« PreviousContinue »
To pass suddenly from the toils of the first commission in the United States to the care of a farm; to exchange the instruments of war, for the implements of husbandry, and to become at once the patron and example of ingenious agriculture, would to most men have been a difficult task. But to the elevated mind of Washington, it was natural and delightful. From his example, let the commanders of armies learn, that the fame which is acquired by the sword, without guilt or ambition, may be preserved without power or splendour in private life.
General Washington, on retiring from public life, devotes himself to agricultural pursuits.....Favours inland navigation.....Declines offered emoluments from it..... Urges an alteration of the fundamental rules of the society of the Cincinnati...Regrets the defects of the Federal system, and recommends a revisal of it....Is appointed a member of the continental convention for that purpose, which, after hesitation, he accepts.... Is chosen President thereof.....Is solicited to accept the Presidency of the United States.....Writes sundry letters expressive of the conflict in bis mind, between duty and inclination.....Answers applicants for offices.... His reluctance to enter on public life.
THE sensations of Washington on retiring from public business are thus expressed. "I feel as a wearied traveller must do, who, after treading many a painful step with a heavy burden on his shoulders, is eased of the latter, having reached the hayen 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 Powerful Guide and Dispenser of human events, could have prevented his falling.
"I have become a private citizen on the banks of the Potowmac, and, under the shadow of my own vine and my own figtree, free from the bustle of a camp, and the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments of 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 the hope of catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception. I have not only retired from all public employments, but am retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life with heartfelt satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined 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."
Agriculture, which had always been the favourite employment of Washington, was now resumed with increasing delight. The energies of his active mind were devoted to this first and most useful art.
No improvements in the construction of farming utensils, no valuable experiments in husbandry, escaped his attention. He saw with regret, the miserable system of cultivation which prevailed too generally in his native country, and wished to introduce a better. With this view, he engaged in a correspondence with some of the distinguished agriculturists in Great Britain, particularly the celebrated Arthur Young. He trac
.ed the different states of agriculture in the two countries, in a great degree to the following obvious principles. In Great Britain, land was dear, and labour cheap. In America the reverse took place to such a degree, that manuring land was comparatively neglected, on the mistaken, shortsighted idea, that it was cheaper to clear and cultivate new fields, than to improve and repair such as were old. To this radical error, which led to idleness and a vagabond dispersed population, he opposed the whole weight of his influence. His example and recommendations tended to revolutionize the agriculture of his country, as his valour had revolutionized its government.
The extension of inland navigation occupied much of Washington's attention, at this period of exemption from public cares. Soon after peace was proclaimed, he made a tour as far west as Pittsburgh, and also traversed the western parts of New England and New York, and examined for himself the difficulties of bringing the trade of the west to different points on the Atlantic. Possessed of an accurate knowledge of the subject, he corresponded with the governors of different states, and other influential characters. To them he suggested the propriety of making by public authority, an appointment of commissioners of integrity and ability, whose duty it should be, after acGurate examination, to ascertain the nearest and best portages between such of the eastern and western rivers as headed near to each other, though they ran in opposite directions; and also to trace the rivers west of the Ohio, to their sources and mouths, as they respectively emptied either into
the Ohio, or the lakes of Canada, and to make an accurate map of the whole, with observations on the impediments to be overcome, and the advantages to be acquired on the completion of the work.
The views of Washington in advocating the extension of inland navigation were grand, and magnificent. He considered it as an effectual mean of cementing the union of the states. In his letter to the Governor of Virginia he observed, “I need not remark to you, sir, that the flanks and rear of the United States are possessed by other powers, and formidable ones too; nor need I press the necessity of applying the cement of interest to bind all parts of the union together by indissoluble bonds; especially of binding that part of it which lies immediately west of us, to the middle states. For what ties, let me ask, should we have upon those people; how entirely unconnected with them shall we be, and what troubles may we not apprehend, if the Spaniards on their right, and Great Britain on their left, instead of throwing impediments in their way as they do now, should hold out lures for their trade and alliance? When they get strength, which will be sooner than most people conceive, what will be the consequence of their having formed close commercial connexions with both or either of those powers? It needs not, in my opinion, the gift of prophecy to foretell." After stating the same thing to a member of Congress, he proceeds, "It may be asked, how we are to prevent this? Happily for us the way is plain. Our immediate interests, as well as remote