« ForrigeFortsæt »
this constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good.' And Washington's opinion was exactly the same. 'In the aggregate,' he said, “it is the best constitution that can be obtained at this epoch.'
After all the states had signified their acceptance of the constitution, congress passed an act, appointing the first Wednesday of February 1789 as the day on which the people were to choose the electors of the president, according to the provision made in the constitution, and the first Wednesday of March as the day on which these electors were to meet and choose the president. When the day of election came, the electors did their duty, by unanimously declaring George Washington the first president of the United States. Leaving Mount Vernon on the 16th of April 1789, he set out for New York. The journey was a triumphal procession ; people gathered all along the road; and his entry into every town was celebrated by the ringing of bells and the firing of cannons.
He made his public entry into New York on the 23d of April ; and on the 30th, he was solemnly inaugurated, and took the oaths of office. He was now fifty-seven years of age.
WASHINGTON AS PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. As soon as Washington had assumed the presidency, he requested the heads of the various departments of the government, as it was then carried on-the secretary of state, the secretary of war, the secretary of foreign affairs, and the secretaries of the treasury—to draw up an elaborate report, each of the affairs of his own department. These reports Washington read and condensed with his own hand; and at the same time he perused with care the whole of the official records from the treaty of peace down to his own election to the presidency, making an abridgment of them for his own use. Thus he acquired a thorough understanding of the condition of the nation over which he presided.
We have seen that, while commander-in-chief of the armies, Washington exercised a vigilant superintendence over his private affairs, and this superintendence he continued to exercise while burdened with the cares of civil government. Every week he received accurate reports from the manager he had left in charge of Mount Vernon, these reports being drawn up according to a form which he had himself prepared. In this way he perceived what was going on at Mount Vernon almost as distinctly as if he had been on the spot; and once a week at least he wrote a letter of directions to his bailiff, in reply to the reports sent. So laboriously accurate was he, that this letter of directions was usually copied from a rough draft. It is another proof of the extreme interest which Washington took in agricultural pursuits, that, during his presidency, he kept up a correspondence with the most skilful agriculturists both in Europe and America, exchanging his ideas on the subject with them.
At first there was no established etiquette at Washington's court as to the times when he should receive visitors ; and the consequence was, that he had to receive them at all times, from morning till night, just as they pleased to come. To put a stop to this torrent of people, it was arranged that Washington should receive ordinary visitors on Tuesdays only, from three to four o'clock; while Mrs Washington in like manner received visitors on Fridays, from three to five o'clock, the president being always present at her levees. He never accepted any invitations to dinner ; but every day, except Sunday, he invited to his own table a number of guests, official persons, private friends, or foreigners who were introduced to him. On Sundays he received no company: in the mornings he regularly attended church; and the evenings he spent in the society of his own family, and such intimate friends as were privileged to drop in. During the first year of Washington's presidency his mother died at the age of eighty-two.
The first session of congress under his presidency was spent in organising the several departments of the executive. Washington, as president, nominated the heads of these departments. The celebrated Thomas Jefferson he appointed secretary of state ; Alexander Hamilton, whose political opinions were considerably less democratic than Jefferson's, was named secretary of the treasury; Henry Knox was continued in the office of secretary of war; Edmund Randolph was made attorney-general; and John Jay chief-justice. These appointments reflected great credit on Washington's sagacity and impartiality.
It is impossible, in such a paper as the present, to sketch the history of Washington's presidency ; suffice it to say, that the same talents and probity which had characterised him hitherto, appeared conspicuously in the discharge of the new duties which now fell to his lot. In nothing was his ability more manifest than in the manner in which he maintained the balance between the two political parties into which his own cabinet and the nation generally split-the federal party, whose aim was to strengthen the central authority, and the democratic party, whose aim was to increase the power of the citizens in their local courts, and in the separate state legislatures. The head of the former party was Henderson; the head of the latter was Jefferson. Washington personally inclined to the former ; but, as president, he made it his object to make the different elements work as harmoniously as possible. It was impossible, however, to prevent the parties from diverging more and more ; and as Washington's term of presidency was drawing to a close, fears began to be entertained of the consequences which might result from such a division of opinion. The nation had not yet been consolidated, and a struggle between the federal and the democratic party might produce the most disastrous effects. The only means of preventing such a
calamity was the re-election of Washington for another term of four years. Accordingly, all his friends and the members of his cabinet earnestly solicited him to allow himself to be re-elected. With considerable reluctance Washington yielded to these solicitations, and suffered himself to be re-elected. The time of his re-election was just that at which the French Revolution was at its height; and it required all Washington's skill and strength of purpose to prevent the United States from being drawn into the vortex of a European
But although he succeeded in preserving the neutrality of the states, there were many citizens who sympathised with the French revolutionists, and the democratic party, with Jefferson at its head, was gaining ground. So vehement did the struggle between the two parties become towards the end of Washington's second presidency, that even he did not escape the attacks of calumny, and the accusations of an excited public.
