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The present chief magistrate of the first Administration, during which two country has, both before and since his generations of men, who knew not Washelection, publicly avowed the intention of ington, may be said to have come upon administering the affairs of the govern the stage of life, and the numerous department in the spirit of our earlier Presidents, ures which the later years of the Republic and, particularly, of the first. These de- have witnessed from the spirit of the clarations were officially re-affirmed in his doctrines by which it was originally govInaugural Address, wherein he said -- erned, render such an inquiry no less “For the interpretation of the Constitu- necessary, it is to be feared, than it is tion, I shall look to the decisions of the timely. For on the fresh remembrance of judicial tribunals established by its au- those first doctrines, depends the healthful thority, and to the practice of the govern tone of the political sentiment of the counment under the earlier Presidents, who try; on their continued application to the had so large a share in its formation. To ordering of public affairs, depends the sucthe example of those illustrious patriots I cess and the perpetuity of its free institu-, shall always defer with reverence, and es- tions. pecially to his example who was, by so We shall be guided, in our examination many titles, the father of his country.” of the character of the first presidential The well-known character of the distin- Administration, chiefly, by the Writings of guished man now at the head of the Washington, as selected and published by government, is a sufficient guaranty that Mr. Sparks; and we are happy to take any promises made by him to his coun- this opportunity, though late, of bearing trymen, even though less frequently and our testimony to the imperishable value, emphatically repeated than the above, both historical and political, of this truly will be honorably fulfilled. Fully as- national publication. These Writings, insured, therefore, that the Executive de- troduced by a personal narrative of the partment of the general government is life of the author, from the skilful pen of about to be conducted on the same sound the editor, are a compilation from Washprinciples which prevailed immediately ington's original papers, which, including after its institution, we feel a special inter- his own letters and those addressed to est in now inquiring what those principles him, are contained in upwards of two hunwere. The great lapse of time since the dred folio volumes; and have been de
* The Writings of George Washington; being his Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and other papers, official and private, selected and published from the original manuscripts; with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations. By JARED SPARKS. 12 vols. octavo. Harper & Brothers, publishers, 82 Cliff Street, New York. 1847–8.
posited, since the purchase by Congress, American Cæsar. It has already gone in the archives of the Department of into all the civilized world ; and we reState: They comprise whatever in the joice to think that wherever a copy of it manuscripts is most valuable for explaining stands, whether in the book-case of the the opinions, the acts, and the character of American citizen, the libraries of foreign the writer, and for illustrating the great scholars, or the alcoves of European kings, events and tendencies of the times, so far there stands, constructed out of materials as he was connected with them. Of the wrought by his own hand, a monument to twelve volumes, in which the work is the memory of Washington, more eloquent published, the first contains the Life of than marble, more lasting than brass. This Washington ; the second, his official let- great work, we are aware, needs no reters relating to the French war, and commendation of ours; and the limited private letters before the American Revo- space allowed us for treating an important lution ; the six volumes following contain theme forbids an extended notice of it; his correspondence and miscellaneous pa- but we cannot refrain from expressing the pers concerning the American Revolution ; wish that it may be still more extensively the ninth volume, his private letters from circulated among both those who make, the time he resigned his commission as and those who obey, the laws of the land. commander in chief of the army, to that The words of Washington and the other of bis inauguration as President of the illustrious statesmen, who assisted in United States; the tenth and eleventh, framing the Constitution, and in adminishis letters, official and private, from the tering the government under it, furnish beginning of his presidency to the end of the true salt of our popular political literahis life; the twelfth, his speeches and ture; and we need not add how much the messages to Congress, proclamations and atmosphere of society would be improved, addresses, together with seven very full if a large part of this were better salted. and convenient indexes to the whole work. Before entering upon the examination of Neither expense nor labor were spared by our subject, it is proper that a preliminary the editor in examining the whole mass of question should be settled, which persons papers ; and the selection appears to have not familiar with the history of political been made with that discriminating judg- opinions in this country, may be surprised ment, so conspicuous in all the writings of to see raised, inasmuch as it concerns this learned historian. Each volume is the purity of Washington's republicanism. accompanied with explanatory notes and But it has been maintained by the advoappendixes, the materials for which, hav- cates of unreasonably conservative views ing been derived almost entirely from un of government, both