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Title: George Washington

Author: Ferdinand Schmidt

Translator: George P. Upton

Release date: September 4, 2019 [eBook #60236]

Language: English

Credits: E-text prepared by D A Alexander, Stephen Hutcheson, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team ( from page images generously made available by Internet Archive (



E-text prepared by D A Alexander, Stephen Hutcheson,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
from page images generously made available by
Internet Archive


Note: Images of the original pages are available through Internet Archive. See





George Washington


Life Stories for Young People


Translated from the German of
Ferdinand Schmidt

Translator of “Memories,” “Immensee,” etc.




A. C. McClurg & Co.

Published September, 1911

[W · D · O]


Translator’s Preface

Among all the numerous life stories written by Ferdinand Schmidt for the delectation and education of German youth, none surpasses that of Washington. The author has condensed his material, drawn from the most authoritative sources, in a masterly manner, and presents it in a very attractive form. He has accompanied it by moralization which is pertinent, but never becomes tedious. It is questionable, indeed, whether any story of Washington’s life written for young people excels Schmidt’s in accuracy, conciseness, and general interest. As such this sketch of the Father of his Country from a German point of view is commended to American youth.

G. P. U.

Chicago, May, 1911



Chapter Page
I Boyhood 11
II The Surveyor 25
III Three Years in the Wilderness 32
IV The Ambassador 38
V Washington’s First Battles 45
VI A Year of Peace 54
VII Quarrel with the Mother Country 68
VIII A Trial of Arms 78
IX Washington Chosen Commander-in-Chief 82
X Washington Before Boston 86
XI The Declaration of Independence 93
XII Trying Times 98
XIII Washington Crosses the Delaware 106
XIV Lafayette—Kosciuszko—Steuben 113
XV Peace is Declared 120
XVI Washington’s Farewell to the Army 126
XVII Last Days 135
XVIII Blest be His Memory 142
  Appendix 145


George WashingtonFrontispiece
Washington among the Indians34
Washington Crossing the Delaware108
Washington as Proprietor134

George Washington

Chapter I

The contemplation of the wonders of the universe is always inspiring and uplifting—the crystalline purity of the sky, the splendor of the sunrise and sunset, the grandeur of the starry night, the fragrant forest, the smiling landscape, the tree, the flower, the boundless ocean, and all the countless manifestations of nature. But how much greater our admiration and inspiration when we reverently contemplate the progress of a noble human soul toward ever higher and higher planes of perfection! Some of the good seed which it scatters may take root in our minds to strengthen and develop the best that is in us. We perceive the possibilities of the race and what we may ourselves become if the will to strive keeps pace with a love for what is good.


In ancient times thoughtful people compared great and good souls to the stars. They rise in the spiritual firmament with a pure radiance and, ever anew breaking through the mists and clouds which obscure them, remain visible to later generations. Thus they become guiding stars for struggling human beings here below. The particular star which the reader who has the wisdom and the inclination to perfect himself is invited to study in these pages arose in the forests of Virginia on the twenty-second of February, 1732. It was there that little George first opened his eyes and looked out upon a world in which he was to play so great a part. There his negro mammy sat with him on the bench before the door, throwing crumbs to the turkeys and pigeons to amuse him, and there, under the rustling trees, he whittled his first horse out of hazelwood.


George’s father, Augustine Washington, was a planter of English extraction. His first ancestor had emigrated from England when North America was still the undisputed property of the Indians. The territory which later became the United States is almost as large as the continent of Europe. Two hundred years ago the whole country was a trackless forest, broken only by enormous morasses, cane-brakes, and savannas or grassy prairies. In the prosperous plantation house on the east bank of the Rappahannock in which George was born, piety, industry, and probity had made their habitation. That was the first blessing with which heaven dowered the boy. Of course, living in a pure and healthy moral atmosphere is not in itself all that is required to guide a youth into paths of rectitude; the will to do the right and the continual struggle to attain it can alone accomplish the greater part. Reprobates have sometimes come out of the best environments. The voice of conscience is awakened very early in the human breast and we soon know right from wrong. However, it is a great boon and a wonderful help to be surrounded by people who are examples of virtue in word and deed, and he who strays into the paths of sin in spite of such surroundings is doubly to be censured.

At that time the English immigrants lived scattered in the forest, but neighbors had already formed themselves into parishes and founded schools and churches. The schools were of course of a very simple type, nothing but reading, writing, and arithmetic being taught. Most of the settlers found this quite sufficient for their children and rich planters sent their sons to England to be educated. Lawrence Washington, George’s eldest step-brother, enjoyed these advantages. He was fourteen years older than George, who was a babe in arms when Lawrence set out on his first voyage to England, so that he could not remember his step-brother. When George was eight years old, Lawrence, now in his twenty-second year, returned. The arrival of the well-educated and well-bred young gentleman was a welcome event in the family circle, and George loved him from the first moment. Their affection was mutual, and indeed Lawrence showed a truly paternal interest in the bright, alert boy.


Their father had no intention of sending another son abroad. He looked upon Lawrence as the natural head of the family after his death and was satisfied that his probable successor had received a liberal education. Accordingly George was sent to the parish school. He applied himself eagerly to his tasks and thus laid a firm foundation, at least, for the studies which he afterward prosecuted by himself. One trait of his character showed itself very early—he did all his work with the greatest conscientiousness and neatness. Not a stroke of his pen betrayed carelessness. Some of his school books, which have been preserved, bear witness to this. He showed the same care when any work about the house was required of him. He endeavored to do whatever he had to do, however insignificant it was or might seem to be, as perfectly as possible. Of course he was not capable of appreciating at that time how important this was in the development of his character. It was simply his early awakened sense of duty, reinforced by his earnest efforts to practise what he knew to be right. It was not until later that he realized the deeper significance of work as a means of strengthening the powers of the soul. There is no kind of work which may not be either well or ill done. If you put all your capabilities into it, and the result is more or less satisfactory, you have accomplished even more than the success of the moment; you have been working for the growth of your inner self. For one who realizes this, the greatest drudgery has lost its sting. George was just as conscientious in everything which pertained to morals. He had a passionate disposition, but we learn that early in life he strove to curb his hasty temper by exercising deliberation and will power. It was therefore customary, among his school-fellows, when disagreements arose, to take them to him, and his verdict was generally accepted, for they knew that he was willing to acknowledge himself in the wrong when his fiery temper had carried him away. It was justice and not the person that had weight with him.


Another of his qualities, military talent, was early recognizable. It was an inheritance. There had been warriors among his ancestors, men of note, of whom English chronicles tell us. Several of these had so distinguished themselves as to have been knighted. George’s brother Lawrence was of a like temper, and it now happened that he had an opportunity of becoming a soldier. British commerce in the West Indies had suffered heavy losses through piratical attacks by Spain and the English government determined to avenge itself. A fleet was fitted out, and as England was the mother country of the Virginians, the recruiting drum was heard in the colony also. Lawrence volunteered and was given a captain’s commission. It was no wonder that there was considerable excitement over all this in the home of the Washingtons. George took the liveliest interest in his brother’s equipment. He thought it very proper that the robbers, of whom he had heard many dreadful stories, should be punished, and gazed at his brother’s bright sword with delight and respect. He vowed that he too would sometime help to right the wrongs of his injured countrymen in time of need. He was told many tales of his valiant ancestors. It is no wonder then that the picture of his brother as he had left home, in his war trappings, was constantly in his mind; nor that he begged for his letters, after his father had read them to the assembled family, to pore over them, especially when they had something to tell of the soldier’s adventures.


All these exciting experiences which filled his mind soon manifested themselves in his play. In place of ball and games of a like nature, war became the great game. His comrades were divided into companies. He sketched plans of battles, which were carried out. He determined the arms they were to use and held reviews. It never occurred to any of his little comrades to dispute with him the rank which he had bestowed upon himself. These occupations were also, although neither he nor any one else suspected it, more or less of a preparation for his after life. Just as he had before this been the legislator for his little circle, he was now the military chieftain. But even when playing at soldier, the peculiarity of his character, which led him to carry out everything he undertook with the greatest thoroughness, was apparent. He knew what accomplishments a soldier must strive to acquire, and now we see him practising these exercises with unflagging zeal, with the object of making his body strong and supple—such as running, leaping, wrestling, tossing bars, and the like. The leader of the little band strove to be, in reality, the first and foremost, and wished to live up to his title.


After taking part in the siege of Carthagena in the West Indies, Lawrence returned home. One can imagine with what interest George listened to his brother’s recitals! What Lawrence learned of George’s military exercises and play confirmed him in a plan which he had long ago formed and which had George’s hearty approval. He proposed to his parents that as soon as George should have reached his fourteenth year, the boy should be allowed to enter the English service as a naval cadet, and the carrying out of the plan was actually considered. Lawrence himself intended to return to his regiment to seek advancement in the army, but never did so. Instead, he fell in love with the daughter of a rich planter, William Fairfax. His advances were accepted and an engagement took place. His father was very much pleased to have his son enter into an alliance with the rich and highly esteemed house of Fairfax, but was not fortunate enough to live to see the wedding.


George was eleven years old when he stood at the grave of his excellent father. The deceased left considerable property, so that his children from both marriages were well provided for. Lawrence received an estate on the banks of the Potomac, where he took his young bride a few months later. According to the terms of the will, no guardian was appointed for the younger children, but they were left in charge of their mother—a proof of the confidence the deceased had reposed in her. She was worthy of it. Irving says of her: “She was endowed with plain, direct good sense, thorough conscientiousness, and prompt decision; she governed her family strictly, but kindly, exacting deference, while she inspired affection.” She was Washington’s second wife, and George, her first-born, was her favorite. In spite of this, or rather because of it, she was very strict with him, where she deemed it necessary to protect him from excesses, and her faithful care was rewarded. At that time Sir Matthew Hale’s “Contemplations, Moral and Divine” was held in great esteem among the educated English colonists of Virginia. It was the mother’s favorite book, from which she not only drew strength and consolation for herself, but from which she also read aloud to her children. Her friends often found her thus occupied. She not only showed great insight in the selections which she made, but the deep spiritual feeling with which she read aloud from this and sometimes from other writings made a deep impression on her young hearers. Her enthusiasm was communicated to her children, and as the whole life and doings of the household were pervaded by a spirit of moral earnestness, these impressions received by the young minds were not easily effaced, but rather were confirmed. The copy of the above-mentioned work, in which the name of “Mary W.” is written by his mother’s own hand, remained a valued memento in George’s possession all his life, and he often declared that the precepts which it contained, expounded by the soulful voice of the mother, striving for the improvement of her children, had had a decisive influence on his whole life. The book is still preserved in the archives of Mount Vernon.


George continued his school and home studies with unabated industry. It was not necessary to urge him on, but rather to warn him not to go too far in his zeal. He was filled with an ardent desire to acquire fresh insight, knowledge, and skill in something each day of his life. It was a true “thirst for knowledge.” Somewhat farther away than his first teacher, Hobby, lived another, named Williams, who widened the horizon of his schooling a little and to whom he now went to learn something of commercial bookkeeping. Although it was a dry subject, George made astonishingly rapid progress, inspired by the determination to acquire it as quickly as possible. In the realms of knowledge and skill he played the role of conqueror; mind, will, and memory were his weapons, which became sharper and more highly polished the more he used them. Careless and lazy school comrades appeared contemptible creatures to him. At this time he collected examples of all kinds of documents used in business and daily affairs. One of his collections bears the title “Written Extracts,” and we find among them prescriptions, checks, receipts, affidavits, forms of resignation, titles to property, leases, contracts, and wills. All these were copied with great care, the important words written in larger letters so that they were easily to be distinguished.


George had also made great progress in athletic attainments. He had been diligently practising the exercises of which we have spoken ever since it had been decided to let him enter the English service as a naval cadet. He considered it a matter of course that a future soldier must employ himself systematically in strengthening his muscles and acquiring the greatest possible dexterity. The place is still shown, in the neighborhood of his father’s property, where George threw a stone across the Rappahannock. He was also a fine horseman; on one occasion he mounted an unmanageable horse, to the astonishment of all onlookers, and was able to control it. In the meanwhile Lawrence had taken the necessary steps for his brother’s entrance into the English navy. A midshipman’s warrant was obtained and his luggage was packed. But at the last moment his mother, after carefully reconsidering the matter, resolved not to let her son go out into the world so early. It was not a mother’s weakness that led her to this determination. She had heard so much about the roughness of a seaman’s life it is scarcely to be wondered at that she recoiled from a plan which meant removing her son completely from his mother’s influence and cutting him off from the help and advice of his relatives. His love and the respect which he had for her opinions helped to soften the disappointment; later he was able to thank her for having, at that time especially, taken his destiny under such careful and earnest consideration.


Before we follow his life history any further, let us notice a practice of his in early life. He kept a diary in which he noted everything that aroused his interest. Besides this, he recorded significant ideas or thoughts which he found in books or heard from the lips of wise or experienced persons. It would be a very good thing for our young readers to follow his example in this. A portion of his diary bears the superscription: “Rules for Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Among them are some important truths and some of lesser significance. A number of extracts are given as they characterize George’s aspirations so well, and also in the hope that some readers may make a selection from among them and—this is only a suggestion—with it begin a diary of their own. Here are a few examples:


Every action in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those present.

In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet.

Speak not when others speak, sit not when others stand, and walk not when others stop.

Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not on any one.

They that are in dignity or office have in all places precedence; but whilst they are young, they ought to respect those who are their equals in birth, or other qualities, though they have no public charge.

It is good manners to prefer those to whom we speak before ourselves, especially if they be above us, with whom, in no sort, we ought to begin.

Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician, if you be not knowing therein.

Undertake not to teach your equal in the art he himself professes; it savors of arrogancy.

Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private, presently or at some other time, also in what terms to do it; and in reproving, show no signs of choler, but do it with sweetness and mildness.

Mock not, nor jest at anything of importance; break no jests that are sharp or biting and if you deliver anything witty or pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

Wherein you reprove another, be unblamable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precept.

Use no reproachful language against any one, neither curses nor revilings.

Be not hasty to believe flying reports, to the disparagement of any one.

In your apparel be modest, and endeavor to accommodate nature rather than procure admiration. Keep to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and orderly, with respect to time and place.

Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.

Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion admit reason to govern.

Be not forward, but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear, and answer, and be not pensive when it is a time to converse.

If two contend together, take not the part of either unconstrained, and be not obstinate in your opinion; in things indifferent be of the major side.

Reprehend not the imperfections of others, for that belongs to parents, masters, and superiors.

Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

When another speaks, be attentive yourself, and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not, nor prompt him without being desired; interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.

Be not apt to relate news, if you know not the truth thereof.

When you deliver a matter, do it without passion and indiscretion, however mean the person may be you do it to.

When your superiors talk to anybody, hear them, neither speak nor laugh.

Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions nor repeat often the same matter of discourse.

Be not angry at table, whatever happens, and if you have reason to be so, show it not, put on a cheerful countenance, especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish a feast.

When you speak of God or His attributes, let it be seriously, in reverence and honor, and obey your natural parents.

Let your recreation be manful, not sinful.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.


