When God resolved to set his people free from Egyptian bondage he raised up able and mighty men to effect his glorious purposes. These he endowed with wisdom to conceive, genius to plan and energy to execute his noble designs. Their oppressive and heartless task-masters had been increasing their burdens with a relentless severity for years. To mercy they were blind, to reason they turned a deaf ear, complaints they treated with contumely, the judgments from heaven they heeded not.
There is a striking resemblance between the history of the Israelites bursting the chains of slavery riveted upon them by the short-sighted Pharaoh and that of the American Colonies throwing off the yoke of bondage imposed by the British king. Like Moses, Washington led his countrymen through the dreary wilderness of the Revolution and when the journey terminated he planted them upon the promised land of Freedom and Independence. Like Moses he placed his trust in the God of Hosts and relied upon his special aid and direction under all circumstances. Like Moses he was nobly sustained by a band of Sages and Heroes unrivalled in the history of the world.
The pedigree of Gen. Washington, as traced and illustrated by Mr. Mapleson, carries back his descent to William de Hertburn, Lord of the Manor of Washington, in the county of Durham, England. From him descended John Washington of Whitfield in the time of Richard III. and ninth in descent from the said John was George, first President of the United States. The mother of the John Washington who emigrated to Virginia in 1657 and who was great-grandfather to the General, was Eleanor Hastings, daughter and heiress of John Hastings grandson to Francis, second Earl of Huntingdon. She was the descendant, through Lady Huntingdon of George, Duke of Clarence; brother to King Edward IV. and King Richard III. by Isabel Nevil, daughter and heiress of Richard, Earl of Warwick, the King-maker. Washington, therefore, as well as all the descendants of that marriage, are entitled to quarter the arms of Hastings, Pole, Earl of Salisbury, Plantagenet, Scotland, Mortimer, Earl of March, Nevil, Montagu, Beauchamp and Devereaux.
Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the 22d of February 1732. He lost his father at an early age and leaned on the wisdom of a fond and judicious mother for the exquisite moulding of his youthful mind. He attributed his success in after life to the early training and faithful pruning of his revered mother. Mothers of America! imitate the example of the mother of the illustrious Washington. The prosperity and perpetuity of our UNION depends much upon the training of your sons. Teach them wisdom, virtue, patriotism, love of country, Liberty. Teach them to prize, dearer than life, the sacred boon of FREEDOM that was nobly won and sacredly transmitted to us by the Sages and Heroes of '76.
During his childhood and youth Washington exhibited a strong and inquiring mind. Industry, stability, perseverance, modesty and honesty were early developed in his character and marked his brilliant career through life. He was frank, generous and humane from his childhood. Nothing could induce him to utter a falsehood, practise deceit or disobey his fond mother. He soared above the trifling amusements that so often lead boys and youth astray and prepare them for a useless, often an ignominious existence. He was designed by his great Creator to be a star of the first magnitude on the great theatre of action--the Moses of America. He studied his part thoroughly before he entered upon the stage of public life. When the curtain rose he was prepared for his audience, acquitted himself nobly and retired amidst the grateful plaudits of admiring--reverent millions.
At the age of twenty-one Washington was selected by Gov. Dinwiddie to visit the hostile French and Indians and endeavor to induce them to withdraw from the frontiers and smoke the pipe of peace. The mission was one of great peril. His path lay through a dense wilderness for four hundred miles infested by wild savages and beasts more wild than them. He arrived at Fort Du Quesne in safety. Whilst the French commandant was writing an answer to the governor, Washington took the dimensions of the fortress unobserved by any one. He then returned home unmolested and unharmed by any accident. Peace was not desired by the red men. It was necessary to raise a regiment of troops to repel the murderous invaders. Washington was invested with the commission of Colonel and took the command. He marched, in April 1754, upon the track he had pursued when he visited the fort previously. On his way he surprised and captured a number of the enemy. When he arrived at the Great Meadows he erected a small stockade fort and appropriately named it Fort Necessity. Here he was reinforced swelling his little army to four hundred men. He then contemplated an attack upon Fort Du Quesne, situated at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers forming the Ohio and the present site of the iron city of Pittsburgh. He now learned that the French and Indians, to the number of fifteen hundred, were advancing upon him. The attack was commenced with great fury and continued for several hours when the French commander offered liberal terms of capitulation and gladly permitted the young champion and his brave Virginians to march away unmolested. This brilliant achievement placed Washington high on the scale of eminence, as a bold, skilful and prudent military officer. It occurred on the 4th of July--a happy prelude to the glorious 4th of July 1776.