in Church and State, published manuscripts in various foreign that Washington derived the title of the and domestic libraries, are new contribu- American colonies to liberty, from English tions to the history of the times, as well as laws, charters, and precedents, and not important illustrations of the sentiments from the principle of natural justice, as and deeds of Washington. These invalu- asserted in the Declaration of Indepenable Writings, therefore, so fitly prepared dence. This is an error. The following for the public eye by the laborious re extract from a letter addressed to Bryan search, the critical skill, and the scrupulous Fairfax, under date of August 24, 1774, fidelity of an eminent scholar, will ever is conclusive evidence, that Washington deserve the place of honor in the library justified his opposition to the royal usurpof every American citizen, who pretends ations on the ground of his natural rights to study the history, or the politics of bis as a man, as well as his legal privileges as country. Should Congress, in its com an Englishman. In truth,” says the mendable zeal for diffusing political in- writer, “ persuaded as I am that you
have formation among its constituents, ever see read all the political pieces, which comfit to publish the entire papers of the pose a large share of the gazettes of this Father of his country, still this selection time, I should think it, but for your remust always continue, from its convenient quest, a piece of inexcusable arrogance in
and moderate price, to be the popular me, to make the least essay towards a
a of these Commentaries of the change in your political opinions ; for I am
sure I have no new light to throw upon year, he also placed on record the declarthe subject, nor any other arguments to ation, that “the Constitution was gallopoffer in support of my own doctrine than ing fast into monarchy”—a fate from what you have seen; and I could only in which it was saved, according to the general add, that an innate spirit of free- same authority, by Philip Freneau's newsdom first told me, that the measures, which paper. Of a charge like this, it might, the administration have for some time perhaps, be a sufficient refutation to exbeen, and now are most violently pursuing, claim, wonderful escape ! and no less are opposed to every principle of natural wonderful instrument of it! But we will justice; whilst much abler heads than further say, that Washington did, indeed, my own have fully convinced me, that express the belief, that “mankind, when they are not only repugnant to natural lefi 10 themselves, are unfit for their own right, but subversive of the laws and con- government.” He had no faith in a destitution of Great Britain itself, in the mocracy. “We have probably had,” said establishment of which some of the he,“ too good an opinion of human nature best blood in the kingdom has been in forming our Confederation;" adding spilt."* Here, it will be remarked, the wri- the very good reason, that “experience ter makes a distinction between the con- had already shown that men would not victions drawn from his own breast, and adopt and carry into execution measures, those adopted from the representation of the best calculated for their own good, other minds; the former assured him of without the intervention of a coercive a natural, the latter of a constitutional power.” He had no faith in a government right to freedom; and to the innate belief destitute of power to execute its resolves, he assigns the foremost place, as relying as was the Confederation. Nor is there chiefly on it, while the derived persuasion any less uncertainty as to what Washingfollows, second in rank and importance. ton actually did believe, touching the point
Equally unjust to the reputation of in question. To Lafayette he wrote, under Washington, as well as inconsistent with date of June 18, 1788, “You see I am any true estimate of the value of his ser- not less enthusiastic than I ever have been, vices to the country, is the suspicion which if a belief that peculiar scenes of felicity they have attempted to cast upon are reserved for this country is to be depublican principles, who have represented nominated enthusiasm. Indeed, I do not him as doubting the capacity of his coun- believe, that Providence has done so much trymen for self-government, and, conse- for nothing. It has always been my creed, quently, the beneficial results of their po- that we should not be left as a monument litical constitutions. These imputations to prove that mankind, under the most were first thrown out by the opponents of favorable circumstances for civil liberty his Administration, and have been so often and happiness, are unequal to the task of repeated since, as to have found their way governing themselves, and therefore made into the faith of many reverers of his cha- for a master.” Instead, also, of placing racter, and especially is this erroneous less confidence in the federal Constitution persuasion to be attributed to numerous than in other forms of government, he passages in the writings of Thomas Jeffer- expressed, soon after its adoption, the folson, wherein this eminent man, after hav- lowing opinion of its merits, to Sir Edward ing become the head of the party opposed Newenham. Although there were some to the first Administration, was led to few things in the Constitution, recomspeak disparagingly of the political prin-mended by the federal Convention to the ciples of the father of the republic. “The determination of the people, which did not President,” said he, in the year 1793, fully accord with my wishes, yet, having " has not confidence enough in the virtue taken every circumstance into serious conand good sense of mankind to confide in a sideration, I was convinced it approached government bottomed on them, and think3 nearer to perfection than any government other props necessary.
