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nounce it as a fact, that it is not the wish or intent of that government (Massachusetts], or any other upon this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for independence; but this you may at the same time rely on, that none of them will ever submit to the loss of those valuable rights and privileges which are essential to the happiness of every free state, and without which life, liberty, and property are rendered totally insecure. Again give me leave to add as my opinion that more blood will be spilled on this occasion, if the ministry are determined to push matters to extremity, than history has ever yet furnished instances of in the annals of North America, and such a vital wound will be given to the peace of this great country, as time itself cannot cure or eradicate the remembrance of." Washington was not a political agitator like Sam Adams, planning with unerring intelligence to bring about independence. On the contrary, he rightly declared that independence was not desired. But although he believed in exhausting every argument and every peaceful remedy, it is evident that he felt that there now could be but one result, and that violent separation from the mother country was inevitable. Here is where he differed from his associates and from the great mass of the people, and it is to this entire veracity of mind that his wisdom and foresight were so largely due, as well as his success when the time came for him to put his hand to the plough.
When Congress adjourned, Washington returned to Mount Vernon, to the pursuits and pleasures that he loved, to his family and farm, and to his horses and hounds, with whom he had many a good run, the last that he was to enjoy for years to come. He returned also to wait and watch as before, and to see war rapidly gather in the east. When the Virginia convention again assembled, resolutions were introduced to arm and discipline men, and Henry declared in their support that an “appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts” was all that was left. Washington said nothing, but he served on the committee to draft a plan of defence, and then fell to reviewing the independent companies which were springing up everywhere. At the same time he wrote to his brother John, who had raised a troop, that he would accept the command of it if desired, as it was his “ full intention to devote his life and fortune in the cause we are engaged in, if needful." At Mount Vernon his old comrades of the French war began to appear, in search of courage and sympathy. Thither, too, came Charles Lee, a typical military adventurer of that period, a man of English birth and of varied service, brilliant, whimsical, and unbalanced. There also came Horatio Gates, likewise British, and disappointed with his prospects at home; less adventurous than Lee, but also less brilliant, and not much more valuable.
Thus the winter wore away; spring opened, and toward the end of April Washington started
again for the North, much occupied with certain tid. ings from Lexington and Concord which just then spread over the land. He saw all that it meant plainly enough, and after noting the fact that the colonists fought and fought well, he wrote to George Fairfax in England : “Unhappy it is to reflect that a brother's sword has been sheathed in a brother's breast, and that the once happy and peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched in blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative. But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?” Congress, it would seem, thought there was a good deal of room for hesitation, both for virtuous men and others, and after the fashion of their race determined to do a little more debating and arguing, before taking any decisive step. After much resistance and discussion, a second “humble and dutiful petition " to the king was adopted, and with strange contradiction a confederation was formed at the same time, and Congress proceeded to exercise the sovereign powers thus vested in them. The most pressing and troublesome question before them was what to do with the army surrounding Boston, and with the actual hostilities there existing.
Washington, for his part, went quietly about as before, saying nothing and observing much, working hard as chairman of the military committees, planning for defence, and arranging for raising an army. One act of his alone stands out for us with significance at this critical time. In this second
Congress he appeared habitually on the floor in his blue and buff uniform of a Virginia colonel. It was his way of saying that the hour for action had come, and that he at least was ready for the fight whenever called upon.
Presently he was summoned. Weary of waiting, John Adams at last declared that Congress must adopt the army and make Washington, who at this mention of his name stepped out of the room, commander-in-chief. On June 15th, formal motions were made to this effect and unanimously adopted, and the next day Washington appeared before Congress and accepted the trust. His words were few and simple. He expressed his sense of his own insufficiency for the task before him, and said that as no pecuniary consideration could have induced him to undertake the work, he must decline all pay or emoluments, only looking to Congress to defray his expenses. In the same spirit he wrote to his soldiers in Virginia, to his brother, and finally, in terms at once simple and pathetic, to his wife. There was no pretence about this, but the sternest reality of self-distrust, for Washington saw and measured as did no one else the magnitude of the work before him. He knew that he was about to face the best troops of Europe, and he had learned by experience that after the first excitement was over he would be obliged to rely upon a people who were brave and patriotic, but also undisciplined, untrained, and unprepared for war, without money, without arms, without allies or credit,
and torn by selfish local interests. Nobody else perceived all this as he was able to with his mastery of facts, but he faced the duty unflinchingly. He did not put it aside because he distrusted himself, for in his truthfulness he could not but confess that no other American could show one tithe of his capacity, experience, or military service. He knew what was coming, knew it, no doubt, when he first put on his uniform, and he accepted instantly.
John Adams in his autobiography speaks of the necessity of choosing a Southern general, and also says there were objectors to the selection of Washington even among the Virginia delegates. That there were political reasons for taking a Virginian cannot be doubted. But the dissent, even if it existed, never appeared on the surface, excepting in the case of John Hancock, who, with curious vanity, thought that he ought to have this great place. When Washington's name was proposed there was no murmur of opposition, for there was no man who could for one moment be compared with him in fitness. The choice was inevitable, and he himself felt it to be so. He saw it coming; he would fain have avoided the great task, but no thought of shrinking crossed his mind. He saw with his entire freedom from constitutional subtleties that an absolute parliament sought to extend its power to the colonies. To this he would not submit, and he knew that this was a question which could be settled only by one side giving way, or by the dread appeal to arms. It was a question of fact, hard,