Chapter II
The Surveyor

After the plan of allowing him to enter the English service as a naval cadet had been abandoned, George continued his attendance at school with the intention of preparing himself to become a surveyor. Until the completion of his fifteenth year he applied himself to these studies, principally geometry and trigonometry. During his last Summer at school he made surveys of the fields and meadows belonging to the schoolhouse, and also of the neighboring plantations. This business, which was only practice for him, he carried on as conscientiously as though he were obliged to take an oath as to its accuracy. Every detail pertaining to it, such as drawings, calculations, and references, were carefully put on paper. There was not an inserted word nor a blot to be seen. If he did make a mistake, he would erase it so cleverly that it could be discovered only on the closest inspection. One could see that it was a law of his being to do everything with the greatest neatness. But he was just as particular with regard to order and oversight. Irving says of him: “Nothing was left half done, or done in a hurried and slovenly manner. The habit of mind thus cultivated continued throughout life; so that, however complicated his tasks and overwhelming his cares, in the arduous and hazardous situations in which he was often placed, he found time to do everything and to do it well. He had acquired the magic of method, which of itself works wonders.” His education was very limited outside of mathematics. Probably he did not learn even the simplest rules of grammar in school. We may infer this from his notebooks of that period, in which grammatical mistakes often occur. But even in grammar he made himself a master, when once he had fixed his attention upon it. Careful consideration and comparisons, with attentive reading of masterpieces of literature, was a training which enabled him later to express himself in pure and correct language, both in speaking and writing, and the reader will see from examples which we shall give that Washington became a master of style. But study alone could not have made purity, sincerity, and directness the most prominent characteristics of his writings. His literary style was the mirror of his character.


He appreciated his good fortune in having family connections which gave him the entrée into several cultivated family circles. His brother Lawrence was happily married, living in comfortable circumstances on his estate at Mount Vernon, and George was often there. A few miles away was Belvoir, the large property of Lawrence’s father-in-law, the above-mentioned William Fairfax. This man had passed an eventful life. He was born in England, entered the army early, took part in several campaigns, and was later appointed by the English government governor and chief justice of an island of the East Indies. He had now been living in Virginia for several years, where, for a long time, he had been president of the royal council of the colonies. The home of this experienced and kindly man, where there was a number of amiable and well-educated sons and daughters, was also open to George. Having his eyes and ears open for all that was improving, George learned many things at Belvoir. He also became acquainted there with an important and at the same time interesting personage—a nobleman of the same name from England, a cousin of William Fairfax, and therefore, since the marriage of George’s step-brother, a sort of relative of his. This Lord Fairfax was a man nearly sixty years old, over six feet tall, gaunt and rawboned, with light gray eyes, sharp features, and an aquiline nose. In England he had distinguished himself equally in the use of the sword and the pen. Through his marriage he acquired boundless territories, so to speak, in Virginia—the whole region between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers, which later was found to extend into the Allegheny Mountains. By the desire of Lord Fairfax his cousin William had hitherto managed the property, and Lord Fairfax had only recently arrived in Virginia to become acquainted for the first time with his truly princely domain. It was a wilderness, but what a wilderness!


Let us take the opportunity of saying a word about Virginia. The Allegheny Mountains divide the State into three regions: the mountainous and romantic one, with the celebrated Natural Bridge, where Cedar Creek dashes along between perpendicular walls of stone 250 feet below the rock arch; that portion farther eastward with a sandy, marshy, flat coast; and the arable, rolling, western portion bounded by the Ohio River. In the greater part of it the soil is truly luxuriant. There is fine grazing for sheep, as well as cattle. One sees maples, oaks, plantains, nut and tulip trees, lindens, elms, ash, magnolia, chestnut, cherry, and plum trees overgrown with wild grape and other vines in the beautiful forests, and there is no lack of fish and game.


Lord Fairfax had not dreamed that Virginia could be so beautiful; and how delightful the task of reclaiming a section of this virgin soil in the midst of the primeval forest seemed to him! How empty and purposeless the pleasures of the city compared with the delights of life and labor in the cultivation of the wilderness! He was never tired of admiring the estate of his cousin. He no doubt had the same feelings as Chateaubriand under the same circumstances, to which he has given utterance in the following words: “What a fascinating mixture of social and natural life reigned there! By the side of a cypress wood, charming residue of the impenetrable wilderness, was a nascent vegetation; ears of corn trembled in golden waves around the roots of a fallen oak; full sheaves, daughters of a single Summer, stood upon the site of the ancient forest; thick columns of smoke rose from the burning woods and floated away over the fertile fields, while the plough slowly cut its way through the roots of the ancient trees. Surveyors were carefully staking out the boundaries of the new estate; the wild birds had deserted their nests, the dens of wild beasts were converted into roomy cabins, and every blow of the woodman’s axe was a prophecy of the blessings which were soon to rest upon these fields.”


So the venerable but still vigorous Lord Fairfax resolved to settle down in the neighborhood and never to return to England. For a time he lived at Belvoir on the estate of his cousin. We must not conceal the fact that in spite of his enthusiasm for a planter’s life, Lord Fairfax had not forgotten to inquire whether the fox was a native of the American forests. He was passionately fond of fox hunting, and if his question had not received a favorable answer, it is more than likely that his newly awakened love for America would soon have waned. However, foxes were very numerous amongst the forest animals of this region, a circumstance which lent fresh charm to the country. But there was still another consideration. On a fox hunt one must have at least one companion; but where should he find a horseman who could in some degree compare with the former dashing cavalry officer, especially in this hilly region, covered with thickets which had never been penetrated by a human being? The reader may perhaps, ere this, have had an inkling that our George may have been a most welcome hunting companion for the grizzled lover of the hunt. And it was so. Lord Fairfax kept horses and dogs in the English style, and when the hunting season began George rode out into the woods with him every morning, and they seldom returned without trophies.


The nobleman had seen but a small portion of his extensive Virginia estate, neither had he any intention of riding through the wilderness to inspect it all, but he determined to have it surveyed, especially as he learned that people had already settled on certain portions of it without having any right to do so. Therefore he considered it very necessary to have it surveyed, so that in future the relations of settler to proprietor might be regulated according to law. Thus he was anxious to find a capable person to undertake the business. Whoever did so must, besides having a knowledge of the business, be conscientious and reliable, and must possess not a little courage. The matter was thoroughly discussed by Lord Fairfax, William Fairfax, and Lawrence Washington. The latter was able to show calculations and surveys which George had made shortly before this on his own property. The result of the conference was that Lord Fairfax felt perfect security in confiding the survey to our George, who had just completed his sixteenth year. He had taken it for granted that George would not refuse, and he was not mistaken. It is evident that the commission was very flattering to George, and that the execution of it was calculated to perfect him in his profession. In addition to this he was to receive a considerable sum of money for the work which he would have been glad to do for its own sake. His diary tells us that he was to receive a doubloon for every full day’s work, which is about $7.50 in our money. He first went home to get his mother’s permission to undertake the business. Every ambitious youth will appreciate what his feelings were, how his heart glowed at the thought of telling his mother of this honor which had befallen him and which was to be, in every way, so profitable.


Chapter III
Three Years in the Wilderness

Young Washington was tall and of athletic build, which, together with his manner, made him seem older than he was. It did not occur to any one to treat the sixteen-year-old youth like a boy. His principal qualities were earnestness, decision, candor, and modesty. In the Spring of 1748 he set out on his surveying expedition, accompanied by the twenty-two-year-old George, son of William Fairfax, and a negro, all three on horseback. At that time the beautiful chain of the Blue Ridge Mountains formed the western boundary of inhabited Virginia. The little party was obliged to traverse these in order to reach the territory which they were to survey. The tops of the mountains were still covered with snow and ice, while Spring had already sown the valleys with flowers. They had to ride over rocky passes and through thickets to reach their destination. The greatest difficulty they encountered was in crossing the mountain torrents, swollen by the melting snows, but courage and resourcefulness helped them to surmount all obstacles. Crossing a pass, they at last reached the chief valley of Virginia, which is nearly twenty-five miles broad and very beautiful. The clear river which flows through it was called “The Daughter of the Stars” by the Indians, because of its loveliness.


George outdid himself in glowing descriptions of the region in his diary, but from the moment when real work began there is not a trace of such descriptions to be found in the book. From that time he lived only for his work. As it was seldom that the little company chanced upon the hut of a squatter, George and his companions spent most of their nights around a campfire in the forest. Their food consisted, for the most part, of wild turkeys. A fork-shaped stick was the spit and a chip of wood the plate. Of course George had to expect and be prepared to meet with Indians, so that he and his companions had armed themselves. It was natural that the Indians should not be very friendly to the settlers. They looked upon the country as their property and upon the white squatters as interlopers and robbers. There was much cruelty practised on both sides. Fairly considered, one must admit that the Indians had shown themselves incapable of any kind of communal development, and it would have been a pity for such an enormous territory, immensely rich in some portions, to have remained in the sole possession of a race which was incapable of civilization and which probably never numbered over one hundred thousand people. In contrast to the Indians, the increase of the Europeans was extraordinary. In his own peculiar but essentially just manner, this was once commented upon by an Indian chief, called by the Americans “Little Turtle,” in a speech to the whites. It is a strange and incomprehensible thing about the white people. Scarcely two generations have passed since you set foot on our soil, and already you cover it like a swarm of insects, while we aborigines, who have lived here no one knows how long, are almost as few in number as the deer which we hunt. To be sure, you palefaces know how to make use of a piece not much bigger than my hand. On a patch only fifteen or twenty times as great as this room, a white man will raise enough food to keep him for a full year. He takes another bit of land grown with grass and herbs and raises his cattle upon it, which supply him with milk and meat. We red men, on the contrary, need immense territories, for the deer which we kill and which scarce provides us with food for two days, needs a great region in which to attain its proper growth. And when we have killed two or three hundred deer, it is the same as though we had destroyed all the grass and woods on which they subsisted. The white men spread out like oil on a blanket, while we melt away like snow in the spring sunshine, and if we do not soon adopt new ways, it will be impossible for the race of red men long to survive. But the Indians showed themselves incapable of learning “new ways.”



George, who had seen no Indians heretofore, met a band of about thirty warriors one day. One of them carried the scalp of an enemy, as a pennant, in front of the procession. It would have gone hard with the little company if the Indians had attacked them, which would no doubt have happened if they had shown any signs of fear. A small present of liquor procured them the spectacle of a war dance. The Indians kindled a fire in the midst of an open space and seated themselves in a circle around it. Then the chief began to extol their deeds of valor, his voice and gestures becoming more and more animated. The warriors sat with bowed heads, as in a dream. Suddenly, as though awakened by the glowing description of their heroic deeds, a warrior sprang up and began a curious, wild dance. One after another followed his example, until most of them were leaping about the blazing fire, emitting frightful cries and seeming more like demons than human beings. Music was not lacking for this spectacle. One savage drummed on a deerskin, which was stretched over a kettle half filled with water, and another played upon an instrument made of a hollow gourd, which contained a number of pieces of shot and was decorated with a horse’s tail.


The survey was completed and in little more than a month’s time George arrived at Mount Vernon, where he gave an account of his work to Lord Fairfax and received the acknowledgment of his complete satisfaction. Young Washington had, with the accomplishment of this piece of work, taken his diploma, so to speak, as a surveyor. His reputation was established, and before he was seventeen he received the appointment as public surveyor, and his work, from this time, was officially accepted by the public authorities of Virginia. He received orders from many quarters and for three years devoted himself to his growing business. We may know how conscientiously he did his work from the fact that down to this day, in Virginia, the surveys are relied upon which are officially recorded under his name. Lord Fairfax immediately made arrangements for the cultivation of a beautiful portion of his large property on the other side of the Blue Ridge. He laid out a gentleman’s estate of ten thousand acres of pasture and farm lands, which he called Greenway Court.


The greater part of the three years George spent in the beautiful but lonely forest. What a contrast this is to the enervating life of many youths in our great cities! The grand impressions of nature strengthened and steeled him in body and mind. The solitude of the woods stimulated him to dwell upon the noblest thoughts and emotions. In the intervals of work he spent more or less time with his step-brother, Lawrence’s father-in-law, and Lord Fairfax. Association with these men of fine breeding kept his manners from deteriorating in spite of his life in the wilderness. It is not surprising that he gained confidence in himself through his work and because of the confidence with which it was accepted by every one else. And the labor of these three years was of still greater advantage to him in another way, which he did not appreciate until later. How could the young surveyor dream that before long he should be traversing the same region as a soldier! It is always most important in the conduct of a war to know the configurations of the country well. As an engineer Washington had surveyed his future theatre of war and carefully noted down his observations.


Chapter IV
The Ambassador

That man alone deserves to live who consistently makes a good use of his life. He who does not do so, really does not live at all, at least not in a human sense. He who understands life does not bury his talent, but constantly develops his gifts for his own good and that of his fellow men, and such a life is a worthy one. George Washington was now nineteen years old and already his fellow citizens gave him credit for a high degree of manly courage and judgment. This is proved by a circumstance which we are now going to relate.


The borders of Virginia were often disturbed by attacks by the French and Indians, so that the colonial government decided to prepare the men capable of bearing arms, or the militia, for defence. Virginia was divided into districts, over each of which an officer with the rank of major and the title of adjutant-general was placed. The pay was 150 pounds sterling yearly. This officer was expected to bring the militia of his district up to the highest grade of military efficiency. The high reputation which George Washington had won caused him to be offered such a post. It was thoroughly in accord with the tastes of his earliest youth, as we have already learned. But while accepting it he appreciated thoroughly all the responsibilities of the position. His first and most earnest care was to make himself master of all the knowledge and duties of his rank. Under the tutelage of his brother and of other officers who had seen active service, he studied the science of war and perfected himself in the use of the sword. Thus he was acquiring a new profession, in which he was to gain honor and fame. Before he had an opportunity, however, of testing his abilities in his new position, he had a painful duty to perform for his beloved brother Lawrence, whose lungs had become so affected that the doctors advised him to seek relief in the milder climate of the West Indies. The sick man wished George to accompany him, and he could not refuse such a request from his dearly beloved brother. They set sail in the Fall of 1751, returning in Midsummer of the following year, George enriched by new experiences and impressions, but distressed with the fear that his brother would not regain his health. The sick man had also given up hope and only came back because he wished to die at home. He did die very soon afterward, mourned sincerely by all who had been closely related to him or had had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with his amiable personality. Lawrence left a widow and little daughter. He had given his brother a part of his large fortune and made him executor of his will. The estate of Mount Vernon was to go to his daughter, or in the event of her death without heirs, to George. The widow was to enjoy the income from his estate for life.


As soon as Washington had settled these affairs he returned to his military duties. Governor Dinwiddie had in the meanwhile divided Virginia into four districts, and Washington, now twenty years old, was given charge of one of them. It was his duty to train the officers, as well as the men of his district, in military tactics. There was a particular reason for the new military partition of Virginia by the governor and for the zeal with which he sought to put the militia on a war footing. A quarrel had broken out between the English and French for the possession of the fertile lands stretching from the Allegheny Mountains to the Ohio River. The English governor Dinwiddie took possession of them for England and the governor of Canada for France. Both sides sought to gain over the Indian tribes that lived on the land or near it, so that on the outbreak of hostilities they might have their assistance. Both parties claimed a right to the Ohio region. It would have been hard to tell where the title really lay, but both sides were determined not to give way, but to let matters come to a crisis. This was why Governor Dinwiddie was so anxious to get the Virginia militia ready for action. The command came from England to erect two forts on the Ohio, but while the letter containing this order was crossing the ocean the French had already taken possession of part of the disputed territory. The English governor now determined to send an emissary to the French commander to make a last attempt at a peaceable adjustment, as well as to get some knowledge of the strength of the enemy and of his position.


The governor found no one so well fitted for this mission as George Washington. It was a difficult piece of work. It meant a journey of not less than 560 miles, principally through a region that was neither quite uninhabited nor peopled by Indian tribes of uncertain temper. An advantage in the negotiations was only to be gained by conducting them with the utmost circumspection and courage. Washington did not refuse the office which the governor had offered him, although he clearly recognized the difficulties of the mission. He immediately prepared for the eventful journey. As companions he had, besides his fencing master, an interpreter and four frontiersmen, of whom two were Indian traders. The journey was begun during the raw November days of 1753. The progress of the little company was much impeded by storms and snow. They had to ford streams and cross rivers on quickly improvised rafts. As they were nearing their goal, they met with Indians who were friendly to the English. One chief told them that he had explained to the French commander in a speech that the French had no right to take possession of the land. Of course the chief had not written his discourse, but he had preserved it, word for word, in his memory and could repeat it for Washington, who had the interpreter translate it for him, and he wrote it all down in his diary. As the speech is a very characteristic one, we shall give a part of it here. (Remember that it was addressed to the French commander.)


