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ET. 51.] WASHINGTON RESIGNS HIS COMMISSION AND RETURNS TO MOUNT VERNON. 639
nia, and Maryland, the scenes of his anxious and precarious campaigns, Washington was everywhere hailed with enthusiasm by the people, and greeted with addresses by legislative assemblies, and learned and religious institutions. He accepted them all with that modesty inherent in his nature; little thinking that this present popularity was but the early outbreaking of a fame, that was to go on widening and deepening from generation to generation, and extending over the whole civilized world.
Being arrived at Annapolis, he addressed a letter to the President of Congress, on the 20th of December, requesting to know in what manner it would be most proper to offer his resignation; whether in writing or at an audience. The latter mode was adopted, and the Hall of Congress appointed for the ceremonial.
A letter from Washington to the Baron Steuben, written on the 23d, concludes as follows: "This is the last letter I shall write while I continue in the service of my country. The hour of my resignation is fixed at twelve today, after which shall become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac."
war, and whom he especially recommended to the favor of Congress, he continued
"I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God; and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.
"Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action; and, bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life."
"Few tragedies ever drew so many tears from so many beautiful eyes," says a writer who was present, as the moving manner in which his Excellency took his final leave of Congress."*
Having delivered his commission into the hands of the president, the latter, in reply to his address, bore testimony to the patriotism with which he had answered to the call of his country, and defended its invaded rights before it had formed alliances, and while it was without funds or a government to support him; to the wisdom and fortitude with which he had conducted the great military contest, invariably regarding the rights of the civil power, through all disasters and changes. "You may retire,” added he, "from the theatre of action with the blessings of your fellow-citizens; but the glory
At twelve o'clock the gallery, and a great part of the floor of the Hall of Congress, were filled with ladies, with public functionaries of the State, and with general officers. The members of Congress were seated and covered, as representatives of the sovereignty of the Union. The gentlemen present as spectators were stand-of your virtues will not terminate with your ing and uncovered. military command; it will continue to animate remotest ages."
Washington entered, conducted by the secretary of Congress, and took his seat in a chair appointed for him. After a brief pause the president (General Mifflin) informed him, that "the United States in Congress assembled, were prepared to receive his communication." Washington then rose, and in a dignified and impressive manner, delivered a short address.
"The great events," said he, "on which my resignation depended, having at length taken place, I now have the honor of offering my sincere congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them, to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country."
The very next morning Washington left Annapolis, and hastened to his beloved Mount Vernon, where he arrived the same day, on Christmas-eve, in a frame of mind suited to enjoy the sacred and genial festival.
"The scene is at last closed," said he in a letter to Governor Clinton; "I feel myself eased of a load of public care. I hope to spend the remainder of my days in cultivating the affections of good men, and in the practice of the domestic virtues.
After expressing his obligations to the army FOR Some time after his return to Mount in general, and acknowledging the peculiar Vernon, Washington was in a manner locked services, and distinguished merits of the con
fidential officers who had been attached to his up by the ice and snow of an uncommonly rigperson, and composed his family during the
*Editor of the Maryland Gazette.
WASHINGTON AT MOUNT VERNON-A SOLDIER'S REPOSE.
orous winter, so that social intercourse was interrupted, and he could not even pay a visit of duty and affection to his aged mother at Fredericksburg. But it was enough for him at present that he was at length at home at Mount Vernon. Yet the habitudes of the camp still haunted him; he could hardly realize that he was free from military duties; on waking in the morning he almost expected to hear the drum going its stirring rounds and beating the reveillé.
* * *
| as it is," for the liberties of which her husband
"Strange as it may seem," writes he to General Knox, "it is nevertheless true, that it was not until very lately I could get the better of my usual custom of ruminating as soon as I waked in the morning, on the business of the ensuing day; and of my surprise at finding, after revolving many things in my mind, that I was no longer a public man, nor had any thing to do with public transactions. I feel now, however, as I conceive a weary traveller must do, who, after treading many a weary step, with a heavy burthen on his shoulders, is eased of the latter, having reached the haven to which all the former were directed, and from his house-top is looking back, and tracing, with an eager eye, the meanders by which he escaped the quicksands and mires which lay in his way; and into which none but the all-pow-pointed." erful Guide and Dispenser of human events could have prevented his falling."
During the winter storms, he anticipates the time when the return of the sun will enable him to welcome his friends and companions in arms to partake of his hospitality; and lays down his unpretending plan of receiving the curious visitors who are likely to throng in upon him. "My manner of living," writes he to a friend, "is plain, and I do not mean to be put out of it. A glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always ready; and such as will be content to partake of them, are always welcome. Those who expect more will be disap
Some degree of economy was necessary, for his financial concerns had suffered during the war, and the products of his estate had fallen off during his long absence.
