« ZurückWeiter »
mate appeal was never lost sight of where Washington appeared, and the final sentence of these Fairfax County resolves is very characteristic of the leader in the meeting. Two days later he wrote to the worthy and still remonstrating Bryan Fairfax, repeating and enlarging his former questions, and adding: “Has not General Gage's conduct since his arrival, in stopping the address of his council, and publishing a proclamation more becoming a Turkish bashaw than an English governor, declaring it treason to associate in any manner by which the commerce of Great Britain is to be affected, – has not this exhibited an unexampled testimony of the most despotic system of tyranny that ever was practised in a free government? . . . Shall we after this whine and cry for relief, when we have already tried it in vain? Or shall we supinely sit and see one province after another fall a sacrifice to despotism?” The fighting spirit of the man was rising. There was no rash rushing forward, no ignorant shouting for war, no blinking of the real issue, but a foresight that nothing could dim, and a perception of facts which nothing could confuse. On August 1st Washington was at Williamsburg, to represent his county in the meeting of representatives from all Virginia. The convention passed resolutions like the Fairfax resolves, and chose delegates to a general congress. The silent man was now warming into action. He “made the most eloquent speech that ever was made,” and said, “I will raise a thousand men, subsist them at my own expense, and march them to the relief of Boston.” He was capable, it would seem, of talking to the purpose with some fire and force, for all he was so quiet and so retiring. When there was anything to say, he could say it so that it stirred all who listened, because they felt that there was a mastering strength behind the words. He faced the terrible issue solemnly and firmly, but his blood was up, the fighting spirit in him was aroused, and the convention chose him as one of Virginia's six delegates to the Continental Congress. He lingered long enough to make a few preparations at Mount Vernon. He wrote another letter to Fairfax, interesting to us as showing the keenness with which he read in the meagre newsreports the character of Gage and of the opposing people of Massachusetts. Then he started for the North to take the first step on the long and diffi. cult path that lay before him.
IN the warm days of closing August, a party of three gentlemen rode away from Mount Vernon one morning, and set out upon their long journey to Philadelphia. One cannot help wondering whether a tender and somewhat sad remembrance did not rise in Washington's mind, as he thought of the last time he had gone northward, nearly twenty years before. Then, he was a light-hearted young soldier, and he and his aides, albeit they went on business, rode gayly through the forests, lighting the road with the bright colors they wore and with the glitter of lace and arms, while they anticipated all the pleasures of youth in the new lands they were to visit. Now, he was in the prime of manhood, looking into the future with prophetic eyes, and sober as was his wont when the shadow of coming responsibility lay dark upon his path. With him went Patrick Henry, four years his junior, and Edmund Pendleton, now past threescore. They were all quiet and grave enough, no doubt; but Washington, we may believe, was gravest of all, because, being the most truthful of men to himself as to others, he saw more plainly what was coming. So they made their journey to the North,
and on the memorable 5th of September they met with their brethren from the other colonies in Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia. The Congress sat fifty-one days, occupied with debates and discussion. Few abler, more honest, or more memorable bodies of men have ever assembled to settle the fate of nations. Much debate, great and earnest in all directions, resulted in a declaration of colonial rights, in an address to the king, in another to the people of Canada, and a third to the people of Great Britain; masterly state papers, seldom surpassed, and extorting even then the admiration of England. In these debates and state papers Washington took no part that is now apparent on the face of the record. He was silent in the Congress, and if he was consulted, as he unquestionably was by the committees, there is no record of it now. The simple fact was that his time had not come. He saw men of the most acute minds, liberal in education, patriotic in heart, trained in law and in history, doing the work of the moment in the best possible way. If anything had been done wrongly, or had been left undone, Washington would have found his voice quickly enough, and uttered another of the “most eloquent speeches ever made,” as he did shortly before in the Virginia convention. He could speak in public when need was, but now there was no need and nothing to arouse him. The work of Congress followed the line of policy adopted by the Virginia convention, and that had proceeded along the path
marked out in the Fairfax resolves, so that Washington could not be other than content. He occupied his own time, as we see by notes in his diary, in visiting the delegates from the other colonies, and in informing himself as to their ideas and purposes, and those of the people whom they represented. He was quietly working for the future, the present being well taken care of. Yet this silent man, going hither and thither, and chatting pleasantly with this member or that, was in some way or other impressing himself deeply on all the delegates, for Patrick Henry said: “If you speak of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on the floor.” We have a letter, written at just this time, which shows us how Washington felt, and we see again how his spirit rose as he saw more and more clearly that the ultimate issue was inevitable. The letter is addressed to Captain Mackenzie, a British officer at Boston, and an old friend. “Permit me,” he began, “with the freedom of a friend (for you know I always esteemed you), to express my sorrow that fortune should place you in a service that must fix curses to the latest posterity upon the contrivers, and, if success (which, by the by, is inpossible) accompanies it, execrations upon all those who have been instrumental in the execution.” This was rather uncompromising talk and not over peaceable, it must be confessed. He continued: “Give me leave to add, and I think I can an