“Fathers,” said he, “you are disturbers of this land by building towns and taking it from us, by fraud or force. We kindled a fire long ago at Montreal, where we desired you to stay, and not to come and intrude upon our country. I now advise you to return thither, for this land is ours. If you had come in a peaceable manner, like our brothers the English, we should have traded with you as we do with them; but that you should come and take our possessions by force and build houses upon them is what we cannot submit to. Both you and the English are white. We live in a region between you both. The land belongs to neither of you. The Great Spirit allotted it to us as a home. So I desire you, as I have desired our brothers, the English, to withdraw, for I will keep you both at arm’s length. Whoever most regards this request, by them we will stand and consider them friends. Our brothers, the English, have heard this, and I now come to tell it to you.”


The Indian chief told them, however, that the French had won over several Indian tribes completely. After a few days Washington set out once more. The exceedingly difficult and dangerous journey to the headquarters of the French commander in the northern Ohio country lasted just one day less than six weeks. The Frenchman received Major Washington politely, but when the purpose of the mission was explained to him, refused any discussion of the disputed question, for he claimed that, as a soldier, his sole duty was to carry out the orders of his government. Thereupon Washington took all the more pains to fulfil the second part of his task and to obtain the most exact information possible relative to the strength of the French garrison and the situation of the fortifications. When he had informed himself sufficiently on these points, he started for home. The return was also very dangerous and toilsome. Several times the little company was ambushed by Indians who were friendly to the French, and for weeks they encamped on the snowy ground. Once Washington came near being drowned in a rushing stream. He notes this in his diary thus: “There was no way for getting over but on a raft, which we set about with but one poor hatchet, and finished just after sunsetting. This was a whole day’s work. We next got it launched, then went on board of it and set off, but before we were half way over, we were jammed in the ice in such a manner that we expected every moment our raft would sink and ourselves perish. I put out my setting-pole to try to stop the raft, that the ice might pass by, when the rapidity of the stream threw it with so much violence against the pole that it jerked me out into ten feet of water; but I fortunately saved myself by catching hold of one of the raft-logs. Notwithstanding all our efforts, we could not get to either shore, but were obliged, as we were near an island, to quit our raft and make to it.” After such an adventure, think of the night on a desert island! And they could not even expect succor in the morning! But the unexpected happened. Cakes of ice piled up on one side of the island in such a way that they were able to gain the shore. In the middle of January, 1754, Washington reached home and the next day made his report to the governor.


Chapter V
Washington’s First Battles

It was now clear to the governor that the French were determined to defend what they called their right to the disputed territory. Therefore he considered it wise to proceed against them without delay. He believed that procrastination would only benefit the enemy by giving them time to strengthen their position. Accordingly he called the Assembly of Virginia together, laid his plan before it, and urged its speedy execution. The burgesses, however, met his demands, at first, with great coldness. It was said that the rights of the mother country, England, to the Ohio region were in any case of a very doubtful nature. If, however, the King of England wished to support his claims to it, he should send over soldiers from England! Finally, however, they agreed to grant ten thousand pounds for the enlistment of troops.


Washington had shown himself so capable in every respect in carrying out the mission which had been entrusted to him that the governor did not hesitate to offer him the chief command of the troops; but he declined the honor “as the responsibility was too great for his youth and inexperience.” The governor then appointed the English Colonel, Joshua Fry, an intelligent and experienced officer, commander-in-chief, and Washington was persuaded to accept the second command, with the title of lieutenant-colonel.

They immediately set out on their march, Washington leading the vanguard, which consisted of only three companies. On the Ohio frontier he had an opportunity to strike the first blow by attacking a French scouting party, which had come out to pick him off. Only one Frenchman saved himself by flight, the rest were either killed or taken prisoners. Indians took part in this skirmish against the French. A letter which Washington sent a few days later to the governor shows what an ardent soldier he was: “Your Honor may depend I will not be surprised, let them come at what hour they will, and this is as much as I can promise; but my best endeavors shall not be wanting to effect more. I doubt not you may hear I am beaten, but you will hear at the same time that we have done our duty in fighting as long as there is a shadow of hope.”


At this time Fry suddenly died and the governor again invited Washington to take command of the troops. This time, elated by his recent victory, he did not refuse the call. The march was resumed under great difficulties. He was joined by a great many Indian families, who proved themselves useful as scouts, but they were not to be counted on during an engagement. It turned out later that some of these savages were sent into his camp as spies by the French. The march now took him through a mountainous region. The horses were worn out and there were so few of them that the men were obliged not only to carry heavy burdens, but also to take turns in dragging the field pieces. The commander encouraged officers and men by word and example; he loaded his horse with baggage and went afoot himself.


After a march of several days they reached an old encampment where some intrenchments had been thrown up. The men were thoroughly exhausted. It had been raining incessantly for several days and for a whole week there had been no bread. Washington resolved, therefore, to rest for a few days in this spot and await the arrival of expected provisions. Here they were suddenly attacked by an overwhelming number of the French. It was at an early hour in the morning when the enemy fired upon them. Washington, who was prepared, had his troops march out on to the plain. The French, however, continued firing from ambush, and it was soon evident that, in spite of their superior numbers, they did not intend to give up their favorable position, but that their object was rather to entice their foes into the forest. But Washington avoided this, fell back into his intrenchments, and ordered his troops to be very careful of their ammunition and to fire only when there was some chance of success. The French, who had Indian warriors in their service, were posted on a thickly wooded height from whence they kept up a sharp fire all day. It rained without intermission, the trenches filled with water, and the muskets became more and more useless. Toward evening the French called out that they wanted to parley. But as Washington believed that the enemy was only anxious to spy out his camp, he paid no attention to the demand. After a while another message came from the French, adding that they did not wish to enter the camp and asking that an officer should be sent to them, for whose safety they pledged their honor. Washington consented to this and the result of the conference which now took place was that Washington agreed to an honorable capitulation. By his firmness and valiant resistance he had succeeded in concealing his real situation, which had become desperate, because the provision wagons had remained so far behind that the troops were entirely without food and the ammunition was very nearly exhausted. If the French had been informed of the miserable condition of the intrenchments, for the restoration of which nothing could be done, they never would have agreed to such a capitulation; and if the battle had been continued Washington and his troops would probably have been doomed to destruction. The next morning he left the intrenchments with military honors and they were at once occupied by the French. Washington had done the best which could be done under the circumstances, for which he and his soldiers received the acknowledgment of the governor and the House of Burgesses.


Washington had had one serious obstacle to contend with during the whole campaign. The militia was receiving less pay than the British soldiers. He now took up this subject anew. The continuance of the rule was evidently equivalent to contempt for the Virginia militia, which had, it was admitted, fought heroically. As his demands were not acceded to, and in regard to several other regulations he was not in accord with the governor, he demanded his dismissal. But his retirement did not last long. The following year two well-equipped British regiments, under command of General Braddock, landed, and Washington was persuaded to join the new commander. He expressed himself with noble candor to a friend on his reasons for this step: “I do not think I should be blamed if I believe that I deserve some praise considering that my only object in taking part in this campaign is the commendable wish to serve my country; neither ambition nor desire of gain move me to this step. I hope that this is clearly shown by my going as a volunteer, with no expectation of pay or any hope of receiving a command, as I am firmly convinced that General Braddock is not at liberty to give me any post which I would accept.”


The march to the Ohio was immediately commenced, and there certainly would have been important results achieved if only the valiant British general had been more willing to listen to good advice. In haughty security he moved his battalions forward, led by the music of the military bands, as though he were on the parade ground. Sending out scouts seemed to him a measure denoting cowardice and not caution. He was therefore soon surrounded by swarms of Indian foes and very soon the enemy knew the strength and destination of the company. It was on the ninth of June when the British fell into an ambuscade, where a terrific fire poured in upon them from the French and Indians, who had taken up sheltered positions. The greater part of the soldiers of the vanguard fell, among them twenty-six officers. A still greater number were wounded and General Braddock paid for his foolhardy rashness with his life. It was almost a miracle that Washington was saved. As long as Braddock was alive, Washington went dashing to and fro with orders, from one threatened point to another. When the commander had fallen, he sought the most dangerous places, trying to save the day, and many of the enemy recognized him as a dangerous foe who knew how to inspire his men to renewed ardor by admonition and example. A number of Indians, who had for some time been directing a well-aimed fire at him, finally desisted when the fruitlessness of their efforts led them to believe that the Great Spirit had taken the man under his protection. A chieftain told this afterward. Washington himself believed that God had protected him, for he wrote to a friend: “... but, by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, though death was levelling my companions on every side of me!” It was owing to his courage and coolness that at least a part of the army was saved.


Throughout the country there was but one opinion of Washington’s ability. A preacher delivered the following eulogy from the pulpit: “As one who distinguished himself on this occasion, I must mention that heroic youth, Colonel Washington, whom I cannot but hope Providence has hitherto preserved in so signal a manner for some important service to his country.”


Washington retired to Mount Vernon, which he had in the meanwhile inherited through the death of his brother’s daughter. But he retained the post of adjutant-general and tried, by appropriate drilling and ordinances, to prepare the militia under him for efficiency in active service. The defeat of Braddock had frightened the Virginians out of their indifference and it was recognized that money and troops must not be spared if the constantly increasing menace of war was to be suppressed. Every one wished to entrust Washington with the chief command. As the reader has already learned, his mother was not one of those timid natures who shrink from every breath of danger and extinguish every spark of courage in the breast of their sons. Still the lively picture of the dangers with which her son had been threatened in the last battle moved her to beg him with tears to give up military service forever. He sought tenderly to reassure her, by speaking of God, who is master of life and death, and he added: “If the command is pressed upon me by the general voice of the country, and offered upon such terms as cannot be objected to, it would reflect dishonor on me to refuse it; and that, I am sure, must, and ought, to give you greater uneasiness than my going in an honorable command.” But he was not willing to undertake such an exceedingly difficult post as that of commander-in-chief without making conditions. With clear insight into the requirements of the situation he demanded that the commander-in-chief have a voice in the choice of his officers, punctual payment of their salaries, and complete revision of the commissary department according to principles proposed by him. All this was granted and soon proved advantageous to the war footing of the army. Later he introduced another law into the House of Burgesses, which gave the military courts the right to punish murderers and deserters, and by which even gaming, drinking, cursing, and loose life were to be appropriately punished. It took a determined man like Washington not only to have those laws passed, but to enforce them.


One of the principal tasks of his campaign was to drive the French out of Fort Duquesne in Ohio, and in this he succeeded. Thereby the power of the French on the Ohio was destroyed and the last and most difficult part of the task, which had occupied him for several years and so extraordinarily employed his faculties, was finished. The Indian tribes that had been on the French side now came over to the victors and made overtures of peace, which were accepted. When Washington had accomplished this honorable task, he laid down his command and retired to private life.


Chapter VI
A Year of Peace

Washington was twenty-seven years old when he settled at Mount Vernon in the hope of enjoying a life of peaceful domesticity. It was his good fortune to find a life companion who was his equal in mind and tastes. This was Martha Custis, a beautiful young widow with two lovely children, a boy of six and a daughter of four years. Washington’s fortune was already a handsome one, since he had inherited Mount Vernon, and through his marriage it was increased by one hundred thousand dollars. His union was not blessed with children, but Washington brought up his step-children as carefully as though they had been his own. “I hope,” he wrote to a friend shortly after his marriage, “to find more happiness in retirement than I ever experienced in the wide and bustling world.” He now arranged a plan of life. His greatest inclination was to occupy himself with farming and gardening. He also intended to enjoy the treasures of art and literature, but it is only a few months after his marriage that we find him again engaged in public affairs at Williamsburg, the seat of the Assembly, where the representatives of the colonies held their sessions. He had not sought a nomination; contrary to the usual custom in the colonies, he had not even put himself in touch with the voters. It was the unbounded confidence of the people alone which had given him the election. If he had only considered what was personally most agreeable to himself, he would have remained on his beautiful estate; but duty, as the true patriot understands it, left him no choice. It must have been a consolation to his family that the sessions of the Assembly usually lasted but a few months in each year.


When Washington’s election was announced in the Assembly, it was determined by a vote of the house to mark his installation by a signal testimonial of respect. Accordingly, as soon as he took his seat, Mr. Robinson, the speaker, in eloquent language dictated by the warmth of private friendship, returned thanks on behalf of the colony for the distinguished military services he had rendered his country. Mr. Robinson became so carried away by enthusiasm and the warmth of his feelings and used such fiery language that the young hero was greatly embarrassed. He stood up to acknowledge the honor done him, but his embarrassment was so great that he began to tremble violently and could not utter a word. He blushed, stammered, and remained speechless. The speaker then came to the rescue with a presence of mind and tact which would have done honor to Louis the Fourteenth in the happiest and proudest moments of his life. “Sit down, Mr. Washington,” he said with a reassuring smile; “your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language I possess.” It has often been noted that great men are especially apt to be overcome with confusion on their first attempt at speaking in public. Respect for the intellect of those whom they are to address, together with a modest estimate of their own powers, causes their timidity, while a high opinion of one’s own talents and a low estimate of the intellectual calibre of one’s hearers often leads to an overweening self-confidence. This timidity to which earnest natures are prone disappears gradually. It was so with Washington. He never became a brilliant orator; indeed, he never made a set speech. In spite of this his influence as a representative was exceedingly important. With the same conscientiousness which we have noted thus far in all his work, he studied every question which came before the Assembly. The demands of duty coincided with his old habit of constantly striving to widen his intellectual horizon through faithful study. As his powers of judgment were very keen and he followed the discussions with strict attention, his expositions, which were generally short, had almost always great weight. His mode of expression was simple, as it did not deal with appearances, but was always to the point. Thus it happened that a few of his pertinent remarks were often sufficient to change the trend of the discussion completely. When he arose to speak every one paid attention. What does Washington say about this or that question? This was often heard amongst the members. His principal guide was the ardent wish to make himself useful to his country. This was expressed in his whole attitude, which never showed the slightest trace of frivolity. He was scarcely ever late at the meetings or went away before the close. In this respect also he showed himself to be a true patriot and thoroughly upright man. And withal what childlike gayety and light-heartedness he could exhibit in his family circle or in the society of intimate friends!


The advice which Washington gave to his nephew when he was about to take his seat in the Assembly is notable. “If you wish,” he said to him, “to hold the attention of those present, I can only advise that you speak seldom, and only on important points, with the exception of matters pertaining to your constituents; and in the first case, make yourself thoroughly acquainted beforehand with the question. Do not allow yourself to be carried away by undue ardor and do not rely too much on your own judgment. A dictatorial tone, though it may sometimes be convincing, is always irritating.”


He still had the greater part of the year in which to follow his favorite pursuits, which were, as has already been remarked, of an agricultural nature. And Mount Vernon was a magnificent country seat. Washington Irving says: “The mansion was beautifully situated on a swelling height, crowned with wood, and commanding a magnificent view up and down the Potomac. The grounds immediately about it were laid out somewhat in the English taste. The estate was apportioned into separate farms, devoted to different kinds of culture, each having its allotted laborers. Much, however, was still covered with wild woods seamed with deep dells and runs of water and indented with inlets, haunts of deer and lurking place of foxes. The whole woody region along the Potomac from Mount Vernon to Belvoir and far beyond, with its range of forests and hills and picturesque promontories, afforded sport of various kinds, and was a noble hunting ground.” Washington himself speaks of the place in one of his letters, and from his description one can see how fond he was of Mount Vernon. “No estate in United America,” he says, “is more pleasantly situated. In a high and healthy country; in a latitude between the extremes of heat and cold; on one of the finest rivers in the world; a river well stocked with various kinds of fish at all seasons of the year, and in the Spring with shad, herrings, bass, carp, sturgeon, etc., in great abundance. The borders of the estate are washed by more than ten miles of tide water; several valuable fisheries appertain to it; the whole shore, in fact, is one entire fishery.”


