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was right in describing himself as “singular" in his views on this matter, which just then was exciting much attention.
At that time indeed much feeling existed, and there were many sharp divisions about the Mississippi question. One party, for the sake of a commercial treaty with Spain, and to get a troublesome business out of the way, was ready to give up our claims to a free navigation of the great river; and this was probably the prevalent sentiment in Congress, for to most of the members the Mississippi seemed a very remote affair indeed. On the other side was a smaller and more violent party, which was for obtaining the free navigation immediately and at all hazards, and was furious at the proposition to make such a sacrifice as its opponents proposed. Finally, there was Spain herself intriguing to get possession of the West, holding out free navigation as a bait to the settlers of Ken. tucky, and keeping paid agents in that region to foster her schemes. Washington saw too far and too clearly to think for one moment of giving up the navigation of the Mississippi, but he also perceived what no one else seems to have thought of, that free navigation at that moment would give the western settlements “the habit of trade" with New Orleans before they had formed it with the Atlantic seaboard, and would thus detach them from the United States. He wished, therefore, to have the Mississippi question left open, and all our claims reserved, so that trade by the river
should be obstructed until we had time to open our inland navigation and bind the western people to us by ties too strong to be broken. The fear that the river would be lost by waiting did not disturb him in the least, provided our claims were kept alive. · He wrote to Lee in June, 1786: “Whenever the new States 'become so populous, and so extended to the westward, as really to need it, there will be no power which can deprive them of the use of the Mississippi.” Again, a year later, while the convention was sitting in Philadelphia, he said: “My sentiments with respect to the navigation of the Mississippi have been long fixed, and are not dissimilar to those which are expressed in your
letter. I have ever been of opinion that the true policy of the Atlantic States, instead of contending prematurely for the free navigation of that river (which eventually, and perhaps as soon as it will be our true interest to obtain it, must happen), would be to open and improve the natural communications with the western country.” The event justified his sagacity in all respects, for the bickerings went on until the United States were able to compel Spain to give what was wanted to the western communities, which by that time had been firmly bound to those of the Atlantic coast.
Much as Washington thought about holding fast the western country, there was yet one idea that overruled it as well as all others. There was one plan which he knew would be a quick solution of the dangers and difficulties for which inland navi.
gation and trade connections were at best but palliatives. He had learned by bitter experience, as no other man had learned, the vital need and value of union. He felt it as soon as he took command of the army, and it rode like black care behind him from Cambridge to Yorktown. He had hoped something from the confederation, but he soon saw that it was as worthless as the utter lack of system which it replaced, and amounted merely to substituting one kind of impotence and confusion for another. Others 'might be deceived by phrases as to nationality and a general government, but he had dwelt among hard facts, and he knew that these things did not exist. He knew that what passed for them, stood in their place and wore their semblance, were merely temporary creations born of the common danger, and doomed, when the pressure of war was gone, to fall to pieces in imbecility and inertness. To the lack of a proper union, which meant to his mind national and energetic government, he attributed the failures of the campaigns, the long-drawn miseries, and in a word the needless prolongation of the Revolution. He saw, too, that what had been so nearly ruinous in war would be absolutely so in peace, and before the treaty was actually signed he had begun to call attention to the great question on the right settlement of which the future of the country depended.
To Hamilton he wrote on March 4, 1783: “It is clearly my opinion, unless Congress have powers competent to all general purposes, that the dis
tresses we have encountered, the expense we have incurred, and the blood we have spilt, will avail us nothing.” Again he wrote to Hamilton, a few weeks later: “My wish to see the union of these States established upon liberal and permanent principles, and inclination to contribute my mite in pointing out the defects of the present constitution, are equally great. All my private letters have teemed with these sentiments, and whenever this topic has been the subject of conversation, I have endeavored to diffuse and enforce them." His circular letter to the governors of the States at the close of the war, which was as eloquent as it was forcible, was devoted to urging the necessity of a better central government. “With this conviction,” he said, “of the importance of the present crisis, silence in me would be a crime. I will therefore speak to your Excellency the language of freedom and of sincerity without disguise.
There are four things which I humbly conceive are essential to the well-being, I may even venture to say, to the existence, of the United States, as an independent power:
“First. An indissoluble union of the States under one federal head.
“Second. A regard to public justice.
“Third. The adoption of a proper peace establishment; and,
“Fourth. The prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States, which will induce them to forget their local
prejudices and policies ; to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity; and in some instances to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community.” The same appeal went forth again in his last address to the army, when he said: “Although the general has so frequently given it as his opinion, in the most public and explicit manner, that unless the principles of the federal government were properly supported, and the powers of the Union increased, the honor, dignity, and justice of the nation would be lost forever; yet he cannot help repeating on this occasion so interesting a sentiment, and leaving it as his last injunction to every soldier, who may view the subject in the same serious point of light, to add his best endeavors to those of his worthy fellow-citizens towards effecting those great and valuable purposes on which our very existence as a nation so materially depends.
These two papers were the first strong public appeals for union. The letter to the governors argued the question elaborately, and was intended for the general public. The address to the
army was simply a watchword and last general order; for the army needed no arguments to prove the crying need of better government. Before this, Hamilton had written his famous letters to Duane and Morris, and Madison was just beginning to turn his thoughts toward the problem of federal government; but with these exceptions Washing.