« ZurückWeiter »
the head of a new government, that government took on in some measure the character of its chief. His journey was a well-calculated appeal, not for himself but for his cause, to the warm human interest which a man readily excites, but which only gathers slowly around constitutions and forms of government. The world owes a good deal to the right kind of hero-worship, and the United States have been no exception. The journey itself was uneventful, and was carried out with Washington's usual precision. It served its purpose too, and brought out a popular enthusiasm which spoke well for the prospects of the federal government, and which was the first promise of the loyal support which New England gave to the President, as she had already given it to the general. In the succession of crowds and processions and celebrations which marked the public rejoicing, one incident of this journey stands out as still memorable, and possessed of real meaning. Mr. John Hancock was governor of Massachusetts. There is no need to dwell upon him. He was a man of slender abilities, large wealth, and ready patriotism, with a great sense of his own importance, and a fine taste for impressive display. Every external thing about him, from his handsome house and his Copley portrait to his imposing gout and his immortal signature, was showy and effective. He was governor of Massachusetts, and very proud of that proud old commonwealth as well as
of her governor. Within her bounds he was the representative of her sovereignty, and he felt that deference was due to him from the President of the United States when they both stood on the soil of Massachusetts. He did not meet Washington on his arrival, and Washington thereupon did not dine with the governor as he had agreed to do. It looked a little stormy. Here was evidently a man with some new views as to the sovereignty of States and the standing of the union of States. It might have done for Governor Hancock to allow the President of Congress to pass out of Massachusetts without seeing its governor, and thereby learn a valuable lesson, but it would never do to have such a thing happen in the case of George Washington, no matter what office he might hold. A little after noon on Sunday, October 26, therefore, the governor wrote a note to the President, apologizing for not calling before, and asking if he might call in half an hour, even though it was at the hazard of his health. Washington answered at once, expressing his pleasure at the prospect of seeing his excellency, but begging him, with a touch of irony, not to do anything to endanger his health. So in half an hour Hancock appeared. Picturesque, even if defeated, he was borne up-stairs on men's shoulders, swathed in flannels, and then and there made his call. The old house in Boston where this happened has had since then a series of successors, but the ground on which it stood has been duly remembered and commemorated. It is a more important spot than we are wont to think; for there it was settled, on that autumn Sunday, that the idea that the States were able to own and to bully the confederacy they had formed was dead, and that the President of the new United States was henceforth to be regarded as the official superior of every governor in the land. It was a mere question of etiquette, nothing more. But how the general government would have sunk in popular estimation if the President had not asserted, with perfect dignity and yet entire firmness, its position 1 Men are governed very largely by impressions, and Washington knew it. Hence his settling at once and forever the question of precedence between the Union and the States. Everywhere and at all times, according to his doctrine, the nation was to be first."
So the President travelled on to the north, and then back by another road to New York, and that excellent bit of work in familiarizing the people with their federal government was accomplished. Meantime the wheels had started, the machine was in motion, and the chief officers were at their places. The preliminary work had been done, and the next step was to determine what policies should be adopted, and to find out if the new system could really perform the task for which it had been created.
* The most lately published contemporary account of this affair with Hancock can be found in the Magazine of American History, June, 1888, p. 508, entitled “Incidents in the Life of John Hantock, as related by Dorothy Quincy Hancock Scott (from the Diary of Gen. W. H. Sumner.)”
To trace in detail the events of Washington's administration would be to write the history of the country during that period. It is only possible here to show, without much regard to chronological sequence, the part of the President in developing the policy of the government at home and his attitude toward each question as it arose. We are concerned here merely with the influence and effect of Washington in our history, and not with the history itself. What did he do, and what light do we get on the man himself from his words and deeds 2 These are the only questions that a brief study of a career so far-reaching can attempt to answer.
Congress came together for the first time with the government actually organized on January 4, 1790. On the day when the session opened, Washington drove down to the hall where the Congress met, alone, in his own coach drawn by four horses. He was preceded by Colonel Humphreys and Major Jackson, mounted on his two white horses, while immediately behind came his chariot with his pri vate secretaries, and Mr. Lewis on horseback Then followed in their own coaches the chief jus. tice and the secretaries of war and of the treasury. When the President reached the hall he was met at the entrance by the doorkeeper of the Congress, and was escorted to the Senate chamber. There he passed between the members of each branch, drawn up on either hand, and took his seat by the VicePresident. When order and silence were obtained, he rose and spoke to the assembled representatives of the people standing before him. Having concluded his speech, he bowed and withdrew with his suite as he had come. Jefferson killed this simple ceremonial, and substituted for it the written message, sent by a secretary and read by a clerk in the midst of talk and bustle, which is the form we have today. Jefferson's change was made, of course, in the name of liberty, and also because he was averse to public speaking. From the latter point of view, it was reasonable enough, but the ostensible cause was as hollow and meaningless as any of the French notions to which it was close akin. It is well for the head of the state to meet face to face the representatives of the same people who elected him. For more than a century this has been the practice in Massachusetts, to take a single instance, and liberty in that commonwealth has not been imperilled, nor has the State been obliged to ask Federal aid to secure to her a republican form of government because of her adherence to this ancient custom. The forms adopted by Washington had the grave and simple dignity which marked all he did, and it was senseless to abandon what his faultless taste