A great plantation in Virginia, at that time, was like a little principality. The principal house, which was occupied by the owner, was the seat of power. In a neighboring house lived the steward or overseer of the slaves, who was the prime minister of the little kingdom. Connected with his house were kitchens, workshops, and stables. There was a crowd of negro servants hanging about the buildings and manor house; the number who worked in the fields was still greater and their neat cabins formed a little village. A well laid out garden belonged to each cabin. The barnyard swarmed with fowls, and negro children disported themselves before the cabins in the sunshine.

With these hints the reader can complete the picture of Mount Vernon in his own mind. There were many planters in the colony who, like the Merovingians of old, left the management of their estates entirely in the hands of their stewards, only requiring the payment of the income, so that they might enjoy as many luxuries as possible. But this was not so at Mount Vernon. Washington was the prince and father of his little kingdom. Almost daily, and generally on horseback, he visited his fields, pastures, fisheries, and mills. As a rule, on this tour of inspection he wore a pongee-colored coat with gilt buttons. Let us take the opportunity of presenting a picture of the stately man as it has been drawn for us: Washington’s dignified bearing was without pride, his firmness without obstinacy or arrogance. His outward appearance was equally harmonious. The effect of his gigantic stature—Washington was over six feet tall—was modified by beauty and perfect proportion. He was like a grand building, in which the complete symmetry of the separate parts gives it charm. His fiery nature was held in check by good sense. His courage was never foolhardy, nor did his caution ever proceed from fear. His reliable judgment was the result of a good memory. Industry and hard work with him never degenerated into unsociability or moroseness. When Washington drove to church with his family, or went on a visit to William Fairfax or some other relative or friend, the state coach with its four horses was brought out. Then the black servants, coachman, and overseer, donned gorgeous liveries.


But how is this, the reader will perhaps ask; did Washington own slaves? In answering this question one must take into consideration that Washington was born into a slave community. The custom of a country puts its stamp on each and every native citizen. We shall never be able to judge any historical personage without carefully studying the customs of the period and the intellectual tendencies of his time. Not until this has been done can the question be asked, How did this man stand in relation to the prevailing opinions and customs of his time? Slavery was an ugly blot on the State, especially the slavery which was inaugurated during the Christian era. Nothing is so fertile in expedients as human selfishness. It was represented to “his most Christian majesty,” King Louis the Thirteenth of France, that free negroes would not accept Christianity, but that if they were made slaves, it would be an easy matter to make Christians of them! Furthermore they said: “The negro tribes have the custom of killing their prisoners of war; should we introduce slavery into our colonies, those tribes would no longer kill their captives, but would sell them to us. In this way we should save their lives and this would make slavery an advantage to them.” This reasoning appealed to the King, and thus this wrong, which had been introduced by the Portuguese, became lawful among the French. It was not long before it was customary for the Portuguese, Spanish, French, and English settlers to import negroes. The number of negroes who were kidnapped is estimated at forty millions. The sins of the fathers have been visited heavily on the children, as we know, and the sacrifice of much blood was necessary to give back to the negroes those human rights of which they had been despoiled.


Returning to our history, in order that we may not judge falsely, we must inquire what attitude Washington took in regard to this institution in the midst of which he had grown up. The first answer is, toward his slaves he was like a wise father caring for his children. What he did for them in later times we shall relate at the end of the story. He did not overburden his slaves with work, but he did not allow them to be idle. Idleness seemed almost worse to him than an overplus of work. Nature is one great workshop. Those organisms which no longer work fall into decay. Useful work preserves and stimulates the body and mind of man. Laziness is the forerunner of mental decay; he who turns away from all useful occupations is subject to wicked thoughts. Therefore the old proverb is full of truth: “Satan finds work for idle hands to do.” He who governs others must be careful to keep them properly employed. Everybody has at least one person to command—himself. Let him take care that this person does not give way to idleness. To fashion one’s own character is the highest kind of task, but he alone accomplishes this who is careful to do his work with a higher and higher degree of perfection. In this sense every human being has an opportunity to perfect himself, whether he uses a needle, walks behind the plough, or whether the pen is his implement. As long as a man works under compulsion, he is on a low plane of development. He is exposed to the danger of perishing. It is only the influence from without that upholds him. Compulsion is, after all, a blessing for him, even though through it he may not reach a high degree of efficiency. From the moment, however, that a man begins to follow his calling with the avowed purpose not only of fulfilling the duties of his position, but endeavors to grow, morally and intellectually, he belongs to a higher order of humanity. All benefactors of the human race have been of this higher order. They labored in the sweat of their brows and still were happy in the thought that their work was equally of advantage to themselves and to others. Through labor and sorrow their lives gained value. In this order of humanity there are, of course, different degrees of rank. To one who belongs to it, however, the way is open to the summit of human felicity. Any one may seek this path, whatever station in life he may occupy. Only fulfil the duties which your position demands of you and this happy goal may be yours. Conscientiousness and faithfulness lead thither. But how many squander their thoughts and feelings on unworthy objects! Good fortune is always close beside us and doing our duty is the magic formula which makes it our own. In regard to a true estimate of the value of work, the example of Washington and his friends—among them we at once think of the splendid Franklin—has not been without its fruits among Americans. The Frenchman Laboulaye has said: “The further we progress, the more we comprehend that the man who works is the true nobleman and that he who does nothing is a man whom we have much to forgive, however rich he may be. In the United States, the man who does nothing is considered an enemy of society. Mothers protect their daughters from him and all sensible people withhold their respect from him. That he who does nothing will end by doing evil is the right conclusion of the Americans.”


No small part of Washington’s work consisted in regulating the labor of his servants, overseeing them, and disposing the right forces in the proper places. As we have said, he was as anxious to keep his slaves from being overworked as he was to keep them from idleness. In his diaries we find notes of how he managed to preserve the balance. He noted exactly how much this or that piece of work progressed in a given time and made a plan for the day’s work in accordance with this observation. Of course he took into consideration the delays which are inevitable under certain conditions. The best of all was that he often lent a hand himself. One great feature of the evil which slavery brought into the world consisted in the feeling which grew up among the masters that any form of farm work or manual labor was degrading. As the slaves had to do all of this “degrading work,” they felt that they were under a curse. These were the common views of antiquity, and during slavery times in the American colonies they began to acquire a fresh hold. It is somewhat of a question whether even now more sensible opinions prevail among those who call themselves aristocrats.


At Mount Vernon the slaves often saw their master at work in the garden or in the fields. At one time he spent several days in the smithy with his negroes, fashioning a new plough of his own invention. The work was carried out to his satisfaction, and thereupon the negroes saw him set to work ploughing up a new piece of meadow land. One of his mills was in danger of being destroyed by a flood. In a pouring rain he marched out at the head of his servants and helped to do the work which was needful in order to save the building.

Washington was in the habit of rising very early, in the Winter long before daybreak. He did not wish to disturb others, however, in the early morning hours. He lit his own fire and read and wrote until breakfast was ready for the family—which in Summer was at seven o’clock and in Winter at eight o’clock. He then took two cups of tea and with them a few hoecakes. At two o’clock he dined. Although he was rich, his table was very simple. At dinner he drank two glasses of wine and sometimes he took cider. He went to bed at nine o’clock. He kept a complete record of the many kinds of work which were carried on on his estates, with separate books for letter copies. Thus he was able to maintain a complete and clear oversight over his affairs. The principal product of the plantations was tobacco, which was an important article of export to England. There were several lading places on the Potomac River for the tobacco which was grown for the market on the Mount Vernon estate. It was not long before Washington had acquired such a reputation for reliability and square dealing with the foreign merchants that they considered it unnecessary to examine the boxes and bales which bore his stamp.


He was very fond of exercising hospitality, as his diaries tell us. We find in them the names of all the men who later became celebrated in the colonies. Especially during the fox-hunting season, his house was often the meeting place for neighboring lovers of the sport, for he found hunting an agreeable relaxation. Among the visitors, one of whom was the venerable Lord Fairfax, there were a number of highly educated gentlemen. To have intercourse with men of this kind was as great a necessity for him as was the reading of good books. But his activities extended beyond the borders of his own estate. With men of congenial minds he discussed a plan for draining and turning into pasture land a great swamp nearly thirty miles long and ten miles wide. He made the necessary inspection himself, both on foot and on horseback. The tour was exceedingly toilsome and dangerous in many spots. At certain places he found thick forests of cypresses, cedars, and foliage trees with long moss hanging from the branches. Again he was obliged to force his way through thickets of thorn and creepers. His horse often sunk to its haunches in the marsh. It was then necessary to proceed on foot over the uncertain ground, and after making a reconnoissance, to make his way back to the horse over the same dangerous path. In this way he penetrated from several directions into this unknown wilderness, until he had as clear an idea of it as possible, and then he drew up a plan for draining and making the marsh arable. The fact that the plan had been drawn up by Washington, and that he considered its execution entirely feasible, was sufficient to cause a number of well-to-do people to form a company to take up the work. It took but a few years to transform this wild region into a splendid strip of land composed of fruitful fields and grassy pastures.


These occupations were very congenial and Washington wished for nothing more earnestly than that he might be allowed to pass his whole life in the same manner. But Providence had ordained otherwise. An event happened which this law-abiding subject never could have desired, for he was devoted to the mother country. The colonies quarrelled with England, and it was this circumstance which suddenly tore him from his peaceful existence.


Chapter VII
A Quarrel with the Mother Country

We must now consider the reasons for the quarrel with the mother country. “Woe to the law breaker!” The law breaker causing this disagreement was the English government. According to the English constitution, new taxes could not be laid upon the people without the consent of their representatives. It now suddenly occurred to the government to tax the colonies without asking their permission. Thus it was acting contrary to the principles of the constitution. All right-thinking people will agree that one of the saddest spectacles in history is to see a government, whose sacred duty it is to be the guardian of the law, working for its overthrow. The Anglo-American disagreement furnishes this mournful spectacle.


Lord Camden, one of those astute statesmen in England who foresaw the consequences of such action, said to Franklin: “In spite of your oft-protested love for England, I know that some day you Americans will shake off the bonds which unite you to us and raise the flag of independence.” This remark was afterward recalled and the reasons for it were sought and not in vain. The English government seems to have been possessed by a spirit of lawlessness at that time, while the American colonies were distinguished, just at the same period, in an extraordinary degree, by a high regard for law. Thus Lord Camden saw the day approaching when the unjust demands of the government would arouse the resistance of the Americans. Franklin had assured Camden that nothing was farther from the thoughts of his countrymen than a separation from the mother country and the formation of an independent State. Franklin indeed added the words, “That is, unless you treat us shamefully,” to which Lord Camden answered significantly, “That is true; and that is precisely one of the reasons which I foresee will bring this to pass.”


Lord Camden’s predictions were fulfilled. The ministry of King George arbitrarily imposed duties upon certain articles in the colonies. This illegal procedure was answered by the American population refusing to buy the taxed goods sent over from England. The act was annulled, but not on the ground of unlawfulness, but because it was determined to tax a class of goods which, it was thought, America could not do without. The government said to itself: Contracts shall be legal only when they are executed upon stamped paper. As there are innumerable contracts entered into between the merchants in the colonies, and stamps must be purchased for them, there will be no alternative, the inhabitants will be compelled to pay the tax which we shall lay upon these documents. Here it made another mistake; the Americans, in their business dealings, now employed only verbal promises and oaths—the English tax-agents could not sell a single stamped paper.

There was more or less unrest here and there. The evident injustice of the measure caused some outbreaks among the people, but the leaders tried to keep the agitation within legal bounds. Even yet Washington was far from thoughts of a separation. He wrote to a friend: “I can testify that in fact independence is neither the desire nor for the interest of the colonies. But,” he added, “you may be sure that not one of them will ever allow those valuable rights to be destroyed which are essential to the happiness of a free country and without which life, liberty, and property are without security.” Parliament was blind enough to give its approval to the arbitrary measures of the government. In spite of this the wish was general among the great majority of American citizens that matters should not come to a real break. The question was prayed over in the churches, petitions were sent to London to the King and to Parliament. Washington wrote to a member of that body: “The repeal, to whatever cause owing, ought much to be rejoiced at, for, had the Parliament of Great Britain resolved upon enforcing it, the consequences, I conceive, would have been more direful than is generally apprehended, both to the mother country and her colonies. All, therefore, who were instrumental in procuring the repeal are entitled to the thanks of every British subject, and have mine cordially.” The Stamp Act was now annulled, but again only because nothing had been accomplished by it. The evil intent toward the American colonies remained.


It was not long before the English government, with the assistance of Parliament, imposed a new duty on tea, paper, glass, and painters’ colors. This embittered every one anew. Immediately leagues were formed in several colonies, whose members pledged themselves not to buy goods imported from England, except in case of the greatest necessity. It was hoped that this would cause English citizens at home to persuade the government to cancel this new duty. Washington wrote to a friend: “At a time when our lordly masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom, it seems highly necessary that something should be done to avert the stroke and maintain the liberty which we have derived from our ancestors. But the manner of doing it to answer the purpose effectually is the point in question. That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment, to use arms in defence of so valuable a blessing is clearly my opinion. Yet arms, I would beg leave to add, should be the last resource, the dernier resort. We have already, it is said, proved the inefficacy of addresses to the throne and remonstrances to Parliament. How far, then, their attention to our rights and privileges is to be awakened or alarmed by starving their trade and manufactures, remains to be tried. The northern colonies, it appears, are endeavoring to adopt this scheme. In my opinion it is a good one, and must be attended with salutary effects, provided it can be carried pretty generally into execution.”


This letter of Washington shows the attitude of the best men of the time toward the illegal measures of Parliament. But England went farther still along the hazardous path on which she had entered. One wrong begets another. It was determined to treat the resistance to the duties as high treason. As the American judges would not agree to this, the government arbitrarily introduced new courts composed of British naval officers, whose attitude was assured beforehand. Besides this, it set aside magistrates—this, again, contrary to the laws of the land—and created new ones. Finally it was ordained that in future all of the more serious crimes should be tried in England instead of in the colonies. This despotic behavior increased the bitterness in the minds of the Americans. Here and there their anger blazed up. One heard of bloody encounters between the American populace and British soldiers. The latter gave the Americans the nickname of Yankees, which in the Iroquois tongue meant cowardly and bad. The people retorted by calling the British soldiers crabs and bloodhounds, in allusion to their red uniforms.


For a time ships which brought tea from England were refused admission to Boston Harbor, whereupon the harbor was surrounded by British ships and it was proclaimed that the refusal of tea ships would no longer be tolerated. This so aroused the ire of the Bostonians that it was determined to destroy the tea. A band of men disguised as Indians boarded the ships at night, and three hundred and forty-two chests of tea were thrown into the water. In consequence of this act the port of Boston was closed by the British. That was a heavy blow for the city, whose commerce was practically destroyed by this measure. But the inhabitants did not yield.


