« ZurückWeiter »
a publick and a personal nature, and I feel an involuntary impulse which I cannot resist, to communicate, without reserve to you some of the reflections which the hour has produced. Solicitous for our common happiness as a people, and convinced, as I continue to be, that our peace and prosperity depend on the proper improvement of the present period, my anxiety is extreme that the new government may have an auspicious beginning. To effect this, and to perpetuate a nation formed under your auspices, it is certain you will again be called forth. The same principles of devotion to the good of mankind, which have invariably governed your conduct, will no doubt continue to rule your mind, however opposite their consequences may be to your repose and happiness. It may be wrong, but I cannot suppress in my wishes for national felicity a due regard for your personal fame and content.
“ If the same success should attend your efforts on this important occasion which has distinguished you hitherto, then, to be sure, you will have spent a life which Providence rarely, if ever, before gave to the lot of man. It is my anxious hope, it is my belief that this will be the case ; but all things are uncertain, and perhaps nothing more so than political events.
“Without you, the government can have but little chance of success; and the people, of that happiness which its prosperity must yield.”
To these communications, the General thus replied :
“ Your observations on the solemnity of the crisis, and its application to myself, bring before me subjects of the most momentous and interesting nature. In our endeavours to establish a new general government, the contest, nationally considered, seems not to have been so much for glory, as existence. It was for a long time doubtful whether we were to survive as an independent republick, or decline from our federal dignity into insignificant and wretched fragments of empire. The adoption of the constitution so extensively,
and with so liberal an acquiescence on the part of the minorities in general, promised the former ; but lately, the circular letter of New-York has manifested in my apprehension an unfavourable, if not an insidious tendency to a contrary policy. I still hope for the best; but before you mentioned it, I could not help fearing it would serve as a standard to which the disaffected could resort. It is now evidently the part of all honest men, who are friends to the new constitution, to endeavour to give it a chance to disclose its merits and defects by carrying it fairly into effect, in the first instance.
“The principal topick of your letter is, to me, a point of great delicacy indeed, insomuch that I can scarcely, without some impropriety, touch upon it. In the first place, the event to which you allude may never happen, among other reasons because, if the partiality of my fellow-citizens conceive it to be a mean by which the sinews of the new government would be strengthened, it will of consequence be obnoxious to those who are in opposition to it; many of whom, unquestionably, will be placed among the electors. This consideration alone would supersede the expediency of announcing any definitive and irrevocable resolution. You are among the small number of those who know my invincible attachment to domestick life, and that my sincerest wish is to continue in the enjoyment of it solely, until my final hour. But the world would be neither so well instructed, nor so candidly disposed, as to believe me to be uninfluenced by sinister motives in case any circumstance should render a deviation from the line of conduct I had prescribed for myself indispensable. Should the contin. gency you suggest, take place, and (for argument's sake alone let me say) should my unfeigned reluctance to accept the office be overcome by a deference for the reasons and opinions of my friends ; might I not, after the declarations I have made, (and heaven knows they were made in the sincerity of my heart) in the judg.
ment of the impartial world, and of posterity, be chargeable with levity and inconsistency, if not with rashness and ambition ? Nay, farther, would there not even be some apparent foundation for the two former charges? Now, justice to myself, and tranquillity of conscience require that I should act a part, if not above imputation, at least capable of vindication. Nor will you conceive me to be too solicitous for reputation. Though I prize as I ought the good opinion of my fellow-citizens, yet if I know myself, I would not seek popularity at the expense of one social duty, or moral virtue.
“While doing what my conscience informed me was right, as it respected my God, my country, and my. self, I could despise all the party clamour and unjust censure which must be expected from some, whose personal enmity might be occasioned by their hostility to the government. I am conscious that I fear alone to give any real occasion for obloquy, and that I do not dread to meet with unmerited reproach. And certain I am, whensoever I shall be convinced the good of my country requires my reputation to be put in risk, regard for my own fame will not come in competition with an object of so much magnitude.
“ If I declined the task, it would be upon quite another principle. Notwithstanding my advanced season of life, my increasing fondness for agricultural amusements, and my growing love of retirement, aug. ment and confirm my decided predeliction for the character of a private citizen, yet it will be no one of these motives, nor the hazard to which my former reputation might be exposed, or the terrour of encountering new fatigues and troubles, that would deter me from an acceptance; but a belief that some other person, who had less pretence and less inclination to be excused, could execute all the duties full as satisfactorily as myself. To say more would be indiscreet; as the disclosure of a refusal beforehand might incur the
application of the fable, in which the fox is represented as undervaluing the grapes he could not reach. You will perceive, my dear sir, by what is here observed (and which you will be pleased to consider in the light of a confidential communication) that my inclinations will dispose and decide me to remain as I am; unless a clear and insurmountable conviction should be impressed on my mind, that some very disagreeable consequences must in all human probability result from the indulgence of my wishes."
To similar suggestions from Colonel Hamilton, General WASHINGTON replied. “On the delicate subject with which you conclude your letter I can say nothing ; because the event alluded to may never happen, and because in case it should occur, it would be a point of prudence to defer forming one's ultimate and irrevocable decision, so long as new data might be af forded for one to act with the greater wisdom and propriety. I would not wish to conceal my prevailing sentiment from you. For you know me well enough, my good sir, to be persuaded that I am not guilty of affectation, when I tell you it is my great and sole desire to live and die in peace and retirement on my own farm. Were it even indispensable a different line of conduct should be adopted, while you and some others who are acquainted with my heart would acquit, the world and posterity might probably accuse me of inconsistency and ambition. Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man.
“Although I could not help observing from several publications and letters that my name had been sometimes spoken of, and that it was possible that contingency which is the subject of your letter might happen, yet I thought it best to maintain a guarded silence, and to lack the counsel of my best friends (which I certainly hold in the highest estimation) ra.
ther than to hazard an imputation unfriendly to the delicacy of my feelings. For, situated as I am, I could hardly bring the question into the slightest discussion, or ask an opinion even in the most confidential manner, without betraying in my judgment, some impropriety of conduct, or without feeling an apprehension that a premature display of anxiety might be construed into a vain glorious desire of pushing myself into notice as a candidate. Now, if I am not grossly deceived in myself, I should unfeignedly rejoice, in case the electors, by giving their votes in favour of some other person, would save me from the dreadful dilemma of being forced to accept or refuse. If that may not be, I am in the next place, earnestly desirous of searching out the truth, and of knowing whether there does not exist a probability that the government would be just as happily and effectually carried into execution without my aid, as with it. I am truly solicitous to obtain all the previous information which the circumstances will afford, and to determine (when the determination can with propriety be no longer postponed) according to the principles of right reason, and the dictates of a clear conscience; without too great a reference to the unforeseen consequences which may affect my person or reputation. Until that period, I may fairly hold myself open to conviction, though I allow your sentiments to have weight in them; and
shall not pass by your arguments without giving them as dispassionate a consideration as I can possibly bestow upon them.
" In taking a survey of the subject, in whatever point of light I have been able to place it, I will not suppress the acknowledgment, my dear sir, that I have always felt a kind of gloom upon my mind, as often as I have been taught to expect I might, and perhaps must ere long be called to make a decision. You will, I am well assured, believe the assertion (though I have little expectation it would gain credit from those