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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 moneymaking 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 development 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 , ought to be no object with us. 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 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 Kentucky, 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 navigation 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 distresses 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: