The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Washington, George
WASHINGTON, George, American soldier-statesman, and first President of the United States: b. in the family homestead at Bridges Creek, in Westmoreland County, Va., 22 Feb. 1732; d. Mount Vernon, 14 Dec. 1799. He was the fifth child of Augustine Washington, who belonged to the third generation of Washingtons who had lived in America. Augustine was a well-to-do planter who might have afforded every school advantage to his son had he not died before George was 12 years of age. The father's death left the son in his mother's care, with a farm on the Rappahannock as his sole inheritance. This precluded any hope of an education in England such as his elder brothers had enjoyed, and he, therefore, received the practical and elementary instruction afforded in colonial Virginia. He learned something in books but more about the forest life, and manly sports, and the habits of a Virginia gentleman. Formal schooling he quit altogether at the age of 16, and began surveying in the employment of Lord Fairfax, an Englishman who came to Virginia to look after his inherited lands, and whose companionship taught Washington some of the conduct and breeding of a man of the world. Though Washington was a mere boy and almost self-taught in surveying, yet he was a good woodsman, and he did his work so well on Lord Fairfax's forest lands that for three years he was kept busy at the profession, which in that day approached nearer to woodcraft than expert mathematics. Meanwhile he did not neglect to give considerable time to the study of military tactics and the manual of arms, for which a Virginian of his standing might have use. This life came to an end in 1751, when the failing health of his elder brother Lawrence caused him to seek recuperation in the Bahamas. Thither George went with him, only to bring him back to die. As executor of his brother's will, he assumed so many cares that his surveying profession had to be abandoned altogether.
Before Lawrence's death he had given George his place in the Virginia militia, and in 1752 Lieutenant-Governor Dinwiddie gave the popular young soldier a commission as major and adjutant-general in charge of one of the four military districts of the State. Hardly was he in charge of his new office when a movement of the French to insure their control of the region between the Mississippi and the Alleghanies made war between the French and English in America almost inevitable. From Canada the French had sent 1,500 men to Presque Isle on Lake Erie to erect a fort, intending thence to push through the forest to the Allegheny River and down it to the Ohio. There they would drive out the English, who were beginning to push into that region.
Governor Dinwiddie saw the danger and, after getting authorization from England, he selected Major Washington for a dangerous midwinter journey through the forest to the French fort to command them to depart and not to trespass upon England's claims. The hardy young surveyor made the terrible journey only to be given the hint that the French had come to stay. Upon his return, the Virginia assembly was persuaded to furnish funds for a force to be sent against the invaders, Washington was made lieutenant-colonel, and under Colonel Fry set out to resist the French advance. Fry died on the march, and Washington bore the brunt of the enterprise. A rough and ready fort built by an advance party of backwoodsmen near the junction of the Ohio and the Allegheny was taken by the French, who thereupon built Fort Duquesne and awaited the Virginians. In that neighborhood, at Great Meadows, Washington camped. A skirmish took place in which a small body of French under Jumonville were defeated, and then the defenses, which Washington had built and called Fort Necessity, were attacked, 3 July 1754, by superior French forces. A wretched day of fighting in the rain was followed by a parley, at which Washington sensibly agreed to withdraw from a hopeless conflict. Upon his return to Virginia he was unfairly reduced in rank, and indignantly resigned his commission.
The war for the possession of America was now taken up by the home government. England sent the headstrong General Braddock to help the English colonists to drive out the French. Upon his arrival in Virginia he made the acquaintance of Washington and offered to make him a member of his staff — an offer which was eagerly accepted. Braddock did not realize the difficulties of forest warfare, and without heeding some of the wise counsel given him by Americans he pushed toward Fort Duquesne with 2,000 regulars brought from England and some provincial recruits. Eight miles from the French fort, he was attacked by an unseen enemy, and the terrified regulars were held in solid ranks to be shot down until sheer fright made them break into retreat. Braddock was mortally wounded, and it was left to Washington to conduct the retreat. After he had led the shattered forces back to Virginia, he became for a time the chief stay of his province in guarding her frontiers against the savages, until, in 1758, he was sent with the British General Forbes again to attempt the capture of Fort Duquesne, and this time success crowned the effort. Then Quebec fell, and England's power in America was firmly established.
