George Washington, the first president of the United States, born in Westmoreland co., Va., Feb. 22 (old style, 11), 1732, died at Mount Vernon, Dec. 14, 1799. The house in which he was born was in a parish called by the family name of Washington, near Pope's creek, a small tributary of the Potomac, about half a mile from its junction with that river. It was destroyed by fire during the boyhood of Washington, but in 1815 a stone with a suitable inscription was placed on the spot by George Washington Parke Custis. The family to which Washington belonged has not yet been satisfactorily traced in England. The genealogies accepted by Sparks and Irving and his other biographers have recently been proved to be inaccurate. His great-grandfather, John Washington, emigrated to Virginia about 1657, with his brother Lawrence. George Washington was the son of Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball. After the burning of the house at Pope's creek, his father removed to a house on the Rappahannock, a short distance. below Fredericksburg. Here he died in 1743, leaving a large landed property to his widow and five children.
To his oldest son Lawrence he bequeathed an estate on the Potomac afterward known as Mount Vernon. George received only the education of the schools of the neighborhood, and his instruction at them did not go beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic, with the addition, which must have been somewhat exceptional, of bookkeeping and surveying. He paid some attention to the French language after the army of Count de Rochambcau arrived in this country, but never attempted to speak or write it. His orthography was rather defective, a very common fault a century ago. Uniform tradition represents him to have attained an early development of physical strength. He took the lead in all the athletic sports and exercises of his companions. Though no great reliance can be placed upon most of the anecdotes which are related of his boyhood and youth, it is certain that he grew up of a vigorous, and in early life spare and agile frame, capable of much physical endurance, remarkably strong in the arms, and a bold and graceful rider. Nor is there any doubt that he early acquired among his contemporaries that character for justice, veracity, and sterling honor, which he sustained through life.
His elder brother Lawrence held a commission in one of the American regiments which were sent in 1740 to reŽnforce the army under Gen. Wentworth and Admiral Vernon, in the unsuccessful expedition against Cartagena. While on this expedition Capt. Lawrence Washington formed intimate personal relations with the admiral, and on his return at the close of the war he gave to his newly occupied residence at Hunting creek the name of Mount Vernon, in honor of that popular naval hero. When George was 14 years old a midshipman's warrant was obtained for him, and it is said that his clothes were packed to go on board ship. His mother alone never cordially approved of the plan, and it was finally abandoned in consequence of her opposition. Tradition represents her as a woman of vigorous character and masculine will. He was trained by her in habits of frugality and industry, to obey rightful authority, and to speak the truth. George Washington had ever been the favorite of Lawrence, and after leaving school passed much of his time at Mount Vernon, occupied in summer with the usual routine of plantation life, and in winter and the studious hours of the year with his favorite branch of surveying, in which he became, a great proficient.
He made it his profession, and was much employed by the eccentric Lord Fairfax, an English nobleman who had made his home in Virginia, where he had a vast estate and lived in a substantial stone dwelling called Greenway Court, iff the Shenandoah valley, which was then a wilderness. Three years were spent in this way, Washington passing the summers in surveying Lord Fairfax's estates, and the winters principally at Mount Vernon. The foundations of his fortune, as far as it was derived from his own acquisitions, were probably laid in part by the knowledge gained by actual inspection of the rich lands in western Virginia, of which he afterward became a large proprietor. In the course of his surveying tours he frequently encountered parties of friendly Indians, and became familiar with their manners, a knowledge which soon stood him greatly in stead. The very scene of his labors as a purveyor, the N. W. frontier of Virginia, became the theatre of those movements and operations which formed the memorable commencement of his military career. The French and Indian war had its origin in the jealousy with which the French government contemplated the projects of the Ohio company, which was formed about this time, and of which Lawrence Washington was an active member.
The attention of several of the colonial assemblies, and of that of Virginia among the first, was early called to this subject. In the anticipation of an Indian war, and probably of a rupture with France, the government of that colony began military preparations. The province was divided into districts, in one of which Washington, then but 19 years of age, received the appointment of adjutant with the rank of major. But soon afterward his brother Lawrence was ordered to the West Indies for his health, and it was determined that George should accompany him. They sailed for Barbadoes in September, 1751, and arrived after a voyage of five weeks. They had scarcely been a fortnight in the island when George was attacked with smallpox, by which he was slightly marked through life. Finding no material relief in Barbadoes, Lawrence Washington proposed to remove to Bermuda in the spring, and George was sent back to conduct his sister-in-law to the last named island. He reached Virginia after a most tempestuous voyage; but his brother's health grew rapidly worse, and the proposed removal to Bermuda was abandoned. This was the only occasion on which Washington ever left the American continent.
