« ZurückWeiter »
IN the warm days of closing August, a party of three gentlemen rode away from Mount Vernon one morning, and set out upon their long journey to Philadelphia. One cannot help wondering whether a tender and somewhat sad remembrance did not rise in Washington's mind, as he thought of the last time he had gone northward, nearly twenty years before. Then, he was a light-hearted young soldier, and he and his aides, albeit they went on business, rode gayly through the forests, lighting the road with the bright colors they wore and with the glitter of lace and arms, while they anticipated all the pleasures of youth in the new lands they were to visit. Now, he was in the prime of manhood, looking into the future with prophetic eyes, and sober as was his wont when the shadow of coming responsibility lay dark upon his path. With him went Patrick Henry, four years his junior, and Edmund Pendleton, now past threescore. They were all quiet and grave enough, no doubt; but Washington, we may believe, was gravest of all, because, being the most truthful of men to himself as to others, he saw more plainly what was coming. So they made their journey to the North,
and on the memorable 5th of September they met with their brethren from the other colonies in Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia. The Congress sat fifty-one days, occupied with debates and discussion. Few abler, more honest, or more memorable bodies of men have ever assembled to settle the fate of nations. Much debate, great and earnest in all directions, resulted in a declaration of colonial rights, in an address to the king, in another to the people of Canada, and a third to the people of Great Britain; masterly state papers, seldom surpassed, and extorting even then the admiration of England. In these debates and state papers Washington took no part that is now apparent on the face of the record. He was silent in the Congress, and if he was consulted, as he unquestionably was by the committees, there is no record of it now. The simple fact was that his time had not come. He saw men of the most acute minds, liberal in education, patriotic in heart, trained in law and in history, doing the work of the moment in the best possible way. If anything had been done wrongly, or had been left undone, Washington would have found his voice quickly enough, and uttered another of the “most eloquent speeches ever made,” as he did shortly before in the Virginia convention. He could speak in public when need was, but now there was no need and nothing to arouse him. The work of Congress followed the line of policy adopted by the Virginia convention, and that had proceeded along the path
marked out in the Fairfax resolves, so that Washington could not be other than content. He occupied his own time, as we see by notes in his diary, in visiting the delegates from the other colonies, and in informing himself as to their ideas and purposes, and those of the people whom they represented. He was quietly working for the future, the present being well taken care of. Yet this silent man, going hither and thither, and chatting pleasantly with this member or that, was in some way or other impressing himself deeply on all the delegates, for Patrick Henry said: “If you speak of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on the floor.” We have a letter, written at just this time, which shows us how Washington felt, and we see again how his spirit rose as he saw more and more clearly that the ultimate issue was inevitable. The letter is addressed to Captain Mackenzie, a British officer at Boston, and an old friend. “Permit me,” he began, “with the freedom of a friend (for you know I always esteemed you), to express my sorrow that fortune should place you in a service that must fix curses to the latest posterity upon the contrivers, and, if success (which, by the by, is impossible) accompanies it, execrations upon all those who have been instrumental in the execution.” This was rather uncompromising talk and not over peaceable, it must be confessed. He continued: “Give me leave to add, and I think I can an: nounce it as a fact, that it is not the wish or intent of that government [Massachusetts], or any other upon this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for independence; but this you may at the same time rely on, that none of them will ever submit to the loss of those valuable rights and privileges which are essential to the happiness of every free state, and without which life, liberty, and property are rendered totally insecure. . . . Again give me leave to add as my opinion that more blood will be spilled on this occasion, if the ministry are determined to push matters to extremity, than history has ever yet furnished instances of in the annals of North America, and such a vital wound will be given to the peace of this great country, as time itself cannot cure or eradicate the remembrance of.” Washington was not a political agitator like Sam Adams, planning with unerring intelligence to bring about independence. On the contrary, he rightly declared that independence was not desired. But although he believed in exhausting every argument and every peaceful remedy, it is evident that he felt that there now could be but one result, and that violent separation from the mother country was inevitable. Here is where he differed from his associates and from the great mass of the people, and it is to this entire veracity of mind that his wisdom and foresight were so largely due, as well as his success when the time
When Congress adjourned, Washington returned to Mount Vernon, to the pursuits and pleasures that he loved, to his family and farm, and to his horses and hounds, with whom he had many a good run, the last that he was to enjoy for years to come. He returned also to wait and watch as before, and to see war rapidly gather in the east. When the Virginia convention again assembled, resolutions were introduced to arm and discipline men, and Henry declared in their support that an “appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts” was all that was left. Washington said nothing, but he served on the committee to draft a plan of defence, and then fell to reviewing the independent companies which were springing up everywhere. At the same time he wrote to his brother John, who had raised a troop, that he would accept the command of it if desired, as it was his “full intention to devote his life and fortune in the cause we are engaged in, if needful.” At Mount Vernon his old comrades of the French war began to appear, in search of courage and sympathy. Thither, too, came Charles Lee, a typical military adventurer of that period, a man of English birth and of varied service, brilliant, whimsical, and unbalanced. There also came Horatio Gates, likewise British, and disappointed with his prospects at home; less adventurous than Lee, but also less brilliant, and not much more valuable.
Thus the winter wore away; spring opened, and toward the end of April Washington started