When England and her colonies quarreled, Washington took an early and decided part in asserting and defending the colonial rights, though with other American leaders he long looked and hoped for conciliation. To him the Stamp Act was “a direful attack on the liberties of the colonists.” In 1769 he thought something must be done “to maintain the liberty which we have derived from our ancestors.” He approved of awakening English attention to American rights “by starving their trade and manufactures,” and as a member of the Virginia assembly he presented a non-importation agreement, and secured its passage. He was present and gave his support, in 1773, to the resolves instituting a committee of correspondence, and in 1774 he favored the proposed general congress at Philadelphia. On 1 Aug. 1774 the convention met which elected him, with six others, delegates to the first Continental Congress, where he was in the opinion of Patrick Henry “unquestionably the greatest man on the floor,” as far as solid formation and sound judgment was concerned. When the second Continental Congress met, 10 May 1775, he was again a member, but he was not long to remain there.
After 10 long years of growing irritation between England and America the first blow had been struck. The enraged farmers had followed the intruding British from Concord and Lexington to the very defenses of Boston, and then with their numbers ever increasing they settled down in a great half-circle around the town with the purpose of driving Gage, the British commander, into his ships. Everything was in confusion and men came and went much as they chose, kept to their task only by the efforts of a few natural leaders. When the men of New Hampshire and Rhode Island and Connecticut came, not even the fanatic zeal of the siege could banish the provincial jealousies. It was plain to all that there could be no great thing accomplished without a strong leader, one who would make men forget, for a time at least, the most prominent fact in colonial life — the jealous love that every man had for his own colony.
The Continental Congress was forced after a month of hesitation to assume the army before Boston as the “Continental Army.” As a commander-in-chief they needed a man who could by his personal influence draw the southern and middle colonies into the struggle which New England had thus far made alone. In this critical moment John Adams saw the wisdom of binding the South to New England's fortunes by choosing a Virginian to lead her army. Local prejudice would have chosen John Hancock, who was bitterly chagrined that he missed the office. At Adams' suggestion the choice fell upon Col. George Washington, who every day since the session began had sat in Congress in his uniform.
The new commander-in-chief was a physical giant, over six feet, and of well-proportioned weight. His composed and dignified manner, and his majestic walk marked him an aristocrat and a masterful man. This character was heightened by a well-shaped, though not large head set on a superb neck. His blue-gray eyes, though penetrating, were heavy-browed and widely separated, suggesting a slow and sure mind rather than wit, and brilliant imagination. Passion and patience, nicely balanced, appeared in the regular, placid features, with the face muscles under perfect control. A resolutely closed mouth and a firm chin told of the perfect moral and physical courage. His clear, pale, and colorless skin never flushed in the greatest emotion, though his face then became flexible and expressive. Mentally, the directive faculties were the more marked. He had been but half-educated, with no culture except that coming of good companionship. From that he had learned rather the tastes of a country gentleman, courtesy, hospitality and a love of sport. The soundness of his judgment and the solidity of his information were the notable qualities. He had little legal learning and was too shy and diffident for effective speech. His eloquence was the eloquence of battle. It had the note of challenge, and the gesture of chivalry when it threw down the gage of mortal combat. “I will raise one thousand men,” he said in 1775, “at my own expense, and march myself at their head for the relief of Boston.” Of original statesmanship he had little, but he had “common sense lifted to the level of genius.” Believing in a course, he followed it, single-minded, just, firm and patient. No rash action or personal caprice was ever charged to him. He was able to bear great responsibility, and courageously to meet unpopularity and misrepresenation. There was no flaw in his devotion. He was “often anxious, but never despondent.” “Defeat is only a reason for exertion,” he wrote. “We shall do better next time.” This spirit, and his gift for military administration, were the winning traits in the years to come.
On the day before the Continental army fought at Bunker Hill, 16 June 1775, Washington accepted the command in his modest way, refusing to accept any pay for his services, except his actual expenses. To his wife, the one person to whom he could lay bare his heart, he wrote: “I assure you in the most solemn manner that so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it . . . from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity.” “A kind of destiny” had thrown him into this service, and he could not refuse.
