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Title: George Washington - Life Stories for Young People
Author: Schmidt, Ferdinand
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Life Stories for Young People


Translated from the German of



George P. Upton

Translator of “Memories,” “Immensee,” etc.

With Four Illustrations

[Illustration: A. C. McCLURG & CO.]

A. C. McClurg & Co.

A. C. McClurg & Co.
Published September, 1911

The · Plimpton · Press
[W · D · O]
Norwood · Mass · U · S · A

                          Translator’s Preface

Among all the numerous life stories written by Ferdinand Schmidt for the
delectation and education of German youth, none surpasses that of
Washington. The author has condensed his material, drawn from the most
authoritative sources, in a masterly manner, and presents it in a very
attractive form. He has accompanied it by moralization which is
pertinent, but never becomes tedious. It is questionable, indeed,
whether any story of Washington’s life written for young people excels
Schmidt’s in accuracy, conciseness, and general interest. As such this
sketch of the Father of his Country from a German point of view is
commended to American youth.

                                                                G. P. U.

Chicago, _May, 1911_


  Chapter                                                           Page
  I Boyhood                                                           11
  II The Surveyor                                                     25
  III Three Years in the Wilderness                                   32
  IV The Ambassador                                                   38
  V Washington’s First Battles                                        45
  VI A Year of Peace                                                  54
  VII Quarrel with the Mother Country                                 68
  VIII A Trial of Arms                                                78
  IX Washington Chosen Commander-in-Chief                             82
  X Washington Before Boston                                          86
  XI The Declaration of Independence                                  93
  XII Trying Times                                                    98
  XIII Washington Crosses the Delaware                               106
  XIV Lafayette—Kosciuszko—Steuben                                   113
  XV Peace is Declared                                               120
  XVI Washington’s Farewell to the Army                              126
  XVII Last Days                                                     135
  XVIII Blest be His Memory                                          142
    Appendix                                                         145


  George Washington                                       _Frontispiece_
  Washington among the Indians                                        34
  Washington Crossing the Delaware                                   108
  Washington as Proprietor                                           134

                           George Washington

                               Chapter I

The contemplation of the wonders of the universe is always inspiring and
uplifting—the crystalline purity of the sky, the splendor of the sunrise
and sunset, the grandeur of the starry night, the fragrant forest, the
smiling landscape, the tree, the flower, the boundless ocean, and all
the countless manifestations of nature. But how much greater our
admiration and inspiration when we reverently contemplate the progress
of a noble human soul toward ever higher and higher planes of
perfection! Some of the good seed which it scatters may take root in our
minds to strengthen and develop the best that is in us. We perceive the
possibilities of the race and what we may ourselves become if the will
to strive keeps pace with a love for what is good.

In ancient times thoughtful people compared great and good souls to the
stars. They rise in the spiritual firmament with a pure radiance and,
ever anew breaking through the mists and clouds which obscure them,
remain visible to later generations. Thus they become guiding stars for
struggling human beings here below. The particular star which the reader
who has the wisdom and the inclination to perfect himself is invited to
study in these pages arose in the forests of Virginia on the
twenty-second of February, 1732. It was there that little George first
opened his eyes and looked out upon a world in which he was to play so
great a part. There his negro mammy sat with him on the bench before the
door, throwing crumbs to the turkeys and pigeons to amuse him, and
there, under the rustling trees, he whittled his first horse out of

George’s father, Augustine Washington, was a planter of English
extraction. His first ancestor had emigrated from England when North
America was still the undisputed property of the Indians. The territory
which later became the United States is almost as large as the continent
of Europe. Two hundred years ago the whole country was a trackless
forest, broken only by enormous morasses, cane-brakes, and savannas or
grassy prairies. In the prosperous plantation house on the east bank of
the Rappahannock in which George was born, piety, industry, and probity
had made their habitation. That was the first blessing with which heaven
dowered the boy. Of course, living in a pure and healthy moral
atmosphere is not in itself all that is required to guide a youth into
paths of rectitude; the will to do the right and the continual struggle
to attain it can alone accomplish the greater part. Reprobates have
sometimes come out of the best environments. The voice of conscience is
awakened very early in the human breast and we soon know right from
wrong. However, it is a great boon and a wonderful help to be surrounded
by people who are examples of virtue in word and deed, and he who strays
into the paths of sin in spite of such surroundings is doubly to be

At that time the English immigrants lived scattered in the forest, but
neighbors had already formed themselves into parishes and founded
schools and churches. The schools were of course of a very simple type,
nothing but reading, writing, and arithmetic being taught. Most of the
settlers found this quite sufficient for their children and rich
planters sent their sons to England to be educated. Lawrence Washington,
George’s eldest step-brother, enjoyed these advantages. He was fourteen
years older than George, who was a babe in arms when Lawrence set out on
his first voyage to England, so that he could not remember his
step-brother. When George was eight years old, Lawrence, now in his
twenty-second year, returned. The arrival of the well-educated and
well-bred young gentleman was a welcome event in the family circle, and
George loved him from the first moment. Their affection was mutual, and
indeed Lawrence showed a truly paternal interest in the bright, alert

Their father had no intention of sending another son abroad. He looked
upon Lawrence as the natural head of the family after his death and was
satisfied that his probable successor had received a liberal education.
Accordingly George was sent to the parish school. He applied himself
eagerly to his tasks and thus laid a firm foundation, at least, for the
studies which he afterward prosecuted by himself. One trait of his
character showed itself very early—he did all his work with the greatest
conscientiousness and neatness. Not a stroke of his pen betrayed
carelessness. Some of his school books, which have been preserved, bear
witness to this. He showed the same care when any work about the house
was required of him. He endeavored to do whatever he had to do, however
insignificant it was or might seem to be, as perfectly as possible. Of
course he was not capable of appreciating at that time how important
this was in the development of his character. It was simply his early
awakened sense of duty, reinforced by his earnest efforts to practise
what he knew to be right. It was not until later that he realized the
deeper significance of work as a means of strengthening the powers of
the soul. There is no kind of work which may not be either well or ill
done. If you put all your capabilities into it, and the result is more
or less satisfactory, you have accomplished even more than the success
of the moment; you have been working for the growth of your inner self.
For one who realizes this, the greatest drudgery has lost its sting.
George was just as conscientious in everything which pertained to
morals. He had a passionate disposition, but we learn that early in life
he strove to curb his hasty temper by exercising deliberation and will
power. It was therefore customary, among his school-fellows, when
disagreements arose, to take them to him, and his verdict was generally
accepted, for they knew that he was willing to acknowledge himself in
the wrong when his fiery temper had carried him away. It was justice and
not the person that had weight with him.

