Abbildungen der Seite

true to their glorious past and to their country. He appealed to their patriotism, and promised them that which they had always had, his own earnest support in obtaining justice from Congress. When he had finished he quietly withdrew. The officers were deeply moved by his words, and his influence prevailed. Resolutions were passed, reiterating the demands of the army, but professing entire faith in the government. This time Congress listened, and the measures granting half-pay in commutation and certain other requests were passed. Thus this very serious danger was averted, not by the reluctant action of Congress, but by the wisdom and strength of the general, who was loved by his soldiers after a fashion that few conquerors could boast.

Underlying all these general discontents, there was, besides, a well-defined movement, which saw a solution of all difficulties and a redress of all wrongs in a radical change of the form of government, and in the elevation of Washington to supreme power. This party was satisfied that the existing system was a failure, and that it was not and could not be made either strong, honest, or respectable. The obvious relief was in some kind of monarchy, with a large infusion of the one-man power; and it followed, as a matter of course, that the one man could be no other than the commanderin-chief. In May, 1782, when the feeling in the army had risen very high, this party of reform brought their ideas before Washington through an

old and respected friend of his, Colonel Nicola. The colonel set forth very clearly the failure and shortcomings of the existing government, argued in favor of the substitution of something much stronger, and wound up by hinting very plainly that his correspondent was the man for the crisis and the proper savior of society. The letter was forcible and well written, and Colonel Nicola was a man of character and standing. It could not be passed over lightly or in silence, and Washington replied as follows:

“ With a mixture of surprise and astonishment, I have read with attention the sentiments you

have submitted to my perusal. Be assured, sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have expressed, and (which] I must view with abhorrence and reprehend with severity. For the present, the communication of them will rest in my own bosom, unless some further agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary. I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which seems to me big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowladge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to my own feelings, I must add that no man possesses a more sincere wish to see justice done to the army than I do; and

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 mutineers 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

« ZurückWeiter »