Upon his arrival at Boston, 2 July, Washington found his army an armed mob. They had done creditable things, but in a blundering, unmilitary way. Rude lines of fortifications extended around Boston, but they were executed with crude tools and without competent engineers. A few officers were looking after the commissary department, but there was no head. No able officer looked after the recruiting and mustering service, or the barracks or hospital, and there was only a haphazard method of paying the soldiers. There was no uniform, and the very differences in costume augmented the colonial jealousies and self-consciousness. All that distinguishes a well-drilled and equipped army from a mob was wanting; yet here was the weapon with which Washington was expected to defeat the armies of the most powerful nation of the world. Only by the exercise of all his gifts as an administrator did he get even the semblance of an army. His own great care for details, his method and punctuality had their effect upon others, and, though there was malingering, desertion and petty mutinies, the enemy never knew that the army before Boston was often on the point of dissolution. When, in December, the terms of enlistment ran out, Washington even succeeded, as he said, in disbanding one army and raising another within cannon shot of the enemy. Then early in March 1776 he made an adroit move, seized Dorchester Heights, and left the British nothing to do but evacuate Boston in the utmost haste.
The American leader had scored his first triumph, and, that assured, he hastened with his army to New York, where, it was shrewdly judged, the British would strike next. Congress urged him to hold the city at all hazards, and contrary to his better sense, he attempted the impossible. Without the control of the sea, New York, on its narrow strip of land thrust far down between two navigable waters, was a deadly trap. A military genius would have refused the risk, but Washington ventured it, half believing for a time that he might succeed. He placed his army in a position where every probability pointed to defeat, followed by almost certain capture or destruction. Had Howe not taken such tender care of his enemy's safety, all might have ended there. Washington was able to withdraw from Brooklyn, 30 Aug. 1776, after the defeat on Long Island, and then to evacuate New York and get behind the Haarlem, because, as an English critic said, Howe calculated with the greatest accuracy the exact time necessary to allow his enemy to escape. The unbounded confidence of Washington's countrymen had proved too much on this occasion for even his steady judgement, and in response to their enthusiasm he had tried to hold a position and defend a place for which his resources were inadequate. He had become for the moment a source of danger to the Americans because they did not understand his real greatness.
Washington realized keenly his own lack of military experience on a large scale — he had no heaven-born genius, and he knew it. The skill that he finally attained was that which a strong-brained, sensible man would get in any vocation which he plied industriously, and to which he gave his heart. Washington learned as he fought, and his early errors with the consequent disaster grew steadily less, until, as a master of his profession he issued from the war without a peer and almost beyond the reach of envy. Yet not even his ultimate military greatness explains his real service to his countrymen. It was the confidence that Washington inspired as a man, rather than his great genius as a soldier, which made him the only man in America who could carry the Revolution to a successful issue.
After losing New York Washington fought step by step, as he retreated, repulsing the British at Haarlem Heights and holding his own at White Plains, 28 Oct. 1776, but the meddling of Congress cost him some 3,000 men captured in Fort Washington, and then there was nothing for him but a retreat from the Hudson through New Jersey. This was not the only time that the democratic faction in Congress forced their military plans upon their commander-in-chief. He was much hampered at first by Congressional interference in his military plans, but he soon won the limitless faith of these democratic enthusiasts, conquering all their fear of military despotism and gaining in the disposal of his own army the supremacy of a Frederick or a Gustavus Adolphus.
As the American army fell back mile after mile the character of the leader was tested to its utmost. His generals grew insubordinate, his men deserted by whole companies, throughout the Jerseys thousands took oath of allegiance to George III, and everywhere there were murmurs of discontent with this sort of a campaign. Then it was seen that Washington's courage was not mere disregard of danger, but the sort that long endures uncertainty and never shrinks responsibility, bearing in silence temporary unpopularity or exasperating misrepresentation.
