence his fictions are derived, than with the fictions themselves : and
1st. “That General Washington, for the purpose of insulting the feelings of Major Andrè, caused the gallows on which the Major was afterwards hanged) to be erected, several days before the execution, and within the view of the prisoner.'
This assertion has not even the colour of truth to support it but before we touch the positive evidence, within our reach, we will briefly examine the charge, on the ground of probability.
It will be remembered, that Major André was apprehended on the 23d of September (1780); that on the 28th, he was removed to Tappan; that on the 29th he was brought to trial ; that the last sitting of the court-in which was decided the mode of his punishment—was held on the 1st day of October, and that his execution took place, precisely at 12 o'clock, on the 2d. Now between the time of his arrival and that of his execution, are but three days and a half; and between this last event and the final sentence of the court, we count even less than twenty-four hours ! This computation of time leaves no room for Mr. Chalmers' “ several days” except upon the very improbable supposition, that Washington, in his haste to insult the feelings of Andrè, had caused a gallows to be erected, before the court had decided, either the guilt of the prisoner, or the mode of his punishment.
The historical relation of the conduct of Washington, on this occasion, given in England, and at a time when every circumstance attending it, was matter both of curiosity and interest, holds a language totally different from that of Mr. Chalmers. In the An