The ensuing year another expedition was sent against Fort Du Quesne of about two thousand troops under command of the unfortunate Braddock who had more courage than prudence--more self-conceit than wisdom. He spurned the advice of the "beardless boy" and rushed into an ambush where he and near one-half of his men met the cold embrace of the king of terrors. The enemy consisted of only five hundred French and Indians secreted in three ravines forming a triangle. In this triangle of death Braddock formed his men and remained until he had five horses killed under him and was mortally wounded. During all this time not one of the enemy could be seen. One hundred native Virginians with fixed bayonets and led by Washington would have routed them in ten minutes. I speak from the record as I have examined every rod of the ground. After the fall of Braddock Washington saved the survivors under Col. Dunbar by a judicious retreat. He had warned the British General of his danger who spurned the "beardless boy." At a subsequent period he negotiated a peace with the Indians on the frontiers and was voted the thanks of mother Britain.
Unwilling to again witness such a waste of human life Washington resigned his military command and retired to his peaceful home. Shortly after this he was elected to the legislature and was highly esteemed as a wise, discriminating legislator--exhibiting a mind imbued with philanthropy and liberal principles guided by a sound discretion and cultivated intellect adorned with a retiring modesty too rare in men of talent at the present day. From this field of labor he entered one of greater magnitude, of vaster importance--one big with events involving consequences of the most thrilling interest to his country and himself. He was elected to the Congress of 1774. The solemnity that pervaded the opening ceremony of that august assembly has been before portrayed. During the opening prayer, Washington only was upon his knees, imitating the attitude of his pious mother in her earnest appeals to the throne of Grace. On all occasions his mind seems to have reached from earth to Heaven. He seemed to dwell in the bosom of his God. Devoted, unsophisticated, humble, relying piety marked his whole course of life--a piety sincere in its motives, consistent in its exhibitions and illumined by the refulgent sunbeams of living charity. He was returned to the next Congress and took his seat little anticipating the mighty work in reserve for him. On the memorable 19th of April 1775, American blood was again made to leap from its fountain by order of Major Pitcairn on the heights of Lexington. Justice looked at the purple current as it flowed and sighed. Mercy carried the tragic news to the ethereal skies--the eagle of LIBERTY heard the mournful story--descended in a stream of liquid fire--planted the torch of freedom in the serum of the murdered patriots and bid eternal defiance to the British lion. The alarm spread with lightning rapidity. It was sounded from church bells and signal guns--echo carried it from hills to dales, from sire to son. Vengeance was roused from its lair--the hardy yoemanry left their ploughs in the furrow--the merchant rushed from his counting house, the professional man from his office, the minister from his glebe, shouldered their rusty muskets and with powder horn and slug hastened to the scene of action determined to avenge the blood of slaughtered brethren, maintain their chartered rights or perish in the attempt.
In June following Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the American armies by the unanimous voice of Congress. He accepted the high command with great reluctance and diffidence--knowing that it involved responsibilities, consequences and results too mighty for him hastily to assume, too vast for him confidently to encounter. He did not view the camp as the field of glory, ambition, conquest or fame. He did not thirst for human blood or exult in the profession of arms. Love of country, liberty, human rights, liberal principles--the duty to resist the oppressions of tyranny, prompted him to action. For these reasons he consented to serve his country at the perilous post assigned him.
As soon as practicable he hastened to Cambridge Mass. and entered upon the duties of his office in July. Before his arrival there, Crown Point and Ticonderoga had been surrendered to the patriots--the sanguinary battle of Bunker's Hill had been fought and the British convinced that men contending for their just rights, their dearest interests--their bosoms charged with fiery indignation and burning patriotism--could not be made to yield to the glittering arms of a haughty monarch without a bold and desperate effort to maintain that Liberty which they inherited from their Creator and which was guarantied by the British constitution.
The horrors of war were accumulating like electrified clouds preparing a tornado. The bloody toils of the Revolution had commenced. England poured in her legions by thousands. To cap the climax of barbarity she called to her aid the blood thirsty Indian with his tomahawk and scalping knife and bid a premium for scalps. The welkin rang with the savage war-whoop. The terrific screams, the expiring groans of mothers and babes were enough to draw tears from rocks and dress all nature in deep mourning. The contest was that of an infant with a giant--a lamb with a wolf. The dark clouds blackened as they rose and were surcharged with the lightning of revenge and thunder of malice. Washington viewed their fiery aspect with calm serenity, heard their portentous roar without a tremor. With his soul reaching to Heaven he met the awful crisis with firmness and prudence before unknown. His gigantic genius soared above the loftiest barriers his enemies could rear. His course was onward--right onward towards the goal of LIBERTY. Beneath his conquering arm monarchy trembled, tottered, fell. His whole energy was at once directed to the complete organization and perfect discipline of the army. By the aid of the king's troops some of the royal governors still maintained a show of authority in several of the colonies. As opposition assumed a systematic form and military arrangements increased, they retired on board the British armed vessels from whence they issued their proclamations with about the same effect as the puffing of a porpoise would have upon old Boreas.
Early in March 1776, Washington planted his army before Boston where Lord Howe had concentrated his forces. On the 17th this caused his lordship very modestly to evacuate the town. On the 2d of July Gen. Howe landed nine miles below the city of New York with 24,000 men. He sent an insulting communication to Washington which he very properly refused to receive. On the 27th of August that part of the army stationed at Brooklyn under Gen. Sullivan was attached and defeated with great loss and Generals Sullivan, Sterling and Woodhull taken prisoners. Two days after, Gen. Washington effected a retreat and landed his troops safely in New York without the movement being discovered by the enemy until completed. Chagrined and mortified at the loss of their prey the British prepared to attack the city which induced the Americans to evacuate it and retire to White Plains. Here they were attacked on the 28th of September--the British were repulsed, a considerable loss was sustained on both sides and no victory to either. The disasters of the patriots multiplied--Fort Washington and Lee fell into the hands of the English--the American army was flying before a relentless foe. Washington crossed the Hudson and retreated through Jersey into Pennsylvania with Lord Cornwallis pressing on his rear. His army was now reduced to 3000 men who were destitute of almost every comfort of life. They could be tracked by blood from their naked feet upon the frozen ground. Think of this ye who are now enjoying the rich behest of Liberty so dearly purchased and but by few properly appreciated. Reverses had chilled the zeal of many leading men who at first espoused the cause of freedom but whose hearts were not yet sufficiently harrowed by oppression to have the good seed take root. A fiery cloud of indignation, ready to devour them, hung over the bleeding colonies. Washington was still confident of ultimate success. He believed that in the archives of eternal justice their FREEDOM was written. Guardian angels listened to the vesper orisons of those who were true to themselves, their country and their God who directed their destiny. The bold career of the roaring lion was arrested. This Spartan band was crowned with victory. On the night of the 25th of December Washington crossed the Delaware to Trenton amidst floating ice--surprised and took one thousand prisoners--pushed on to Princeton, killed sixty and took three hundred prisoners, spreading consternation in the ranks of the enemy. This success re-animated many of the cold hearts that could be warmed only by prosperity--sunshine patriots whose love of freedom was very similar to self-righteousness. Washington retired to Morristown N. J. for the winter--the English occupied Brunswick.