When the army at last crossed the Delaware the roll-call would muster but 3,000 men. Straining his powers to the furthest bounds, Washington kept this force together, and added as many more. Concerning some of his extraordinary measures, Washington wrote Congress: “A character to lose, an estate to forfeit, the inestimable blessing of liberty at stake, and a life devoted must be my excuse,” Before the holidays he was ready to strike a blow for liberty, and to sustain his character. Crossing the Delaware, 25 Dec. 1776, in spite of pitchy darkness and grinding ice, he marched through a sleeting storm nine miles to Trenton. The Hessians there were surprised and driven to surrender. Some 900 prisoners were taken to the other side of the river, and then Washington crossed again to win another victory at Princeton. The whole situation was changed. The wretched retreat was forgotten or regarded as only the prelude to the startling and brilliant victories. In England, Walpole declared that Washington was both a Fabius and a Camillus. His whole campaign got a new color because of its issue. In the Russian court, in Frederick's cabinet, and in the aristocratic circles of Paris, Madrid and Vienna the campaign was praised as if the end had been in Washington's view from the first. The victories made Washington's military reputation rest on something tangible, to which men might point. Mere faith such as the Americans had shown heretofore had little effect on foreign critics. The European soldiers grew more interested, and their favorable opinion had vast influence in winning foreign aid. Washington had been so consistently patient and brave in adversity, so silent under unjust criticism, never talking down his mistakes, or glossing his errors, that the hour of victory brought its ten-fold reward in sympathy and confidence. He had quietly assumed so much obloquy that any stint of his praise seemed unjust and ungenerous. The victories renewed American confidence in their leader, and from that time on whatever there was of unity for political or military purposes among the 13 States came of the common faith in Washington.
Congress now put its whole trust in him — until a temporary reverse put him again in the shadow of its distrust. It provided for long enlistments to take the place of the evanescent three months' levies that had ruined Washington's army heretofore, just as he had it drilled. He was made a veritable dictator as to all that might affect the success of the army, its discipline and its supplies. It was well that the commander-in-chief had made this brilliant stroke, which appealed to all those who saw only the surface of the Revolution. For 18 months thereafter nothing but reverse and misfortune and terrible trial fell to the leader's lot. While Gates was gathering unearned laurels at Saratoga, and the American cause was vastly advanced by Burgoyne's defeat and the consequent French alliance — while others were getting glory and significant victories, Washington was manœuvring with Howe, always refusing battle, or, as at Brandywine Creek, 11 Sept. 1777, and Germantown, 4 Oct. 1777, meeting defeat. To the superficial observer there was only failure for Washington and success for his rivals. There seemed no great work in merely keeping an army together, delaying Howe and keeping him from going north to Burgoyne's rescue. When, at last, the British settled down cosily in the “rebel capital” — when Philadelphia had taken Howe, as Franklin so cleverly expressed it — Washington encamped at Valley Forge, 19 Dec. 1777, his popularity waning at the very moment when he began to render his greatest service to his country. There in the most trying hour, he continued to do what had been his greatest task from the first. In spite of jealous States and a wrangling Congress, and while deprived of all that source of power which a strong government gives to a commander, Washington kept together a starved and suffering army by his personal firmness, patience and judicious handling of men.
While the burden of his trial was greatest there grew up in Congress an ugly scheme to put Gates in Washington's place. From the first there had been intrigue among the officers. “I am wearied to death,” John Adams wrote, after a visit to the army, “with the wrangles between military officers high and low. They quarrel like cats and dogs. They worry one another like mastiffs, scrambling for rank and pay like apes for nuts.” Amid this Washington had lived disturbed, but not concerned for himself. Now Congress was implicated in the plotting. Some were impatient with the Fabian policy, and, like Adams, wanted “a short and violent war.” A conceited or vain man would have resigned and let the whole cause go to perdition as a vindication of himself, but Washington was nobler than that. Throughout the Revolution he kept the same spirit that animated him in the earlier years of border fighting. Then he had declared: “I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy, provided that would contribute to the people's ease.” He could “die by inches to save a people.” During the Revolution he risked reputation, sacrificed popularity, suffered in mind and heart all that he had been willing to suffer in body to “save a people.” Now he silently watched the plot ripen, and at the right moment exposed it with a royal contempt that quite crushed the plotters.