Another of his qualities, military talent, was early recognizable. It
was an inheritance. There had been warriors among his ancestors, men of
note, of whom English chronicles tell us. Several of these had so
distinguished themselves as to have been knighted. George’s brother
Lawrence was of a like temper, and it now happened that he had an
opportunity of becoming a soldier. British commerce in the West Indies
had suffered heavy losses through piratical attacks by Spain and the
English government determined to avenge itself. A fleet was fitted out,
and as England was the mother country of the Virginians, the recruiting
drum was heard in the colony also. Lawrence volunteered and was given a
captain’s commission. It was no wonder that there was considerable
excitement over all this in the home of the Washingtons. George took the
liveliest interest in his brother’s equipment. He thought it very proper
that the robbers, of whom he had heard many dreadful stories, should be
punished, and gazed at his brother’s bright sword with delight and
respect. He vowed that he too would sometime help to right the wrongs of
his injured countrymen in time of need. He was told many tales of his
valiant ancestors. It is no wonder then that the picture of his brother
as he had left home, in his war trappings, was constantly in his mind;
nor that he begged for his letters, after his father had read them to
the assembled family, to pore over them, especially when they had
something to tell of the soldier’s adventures.

All these exciting experiences which filled his mind soon manifested
themselves in his play. In place of ball and games of a like nature, war
became the great game. His comrades were divided into companies. He
sketched plans of battles, which were carried out. He determined the
arms they were to use and held reviews. It never occurred to any of his
little comrades to dispute with him the rank which he had bestowed upon
himself. These occupations were also, although neither he nor any one
else suspected it, more or less of a preparation for his after life.
Just as he had before this been the legislator for his little circle, he
was now the military chieftain. But even when playing at soldier, the
peculiarity of his character, which led him to carry out everything he
undertook with the greatest thoroughness, was apparent. He knew what
accomplishments a soldier must strive to acquire, and now we see him
practising these exercises with unflagging zeal, with the object of
making his body strong and supple—such as running, leaping, wrestling,
tossing bars, and the like. The leader of the little band strove to be,
in reality, the first and foremost, and wished to live up to his title.

After taking part in the siege of Carthagena in the West Indies,
Lawrence returned home. One can imagine with what interest George
listened to his brother’s recitals! What Lawrence learned of George’s
military exercises and play confirmed him in a plan which he had long
ago formed and which had George’s hearty approval. He proposed to his
parents that as soon as George should have reached his fourteenth year,
the boy should be allowed to enter the English service as a naval cadet,
and the carrying out of the plan was actually considered. Lawrence
himself intended to return to his regiment to seek advancement in the
army, but never did so. Instead, he fell in love with the daughter of a
rich planter, William Fairfax. His advances were accepted and an
engagement took place. His father was very much pleased to have his son
enter into an alliance with the rich and highly esteemed house of
Fairfax, but was not fortunate enough to live to see the wedding.

George was eleven years old when he stood at the grave of his excellent
father. The deceased left considerable property, so that his children
from both marriages were well provided for. Lawrence received an estate
on the banks of the Potomac, where he took his young bride a few months
later. According to the terms of the will, no guardian was appointed for
the younger children, but they were left in charge of their mother—a
proof of the confidence the deceased had reposed in her. She was worthy
of it. Irving says of her: “She was endowed with plain, direct good
sense, thorough conscientiousness, and prompt decision; she governed her
family strictly, but kindly, exacting deference, while she inspired
affection.” She was Washington’s second wife, and George, her
first-born, was her favorite. In spite of this, or rather because of it,
she was very strict with him, where she deemed it necessary to protect
him from excesses, and her faithful care was rewarded. At that time Sir
Matthew Hale’s “Contemplations, Moral and Divine” was held in great
esteem among the educated English colonists of Virginia. It was the
mother’s favorite book, from which she not only drew strength and
consolation for herself, but from which she also read aloud to her
children. Her friends often found her thus occupied. She not only showed
great insight in the selections which she made, but the deep spiritual
feeling with which she read aloud from this and sometimes from other
writings made a deep impression on her young hearers. Her enthusiasm was
communicated to her children, and as the whole life and doings of the
household were pervaded by a spirit of moral earnestness, these
impressions received by the young minds were not easily effaced, but
rather were confirmed. The copy of the above-mentioned work, in which
the name of “Mary W.” is written by his mother’s own hand, remained a
valued memento in George’s possession all his life, and he often
declared that the precepts which it contained, expounded by the soulful
voice of the mother, striving for the improvement of her children, had
had a decisive influence on his whole life. The book is still preserved
in the archives of Mount Vernon.

George continued his school and home studies with unabated industry. It
was not necessary to urge him on, but rather to warn him not to go too
far in his zeal. He was filled with an ardent desire to acquire fresh
insight, knowledge, and skill in something each day of his life. It was
a true “thirst for knowledge.” Somewhat farther away than his first
teacher, Hobby, lived another, named Williams, who widened the horizon
of his schooling a little and to whom he now went to learn something of
commercial bookkeeping. Although it was a dry subject, George made
astonishingly rapid progress, inspired by the determination to acquire
it as quickly as possible. In the realms of knowledge and skill he
played the role of conqueror; mind, will, and memory were his weapons,
which became sharper and more highly polished the more he used them.
Careless and lazy school comrades appeared contemptible creatures to
him. At this time he collected examples of all kinds of documents used
in business and daily affairs. One of his collections bears the title
“Written Extracts,” and we find among them prescriptions, checks,
receipts, affidavits, forms of resignation, titles to property, leases,
contracts, and wills. All these were copied with great care, the
important words written in larger letters so that they were easily to be

George had also made great progress in athletic attainments. He had been
diligently practising the exercises of which we have spoken ever since
it had been decided to let him enter the English service as a naval
cadet. He considered it a matter of course that a future soldier must
employ himself systematically in strengthening his muscles and acquiring
the greatest possible dexterity. The place is still shown, in the
neighborhood of his father’s property, where George threw a stone across
the Rappahannock. He was also a fine horseman; on one occasion he
mounted an unmanageable horse, to the astonishment of all onlookers, and
was able to control it. In the meanwhile Lawrence had taken the
necessary steps for his brother’s entrance into the English navy. A
midshipman’s warrant was obtained and his luggage was packed. But at the
last moment his mother, after carefully reconsidering the matter,
resolved not to let her son go out into the world so early. It was not a
mother’s weakness that led her to this determination. She had heard so
much about the roughness of a seaman’s life it is scarcely to be
wondered at that she recoiled from a plan which meant removing her son
completely from his mother’s influence and cutting him off from the help
and advice of his relatives. His love and the respect which he had for
her opinions helped to soften the disappointment; later he was able to
thank her for having, at that time especially, taken his destiny under
such careful and earnest consideration.

Before we follow his life history any further, let us notice a practice
of his in early life. He kept a diary in which he noted everything that
aroused his interest. Besides this, he recorded significant ideas or
thoughts which he found in books or heard from the lips of wise or
experienced persons. It would be a very good thing for our young readers
to follow his example in this. A portion of his diary bears the
superscription: “Rules for Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Among
them are some important truths and some of lesser significance. A number
of extracts are given as they characterize George’s aspirations so well,
and also in the hope that some readers may make a selection from among
them and—this is only a suggestion—with it begin a diary of their own.
Here are a few examples:

  Every action in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those

  In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise,
  nor drum with your fingers or feet.

  Speak not when others speak, sit not when others stand, and walk not
  when others stop.

  Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the
  table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not on any one.

