Slike strani





[ocr errors]

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 independ

VOL. V.-1

ence had been strengthened by war, and who might bear with impatience even the restraints of self-imposed government. The constitution which he was to inaugurate had met with vehement opposition, when 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 expressed 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 uncul-
tivated, 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 pro-
ducts 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 indifference 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 territo-
rial solicitude in these distant quarters by retaining pos-
session 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 government, 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

* Letter to Edward Rutledge.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »