« ZurückWeiter »
credit could furnish. The bride was attired in silk and satin, laces and brocade, with pearls on her neck and in her ears; while the bridegroom appeared in blue and silver trimmed with scarlet, and with gold buckles at his knees and on his shoes. After the ceremony the bride was taken home in a coach and six, her husband riding beside her, mounted on a splendid horse and followed by all the gentlemen of the party.
The sunshine and glitter of the wedding-day must have appeared to Washington deeply appropriate, for he certainly seemed to have all that heart of man could desire. Just twenty-seven, in the first flush of young manhood, keen of sense and yet wise in experience, life must have looked very fair and smiling. He had left the army with a well-earned fame, and had come home to take the wife of his choice and enjoy the good-will and respect of all men. While away on his last campaign he had been elected a member of the House of Burgesses, and when he took his seat on removing to Williamsburg, three months after his marriage, Mr. Robinson, the speaker, thanked him publicly in eloquent words for his services to the country. Washington rose to reply, but he was so utterly unable to talk about himself that he stood before the House stammering and blushing, until the speaker said, “Sit down, Mr. Washington; your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language I possess.” It is an old story, and as graceful as it is old, but it was all very grateful to Washington, especially as the words of the speaker bodied forth the feelings of Virginia. Such an atmosphere, filled with deserved respect and praise, was pleasant to begin with, and then he had everything else too. He not only continued to sit in the House year after year and help to rule Virginia, but he served on the church vestry, and so held in his hands the reins of local government. He had married a charming woman, simple, straightforward, and . sympathetic, free from gossip or pretence, and as capable in practical matters as he was himself. By right of birth a member of the Virginian aristocracy, he had widened and strengthened his connections through his wife. A man of handsome property by the death of Lawrence Washington's daughter, he had become by his marriage one of the richest men of the country. Acknowledged to be the first soldier on the continent, respected and trusted in public, successful and happy in private life, he had attained before he was thirty to all that Virginia could give of wealth, prosperity, and honor, a fact of which he was well aware, for there never breathed a man more wisely contented than George Washington at this period. He made his home at Mount Vernon, adding many acres to the estate, and giving to it his best attention. It is needless to say that he was successful, for that was the case with everything he undertook. He loved country life, and he was the best and most prosperous planter in Virginia,
which was really a more difficult achievement than the mere statement implies. Genuinely profitable farming in Virginia was not common, for the general system was a bad one. A single great staple, easily produced by the reckless exhaustion of land, and varying widely in the annual value of crops, bred improvidence and speculation. Everything was bought upon long credits, given by the London merchants, and this, too, contributed largely to carelessness and waste. The chronic state of a planter in a business way was one of debt, and the lack of capital made his conduct of affairs extravagant and loose. With all his care and method Washington himself was often pinched for ready money, and it was only by his thoroughness and foresight that he prospered and made money while so many of his neighbors struggled with debt and lived on in easy luxury, not knowing what the morrow might bring forth. A far more serious trouble than bad business methods was one which was little heeded at the moment, but which really lay at the foundation of the whole system of society and business. This was the character of the labor by which the plantations were worked. Slave labor is well known now to be the most expensive and the worst form of labor that can be employed. In the middle of the eighteenth century, however, its evils were not appreciated, either from an economical or a moral point of view. This is not the place to discuss the subject of African slavery in America. But it is important to know Washington's opinions in regard to an institution which was destined to have such a powerful influence upon the country, and it seems most appropriate to consider those opinions at the moment when slaves became a practical factor in his life as a Virginian planter.
Washington accepted the system as he found it, as most men accept the social arrangements to which they are born. He grew up in a world where slavery had always existed, and where its rightfulness had never been questioned. Being on the frontier, occupied with surveying and with war, he never had occasion to really consider the matter at all until he found himself at the head of large estates, with his own prosperity dependent on the labor of slaves. The first practical question, therefore, was how to employ this labor to the best advantage. A man of his clear perceptions soon discovered the defects of the system, and he gave great attention to feeding and clothing his slaves, and to their general management. Parkinson 1 says in a general way that Washington treated his slaves harshly, spoke to them sharply, and maintained a military discipline, to which he attributed the General's rare success as a planter. There can be no doubt of the success, and the military discipline is probably true, but the statement as to harshness is upsupported by any other authority. Indeed, Parkinson even contradicts it himself, for he says elsewhere that Washington never bought or sold a slave,
1 Tour in America, 1798-1800.
a proof of the highest and most intelligent humanity; and he adds in his final sketch of the General's character, that he “was incapable of wrong-doing, but did to all men as he would they should do to him. Therefore it is not to be supposed that he would injure the negro.” This agrees with what we learn from all other sources. Humane by nature, he conceived a great interest and pity for these helpless beings, and treated them with kindness and forethought. In a word, he was a wise and good master, as well as a successful one, and the condition of his slaves was as happy, and their labor as profitable, as was possible to such a system. So the years rolled by ; the war came and then the making of the government, and Washington's thoughts were turned more and more, as was the case with all the men of his time in that era of change and of mew ideas, to the consideration of human slavery in its moral, political, and social aspects. To trace the course of his opinions in detail is needless. It is sufficient to summarize them, for the results of his reflection and observation are more important than the processes by which they were reached. Washington became convinced that the whole system was thoroughly bad, as well as utterly repugnant to the ideas on which the Revolution was fought and the government of the United States founded. With a prescience wonderful for those days and on that subject, he saw that slavery meant the up-growth in the United States of two systems so radically hostile, both socially and eco