to speak. “Sit down, Col. Washington,” said the speaker: “your modesty equals your valor and that is beyond praise.”
Thus in 1758 the period of his youth came to a close. He had inherited the estate of Mt. Vernon on the death of his brother Lawrence, and he soon afterwards married a charming and wealthy young widow, Mrs. Martha Dandridge Custis. He never had any children of his own, but to hers he was devoted. The education of the Custis children; the care of his large estate and numerous slaves; his office as vestryman in the parish church; his social pleasures and his duties as a member of the House of Burgesses, which met twice a year in Williamsburg, occupied his time most agreeably for the next 15 years. In accepting the call to public duty he gave up a very beautiful, complete and endearing domestic life for which no honors ever compensated.
In 1774 he was chosen a delegate to the first Continental Congress. Many remarkable men were there — Franklin and Jefferson and others — but Patrick Henry said: “In solid information and sound judgment Washington was the greatest man on the floor.” It was Massachusetts, where the battle of Lexington was fought in April, 1775, that insisted a month later on the supreme command of the army being given to the Virginian colonel. When the appointment was offered to him, he replied that he was deeply honored, but honestly felt that he lacked capacity for so great a task. He refused pay for his services. He arrived in Boston late in June, after the battle of Bunker Hill. Beginning with an army of 17,000 untrained men, with few supplies, he had to attend, not only to his military duties, but to serve 14 masters — Congress and the 13 colonies — and to persuade all of them to support his operations and furnish men and supplies. It was an experience to make a great man, to break a weak one. When, in March of 1776, the British were driven out of Boston, Washington had become a statesman and a military commander of the first rank.
Washington's fame as one of “the greatest generals of history,” as Frederick the Great called him, does not rest on the battles he fought. The greatest battle of the Revolution — probably the decisive conflict that turned the tide of war — was the battle of Saratoga when Burgoyne surrendered. Washington's retreat across New Jersey; the manner in which he turned and struck the pursuing enemy at Trenton and Princeton and then established himself on the heights of Morristown, overlooking New York; and the vigorous resistance to British occupation of Philadelphia at Chad's Ford and Germantown all marked him as a consummate military genius. That record was crowned by the terrible winter of 1777-8 at Valley Forge. In spite of the misery of his soldiers, the clamor of the people tired of war, the delays of a fugitive Congress and the scheme to have him superseded by General Gates, he held his strategic position, and held his starving, freezing army to its task. When, on the news of the French alliance, Philadelphia was evacuated to unite the two British armies in New York, Washington chased the enemy across New Jersey and shut them into New York. There he remained, watching, waiting, on the Hudson, while the British carried the war to the south. They captured Savannah and Charleston and entrenched at Yorktown, Virginia. Then, feigning an attack on the weak garrison in New York, he made a forced march to the Potomac, the French fleet appearing simultaneously in Chesapeake Bay. Three weeks later Cornwallis surrendered and the seven years' war was over.
In 1783 Washington returned to Mount Vernon, — he hoped to private life. But that was not to be. His canonization had already begun. The Revolution had brought forward a score of able, patriotic men, but in the six years' struggle to frame a constitution and establish a federal government Washington was the court of last appeal, his the deciding voice. “The office of president was cut to Washington's measure” is said by one historian. No one else was thought of. He was chosen unanimously in 1789 and again in 1793. A third term he refused, and thus established a precedent which no political party has since dared disregard. For eight years, and until the government was firmly established, he prevented the formation of political parties by Hamilton and Jefferson, allying himself with neither but keeping both in his cabinet. Two years after his retirement he died at Mount Vernon on Dec. 14, 1799. Chief-Justice John Marshall, in moving the resolution of national grief in Congress, uttered the immortal words: “First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
His place is not less to-day because he shares it with Lincoln — one the creator, the other the savior, of our country. We touch Lincoln at more points of human understanding and sympathy. He remains a warm personality. Washington's image tended once to grow remote and legendary. But we love and revere them equally. The final word as to Washington was said by John Richard Green, the historian of the English people, when he characterized Washington as “the noblest figure that ever stood in the forefront of a nation's life.” Tennyson's word as to Wellington applies even more to Washington: “Whatever record leap to light, he never shall be shamed.”
There are numerous biographies of Washington. Irving's Life is marked by its literary quality. Weems' Life was the earliest, and was the one possessed by Lincoln when he was