Lawrence Washington returned to Virginia in the summer of 1752, and died shortly after at the age of 34, leaving a large fortune to an infant daughter who did not long survive him. By his will, of which George was one of the executors, the estate of Mount Vernon was, on the demise of the daughter, given to George, who added to it materially by subsequent purchases. Though the youngest of the executors named in the will, owing to his more intimate acquaintance with his brother's affairs, and his prospective interest in the property, the active management of the estate devolved upon him. In the mean time the prospect of a collision on the frontier increased. On the arrival of Dinwiddie as colonial governor, the military establishment was reorganized, and the province was divided into four districts, of which the northern, including several counties, was assigned to Washington as adjutant general. The struggle of the French and English for the possession of the North American continent was the great event of the middle.of the 18th century. France intrenched herself on the St. Lawrence and at the mouth of the Mississippi, and aimed by a line of posts through the interior to confine the English to the comparatively narrow strip occupied by the Anglo-American colonies along the coast.
The intervening territory, watered by the Ohio, was claimed by both, but settled as yet by neither; in fact, it was occupied by Indians with the exception of a settlement of twelve Virginia families headed by Capt. Gist, who had established themselves on the Monongahela. The Canadians erected a fort on a branch of French creek, about 15 m. S. of Lake Erie, and sent emissaries to the tribes N. W. of the Ohio to persuade them to break up the infant settlements of the Ohio company. Some of the Anglo-American traders, it is said, were seized and sent to France. Gov. Dinwiddie, either for the purpose of protesting against these measures of the French, or perhaps of obtaining authentic information of their character, determined to despatch a special messenger to the residence of the French commandant. After others to whom this appointment had been offered had declined it, it was accepted by Washington. The distance to be traversed, most of the way through a wilderness, was between 500 and 600 m.; winter was at hand, and the journey was to be made without military escort, through a territory occupied by Indian tribes.
Washington started from Williamsburg Nov. 14, 1753. At Gist's settlement on the Monongahela he was joined by Gist, with whom he visited the French post, delivered his despatches, received a reply, and started for home. His return was accompanied by great danger from Indians and from frozen rivers. He narrowly escaped assassination by a treacherous guide, and was nearly drowned in crossing the Alleghany. Washington's journal of this perilous expedition, sent by Gov. Dinwiddie to London and published there, was regarded in England as a document of no little importance for the light which it shed on the designs of the French government with respect to the interior of this continent. The report of Washington left no doubt on the mind of Gov. Dinwiddie that all attempts to extend the settlements toward the Ohio would be forcibly resisted by the Canadian government. He accordingly convened the assembly, and recommended active measures of preparation, at the same time calling the attention of the other colonial governors to the impending danger.
Virginia voted to raise a regiment of six companies, and one company under Capt. Trent was immediately sent to take possession of the point at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela (the present site of Pittsburgh), which Washington had especially recommended as the site of a fort. The command of the regiment was given to Col. Fry, and Washington, who had refused to be a candidate for the colonelcy, was appointed lieutenant colonel. He moved forward with a part of the force as soon as it could be got ready to take the field, and the chief command before long devolved upon him by the death of Col. Fry. The instructions of Gov. Dinwiddie to the commander of the regiment assumed the existence of a state of war, and commanded him " to drive away, kill and destroy, or seize as prisoners all persons, not the subjects of the king of Great Britain, who should attempt to settle or take possession of the lands on the Ohio river or any of its tributaries." Washington reached Will's creek, on his way to the Ohio, on April 20, 1754. Here he was met by the intelligence that Capt. Trent's party, while building the fort, had been compelled by an overwhelming force of French and Indians to abandon the work.
The French completed it, and called it Fort Duquesne, in honor of the governor of Canada. Although it eventually appeared that the reported numbers of the French and Indians were enormously exaggerated, the state of affairs was extremely critical. Washington, however, advanced as rapidly as possible. Having received information from the friendly Indians that a party of French had been out for two days, determined to attack the first body of English they should meet, as a measure of precaution he threw up an intrenchment on the Great Meadows. Gist also brought him information that a party of 50 French had been at his settlement the day before, and that he had seen their tracks within five miles of the Great Meadows. This information was confirmed during the night by an express from the chief of the friendly Indians. Washington placed himself at the head of 50 men, and in company with a band of friendly Indians, after a forced and laborious night march,' came upon the enemy at an early hour the next morning (May 28). The French were completely surprised, and a brief action followed. M. Jumonville, the French commander, and 10 of his men were killed, and the rest of the party (except one who escaped), 22 in number, were taken prisoners.