When the winter was gone there came the news of the French alliance. A fleet from France was menacing the British army in Philadelphia, and orders came for the evacuation of the city. They began a march toward New York across New Jersey. At Monmouth, 28 June 1778, the American army fell upon them, and, but for the cowardly or traitorous conduct of General Lee, nothing but the fragments of the English army would have reached its destination. In that moment men saw what a tempestuous nature Washington habitually held in check. He stopped the retreat that Lee had unaccountably ordered, and in ungoverned rage cursed him for a coward. The troops were rallied, and they successfully engaged the enemy, but the moment for victory had been lost. The British reached New York in safety and Washington took a post on the Hudson.
Now came the supreme test that proved the American leader's unrivaled fitness for the work that he had to do. For three years, while Congress was helpless, unable to tax or get aid from the States, while it paid the soldiers in paper, so valueless that the pay of a colonel would not purchase oats for his horse, while nothing but a forced levy would secure food for the army, when a hundred men a month went over to the enemy in sheer desperation with suffering for food and clothing, while the great country that had so much at stake seemed absolutely indifferent — in the midst of blank despair Washington kept his heart and his purpose. Again and again he was disappointed by the failure of the promised aid from France — the naval aid that would prevent the British escape by sea if they wars worsted on land. At last, however, the moment came when De Grasse with a French fleet held a temporary control of the sea, and Lafayette had pushed Cornwallis out on the peninsula at Yorktown. A few days' hesitation would have lost the opportunity, but the man who had waited three years knew the moment for action when he saw it. Making a feint that deceived the enemy at New York, he got well on the way before his aim was guessed. For 400 miles he urged his eager army, and brought 6,000 men to Lafayette's aid at just the hour to render Comwallis' escape impossible. The siege that then began could have but one end as long as De Grasse controlled the sea. The British surrendered, 19 Oct. 1781, and the war was ended.
From the Painting by Stuart
As men looked back over the years of strife, they saw clearly that the greatest factor in the final success of the Revolution was the personal leadership of Washington. If we seek an explanation, it was not his great mind, for Franklin's was greater; not his force, energy, or ingenuity, for Benedict Arnold surpassed him in these qualities; not his military experience, for Charles Lee's was far more extensive; but it was the strength of character which day by day won the love of his soldiers and the perfect confidence of his countrymen. The absence of a mean ambition, the one desire of serving well his country and his fellow men, the faithfulness that could not be driven from its task through jealousy or resentment — these were the traits that gave him an unique and solitary place among the world's heroes.
Washington's service to his country was not to end with Yorktown. As he had been “first in war,” because he was most fitted, so his unique character and pre-eminent place in American hearts fated him to become “first in peace.” His last success had still more firmly fixed his power among the people. Their thoughts and imaginations were filled with him. But they had not even yet seen the sublimity of his character. With a discontented and insubordinate army still in arms and with no real government in existence, Washington was the only source of authority and law that had anything more than a local influence. The weak Union might have at once lost all cohesion, and America might have degenerated into a number of petty, feeble and hostile States. Worse than that, the hopes for an American republic might have been indefinitely delayed, for, in the despair which settled upon many, there seemed but one escape from the political storm that threatened — they would make Washington king. In the army this plan was gravely considered, but when broached to Washington, he expressed himself as pained that such ideas existed in the army. “I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems big with the greatest mischief that can befall my country.” To nobody could such a thought be more disagreeable, he declared earnestly. “Let me conjure you, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind.”
When the country seemed indifferent to the deserts of the army, when there was talk of disbanding it without provision for the future or even pay for what it had done, and when as a natural result there was mutiny and threat that the army would take government into its own hands — then it was Washington who tirelessly urged upon Congress and upon the States the justice of the soldiers' claims. Though he longed to go back to his home and to have his work done, yet he waited through months of weariness until the British really left the country, and until the proper laws at least had been made to insure the soldiers' rights. Then at last he stood among his officers at Fraunce's Tavern, bidding them to take him by the hand, while he gave them each and all the warm-hearted farewell that so fittingly ended their long years of trial and companionship.
