« ZurückWeiter »
that nominations should be made in writing; but as to treaties, it was at first thought best that the President should deliver them to the Senate in person, and it was arranged with minute care where he should sit, beside the Vice-President, while the matter was under discussion. This arrangement, however, was abandoned after a single -< trial, and it was agreed that treaties, like nomina
tions, should come with written messages.
Last and most important of all was the question of the mode of conduct and the etiquette to be established with regard to the President himself. In this, as in the matter of titles, Washington saw a real importance in what many persons might esteem only empty forms, and he proceeded with his customary thoroughness in dealing with the subject. What he did would be a precedent for the future as well as a target for present criticism, and he determined to devise a scheme which would resist attack, and be worthy to stand as an example for his successors. He therefore wrote to Madison: "The true medium, I conceive, must lie in pursuing such a course as will allow him (the President) time for all the official duties of his station. This should be the primary object. The next, to avoid as much as may be the charge of superciliousness, and seclusion from information, by too much reserve and too great a withdrawal of himself from company on the one hand, and the inconveniences, as well as a diminution of respectability, from too free an intercourse and too much familiarity on the other." This letter, with a set. of queries, was also sent to the Vice-President, to Jay, and to Hamilton. They all agreed in the general views outlined by Washington. Adams, fresh from Europe, was inclined to surround the office, of which he justly had a lofty conception, with a good deal of ceremony, because he felt that these things were necessary in our relations with foreign nations. In the main, however, the advice of all who were consulted was in favor of keeping the nice line between too much reserve and too much famil-" iarity, and this line, after all the advising, Washington of course drew for himself. He did it in this way. He decided that he would return no calls, and that he would receive no general visits except on specified days, and official visitors at fixed hours. The third point was in regard to dinner parties. The presidents of Congress hitherto had asked every one to dine, and had ended by keeping a sort of public table, to the waste of both time and dignity. Many persons, disgusted with this system, thought that the President ought not to ask anybody to dinner. But Washington, never given to extremes, decided that he would invite to dinner persons of official rank, and strangers of distinction, but no one else, and that he would accept no invitations for himself. After a time he arranged to have a reception every Tuesday, from three to four in the afternoon, and Mrs. Washington held a similar levee on Fridays. These receptions, with a public dinner every week, were all the
social entertainments for which the President had either time or health.
By these sensible and apparently unimportant arrangements, Washington managed to give free access to every one who was entitled to it, and yet preserved the dignity and reserve due to his office. It was one of the real, although unmarked services which he rendered to the new government, and which contributed so much to its establishment, for it would have been very easy to have lowered the presidential office by a false idea of republican simplicity. It would have been equally easy to have made it odious by a cold seclusion on the one hand, or by pomp and ostentation on the other. With his usual good judgment and perfect taste, Washington steered between the opposing dangers, and yet notwithstanding the wisdom of his arrangements, and in spite of their simplicity, he did not escape calumny on account of them. One criticism was that at his reception every one stood, which was thought to savor of incipient monarchy. To this Washington replied, with the directness of which he was always capable, that it was not usual to sit on such occasions, and if it were, he had no room large enough for the number of chairs that would be required, and that as the whole thing was perfectly unceremonious, every one could come and go as he pleased. Fault was also found with the manner in which he bowed, an accusation to which he answered with an irony not untinged with bitterness and contempt: "That I have not been able to make bows to the taste of poor Colonel B. (who, by the by, I believe never saw one of them) is to be regretted, especially too, as, upon those occasions, they were indiscriminately bestowed, and the best I was master of. Would it not have been better to throw the veil of charity over them, ascribing their stiffness to the effects of age, or to the unskilfulness of my teacher, rather than to pride and dignity of office, which God knows has no charms for me?"
As party hostility developed, these attacks passed from the region of private conversation to the columns of newspapers and the declamation of mob orators, and an especial snarl was raised over the circumstance that at some public ball the President and Mrs. Washington were escorted to a sofa on a raised platform, and that guests passed before them and bowed. Much monarchy and aristocracy were perceived in this little matter, and Jefferson carefully set it down in that collection of withered slanders which he gave to an admiring posterity, after the grave had safely covered both him and those whom he feared and hated in his lifetime. This incident, however, was but an example of the political capital which was sought for in the conduct of the presidential office. The celebration of the birthday, the proposition to put Washington's head upon the coins, and many other similar trifles, were all twisted to the same purpose. The dynasty of Cleon has been a long one, so long that even the succession of the Popes seems temporary beside it, and it flourished in Washington's time as rankly as it did in Athens, or as it does to-day. The object of the assault varies, but the motives and the purpose are as old and as lasting as human nature. Envy and malice will always find a convenient shelter in pretended devotion to the public weal, and will seek revenge for their own lack of success by putting on the cloak of the tribune of the people, and perverting the noblest of offices to the basest uses.
But time sets all things even. The demagogues and the critics who assailed Washington's demeanor and behavior are forgotten, while the wise and simple customs which he established and framed for the great office that he honored, still prevail by virtue of their good sense. We part willingly with all remembrance of those bold defenders of liberty who saw in these slight forms forerunners of monarchy. We would even consent to drop into oblivion the precious legacy of J eff erson. But we would never part with the picture drawn by a loving hand of that stately figure, clad in black velvet, with the hand on the hilt of the sword, standing at one of Mrs. Washington's levees, and receiving with gentle and quiet dignity, full of kindliness but untinged by cheap familiarity, the crowd that came to pay their respects. It was well for the republic that at the threshold of its existence it had for President a man who, by the kindness of his heart, by his good sense, good manners, and fine breeding, gave to the office which he held and the government