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that it was his full intention to devote his life and fortune to the cause.
In May, 1775, the second Continental Congress met at Philadelphia. Its members had heard the news from Lex. ington and Concord, and now had come together for serious business. The royal governors had run away as soon as the trouble began; the colonies had to look after themselves and they said they could do this much better without the royal governors. So they told the Congress to govern the united colonies and to make laws for that purpose.
Congress also took charge of the soldiers that hurried to Boston after the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord, ready to fight the red coated soldiers of the king. But these soldiers must have a leader. Whom should he be ?
There were, in this Congress, certain men who wished to “go slow” and try to “patch things up” with King George and his ministers. There were others who felt that they were great men and ought to be in the highest position. There were still others who were not yet Americans, but thought only about the good that could come to his own colony. It is so with all new movements, about which there is any uncertainty, but all these men, in time, came to be patriotic and splendid Americans.
So, when the question arose as to who should be the commander-in-chief of the American army at Boston, there was at first some hesitation. The soldiers facing the British there were mostly New England “minute men ” and
militia men, and some of the members of Congress thought a New England general should be their leader. The Southern members wanted an American army made up from all the colonies, with a general appointed from the South. For several days nothing was done. Time was precious. The
THE FLAG ON BUNKER HILL.
(" Come over if you dare," it said to the British in Boston ) army must be gathered at once if a bold stand was to be taken ; and if Congress was to take charge of the soldiers at Boston, Congress must give its army a leader.
Then John Adams of Massachusetts stood up in Congress. He was an active and able man, who saw that some
thing must be done at once, and, having looked the ground over knew there was but one man in America to be selected for this high command. “I have but one gentleman in my mind,” he said, addressing the Congress. “ He is a certain gentleman from Virginia who is among us and is well known to us all. He is a gentleman of skill and experience as an officer; his independent fortune, great talents and excellent universal character would command the approbation of all the colonies better than any other person in the Union.” Everyone knew whom John Adams meant; everybody looked in the same direction, and a modest gentleman, dressed in a colonel's uniform of blue and buff, hurriedly rose and slipped out of the room. But Tohn Adams's words decided the question. The result of the debate was that, on the fifteenth of June, 1775, his proposition was accepted and George Washington of Virginia was unanimously elected commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Thereupon the new leader, now General Washington, rose in his place to thank the Congress for the honor conferred upon him; and, to his words of acceptance, he added these: “I beg it to be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare with the utmost sincerity I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” Then, adding to his modesty a patriotic generosity, he refused to accept any of the salary set apart for his services and promised an exact account of all his expenses.
It was a great honor, but it was a great responsibility.
As such Washington looked upon it when he accepted the command. “ It is a trust too great for my capacity,” he wrote to his wife ; “ but it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon it, and it was utterly out of my power to refuse it.”
Did you ever make a promise that you felt was what the boys call “ a big contract ?” But, if you were a plucky boy or a conscientious girl, you tried hard to carry out your promise, did you not? It was just so with Washington. He had said, “ I will command your army.” And yet none knew better than did he, how little the fighting men of the colonies were like the trained troops of England that they must face in battle. They were patriotic, brave and determined; this he knew, but they were untrained, undisciplined and unprepared for war; there was but little money to meet the expenses of a struggle with a great and wealthy nation ; they had no one to help them, no friends to lend them money and every man felt that he had something to say about how things should be done.
So he rode on toward Boston. And as he rode, escorted by a troop of horsemen, tidings came of the Battle of Bunker Hill. There had been a fight, people said, in which the British had stormed the fortifications of the Americans and finally driven them out. It looked like a defeat.
“Why did they retreat ? ” General Washington asked the hard-riding messenger whom he met on the road to New York, galloping to Congress with the news.
“For want of ammunition,” the messenger replied.
“And did they stand the fire of the British regulars as long as they had ammunition?” Washington asked anxiously.
“That they did,” the post-rider cried enthusiastic
ally, “and held their own fire in reserve until the enemy were within eight rods.”
A look of relief and satisfaction came to Washington's face. “Then the liberties of the country are safe, gentlemen,” he said to Generals Schuyler and Lee who accompanied him. And he rode forward, feeling that a defeat which proved the pluck and fighting qualities of the Continentals was really no defeat but a victory.
“DID THEY STAND THE FIRE?” WASHINGTON ASKED