On the side of the Virginians, one was killed and two or three were wounded. The prisoners were marched to the Great Meadows, and thence under guard to Williamsburg. Considerable reinforcements were raised and advanced as far as Winchester; but, with the exception of an independent company from South Carolina under Capt. Mackay, none of them reached the Great Meadows, where the whole force amounted to less than 400 men. As Washington anticipated after the defeat of Jumonville's party, a strong force was put in motion against him from Fort Duquesne. He strengthened the intrenchment at the Meadows, and named it Fort Necessity. Capt. Mackay, as an officer holding a royal commission, claimed precedence of the provincial colonel. To prevent a collision of authority, Washington advanced with his regiment, leaving Mackay and his company as a guard at the fort. Two weeks were required to force a march of 13 m., through a gorge of the mountains, to Gist's settlement. Here authentic information was received that the enemy at Fort Duquesne had been strongly reŽnforced, and might be shortly looked for. Washington having determined to make a stand at the settlement, Capt. Mackay was sent for and promptly brought up his company.
It was however decided by a council of war that the enemy was too strong to be resisted, and a retreat to Fort Necessity was deemed expedient. The retrograde movement occupied two days, and they were soon attacked by a greatly superior force of French and Indians. At 11 o'clock at night the. French commander proposed a parley. Suspecting this to be a ruse to send an officer into the fort in order to obtain information as to its condition, the offer was twice declined by Washington, but was at length accepted. The terms of the capitulation were honorable. The Virginians were to retain everything in their possession but the artillery, to march out of the fort with the honors of war, and to be allowed to retreat unmolested to the settlements. Notwithstanding the disastrous termination of the campaign, not the slightest reproach was cast on Washington. In 1755 two regiments of royal troops were sent out under the veteran Braddock, with which and the provincials of Virginia the campaign was opened. Washington, disgusted with the precedence enjoyed by the officers of the regular army, threw up his commission, but tendered his services as a volunteer aide to Gen. Braddock, who gladly accepted them.
In consequence of a severe illness Washington was left behind at the Great Meadows, where he consented to remain only on condition that he should be allowed to join the army before an engagement took place. In the memorable event of July 9, 1755, known as Braddock's defeat, Washington was almost the only officer of distinction who escaped from the calamities of the day with life and honor. The other aides of Gen. Braddock were disabled early in the action, and Washington alone was left in that capacity on the field. In a letter to his brother he says: "I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet I escaped unhurt, though death was levelling my companions on every side." His fellow aide, Col. Orme, who was the witness of his conduct, says he discharged the perilous, duties which devolved upon him "with the greatest courage and resolution." A seal which had been carried by Washington, with his initials, probably shot away from his person, was found after a lapse of 80 years on the field of battle. No attempt was made by the French to pursue their advantage, but the reverse at Fort Duquesne naturally caused a general alarm in the province.
A force of 2,000 men was raised by the assembly, of which the chief command, notwithstanding the recent disasters and the preference of another candidate by the governor, was conferred on Washington. His headquarters were established at Winchester, and the duty of protecting the frontier devolved upon him till the end of the war. The unfailing embarrassments of such a service, the impatience of a militia force raised by drafting and impressment, unpaid and poorly clad, the frauds of contractors, contradictory and preposterous orders from the governor, the intrigues of rivals seeking to supplant him, the arrogant pretensions of a subordinate, and wholesale desertions on the approach of danger - these were some of the difficulties with which he had to contend for the rest of the war. In February, 1756, Washington made a hurried visit to Boston, the headquarters of Gov. Shirley of Massachusetts, who had lately been appointed commander-in-chief of the royal forces in North America. His object was to submit to the governor the question of precedence which had sprung up between the provincial officers and those commissioned by the crown; it was justly decided in favor of precedence according to seniority.
The years 1756 and 1757 passed without any important mili tary event in the southern department; but the labors and care of his station told upon the strong constitution of Washington, and he was prostrated with a fever for four months. In 1758 he held the chief command of the Virginia contingent in the ill-conducted and all but abortive campaign under Gen. Forbes against Fort Duqnesne. Nearly all the faults of Braddock's expedition were repeated, and with a narrow escape from the same results. Washington formed a matrimonial engagement with Mrs. Martha Custis, the wealthy widow of John Parke Custis, in the summer of 1758, and married her on Jan. 17,1759. Having been five years in the military service, and vainly sought promotion in the royal army, he took advantage of the fall of Fort Duquesne and the expulsion of the French from the valley of the Ohio to resign his commission. His proved courage, discretion, and resources had gained for him the confidence of the conceited and pragmatical Dinwiddie and the headstrong and arrogant Braddock, as they did afterward of the circumspect and persevering Forbes; but in England they earned for him nothing but a good-natured rebuke from George II. and a sneer from Horace Walpole. - Shortly after his marriage, Washington removed to Mount Vernon, where he enlarged the mansion, embellished the grounds, and added to the estate.