In the mean time the supreme council of Pennsylvania, properly appreciating the disinterestedness of his conduct, and aware that popular love and popular curiosity would attract crowds of visitors to Mount Vernon, and subject him to extraordinary expenses, had instructed their delegates in Congress to call the attention of that body to these circumstances, with a view to produce some national reward for his eminent services. Before acting upon these instructions, the delegates were instructed to send a copy of them to Washington for his approbation.
And in a letter to Lafayette he writes: "Free from the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments which the soldier, who is ever in pursuit of fame; the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries-as if this globe was insufficient for us all; and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his prince in hopes of catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception. I have not only retired from all public employments, but I am retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life with heartfelt He received the documents while buried in satisfaction. Envious of none, I am deter-accounts and calculations, and when, had he mined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order of my march, I will move gently down the stream of life until I sleep with my fathers."
And subsequently, in a letter to the Marchioness de Lafayette, inviting her to America to see the country, "young, rude, and uncultivated
been of a mercenary disposition, the offered intervention in his favor would have seemed most seasonable; but he at once most gratefully and respectfully declined it, jealously maintaining the satisfaction of having served his country at the sacrifice of his private interests.
Applications began to be made to him by
JACOB VAN BRAAM-DOMESTIC LIFE AT MOUNT VERNON.
persons desirous of writing the history of the | so until in 1779, having in the interim made a Revolution, for access to the public papers in campaign in Georgia. "He quitted the serhis possession. He excused himself from sub- vice," he adds, "with as much pleasure as ever mitting to their inspection those relative to the a young man entered it." occurrences and transactions of his late command, until Congress should see fit to open their archives to the historian.
His old friend, Dr. Craik, made a similar application to Washington in behalf of a person who purposed to write his memoirs. He replied, that any memoir of his life distinct and unconnected with the general history of the war, would rather hurt his feelings than flatter his pride, while he could not furnish the papers and information connected with it without subjecting himself to the imputation of vanity, adding: "I had rather leave it to posterity to think and say what they please of me, than, by any act of mine, to have vanity or ostentation imputed to me."
It was a curious circumstance, that scarce had Washington retired from the bustle of arms and hung up his sword at Mount Vernon, when he received a letter from the worthy who had first taught him the use of that sword in these very halls. In a word, Jacob Van Braam, his early teacher of the sword exercise, his fellow campaigner and unlucky interpreter in the affair of the Great Meadows, turned up once more. His letter gave a glance over the current of his life. It would appear that after the close of the French war, he had been allowed half in consideration of his services and misadventures; and, in process of time, had married, and settled on a farm in Wales with his wife and wife's mother. He had carried with him to England a strong feeling in favor of America, and on the breaking out of the Revolution had been very free, and, as he seemed to think, eloquent and effective in speaking in all companies and at country meetings against the American war. Suddenly, as if to stop his mouth, he received orders from Lord Amherst, then commander-in-chief, to join his regiment (the 60th), in which he was appointed eldest captain in the 8d battalion. In vain he pleaded his rural occupations; his farm cultivated at so much cost, for which he was in debt, and which must go to ruin should be abandon it so abruptly. No excuse was admitted-he must embark and sail for East Florida, or lose his half pay. He accordingly sailed for St. Augustine in the beginning of 1776, with a couple of hundred recruits picked up in London, resolving to sell out of the army on the first opportunity. By a series of cross-purposes he was prevented from doing
He then returned to England and took up his residence in Devonshire, but his invincible propensity to talk against the ministry made his residence there uncomfortable. His next move, therefore, was to the old fertile province of Orleannois in France, where he was still living near Malesherbes, apparently at his ease, enjoying the friendship of the distinguished personage of that name, and better versed, it is to be hoped, in the French language than when he officiated as interpreter in the capitulation at the Great Meadows. The worthy major appeared to contemplate with joy and pride the eminence to which his early pupil in the sword exercise had attained.
"Give me leave, sir, before I conclude," writes he, "to pour out the sentiments of my soul in congratulations for your successes in the American contest; and in wishing you a long life, to enjoy the blessing of a great people whom you have been the chief instrument in freeing from bondage."
So disappears from the scene one of the earliest personages of our history.
