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the war for independence he perceived almost imnediately the need of a strong central government, and his suggestions, scattered broadcast among his correspondents, manifested a knowledge of the conditions of the political problem possessed by no one else at that period. When he was satisfied of the failure of the confederation, his efforts to improve the existing administration multiplied, and he soon had the assistance of his aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton, who then wrote, although little more than a boy, his remarkable letters on government and finance, which were the first full expositions of the political necessities from which sprang the Constitution of the United States. Washington was vigorous in action and methodical in business, while the system of thirteen sovereignties was discordant, disorderly, and feeble in execution. He knew that the vices inherent in the confederation were ineradicable and fatal, and he also knew that it was useless to expect any comprehensive reforms until the war was over.
The problem before him was whether the existing machine could be made to work until the British were finally driven from the country. The winter of 1780–81 was marked, therefore, on his part, by an urgent striving for union, and by unceasing efforts to mend and improve the rickety system of the confederation. It was with this view that he secured the despatch of Laurens, whom he carefully instructed to get money in Paris; for he was satisfied that it was only possible to tide over the financial difficul
ties by foreign loans from those interested in our
In the same spirit he worked to bring about the establishment of executive departments, which was finally accomplished, after delays that sorely tried his patience. These two cases were but the most important among many of similar character, for he was always at work on these perplexing questions.
It is an astonishing proof of the strength and power of his mind that he was able to solve the daily questions of army existence, to deal with the allies, to plan attacks on New York, to watch and scheme for the southern department, to cope with Arnold's treason, with mutiny, and with administrative imbecility, and at the very same time consider the gravest governmental problems, and send forth wise suggestions, which met the exigencies of the moment, and laid the foundation of much that afterwards appeared in the Constitution of the United States. He was not a speculator on government, and after his fashion he was engaged in dealing with the questions of the day and hour. Yet the ideas that he put forth in this time of confusion and conflict and expedients were so vitally sound and wise that they deserve the most careful study in relation to after events. The political trials and difficulties of this period were the stern teachers from whom Washington acquired the knowledge and experience which made him the principal agent in bringing about the formation and adoption of the Constitution of the United States.
We shall have occasion to examine these opinions and views more closely when they were afterwards brought into actual play. At this point it is only necessary to trace the history of the methods by which he solved the problem of the Revolution before the political system of the confederation became absolutely useless.
THE failure to accomplish anything in the north caused Washington, as the year drew to a close, to turn his thoughts once more toward a combined movement at the south. In pursuance of this idea, he devised a scheme of uniting with the Spaniards in the seizure of Florida, and of advancing thence through Georgia to assail the English in the
De Rochambeau did not approve the plan and it was abandoned; but the idea of a southern movement was still kept steadily in sight. The governing thought now was, not to protect this place or that, but to cast aside everything else in order to strike one great blow which would finish the war.
Where he could do this, time alone would show, but if one follows the correspondence closely, it is apparent that Washington's military instinct turned more and more toward the south.
In that department affairs changed their aspect rapidly. January 17th, Morgan won his brilliant victory at the Cowpens, withdrew in good order with his prisoners, and united his army with that of Greene. Cornwallis was terribly disappointed by this unexpected reverse, but he determined to push on, defeat the combined American army, and then
join the British forces on the Chesapeake. Greene was too weak to risk a battle, and made a masterly retreat of two hundred miles before Cornwallis, escaping across the Dan only twelve hours ahead of the enemy. The moment the British moved
away, Greene recrossed the river and hung upon their rear. For a month he kept in their neighborhood, checking the rising of the Tories, and declining battle. At last he received reinforcements, felt strong enough to stand his ground, and on March 15th the battle of Guilford Court House was fought. It was a sharp and bloody fight; the British had the advantage, and Greene abandoned the field, bringing off his army in good order. Cornwallis, on his part, had suffered so heavily, however, that his victory turned to ashes. On the 18th he was in full retreat, with Greene in hot chase, and it was not until the 28th that he succeeded in getting over the Deep River and escaping to Wilmington. Thence he determined to push on and transfer the seat of war to the Chesapeake. Greene, with the boldness and quickness which showed him to be a soldier of a high order, now dropped the pursuit and turned back to fight the British in detachments and free the southern States. There is no need to follow him in the brilliant operations wbich ensued, and by which he achieved this result. It is sufficient to say here that he had altered the whole aspect of the war, forced Cornwallis into Virginia within reach of Washington, and begun the work of redeeming the Carolinas.