« PreviousContinue »
port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles. "Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been neglected, though given as a last legacy, in the most solemn manner. I had then, perhaps, some claims to public attentions. I consider myself as having none at present.'
Illumination, on the subject of enlarging the powers of Congress, was gradual. Washington, in his extensive correspondence and intercourse with the leading characters of the different states, urged the necessity of a radical reform in the existing system of government. The business was at length seriously taken up, and a proposition was made by Virginia, for electing deputies to a general convention, for the sole purpose of revising the federal system of government.
While this proposition was under consideration, an event took place, which pointed out the propri. ety of its adoption. The pressure of evils in a great degree resulting from the imbecility of government, aided by erroneous opinions, which confound liberty with licentiousness, produced commotions in Massachusetts, which amounted to treason and rebellion. On this occasion, Washington expressed himself in a letter as follows; "The commotions and temper of numerous bodies in the eastern country, present a state of things equally to be lamented and deprecated. They exhibit a melancholy verification of what our transatlantic foes have predicted, and of another thing perhaps,
which is still more to be regretted, and is yet more unaccountable, that mankind when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government. I am mortified beyond expression, when I view the clouds which have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon my country. In a word, I am lost in amazement, when I behold what intrigue the interested views of desperate characters, ignorance and jealousy of the minor part, are capable of effecting, as a scourge on the major part of our fellowcitizens of the union; for it is hardly to be supposed, that the great body of the people, though they will not act, can be so short sighted, or enveloped in darkness, as not to see rays of a distant sun through all this mist of intoxication and folly.
"You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, nor, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for these disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties, will be secured, or let us know the worst at once. Under these impressions, my humble opinion is, that there is a call for decision. Know precisely what the insurgents aim at. If they have real grievances, redress them if possible, or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it in the present moment. If they have not, employ the force of government against them at once. If this is inadequate, all will be convinced that the superstructure is bad, or wants support. To be more exposed in the eyes of the world, and more contemp
tible, is hardly possible. To delay one or the other of these expedients, is to exasperate on the one hand, or to give confidence on the other, and will add to their numbers; for like snowballs such bodies increase by every movement, unless there is something in the way to obstruct and crumble them before their weight is too great and irresistible.
"These are my sentiments. Precedents are dangerous things. Let the reins of government, then, be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suf fered to be trampled upon while it has an existence."
Virginia placed the name of Washington at the head of her delegates for the proposed convention. Letters poured in upon him from all sides, urging his acceptance of the appointment. In answer to one from Mr. Madison, who had been the principal advocate of the measure in the Virginia legislature, Gen. Washington replied, Although I have bid a public adieu to the public walks of life, and had resolved never more to tread that theatre, yet, if upon any occasion so interesting to the well being of our confederacy, it had been the wish of the assembly that I should be an associate in the business of revising the federal system, I should, from a sense of the obligation I am under for repeated proofs of confidence in me, more than from any opinion I could entertain of my usefulness, have obeyed its call; but it is now out of my power to do this with any degree of consistency. The cause I will mention.
"I presume you heard, sir, that I was first appointed, and have since been rechosen, president of the society of the Cincinnati; and you may have understood also, that the triennial general meeting of this body is to be held in Philadelphia the first Monday in May next. Some particular reasons, combining with the peculiar situation of my private concerns, the necessity of paying attention to them, a wish for retirement, and relaxation from public cares, and rheumatic pains, which I begin to feel very sensibly, induced me, on the 31st. ultimo, to address a circular letter to each state society, informing them of my intention not to be at the next meeting, and of my desire not to be rechosen president. The vice president is also informed of this, that the business of the society may not be impeded by my absence. Under these circumstances it will readily be perceived, that I could not appear at the same time and place, on any other occasion, without giving offence to a very respectable and deserving part of the community; the late officers of the American army."
The meeting of the convention was postponed to a day subsequent to that of the meeting of the Cincinnati. This removed one of the difficulties in the way of Washington's acceptance of a seat in the convention, and, joined with the importance of the call, and his own eager desire to advance the public interest, finally induced his compliance with the wishes of his friends.
The convention niet in Philadelphia, in May, and unanimously chose George Washington their president. On the 17th. of September, 1787, they
closed their labours, and submitted the result to Congress, with their opinion "that it should be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof, under the recommendation of its legislature, for their assent and ratification."
By this new form of government, ample powers were given to Congress without the intervention of the states, for every purpose that national dignity, interest, or happiness, required.
The ablest pens and most eloquent tongues were employed for, and against, its acceptance. In this animated contest, Washington took no part. Having with his sword vindicated the right of his country to self government, and having with his advice aided in digesting an efficient form of government, which he most thoroughly approved, it would seem as though he wished the people to decide for themselves, whether to accept or reject it.
The constitution being accepted by eleven states, and preparatory measures being taken for bringing it into operation, all eyes were turned to Washington, as being the fittest man for the of fice of president of the United States. His correspondents began to press his acceptance of the high office, as essential to the well being of his country.
To those who think that Washington was like other men, it will scarcely appear possible, that supreme magistracy possessed no charms sufficient to tempt him from his beloved retirement, when he was healthy and strong, and only fifty seven