As spring advanced, Mount Vernon, as had been anticipated, began to attract numerous visitors. They were received in the frank, unpretending style Washington had determined upon. It was truly edifying to behold how easily and contentedly he subsided from the authoritative commander-in-chief of armies, into the quiet country gentleman. There was nothing awkward or violent in the transition. He seemed to be in his natural element. Mrs. Washington, too, who had presided with quiet dignity at head-quarters, and cheered the wintry gloom of Valley Forge with her presence, presided with equal amenity and grace at the simple board of Mount Vernon. She had a cheerful good sense that always made her an agreeable companion, and was an excellent manager. She has been remarked for an inveterate habit of knitting. It had been acquired, or at least fostered, in the wintry encampments of the Revolution, where she used to set an example to her lady visitors, by diligently plying her needles, knitting stockings for the poor destitute soldiery.
In entering upon the out-door management of his estate, Washington was but doing in person what he had long been doing through others.
642 RECOLLECTIONS OF THE FAIRFAXES-MEETING OF THE ORDER OF CINCINNATI. [1784.
He had never virtually ceased to be the agriculturist. Throughout all his campaigns he had kept himself informed of the course of rural affairs at Mount Vernon. By means of maps on which every field was laid down and numbered, he was enabled to give directions for their several cultivation, and receive accounts of their several crops. No hurry of affairs prevented a correspondence with his overseer or agent, and he exacted weekly reports. Thus his rural were interwoven with his military cares; the agriculturist was mingled with the soldier; and those strong sympathies with the honest cultivators of the soil, and that paternal care of their interests to be noted throughout his military career, may be ascribed, in a great measure, to the sweetening influences of Mount Vernon. Yet as spring returned, and he resumed his rides about the beautiful neighborhood of this haven of his hopes, he must have been mournfully sensible, now and then, of the changes which time and events had effected there.
The Fairfaxes, the kind friends of his boyhood, and social companions of his riper years, were no longer at hand to share his pleasures and lighten his cares. There were no more hunting dinners at Belvoir. He paid a sad visit to that happy resort of his youth, and contemplated with a mournful eye its charred ruins, and the desolation of its once ornamented grounds. George William Fairfax, its former possessor, was in England; his political principles had detained him there during the war, and part of his property had been sequestered; still, though an exile, he continued in heart a friend to America, his hand had been open to relieve the distresses of Americans in England, and he had kept up a cordial correspondence with Washington.
Old Lord Fairfax, the Nimrod of Greenway Court, Washington's early friend and patron, with whom he had first learned to follow the hounds, had lived on in a green old age at his sylvan retreat in the beautiful valley of the Shenandoah; popular with his neighbors and unmolested by the Whigs, although frank and open in his adherence to Great Britain. He had attained his ninety-second year when tidings of the surrender of Yorktown wounded the national pride of the old cavalier to the quick, and snapped the attenuated thread of his existence.*
So, at least, records in homely prose and verse a rev.
The time was now approaching when the first general meeting of the Order of Cincinnati was to be held, and Washington saw with deep concern a popular jealousy awakened concerning it. Judge Burke, of South Carolina, had denounced it in a pamphlet as an attempt to elevate the military above the civil classes, and to institute an order of nobility. The Legislature of Massachusetts sounded an alarm that was echoed in Connecticut, and prolonged from State to State. The whole Union was put on its guard against this effort to form a hereditary aristocracy out of the military chiefs and powerful families of the several States.
Washington endeavored to allay this jealousy. In his letters to the presidents of the State societies, notifying the meeting which was to be held in Philadelphia on the 1st of May, he expressed his earnest solicitude that it should be respectable for numbers and abilities, and wise and deliberate in its proceedings, so as to convince the public that the objects of the institution were patriotic and trustworthy.
The society met at the appointed time and place. Washington presided, and by his sagacious councils effected modifications of its constitution. The hereditary principle, and the power of electing honorary members, were abolished, and it was reduced to the harmless, but highly respectable footing on which it still exists.
In notifying the French military and naval officers included in the society of the changes which had taken place in its constitution, he expressed his ardent hopes that it would render permanent those friendships and connections which had happily taken root between the officers of the two nations. All clamors against the order now ceased. It became a rallying place for old comrades in arms, and Washington continued to preside over it until his death.
In a letter to the Chevalier de Chastellux, for whom he felt an especial regard, after inviting him to the meeting, he adds: "I will only re
erend historiographer of Mount Vernon. "When old Lord Fairfax heard that Washington had captured Lord Cornwallis and all his army, he called to his black waiter, Come, Joe 1. carry me to bed, for it is high time for me to die!'"
Then up rose Joe, all at the word,
The lord of Greenway farmı.
There oft he called on Britain's name,
Then sighed-thy will, oh Lord, be done-
See WEEMS' Life of Washington.