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ence between the present gentleman in office and myself?
“It would be matter of grave regret to me if I could believe that a serious thought was turned toward me as his successor, not only as it respects my ardent wishes to pass through the vale of life in retirement, undisturbed in the remnant of the days I have to sojourn here, unless called
to defend my country (which every citizen is bound to do); but on public grounds also; for although I have abundant cause to be thankful for the good health with which I am blessed, yet I am not in, sensible to my declination in other respects. It would be criminal, therefore, in me, although it should be the wish of my countrymen and I could be elected, to accept an office under this conviction which another would discharge with more ability; and this, too, at a time when I am thoroughly convinced I should not draw a single vote from the anti-Federal side, and of course should stand upon no other ground than any other Federal character well supported; and when I should be. come a mark for the shafts of envenomed malice and the basest calumny to fire at, - when I should be charged not only with irresolution but with concealed ambition, which waits only an occasion to blaze out, and, in short, with dotage and imbecility
"All this, I grant, ought to be like dust in the balance, when put in competition with a great public good, when the accomplishment of it is apparent. But, as no problem is better defined in my mind than that principle, not men, is now, and will be, the object of contention; and that I could not obtain a solitary vote from that party; that any other respectable Federal character could receive the same suffrages that I should ; 1 that at my time of life (verging towards threescore and ten) I should expose myself without rendering any essential service to my country, or answering the end contemplated ; prudence on my párt must avert any attempt of the well-meant but mistaken views of my friends to introduce me again into the chair of government."
1 These italics are mine.
It does not fall within the scope of this biography to attempt to portray the history or weigh the merits of the two parties which came into existence at the close of the last century, and which, under varying námés, have divided the people of the United States ever since. But it is essential here to define the relation of Washington toward them because one hears it constantly said and sees it as constantly written down, that Washington belonged to no party, which is perhaps a natural, but is certainly a complete misconception. Washington came to the presidency by a unanimous vote. He had in his mind very strongly the idea of the framers of the Constitution that the President, by the method of his election and by his independence of the other departments of government, was to be above and beyond party, and the representative of the whole people. In addition to this he was so absorbed by the great conception which he had of the future of the country, and was so confident of the purity and rectitude of his own purposes, that he was loath to think that party divisions could arise while he held the chief magistracy. It was not long before he was undeceived on this point, and he soon found that party divisions sprang up from the measures of his own administration. Nevertheless, he clung to his determination to govern without the assistance of a party as such. When this, too, became impossible, he still felt that the unanimity of his election required that he should not declare himself to be the head of a party; but he had become thoroughly convinced that under the representative system of the Constitution party government could not be avoided. In his farewell address he warned the people against the excesses of that party spirit which he deplored; but he did not suggest that it could be extinguished. Being a wise and far-seeing man, he saw that if party government was an evil, it also was under a free representative system, and in the present condition of human nature a necessary evil, furnishing the only machinery by which public affairs could be carried on.
1 These italics are mine.
In a time of deep political excitement and strong party feeling, Washington was the last man in the world not to be decidedly on one side or the other. He was possessed of too much sense, force,
and virility to be content to hold himself aloof and croak over the wickedness of people, who were trying to do something, even if they did not always try in the most perfect way. He was himself preëminently a doer of deeds, and not a critic or a phrase-maker, and we can read very distinctly in the 'extracts which have been brought together in this chapter what he thought on party and public questions. He was opposed to the party which had resisted all the great measures of his administration from the foundation of the government of the United States. They had assailed and maligned him and his ministers, and he regarded them as political enemies. He believed in the principles of that party which had supported the financial policy of Hamilton and his own policy of neutrality toward foreign nations. He was opposed to the party which introduced the interests of France as the leading issue of American politics, and which embodied the doctrines of nullification and separatism in the resolutions of Kentucky and Virginia. In one word, Washington, in policies and politics, was an American and a Nationalist; and the National and American party, from 1789 to 1801, was the Federalist party. It may be added that it was the only party which, at that precise time, could claim those qualities. While he remained in the presidency he would not declare himself to be of any pa y; but as soon as this fetter was removed, he declared himself freely after his fashion, expressing in words what he had
formerly only expressed in action. His feelings warmed and strengthened as the controversy with France deepened, and as the attitude of the opposition became more un-American and leaned more and more to separatism. They culminated at last in the eloquent letter to Patrick Henry, and in the carefully weighed words with which he tells Trumbull that he can hope for no more votes than “any other Federal character.'