Abbildungen der Seite

made a prompt but unavailing effort to secure these posts in the first flush of good feeling when peace had just been made. After he had retired he observed with regret the feebleness of Congress in this matter, and he continued to write about it. He wrote especially to Knox, who was in charge of the war department, and advised him to establish posts on our side, since we could not obtain the withdrawal of the British. This deep anxiety as to the western posts was due not merely to his profound distrust of the intention of England, but to his extreme solicitude as to the unsettled regions of the West. He repeatedly referred to the United States, even before the close of the war, as an infant empire, and he saw before any one else the destined growth of the country.

No man of that time, with the exception of Hamilton, ever grasped and realized as he did the imperial future which stretched before the United States. It was a difficult thing for men who had been born colonists to rise to a sense of national opportunities, but Washington passed at a single step from being a Virginian to being an American, and in so doing he stood alone!^ He was really and thoroughly national from the beginning of the war, at a time when, except for a few oratorical phrases, no one had ever thought of such a thing as a practical and living question. In the same way he had passed rapidly to an accurate conception of the probable growth and greatness of the country, and again he stood alone. Hamilton, born outside the colonies, unhampered by local prejudices and attachments, and living in Washington's family, as soon as he turned his mind to the subject, became, like his chief, entirely national and imperial in his views; but the other American statesmen of that day, with the exception of Franklin, only followed gradually and sometimes reluctantly in adopting their opinions. Some of them never adopted them at all, but remained embedded in local ideas, and very few got beyond the region of words and actually grasped the facts with the absolutely clear perception which Washington had from the outset. Thus it was that when the war closed, one of the two ruling ideas in Washington's mind was to assure the future which he saw opening before the country. He perceived at a glance that the key and the guarantee of that future were in the wild regions of the West. Hence his constant anxiety as to the western posts, as to our Indian policy, and as to the maintenance of a sufficient armed force upon our borders to check the aggressions of English or savages, and to secure free scope for settlement. In advancing these ideas on a national scale, however, he was rendered helpless by the utter weakness of Congress, which even his influence was powerless to overcome. He therefore began, immediately after his retreat to private life, to formulate and bring into existence such practical measures as were possible for the development of the West, believing that if Congress could not act, the people would, if any opportunity were given to their natural enterprise.

The scheme which he proposed was to opeu the western country by means of inland navigation. The thought had long been in his mind. It had come to him before the Revolution, and can be traced back to the early days when he was making surveys, buying wild lands, and meditating very deeply, but very practically, on the possible commercial development of the colonies. Now the idea assumed much larger proportions and a much graver aspect. He perceived in it the first step toward the empire which he foresaw, and when he had laid down his sword and awoke in the peaceful morning at Mount Vernon, "with a strange sense of freedom from official cares," he directed his attention at once to this plan, in which he really could do something, despite an inert Congress and a dissolving confederation. His first letter on the subject was written in March, 1784, and addressed to Jefferson, who was then in Congress, and who sympathized with Washington's views without seeing how far they reached. He told Jefferson how he despaired of government aid, and how he therefore intended to revive the scheme of a company, which he had started in 1775, and which had been abandoned on account of the war. He showed the vaiying interests which it was necessary to conciliate, asked Jefferson to see the governor of Maryland, so that that State might be brought into the undertaking, and referred to the danger of being anticipated and beaten by New York, a chord of local pride which he continued to touch most adroitly as the business proceeded. Very characteristically, too, he took pains to call attention to the fact that by his ownership of land he had a personal interest in the enterprise. He looked far beyond his own lands, but he was glad to have his property developed, and with his usual freedom from anything like pretence, he drew attention to the fact of his personal interests.

On his return from his tour in the autumn, he proceeded to bring the matter to public attention and the consideration of the legislature. With this end in view he addressed a long letter to Governor Harrison, in which he laid out his whole scheme. Detroit was to be the objective point, and he indicated the different routes by which inland navigation could thence be obtained, thus opening the Indian trade, and affording an outlet at the same time for the settlers who were sure to pour in when once the fear of British aggression was removed. He dwelt strongly upon the danger of Virginia losing these advantages by the action of other States, and yet at the same time he suggested the methods by which Maryland and Pennsylvania could be brought into the plan. Then he advanced a series of arguments which were purely national in their scope. He insisted on the necessity of binding to the old colonies by strong ties the Western States, which might easily be decoyed away if Spain or England had sense to do it. This poinb he argued with great force, for it was now no longer a Virginian argument, but an argument for all the States.

The practical result was that the legislature took the question up, more in deference to the writer's wishes and in gratitude for his services, than from any comprehension of what the scheme meant. The companies were duly organized, and the promoter was given a hundred and fifty shares, on the ground that the legislature wished to take every opportunity of testifying their sense of "the unexampled merits of George Washington towards his country." Washington was much touched and not a little troubled by this action. He had been willing, as he said, to give up his cherished privacy and repose in order to forward the enterprise. He had gone to Maryland even, and worked to engage that State in the scheme, but he could not bear the idea of taking money for what he regarded as part of a great public policy. "I would wish," he said, "that every individual who may hear that it was a favorite plan of mine may know also that I had no other motive for promoting it than the advantage of which I conceived it would be productive to the Union, and to this State in particular, by cementing the eastern and western territory together, at the same time that it will give vigor and increase to our commerce, and be a convenience to our citizens."

"How would this matter be viewed, then, by the eye of the world, and what would be the opinion of it, when it comes to be related that George Washington has received twenty thousand dollars and five thousand pounds sterling of the public

« ZurückWeiter »