So disturbed was the state of political opinion in the union, that many were anxious that Washington should, for a third time, accept the office of president; but against this proposal he was resolute. Accordingly, in 1797, the election of a new president took place. John Adams, of the federalist party, having the largest number of votes, was declared president; Thomas Jefferson, of the democratic party, having the next largest number, was appointed vice-president. Adams was inaugurated on the 4th of March ; and immediately after the ceremony Washington retired to Mount Vernon, where he resided for two years and a half, finding a recreation in his old age in those quiet agricultural pursuits which had always been his delight. On the rumour of the probability of a war with France, he was, indeed, appointed commander-in-chief; but he had no occasion to take the field. His health continued to be remarkably good; and, to all appearance, the day of his death was yet distant. But on the 12th of December 1799, having gone out as usual to give directions to his labourers, he was overtaken, when riding home, by a storm of sleet and rain. When he came in, his neck was wet, and the snow had lodged itself in the locks of his hair. Next day he felt that he had taken a cold, but anticipated no danger. He read the newspapers as usual, seemed very cheerful, and when asked to take something for his cold, said : ‘No; you know I never take anything for a cold. Let it go as it came. Before morning he was much worse ; he breathed with difficulty, and could scarcely speak. He had himself bled by one of his overseers, and his friend Dr Craik was sent for. The remedies tried produced no effect. A little after four, he desired Mrs Washington to bring two wills which she would find in his desk. After looking at them, he gave her one, which he said was useless, as it was superseded by the other, and desired her to burn it ; which she did. Shortly after, he said to Mr Tobias Lear, who lived with him in the capacity of secretary and superintendent of his affairs : 'I find I am going. My breath cannot last long. I believed from the first that the disorder would be fatal. Do you arrange and record all my late military letters and papers. Arrange my accounts, and settle my books, as you know more about them than any one else, and let Mr Rawlins finish recording my other letters, which he has begun.' To Dr Craik he said : 'Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.' For some hours he was uneasy and restless, often asking what o'clock it was. About ten, he said with some difficulty to Mr Lear: 'I am just going. Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead. Towards eleven o'clock, he died without a struggle or sigh. Mrs Washington, who was sitting at the foot of the bed, asked:
Is he gone?' 'It is well,' she said, when told that he was; 'all is now over ; I shall soon follow him ; I have no more trials to pass through.
Washington died on the 14th of December 1799, aged sixty-seven years. He was buried at Mount Vernon on the 18th. The news of his death was speedily carried through America, and all over Europe; and everywhere men vied with each other in doing honour to his memory.
One circumstance connected with the death of this great man it is gratifying to record. On his estate, as we have already mentioned, there was a large number of negro slaves. Part of these belonged to Washington himself; the rest were the property of Mrs Washington. During his life, the founder of American liberty seems to have acted, in the matter of slaves, in no more humane or enlightened spirit than any other Virginia gentleman of the time; but at his death he left a benevolent clause in his will, directing that all the slaves he possessed in his own right should be emancipated after Mrs Washington's death. During her life, they were still to continue slaves, because their emancipation, during that period,
though earnestly wished by him, would be attended with insuperable difficulties,' on account of their intermarriage with Mrs Washington's own negroes, whom it was not in his power to manumit. At Mrs Washington's death, however, his executors, or the survivors of them, were solemnly enjoined to see the clause in his will respecting the emancipation of the slaves, and every part thereof, religiously fulfilled, without evasion, neglect, or delay.' Such of the negroes thus emancipated as should be old and unable to work, were to be comfortably fed and clothed by his heirs so long as they lived. Such of the young negroes as might have no parents living at the date of their emancipation, or whose parents might be unable or unwilling to provide for them, were to be “bound by the court till they should arrive at the age of twenty-five years;' and negro children thus bound were to “be taught to read and write, and brought up to some useful occupation, agreeably to the laws of the commonwealth of Virginia providing for the support of orphan and other poor children.' În the meantime, until the emancipation
should take place, he expressly forbade 'the sale or transportation out of the commonwealth of any slave he might die possessed of, under any pretence whatsoever. To one of his slaves, a mulatto man named William Lee, he granted immediate liberty, with an annuity of thirty dollars.
The character of Washington has been often sketched, but probably never with such truth and ability as by his con
mporary, and in many respects his rival in greatness, Thomas Jefferson. Although, in the circle of his friends,' says Jefferson, where he might be unreserved with safety, he took a free share in conversation, his colloquial talents were not above mediocrity, possessing neither copiousness of ideas nor fluency of words. In public, when called on for a sudden opinion, he was unready, short, and embarrassed; yet he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world; for his education was merely reading, writing, and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying. His time was employed in action chiefly, reading little, and that only in agriculture and English history. His correspondence became necessarily extensive, and, with journalising. his agricultural proceedings, occupied most of his leisure hours within doors. On the whole, his character was, in the mass, perfect; in nothing bad, in a few points indifferent; and it may be truly said that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great, and to place him in the same constellation with whatever worthies have merited from men an everlasting remembrance. For his was the singular destiny and merit of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war for the establishment of its independence ; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down in a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example.'