In the spring of 1777 the army of Washington amounted to about 7000 men. No action occurred between the main armies until August when the British landed in Maryland with the intention of capturing Philadelphia. On the 11th of September the two armies met at Brandywine--a desperate battle ensued and a partial dearly purchased victory was gained by the English. On the approach of the enemy the City of Penn was abandoned. On the 4th of October another severe battle was fought at Germantown which proved disastrous to the American troops in consequence of their becoming separated and confused by a thick fog. These keen misfortunes were more than balanced by the capture of the entire British army in the north under Burgoyne by Gen. Gates on the 17th of October. On the reception of this news France recognised the Independence of the United States, entered into a treaty of alliance and furnished important aid by sending many of her brave sons to the rescue. The English retreated to New York in the spring of 1778 from which place they made frequent descents upon various places, destroying private property, murdering the inhabitants and spreading desolation wherever they went. They sent an expedition to Georgia and were crowned with victory. During this year no decisive battle was fought. The same during 1779. The British seemed to be better pleased with a predatory warfare than pitched battles which they carried on in a manner that put savage barbarity in the shade and made the inquisitor general of Madrid mourn for lost humanity. Alas for the Christian majesty of mother Britain.
Again the exertions of Washington were almost paralyzed for the want of men and money. The French Admiral D'Estaing was unfortunate in all his movements. The British lion was prowling through the land in all the majesty of cruelty. The anchor of hope could scarcely keep the shattered bark of Liberty to its moorings--the cable of exertion lost thread after thread until but a small band of _genuine_ patriots and heroes were left as a nucleus to breast the fury of the storm that rolled its dashing surges over them. But they clung to the creaking craft with a death grip and weathered the terrific gale. The campaign of 1780 terminated more favorably to the American arms. The south had become the main theatre of action. The cruelties of the enemy had prepared more hearts to do service in the cause of Liberty. The people were brought to see their true interests and rallied under the banner of freedom determined on victory or death. Gates, the hero of Saratoga, was put in command of the southern army--fresh aid arrived from France--the conflict was one of desperation. On the 18th of August a severe battle was fought near Camden, S. C. The British were the victors. Defeat now only served to rally the bone and sinew of the land. The hardy sons of Columbia rose like a phœnix from ashes and hurled the thunderbolts of vengeance among their savage foes with the fury of Mars. Every battle weakened and disheartened the enemy when a victory was gained. A few more conquests like those at Camden and Guilford Court House would seal their doom. The energetic Greene succeeded Gates. The campaign of 1781 opened. Washington moved to the south. Wayne, Lee, Greene, La Fayette, Nelson and other brave officers were there. Count de Grasse was co-operating with his fleet. In their turn the British lords, admirals and generals found themselves surrounded with impending dangers. An awful crisis was pressing upon them. Retribution stared them in the face. Their deeds of blood haunted their guilty souls--consternation seized their troubled minds. Lord Cornwallis concentrated his forces at Yorktown which he fortified in the best possible manner.
On the 6th of October the combined forces of Washington and Rochambeau commenced a siege upon this place which surrendered on the 19th of the same month. The grand Rubicon was passed--the work was done--the Colonies were free. That was the dying struggle of British monarchy in America. Hope of conquering her indomitable sons expired like the death flickering of a glow-worm. Heaven had decreed they should be free--that decree was consummated. Like Jordan's dove, the Eagle of Liberty descended to cheer the conquering heroes--snatched the laurels from Britain's brow and placed them triumphantly upon the CHAMPIONS OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE. To the friends of FREEDOM the scene was joyful, sublime--to its enemies--painful, humiliating. This victory was hailed with enthusiastic gratitude. It placed Washington on the loftiest summit, of immortal fame--secured Liberty to his beloved country, stopped the effusion of human blood, sealed the foundations of our Republic--prepared an asylum for the oppressed--planted deep the long nursed TREE OF LIBERTY.