  They that are in dignity or office have in all places precedence; but
  whilst they are young, they ought to respect those who are their
  equals in birth, or other qualities, though they have no public

  It is good manners to prefer those to whom we speak before ourselves,
  especially if they be above us, with whom, in no sort, we ought to

  Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

  In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician, if you be
  not knowing therein.

  Undertake not to teach your equal in the art he himself professes; it
  savors of arrogancy.

  Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be
  in public or in private, presently or at some other time, also in what
  terms to do it; and in reproving, show no signs of choler, but do it
  with sweetness and mildness.

  Mock not, nor jest at anything of importance; break no jests that are
  sharp or biting and if you deliver anything witty or pleasant, abstain
  from laughing thereat yourself.

  Wherein you reprove another, be unblamable yourself, for example is
  more prevalent than precept.

  Use no reproachful language against any one, neither curses nor

  Be not hasty to believe flying reports, to the disparagement of any

  In your apparel be modest, and endeavor to accommodate nature rather
  than procure admiration. Keep to the fashion of your equals, such as
  are civil and orderly, with respect to time and place.

  Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own
  reputation, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.

  Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a
  tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion admit
  reason to govern.

  Be not forward, but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear,
  and answer, and be not pensive when it is a time to converse.

  If two contend together, take not the part of either unconstrained,
  and be not obstinate in your opinion; in things indifferent be of the
  major side.

  Reprehend not the imperfections of others, for that belongs to
  parents, masters, and superiors.

  Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your
  words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

  When another speaks, be attentive yourself, and disturb not the
  audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not, nor prompt him
  without being desired; interrupt him not, nor answer him till his
  speech be ended.

  Be not apt to relate news, if you know not the truth thereof.

  When you deliver a matter, do it without passion and indiscretion,
  however mean the person may be you do it to.

  When your superiors talk to anybody, hear them, neither speak nor

  Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions nor repeat
  often the same matter of discourse.

  Be not angry at table, whatever happens, and if you have reason to be
  so, show it not, put on a cheerful countenance, especially if there be
  strangers, for good humor makes one dish a feast.

  When you speak of God or His attributes, let it be seriously, in
  reverence and honor, and obey your natural parents.

  Let your recreation be manful, not sinful.

  Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire
  called conscience.

                               Chapter II
                              The Surveyor

After the plan of allowing him to enter the English service as a naval
cadet had been abandoned, George continued his attendance at school with
the intention of preparing himself to become a surveyor. Until the
completion of his fifteenth year he applied himself to these studies,
principally geometry and trigonometry. During his last Summer at school
he made surveys of the fields and meadows belonging to the schoolhouse,
and also of the neighboring plantations. This business, which was only
practice for him, he carried on as conscientiously as though he were
obliged to take an oath as to its accuracy. Every detail pertaining to
it, such as drawings, calculations, and references, were carefully put
on paper. There was not an inserted word nor a blot to be seen. If he
did make a mistake, he would erase it so cleverly that it could be
discovered only on the closest inspection. One could see that it was a
law of his being to do everything with the greatest neatness. But he was
just as particular with regard to order and oversight. Irving says of
him: “Nothing was left half done, or done in a hurried and slovenly
manner. The habit of mind thus cultivated continued throughout life; so
that, however complicated his tasks and overwhelming his cares, in the
arduous and hazardous situations in which he was often placed, he found
time to do everything and to do it well. He had acquired the magic of
method, which of itself works wonders.” His education was very limited
outside of mathematics. Probably he did not learn even the simplest
rules of grammar in school. We may infer this from his notebooks of that
period, in which grammatical mistakes often occur. But even in grammar
he made himself a master, when once he had fixed his attention upon it.
Careful consideration and comparisons, with attentive reading of
masterpieces of literature, was a training which enabled him later to
express himself in pure and correct language, both in speaking and
writing, and the reader will see from examples which we shall give that
Washington became a master of style. But study alone could not have made
purity, sincerity, and directness the most prominent characteristics of
his writings. His literary style was the mirror of his character.

He appreciated his good fortune in having family connections which gave
him the _entrée_ into several cultivated family circles. His brother
Lawrence was happily married, living in comfortable circumstances on his
estate at Mount Vernon, and George was often there. A few miles away was
Belvoir, the large property of Lawrence’s father-in-law, the
above-mentioned William Fairfax. This man had passed an eventful life.
He was born in England, entered the army early, took part in several
campaigns, and was later appointed by the English government governor
and chief justice of an island of the East Indies. He had now been
living in Virginia for several years, where, for a long time, he had
been president of the royal council of the colonies. The home of this
experienced and kindly man, where there was a number of amiable and
well-educated sons and daughters, was also open to George. Having his
eyes and ears open for all that was improving, George learned many
things at Belvoir. He also became acquainted there with an important and
at the same time interesting personage—a nobleman of the same name from
England, a cousin of William Fairfax, and therefore, since the marriage
of George’s step-brother, a sort of relative of his. This Lord Fairfax
was a man nearly sixty years old, over six feet tall, gaunt and
rawboned, with light gray eyes, sharp features, and an aquiline nose. In
England he had distinguished himself equally in the use of the sword and
the pen. Through his marriage he acquired boundless territories, so to
speak, in Virginia—the whole region between the Rappahannock and Potomac
Rivers, which later was found to extend into the Allegheny Mountains. By
the desire of Lord Fairfax his cousin William had hitherto managed the
property, and Lord Fairfax had only recently arrived in Virginia to
become acquainted for the first time with his truly princely domain. It
was a wilderness, but what a wilderness!

Let us take the opportunity of saying a word about Virginia. The
Allegheny Mountains divide the State into three regions: the mountainous
and romantic one, with the celebrated Natural Bridge, where Cedar Creek
dashes along between perpendicular walls of stone 250 feet below the
rock arch; that portion farther eastward with a sandy, marshy, flat
coast; and the arable, rolling, western portion bounded by the Ohio
River. In the greater part of it the soil is truly luxuriant. There is
fine grazing for sheep, as well as cattle. One sees maples, oaks,
plantains, nut and tulip trees, lindens, elms, ash, magnolia, chestnut,
cherry, and plum trees overgrown with wild grape and other vines in the
beautiful forests, and there is no lack of fish and game.

Lord Fairfax had not dreamed that Virginia could be so beautiful; and
how delightful the task of reclaiming a section of this virgin soil in
the midst of the primeval forest seemed to him! How empty and
purposeless the pleasures of the city compared with the delights of life
and labor in the cultivation of the wilderness! He was never tired of
admiring the estate of his cousin. He no doubt had the same feelings as
Chateaubriand under the same circumstances, to which he has given
utterance in the following words: “What a fascinating mixture of social
and natural life reigned there! By the side of a cypress wood, charming
residue of the impenetrable wilderness, was a nascent vegetation; ears
of corn trembled in golden waves around the roots of a fallen oak; full
sheaves, daughters of a single Summer, stood upon the site of the
ancient forest; thick columns of smoke rose from the burning woods and
floated away over the fertile fields, while the plough slowly cut its
way through the roots of the ancient trees. Surveyors were carefully
staking out the boundaries of the new estate; the wild birds had
deserted their nests, the dens of wild beasts were converted into roomy
cabins, and every blow of the woodman’s axe was a prophecy of the
blessings which were soon to rest upon these fields.”

So the venerable but still vigorous Lord Fairfax resolved to settle down
in the neighborhood and never to return to England. For a time he lived
at Belvoir on the estate of his cousin. We must not conceal the fact
that in spite of his enthusiasm for a planter’s life, Lord Fairfax had
not forgotten to inquire whether the fox was a native of the American
forests. He was passionately fond of fox hunting, and if his question
had not received a favorable answer, it is more than likely that his
newly awakened love for America would soon have waned. However, foxes
were very numerous amongst the forest animals of this region, a
circumstance which lent fresh charm to the country. But there was still
another consideration. On a fox hunt one must have at least one
companion; but where should he find a horseman who could in some degree
compare with the former dashing cavalry officer, especially in this
hilly region, covered with thickets which had never been penetrated by a
human being? The reader may perhaps, ere this, have had an inkling that
our George may have been a most welcome hunting companion for the
grizzled lover of the hunt. And it was so. Lord Fairfax kept horses and
dogs in the English style, and when the hunting season began George rode
out into the woods with him every morning, and they seldom returned
without trophies.

The nobleman had seen but a small portion of his extensive Virginia
estate, neither had he any intention of riding through the wilderness to
inspect it all, but he determined to have it surveyed, especially as he
learned that people had already settled on certain portions of it
without having any right to do so. Therefore he considered it very
necessary to have it surveyed, so that in future the relations of
settler to proprietor might be regulated according to law. Thus he was
anxious to find a capable person to undertake the business. Whoever did
so must, besides having a knowledge of the business, be conscientious
and reliable, and must possess not a little courage. The matter was
thoroughly discussed by Lord Fairfax, William Fairfax, and Lawrence
Washington. The latter was able to show calculations and surveys which
George had made shortly before this on his own property. The result of
the conference was that Lord Fairfax felt perfect security in confiding
the survey to our George, who had just completed his sixteenth year. He
had taken it for granted that George would not refuse, and he was not
mistaken. It is evident that the commission was very flattering to
George, and that the execution of it was calculated to perfect him in
his profession. In addition to this he was to receive a considerable sum
of money for the work which he would have been glad to do for its own
sake. His diary tells us that he was to receive a doubloon for every
full day’s work, which is about $7.50 in our money. He first went home
to get his mother’s permission to undertake the business. Every
ambitious youth will appreciate what his feelings were, how his heart
glowed at the thought of telling his mother of this honor which had
befallen him and which was to be, in every way, so profitable.

                              Chapter III
                     Three Years in the Wilderness

Young Washington was tall and of athletic build, which, together with
his manner, made him seem older than he was. It did not occur to any one
to treat the sixteen-year-old youth like a boy. His principal qualities
were earnestness, decision, candor, and modesty. In the Spring of 1748
he set out on his surveying expedition, accompanied by the
twenty-two-year-old George, son of William Fairfax, and a negro, all
three on horseback. At that time the beautiful chain of the Blue Ridge
Mountains formed the western boundary of inhabited Virginia. The little
party was obliged to traverse these in order to reach the territory
which they were to survey. The tops of the mountains were still covered
with snow and ice, while Spring had already sown the valleys with
flowers. They had to ride over rocky passes and through thickets to
reach their destination. The greatest difficulty they encountered was in
crossing the mountain torrents, swollen by the melting snows, but
courage and resourcefulness helped them to surmount all obstacles.
Crossing a pass, they at last reached the chief valley of Virginia,
which is nearly twenty-five miles broad and very beautiful. The clear
river which flows through it was called “The Daughter of the Stars” by
the Indians, because of its loveliness.

George outdid himself in glowing descriptions of the region in his
diary, but from the moment when real work began there is not a trace of
such descriptions to be found in the book. From that time he lived only
for his work. As it was seldom that the little company chanced upon the
hut of a squatter, George and his companions spent most of their nights
around a campfire in the forest. Their food consisted, for the most
part, of wild turkeys. A fork-shaped stick was the spit and a chip of
wood the plate. Of course George had to expect and be prepared to meet
with Indians, so that he and his companions had armed themselves. It was
natural that the Indians should not be very friendly to the settlers.
They looked upon the country as their property and upon the white
squatters as interlopers and robbers. There was much cruelty practised
on both sides. Fairly considered, one must admit that the Indians had
shown themselves incapable of any kind of communal development, and it
would have been a pity for such an enormous territory, immensely rich in
some portions, to have remained in the sole possession of a race which
was incapable of civilization and which probably never numbered over one
hundred thousand people. In contrast to the Indians, the increase of the
Europeans was extraordinary. In his own peculiar but essentially just
manner, this was once commented upon by an Indian chief, called by the
Americans “Little Turtle,” in a speech to the whites. It is a strange
and incomprehensible thing about the white people. Scarcely two
generations have passed since you set foot on our soil, and already you
cover it like a swarm of insects, while we aborigines, who have lived
here no one knows how long, are almost as few in number as the deer
which we hunt. To be sure, you palefaces know how to make use of a piece
not much bigger than my hand. On a patch only fifteen or twenty times as
great as this room, a white man will raise enough food to keep him for a
full year. He takes another bit of land grown with grass and herbs and
raises his cattle upon it, which supply him with milk and meat. We red
men, on the contrary, need immense territories, for the deer which we
kill and which scarce provides us with food for two days, needs a great
region in which to attain its proper growth. And when we have killed two
or three hundred deer, it is the same as though we had destroyed all the
grass and woods on which they subsisted. The white men spread out like
oil on a blanket, while we melt away like snow in the spring sunshine,
and if we do not soon adopt new ways, it will be impossible for the race
of red men long to survive. But the Indians showed themselves incapable
of learning “new ways.”

             [Illustration: _WASHINGTON AMONG THE INDIANS_]

George, who had seen no Indians heretofore, met a band of about thirty
warriors one day. One of them carried the scalp of an enemy, as a
pennant, in front of the procession. It would have gone hard with the
little company if the Indians had attacked them, which would no doubt
have happened if they had shown any signs of fear. A small present of
liquor procured them the spectacle of a war dance. The Indians kindled a
fire in the midst of an open space and seated themselves in a circle
around it. Then the chief began to extol their deeds of valor, his voice
and gestures becoming more and more animated. The warriors sat with
bowed heads, as in a dream. Suddenly, as though awakened by the glowing
description of their heroic deeds, a warrior sprang up and began a
curious, wild dance. One after another followed his example, until most
of them were leaping about the blazing fire, emitting frightful cries
and seeming more like demons than human beings. Music was not lacking
for this spectacle. One savage drummed on a deerskin, which was
stretched over a kettle half filled with water, and another played upon
an instrument made of a hollow gourd, which contained a number of pieces
of shot and was decorated with a horse’s tail.

The survey was completed and in little more than a month’s time George
arrived at Mount Vernon, where he gave an account of his work to Lord
Fairfax and received the acknowledgment of his complete satisfaction.
Young Washington had, with the accomplishment of this piece of work,
taken his diploma, so to speak, as a surveyor. His reputation was
established, and before he was seventeen he received the appointment as
public surveyor, and his work, from this time, was officially accepted
by the public authorities of Virginia. He received orders from many
quarters and for three years devoted himself to his growing business. We
may know how conscientiously he did his work from the fact that down to
this day, in Virginia, the surveys are relied upon which are officially
recorded under his name. Lord Fairfax immediately made arrangements for
the cultivation of a beautiful portion of his large property on the
other side of the Blue Ridge. He laid out a gentleman’s estate of ten
thousand acres of pasture and farm lands, which he called Greenway

The greater part of the three years George spent in the beautiful but
lonely forest. What a contrast this is to the enervating life of many
youths in our great cities! The grand impressions of nature strengthened
and steeled him in body and mind. The solitude of the woods stimulated
him to dwell upon the noblest thoughts and emotions. In the intervals of
work he spent more or less time with his step-brother, Lawrence’s
father-in-law, and Lord Fairfax. Association with these men of fine
breeding kept his manners from deteriorating in spite of his life in the
wilderness. It is not surprising that he gained confidence in himself
through his work and because of the confidence with which it was
accepted by every one else. And the labor of these three years was of
still greater advantage to him in another way, which he did not
appreciate until later. How could the young surveyor dream that before
long he should be traversing the same region as a soldier! It is always
most important in the conduct of a war to know the configurations of the
country well. As an engineer Washington had surveyed his future theatre
of war and carefully noted down his observations.

                               Chapter IV
                             The Ambassador

That man alone deserves to live who consistently makes a good use of his
life. He who does not do so, really does not live at all, at least not
in a human sense. He who understands life does not bury his talent, but
constantly develops his gifts for his own good and that of his fellow
men, and such a life is a worthy one. George Washington was now nineteen
years old and already his fellow citizens gave him credit for a high
degree of manly courage and judgment. This is proved by a circumstance
which we are now going to relate.

The borders of Virginia were often disturbed by attacks by the French
and Indians, so that the colonial government decided to prepare the men
capable of bearing arms, or the militia, for defence. Virginia was
divided into districts, over each of which an officer with the rank of
major and the title of adjutant-general was placed. The pay was 150
pounds sterling yearly. This officer was expected to bring the militia
of his district up to the highest grade of military efficiency. The high
reputation which George Washington had won caused him to be offered such
a post. It was thoroughly in accord with the tastes of his earliest
youth, as we have already learned. But while accepting it he appreciated
thoroughly all the responsibilities of the position. His first and most
earnest care was to make himself master of all the knowledge and duties
of his rank. Under the tutelage of his brother and of other officers who
had seen active service, he studied the science of war and perfected
himself in the use of the sword. Thus he was acquiring a new profession,
in which he was to gain honor and fame. Before he had an opportunity,
however, of testing his abilities in his new position, he had a painful
duty to perform for his beloved brother Lawrence, whose lungs had become
so affected that the doctors advised him to seek relief in the milder
climate of the West Indies. The sick man wished George to accompany him,
and he could not refuse such a request from his dearly beloved brother.
They set sail in the Fall of 1751, returning in Midsummer of the
following year, George enriched by new experiences and impressions, but
distressed with the fear that his brother would not regain his health.
The sick man had also given up hope and only came back because he wished
to die at home. He did die very soon afterward, mourned sincerely by all
who had been closely related to him or had had an opportunity of
becoming acquainted with his amiable personality. Lawrence left a widow
and little daughter. He had given his brother a part of his large
fortune and made him executor of his will. The estate of Mount Vernon
was to go to his daughter, or in the event of her death without heirs,
to George. The widow was to enjoy the income from his estate for life.

As soon as Washington had settled these affairs he returned to his
military duties. Governor Dinwiddie had in the meanwhile divided
Virginia into four districts, and Washington, now twenty years old, was
given charge of one of them. It was his duty to train the officers, as
well as the men of his district, in military tactics. There was a
particular reason for the new military partition of Virginia by the
governor and for the zeal with which he sought to put the militia on a
war footing. A quarrel had broken out between the English and French for
the possession of the fertile lands stretching from the Allegheny
Mountains to the Ohio River. The English governor Dinwiddie took
possession of them for England and the governor of Canada for France.
Both sides sought to gain over the Indian tribes that lived on the land
or near it, so that on the outbreak of hostilities they might have their
assistance. Both parties claimed a right to the Ohio region. It would
have been hard to tell where the title really lay, but both sides were
determined not to give way, but to let matters come to a crisis. This
was why Governor Dinwiddie was so anxious to get the Virginia militia
ready for action. The command came from England to erect two forts on
the Ohio, but while the letter containing this order was crossing the
ocean the French had already taken possession of part of the disputed
territory. The English governor now determined to send an emissary to
the French commander to make a last attempt at a peaceable adjustment,
as well as to get some knowledge of the strength of the enemy and of his

The governor found no one so well fitted for this mission as George
Washington. It was a difficult piece of work. It meant a journey of not
less than 560 miles, principally through a region that was neither quite
uninhabited nor peopled by Indian tribes of uncertain temper. An
advantage in the negotiations was only to be gained by conducting them
with the utmost circumspection and courage. Washington did not refuse
the office which the governor had offered him, although he clearly
recognized the difficulties of the mission. He immediately prepared for
the eventful journey. As companions he had, besides his fencing master,
an interpreter and four frontiersmen, of whom two were Indian traders.
The journey was begun during the raw November days of 1753. The progress
of the little company was much impeded by storms and snow. They had to
ford streams and cross rivers on quickly improvised rafts. As they were
nearing their goal, they met with Indians who were friendly to the
English. One chief told them that he had explained to the French
commander in a speech that the French had no right to take possession of
the land. Of course the chief had not written his discourse, but he had
preserved it, word for word, in his memory and could repeat it for
Washington, who had the interpreter translate it for him, and he wrote
it all down in his diary. As the speech is a very characteristic one, we
shall give a part of it here. (Remember that it was addressed to the
French commander.)

“Fathers,” said he, “you are disturbers of this land by building towns
and taking it from us, by fraud or force. We kindled a fire long ago at
Montreal, where we desired you to stay, and not to come and intrude upon
our country. I now advise you to return thither, for this land is ours.
If you had come in a peaceable manner, like our brothers the English, we
should have traded with you as we do with them; but that you should come
and take our possessions by force and build houses upon them is what we
cannot submit to. Both you and the English are white. We live in a
region between you both. The land belongs to neither of you. The Great
Spirit allotted it to us as a home. So I desire you, as I have desired
our brothers, the English, to withdraw, for I will keep you both at
arm’s length. Whoever most regards this request, by them we will stand
and consider them friends. Our brothers, the English, have heard this,
and I now come to tell it to you.”

The Indian chief told them, however, that the French had won over
several Indian tribes completely. After a few days Washington set out
once more. The exceedingly difficult and dangerous journey to the
headquarters of the French commander in the northern Ohio country lasted
just one day less than six weeks. The Frenchman received Major
Washington politely, but when the purpose of the mission was explained
to him, refused any discussion of the disputed question, for he claimed
that, as a soldier, his sole duty was to carry out the orders of his
government. Thereupon Washington took all the more pains to fulfil the
second part of his task and to obtain the most exact information
possible relative to the strength of the French garrison and the
situation of the fortifications. When he had informed himself
sufficiently on these points, he started for home. The return was also
very dangerous and toilsome. Several times the little company was
ambushed by Indians who were friendly to the French, and for weeks they
encamped on the snowy ground. Once Washington came near being drowned in
a rushing stream. He notes this in his diary thus: “There was no way for
getting over but on a raft, which we set about with but one poor
hatchet, and finished just after sunsetting. This was a whole day’s
work. We next got it launched, then went on board of it and set off, but
before we were half way over, we were jammed in the ice in such a manner
that we expected every moment our raft would sink and ourselves perish.
I put out my setting-pole to try to stop the raft, that the ice might
pass by, when the rapidity of the stream threw it with so much violence
against the pole that it jerked me out into ten feet of water; but I
fortunately saved myself by catching hold of one of the raft-logs.
Notwithstanding all our efforts, we could not get to either shore, but
were obliged, as we were near an island, to quit our raft and make to
it.” After such an adventure, think of the night on a desert island! And
they could not even expect succor in the morning! But the unexpected
happened. Cakes of ice piled up on one side of the island in such a way
that they were able to gain the shore. In the middle of January, 1754,
Washington reached home and the next day made his report to the

                               Chapter V
                       Washington’s First Battles

It was now clear to the governor that the French were determined to
defend what they called their right to the disputed territory. Therefore
he considered it wise to proceed against them without delay. He believed
that procrastination would only benefit the enemy by giving them time to
strengthen their position. Accordingly he called the Assembly of
Virginia together, laid his plan before it, and urged its speedy
execution. The burgesses, however, met his demands, at first, with great
coldness. It was said that the rights of the mother country, England, to
the Ohio region were in any case of a very doubtful nature. If, however,
the King of England wished to support his claims to it, he should send
over soldiers from England! Finally, however, they agreed to grant ten
thousand pounds for the enlistment of troops.

Washington had shown himself so capable in every respect in carrying out
the mission which had been entrusted to him that the governor did not
hesitate to offer him the chief command of the troops; but he declined
the honor “as the responsibility was too great for his youth and
inexperience.” The governor then appointed the English Colonel, Joshua
Fry, an intelligent and experienced officer, commander-in-chief, and
Washington was persuaded to accept the second command, with the title of

They immediately set out on their march, Washington leading the
vanguard, which consisted of only three companies. On the Ohio frontier
he had an opportunity to strike the first blow by attacking a French
scouting party, which had come out to pick him off. Only one Frenchman
saved himself by flight, the rest were either killed or taken prisoners.
Indians took part in this skirmish against the French. A letter which
Washington sent a few days later to the governor shows what an ardent
soldier he was: “Your Honor may depend I will not be surprised, let them
come at what hour they will, and this is as much as I can promise; but
my best endeavors shall not be wanting to effect more. I doubt not you
may hear I am beaten, but you will hear at the same time that we have
done our duty in fighting as long as there is a shadow of hope.”

At this time Fry suddenly died and the governor again invited Washington
to take command of the troops. This time, elated by his recent victory,
he did not refuse the call. The march was resumed under great
difficulties. He was joined by a great many Indian families, who proved
themselves useful as scouts, but they were not to be counted on during
an engagement. It turned out later that some of these savages were sent
into his camp as spies by the French. The march now took him through a
mountainous region. The horses were worn out and there were so few of
them that the men were obliged not only to carry heavy burdens, but also
to take turns in dragging the field pieces. The commander encouraged
officers and men by word and example; he loaded his horse with baggage
and went afoot himself.

After a march of several days they reached an old encampment where some
intrenchments had been thrown up. The men were thoroughly exhausted. It
had been raining incessantly for several days and for a whole week there
had been no bread. Washington resolved, therefore, to rest for a few
days in this spot and await the arrival of expected provisions. Here
they were suddenly attacked by an overwhelming number of the French. It
was at an early hour in the morning when the enemy fired upon them.
Washington, who was prepared, had his troops march out on to the plain.
The French, however, continued firing from ambush, and it was soon
evident that, in spite of their superior numbers, they did not intend to
give up their favorable position, but that their object was rather to
entice their foes into the forest. But Washington avoided this, fell
back into his intrenchments, and ordered his troops to be very careful
of their ammunition and to fire only when there was some chance of
success. The French, who had Indian warriors in their service, were
posted on a thickly wooded height from whence they kept up a sharp fire
all day. It rained without intermission, the trenches filled with water,
and the muskets became more and more useless. Toward evening the French
called out that they wanted to parley. But as Washington believed that
the enemy was only anxious to spy out his camp, he paid no attention to
the demand. After a while another message came from the French, adding
that they did not wish to enter the camp and asking that an officer
should be sent to them, for whose safety they pledged their honor.
Washington consented to this and the result of the conference which now
took place was that Washington agreed to an honorable capitulation. By
his firmness and valiant resistance he had succeeded in concealing his
real situation, which had become desperate, because the provision wagons
had remained so far behind that the troops were entirely without food
and the ammunition was very nearly exhausted. If the French had been
informed of the miserable condition of the intrenchments, for the
restoration of which nothing could be done, they never would have agreed
to such a capitulation; and if the battle had been continued Washington
and his troops would probably have been doomed to destruction. The next
morning he left the intrenchments with military honors and they were at
once occupied by the French. Washington had done the best which could be
done under the circumstances, for which he and his soldiers received the
acknowledgment of the governor and the House of Burgesses.

Washington had had one serious obstacle to contend with during the whole
campaign. The militia was receiving less pay than the British soldiers.
He now took up this subject anew. The continuance of the rule was
evidently equivalent to contempt for the Virginia militia, which had, it
was admitted, fought heroically. As his demands were not acceded to, and
in regard to several other regulations he was not in accord with the
governor, he demanded his dismissal. But his retirement did not last
long. The following year two well-equipped British regiments, under
command of General Braddock, landed, and Washington was persuaded to
join the new commander. He expressed himself with noble candor to a
friend on his reasons for this step: “I do not think I should be blamed
if I believe that I deserve some praise considering that my only object
in taking part in this campaign is the commendable wish to serve my
country; neither ambition nor desire of gain move me to this step. I
hope that this is clearly shown by my going as a volunteer, with no
expectation of pay or any hope of receiving a command, as I am firmly
convinced that General Braddock is not at liberty to give me any post
which I would accept.”

The march to the Ohio was immediately commenced, and there certainly
would have been important results achieved if only the valiant British
general had been more willing to listen to good advice. In haughty
security he moved his battalions forward, led by the music of the
military bands, as though he were on the parade ground. Sending out
scouts seemed to him a measure denoting cowardice and not caution. He
was therefore soon surrounded by swarms of Indian foes and very soon the
enemy knew the strength and destination of the company. It was on the
ninth of June when the British fell into an ambuscade, where a terrific
fire poured in upon them from the French and Indians, who had taken up
sheltered positions. The greater part of the soldiers of the vanguard
fell, among them twenty-six officers. A still greater number were
wounded and General Braddock paid for his foolhardy rashness with his
life. It was almost a miracle that Washington was saved. As long as
Braddock was alive, Washington went dashing to and fro with orders, from
one threatened point to another. When the commander had fallen, he
sought the most dangerous places, trying to save the day, and many of
the enemy recognized him as a dangerous foe who knew how to inspire his
men to renewed ardor by admonition and example. A number of Indians, who
had for some time been directing a well-aimed fire at him, finally
desisted when the fruitlessness of their efforts led them to believe
that the Great Spirit had taken the man under his protection. A
chieftain told this afterward. Washington himself believed that God had
protected him, for he wrote to a friend: “... but, by the all-powerful
dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human
probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat and
two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, though death was levelling
my companions on every side of me!” It was owing to his courage and
coolness that at least a part of the army was saved.

Throughout the country there was but one opinion of Washington’s
ability. A preacher delivered the following eulogy from the pulpit: “As
one who distinguished himself on this occasion, I must mention that
heroic youth, Colonel Washington, whom I cannot but hope Providence has
hitherto preserved in so signal a manner for some important service to
his country.”

Washington retired to Mount Vernon, which he had in the meanwhile
inherited through the death of his brother’s daughter. But he retained
the post of adjutant-general and tried, by appropriate drilling and
ordinances, to prepare the militia under him for efficiency in active
service. The defeat of Braddock had frightened the Virginians out of
their indifference and it was recognized that money and troops must not
be spared if the constantly increasing menace of war was to be
suppressed. Every one wished to entrust Washington with the chief
command. As the reader has already learned, his mother was not one of
those timid natures who shrink from every breath of danger and
extinguish every spark of courage in the breast of their sons. Still the
lively picture of the dangers with which her son had been threatened in
the last battle moved her to beg him with tears to give up military
service forever. He sought tenderly to reassure her, by speaking of God,
who is master of life and death, and he added: “If the command is
pressed upon me by the general voice of the country, and offered upon
such terms as cannot be objected to, it would reflect dishonor on me to
refuse it; and that, I am sure, must, and ought, to give you greater
uneasiness than my going in an honorable command.” But he was
not willing to undertake such an exceedingly difficult post as
that of commander-in-chief without making conditions. With clear
insight into the requirements of the situation he demanded that the
commander-in-chief have a voice in the choice of his officers, punctual
payment of their salaries, and complete revision of the commissary
department according to principles proposed by him. All this was granted
and soon proved advantageous to the war footing of the army. Later he
introduced another law into the House of Burgesses, which gave the
military courts the right to punish murderers and deserters, and by
which even gaming, drinking, cursing, and loose life were to be
appropriately punished. It took a determined man like Washington not
only to have those laws passed, but to enforce them.

One of the principal tasks of his campaign was to drive the French out
of Fort Duquesne in Ohio, and in this he succeeded. Thereby the power of
the French on the Ohio was destroyed and the last and most difficult
part of the task, which had occupied him for several years and so
extraordinarily employed his faculties, was finished. The Indian tribes
that had been on the French side now came over to the victors and made
overtures of peace, which were accepted. When Washington had
accomplished this honorable task, he laid down his command and retired
to private life.

                               Chapter VI
                            A Year of Peace

Washington was twenty-seven years old when he settled at Mount Vernon in
the hope of enjoying a life of peaceful domesticity. It was his good
fortune to find a life companion who was his equal in mind and tastes.
This was Martha Custis, a beautiful young widow with two lovely
children, a boy of six and a daughter of four years. Washington’s
fortune was already a handsome one, since he had inherited Mount Vernon,
and through his marriage it was increased by one hundred thousand
dollars. His union was not blessed with children, but Washington brought
up his step-children as carefully as though they had been his own. “I
hope,” he wrote to a friend shortly after his marriage, “to find more
happiness in retirement than I ever experienced in the wide and bustling
world.” He now arranged a plan of life. His greatest inclination was to
occupy himself with farming and gardening. He also intended to enjoy the
treasures of art and literature, but it is only a few months after his
marriage that we find him again engaged in public affairs at
Williamsburg, the seat of the Assembly, where the representatives of the
colonies held their sessions. He had not sought a nomination; contrary
to the usual custom in the colonies, he had not even put himself in
touch with the voters. It was the unbounded confidence of the people
alone which had given him the election. If he had only considered what
was personally most agreeable to himself, he would have remained on his
beautiful estate; but duty, as the true patriot understands it, left him
no choice. It must have been a consolation to his family that the
sessions of the Assembly usually lasted but a few months in each year.

When Washington’s election was announced in the Assembly, it was
determined by a vote of the house to mark his installation by a signal
testimonial of respect. Accordingly, as soon as he took his seat, Mr.
Robinson, the speaker, in eloquent language dictated by the warmth of
private friendship, returned thanks on behalf of the colony for the
distinguished military services he had rendered his country. Mr.
Robinson became so carried away by enthusiasm and the warmth of his
feelings and used such fiery language that the young hero was greatly
embarrassed. He stood up to acknowledge the honor done him, but his
embarrassment was so great that he began to tremble violently and could
not utter a word. He blushed, stammered, and remained speechless. The
speaker then came to the rescue with a presence of mind and tact which
would have done honor to Louis the Fourteenth in the happiest and
proudest moments of his life. “Sit down, Mr. Washington,” he said with a
reassuring smile; “your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses
the power of any language I possess.” It has often been noted that great
men are especially apt to be overcome with confusion on their first
attempt at speaking in public. Respect for the intellect of those whom
they are to address, together with a modest estimate of their own
powers, causes their timidity, while a high opinion of one’s own talents
and a low estimate of the intellectual calibre of one’s hearers often
leads to an overweening self-confidence. This timidity to which earnest
natures are prone disappears gradually. It was so with Washington. He
never became a brilliant orator; indeed, he never made a set speech. In
spite of this his influence as a representative was exceedingly
important. With the same conscientiousness which we have noted thus far
in all his work, he studied every question which came before the
Assembly. The demands of duty coincided with his old habit of constantly
striving to widen his intellectual horizon through faithful study. As
his powers of judgment were very keen and he followed the discussions
with strict attention, his expositions, which were generally short, had
almost always great weight. His mode of expression was simple, as it did
not deal with appearances, but was always to the point. Thus it happened
that a few of his pertinent remarks were often sufficient to change the
trend of the discussion completely. When he arose to speak every one
paid attention. What does Washington say about this or that question?
This was often heard amongst the members. His principal guide was the
ardent wish to make himself useful to his country. This was expressed in
his whole attitude, which never showed the slightest trace of frivolity.
He was scarcely ever late at the meetings or went away before the close.
In this respect also he showed himself to be a true patriot and
thoroughly upright man. And withal what childlike gayety and
light-heartedness he could exhibit in his family circle or in the
society of intimate friends!

The advice which Washington gave to his nephew when he was about to take
his seat in the Assembly is notable. “If you wish,” he said to him, “to
hold the attention of those present, I can only advise that you speak
seldom, and only on important points, with the exception of matters
pertaining to your constituents; and in the first case, make yourself
thoroughly acquainted beforehand with the question. Do not allow
yourself to be carried away by undue ardor and do not rely too much on
your own judgment. A dictatorial tone, though it may sometimes be
convincing, is always irritating.”