As a member of the provincial assembly, his winters were passed in Williamsburg. He was at no period an active partisan leader, but at all times and in all assemblies he exercised a paramount influence by soundness of judgment and weight of character. Tobacco and wheat were, before the revolution, the staple products of his plantations. The wheat was ground to flour upon the estate, and what was not wanted for home consumption was sold at Alexandria or shipped from the river. The tobacco was usually shipped directly to Liverpool, Bristol, or London, from which a part of the returns were received in English manufactures. The management of a large estate under such a system partook somewhat of the nature of commerce. Invoices of the articles to be exported and orders for the articles to be received in exchange were to be made out with mercantile exactness. Account books were to be kept and an extensive correspondence carried on. All this labor was performed by Washington with his own hand, and with remarkable precision and neatness. The estate at Mount Vernon, as it was in the latter years of his life, consisted of about 8,000 acres. One half of this was in. wood or uncultivated lawns, but about 4,000 acres were in tillage, and managed directly by Washington himself.
The cultivated lands lay in live farms, each with its appropriate set of laborers directed by an overseer, the whole, during his long absences from home, under a general superintendent. During his absence each of the overseers was required to make a weekly written report to the superintendent, containing a minute account of everything done on the farm in the course of the week, including the condition of the stock and the number of days' work performed by each laborer. These reports were recorded in a book by the superintendent, who then sent the originals in a weekly letter to Gen. Washington. A weekly answer was returned; usually a letter of four pages, sometimes of twice that length, carefully prepared from a rough draft, then neatly transcribed by the writer, after which a press copy was taken. The rotation of crops in his numerous fields was arranged by himself for years beforehand. The culture of tobacco was given up in the latter part of his life, as exhausting to the soil and unfavorable to the health of the laborers. Being the proprietor of a large landed property in eastern Virginia, Washington was, as a matter of course, a slaveholder. He inherited a plantation cultivated by slaves, and their number was largely increased by the dowry of his wife.
The whole number belonging to the estate of Washington in his own right, at the time of his decease, was 124; the "dower negroes," as they are styled in his will, were probably as numerous. His correspondence shows him to have been a strict and vigilant, but at the same time a kind, just, and considerate master; not more careful of his own interests than of the health and comfort of his dependents. As early as 1786 he had formed a resolution never, unless compelled by particular circumstances, "to possess another slave by purchase." In a letter written to Mr. Morris in that year he says: "There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery. But there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by legislative authority; and this, as far as my suffrage will go, will never be wanting." This sentiment recurs in several parts of his correspondence. In accordance with the views which he had so long entertained, he provided by his will for the freedom of his slaves on the decease of his wife. " To emancipate them before," he remarks in his will, "would, though earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties, on account of their intermixture by marriage with the dower negroes, as to excite the most painful sensations, if not disagreeable consequences to the latter, while both descriptions are in the_ occupancy of the same person, it not being in my power, under the tenure by which the dower negroes are held, to manumit them." For the support and education of those emancipated, and especially for the support of his favorite servant Billy, provision was made by his will.
In 1770, accompanied by his friend Dr. Craik, Washington made a journey to western Virginia. From Pittsburgh the party descended the Ohio in river boats. Among their objects in visiting the Great Kanawha was the selection of fertile lands in that region still lying in a state of nature. - Washington was a member of the house of burgesses during the whole period of that war of legislation in England, and popular resistance and agitation in the colonies, which preceded the appeal to arms. His military education, his great stake as a property holder, and his habitual respect for lawful authority led him, as they did all others of his class, to deprecate a rupture with the mother country; but the moment it became evident that the connection could be kept up only by the sacrifice of the principle that representation and taxation should go hand in hand, he placed himself in the front rank of the patriots. The principles which guided him are summarily expressed in a letter written from Philadelphia, during his attendance as a member of the first continental congress in the autumn of 1774, to Capt. Mackenzie, a brother officer of the old war, then stationed in Boston. "I think," said he, " I can announce it as a fact, that it is not the wish nor the interest of the government of Massachusetts, or any other government upon this continent separately or collectively, to set up for independence; but this you may rely upon, that none of them will ever submit to the loss of those valuable rights and privileges which are essential to the inhabitants of every free state, and without which life, liberty, and property are rendered totally insecure." On April 19, 1775, the appeal to arms was made at Lexington and Concord; and the continental congress, which in the preceding October had vowed eternal loyalty to George III., on June 15 following unanimously elected George Washington commander-in-chief of the armies of the revolution. (See United States.) The war was conducted by Washington under every possible disadvantage.
