Slike strani












The eyes of the world were upon Washington at the commencement of his administration. He had won laurels in the field : would they continue to flourish in the cabinet ? His position was surrounded by difficulties. Inexperienced in the duties of civil administration, he was to inaugurate a new and untried system of government, composed of States and people, as yet a mere experiment, to which some looked forward with buoyant confidence,-many with doubt and apprehension.

He had moreover a high-spirited people to manage, in whom a jealous passion for freedom and independence had been strength ened by war, and who might bear with impatience even the re straints of self-imposed government. The constitution which he was to inaugurate had met with vehement opposition, when

VOL. V.-1

[ocr errors]


under discussion in the General and State governments. Only three States, New Jersey, Delaware and Georgia, had accepted it unanimously. Several of the most important States had adopted it by a mere majority; five of them under an pressed expectation of specified amendments or modifications; while two States, Rhode Island and North Carolina, still stood aloof.

It is true, the irritation produced by the conflict of opinions in the general and State conventions, had, in a great measure, subsided; but circumstances might occur to inflame it anew. A diversity of opinions still existed concerning the new government. Some feared that it would have too little control over the individual States; that the political connection would prove too weak to preserve order and prevent civil strife; others, that it would be too strong for their separate independence, and would tend toward consolidation and despotism. The very

extent of the country he was called upon to govern, ten times larger than that of any previous republic, must have pressed with weight upon Washington's mind. It presented to the Atlantic a front of fifteen hundred miles, divided into individual States, differing in the forms of their local governments, differing from each other in interests, in territorial magnitudes, in amount of population, in manners, soils, climates and productions, and the characteristics of their several peoples.

Beyond the Alleghanies extended regions almost boundless, as yet for the most part wild and uncultivated, the asylum of roving Indians and restless, discontented white men. Vast tracts, however, were rapidly being peopled, and would soon be portioned into sections requiring local governments. The great natural outlet for the exportation of the products of this region of




inexhaustible fertility, was the Mississippi; but Spain opposed a barrier to the free navigation of this river. Here was peculiar cause of solicitude. Before leaving Mount Vernon, Washington had heard that the hardy yeomanry of the far West were becoming impatient of this barrier, and indignant at the apparent indif. ference of Congress to their prayers for its removal. He had heard, moreover, that British emissaries were fostering these discontents, sowing the seeds of disaffection, and offering assistance to the Western people to seize on the city of New Orleans and fortify the mouth of the Mississippi; while, on the other hand, the Spanish authorities at New Orleans were represented as intriguing to effect a separation of the Western territory from the Union, with a view or hope of attaching it to the dominion of Spain."

Great Britain, too, was giving grounds for territorial solicitude in these distant quarters by retaining possession of the Western posts, the surrender of which had been stipulated by treaty. Her plea was, that debts due to British subjects, for which by the same treaty the United States were bound, remained unpaid. This the Americans alleged was a mere pretext; the real object of their retention being the monopoly of the fur trade; and to the mischievous influence exercised by these posts over the Indian tribes, was attributed much of the hostile disposition manifested by the latter along the Western frontier,

While these brooding causes of anxiety existed at home, the foreign commerce of the Union was on a most unsatisfactory footing, and required prompt and thorough attention. It was subject to maraud, even by the corsairs of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, who captured American merchant vessels and carried their crews into slavery; no treaty having yet been made with any of the Barbary powers excepting Morocco.

To complete the perplexities which beset the new govern- . ment, the finances of the country were in a lamentable state. There was no money in the treasury. The efforts of the former government to pay or fund its debts, had failed; there was a universal state of indebtedness, foreign and domestic, and public credit was prostrate.

Such was the condition of affairs when Washington entered upon his new field of action. He was painfully aware of the difficulties and dangers of an undertaking in which past history and past experience afforded no precedents. “I walk, as it were, on untrodden ground,” said he; “so many untoward circumstances may intervene in such a new and critical situation, that I shall feel an insuperable diffidence in my own abilities. I feel, in the execution of my arduous office, how much I shall stand in need of the countenance and aid of every friend to myself, of every friend to the revolution, and of every lover of good government.

As yet he was without the support of constitutional advisers, the departments under the new government not being organized ; he could turn with confidence, however, for counsel in an emergency to John Jay, who still remained at the head of affairs, where he had been placed in 1784. He was sure of sympathy also in his old comrade, General Knox, who continued to officiate as secretary of war; while the affairs of the treasury were managed by a board, consisting of Samuel Osgood, Walter Livingston, and Arthur Lee. Among the personal friends not

[ocr errors]

* Letter to Edward Rutledge.





in office, to whom Washington felt that he could safely have recourse for aid in initiating the new government, was Alexander Hamilton. It is true, many had their doubts of his sincere adhesion to it. In the convention in Philadelphia, he had held

the British constitution as a model to be approached as nearly as possible, by blending some of the advantages of monarchy with the republican form. The form finally adopted was too low-toned for him; he feared it might prove feeble and inef

n ficient; but he voted for it as the best attainable, advocated it in the State convention in New York, and in a series of essays, collectively known as The Federalist, written conjunctively with Madison and Jay; and it was mainly through his efforts as a speaker and a writer that the constitution was ultimately accepted. Still many considered him at heart a monarchist, and suspected him of being secretly bent upon bringing the existing government to the monarchical form. In this they did him injustice. He still continued, it is true, to doubt whether the republican theory would admit of a vigorous execution of the laws, but was clear that it ought to be adhered to as long as there was any chance for its success. “The idea of a perfect equality of political rights among the citizens, exclusive of all permanent or hereditary distinctions," had not hitherto, he thought, from an imperfect structure of the government, had a fair trial, and “ of a nature to engage the good wishes of every good man, whatever might be his theoretic doubts;” the endeavor, therefore, in

" his opinion, ought to be to give it “a better chance of success by a government more capable of energy and order." *

Washington, who knew and appreciated Hamilton's charac



* Hamilton's Writings, iv. 273.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »