« PreviousContinue »
uals of which supposed that the hereditary part of the institution would be a germ of nobility. It was the usual policy of Washington to respect the opinions of the people, in matters indifferent, or of small magnitude, though he might think them mistaken. Having ascertained to his own satisfaction, that a degree of jealousy pervaded the mass of the people, respecting the probable tendency of this perpetual hereditary society, he successfully exerted his influence to new model its rules, by relinquishing the hereditary principle and the power of adopting honorary members. The result proved the wisdom of the measure; for all jealousies of the society henceforward were done away, and the members thereof were received as brethren, by the most suspicious of their fellowcitizens.
When Washington, at the close of the revolutionary war, became a private citizen, his country confidently anticipated every possible blessing from peace, independence, and self government.
experience soon proved the inefficacy of existing systems for promoting national happiness, or preserving national dignity. Congress had neither the power nor the means of doing justice to public creditors, nor of enforcing the respect of foreign nations. Gold and silver vanished; commerce languished; property was depreciated; and credit expired. The lovers of liberty and independence began to be less sanguine in their hopes from the. American revolution, and to fear that they had built a visionary fabric of government on the fallacious ideas of public virtue. the first five or six years immediately following
peace, the splendour which surrounded the infant states from their successful struggle in the cause of independence and self government, was daily darkening. This state of things could not be indifferent to Washington. He was among the first to discover the cause, and to point out the remedy. The inefficient support he received while commander in chief, proved the inefficacy of the articles of confederation, for raising and supporting a requisite military force. The experience of the first years of peace, proved their total inadequacy for the purpose of national government. From want of vigour in the federal head, the United States were fast dwindling into separate sovereignties, unconnected by any bond of union, equal to public exigency. The private letters of Washington at this time, show his anxiety for his country's welfare, and his wisdom in pointing out a remedy for its degradation. In one of them he observes, "The confederation appears to me to be little more than a shadow without the substance, and Congress a nugatory body, their ordinances being little attended to. To me it is a solecism in politics; indeed it is one of the most extraordinary things in nature, that we should confederate as a nation, and yet be afraid to give the rulers of that nation, who are the creatures of our own making, appointed for a limited and short duration, and who are amenable for every action, recallable at any moment, and subject to all, the evils which they may be instrumental in producing, sufficient powers to order and direct the affairs of the same. By such policy the wheels of government are
clogged, and our brightest prospects, and that high expectation which was entertained of us by the wondering world, are turned into astonishment; and from the high ground on which we stood, we are descending into the vale of confusion and darkness.
"That we have it in our power to become one of the most respectable nations upon earth, admits, in my humble opinion, of no doubt, if we would but pursue a wise, just, and liberal policy toward one another, and would keep good faith with the rest of the world. That our resources are ample and increasing, none can deny; but while they are grudgingly applied, or not applied at all, we give a vital stab to public faith, and will sink in the eyes of Europe into contempt.'
In another, "It is one of the evils of democratic governments, that the people, not always seeing, and frequently misled, must often feel before they are set right. But evils of this nature seldom fail to work their own cure. It is to be lamented, nevertheless, that the remedies are so slow, and that those who wish to apply them seasonably, are not attended to before they suffer in person, in interest, and in reputation. I am not without hopes that matters will soon take a favourable turn in the federal constitution. The discerning part of the community have long since seen the necessity of giving adequate powers to Congress for national purposes, and those of a different description must yield to it ere long."
In a letter to Mr. Jay, Gen. Washington observed; "Your sentiments that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own.
What the event will be, is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct; we have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution, measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of coercive power. I do not conceive we can subsist long as a nation, without lodging somewhere a power which will pervade the whole union in as energetic a manner, as the authority of the state governments extends over the several states. To be fearful of investing Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the people, without injuring themselves in an equal or greater proportion? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents? By the rotation of appointment, must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the powers before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously, for fear of losing their popularity and future election? We must take human nature as we find it; perfection falls not to the share of mortals. Many are of opinion, that Congress have too frequently made use of the suppliant humble tone of requisition, in applications to the states, when they had a right to assert their imperial dignity, and command obedience. Be that as it may, requisitions are a per
fect nullity, where thirteen sovereign, independent, disunited states, are in the habit of discussing, and refusing or complying with them at their option. Requisitions are actually little better than a jest and a byeword throughout the land. If you tell the legislatures they have violated the treaty of peace, and invaded the prerogatives of the confederacy, they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train for ever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, being disgustcd with these circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingences, would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.
"What astonishing changes are a few years capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government, without horror. From thinking, proceeds speaking; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and tremendous ! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty, are merely ideal and fallacious! Would to God that wise measures may be taken in time, to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend." "Retired
as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge, I cannot feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet having happily assisted in bringing the ship into