He engaged in it without any personal experience in the handling of large bodies of men, and this was equally the case with all his subordinates. The continental congress, under whose authority the war was waged, was destitute of all the attributes of an efficient government. It had no power of taxation, and no right to compel the obedience of the individual. The country was nearly as destitute of the materiel of war as of the means of procuring it; it had no founderies, no arsenals, no forts, no navy, no means, no credit. The opposing power had all the prestige of an ancient monarchy, of the legitimate authority, of disciplined and veteran armies, of a powerful navy, of the military possession of most of the large towns, and the machinery of government for peace and war. It had also the undoubted sympathy of a considerable portion of the people, especially of the wealthy class. That Washington, carrying on the war under these circumstances, met with frequent reverses, and that the progress of the revolution as conducted by him seemed often languid and inert, is less wonderful than that he rose superior to such formidable obstacles, and was able, with unexhausted patience and matchless skill, to bring the contest eventually to an auspicious and honorable close.
He took command of the forces besieging Boston on July 3, 1775. No event of great significance followed for eight months. The country fretted under the inaction of the army; the army languished under indiscipline, the homesickness of raw troops, inoculation for smallpox, the want of every requisite for strength or comfort, and especially a military chest. The evacuation of Boston on March 17, 1776, was the glorious reward of the perseverance and skill of the commanding general. Then followed, in rapid succession, the disasters of Long Island, of Fort Washington, and of the calamitous retreat through the Jerseys. The brilliant coup de main of Trenton and the substantial success of Princeton restored the drooping courage of the people; but they were followed by the reverse at Brandywine, the unsuccessful blow at Germantown, and the terrible winter at Valley Forge. The next summer (1778) the courage and skill of Washington turned a disgraceful commencement of the day at Monmouth into a substantial victory; but from that time forward no brilliant success attended the forces under his immediate command till the final blow was struck, with the overwhelming numbers of the combined American and French forces, at Yorktown. After this great success the war still dragged out a lingering existence.
More than two years elapsed from the capitulation of Yorktown (October, 1781) to the evacuation of New York (Nov. 25, 1783). Events like these do not surely make a brilliant military career, when tried by the popular standard of success. At times they shook even the well established popularity of Washington. The all-important success of Gates at Saratoga formed an unsatisfactory contrast with Brandywine and Germantown, which occurred in the same campaign. The second place in the army was held for three years by Gen. Charles Lee, a turbulent and empty braggart, perpetually laboring in secret to undermine the popularity which he dared not openly assail; while cabals and boards of war in congress endeavored, by disgusting the commander-in-chief, to drive him to resignation. But in vain. The country saw that he was doing his best with his wretchedly limited means; that he was hopeful while others were despondent; that he was wise and prudent, while others were indiscreet, or feeble, or rash; in fact, that the cause was embodied in him and in his hold on the heart of the people. - On Dec. 23, 1783, Washington, in a parting address of surpassing beauty, resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the army to the continental congress sitting at Annapolis. He retired immediately to Mount Vernon, and resumed his occupation as a farmer and planter, anxiously shunning all connection with public life.
Much of his time, however, was occupied by a laborious correspondence on the infinity of subjects connected with the revolutionary war, and by the throng of visitors from every part of the Union and of Europe. In 1784 he crossed the Alleghanies, partly to look after his lands in that region, and partly to explore the head "waters of the rivers which rise in the interior of Virginia, with a view to their connection with the western waters. On his return he addressed a memoir on this subject to the legislature of Virginia, which led to the organization of the James River and Potomac canal companies. In acknowledgment of his agency on this occasion, and still more of his revolutionary services, the state of Virginia presented him with 50 shares in the Potomac canal, valued at $10,000, and 100 shares in the James River canal, valued at $50,000. He accepted the donation only as the trustee of some public object. The shares in the James River canal were appropriated by him for the endowment of a college at Lexington in Rockbridge co., Va,, which in consequence assumed the name of Washington college.
The shares in the Potomac canal were appropriated as the endowment of a university at the seat of the federal government. - The United States, as is well known, after the revolution, fell into a state of governmental inanition bordering on anarchy. The recommendations of the continental congress were without weight, no revenue accrued to the treasury, and the European debt, principal and interest, remained unpaid. Foreign governments held the United States in low repute; the Indian tribes scourged the frontier; the separate states, instead of acting in harmony, enacted conflicting laws for imposing duties on foreign commerce; in a word, discontent was universal. To put an end to the controversies between Maryland and Virginia relating to the navigation of the rivers which divided their territories, a meeting took place at Alexandria in 1785, and while there the members made a visit to Mount Vernon. This led to the call of a convention of delegates, which was assembled at Annapolis in 1786, of which the object was "to take into consideration the trade of the United States; to examine the relative situation and trade of the said states; and to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations may be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony." The delegates of five states only attended this meeting, and some of them with powers too limited for any valuable purpose.
