« ZurückWeiter »
many occupations and pleasures. He was a member of the House of Burgesses, diligent in his attention to the work of governing the colony. He was diligent also in church affairs, and very active in the vestry, which was the seat of local government in Virginia. We hear of him also as the manager of lotteries, which were a common form of raising money for local purposes, in preference to direct taxation. In a word, he was thoroughly public-spirited, and performed all the small duties which his position demanded in the same spirit that he afterwards brought to the command of armies and to the government of the nation. He had pleasure too, as well as business, away from Mount Vernon. He liked to go to his neighbors' houses and enjoy their hospitality as they enjoyed his. We hear of him at the court-house on court days, where all the countryside gathered to talk and listen to the lawyers and hear the news, and when he went to Williams burg his diary tells us of a round of dinners, beginning with the governor, of visits to the club, and of a regular attendance at the theatre whenever actors came to the little capital. Whether at home or abroad, he took part in all the serious pursuits, in all the interests, and in every reasonable pleasure offered by the colony.
Take it for all in all, it was a manly, wholesome, many-sided life. It kept Washington young and strong, both mentally and physically. When he was forty he flung the iron bar, at some village sports, to a point which no competitor could ap
proach. There was no man in all Virginia who could ride a horse with such a powerful and assured seat. There was no one who could journey farther on foot, and no man at Williamsburg who showed at the governor's receptions such a commanding presence, or who walked with such a strong and elastic step. As with the body so with the mind. He never rusted. A practical carpenter and smith, he brought the 'same quiet intelligence and firm will to the forging of iron or the felling and sawing of trees that he had displayed in fighting France. The life of a country gentleman did not dull or stupefy him, or lead him to gross indulgences. He remained well-made and athletic, strong and enduring, keen in perception and in sense, and warm in his feelings and affections. Many men would have become heavy and useless in these years of quiet country life, but Washington simply ripened, and, like all slowly maturing men, grew stronger, abler, and wiser in the happy years of rest and waiting which intervened between youth and middle age. Meantime, while the current of daily life flowed on thus gently at Mount Vernon, the great stream of public events poured by outside. It ran very calmly at first, after the war, and then with a quickening murmur, which increased to an ominous roar when the passage of the Stamp. Act became known in America. Washington was always a constant attendant at the assembly, in which by sheer force of character, and despite his lack of the talking and debating faculty, he carried more weight than any other member. He was present on May 29, 1765, when Patrick Henry introduced his famous resolutions and menaced the king's government in words which rang through the continent. The resolutions were adopted, and Washington went home, with many anxious thoughts, to discuss the political outlook with his friend and neighbor George Mason, one of the keenest and ablest men in Virginia. The utter folly of the policy embodied in the Stamp Act struck Washington very forcibly. With that foresight for which he was so remarkable, he perceived what scarcely any one else even dreamt of, that persistence in this course must surely lead to a violent separation from the mother country, and it is interesting to note in this, the first instance when he was called upon to consider a political question of great magnitude, his clearness of vision and grasp of mind. In what he wrote there is no trace of the ambitious schemer, no threatening nor blustering, no undue despondency nor excited hopes. But there is a calm understanding of all the conditions, an entire freedom from self-deception, and the power of seeing facts exactly as they were, which were all characteristic of his intellectual strength, and to which we shall need to recur again and again.
The repeal of the Stamp Act was received by Washington with sober but sincere pleasure. He had anticipated “ direful ” results and “unhappy consequences ” from its enforcement, and he freely said that those who were instrumental in its repeal had his cordial thanks. He was no agitator, and had not come forward in this affair, so he now retired again to Mount Vernon, to his farming and hunting, where he remained, watching very closely the progress of events. He had marked the dangerous reservation of the principle in the very act of repeal; he observed at Boston the gathering strength of what the wise ministers of George III. called sedition; he noted the arrival of British troops in the rebellious Puritan town; and he saw plainly enough, looming in the background, the final appeal to arms. He wrote to Mason (April 5, 1769), that “at a time when our lordly masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom, something should be done to avert the stroke and maintain the liberty which we have derived from our ancestors. But the manner of doing it, to answer the purpose effectually, is the point in question. That no man should scruple or hesitate a moment to use arms in defence of so valuable a blessing is clearly my opinion. Yet arms, I would beg leave to add, should be the last resource, the dernier ressort.” He then urged the adoption of the only middle course, non-importation, but he had not much hope in this expedient, although an honest desire is evident that it may prove effectual. When the assembly met in May, they received the new governor, Lord Botetourt, with much cordiality, and then fell to passing spirited and sharp-spoken resolutions declaring their own rights and defending Massachusetts. The result was a dissolution. Thereupon the burgesses repaired to the Raleigh tavern, where they adopted a set of non-importation resolutions and formed an association. The resolutions were offered by Washington, and were the result of his quiet country talks with Mason. When the moment for action arrived, Washington came naturally to the front, and then returned quietly to Mount Vernon, once more to go about his business and watch the threatening political horizon. Virginia did not live up to this first non-importation agreement, and formed another a year later. But Washington was not in the habit of presenting resolutions merely for effect, and there was nothing of the actor in his composition. His resolutions meant business, and he lived up to them rigidly himself. Neither tea nor any of the proscribed articles were allowed in his house. Most of the leaders did not realize the seriousness of the situation, but Washington, looking forward with clear and sober gaze, was in grim earnest, and was fully conscious that when he offered his resolutions the colony was trying the last peaceful remedy, and that the next step would be war.