Upon this the English government, through the Parliament in London, instructed the other colonies to treat the inhabitants of Massachusetts as rebels. Arguments were made in Parliament for and against this course. A general, who denounced the attitude of the citizens of Boston with extreme bitterness, said that he would pledge himself to drive the whole lot of American rebels from one end of the world to the other with five regiments of infantry. Others defended the Americans. Wilkes showed that the British had adopted an unjust and inequitable course against the colonists. “It is our ministers,” he continued, “who wish to loose the bonds which unite North America with Great Britain, while the colonists wish for nothing but peace, freedom, and security.” He adjured Parliament to adopt a more just procedure toward them. “It is possible,” he concluded, “that you might be able to burn Boston, or to place a strong garrison there, but the whole province will be lost to you. From this moment I see America’s independence growing and gathering strength; I see her, in her freedom, attaining a greatness equal to the richest and mightiest empires in the world. Do you wish to push the Americans to desperation? Good! You will see them defend their property with that courage which hatred of tyranny inspires, with the courage that comes down to them from our illustrious forefathers, who fought in defence of their threatened liberties!” The warning was in vain. The majority in Parliament shared the blindness of the ministry and not only the inhabitants of Boston, but of the whole province were declared rebels; that is, they were put under military law. This was equal to a declaration of war.


As soon as the decree was made known in Massachusetts, the representatives of the colony met at Salem and from there issued a call to all the American colonies to a general congress. The call was accepted by nearly all of them, though the delegates from Georgia did not arrive until later. Philadelphia was chosen as the place of meeting and the first Continental Congress convened on the fourth of September, 1774. The greater part of the fifty-one members were thoughtful, dignified men. Washington was the most distinguished amongst them. He had written a short time before this to a friend: “What is it we are contending against? Is it against paying the duty of threepence per pound on tea, because burdensome? No, it is our right only that we have all along disputed.... If I had no doubt that the British Parliament had a right to tax us without our consent, and contrary to our charters and our constitution, I should consider entreaties, and entreaties only, the sole means through which we should seek redress. But my firm conviction is that the British Parliament has no more right to put its hand in my pocket than I have to put mine into my neighbor’s.”

The proposal to open the Congress with prayer was adopted unanimously. The minister began his petition for God’s aid in a just cause with the words of the Thirty-fifth Psalm: “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.” Next a “declaration of rights” was drawn up, which stated the lawful rights of the colonies clearly and concisely. Furthermore the resolution to refrain from buying English goods until the unlawful demands had been withdrawn was renewed, and finally an address to the English people, a memorial to the American people, and a petition to the King were framed. They were anxious not to destroy the possibility of a peaceable adjustment, even at the last moment.


The English people were addressed with firmness and dignity. “You have been told,” the address says, “that we are rebels who are weary of submission to authority and seek independence. Be assured that this is calumny. Grant us the same freedom that you enjoy and we shall glory in our union with you and esteem it our greatest happiness. We shall always be ready to sacrifice all that lies in our power for the welfare of the empire; we shall consider your enemies our enemies, and your interests our interests. But should you be determined to allow your ministers to trifle with human dignity, should neither the voice of justice, nor the precepts of the law, nor the basis of the constitution, nor feelings of humanity, deter you from shedding our blood—we must declare to you that we shall never debase ourselves to become the slaves of any minister or of any nation in the world.”

The King, as well as the ministry and Parliament, persisted in their blindness. The greatest English statesman, Chatham, warned his countrymen in vain and pleaded with enthusiasm, but fruitlessly, the just and honorable cause of the Americans. “When your Lordships,” he cried, “look at the papers transmitted us from America, when you consider their decency, firmness, and wisdom, you can not but respect their cause and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must avow that in all my reading—and I have read Thucydides and have studied and admired the master States of the world—for solidity of reason, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion under a complication of difficult circumstances, no body of men can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia.” At another time he said: “I rejoice that America has resisted. Three millions of people so dead to all the feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest.”


Not only Washington’s whole previous life and career, but particularly his attitude at the Congress, caused his countrymen to look to him with the greatest confidence. When one of the most prominent members, Patrick Henry, was asked on his return home whom he considered the most important man among the members, he answered: “If you refer to eloquence, Rutledge of South Carolina is by far the greatest orator; but if you speak of thorough knowledge and sound judgment, without question Colonel Washington is the greatest man in that body.”

It was a comfort to all who had reached the conclusion that the day of conflict was not far distant that Washington not only had great gifts as a statesman, but had already proved himself an accomplished soldier.


Chapter VIII
A Trial of Arms

The best men in England had appealed to the sense of justice and fairness of the government and of Parliament without effect. The colony of Massachusetts was placed under military rule. The order was given to seize the military stores in the colonies and the beginning was made in Boston. At this a cry of indignation resounded throughout the country. It was no longer possible not to perceive that tyranny was determined to set its foot on the necks of the American people. Patriots assembled ready to give their lives for the preservation of their rights. The abolition of a second armory at Concord led to a conflict. The British were eight hundred strong, the Americans but eighty. When the British had accomplished their purpose, they began their march back to Boston. But this retreat proved calamitous. They were surrounded by the Americans, who had received reinforcements and who continually attacked them. Their loss was frightful and not one of the eight hundred would have reached Boston had not the British general sent out a troop of one thousand men to meet them.


The Americans had not been able to save their stores at Concord, but this success was a great encouragement to them. They had fought against picked and well-disciplined troops, while they were only an untrained band of citizens and farmers, armed with any kind of weapon that came to hand. They were good hunters and knew well how to make use of each tree and ridge and stone wall for a shelter from behind which to fire; a mode of fighting (sharp shooting) which later was used by all armies. The cry “to arms” was now heard from hamlet to hamlet, from village to village, and from town to town. Whoever had the freedom of his country at heart and a just hatred of tyranny took his musket from the wall, girded on his sword, and bade his dear ones farewell. These plain people, ready to assemble at a moment’s notice, the “minute-men,” did not stop to don uniforms, but wore a simple blouse over their clothes; the well-to-do wore their powdered wigs. Shortly before this the British soldiers had made fun of the blouses and wigs, but after the disastrous retreat from Concord to Boston, all their waggery deserted them. From all sides the Americans began their march on Boston, which was in the hands of the enemy. The city was soon surrounded on the land side by fifteen thousand Americans. Their first duty was to observe the enemy and not to allow them to enter the country. The situation was hard on the citizens, who were under the eyes of the British and could not make a move. The British general, Gage, fearing that the inhabitants might embrace some favorable opportunity to rise against him, promised to allow them to join their comrades and march out of the city if they would leave their arms behind. They delivered up their weapons, whereupon he broke his word and detained them as hostages.


To the joy of the British and the despair of the Americans, English ships appeared one day in the harbor. They brought reinforcements of four thousand men under General Howe, an arrogant man, who believed that it would be the easiest thing in the world to disperse the Americans. He had been made commander-in-chief of the British army in the colonies. What he now heard on landing in Boston of the retreat of the British from Concord must have somewhat shaken his feeling of security, for he did not, in accordance with his boastful words, proceed immediately to attack the besieging American troops. Instead, the first move was made by them. In a single night they had thrown up intrenchments close to the city. To take these General Howe sent out the whole British force against the enemy. Both sides fought desperately. The American riflemen had twice repulsed the British and would probably have met further attacks successfully had not their ammunition given out. Thus the brave men were obliged to retreat after the third assault, but they retired in good order, leaving the enemy too exhausted to think of pursuing them.


The British held the battlefield, but how brilliantly the untrained defenders of liberty had met the well-disciplined and picked troops of the enemy, led by their experienced generals! The loss of the Americans was but four hundred and fifty-three, while the British had lost ten hundred and fifty-four men. “I have never heard of such slaughter within so short a time!” said General Howe.

This was the battle of Bunker Hill, and the Americans who fell there richly merited the monument which was afterward erected on this spot to their memories. Every one felt that troops inspired with such a spirit would know how to defend the liberties of their country! When Washington heard of the battle, he cried with profound emotion: “The freedom of the country is assured!” The intrenchments were in the possession of the British, but the battle had not raised the siege of Boston.


Chapter IX
Washington Chosen Commander-in-Chief

On the tenth of May, 1775, the Continental Congress again assembled. The means of defence for all the colonies was taken under consideration. Washington took the principal part in these deliberations, as he had been chosen chairman of all the committees on military affairs. The situation now called for the appointment of a commander-in-chief. There were able men in Congress who had served as officers in the British army and one or another of them rather expected to be chosen for the position. In the first battles—the pursuit of the British and the bloody battle of Bunker Hill—able leaders had also arisen. There were a few who made great efforts to get the appointment, while Washington refrained from influencing any one in his own behalf, as indeed was his custom under like circumstances throughout his life.


At last, on the fifteenth of June, a vote was taken, and when the votes were counted it was found that Washington, with the exception of his own vote, had been unanimously elected. He expressed his thanks to the members for the confidence they had shown in him and promised to serve his country faithfully, but added that he feared the task would be too great for him. In closing he said: “Lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered, by every gentleman in this room, that I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” He looked upon his election as a providential call which it would be very wrong to refuse; it was his intention to exert his powers to the utmost, his hope that God would lend him aid. In accepting this appointment he made a great personal sacrifice to his country, for he was not spurred by ambition and he comprehended clearly the magnitude of the task which was set before him. His tastes inclined toward the delights of peaceful domestic life, the activities of the garden and fields, and now he was selected to conduct military operations which, he must have known, would, even under the most favorable circumstances, keep him away from his family and his home for a long time to come. But piety and a strong sense of duty filled his manly soul and only a slight tinge of sadness marks the letters which he wrote immediately after the appointment. He wrote to his wife, whom he loved tenderly: “You may believe me when 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, not only from my unwillingness to part from you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity; and I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad. I shall rely constantly on that Providence which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you in the Fall. I shall feel no pain from the toil or danger of the campaign; my unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will feel from being left alone. I therefore beg that you will summon your whole fortitude and pass your time as agreeably as possible. Nothing will give me so much sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear it from your own pen.”


To a friend he wrote: “The cause of my country has laid a difficult and dangerous duty upon me; but I hope that the all-wise Providence, which guides human destinies, will enable me to fulfil this duty faithfully and with success.”

As commander-in-chief the sum of five hundred dollars a month was granted him, but he positively refused any remuneration for his services. He said that he would keep an account of expenses which he might incur in the public service and that if these should be paid, it was all that he wished. A prominent member of Congress, the accomplished John Adams, wrote to a friend: “There is something charming to me in the conduct of Washington, a gentleman of one of the first fortunes upon the continent, leaving his delicious retirement, his family and friends, sacrificing his ease, and hazarding all in the cause of his country. His views are noble and disinterested.”


In the official letter of appointment, which was delivered to him on the twentieth of July, a tribute was paid to his love of country, his courage, his faithfulness, and the conscientiousness which he had shown under all circumstances, and to the purity of his life. As the day for his departure for the army drew near, every one who had not yet seen him endeavored to do so. At the request of the officers, he reviewed several companies of militia. All were delighted with his military bearing. Washington Irving says: “Rarely has the public beau ideal of a commander been so fully answered. He was now in the vigor of his days, forty-three years of age, stately in person, noble in his demeanor, calm and dignified in his deportment; as he sat his horse, with manly grace, his military presence delighted every eye, and wherever he went the air rang with acclamations.” The brilliant wife of John Adams wrote in a letter to a friend: “Dignity, ease, and complacency, the gentleman and the soldier, look agreeably blended in him. Modesty marks every line and feature of his face. Those lines of Dryden instantly occurred to me:

“‘Mark his majestic fabric! He’s a temple

Sacred by birth and built by hands Divine.’”


Chapter X
Washington Before Boston

At this crisis Congress felt that it must make one more appeal to the King. This was done in a petition couched in the most respectful language. It says: “We beg to assure Your Majesty that, in spite of the sufferings of your loyal colonists during the present disagreement, we still cherish such tender consideration for the kingdom to which we owe our origin that we are far from demanding any agreement incompatible with the dignity and prosperity of the mother country.” Thus the English government had another opportunity of adopting a conciliatory course. It did not do so. London paid no attention whatever to Congress. The answer intended for the Americans was to be written by Howe’s bayonets and the English government had no doubt that their general would soon report the downfall of the rebellion, as they called this justifiable resistance.


In the meanwhile Washington had appeared before Boston. An army chaplain has left us the following characteristic picture of the American camp: “It is very diverting to walk among the camps. They are as different in their forms as the owners are in their dress; and every tent is a portraiture of the temper and taste of the persons who encamp in it. Some are made of boards and some are made of sailcloth; some are partly of one and partly of the other. Again, others are made of stone and turf, brick and brush. Some are thrown up in a hurry, others curiously wrought with wreaths and withes.” To his discomfiture, Washington did not find what he had hoped for. The American army consisted of sixteen thousand men instead of twenty thousand, as he had been told, and of these only fourteen thousand were fit for military service. He found brave men, but not a homogeneous army; instead, large and small bands of men, armed in promiscuous fashion, under leaders who were totally independent of each other. There was no artillery and even the most rudimentary military organization was lacking. To make a military unit of this heterogeneous mass was the first task which lay before him. It was to be expected that the solution of this problem would be attended with extraordinary difficulties. He had to deal with sons of the forest who, though brave, were, owing to their unrestrained and independent lives, unused to military discipline. Such a task was not to be accomplished in a few days or weeks, but needed a long time. Inside the city a picked body of eleven thousand men was quartered, splendidly armed and well equipped with all that was necessary to carry on the war.


Thus Washington found more than enough work awaiting him from the first day of his arrival at headquarters. He was now repaid for the careful training of his youth and his habit of conscientiously carrying out whatever he undertook, of seizing upon the essentials of a matter, and of persevering, with strict attention and diligence, to the end. What industry, strength, firmness, and patience were necessary to call forth that spirit, without which harmony in action would be lacking and enduring success could not be attained! Under the existing circumstances there was at first no other course open to him than to imitate the method of Fabius, the delayer. Thus the year passed and nothing had been done by either side. At the end of December a part of the American troops who had only enlisted for the current year demanded to be mustered out. It was their right and Washington let them go. There were about ten thousand men left in the camp before Boston, while the enemy inside had in the meanwhile been strengthened by reinforcements from England.


The patriots of the country had no idea of the difficulties with which Washington had to struggle. Many had expected to read in the newspapers of battles and victories during the first days of Washington’s command and now a year had passed and nothing had been done. Two of Washington’s letters of that time, both of them to Colonel Reed, give sufficient explanation of the situation. The first letter says: “Search the vast volumes of history through and I much question whether a case similar to ours is to be found; to wit, to maintain a post against the flower of the British troops for six months together, without powder, and at the end of them to have one army disbanded and another to raise, within the same distance of a reinforced enemy. It is too much to attempt—what may be the final issue of the last manœuvre, time only can tell. I wish this month were well over our heads!” The second letter is dated in February of the next year (1776), in which he says: “I know the unhappy predicament I stand in. I know that much is expected of me. I know that without men, without arms, without ammunition, without anything fit for the accommodation of a soldier, that little is to be done, and, which is mortifying, I know that I cannot stand justified to the world, without exposing my own weakness and injuring the cause by declaring my wants, which I am determined not to do, further than unavoidable necessity brings every man acquainted with. My own situation feels so irksome to me at times that if I did not consult the publick good more than my own tranquillity I should long ere this have put everything to the cast of a die. So far from my having an army of twenty thousand men, well armed, etc., I have been here with less than one-half of it, including sick, furloughed, and on command; and those neither armed or clothed as they should be. In short, my situation has been such that I have been obliged to use art to conceal it from my own officers.”


Washington worked tirelessly over the reorganization of the army. He paid heed, not only to outward conditions, accoutrements, maintenance, etc., but he aimed to infuse a new spirit into the whole mass. Among his troops there were not a few wild fellows who led disgraceful lives. Washington issued an order, which read as follows: “At this time of public distress, men may find enough to do in the service of God and their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality. It is a noble cause we are engaged in. It is the cause of virtue and mankind. Every advantage and comfort to us and our posterity depend upon the vigor of our exertions; in short, freedom or slavery must be the result of our conduct. There can, therefore, be no greater inducement to men to behave well. But it may not be amiss to the troops to know that, if any man in action shall presume to skulk, hide himself, or retreat from the enemy without the order of his commanding officer, he will be instantly shot down as an example of cowardice; cowards having too frequently disconcerted the best-formed troops by their dastardly behavior.”