In the same hitherto instituted among men. So far
was this illustrious statesman from dis* Writings of Washington, vol. ii. p. 397, and trusting the practical issues of our free Life of Hamilton, vol. ii. p. 557.
institutions, that, although it was not the
habit of his mind to indulge so largely in this new responsibility, were as natural, as speculations respecting the course o future his desire to avoid it was unaffected. Nor events, as did some of his compatriots, yet were his anticipations of the dangers, we boldly affirm, there was not one among which would beset the path of the “inthem all, who had so true, far-reaching, fant empire," as he fondly termed it, either unclouded a foresight of the glorious ca exaggerated, or peculiar to himself. Not reer of this republic, as George Washing-only did difficulties, as great as those apton. His writings, as well as the tenor of prehended by him, really occur in the his life, furnish abundant proofs of this course of his Administration, but they tried assertion. Washington never despaired the souls of all the eminent statesmen who of the fortunes of his country, even when took part in the government. The Secro they sank the lowest. In one of the most tary of State, surely, could not have been calamitous periods of the war, when driven free from anxiety respecting the working from the Jerseys over the Delaware, he is of the Constitution, when, to prevent the said to have replied to the question, President from declining a re-election, he whither next he would retreat in case of declared to him, that he “trembled," in necessity—“From the Delaware to the view of the danger to which such an event Susquehanna, and from the Susquehanna would expose the people to be led into to the Alleghanies !" Subsequently, amid violence or secession.” “I knew we all the discouraging circumstances which were some day,” continued he, “to try clouded the prospects of the country to walk alone, and if the essay should be during the imbecile rule of the Confeder- made while you should be alive and lookation, he wrote to Lafayette, “There will ing on, we should derive confidence from assuredly come a day, when this country that circumstance, and resource if it failwill have some weight in the scale of ed.” Much fairer, in truth, would it be empires ;” and, in another lace, “Sure to accuse the accuser, in this instanceI am, if this country be preserved in to charge the Secretary with that distrust tranquillity twenty years longer, it may of the practical results of the federal Conbid defiance in a just cause to any power stitution, which he attributed to the Prewhatever, such in that time will be its sident. Who was it, at this period, if population, wealth, and resources;" and not Mr. Jefferson, who gave utterance to extending his generous hopes of an advan- the fear, that his countrymen were about cing civilization to other nations, he con- to set up :“a king, lords, and commons,” cluded, “I indulge a fond, perhaps an on the ruins of the republic? If any one enthusiastic idea, that, as the world is doubted the success of the new experievidently much less barbarous than it has ment in self-government, was it not he, been, its melioration must still be progress- who declared that he saw (where few ive; that nations are becoming more others would have looked for it) in the humanized in their policy; that the sub- independent footing of the federal judijects of ambition and causes for hostility ciary, “the germ that was to destroy." are daily diminishing; and in fine, that the charter of our liberties ? But as it the period is not very remote, when the would be unjust to the reputation of the benefits of a liberal and free commerce illustrious author of the Declaration of will pretty generally succeed to the devas- Independence, to consider assertions, made tations and the horrors of war.”