On the 30th of September 1783 a definitive treaty was signed at Paris by Messrs. Fitzherbert and Oswald on the part of Great Britain and Messrs. John Adams, Franklin, Jay and Laurens on the part of the United States. On the 2d of November Washington issued his farewell orders to his army in terms of affectionate eloquence and parental solicitude. On the 3d the troops were disbanded by Congress. With mingling tears of joy and gratitude they parted and repaired finally to their homes to meet the warm embrace, the fervent grasp of their families and friends--there to reap the rich fruit of their perilous toils free from the iron scourge of despotism. On the 23d of December Washington appeared in the hall of Congress and resigned his commission. This act was one of sublimity and thrilling interest. The past, present and future--all rushed upon the mind of this great and good man as he invoked the blessings of Heaven to descend and guard the Liberty of his beloved emancipated country. Every eye was fixed upon him--every heart beat quicker--emotion rose to its zenith--he laid the commission on the table--a burst of applause rent the air--a flood of tears closed the scene.
No longer under the maternal care of their old mother, the people of the United States were left to try the yet problematical experiment of self government. Difficulties arose from local jealousies and conflicting interests--a debt of forty millions of dollars had been contracted--government paper became greatly depreciated--the public credit was shivering in the wind--the Liberty that had been so dearly purchased seemed doomed to a premature dissolution. To avoid this threatened disaster delegates convened at Philadelphia from all the States except Rhode Island for the purpose of devising a plan to preserve and perfect that freedom which had cost millions of treasure and fountains of noble blood. Washington was unanimously elected President of this august body. After long and patient deliberation the labors of these patriots resulted in the production of the Federal Constitution, one of the brightest specimens of a republican form of government on record. It is the grand palladium of our LIBERTY, the golden chain of our UNION, the broad banner of FREEMEN, a terror to tyrants, a shining light to patriots, the illustrated chart of our rights and duties, a safeguard against disorganizing factions and stamped its illustrious authors with a meritorious fame that succeeding generations will delight to perpetuate.
On the 17th of September this was reported to Congress and was promptly approved. It was immediately sent to the several states for consideration all of which sanctioned it at that time except North Carolina and Rhode Island. The former acceded to it in 1789, the latter in 1790. Confidence was then restored and Independence made secure. From that time to the present our nation has advanced on the flood tide of successful experiment and been blessed with an increasing prosperity that has no parallel in the annals of history. The star spangled banner waves proudly on every sea and is respected by all the nations of the earth. Our improvements at home have marched in advance of the boldest conceptions of the most visionary projectors--the fondest anticipations of their most ardent friends. They have often outstripped the most adventurous speculators.
By the unanimous voice of a free and grateful people Washington was elected the first President of the new Republic. With the same proverbial diffidence and modesty that had marked his whole career he took the oath of office on the 30th of April 1789. This imposing ceremony was performed in presence of the first Congress under the Federal Constitution assembled in the city of New York and in presence of a crowded audience who deeply felt and strongly expressed their filial affection for the father of their country. He at once entered upon the important duties that devolved upon him which were neither few or small. A cabinet was to be created, a revenue raised, the judiciary organized, its officers appointed and every department of government to be established on a firm, impartial, just and humane basis. In all these arrangements he exhibited great wisdom, exercised a sound discretion and proved as able a statesman as he had been a general. Deliberation and prudence guided him at all times. He acted up to but never transcended the bounds of equal justice and delegated authority. An angel could do no more.
During his administration of eight years he brought into full force his noblest energies to advance the best interests of his country--meliorate the condition of those who were suffering from the effects of a protracted war--improve the state of society, arts, science, agriculture, manufactures--commerce--disseminate general intelligence--allay local difficulties and render the infant Republic as happy and glorious as it was free and independent. His patriotic exertions were crowned with success--his fondest anticipations were realized--he finished the work assigned him with a skill before unknown--the government foundations were laid deep and strong--the superstructure was rising in grandeur--Washington wrote his farewell address and on the 4th of March 1797 retired from public life honored and loved by a nation of freemen, respected and admired by a gazing world--crowned with an unsullied fame that will grow brighter and more brilliant through all time. He then repaired to Mount Vernon to repose in the bosom of his family and enjoy that domestic peace by his own fireside that he had long desired. He had served his country long, ably, impartially, justly. He could look back upon a life well spent in the cause of human rights, liberal principles and an enlarged philanthropy.