They drew up a report, recommending a meeting in Philadelphia the following May, under the sanction of the continental congress. Washington warmly approved these proceedings, though from some motive of personal delicacy, perhaps as a riparian proprietor on one of the rivers whose navigation was the original cause of the movement, he declined to serve as a delegate to the preliminary meeting; but he was a member of the convention which met at Philadelphia in May, 1787, and framed the constitution of the United States. Washington was unanimously elected its president; bat, as is usual in deliberative bodies of this kind, most of the business was transacted in committee of the whole, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts being placed by Washington from day to day in the chair. On Sept. 17, 1787, the fruit of the labors of this patriotic body was given to the people of the United States, with an official letter from the president of the convention; and having been ratified by the requisite number of states, it went into operation in 1789. This constitution, though not deemed perfect in every point by Washington, was regarded by him as the best that could be hoped for, the only alternative for anarchy and civil war.
It was far from being warmly or generally welcomed; and it is doubtful whether it would have been ratified but for the transcendent popularity of Washington, who was instinctively marked out by public expectation as the first president. He was chosen by the unanimous vote of the electoral colleges, New York alone not having taken interest enough in the organization of the government to appoint electors. John Adams was elected vice president. Another striking proof of the stagnation of interest in the new constitution may be seen in the fact that, although the 4th of March, 1789, was fixed upon for the meeting of the first congress, a bare quorum of the house of representatives did not assemble till the 1st of April, nor of the senate till the 6th; and it was not till the 30th that President Washington was inaugurated.' In the summer the newly elected president had a dangerous fit of illness at New York, then the seat of government. His disease was a malignant carbuncle in the thigh, which was cured by a surgical operation skilfully performed by Dr. Bard the younger. In the autumn of this year the president made a tour through the eastern states, travelling with his own horses and carriage. A similar, journey was made through the southern states in the following spring.
These tours were attended with an unbroken series of ovations. The constitution of 1789, as far as the objects are ooncerned for which the Union was framed, created a government as complete as the government of Great Britain or France; and Washington was called to put this newly framed and untried government into operation. He called to his cabinet Mr. Jefferson for the department of state, Mr. Hamilton for the treasury, and Gen.
Knox for the department of war. There was for some years no navy or naval department. Foreign affairs were in an unsatisfactory condition. England allowed eight years to pass from the treaty of 1783 before she sent a minister to the United States, although a minister was early sent to London by the congress of the confederation. In the mean time active causes of irritation existed between the two countries: on the part of the United States, the obstacles thrown by state legislation in the way of recovering debts due to British subjects; on the part of England, the detention of the western posts and the impressment of American seamen. The states general met in France the same year that the constitution of the United States went into operation. Our relations with that country soon fell into inextricable confusion. A considerable debt was due to France and Holland. General apathy, distrust, and uneasy expectation reigned at home. Out of this chaos order was speedily educed by the administration, guided by Washington's own consummate prudence, and notwithstanding the existence in the cabinet itself of early developed elements of discord.
The discussions with Great Britain after the arrival of the first minister in 1791 were skilfully and patiently conducted by Mr. Jefferson. The insults of the French envoys were mildly repelled or borne with a stoical equanimity, in remembrance of the services rendered to us by France in the hour of trial. The genius of Hamilton gave us the funding system, and with it revenuo and credit. The assumption of the state debts created living capital out of the ashes of revolutionary bankruptcy. Our commerce, protected by a national flag and emancipated from the colonial restrictions of Great Britain, began to whiten every sea;' and the vacant lands in the western counties of the Atlantic states filled up with a rapidly increasing population. The settlement of the territories on the right bank of the Ohio was prevented, during the first administration of Washington, by the non-surrender of the western posts. Their detention by Great-Britain gave strength and audacity to the Indian tribes, and entailed upon the frontier the disasters of two unsuccessful campaigns, that of Harmer in 1790, and especially that of St. Clair in 1791. The first measures of the administration in the organization of the government, the establishment of the courts of justice and the machinery for collecting duties on imports, were not attended with serious political embarrassment.
Little was required to be done by the president but to give his official sanction to the acts of congress. There were, however, not only in that body, but in the cabinet, conflicting tendencies. The party which had opposed the adoption of the constitution, and were thence known as anti-federalists, were now opposed to the system of policy which was designed to strengthen the general government; while the federalists, who had procured the adoption of the constitution, were in favor of measures that would give efficiency to the central power, and make the Union a reality instead of a name. The latter party was represented in the cabinet by Hamilton, the secretary of the treasury, supported by the secretary of war, Gen. Knox; the former by Jefferson, the secretary of state, sustained by Randolph, the attorney general. Neither of these latter gentlemen, however, had opposed the adoption of the constitution. On the contrary, Randolph had vigorously supported it in the Virginia convention, and Jefferson, being in France at the time, had taken no active part on the question of its adoption. Washington exerted all his influence to moderate between the diverging tendencies of his cabinet councillors.
