« ZurückWeiter »
lay in the feebleness of Congress, and although he could not deal with the finances, he was able to strive for an improvement in the governing body. Not content with letters, he left the army and went to Philadelphia, in the winter of 1779, and there appealed to Congress in person, setting forth the perils which beset them, and urging action. He wrote also to his friends everywhere, pointing out the deficiencies of Congress, and begging them to send better and stronger men. To Benjamin Harrison he wrote: “It appears to me as clear as ever the sun did in its meridian brightness, that America never stood in more eminent need of the wise, patriotic, and spirited exertions of her sons than at this period; . . . the States separately are too much engaged in their local concerns, and have too many of their ablest men withdrawn from the general council, for the good of the common weal.” He took the same high tone in all his letters, and there can be seen through it all the desperate endeavor to make the States and the people understand the dangers which he realized, but which they either could not or would not appreciate. On the other hand, while his anxiety was sharpened to the highest point by the character of Congress, his sternest wrath was kindled by the gambling and money-making which had become rampant. To Reed he wrote in December, 1778: “It gives me sincere pleasure to find that there is likely to be a coalition of the Whigs in your State, a few only excepted, and that the assembly is so well disposed to second your endeavors in bringing those murderers of our cause, the monopolizers, forestallers, and engrossers, to condign punishment. It is much to be lamented that each State, long ere this, has not hunted them down as pests to society and the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America. I would to God that some one of the most atrocious in each State was hung in gibbets upon a gallows five times as high as the one prepared by Haman. No punishment, in my opinion, is too great for the man who can build his greatness upon his country's ruin.” He would have hanged them too had he had the power, for he was always as good as his word. It is refreshing to read these righteously angry words, still ringing as sharply as when they were written. They clear away all the myths — the priggish, the cold, the statuesque, the dull myths — as the strong gusts of the northwest wind in autumn sweep off the heavy mists of lingering August. They are the hot words of a warm-blooded man, a good hater, who loathed meanness and treachery, and who would have hanged those who battened upon the country’s distress. When he went to Philadelphia, a few weeks later, and saw the state of things with nearer view, he felt the wretchedness and outrage of such doings more than ever. He wrote to Harrison: “If I were to be called upon to draw a picture of the times and of men, from what I have seen, heard, and in part know, I should in one word say, that idleness, dissipation, and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold of most of them; that speculation, peculation, and an insatiable thirst for riches seem to have got the better of every other consideration, and almost of every order of men ; that party disputes and personal quarrels are the great business of the day ; whilst the momentous concerns of an empire, a great and accumulating debt, ruined finances, depreciated money, and want of credit, which, in its consequences, is the want of everything, are but secondary considerations, and postponed from day to day, from week to week, as if our affairs wore the most promising aspect.”
Other men talked about empire, but he alone grasped the great conception, and felt it in his soul. To see not only immediate success imperilled, but the future paltered with by small, mean, and dishonest men, cut him to the quick. He set himself doggedly to fight it, as he always fought every enemy, using both speech and pen in all quarters. Much, no doubt, he ultimately effected, but he was contending with the usual results of civil war, which are demoralizing always, and especially so among a young people in a new country. At first, therefore, all seemed vain. The selfishness, “ peculation, and speculation” seemed to get worse, and the tone of Congress and the people lower, as he struggled against them. In March, 1779, he wrote to James Warren of Massachusetts: “ Nothing, I am convinced, but the depreciation of our currency, aided by stock-jobbing and party dissensions, has fed the hopes of the enemy, and kept the British arms in America to this day. They do not scruple to declare this themselves, and add that we shall be our own conquerors. Can not our common country, America, possess virtue enough to disappoint them 2 Is the paltry consideration of a little pelf to individuals to be placed in competition with the essential rights and liberties of the present generation, and of millions yet unborn ? Shall a few designing men, for their own aggrandizement, and to gratify their own avarice, overset the goodly fabric we have been rearing, at the expense of so much time, blood, and treasure ? And shall we at last become the victims of our own lust of gain? Forbid it, Heaven Forbid it, all and every State in the Union, by enacting and enforcing efficacious laws for checking the growth of these monstrous evils, and restoring matters, in some degree, to the state they were in at the commencement of the war.” “Our cause is noble. It is the cause of mankind, and the danger to it is to be apprehended from ourselves. Shall we slumber and sleep, then, while we should be punishing those miscreants who have brought these troubles upon us, and who are aiming to continue us in them ; while we should be striving to fill our battalions, and devising ways and means to raise the value of the currency, on the credit of which everything depends?” Again we see the prevailing idea of the future, which haunted him continually. Evidently, he had some imagination, and also a power of terse and eloquent expression which we have heard of before, and shall note again.
Still the appeals seemed to sound in deaf ears. He wrote to George Mason : “ I have seen, without despondency, even for a moment, the hours which America has styled her gloomy ones; but I have beheld no day since the commencement of hostilities that I have thought her liberties in such im- . minent danger as at present. ... Indeed, we are verging so fast to destruction that I am filled with sensations to which I have been a stranger till within these three months.” To Gouverneur Morris he said: “If the enemy have it in their power to press us hard this campaign, I know not what may be the consequence.” He had faced the enemy, the bleak winters, raw soldiers, and all the difficulties of impecunious government, with a cheerful courage that never failed. But the spectacle of widespread popular demoralization, of selfish scrambles for plunder, and of feeble administration at the centre of government weighed upon him heavily. It was not the general's business to build up Congress and grapple with finance, but Washington addressed himself to the new task with his usual persistent courage. It was slow and painful work. He seemed to make no progress, and then it was that his spirits sank at the prospect of ruin and defeat, not coming on the field of battle, but from our own vices and our own lack of energy and wisdom. Yet his work told in the end, as it