In camp this order of the day was attributed to a determination on the General’s part to risk striking a blow. And it was so. It was his intention to occupy Dorchester Heights, overlooking the city. On the night of the third to fourth of March, while he heavily bombarded the city to distract the attention of the enemy, the Heights were occupied and immediately fortified. This work was carried on with such zeal and success that the next morning at daybreak, when General Howe gazed up at the Heights, he could not conceal his amazement and broke out with the words: “The rebels have done more work in one night than my whole army would have done in one month.” Washington was prepared for a furious onslaught from the enemy, for Dorchester Heights commanded the town and therefore a repetition of the bloody fight at Bunker Hill was to be expected. Heavy rains for the next two days, however, prevented the British from advancing to the attack, while the Americans continued their work on the fortifications industriously. When the storm had subsided and Howe again inspected the works on the Heights, he decided that he dare not risk an attack. There was nothing left for him but the bitter alternative of evacuating the city and taking to the ships with his whole army. Immediately afterward Washington entered Boston.


The news of this event aroused the greatest joy all over the country. Congress determined to cause a gold medal, bearing the relief of Washington, to be coined in commemoration of the liberation of Boston. With a humble heart the General thanked God for the victory that had been won. He was happy in the conviction that this event would strengthen the confidence of the patriots. He would have been glad to dispense with the honor, which was to be paid him, for he foresaw full well that the road to complete success in the establishment of independence was to be a long and arduous one.


Chapter XI
The Declaration of Independence

As all their representations and petitions for just treatment had been made in vain, the Americans felt that the time had come to declare this to the world and to explain that they considered themselves absolved from all their duties to England and resolved to form a State of their own. It was a solemn moment when the announcement was made to the people assembled before the house of Congress in Philadelphia, on the fourth of July, 1776, that the thirteen colonies of America had voted for the Declaration of Independence and the bell rang out, upon which were engraved the words, “Liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants!” The pealing of this bell awakened the neighboring bells to life, and these still others, so that they echoed and reëchoed from village to village, from town to town, and thus within a short time the whole expectant country learned that the great and momentous step had been taken that separated it completely and irrevocably from the mother country; a step to which English tyranny had forced the American people.


Everywhere festivities were held to celebrate this great event. The inhabitants of Savannah organized a funeral procession and the effigy of George the Third was buried in front of the State House. One of the citizens pronounced a formal funeral oration in which he said, among other things: “The King has broken his oath to the crown in the most shameless fashion. He has trodden the constitution of our country and the sacred rights of man under foot. For this we lay his political body in the grave—the corrupt to corruption—in the confident hope that it will remain buried forever and ever, and never be resurrected to reign again over these free and independent States of America.” All freedom-loving people in Europe were in sympathy with the struggle across the ocean. Timid souls, to be sure, believed that this example would raise a storm everywhere against the monarchical form of government, although the Americans had been an example of long-suffering patience. Had they not striven to maintain the monarchical form with admirable devotion? What had they asked of the King? Only that the laws of the land should be respected. Laws are the foundation pillars of all government, even the monarchic. It is certainly true that it was King George the Third and his ministers who broke the tie which bound the colonies to England, and that the colonies did not declare themselves an independent nation until all their sincere efforts for just legislation had failed, owing to the obstinacy of the English government. Instead of giving them bread it offered them a stone. Tyranny answered their respectful petitions with powder and lead, instead of a conciliatory recognition of their rights.


The Declaration of Independence is a masterpiece in style and contents. The Americans did not invite others to follow their example; indeed they deprecate this, for it says: “Prudence indeed will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes”; but, on the other hand, the intention is evident, from the beginning of the document, of justifying their step before the whole world, while setting forth the true principles of government. It says, among other things:

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world:

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitutions and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their pretended acts of legislation:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

For transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offences;

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government;

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments;

For suspending our own legislatures and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever;

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is, at this time, transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny.

He has constrained our fellow-citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections among us and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms; our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in our attentions to our British brethren. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our separation and hold them as we hold the rest of mankind—enemies in war—in peace, friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in general congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

This Declaration of Independence, as well as the whole conduct of the Congress, won the admiration of the most brilliant thinkers of Europe, among them some who occupied thrones, but were watching without prejudice the progress of affairs. We shall mention only Frederick the Great, who, in his “Observations on the Condition of the European Governmental System,” had given utterance to ideas on the aims of government which were in complete accord with those being promulgated in the forests of America.


Chapter XII
Trying Times

“The star-spangled banner” had been raised; thirteen white stars, to represent the thirteen States, shone upon its blue field. The patriots must now win freedom beneath its folds or fall with honor. Many difficulties had been overcome, but still greater ones remained to be conquered. England was gathering all her strength together to subjugate the so-called rebels. New troops were sent to General Howe, including German subjects whom Great Britain had bought to use as executioners in America. The sale of subjects as mercenaries was of common occurrence during the heyday of the small principalities in Germany. The Princes of Hesse-Bayreuth-Anspach, Braunschweig, and Anhalt-Zerbst were engaged in this traffic. Hesse provided the greatest number, so that the German mercenaries in America were generally called Hessians. In Hesse a man who tried to get out of trouble by running away and fell into the hands of the elector’s spies was handcuffed and gagged. Complaints by his parents were answered by putting the father in irons and the mother in prison. In the market-place in Cassel, English agents bought Hessian subjects for one hundred dollars apiece. Frederick the Great said with bitter irony: “Let the lords of the country not forget to raise the duty on cattle also!” “No one,” relates the celebrated Seume, “was safe from these traders in souls [the princes]. They tried all methods—persuasion, strategem, deception. Even strangers of all kinds were attacked, locked up, and exported.” While his subjects were being marched on board ship, Alexander of Bayreuth-Anspach stood on the banks of the Main ready to shoot down any one who made an attempt to escape. In this way twenty-nine thousand Germans were sold to the English as “food for cannon.” “The thoughtful traveller,” says an English lord, “cannot look upon the magnificent gardens of ‘Wilhelmsberg’ at Cassel without a sigh, for the blood money of the citizens of Cassel and other places has been expended upon them.”


As we know, General Howe had been obliged to take refuge, with his troops, on the ships in Boston Harbor. It was his intention to land in another part of the country. Washington suspected that Howe had selected New York. Therefore he had sent the second officer in command of the American forces thither and he followed him in haste. Howe’s fleet had in the meantime joined the new fleet, so that the enemy was greatly in excess of the Americans in numbers. Howe landed on Long Island near New York. His object was to take that city and from thence cut off communications between the North and the South. A battle took place in which the Hessians especially greatly distinguished themselves by their bravery. They attacked the Americans with such desperation that it seemed as though these men, so brutally torn from their homes, were seeking death. The Americans were defeated. They were even in danger, during the next few days, of being surrounded on the island and taken prisoners. Therefore Washington determined under cover of night to embark with his little army. But while he was preparing, at dusk, for the execution of his plan and had given instructions to keep the campfires burning, in order to deceive the enemy, no one suspected that treason was already at work to destroy the American army. A lady of English sympathies had sent a slave to the British to carry them word of the movements of the Americans. Fortunately the slave fell into the hands of Hessian soldiers who stood guard at the outpost. It availed him nothing to declare that he had a very important message for General Howe. The Hessians did not understand a word of the language of the frantically gesticulating negro. They thought he might be a spy, so bound him and took him into custody, not turning him over to headquarters until next morning. By this time, however, his message, which would have been worth a fortune to General Howe the night before, had lost its importance, for the embarkation was completed and the enemy, whom he thought he had caught securely in a trap, had disappeared. Under the existing conditions Washington had acted for the best, and he carried out the plan of retreat with admirable skill. He had been on horseback for forty-eight hours—until all the army was embarked.


Thus the nucleus of the American forces was saved, but their number was insignificant indeed compared with the enemy’s. Many a patriot was full of dark forebodings and Washington passed many hours and days in which he was almost overwhelmed with fear that the good cause was doomed to defeat. But he was firmly resolved to remain true to it, even if his faithfulness should cost him his life.


He who has dedicated himself to the service of his country is most faithful in its hour of need. After this battle on Long Island, a time of deep distress began for the Americans, of which we get a clear picture from Washington’s letters. He wrote to the president of Congress: “Our situation is truly distressing. The check our detachments sustained in the battle on Long Island has dispirited too great a proportion of our troops and filled their minds with apprehension and despair. The militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts to a brave and manly opposition in order to repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off, in some instances almost by whole regiments, by half ones, and by companies at a time. This circumstance of itself, when fronted by a well-appointed enemy, superior in numbers to our whole collected force, would be sufficiently disagreeable; but when their example has infected another part of the army and destroyed all discipline, our condition is still more alarming. All these circumstances fully confirm the opinion I ever entertained that no dependence could be put in a militia. I am persuaded, and as fully convinced as I am of any one fact that has happened, that our liberties must of necessity be greatly hazarded, if not entirely lost, if their defence is left to any but a permanent standing army, I mean, one to exist during the war. Obedience, order, discipline are only possible with such an army.”


Two days later he wrote: “Our affairs have not undergone a change for the better. The militia under various pretences, of sickness, etc., are daily diminishing; and in a little time, I am persuaded, their number will be very inconsiderable.” In spite of all this, he still preserved enough calmness of soul to say a few words in defence of the faltering one. He wrote to a friend: “Men just dragged from the tender scenes of domestic life, unaccustomed to the din of arms, totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill, when opposed to troops regularly trained, disciplined, and appointed, became timid and ready to fly from their own shadows. Besides, the sudden change in their manner of living brings on sickness in many and impatience in all, and an unconquerable desire of returning to their respective homes.” A few days later, however, when he saw his best divisions giving way before a small company of Hessians, he lost the composure which nearly always distinguished him. He dashed in among the fleeing men, pulled his pistols from the holsters, and aimed them at his own soldiers, crying, “Are these the men with whom I am expected to defend my country?” Despair seized the General. It seemed as though he sought death, for he drew rein, while his men deserted him and the enemy was only fifty paces distant. His adjutant seized his horse’s bridle and led him away almost by force. The retreat was continued, Congress was kept informed of the situation, and at last they determined to raise a new body of troops. But the carrying out of this measure took time; men were not so quickly to be found, and when enlisted had to have some little military training.


The enemy, on the other hand, feeling encouraged by their late successes, were seeking to put the finishing touch to their opponents as quickly as possible. Other things helped to complicate the difficulties with which the American army had to contend. There were still many secret adherents of the British government in the United States. They now raised their heads once more and tried, wherever they found an opportunity, to aid the English army. Some of the States even sent recruits to General Howe! Under such circumstances what other alternative had the General than again to play the role of Fabius, to avoid the enemy, and postpone the decisive moment to a more favorable time? Many people, however, who were in sympathy with Congress, but did not know any particulars about the existing military conditions, became impatient with Washington’s tactics. The difficulty was, that a public explanation of the condition of affairs would have still more depressed the patriots and have encouraged the enemy in proportion. He was even attacked behind his back by ambitious men who, not understanding the situation, united for his downfall and for the purpose of transferring his rank and authority to another. For the sake of his country he bore even this indignity, it never entering his mind to quarrel with his intriguing enemies. Instead, he worked indefatigably for the cause of freedom. He carried on by far the greater part of the business at headquarters without any help. His correspondence with Congress alone took up a good deal of his time. The laws that were passed in Congress had to be referred to the governments of the several States for ratification, and the manner in which the laws were enacted made fresh negotiations with the thirteen State governments necessary at every juncture. We can readily see how all this complicated the work of the commander-in-chief, and what indefatigable energy, what self-control and patience were necessary not to lose sight of the end in view and not to fall into faults, either of rashness or negligence! In order to judge how comprehensive Washington’s correspondence was during the war and his public life afterward, we have only to learn that the letters written by his own hand and the answers to them, which were afterward carefully collected, fill two hundred folio volumes! They are a precious bequest to the American people. “Whoever wishes to understand the whole greatness of the Father of our Country, the grandeur and repose of his character, his unalterable aims and gigantic strength, must go to the font of his letters and reports.”


These were the work of his own pen. But besides these, what a work remained to be done! There was no end of conferences with professional men in the most various branches of activity. His strength and his time were in demand on all sides. It seems a marvel that a single man was able to attend to so many things at the same time; that misjudgment did not embitter him, and that the situation which seemed hopeless to most people did not discourage him. New York fell into the hands of the enemy, also Fort Washington, and the General had to withdraw his troops still farther. Lee, who tried to join him, was taken prisoner.


Chapter XIII
Washington Crosses the Delaware

There are times in the history of every nation when “the deepest sentiments of the people are revealed.” The young American nation was passing through such a period. Let us listen to Thomas Paine, whose writings greatly aided the American cause. He said: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. It is astonishing to see how suddenly a panic arises and how rapidly it spreads throughout the country. Every nation is, at times, subject to such panics, but they have their good side. The panic is of short duration and the heart is then firmer and more determined. Such panics are the touchstone of sincerity and hypocrisy.” And truly this period of hardship was of real advantage to the country, for the unreliable elements came to light, while the true patriots were the more clearly recognized. Congress gave expression to its renewed confidence in Washington’s ability by making him independent dictator of the military forces for six months. Before, however, the news of this proof of confidence reached him, he had proceeded to the execution of a daring plan, by the success of which he hoped greatly to strengthen the courage of some and remove the faint-heartedness of others.


December had set in with great severity, so that the British were not anxious to follow up their victories. Howe went into winter quarters with his regiments, thinking that he could afford to wait for a more favorable season before beginning to stamp out the expiring sparks of the rebellion. In the disposition of the troops at winter quarters the same method was pursued as in the attacks. The Hessians were placed at the front. Washington, who had made the necessary observations of the situation of the enemy, learned that the Hessians lay twelve or fifteen miles the other side of the Delaware River, in and about Trenton. Washington’s whole army consisted of seven thousand men. These he divided into three columns, which were to cross the Delaware simultaneously at three different points and attack the enemy. Christmas night was chosen for the attempt. Washington, at the head of the first column of twenty-four hundred men, whom he had chosen to lead himself, arrived at the river as night fell. A fierce north wind drove snow and hail into the faces of the Americans and the water was full of floating ice. Under these circumstances, crossing the river was not only difficult, but very dangerous. Washington had counted upon reaching the other side by midnight. On such a night and against such odds of storm and ice this was impossible, and it was not until three o’clock that the last of the troops were landed. The column carried twenty field pieces with them. About four o’clock all was in order and the march on Trenton began. The storm continued to rage. How was this march to end? They were to meet an enemy of ten times their strength who, in case they had learned of the plan, would doubtless have taken up favorable positions to receive them. It was uncertain whether the other two columns had been able to cross. (Later it was found that they had not crossed until several hours later.) Toward eight o’clock the vanguard of the first column was greeted with rifle shots which gave the alarm to the division of Hessians occupying Trenton. They had scarcely assembled before Washington appeared before the city and began the attack. They made, at first, a gallant defence, but when their colonel fell, they laid down their arms. Thus about one thousand men, among them twenty-four officers, fell into the hands of the Americans. Several hundred men saved themselves by flight, which would not have occurred had the other two columns of Washington’s forces succeeded in crossing the river in time to occupy the bridges according to his orders.



