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in this letter, but there is one other letter even more striking in its contents, without which no account of the relation of Washington to the two great parties which sprang up under his administration would be complete. It was addressed to Governor Trumbull of Connecticut, was written on July 21, 1799, less than six months before his death, and although printed, has been hidden away in the appendix to the “ Life of Benjamin Silliman.” Governor Trumbull, who bore the name and filled the office of Washington's old revolutionary friend, had written to the General, as many other Federalists were writing at that time, urging him to come forward and stand once more for the presidency, that he might heal the dissensions in his own party and save the country from the impending disaster of Jefferson's election. That Washington refused all these requests is of course well known, but his reasons as stated to Trumbull are of great interest. “I come now,” he said, “my dear sir, to pay particular attention to that part of your letter which respects myself.
“I remember well the conversation which you allude to. I have not forgot the answer I gave you. In my judgment it applies with as much force now as then; nay, more, because at that time the line between the parties was not so clearly drawn, and the views of the opposition so clearly developed as they are at present. Of course allowing your observation (as it respects myself) to be well founded, personal influence would be of no
“Let that party set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of liberty, — a democrat, — or give it any other epithet that will suit their purpose, and it will command their votes in toto / 1 Will not the Federalists meet, or rather defend, their cause on the opposite ground ? Surely they must, or they will discover a want of policy, indicative of weakness and pregnant of mischief, which cannot be admitted. Wherein, then, 'would lie the difference between the present gentleman in office and my
“It would be matter of grave regret to me if I could believe that a serious thought was turned toward me as his successor, not only as it respects my ardent wishes to pass through the vale of life in retirement, undisturbed in the remnant of the days I have to sojourn here, unless called upon to defend my country (which every citizen is bound to do); but on public grounds also ; for although I have abundant cause to be thankful for the good health with which I am blessed, yet I am not insensible to my declination in other respects. It would be criminal, therefore, in me, although it should be the wish of my countrymen and I could be elected, to accept an office under this conviction which another would discharge with more ability; and this, too, at a time when I am thoroughly convinced I should not draw a single vote from the antiFederal side, and of course should stand upon no
1 “As an analysis of this position, look to the pending election of governor in Pennsylvania.”'
other ground than any other Federal character 1 well supported ; and when I should become a mark for the shafts of envenomed malice and the basest calumny to fire at, — when I should be charged not only with irresolution but with concealed ambition, which waits only an occasion to blaze out, and, in short, with dotage and imbecility.
“ All this, I grant, ought to be like dust in the balance, when put in competition with a great public good, when the accomplishment of it is apparent. But, as no problem is better defined in my mind than that principle, not men, is now, and will be, the object of contention; and that I could not obtain a solitary vote from that party; that any other respectable Federal character could receive the same suffrages that I should ; that at my time of life (verging towards threescore and ten) I should expose myself without rendering any essential service to my country, or answering the end contemplated; prudence on my part must avert any attempt of the well meant but mistaken views of my friends to introduce me again into the chair of government.”
It does not fall within the scope of this biography to attempt to portray the history or weigh the merits of the two parties'which came into existence at the close of the last century, and which, under varying names, have divided the people of the United States ever since. But it is essential here to define the relation of Washington toward
1 These italics are mine.
them because one hears it constantly said and sees it as constantly written down, that Washington belonged to no party, which is perhaps a natural, but is certainly a complete misconception. Washington came to the presidency by a unanimous vote. He had in his mind very strongly the idea of the framers of the Constitution that the President, by the method of his election and by his independence of the other departments of government, was to be above and beyond party, and the representative of the whole people. In addition to this he was so absorbed by the great conception which he had of the future of the country, and was so confident of the purity and rectitude of his own purposes, that he was loath to think that party divisions could arise while he held the chief magistracy. It was not long before he was undeceived on this point, and he soon found that party divisions sprang up from the measures of his own administration. Nevertheless, he clung to bis determination to govern without the assistance of a party as such. When this, too, became impossible, he still felt that the unanimity of his election required that he should not declare himself to be the head of a party ; but he had become thoroughly convinced that under the representative system of the Constitution party government could not be avoided. In his farewell address he warned the people against the excesses of that party spirit which he deplored; but he did not suggest that it could be extinguished. Being a wise and far-seeing man, he saw that if party government was an evil, it also was under a free representative system, and in the present condition of human nature a necessary evil, furnishing the only machinery by which public affairs could be carried on.
In a time of deep political excitement and strong party feeling, Washington was the last man in the world not to be decidedly on one side or the other. He was possessed of too much sense, force, and virility to be content to hold himself aloof and croak over the wickedness of people, who were trying to do something, even if they did not always try in the most perfect way. He was himself preeminently a doer of deeds, and not a critic or a phrase-maker, and we can read very distinctly in the extracts which have been brought together in this chapter what he thought on party and public questions. He was opposed to the party which had resisted all the great measures of his administration from the foundation of the government of the United States. They had assailed and maligned him and his ministers, and he regarded them as political enemies. He believed in the principles of that party which had supported the financial policy of Hamilton and his own policy of neutrality toward foreign nations. He was opposed to the party which introduced the interests of France as the leading issue of American politics, and which embodied the doctrines of nullification and separatism in the resolutions of Kentucky and Virginia. In one word, Washington, in policies and