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the undertaking, and referred to the danger of being anticipated and beaten by New York, a chord of local pride which he continued to touch most adroitly as the business proceeded. Very characteristically, too, he took pains to call atten. tion to the fact that by his ownership of land he had a personal interest in the enterprise. He looked far beyond his own lands, but he was glad to have his property developed, and with his usual freedom from anything like pretense, he drew attention to the fact of his personal interests.
On his return from his tour in the autumn, he proceeded to bring the matter to public attention and to the consideration of the legislature. With this end in view he addressed a long letter to Governor Harrison, in which he laid out his whole scheme. Detroit was to be the objective point, and he indicated the different routes by which inland navigation could thence be obtained, thus opening the Indian trade, and affording an outlet at the same time for the settlers who were sure to pour in when once the fear of British aggression was removed. He dwelt strongly upon the danger of Virginia losing these advantages by the action of other States, and yet at the same time he suggested the methods by which Maryland and Pennsylvania could be brought into the plan. Then he advanced a series of arguments which were purely national in their scope. He insisted on the necessity of binding to the old colonies by strong ties the Western States, which might easily be decoyed away
if Spain or England had the sense to do it. This point he argued with great force, for it was now no longer a Virginian argument, but an argument for all the States.
The practical result was that the legislature took the question up, more in deference to the writer's wishes and in gratitude for his services, than from any comprehension of what the scheme meant. The companies were duly organized, and the promoter was given a hundred and fifty shares, on the ground that the legislature wished to take every opportunity of testifying their sense of “the unexampled merits of George Washington towards his country." Washington was much touched and not a little troubled by this action. He had been willing, as he said, to give up his cherished privacy and repose in order to forward the enterprise. He had gone to Maryland even, and worked to engage that State in the scheme, but he could not bear the idea of taking money for what he regarded as part of a great public policy. "I would wish,” he said, “that every individual who may hear that it was a favorite plan of mine may know also that I had no other motive for promoting it than the advantage of which I conceived it would be productive to the Union, and to this State in particular, by cementing the eastern and western territory together, at the same time that it will give vigor and increase to our commerce, and be a convenience to our citizens."
“How would this matter be viewed, then, by the
eye of the world, and what would be the opinion of it, when it comes to be related that George Washington has received twenty thousand dollars and five thousand pounds sterling of the public money as an interest therein?” He thought it would make him look like a "pensioner or dependent” to accept this gratuity, and he recoiled from the idea. There is something entirely frank and human in the way in which he says “George Washington,” instead of using the first pronoun singular. He always saw facts as they were; he understood the fact called “George Washington” as perfectly as any other, and although he wanted retirement and privacy, be had no mock modesty in estimating his own place in the world. At the same time, while he wished to be rid of the kindly gift, he shrank from putting on what he called the appearance of “ ostentatious disinterestedness” by refusing it. Finally he took the stock and endowed two charity schools with the dividends. The scheme turned out successfully, and the work still endures, like the early surveys and various other things of a very different kind to which Washington put his hand.
In the greater forces which were presently set in motion for the preservation of the future empire, the inland navigation, started in Virginia, dropped out of sight, and became merely one of the rills which fed the mighty river. But it was the only really practical movement possible at the precise moment when it was begun, and it was characteristic of its author, who always found, even in the
most discouraging conditions, something that could be done. It might be only a very little something, but still that was better than nothing to the strong man ever dealing with facts as they actually were on this confused earth, and not turning aside because things were not as they ought to be. Thus many a battle and campaign had been saved, and so inland navigation played its part now.
It helped, among other things, to bring Maryland and Virginia together, and their combination was the first step toward the Constitution of the United States. There is nothing fanciful in all this. No one would pretend that the Constitution of the United States was descended from Washington's James River and Potomac River companies. But he worked at them with that end in view, and so did what was nearest to his hand and most practical toward union, empire, and the development of national sentiment.
Ah, says some critic in critic's fashion, you are carried away by your subject; you see in a simple business enterprise, intended merely to open western lands, the far-reaching ideas of a statesman. Perhaps our critic is right, for as one goes on living with this Virginian soldier, studying his letters and his thoughts, one comes to believe many things of him, and to detect much meaning in his sayings and doings. Let us, however, show our evidence at least. Here is what he wrote to his friend Humphreys a year after his scheme was afoot: “My attention is more immediately engaged
in a project which I think big with great political as well as commercial consequences to the States, especially the middle ones;” and then he went on to argue the necessity of fastening the Western States to the Atlantic seaboard and thus thwarting Spain and England. This looks like more than a money-making scheme; in fact, it justifies all that has been said, especially if read in connection with certain other letters of this period. Great political results, as well as lumber and peltry, were what Washington intended to float along his rivers and canals.
In this same letter to Humphreys he touched also on another point in connection with the devel. opment of the West, which was of vast importance to the future of the country, and was even then agitating men's minds. He said: "I may be singular in my ideas, but they are these: that, to open a door to, and make easy the way for those settlers to the westward (who ought to advance regularly and compactly), before we make any
stir about the navigation of the Mississippi, and before our settlements are far advanced towards that river, would be our true line of policy.” Again he wrote: “However .singular the opinion may be, I cannot divest myself of it, that the navigation of the Mississippi, at this time (1785), ought to be no object
On the contrary, until we have a little time allowed to open and make easy the ways between the Atlantic States and the western territory, the obstructions had better remain." He