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the situation, and adopted all the suggestions of the commander-in-chief. They also in the same reasonable frame of mind determined that Washington should select the next general for the southern army. A good deal could have been saved had this decision been reached before; but even now it was not too late. October 14th, Washington appointed Greene to this post of difficulty and danger, and Greene's assumption of the command marks the turning-point in the tide of disaster, and the beginning of the ultimate expulsion of the British from the only portion of the colonies where they had made a tolerable campaign.
The uses of adversity, moreover, did not stop here. They extended to the States, which began to grow more vigorous in action, and to show signs of appreciating the gravity of the situation and the duties which rested upon them. This change and improvement both in Congress and the States came none too soon. Indeed, as it was, the results of their renewed efforts were too slow to be felt at once by the army, and mutinies broke out even after the new spirit had shown itself. Washington also sent Knox to travel from State to State, to see the various governors, and lay the situation of affairs before them; yet even with such a text it was a difficult struggle to get the States to make quick and strong exertions sufficient to prevent a partial mutiny from becoming a general revolt. The lesson, however, had had its effect. For the moment, at least, the cause was saved. The worst defects were temporarily remedied, and something was done toward supplies and subsistence. The army would be able to exist through another winter, and face another summer. Then the next campaign might bring the decisive moment; but still, who could tell ? Years, instead of months, might yet elapse before the end was reached, and then no man could say what the result would be. Washington saw plainly enough that the relief and improvement were only temporary, and that carelessness and indifference were likely to return, and be more case-hardened than ever. He was too strong and sane a man to waste time in fighting shadows or in nourishing himself with hopes. He dealt with the present as he found it, and fought down difficulties as they sprang up in his path. But he was also a man of extraordinary prescience, with a foresight as penetrating as it was judicious. It was, perhaps, his most remarkable gift, and while he controlled the present he studied the future. Outside of the operations of armies, and the plans of campaign, he saw, as the war progressed, that the really fatal perils were involved in the political system. At the beginning of the Revolution there was no organization outside the local state governments. Congress voted and resolved in favor of anything that seemed proper, and the States responded to their appeal. In the first flush of revolution, and the first excitement of freedom, this was all very well. But as the early passion cooled, and a long and stubborn struggle, replete with suffer
ings and defeat, developed itself, the want of system began to appear.
One of the earliest tasks of Congress was the formation of articles for a general government, but state jealousies, and the delays incident to the movements of thirteen sovereignties, prevented their adoption until the war was nearly over. Washington, suffering from all the complicated troubles of jarring States and general incoherence, longed for and urged the adoption of the act of confederation. He saw sooner than any one else, and with more painful intensity, the need of better union and more energetic government. As the days and months of difficulties and trials went by, the suggestions on this question in his letters grew more frequent and more urgent, and they showed the insight of the statesman and practical man of affairs. How much he hoped from the final acceptance of the act of confederation it is not easy to say, but he hoped for some improvement certainly. When at last it went into force, he saw almost at once that it would not do, and in the spring of 1780 he knew it to be a miserable failure. The system which had been established was really no better than that which had preceded it. With alarm and disgust Washington found himself flung back on what he called “the pernicious state system,” and with worse prospects than ever.
Up to the time of the Revolution he had never given attention to the philosophy or science of government, but when it fell to his lot to fight the war for independence he perceived almost immediately 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 difficulties by foreign loans from those interested in our success. 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.