Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ness, or should they toll for the death of bright hopes, now the task was done? Washington was intensely human. In that hour of silent thought his heart must have swelled with a consciousness that he had led his people through a successful Revolution, and now again from the darkness of political confusion and dissolution to the threshold of a new existence. But at the same time he never deceived himself. The new Constitution was but an experiment and an opportunity. Would the States accept it? And if they accepted it, would they abide by it? Was this instrument of government, wrought out so painfully, destined to go to pieces after a few years of trial, or was it to prove strong enough to become the charter of a nation and hold the States together indissolubly against all the shocks of politics and revolution? Washington, with his foresight and strong national instinct, plainly saw these momentous questions, somewhat dim then, although clear to all the world to-day. We can guess how solemnly he thought about them as he meditated alone in his room on that September afternoon.

Whatever his reflections, his conclusions were simple. He made up his mind that the only chance for the country lay in the adoption of the new scheme, but he was sober enough in his opinions as to the Constitution itself. He said of it to Lafayette the day after the signing: "It is the result of four months' deliberation. It is now a child of fortune, to be fostered by some and buffeted by others. What will be the general opinion or the reception of it is not for me to decide; nor shall I say anything for or against it. If it be good, I suppose it will work its way; if bad, it will recoil on the framers." We catch sight here of the old theory that his public life was at an end, and now, when this exceptional duty had been performed, that he would retire once more to remote privacy. This fancy, as well as the extremely philosophical mood about the fate of the Constitution, apparent in this letter, soon disappeared. Within a week he wrote to Henry, in whom he probably already suspected the most formidable opponent of the new plan in Virginia: "I wish the Constitution, which is offered, had been more perfect; but I sincerely believe it is the best that could be obtained at this time, and as a constitutional door is opened for amendments hereafter, the adoption of it under the present circumstances of the Union is, in my opinion, desirable." Copies of this letter were sent to Harrison and Nelson, and the correspondence thus started soon increased rapidly. He wrote to Hamilton and Madison to counsel with them as to the prospects of the Constitution, and to Knox to supply him with arguments and urge him to energetic work. By January of the new year the tone of indifference and doubt manifested in the letter to Lafayette had quite gone, and we find him writing to Governor Randolph, in reply to that gentleman-s objections: "There are some things in the new form, I will readily acknowledge, which never did, and I am persuaded never will, obtain my cordial approbation, but I did then conceive and do now most firmly believe that in the aggregate it is the best Constitution that can be obtained at this epoch, and that this or a dissolution of the Union awaits our choice, and is the only alternative before us. Thus believing, I had not, nor have I now, any hesitation in deciding on which to lean."

Thus the few letters to a few friends extended to many letters to many friends, and travelled into every State. They all urged the necessity of adopting the Constitution as the best that could be obtained. What Washington's precise objections to the Constitution were is not clear. In a general way it was not energetic enough to com* up to his ideal, but he never particularized in his criticisms. He may have admitted the existence of defects in order simply to disarm opposition, and doubtless he, like most of the framers, was by no means completely satisfied with his work. But he brushed all faults aside, and drove steadily forward to the great end in view. He was as far removed as possible from that highly virtuous and very ineffective class of persons who will not support anything that is not perfect, and who generally contrive to do more harm than all the avowed enemies of sound government. Washington did not stop to worry over and argue about details, but sought steadily to bring to pass the main object at which he aimed. As he had labored for the convention, so he now labored for the Constitution, and his letters to his friends not only had great weight in forming a Federal party and directing its movements, but extracts from them were quoted and published, thus exerting a direct and powerful influence on public opinion.

He made himself deeply felt in this way everywhere, but of course more in his own State than anywhere else. His confidence at first in regard to Virginia changed gradually to an intense and well-grounded anxiety, and he not only used every means, as the conflict extended, to strengthen his friends and gain votes, but he received and circulated personally copies of "The Federalist," in order to educate public opinion. The contest in the Virginia convention was for a long time doubtful, but finally the end was reached, and the decision was favorable. Without Washington's influence, it is safe to say that the Constitution would have been lost in Virginia, and without Virginia the great experiment would probably have failed. In the same spirit he worked on after the new scheme had secured enough States to ensure a trial. The Constitution had been ratified; it must now be made to work, and Washington wrote earnestly to the leaders in the various States, urging them to see to it that " Federalists," stanch friends of the Constitution, were elected to Congress. There was no vagueness about his notions on this point. A party had carried the Constitution and secured its ratification, and to that party he wished the administration and establishment of the new system to be entrusted. He did not take the view that, because the fight was over, it was henceforth to be considered that there had been no fight, and that all men were politically alike. He was quite ready to do all in his power to conciliate the opponents of union and the Constitution, but he did not believe that the momentous task of converting the paper system into a living organism should be confided to any hands other than those of its tried and trusty friends.

But while he was looking so carefully after the choice of the right men to fill the legislature of the new government, the people of the country turned to him with the universal demand that he should stand at the head of it, and fill the great office of first President of the Republic. In response to the first suggestion that came, he recognized the fact that he was likely to be again called upon for another great public service, and added simply that at his age it involved a sacrifice which admitted of no compensation. He maintained this tone whenever he alluded to the subject, in response to the numerous letters urging him to accept. But although he declined to announce any decision, he had made up his mind to the inevitable. He had put his hand to the plough, and he would not turn back. His only anxiety was that the people should know that he shrank from the office, and would only leave his farm to take it from a sense of overmastering duty. Besides his reluctance to engage in a fresh struggle, and his fear that his motives

« ZurückWeiter »