under the influence of strong party exciteTrue it is, indeed, that Washington did | ment, as indicative of his settled convicnot enter upon the office of the Presi- tions, so is it a mistake, the more deserving dency without a profound and painful sense of correction, as it has been sanctioned by of the difficulties to be encountered in very high authority,* to construe the disconducting an untried experiment of gov- trust, which Washington modestly exernment, and of the imminent risk, to which pressed of his capacity successfully to inhis limited civil experience and capacities troduce the new system of government, as would expose him, of not answering the a want of confidence in those free instituexpectations, even if he should not in any instance bring detriment on the fortunes
* J. Q. Adams' Discourse on the Constitution of his country. His anxieties, in assuming of the United States.
tions, to the establishment of which he had gradually drawn to itself all the more devoted his life, and in the perpetuity of impetuous passions of his being, as a great which he ever kept a cheerful, though river its tributaries, and now bore onward duly chastened, faith.
its accumulated currents with a flow so Washington, with the modesty charac-even and placid, as to inexperienced eyes teristic of the noblest minds, which are to appear almost destitute of motion. always more deeply impressed with the Amongst the first duties of the Presigreatness of their task, than the measure dent, immediately after his inauguration, of their abilities, expressed the same was the perplexing one of nominating the doubts of his qualifications, in entering necessary officers for the new government. upon the office of President of the United Even before leaving Mount Vernon, the States, which he had done in accepting President elett had been overwhelmed that of commander in chief of the Amer with the applications of candidates for ican armies. But his civil, no less than almost all kinds of offices; and they did his military talents, were of the highest not cease to flow in upon him, after his order. From the camp, he brought arrival at the seat of government. But to the cabinet a knowledge of the art | he early adopted some general rules reof governing the wills and the passions specting appointments, which relieved him, of men; he brought those crowning qual in a degree, of the onerous pressure of ities of a governor of a state, “the spirit this branch of his responsibilities. In the of command, tempered by the spirit of first place, he established the principle, meekness ;" he brought the wisdom re- that he would give no encouragement sulting from a long experience in the whatever to any applicant for office, premanagement of important affairs; he viously to the time of filling of such office. brought the habit of accomplishing great For a short period after his election, civil national objects by the compromise of answers were given to all letters containlocal interests, of balancing conflicting ing applications; but the amount of time motires and opinions, of accepting the thereby consumed soon compelled him to highest, even dictatorial powers, and yet return no replies, except in peculiar cases. of limiting their exercise by the laws, the When the time for making an appointment fears and the prejudices of his country arrived, he made up his mind respecting men. Without being familiar with the it from all the information in his possesdetails of law-making, he nevertheless sion, without fear or favor, with a single entered upon office with well-settled opin- eye to the promotion of the national interions as to what should be the general ests, and a desire to distribute the appolicy of the new government. A short pointments, in as equal a proportion as time after his election, he wrote to La- was practicable, to persons belonging to fayette, “My endeavors shall be unre- the different States in the Union. In mittingly exerted, even at the hazard of cases where the other pretensions of the former fame or present popularity, to ex- candidates were equal, the peculiar necestricate my country from the embarrass- sities of those who had honorably suffered ments in which it is entangled through in the cause of liberty, but never of those want of credit; and to establish a general who were bankrupt in both fame and forsystem of policy, which, if pursued, will tune, were taken into favorable consider
ensure permanent felicity to the common- ation. Political reasons also contributed ! wealth. I
I think I see a path as clear and their just weight in determining his deas direct as a ray of light, which leads to cisions, for he laid great stress upon the the attainment of that object.” But more influence which his appointments would valuable still, if possible, than these quali- bring to the support of the Constitution, fications, was the “honest zeal,” to the then just established after the most bitter possession of which, in entering upon the and pertinacious opposition. From this direction of federal affairs, he laid the reason, as well as in pursuance of the rules most explicit claim; more precious still, above prescribed, the persons endowed that ardent love of country, which having with the honors of office, at the beginning been developed and severely disciplined of the government, were selected from by the whole course of bis previous life, that "aristocracy of virtue and talent,