Discretion led him for the present to be satisfied with the success already won. The enemy was in the neighborhood with the bulk of his forces and it was to be expected would immediately try to wipe out the disgrace it had suffered. Washington recrossed the Delaware. This daring feat, crossing the river and the successful battle at Trenton, had magical effect upon thousands of citizens. Wherever the captured Hessians were taken the people turned out to see them. They had shown themselves to be the most dangerous foes of the Americans in battle. They had become brutalized through war, and misery had led them into committing many deeds of violence in the towns and country. The prisoners were now in danger of having the vengeance of the people visited upon them for the outrages committed by them or their comrades. Washington issued a manifesto in which he explained that these men had not voluntarily come to America to fight against the liberties of the people, but were the victims of the tyranny of a prince, who had sold them like cattle, wherefore he bespoke pity for them instead of revengeful feelings. His appeal had the desired effect.


In the meantime Washington learned that instead of pursuing him, the British had retired. He then determined to risk a second blow. Four days after the first attempt he crossed the Delaware again. General Howe sent Lord Cornwallis with eight thousand men against him. Washington took up a strong position and repulsed several attacks of the British. Lord Cornwallis was full of confidence, for, in the first place, his army was greatly in excess of the enemy’s in numbers and besides he was expecting reinforcements. So, as he expressed it, he thought he had caught the fox in his lair. He did not dream that Washington had no intention of remaining at the fortified place until it should please his excellency, Lord Cornwallis, to attack him with his reinforced army. To be sure the campfires still blazed through the night upon the spot which had been occupied by the Americans the day before; but when morning dawned and Cornwallis looked upon the empty lair with astonishment and disgust, Washington, who had marched around him with his troops, was in his rear at Princeton, several miles away. There he fell upon the reinforcements intended for Lord Cornwallis, three British regiments, and a fierce encounter took place. The British defended themselves desperately and for quite a while the outcome was uncertain. The danger for the Americans was growing greater every moment. The fact of finding the camp deserted in the morning, together with the distant cannonading, must long ago have enlightened Cornwallis as to the enemy’s movements. Suppose that he should come up and attack the Americans in the rear, while they were still engaged in the struggle with his reinforcements! They must gain the victory and that right soon. The Americans, who had been greatly encouraged by the victory at Trenton four days previously, fought with wonderful intrepidity. They were inspired too by the ardor of their General. Wherever the fight was fiercest, he was to be seen. That tall, manly figure, glowing with the fire of battle, was a magnificent sight. Often the General was lost to the view of his anxious men amid the smoke of battle, and they trembled at the thought of what would become of the cause if death should overtake him now. Such superhuman efforts could not fail of success. The enemy fled, leaving five hundred men dead and wounded on the battlefield and three hundred more prisoners in the power of the enemy. Washington’s soldiers were wonderfully elated. One of them wrote shortly afterward: “We felt as though resurrected from the dead. Recruits flocked into our lines, old soldiers reënlisted.” Another soldier wrote of Washington’s conduct in the battle: “The army loves the General mightily; but one thing they criticise about him—he is too careless of his person in every battle. His personal courage and the wish to enkindle his troops by his own example makes him forget all danger.” Washington now went into winter quarters in the mountainous region about Morristown, took up an invulnerable position, and continued to molest the enemy by sending out marauding parties, to such an extent that they found it necessary to withdraw from the neighborhood.


In Europe also, before the crossing of the Delaware, the American cause was considered lost. Now confidence that America would be able to establish her independence was reawakened both at home and abroad. In France there was an enthusiastic espousal of the cause of the American people and their heroic General. Even in England many gave Washington the honorable title of the American Fabius.


Chapter XIV

France was the country where enthusiasm for America was first kindled and where it burned most brightly. The struggle of a people for their liberties found great sympathy there, because the French people had for a long time suffered deeply under the misrule of the Bourbons, and the discontent was already brewing which, a few years later, led to such a terrible outbreak. There are those who put the American war for independence and the French revolution in the same category. But what a gulf there is between the two historical events! The cause, tyranny of the ruler, was the same in both instances, but the conduct of the revolution, the aim and consequences, were as different from one another as the Anglo-Saxon character is from that of the Latin. We must again recall the fact that the Americans had been anxious for a long time to reëstablish the old ties, which had been so recklessly loosened by the rulers, on a constitutional basis, and that it was not until they had exhausted every possible means of reconciliation, and until the government had closed every avenue of legal justice against them that they set to work to create a new constitution for themselves. In all their operations they never so far forgot themselves as to misuse the property of the church; on the contrary, their action was consecrated by religion. It was and remained their standard in the creation of a new constitution. What a contrast to the French people, who, in breaking the fetters of their slavery, overthrew the altars of religion at the same time! America gained her liberties in a reverent spirit, through earnest work; while France, possessed by madness, rent herself and did not succeed in shaking off the bonds of tyranny, though under new circumstances it gave itself grandiose names to deceive itself and others. What do the differing manifestations of the popular spirit mean? The Americans belong to the great Anglo-Saxon race, which has a deeply religious spirit. To them the laws of government mean a reflection of the eternal laws which find their expression in religion. Their object is to bring the laws of the State into harmony with the tenets of religion; to make it an animating and illuminating force in the life of the State. Thus in seeking to develop earthly life they draw from a divine source. It is different with the Latin race, in whom this deep religious strain is absent. This is most clearly apparent in the French nation. They have had many political revolutions without gaining any permanent constitutional advantages, and they will probably continue to teach the world that a people, however talented they may be in some directions, will nevertheless never reach the harbor of a well-ordered political status unless the aspiration dwell within them continually to purify and elevate their moral condition by serious examination of themselves.


This criticism refers to the French people as a whole. That there were excellent individuals among them no one will dispute, and these were full of enthusiasm for the struggle for liberty in the forests of America. One of the noblest among them was Lafayette. He was nineteen years old, an officer, handsome, rich, happily married, and his family was one of the most influential in France. He had the prospect of a brilliant position at court, but he despised the luxurious life there. It was revolting to him to see how the taxes, which were squeezed out of the people, were wasted, and as the frivolous and bewildering Parisian life was very distasteful to him, he had retired to live on one of his estates far from the capital, where he passed happy days in the society of his beautiful, amiable, and well-educated wife. But his love of liberty urged him continually to devote himself to the great work of emancipation. Botta tells us: “Filled with the enthusiasm which great events usually inspire in noble natures, he made the cause of the Americans his own with that peculiar ardor which possessed most people at that time and particularly the French. He felt it to be just and sacred. Burning with the desire to take part in the struggle, he had laid his plan of going to their country before the American ambassadors in Paris, and they had confirmed him in his resolution. But when they received news of the disasters on Long Island and were almost in despair of the success of the revolution, they were honorable enough to advise him not to go. They even told him that in the terrible situation in which they were placed, they did not have the means to fit out a ship to carry him to America. The undismayed young man is said to have answered that now was the time when their cause most needed help; that his departure would have all the more effect because the people were so discouraged; and finally, that if they could not provide a ship for him, he should fit one out at his own expense. What he had said came to pass. The world was amazed. This decision on the part of a man of such rank gave rise to all kinds of rumors. The French court, perhaps because it did not wish to offend England, forbade the marquis to embark. It was even said that ships had been sent out to capture him in the waters of the Antilles. In spite of all this, he tore himself from the arms of his lovely young wife and set sail.” Lafayette landed safely in America and presented himself immediately before the president of Congress. Shortly before this there had been some unfortunate experiences with Frenchmen. French officers had presented themselves with high pretensions to rank and compensation. Lafayette offered to serve as a common soldier and to pay his own expenses. His bearing and appearance immediately won the confidence of the earnest men in Congress, and he was accorded the rank of major-general. Washington received him at headquarters with open arms, and a particularly intimate friendship sprang up between them, which was terminated only by death. Lafayette found many opportunities of proving his capabilities on the battlefield.


A noble Pole, the celebrated Thaddeus Kosciuszko, also dedicated his sword to the American struggle for independence. From youth he had been distinguished by a noble and generous nature. At the Institute for Cadettes at Warsaw he soon surpassed all his fellow students through his indefatigable devotion to his studies. As an officer, he became acquainted with the daughter of the rich and aristocratic Marshal of Lithuania, Joseph Sosnowsky, and was soon hopelessly enamoured of her. Both of them were young, handsome, intellectual, and full of enthusiasm for all that was good and beautiful, seemingly created for each other. Her father thought otherwise, for he wished for a son-in-law of rank and wealth. On his knees and with tears, Kosciuszko begged the marshal for his consent to the union of their hearts. Insolent words and threats were his answer. In vain the marshal’s wife and daughter threw themselves at his feet. He threatened to put his daughter in a convent. Then the lovers resolved to fly together. The execution of the plan took place on a dark night, but their secret was betrayed and the marshal sent a number of armed horsemen after the pair. A struggle took place and Kosciuszko, seriously wounded, sank to the ground. When he awakened after a swoon of several hours, he found himself lying in his own blood. Beside him lay a white veil which his beloved had lost in the moment of danger. This he kept and wore always as a sacred treasure upon his person in all his battles. Kosciuszko came to America to triumph or die in the war for independence. He presented himself, without means or any letters of introduction whatever, to the commander-in-chief, General Washington. “What do you wish to do?” asked the General, who was always laconic. “I have come to fight as a volunteer for the independence of America,” was the equally short and fearless answer. “What are you capable of doing?” the General asked further, and Kosciuszko answered with his characteristic noble simplicity: “Put me to the test.” It was done, and Washington soon recognized the abilities of the noble Pole. With the rank of colonel, he was on the staff of several generals. When the British were pursued on their retreat from Philadelphia, Kosciuszko, at the head of a band of volunteers, performed marvels of valor. Lafayette, who was chief in command of that section of the army which was pursuing the enemy, asked, on the evening of that fierce day’s work, who the leader of those volunteers was. Some one told him: “He is a young Pole of noble lineage, but poor. His name, if I am not mistaken, is Kosciuszko.” The volunteers were encamped about a half hour’s ride distant. Lafayette galloped thither straightway, had Kosciuszko’s tent pointed out to him, and entered it. There he found the hero, still covered with dust and blood, sitting at a table, his head resting on his arm and with a map spread out before him. From that time the two were close friends.


We must also mention a German who played a prominent role in the war for independence—Baron Steuben. He was a graduate of the Prussian military academy, the foremost one in Europe, as Washington declared, and in him America had a General who was able to accomplish wonders in discipline. Without understanding a word of English he undertook the office of inspector-general which was offered him, and he understood how to train these free men so that a word or a look was sufficient to carry out his orders with absolute precision. Later the government made him a present of twenty-six thousand acres, “for the eminent services rendered to the United States during the war,” and on this property he settled down. Like him, many Germans had come to America to help complete the great task of the emancipation of a people from tyranny. Whole regiments were formed of German immigrants and American descendants of Germans, and these Washington considered among his most daring and reliable troops.


Chapter XV
Peace is Declared

It was a seven years’ holy war which the Americans were obliged to wage. Dark times were still to follow, times in which, even among the best men, the belief in a successful outcome was shaken. In regard to military organization and discipline there was still much to be desired, for the measure of it which had been successfully introduced by Baron Steuben had not immediately permeated the whole army. Indeed the whole military body was as yet only in process of formation and at the same time the situation was such that unprecedented feats of endurance had to be required of the soldiers. They were very badly off in the matter of arms and other necessaries. Often even proper food was wanting. Clothing and weapons were scarce. Congress had been obliged to resort to the introduction of paper money, which was copied in England, sent over in quantities, and by this means reduced in value. As the enemy commanded the seas and occupied first one part of the country, then another, taking possession relentlessly of whatever they wanted, trade and commerce were extinguished and misery and want were prevalent among the inhabitants. What would have happened had the country not possessed in Washington a commander whose example was always an inspiration to others and whose words of wisdom always appealed to hearts and heads! In war the soldier is readily inclined, especially when he is in need, to take possession of whatever seems necessary or desirable by force. We read of wars in which the peaceable inhabitants suffer equally from friend and foe in this respect. Even Congress closed an eye when it became known that parts of the American army had taken forcible possession of provisions. Not so the commander-in-chief. In this matter also he strove for the just and the right course. He urged Congress to regulate the supplies for the army and showed the unfortunate consequences which must ensue if it became their custom to take possession of the necessaries of life by force. “Such a proceeding,” he says, in one of his letters, “must, even though it should afford temporary relief, have the most disastrous consequences eventually. It spreads discontent, hatred, and fear amongst the people, and never fails, even among the best disciplined troops, to fan the flame of degeneracy, plunder, and robbery, which is later hard to subdue; and these habits become ruinous, not only to the populace, but especially to the army. I shall consider it as the greatest of misfortunes if we are reduced to the necessity of adopting such methods.” In spite of all this the General was continually the victim of slanders. Foolish people misunderstood him, ambitious ones strove to procure his position. Like General Lee, earlier in the war, General Gates now schemed to supersede the commander-in-chief. In some parts of the army there were mutinies. To Congress, which demanded relentless punishment, Washington said: “One must consider that the soldiers are not made of stone or wood, invulnerable to hunger and thirst, frost and snow.” It sometimes happened that the roads were marked with the bloody footprints of the soldiers, who were mostly without shoes even in winter! But at the same time he appealed to the soldiers, explained to them with urgent words the situation of their country, the dignity of their profession, and the demands which the country had a right to make on them. Among other things he said: “Our profession is the most chaste of any; even the shadow of a fault sullies the purity of our praiseworthy deeds.” While appealing thus to the better elements in human nature, he had the satisfaction of seeing that his procedure was meeting with success. The iron hand of severity and its attendant horrors he kept for the most extreme cases, but in these he let the military laws take their course inexorably. Mutineers were sometimes shot and spies were delivered up to the rope.


In the Fall of 1777 the fortunes of war were twice in quick succession favorable to the British in the battles of the Brandywine and Germantown. A second British army under Burgoyne was to advance from Canada. Washington had sent a division to meet him under Gates and Arnold. An engagement took place which was undecided, but soon afterward, at Saratoga, the British general was obliged to capitulate and Congress was notified that: “This fortunate day’s work has given us six generals and five thousand soldiers, five thousand guns and twenty-seven cannon, with their ammunition. During the campaign we have, besides, taken two thousand prisoners, among them several of the higher officers.”

This success ripened a project which had been under consideration for a long time: an alliance with France. It was not love of the newly constructed nation that induced the French government to declare herself openly as an ally of America, but hatred of England, whom she wished to weaken as much as possible. Joy was great among the American people over the conclusion of the alliance. However, comparatively little was done by France, who, moreover, intended to reimburse herself, for the assistance rendered, by acquiring lands. The Americans, after all, had to rely principally on their own exertions and resources. As England now had two enemies to contend with, she redoubled her efforts with great vigor. General Howe, who for years had been boasting and had so often announced that in a short time the rebels would be completely routed, but had never reached this goal, was recalled and replaced by General Clinton. To a greater extent than had ever been done before, the Indian tribes of the Iroquois and Creeks were urged by British agents to undertake marauding expeditions in the American settlements. They even offered themselves as leaders of these murderous bands. They spread fire and murder through the American colonies to the full extent of their power. The consequence was a campaign in which the colonists sought to revenge themselves. But this was not the only result. The resistance of the Americans was inflamed by the fact that the British had let loose these bands of savages, who practised many unheard-of cruelties even against women and girls. Patriotism had been awakened in the breasts of the women, and a youth or man who did not show himself ready to serve his country was now looked upon with scorn.


There were many battles in which first one side, then the other, gained the advantage. At last, through clever generalship, Washington, who had the French troops also under his command, was successful in shutting up General Cornwallis in Yorktown. Having had several successes the British general had become too daring and had ventured too far to the front. By means of counter marches Washington managed to conceal his intentions from General Clinton very successfully. Cornwallis’ cry for help reached the British commander too late: “I cannot hold Yorktown for any length of time. If you cannot relieve me, you may expect the worst.” The engagement was opened with the combined forces and soon afterward, October 19, 1781, Cornwallis capitulated. Nearly eight thousand of the British were taken captive and two hundred cannon were seized. Not a prisoner was harmed, although it was well known that a short time before this American prisoners had been murdered by the British.