For a brief time Washington now became “a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac . . . free from the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life,” planning as he said to “move gently down the stream of time until I sleep with my fathers.” He did not see in this happy hour that his past services had but devoted him to further duties, and that he had became “the focus of political intelligence for the New World.” Even before resigning his leadership he had urged the States to put faction and jealousy away and make “an indissoluble union under one federal head.” As the affairs of the confederation became more and more deranged, and America, “like a young heir,” as Washington wrote, wantoned and ran riot until its reputation was brought to the brink of ruin, their great leader warned them that it was in the choice of the States and depended upon their conduct, whether they would be respectable and prosperous, or contemptible and miserable as a nation.
The politically starved Congress grew daily weaker. It could not even persuade the States to carry out the terms of the treaty of peace or pay their debts to foreign countries. Congress was despised at home, and America was disgraced abroad. The world looked on to see the confederation go to pieces. Within the individual States the mob seemed to have gained control and the law-giving bodies abandoned themselves to paper money and other economic vagaries. There was quarreling over State boundaries and commercial restrictions, one State against another until thoughtful men like Washington urged that, if they were not a united people, they should no longer act the farce of pretending it. At last, however, his own endeavors united with others brought about a convention of the States, and that led to another which met at last in May of 1787, at Philadelphia, destined, if not purposed, to give America a new and stronger form of government. To that convention Washington reluctantly came. He thought himself a soldier but no statesman. When at last he was persuaded that the chief hope for success must come from his approval, and that his mere presence would lend dignity and power to the convention, he yielded. As the delegates slowly assembled, he grew eager for the success of the work, and would listen to no half-way measures. “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair,” he said to those who talked of a weak plan. When the work began he was chosen president of the convention, and, though he was no parliamentarian, his prominent place lent gravity and steadiness to the business.
After the Constitution was completed, and when it was before the country for approval, Washington had never been seen so eager for anything as for the adoption of the new scheme of government. It was only by active letter-writing that he used his influence, however, for the work of the politicians was out of character for him. The final success was very grateful to him, but, when the new government was being set up, and the whole country turned to him as their choice for President, he held back, diffident and reluctant. He yielded at last because, as Hamilton represented to him, “In a matter so essential to the well-being of society as the prosperity of a newly instituted government, a citizen of so much consequence as yourself to its success has no option but to lend his services.”
His was a noble figure to stand in the forefront of a nation's history. His simple manner well graced a republic, and yet there was a gravity and a lofty courtesy that lent dignity to democratic forms. His own self-mastery was a living lesson to democracy with its ill-repute for turbulence. No more fitting ideal of manhood could have been chosen for a new republic. It is, indeed, creditable to the men of that day that they were won by a character so unpretentious.
The political leadership was very unattractive to Washington. When the formality of election was over, he went to the seat of government with “feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of execution.” He bade adieu to private life and to domestic felicity, going to his new duties with resolution, but anticipating no joy in them. On his way the demonstrations of the people only filled him with forebodings. “The decorations of the ships, the roar of the cannon, and the loud acclamations of the people which rent the skies as I walked along the streets, filled my mind with sensations as painful as they are pleasant.” After he had sworn, 30 April 1789, in the open balcony of the Federal Hall, that he would faithfully execute the office of President of the United Stales, he read his address in the Senate Chamber. “The magnitude and difficulty of the trust,” be protested once more, “could not but overwhelm with despondence one who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature, and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies.”
He realized keenly from the first that he walked “on untrodden ground.” Scarcely any part of his conduct might not thereafter be drawn into precedent. There must not be a government only, but a body of public opinion that would uphold it. Governmental action must be mixed of firmness, prudence and conciliation, said Washington, if it would win liking and loyalty as well as respect. He resolved to give it every proper form of dignity, ceremony and prestige that would appeal to the imagination of the people. Men must see that it was a real government, supreme in the land. To this end he adopted forms that some thought stiff, some unrepublican, but which all were soon taught to respect. “If there are rules of proceeding,” he wisely concluded, “which have originated from the wisdom of statesmen, and are sanctioned by the common assent of nations, it would not be prudent for a young State to dispense with them altogether.”
