« ZurückWeiter »
bly. The next was another meeting in the long room of the Raleigh tavern, where the Boston bill was denounced, non-importation renewed, and the committee of correspondence instructed to take steps for calling a general congress. Events were beginning to move at last with perilous rapidity. Washington dined with Lord Dunmore on the evening of that day, rode with him, and appeared at her ladyship's ball the next night. It was not his way to bite his thumb at men from whom he differed politically, nor to call the motives of his opponents in question. But when the 1st of June arrived, he noted in his diary that he fasted all day and attended the appointed services. He always meant what he said, being of a simple nature, and when he fasted and prayed there was something ominously earnest about it, something that his excellency the governor, who liked the society of this agreeable man and wise counsellor, would have done well to consider and draw conclusions from, and which he probably did not heed at all. He might well have reflected, as he undoubtedly failed to do, that when men of the George Washington type fast and pray on account of political misdoings, it is well for their opponents to look to it carefully. Meantime Boston had sent forth appeals to form a league among the colonies, and thereupon another meeting was held in the Raleigh tavern, and a letter was dispatched advising the burgesses to consider this matter of a general league and take the sense of their respective counties. Virginia and Massachusetts had joined hands now, and they were sweeping the rest of the continent irresistibly forward with them. As for Washington, he returned to Mount Vernon and at once set about taking the sense of his county, as he had agreed. Before doing so he had some correspondence with his old friend Bryan Fairfax. The Fairfaxes naturally sided with the mother-country, and Bryan was much distressed by the course of Virginia, and remonstrated strongly, and at length by letter, against violent measures. Washington replied to him: "Does it not appear as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness that there is a regular, systematic plan formed to fix the right and practice of taxation on us? Does not the uniform conduct of Parliament for some years past confirm this? Do not all the debates, especially those just brought to us in the House of Commons, on the side of government expressly declare that America must be taxed in aid of the British funds, and that she has no longer resources within herself? Is there anything to be expected from petitioning after this? Is not the attack upon the liberty and property of the people of Boston, before restitution of the loss to the India Company was demanded, a plain and self-evident proof of what they are aiming at? Do not the subsequent bills (now I dare say acts) for depriving the Massachusetts Bay of its charter, and for transporting offenders into other colonies, or to Great Britain for trial, where it is impossible from the nature of the thing that justice can be obtained, convince us that the administration is determined to stick at nothing to carry its point? Ought we not, then, to put our virtue and fortitude to the severest test?" He was prepared, he continued, for anything except confiscating British debts, which struck him as dishonorable. These were plain but pregnant questions, but what we mark in them, and in all his letters of this time, is the absence of constitutional discussion, of which America was then full. They are confined to a direct presentation of the broad political question, which underlay everything. Washington always went straight to the mark, and he now saw, through all the dust of legal and constitutional strife, that the only real issue was whether America was to be allowed to govern herself in her own way or not. In the acts of the ministry he perceived a policy which aimed at substantial power, and he believed that such a policy, if insisted on, could have but one result. The meeting of Fairfax County was held in due course, and Washington presided. The usual resolutions for self-government and against the vindictive Massachusetts measures were adopted. Union and non-importation were urged; and then the congress, which they advocated, was recommended to address a petition and remonstrance to the king, and ask him to reflect that "from our sovereign there can be but one appeal." Everything was to be tried, everything was to be done, but the ulti« mate appeal was never lost sight of where Washington appeared, and the final sentence of these Fairfax County resolves is very characteristic of the leader in the meeting. Two days later he wrote to the worthy and still remonstrating Bryan Fairfax, repeating and enlarging his former questions, and adding: "Has not General Gage's conduct since his arrival, in stopping the address of his council, and publishing a proclamation more becoming a Turkish bashaw than an English governor, declaring it treason to associate in any manner by which the commerce of Great Britain is to be affected, — has not this exhibited an unexampled testimony of the most despotic system of tyranny that ever was practised in a free government? . . . Shall we after this whine and cry for relief, when we have already tried it in vain? Or shall we supinely sit and see one province after another fall a sacrifice to despotism?" The fighting spirit of the man was rising. There was no rash rushing forward, no ignorant shouting for war, no blinking of the real issue, but a foresight that nothing could dim, and a perception of facts which nothing could confuse. On August 1st Washington was at Williamsburg, to represent his county in the meeting of representatives from all Virginia. The convention passed resolutions like the Fairfax resolves, and chose delegates to a general congress. The silent man was now warming into action. He "made the most eloquent speech that ever was made," and said, "I will raise a thousand men, subsist them at my own expense, and march them to the relief of Boston." He was capable, it would seem, of talking to the purpose with some fire and force, for all he was so quiet and so retiring. When there was anything to say, he could say it so that it stirred all who listened, because they felt that there was a mastering strength behind the words. He faced the terrible issue solemnly and firmly, but his blood was up, the fighting spirit in him was aroused, and the convention chose him as one of Virginia's six delegates to the Continental Congress. He lingered long enough to make a few preparations at Mount Vernon. He wrote another letter to Fairfax, interesting to us as showing the keenness with which he read in the meagre news-reports the character of Gage and of the opposing people of Massachusetts. Then he started for the North to take the first step on the long and difficult path that lay before him.