Abbildungen der Seite

them. The mother country forced them into a war with their sister French colonies, but they had no heart for it, and had the dispute been left to those who lived on this continent, it would have been settled without bloodshed. They were at that very time, though poor, yet the freest people in the world.

Let us leave then the infant Washington to grow up amid the peculiar strifes and ambitions and toils of the little colony of less than a hundred thousand people a while longer, and now extend a glance over the continent of Europe.

At this time, from 1732, Washington's birth year, to 1776, the great American Republic's year, there was no great Republic on the soil of Europe, or nation, in

No Republics in Europe.


which the whole people governed themselves.

Switzerland had a population of about one million mountaineers, like the North American Indians, divided into about twenty tribes, partially confeder ated, often at war with each other, consisting of nobles and peasantry, the people not voters-and only a republic in the sense that it was not a monarchy. It is now a republic, and some historians falsely say it was then a republic.

The little republic of Andorra, now so-called, was about equal to an average American township, and

was really an aristocracy; while San Marino was another little township, governed by a self-elected council, who held office for life.


All the rest of the continent of Europe-practically all of Europe-was divided into hostile nations, over each of which presided a monarch. The nobles had some privileges; the people were practically slaves. The great business of the men of Europe was to fight. They fought, and then rested long enough to take breath, and to let a new crop of boys grow up to be soldiers, and then fought again. Well might Hobbes, the eccentric English philosopher, picture human society as a huge leviathan, and promulgate the theory that the natural state of man is war. The monarchs were contending with the nobles, and every nation with every other nation. Treaties broke like rotten withes. The promises of a prince were empty air. Diplomacy was synonymous with deception. Talleyrand's maxim was but an embodiment of actual practice: "The great object of speech is to conceal thought." Macchiavelli was the most popular political authority, whose book, entitled "The Prince," is such an awful embodiment of diabolism that men of the XIXth century are inclined to regard it as ironical, but in that age princes subscribed to it as true. One of his maxims was: "Providence is

[ocr errors]

always favorable to the powerful, who possess neither shame nor conscience, and withholds its protection from the weak." Might makes right" was the law of European monarchs. Especially in the XVIIIth century despotism touched bottom in Europe. It was equally base with ancient Roman and later Oriental tyranny.

The late invention of the art of printing, the gradual increase of the relative number of readers, the discussion of religious questions in which an appeal was made to the Bible, did, however, gradually put the despots on the defensive, and tended to arouse a growing active party, who were inclined, in the disputes between the monarchs and the nobles, to make the best terms possible with one or the other, and so a new and strange contest for liberty arose. In the meantime, in many nations the prisons were full, and the most of the prisoners died of jail fever. In Russia, nine-tenths of the people were elaves; in Denmark and Germany, and Prussia and Austria, and Italy and Spain, and France, it was but little better. Nor were these slaves well cared for. Their food was coarse and scanty; their comforts embraced but little above the common animal gratifications; and the average length of life was not twothirds as great as it is now in England and the T'pited States.

To this dark picture England formed the greatest England takes exception. Though corruption prevailed in her politics; though she was then use

the lead in


lessly laying the foundation of her great national debt; though her Parliament was but an imperfect representation of the public opinion; yet speech was more free, law was more impartial, religion was less restrained, and the government was more sensitive to the wishes of all classes of the people, than in any other great nation. She was then, as always, the freest nation in Europe-but very far behind what she is to-day. Now, how many centuries will roll away before right shall triumph over wrong, the divine right of tyrants shall be denied, the serfs of Russia shall be emancipated, the monarchies shall be shaken, written constitutions shall be wrested from the monarchs, and some of the largest nations of Europe shall be republics? But for America this could not have been accomplished in five hundred years, perhaps never. But under the leadership of America it was to be accomplished in one hundred years, and the greatest name in all this stupendous revolution was to be the name given to that infant born in a Virginia farm-house in 1732, GEORGE WASHINGTON.

Once more, then, let us return to him, and see how wonderfully Providence prepared a man for so stupendous a work. Of the childhood and youth

Childhood and

of Washington little is known. Every American boy has heard the story of the hatchet Education of and the cherry tree, which by some is Washington. supposed to be a lie told in the interest of truth, reminding us of Mark Twain's interesting remark that in one respect he was superior to George Washington. Washington could not tell a lie,-but, said Twain, "I can, but won't!" In that he half represents nearly all Americans. "They can," but we fear, like Twain, would tell the greatest lie when they say "I won't."

Washington was, however, truthful, bold, modest, chaste, temperate. His whole life, after he became a conspicuous object to the people, was never stained by a known immorality. It has been said of him traditionally that in two instances he swore vigor ously, both times on the battle field, and Wendell Phillips expresses his gratification that Washington showed the common frailty of human nature in this way. Edward Everett, however, examines all the evidences and circumstances of the traditions, and pronounces the traditions unreasonable and untrue. It would seem strange that a man not accustomed to profanity should begin to practise it under such difficult circumstances, but even if he had cursed some, we agree with Phillips in excusing him, but do not regard it as a wrong. It would not detract from our

« ZurückWeiter »