It was not by this conservatism alone that he gave strength to the new government, but by that unerring judgment which led him to choose men like Hamilton, Knox, Jefferson and Randolph, and then to take for his guide Hamilton, the greatest of these for the present needs of the government. Natural leader as Washington was, he recognized the gifts and talents of others, and gave to each the task for which he was fitted. Hamilton's genius in affairs had not been in just the lines along which he was now to act, but his bold and original mind Washington saw to be a fit instrument to set the new government on a strong foundation. Hamilton quickly demonstrated the wisdom of the President's choice. He funded the public debt and established confidence in the nation's honesty. He prevailed upon Congress to assume the State debts and thus transferred the interest of creditors to the central government. A bank of the United States was created at his call, the “implied powers” of the Constitution being thus brought to the support of a strong government, and the commercial classes won by this attention to their interests. He was enabled to do these things successfully because he had the strong will of Washington with him. The fiscal measures had been made the President's own, because he was convinced that they were right, not merely that they were expedient. The end that was sought was the purpose that Washington held from the first, a strong and righteous government.
Hardly had things been set aright in the new nation's household than there came disturbing forces from abroad. The French people had gone upon a wild quest for liberty that threatened to turn the world upside down. The madness spread even to America — or rather seemed to leap by a strong attraction straight to America's democratic shores. France was soon fighting the conservative world, and what was more fitting than that liberal America should come to her aid? A French agent hastened to America to ask the people that very question. Washington determined that America, herself but “in a convalescent state,” should not be drawn into the European struggle. She was too provincial at the best, too interested in European opinion and politics, and too oblivious of her own nationality. “I want an American character,” the wise President declared, “that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves, and not for others.” He would avoid their disputes and their politics, and be purposed “if they will harass one another, to avail ourselves of the neutral conduct we have adopted.” Washington, with a few others, stood almost alone in the advocacy of statesmanship rather than sentiment. In a few months, however, the public eyes were able to see more clearly, and the administration got the support that it deserved. The demands of the French revolutionary government were refused, and the President issued a proclamation of neutrality.
Meanwhile the country had learned that the new central government proposed to enforce its laws even within State boundaries. The rebellion in the back counties of Pennsylvania was quelled by the strong action of the central power. There could be no return to the time when there was no power but that of an individual State. The national government was expected thereafter to make itself fell directly upon the individual, and men began to look to it therefore in awe and reverence.
A second time Washington consented to hold the reins of power, and again, as in the Revolution, he felt the bitterness of unpopularity. All the honor that he had gained could not protect him front the hasty wrath of a people dissatisfied with his policy toward England. Because he strove for peace he was roundly abused in terms scarcely suited “to a Nero, a notorious defaulter, or even a common pickpocket.” It saddened but did not change him. He was only the more unwilling to serve another term, and, when his eight years of civil service ended, he said farewell to the people he had served through a generation. He gave them the simple advice that they most needed. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he turned for the last time from the throng that had listened to him in love and sorrow. Three years he lingered in retirement at Mount Vernon, and then died, as he had wished to live, “amid the mild concerns of ordinary life.”
Bibliography. — Baker, W. S., ‘Itinerary of Washington’ (Philadelphia 1892); Carrington, H. B., ‘Washington the Soldier’; Ford, P. L., ‘The True George Washington’ (Philadelphia 1896); Harrison, J. A., ‘Washington’ (1906); Haworth, P. L., ‘George Washington: Farmer’ (Indianapolis 1915); Rush, R., ‘Washington in Domestic Life’ (Philadelphia 1857); Schauffler, R. H., ‘Washington's Birthday’ (New York 1910); Trevelyan, G. O., ‘The American Revolution’ (ib, 1905-12); Whipple, ‘Story Life of Washington’ (1911); lives and studies by E E. Hale (New York 1888), Washington Irving (ib. 1855-59); H. C. Lodge (in the ‘American Statesman Series,’ Boston 1898), John Marshall (Philadelphia 1804-07), B. T. Thayer (New York 1894), Woodrow Wilson (ib. 1897). Consult also ‘The Writings of George Washington’ (edited by W. C. Ford, 14 vols., New York 1889-93); ‘Letters to Washington’ (edited by S. M. Hamilton, 5 vols., Boston 1898-1902); ‘Life and Writings of George Washington’ (edited by Jared Sparks, ib. 1834-37); and standard histories of the United States.