The details of the funding system, the assumption of the state debts, and the establishment of the bank of the United States were the measures which revealed in all its strength this division of opinion in the cabinet, the legislature, and the country. All of every party were, or professed to be, in favor of some measure for funding the national debt and creating a solvent treasury; but the details of the measures necessary to this end afforded much occasion for controversy. Washington listened with the utmost candor and patience to the opposite opinions of the members of his cabinet, but eventually gave his support to the general views of the secretary of the treasury. The conflict was most violent on the subject of assuming to a limited extent the revolutionary debt of the individual states. This was large in some of the states, and small or null in others. The states of the latter class, principally those of the south, were unwilling that the common treasury should assume a burden from which no benefit would accrue to them. The fact that these state securities, like those of the Union, had-passed from the hands of the original holders at a greatly depreciated rate, was the ground of a popular objection to the entire policy of assumption.
Congress was about equally divided on the subject, as also upon a measure which was contemporaneously under discussion, that of a permanent seat for the general government. The first congress met at New York and the second at Philadelphia. A majority of the members from the northern and middle states were desirous of making the latter city the permanent metropolis of the Union. An arrangement was finally made in reference to the two questions, in virtue of which the state debts were assumed to the amount of $20,000,000, and the seat of the federal government was established on the banks of the Potomac. It was understood that this settlement was in full concurrence with the wishes of the president. In fact, no object was nearer his heart than to prevent the growth of an embittered party spirit, especially when it assumed the form of a sectional division. His official course, as far as possible, tended to check this great evil, and the most earnest and affectionate appeals were made by him in private to the two great leaders of the opposite parties in his cabinet. From an early period there was a great resort of visitors to the seat of government.
The president held a reception for men on Tuesday, on Friday afternoon Mrs. Washington received both sexes, and on Thursday there was a dinner party for invited guests. Washington was sensitive to the cavils of which his receptions were the subject, and bestowed more attention perhaps than they deserved on the attempt to show their injustice. He probably cared little for them in themselves, but regarded them as indications that in time his hold on the public confidence might be shaken with reference to matters of greater importance. These feelings, and a growing wish to return to the tranquil enjoyments of private life, determined him, as the close of his first administration approached, to announce the purpose of declining a reelection. With this object he requested the assistance of Mr. Madison in preparing a valedictory address to the people. But his purpose was overcome by the warm dissuasions of personal and political friends of all parties, and in the autumn of 1792 he was unanimously reelected. Adams was reelected vice president. The great rivals in the cabinet gave place to men of inferior ability, but pursuing the same line of policy as their predecessors. Decisive measures were adopted in reference to foreign relations.
The proclamation of neutrality rescued the country from the imminent peril of being drawn into the vortex of the French revolution. (See Gexest, Edmond Charles.) The treaty negotiated with England by Chief Justice Jay settled several of the subjects of controversy with that country. The victory of Wayne broke the power of the Indians in the northwest, and the treaty of Greenville and the surrender of the western posts under Jay's treaty assured the peace of the western frontier. The general tranquillity was for a season disturbed by the " whiskey insurrection " in the western counties of Pennsylvania; but a body of 15,000 of the militia of the neighboring states was called out by President Washington, and the insurrection was crushed in one short campaign, without an effusion of blood. It might have been hoped that in thus scattering the clouds of foreign war, giving safety to a vast unsettled frontier, infusing life into every branch of industry, and conducting the country step by step in the path of an unexampled prosperity, the popularity of the president, which indeed could not have been augmented, would at least have been sustained.
At no period of his life, however, was it so materially impaired as in the last years of his second administration, and nowhere so much as in Virginia. Early in 1796 he formed the irrevocable purpose of retiring, and took counsel with Hamilton, no longer his official adviser, but still retaining all his confidence, as to the preparation of his "Farewell Address." This was issued to the country Sept. 17, 1796. At the close of the next session of congress Washington retired, as he thought for ever, from the public service, and withdrew to Mount Vernon. But a year had hardly elapsed before our long standing controversy with the directory of France culminated in a quasi war. Measures of preparation, military and naval, were adopted by congress, and Washington was appointed lieutenant general of the armies of the United States. He had never believed that the government of France would push the controversy to the arbitrament of war; but he did not live to see the threatening cloud dispersed. The commencement of the month of December, 1799, found him in remarkably good health, approaching the close of his 68th year, and in the entire enjoyment of his physical and mental faculties. On the morning of Thursday, the 12th, after writing to Hamilton, he took his usual ride around his farms.
