Abbildungen der Seite

as far as my power and influence in a constitutional way extend, they shall be employed to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion. Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself or any one else, a sentiment of the like nature.”

This simple but exceedingly plain letter checked the whole movement at once; but the feeling of hostility to the existing system of government and of confidence in Washington increased steadily through the summer and winter. When the next spring had come round, and the “ Newburgh addresses ” had been published, the excitement was at fever heat. All the army needed was a leader. It was as easy for Washington to have grasped supreme power then, as it would have been for Cæsar to have taken the crown from Antony upon the Lupercal. He repelled Nicola's suggestion with quiet reproof, and took the actual movement, when it reared its head, into his own hands and turned it into other channels. This incident has been passed over altogether too carelessly by historians and biographers. It has generally been used merely to show the general nobility of Washington's sentiments, and no proper stress has been laid upon the facts of the time which gave birth to such an idea and such a proposition. It would have been a perfectly feasible thing at that par

ticular moment to have altered the frame of government and placed the successful soldier in possession of supreme power. The notion of kingly government was, of course, entirely familiar to everybody, and had in itself nothing repulsive. The confederation was disintegrated, the States were demoralized, and the whole social and political life was weakened. The army was the one coherent, active, and thoroughly organized body in the country. Six years of war had turned them from militia into seasoned veterans, and they stood armed and angry, ready to respond to the call of the great leader to whom they were entirely devoted. When the English troops were once withdrawn, there was nothing on the continent that could have stood against them. If they had moved, they would have been everywhere supported by their old comrades who had returned to the ranks of civil life, by all the large class who wanted peace and order in the quickest and surest way, and by the timid and tired generally. There would have been in fact no serious opposition, probably because there would have been no means of sustaining it. The absolute feebleness of the general government was shown a few weeks later, when a recently recruited regiment of Pennsylvania troops mutinied, and obliged Congress to leave Philadelphia, unable either to defend themselves or procure defence from the State. This mutiny was put down suddenly and effectively by Washington, very wroth at the insubordination of raw troops, who had neither fought nor suffered. Yet even such muti. neers as these would have succeeded in a large measure, had it not been for Washington, and one can easily imagine from this incident the result of disciplined and well-planned action on the part of the army led by their great chief. In that hour of debility and relaxation, a military seizure of the government and the erection of some form of monarchy would not have been difficult. Whether such a change would have lasted is another question, but there is no reason to doubt that at the moment it might have been effected. Washington, however, not only refused to have anything to do with the scheme, but he used the personal loyalty which might have raised him to supreme power to check all dangerous movements and put in motion the splendid and unselfish patriotism for which the army was conspicuous, and which underlay all their irritations and discontents. The obvious view of Washington's action in this crisis as a remarkable exhibition of patriotism is at best somewhat superficial. In a man in any way less great, the letter of refusal to Nicola and the treatment of the opportunity presented at the time of the Newburgh addresses would have been fine in a high degree. In Washington they were not so extraordinary, for the situation offered him no temptation. Carlyle was led to think slightingly of Washington, one may believe, because he did not seize the tottering government with a strong hand, and bring order out of chaos on the instant. But this is a woful misunderstanding of the man. To put aside a crown for love of country is noble, but to look down upon such an opportunity indicates a much greater loftiness and strength of mind. Washington was wholly free from the vulgar ambition of the usurper, and the desire of mere personal aggrandizement found no place in his nature. His ruling passion was the passion for success, and for thorough and complete success. What he could not bear was the least shadow of failure. To have fought such a war to a victorious finish, and then turned it to his own advantage, would have been to him failure of the meanest kind. He fought to free the colonies from England, and make them independent, not to play the part of a Caesar or a Cromwell in the wreck and confusion of civil war. He flung aside the suggestion of supreme power, not simply as dishonorable and unpatriotic, but because such a result would have defeated the one great and noble object at which he aimed. Nor did he act in this way through any indolent shrinking from the great task of making what he had won worth winning, by crushing the forces of anarchy and separation, and bringing order and unity out of confusion. From the surrender of Yorktown to the day of his retirement from the Presidency, he worked unceasingly to establish union and strong government in the country he had made independent. He accomplished this great labor more successfully by honest and lawful methods than if he had taken the path of the strong-handed savior of society, and his work in this field did more for the welfare of his country than all his battles. To have restored order at the head of the army was much easier than to effect it in the slow and lawabiding fashion which he adopted. To have refused supreme rule, and then to have effected in the spirit and under the forms of free government all and more than the most brilliant of military chiefs could have achieved by absolute power, is a glory which belongs to Washington alone. Nevertheless, at that particular juncture it was, as he himself had said, “high time for a peace.” The danger at Newburgh had been averted by his commanding influence and the patriotic conduct of the army. But it had been averted only, not removed. The snake was scotched, not killed. The finishing stroke was still needed in the form of an end to hostilities, and it was therefore fortunate for the United States that a fortnight later, on March 23d, news came that a general treaty of peace had been signed. This final consummation of his work, in addition to the passage by Congress of the half-pay commutation and the settlement of the axmy accounts, filled Washington with deep rejoicing. He felt that in a short time, a few weeks at most, he would be free to withdraw to the quiet life at Mount Vernon for which he longed. But public bodies move slowly, and one delay after another occurred to keep him still in the harness. He chafed under the postponement, but it was not

« ZurückWeiter »