Abbildungen der Seite

for the third time, and if the test had been made, thousands of men who gave their votes to the opposition would have still supported him for the greatest office in their gift. But this time Washington would not yield to the wishes of his friends or of the country. He felt that he had done his work and earned the rest and the privacy for which he longed above all earthly things. In September, 1796, he published his farewell address, and no man ever left a nobler political testament. Through much tribulation he had done his great part in establishing the government of the Union, which might easily have come to naught without his commanding influence. He had imparted to it the dignity of his own great character. He had sustained the splendid financial policy of Hamilton. He had struck a fatal blow at the colonial spirit in our politics, and had lifted up our foreign policy to a plane worthy of an independent nation. He had stricken off the fetters which impeded the march of western settlement, and without loss of honor had gained time to enable our institutions to harden and become strong. He had made peace with our most dangerous enemies, and, except in the case of France, where there were perilous complications to be solved by his successor, he left the United States in far better and more honorable relations with the rest of the world than even the most sanguine would have dared to hope when the Constitution was formed. Now from the heights of great achievement he turned to say farewell to the people

whom he so much loved, and whom he had so greatly served. Every word was instinct with the purest and wisest patriotism. Be united, he said ; “ be Americans. The name which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. Let there be no sectionalism, no North, South, East or West; you are all dependent one on another, and should be one in union. Beware of attacks, open or covert, upon the Constitution. Beware of the baneful effects of party spirit and of the ruin to which its extremes must lead. Do not encourage party spirit, but use every effort to mitigate and assuage it. Keep the departments of government separate, promote education, cherish the public credit, avoid debt. Observe justice and good faith toward all nations; have neither passionate hatreds nor passionate attachments to any; and be independent politically of all. In one word, be a nation, be Americans, and be true to yourselves.”

His admonitions were received by the people at large with profound respect, and sank deep into the public mind. As the generations have come and gone, the farewell address has grown dearer to the hearts of the people, and the children and the children's children of those to whom it was addressed have turned to it in all times and known that there was no room for error in following its counsel.

Yet at the moment, notwithstanding the general sadness at Washington's retirement and the deep regard for his last words of advice, the opposition was so thoroughly hostile that they seized on the address itself as a theme for renewed attack upon its author. “ His character,” said one Democrat, “can only be respectable while it is not known; he is arbitrary, avaricious, ostentatious; without skill as a soldier, he has crept into fame by the places he has held. His financial measures burdened the many to enrich the few. History will tear the pages devoted to his praise. France and his country gave him fame, and they will take that fame away.” “His glory has dissolved in mist,” said another writer, “ and he has sunk from the high level of Solon or Lycurgus to the mean rank of a Dutch Stadtholder or a Venetian Doge. Posterity will look in vain for any marks of wisdom in his administration.”

To thoughtful persons these observations are not without a curious interest, as showing that even the wisest of men may be in error. The distinguished Democrat who uttered these remarks has been forgotten, and the page of history on which Washington's name was inscribed is still untorn. The passage of the address, however, which gave the most offence, as Mr. McMaster points out, was, as might have been expected from the colonial condition of our politics, that which declared it to be our true policy “to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” This, it was held, simply meant that, having made a treaty with England, we were to be estopped

from making one with France. Another distinguished editor declared that the farewell address came from the meanest of motives; that the President knew he could not be reëlected because the Republicans would have united to supersede him with Adams, who had the simplicity of a Republican, while Washington had the ostentation of an Eastern Pasha, and it was in order to save himself from this humiliation that he had cunningly resigned.

When Washington met his last Congress, William Giles of Virginia took the opportunity afforded by the usual answer to the President's speech to assail him personally. It would be of course a gross injustice to suppose that a coarse political ruffian like Giles really represented the Democratic party. But he represented the extreme wing, and after he had declared in his place that Washington was neither wise nor patriotic, and that his retirement was anything but a calamity, he got twelve of his party friends to sustain his sentiments by voting with him. The press was even more unbridled, and it was said in the “Aurora” at this time that Washington had debauched and deceived the nation, and that his administration had shown that the mask of patriotism may be worn to conceal the foulest dangers to the liberties of the people. Over and over again it was said by these writers that he had betrayed France and was the slave of England.

This charge of being a British sympathizer was the only one of all the abuse heaped upon him by the opposition that Washington seems really to have resented. In August, 1794, when this slander first started from the prolific source of all attacks against the government, he wrote to Henry Lee : “ With respect to the words said to have been uttered by Mr. Jefferson, they would be enigmatical to those who are acquainted with the characters about me, unless supposed to be spoken ironically; and in that case they are too injurious to me, and have too little foundation in truth, to be ascribed to him. There could not be the trace of doubt in his mind of predilection in mine toward Great Britain or her politics, unless, which I do not believe, he has set me down as one of the most deceitful and uncandid men living ; because, not only in private conversations between ourselves on this subject, but in my meetings with the confidential servants of the public, he has heard me often, when occasions presented themselves, express very different sentiments, with an energy that could not be mistaken by any one present.

“Having determined, as far as lay within the power of the executive, to keep this country in a state of neutrality, I have made my public conduct accord with the system ; and whilst so acting as a public character, consistency and propriety as a private man forbid those intemperate expressions in favor of one nation, or to the prejudice of another, which may have wedged themselves in, and, I will venture to add, to the embarrassment of

« ZurückWeiter »