The day was overcast when he started, and about one o'clock " it began to snow, soon after to hail, and then turned to a settled cold rain." He remained for two hours longer in the saddle, and on his return home sat down to dinner without changing his dress, although the snow when he came into the house was clinging to his hair. The next day there was three inches of snow on the ground in the morning, and Washington, complaining of a cold, omitted his usual ride. As it cleared up in the afternoon, he went out to superintend some work upon the lawn. He passed the evening as usual, reading the papers and answering the letters of the day, and in conversation with his secretary. Between 2 and 3 o'clock in the morning of Saturday he awoke Mrs. Washington, telling her he had had an ague fit and was very unwell; but he would not allow the family to be disturbed for aid. At daybreak his secretary was called, and his physician, Dr. Oraik, who lived at Alexandria, was sent for. At sunrise he was bled by one of his overseers, but with little relief, and he rapidly grew worse. Dr. Craik arrived about 11 o'clock; bloodletting was repeated, and other remedies were adopted, but without effect. Two consulting physicians arrived during the day, and venesection was again attempted.
About half-past 4 he requested Mrs. Washington to bring two papers from his study. Having examined them, he gave her back one to be destroyed, and the other to be preserved as his will. He continued to speak and swallow with increasing difficulty, and suffered great pain, but retained his faculties to the last, and gave a few directions relative to his affairs and his burial. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon he said to Dr. Craik: " I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it. My breath cannot last long." At 6 o'clock, as the three physicians stood by his bedside, he said to them:
"I feel myself going; I thank you for your attentions, but I pray you to take no more trouble about me. Let me go off quietly; I cannot last long." About 10 o'clock, after several ineffectual attempts to speak intelligibly, he said to Mr. Lear, his secretary: "I am just going; have me decently buried, and do not let my body be put into the vault till three days after I am dead." He presently said: "Do you understand me?" and on Mr. Lear's replying that he did, Washington said: "It is well." These were the last words which he spoke. Between 11 and 12 o'clock, and about 10 minutes before he died, his breathing became easier. He lay quietly, withdrew his hand from Mr. Lear's, and felt his own pulse. At this moment his countenance changed, his hand fell from his wrist, and he expired without a struggle. The disease of which he died was " acute laryngitis," of rare occurrence, and never described till ten years later by Dr. Matthew Bailey of London. In the house of representatives of the United States, appropriate resolutions drawn by Gen. Henry Lee, one of the members from Virginia, were, in his absence, moved by his colleague John Marshall, soon after appointed chief justice of the United States. They express the public sorrow at the loss of him who was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow citizens." This expression is repeated in the funeral oration pronounced by Gen. Lee, at the request of the committee of arrangements, with the substitution of the word "countrymen " for " fellow citizens," and it is now usually quoted with that change. - Washington was 6 ft. 2 in. high, his person in youth spare but well proportioned, and never too stout for prompt and easy movement.
His hair was brown, his eyes blue and far apart, his hands large, his arms uncommonly strong, the muscular development of his frame perfect. He was a bold and graceful horseman, and followed the hounds with eagerness and spirit. He was scrupulously attentive to the proprieties of dress and personal appearance; his manner was gracious and gentle, especially toward the young, with a certain military reserve in public circles. He was childless, but most happy in his domestic relations. His wife was of the same age as himself, comely and amiable; she brought him a large fortune, presided over his household with punctuality and order, received and entertained his guests with gracious hospitality, and in all respects adorned his official station and cheered his private life. On the death of her son, Col. John Parke Custis, at Yorktown, leaving four children, the two youngest, Eleanor Parke Custis, afterward married to her cousin Major Lewis, and George Washington Parke Custis, were adopted by Washington and brought up as children at Mount Vernon. An original full-length statue by Houdon in- the capitol at Richmond is accepted as the standard likeness of Washington. The attitude is rather stiff, and the forehead, as in most French works of art at that period, probably somewhat too retreating.
A succession of portraits, from that of the elder Peale in 1770 to that of Sharpless in 1796, exhibit his countenance, and some of them his person, with various merit and success, and through all the changes wrought by a quarter of a century. To all the other traits of excellence in his character he added profound convictions of religious truth, firm faith in an overruling Providence, and reverence for the Christian church, of which he was a communicating member. - See "The Writings of George Washington, being his Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, etc, with a Life of the Author, Notes, and Illustrations," by Jared Sparks (12 vols. 8vo, Boston, 1834-7; the "Life" published separately, 8vo, 1839); the "Life of George Washington," by Chief Justice Marshall (5 vols. 8vo, Philadelphia, 1805; revised and abridged, 2 vols., 1832), and by Washington Irving (5 vols. 8vo and 12mo, New York, 1855-'9); and smaller biographies by David Ramsay, James K. Paulding, C. W. Upham, J. T. Ileadley, Mrs. C. M. Kirkland, and others.