For his arduous services during the revolutionary war Washington took no compensation. More than this, owing to the depreciation of continental money he paid three-fourths of his own expenses. He kept a correct book entry of every business transaction and produced a written voucher for every disbursement he had made of public funds. During his presidential terms his expenses exceeded his salary over five thousand dollars a year which he paid from his private funds and refused a proffered remuneration. With the exception of his appointment as commander-in-chief of the American army in 1798 when France threatened invasion, Washington was relieved from any farther participation in public affairs. He continued to live at Vernon's sacred Mount until the 14th of December 1799 when his immortal spirit left its noble tenement of clay--soared aloft on angel wings to realms of enduring bliss there to receive a crown of unfading glory--the reward of a spotless life spent in the service of his country and his God. His body was deposited in the family tomb where it slumbered amidst the peaceful groves of his loved retreat until 1837, when it was deposited in a splendid marble sarcophagus designed by Mr. Strickland and manufactured and presented by John Struthers, marble mason, both of the city of Philadelphia. Upon the top of this masterpiece of workmanship is most exquisitely and boldly carved the star spangled banner surmounted by the American Eagle. Under these the name WASHINGTON is carved in bold relievo. The design and finely finished work do great credit to Mr. Strickland as an architect and to Mr. Struthers as an artist. The gift and the delicate manner it was presented by the latter worthy gentleman do honor to his head and heart. The body was in a state of preservation as remarkable as the history of the man in life. The face retained its full form and fleshy appearance and was but slightly changed in color. The ceremony of removal was sublimely interesting and witnessed by a large concourse of tearful spectators. This hallowed spot is visited yearly by large numbers who approach it with profound veneration and awe. All nations revere the memory of the father of our country--unborn millions will chant his praise. Foreigners are proud to say they have visited the tomb of Washington at Mount Vernon. This estate was left to George Washington by his brother Lawrence in 1754. This brother served under Admiral Vernon in his memorable attack upon Carthagena in 1741. Having been treated with marked attention by the Admiral he named his estate in commemoration of him.
The name of George Washington is associated with every amiable and noble quality that can adorn a man. It is encircled by a sacred halo that renders it dear to every philanthropist--respected by all civilized nations. His fame is too bright to be burnished by eulogy--too pure to be tarnished by detraction. His praises have been proclaimed by talents of the highest order, hearts of the warmest devotion, imaginations of the happiest conception--eloquence of the loftiest tone. It would require an angel's pen dipped in ethereal fire and an angel's hand to guide it to fully delineate the noble frame work and perfect finish of this great and good man. Like the sun at high meridian, the lustre of his virtues can be seen and felt but not clearly described. His picture is one on which we may gaze with increased delight and discover new beauties to the last. Like that of our nation--his history is without a parallel. Unblemished rectitude marked his whole career, philanthropy his entire course, justice his every action. Under the most trying circumstances and afflictive dispensations a calm holy resignation to the will of God added a brighter lustre to his exalted qualities. Like a blazing luminary--his refulgence dims the surrounding stars and illuminates the horizon of biography with a light ineffable. His brilliant achievements were not stained with that reckless effusion of blood that marked the ambitious Cæsar, the conquering Alexander and the disappointed Bonaparte. He was consistent to the last.
In private life he was graced with all the native dignity of man, reducing all things around him to a perfect system of harmony, order, economy, frugality and peace. In every thing he was chastened by sterling merit, actuated by magnanimity, mellowed by benevolence, purified by charity. He was a living epistle of all that was great and good. He was the kind husband, the widow's solace, the orphan's father, the faithful friend, the bountiful benefactor, the true patriot, the examples worthy the contemplation and imitation of all who figure on the stage of public action or in the walks of retired life. His private worth was crowned with amaranthine flowers, richer and sweeter than the epic and civic wreaths that decked his brow in the public view of an admiring world. His virtues were enlivened by the richest colors of godliness--his mind was finished by the finest touches of creative power. His sacred memory will live through the rolling ages of time--will be revered until the wreck of worlds and the dissolution of nature shall close the drama of human action--Gabriel's dread clarion rend the vaulted tombs--awake the sleeping dead and proclaim to astonished millions--TIME SHALL BE NO LONGER.