Everywhere the conviction spread that American independence was assured! Lafayette, who had greatly distinguished himself in leading a storming column, wrote to Count Maurepas: “The piece is played out, the fifth act is just ended.” On receiving the news, Franklin said: “Hearty thanks for the glorious news. The young Hercules has strangled his second serpent in the cradle!” In England also it was recognized more and more that “the colonies cannot again be brought under our dominion!” A new ministry took the reins, negotiations were begun, and at last, on September 3, 1783, peace was formally declared between Great Britain and the American Republic, whose independence was thereby recognized.


Chapter XVI
Washington’s Farewell to the Army

America was free. It had won its freedom by an heroic struggle. And now came the task of making a wise use of this freedom. One who had contemplated the character of the American people, as it had revealed itself during the preliminaries to the war and during its progress, must have said to himself: “A circumspect and therefore secure procedure in the affairs of the new government is to be expected from a people of such character!” And yet, immediately after the conclusion of peace, the republic was in great danger. The nucleus of the army consisted of men who for years had been weaned from the occupations of peace. Congress had granted them a bonus of several years’ pay, but after that the prospect remained of their being obliged to return to their former occupations. This did not suit them. They had had an opportunity of comparing their position with that of the French soldiers with whom they had fought side by side. In the French army the officers were in great part young nobles, to whom the profession of arms was a sort of charitable institution and haven of refuge. What a contrast between these gold-embroidered marquises, counts, and cadets and the plainly dressed officers of the American army. In their outward appearance the American officers could not even compare with the common French soldiery, the spruce musketeers and grenadiers of the French line. Thus the American soldiers, thinking more of their own advantage and position than of the general good, considering that the soldier would be better off if the country were ruled by a king, conceived the wish that the free form of government which had arisen during the war should be set aside and a monarchical form substituted for it. If this had been the general demand of the country, there would have been nothing to be said against it. The discussion as to whether the republican or monarchic form of government is the better is an idle one. Nations have lived happily under one as well as the other. The happiness of a people does not depend on a particular form of government so much as on the respect for law and on the self-sacrificing devotion of individuals to the welfare of the State. The wish for a monarchy proceeded only from the selfish desires of one class. Of course if they wished to carry out their plan, it was necessary to fix upon some prominent man, and who else should this be but Washington? A reputable officer, Colonel Lewis Nicola, was appointed to notify the commander-in-chief of the wishes of the army. He did this very tactfully in a letter. A constitution with a king at the head, he said, was the best form of government for America. Washington was requested to work toward this end, taking at first a more modest title and later calling himself king.


For many a man in the General’s position this would have been a temptation impossible to resist. With a consenting nod, the army would have proclaimed the commander-in-chief king. If the army had made him king, to be sure, he would then have been obliged to come to their terms. There is no doubt that had Washington obeyed that voice his fame would have been sullied for all time. The majority would have been coerced for the sole purpose of ministering to the selfishness of the minority. Foundation principles expressing the will of the majority had already been formulated during the terrible struggle and were sealed with the heart’s blood of the nation, and in this constitution a crown had no place. Frankly considered, what was now proposed to Washington was that he should make himself guilty of treason to the people. The most zealous fighter against the destruction of constitutional government was expected to commit this detestable crime.


As the witches had shown Macbeth a golden circlet, so now Washington was tempted with a sparkling crown. Ah! but he was not a Macbeth. Ambitious greed held no place in his great and pure soul. “This will I give you, if you will sin; the greatness of your fortunes shall be worthy of the greatness of the crime!” Thus, though disguised in innocent form, read the words of the venomous old serpent of ambition, the liar, the destroyer of human happiness. Not for a moment did Washington allow himself to become entangled in the web of temptation. He immediately sent the following answer to the colonel: “With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment, I have read with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured, sir, no occurrence in the course of this war has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have expressed, and which I must view with abhorrence and reprehend with severity. For the present the communication of them will rest in my own bosom, unless some further agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary. 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 mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to my own feelings, I must add that no man possesses a more serious wish to see ample justice done to the army than I do; and as far as my power and influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion. Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind and never communicate, as from yourself or any one else, a sentiment of the like nature.”


In the same spirit he took his farewell of the army in announcing the declaration of peace. After he had recalled the heroic deeds which they had done on the battlefield, he paid his tribute to them for the manner in which they had discarded all narrow provincial prejudices, made up, as they were, of the greatest variety of elements, and had become a harmonious body, a patriotic brotherhood. He urged them to maintain in times of peace the reputation which they had won; that his friends should not forget that thrift, wisdom, and industry, the virtues of the citizen in private life, were not less valuable than the brilliant qualities of courage, endurance, and initiative in war; that officers and men should live amicably with the other citizens and strive with all their might to preserve and strengthen the government of the United States. If this should not be done, the honor and dignity of the nation would be lost forever.


He took particular leave of his officers at a banquet. Taking his glass of wine in his hand he said: “With a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you, most devoutly wishing that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.” After lifting the wine to his lips and drinking a farewell benediction, he added, while his voice trembled with emotion: “I cannot come to each of you to take my leave, but shall be obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.” With deep emotion General Knox, who stood nearest to the General, went to him and held out his trembling hand. Overcome by his feelings, Washington could not speak a word and could only embrace the General affectionately. The other officers followed and not an eye remained dry.


There had been some men in Congress who, considering the ominous examples in history, had not been free of anxiety lest Washington might not easily relinquish his powerful position after peace had been won. They were now reassured. At a solemn session of Congress he laid down his office. In the address which he gave on this occasion he said, among other things: “Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which, however, was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven. The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my countrymen, increases with every view of the momentous contest.” In closing he said: “I consider it as an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to His Holy keeping. Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my commission and take my leave of all the employments of public life.”

Washington then handed his marshal’s staff to the president. The president replied to the address, and said, among other things: “Having defended the standard of liberty in this new world; having taught a lesson useful to those who inflict and to those who feel oppression, you retire from the great theatre of action with the blessings of your fellow citizens. But the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your military command. It will continue to animate remotest ages. We join you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, beseeching Him to dispose the hearts and minds of its citizens to improve the opportunity afforded them of becoming a happy and respectable nation!”


Before his departure Washington sent a letter to General Steuben, in which he cordially acknowledged the debt which America owed to him and his German countrymen for the effective assistance rendered in the work of freeing the colonies, and he added that Steuben might consider him a true friend and be assured that if there should be any opportunity of giving practical proof of this friendship, he should not fail to do so.

Washington refused any remuneration and accepted only compensation for the expenses and outlay which he had incurred, presenting an account which contained the smallest details of his expenses.

Then this great, wise, and good man returned to his country seat at Mount Vernon to pass the rest of his life in quiet retirement. His manner of life there is best shown by a letter which he wrote to Lafayette: “At length I am become a private citizen, free from the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life. I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments of which the soldier, who is ever in pursuit of fame, the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries, as if this globe was insufficient for us all, and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his prince, in hopes of catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order of my march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my fathers.”


Hospitality was one of the principal virtues practised at Mount Vernon. “A glass of wine and a piece of mutton are always to be had,” wrote Washington to Lafayette. “Whoever is satisfied with these will always be welcome; if he expects more he will be disappointed.”

Private persons as well as the government had vainly tried to induce Washington to accept a reward for his services. A stock company which had been formed, on Washington’s advice, to make two rivers navigable, received the approval of Congress for its work. The opportunity was seized as a new means of rewarding him, for he was responsible for the drawing up of the well-considered plan. The board of directors determined to turn over to him 150 shares at 100 pounds sterling each. The presentation was made in such a way that Washington feared that a refusal to accept might be construed as a lack of respect. Therefore he accepted the shares, adding, however, that he intended to use them for the public welfare. And in his will we read that he set aside that sum for the building of a university in the central part of the United States.



Chapter XVI
Last Days

Washington had enjoyed the pleasures of retirement on his estate for four years when his country again claimed his services for the general good and he was unanimously elected President of the United States. He had misgivings as to his ability to fulfil the duties of the highest office in the government. His success in the military field, he argued, did not guarantee that he was capable of becoming a wise administrator. The people, however, thought otherwise. In the countless decrees and orders which Washington had issued during the long period of the war, the great statesman had been apparent as well as the great general. And especially at the moment when the constitution, which had been amended in the meanwhile, was to receive its first trial, every one felt that no hand could hold the rudder of State so securely as Washington’s. His friends urged him to sacrifice his love of private life once more for his country. He hesitatingly accepted. “To-day,” he writes in his diary on April 16, 1789, “I bade farewell to private life and domestic felicity. I am so overwhelmed with care and painful emotion that words fail me to express it. I have set out on the journey to New York to obey the call of my country with the best intentions to serve her in every possible way, but with poor prospect of fulfilling her expectations.”


His journey resembled a triumphal procession. The inhabitants of Trenton paid him particular honors, in remembrance of his memorable crossing of the Delaware twelve years previously. Triumphal arches were erected on the bridge, bearing appropriate inscriptions, and little girls in white dresses strewed the path which the “choice of the people” was to tread with flowers. A gayly decorated vessel, guided by thirteen pilots in the name of the thirteen States, brought him into New York Harbor. The love of the people touched and encouraged him, but did not suffice to quite banish the burden of care which the contemplation of all the difficulties which were awaiting him had laid upon him. It was to be read in his face and in his whole bearing. He said in his inaugural address:


“It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States, a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments, not less than my own, nor those of my fellow citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States.” The close says: “There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of the public prosperity and felicity. Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained, and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”


He wrote to his friend Lafayette: “Harmony, honesty, industry, and temperance are the qualities to make us a great and happy people. This path to the attainment of the people’s happiness is as plain and straight as a ray of light.” He would not accept a salary even as President. He considered it a great boon to be in a position to render services to the State without remuneration. With grave earnestness he took up the labors of his position, in order to master the difficulties that awaited him on all sides. A heavy load of debt was hanging over the country, commerce and trade needed encouragement, and the frontiers suffered much from the depredations of Indian tribes. With the outbreak of the French revolution new difficulties arose. Washington considered the events in Paris a natural consequence of previous misgovernment, but in spite of his esteem for certain Frenchmen, he soon felt that the moral earnestness essential for the attainment of true liberty was lacking among the masses of the French people. His prophetic soul already foresaw what the end of the movement would be. He pointed out the erratic qualities of the French people and the bloody acts of revenge of which they were guilty and continued: “There certainly are reefs and sand-bars enough on which the Ship of State may be wrecked, and in this case a much more disastrous despotism will result from the movement than that from which the people have suffered before.” Whatever was sound in the French revolution was brought back by the French who had fought in America. Unfortunately the sound ideas, as we know, did not long prevail, and with the reaction came corresponding bestial degeneration. The fate which overtook King Louis the Sixteenth moved Washington profoundly; never in his life, those close to him have told us, had he been so crushed and bowed down as when the news of Louis’ execution was received. The horrors in France had their echoes in America; clubs were formed which presented the claims of the French Jacobins. A picture was published by them with the inscription, “Washington’s Funeral,” in which he was represented standing under the guillotine; they did not conceal their intention of ignoring the President and the Constitution. Washington stood firm amidst party storms, as he had once stood on the Delaware when storm and ice threatened to destroy his bark. This firmness and the further development of the bloody drama in France caused the extreme party in America gradually to lose its influence with the people and finally to disappear.


Washington was elected President for the second time in 1793. The eight years of his administration were very prosperous ones. His interpretation and administration of the Constitution have always been considered the standard, among the best of his successors, for their actions. At the end of his second term, when Washington learned that the people really intended to confer on him for the third time the highest honor in the land, he begged his fellow citizens to put the rudder of State into younger hands, and in an official declaration he decisively declined a reëlection. He also took leave of the nation, at the same time giving them some golden words of advice: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice; let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”


In closing he said: “Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am, nevertheless, too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.”


For a year and a half thereafter he led a life of tranquil happiness on his estate in the country. On the twelfth of December, 1799, during a ride, he was overtaken by a storm and took a severe cold. All treatment was unavailing. His breathing became very painful. He said to the doctor, with unclouded glance and in a calm voice, “Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it. My breath cannot last long.” In the evening, at ten o’clock, he sank to eternal rest.

His death took place December 14, 1799, in his sixty-eighth year. In his will Washington freed his slaves, providing at the same time for the old and infirm among them, and setting aside large sums for the founding of a university and of a free school for poor children.


Chapter XVIII
Blest be His Memory

John Marshall announced the death of Washington in the House of Representatives in a trembling voice. The emotion with which this news was received was so profound that the session had to be suspended. In conformity with his expressed desire, the deceased was buried on the grounds of his estate, without pomp and without any funeral oration. Members of the order of Free Masons, whose noble principles he had always practised during his lifetime, silently cast a shower of white roses into his grave.

In the House of Representatives the speaker’s chair was hung with black and the members wore mourning during the remainder of the session. The above-mentioned John Marshall pronounced a touching eulogy on Washington and made a proposal which was unanimously seconded. This was that a committee should be named to consider how best to honor the memory of Washington, the man who was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”


What was the secret of the mysterious power in Washington which enhanced all his talents and gave him control over men and events? It was reason ruling his passions, his modest deference to the judgment of others, his just consideration of the rights and claims of others, his deliberation in promises and undertakings, the deep earnestness of his nature, the respect-compelling firmness of his actions, his strong sense of duty in carrying out his work, the high regard for the voice of conscience which he exacted of himself even in his youth. Washington had a horror of gambling, which he called the source of all vice, the destroyer of character and health, the child of greed, the brother of injustice, the father of depravity. He looked upon war only as a means toward peace, for his sole object was the welfare of the people. His triumphs in war were in themselves but as dross to him if they had not guaranteed liberty and the assured development of the prosperity of the country. In making appointments to positions of trust he never allowed considerations of friendship or relationship to influence him, and even his opponents admitted that no man’s sense of justice in this regard was more unbending than his. How touching it is to note that at every stage of his glorious career the longing prevailed to return to the employments of country life, from the field of war to the shade of his own vine and fig tree on the banks of the Potomac, to escape from the publicity of official life to the happy domestic circle, to withdraw into the sweet retirement of an inner life which gave him a happiness of which the ambitious soldier and the anxious statesman know nothing. The Christian world can scarcely find, in the life of a public man, another example of such religious conviction, such humility, and such a deep and sincere purpose to emulate Christ’s example in justice, charity, brotherly love, moderation, and equanimity of soul. And it was not only his admirers who conceded to him the highest attributes of wisdom, moderation, and justice in intellectual, ethical, and political fields, but also his opponents and enemies. In examining his life, wherever we look, the absolute sincerity of the man’s nature is apparent. In every direction the study of his life gives us the most fruitful incentives and examples. It teaches a lesson to those who doubt the real power of virtue. His sterling worth eclipses all false brilliancy and his life has given us a higher standard in our judgment of the great characters in history, a standard which had almost been lost during centuries of despotism. The dazzling events and brilliant deeds in the life of a Napoleon lowered the standard for a time, but were not able to destroy it.



The following is a chronological statement of the principal events connected with this narrative:

1732Birth of Washington.
1751Adjutant of Virginia troops.
1753Commander of a military district.
1753-54Mission to French authorities.
1754Appointed lieutenant-colonel.
1755Braddock’s defeat.
1758Reduction of Fort Duquesne.
1775Delegate to Continental Congress.
1775Appointed commander-in-chief.
1776British evacuate Boston.
1776American defeat, Long Island.
1777Victory of Princeton.
1777Defeat at Germantown.
1778Drawn battle at Monmouth.
1781Surrender of Cornwallis.
1783Resigned his commission.
1787President of Constitutional Convention.
1789Elected President of the United States.
1793Reëlected President of the United States.
1796Farewell address to the people.


Translated from the German by

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