He still had the greater part of the year in which to follow his
favorite pursuits, which were, as has already been remarked, of an
agricultural nature. And Mount Vernon was a magnificent country seat.
Washington Irving says: “The mansion was beautifully situated on a
swelling height, crowned with wood, and commanding a magnificent view up
and down the Potomac. The grounds immediately about it were laid out
somewhat in the English taste. The estate was apportioned into separate
farms, devoted to different kinds of culture, each having its allotted
laborers. Much, however, was still covered with wild woods seamed with
deep dells and runs of water and indented with inlets, haunts of deer
and lurking place of foxes. The whole woody region along the Potomac
from Mount Vernon to Belvoir and far beyond, with its range of forests
and hills and picturesque promontories, afforded sport of various kinds,
and was a noble hunting ground.” Washington himself speaks of the place
in one of his letters, and from his description one can see how fond he
was of Mount Vernon. “No estate in United America,” he says, “is more
pleasantly situated. In a high and healthy country; in a latitude
between the extremes of heat and cold; on one of the finest rivers in
the world; a river well stocked with various kinds of fish at all
seasons of the year, and in the Spring with shad, herrings, bass, carp,
sturgeon, etc., in great abundance. The borders of the estate are washed
by more than ten miles of tide water; several valuable fisheries
appertain to it; the whole shore, in fact, is one entire fishery.”

A great plantation in Virginia, at that time, was like a little
principality. The principal house, which was occupied by the owner, was
the seat of power. In a neighboring house lived the steward or overseer
of the slaves, who was the prime minister of the little kingdom.
Connected with his house were kitchens, workshops, and stables. There
was a crowd of negro servants hanging about the buildings and manor
house; the number who worked in the fields was still greater and their
neat cabins formed a little village. A well laid out garden belonged to
each cabin. The barnyard swarmed with fowls, and negro children
disported themselves before the cabins in the sunshine.

With these hints the reader can complete the picture of Mount Vernon in
his own mind. There were many planters in the colony who, like the
Merovingians of old, left the management of their estates entirely in
the hands of their stewards, only requiring the payment of the income,
so that they might enjoy as many luxuries as possible. But this was not
so at Mount Vernon. Washington was the prince and father of his little
kingdom. Almost daily, and generally on horseback, he visited his
fields, pastures, fisheries, and mills. As a rule, on this tour of
inspection he wore a pongee-colored coat with gilt buttons. Let us take
the opportunity of presenting a picture of the stately man as it has
been drawn for us: Washington’s dignified bearing was without pride, his
firmness without obstinacy or arrogance. His outward appearance was
equally harmonious. The effect of his gigantic stature—Washington was
over six feet tall—was modified by beauty and perfect proportion. He was
like a grand building, in which the complete symmetry of the separate
parts gives it charm. His fiery nature was held in check by good sense.
His courage was never foolhardy, nor did his caution ever proceed from
fear. His reliable judgment was the result of a good memory. Industry
and hard work with him never degenerated into unsociability or
moroseness. When Washington drove to church with his family, or went on
a visit to William Fairfax or some other relative or friend, the state
coach with its four horses was brought out. Then the black servants,
coachman, and overseer, donned gorgeous liveries.

But how is this, the reader will perhaps ask; did Washington own slaves?
In answering this question one must take into consideration that
Washington was born into a slave community. The custom of a country puts
its stamp on each and every native citizen. We shall never be able to
judge any historical personage without carefully studying the customs of
the period and the intellectual tendencies of his time. Not until this
has been done can the question be asked, How did this man stand in
relation to the prevailing opinions and customs of his time? Slavery was
an ugly blot on the State, especially the slavery which was inaugurated
during the Christian era. Nothing is so fertile in expedients as human
selfishness. It was represented to “his most Christian majesty,” King
Louis the Thirteenth of France, that free negroes would not accept
Christianity, but that if they were made slaves, it would be an easy
matter to make Christians of them! Furthermore they said: “The negro
tribes have the custom of killing their prisoners of war; should we
introduce slavery into our colonies, those tribes would no longer kill
their captives, but would sell them to us. In this way we should save
their lives and this would make slavery an advantage to them.” This
reasoning appealed to the King, and thus this wrong, which had been
introduced by the Portuguese, became lawful among the French. It was not
long before it was customary for the Portuguese, Spanish, French, and
English settlers to import negroes. The number of negroes who were
kidnapped is estimated at forty millions. The sins of the fathers have
been visited heavily on the children, as we know, and the sacrifice of
much blood was necessary to give back to the negroes those human rights
of which they had been despoiled.

Returning to our history, in order that we may not judge falsely, we
must inquire what attitude Washington took in regard to this institution
in the midst of which he had grown up. The first answer is, toward his
slaves he was like a wise father caring for his children. What he did
for them in later times we shall relate at the end of the story. He did
not overburden his slaves with work, but he did not allow them to be
idle. Idleness seemed almost worse to him than an overplus of work.
Nature is one great workshop. Those organisms which no longer work fall
into decay. Useful work preserves and stimulates the body and mind of
man. Laziness is the forerunner of mental decay; he who turns away from
all useful occupations is subject to wicked thoughts. Therefore the old
proverb is full of truth: “Satan finds work for idle hands to do.” He
who governs others must be careful to keep them properly employed.
Everybody has at least one person to command—himself. Let him take care
that this person does not give way to idleness. To fashion one’s own
character is the highest kind of task, but he alone accomplishes this
who is careful to do his work with a higher and higher degree of
perfection. In this sense every human being has an opportunity to
perfect himself, whether he uses a needle, walks behind the plough, or
whether the pen is his implement. As long as a man works under
compulsion, he is on a low plane of development. He is exposed to the
danger of perishing. It is only the influence from without that upholds
him. Compulsion is, after all, a blessing for him, even though through
it he may not reach a high degree of efficiency. From the moment,
however, that a man begins to follow his calling with the avowed purpose
not only of fulfilling the duties of his position, but endeavors to
grow, morally and intellectually, he belongs to a higher order of
humanity. All benefactors of the human race have been of this higher
order. They labored in the sweat of their brows and still were happy in
the thought that their work was equally of advantage to themselves and
to others. Through labor and sorrow their lives gained value. In this
order of humanity there are, of course, different degrees of rank. To
one who belongs to it, however, the way is open to the summit of human
felicity. Any one may seek this path, whatever station in life he may
occupy. Only fulfil the duties which your position demands of you and
this happy goal may be yours. Conscientiousness and faithfulness lead
thither. But how many squander their thoughts and feelings on unworthy
objects! Good fortune is always close beside us and doing our duty is
the magic formula which makes it our own. In regard to a true estimate
of the value of work, the example of Washington and his friends—among
them we at once think of the splendid Franklin—has not been without its
fruits among Americans. The Frenchman Laboulaye has said: “The further
we progress, the more we comprehend that the man who works is the true
nobleman and that he who does nothing is a man whom we have much to
forgive, however rich he may be. In the United States, the man who does
nothing is considered an enemy of society. Mothers protect their
daughters from him and all sensible people withhold their respect from
him. That he who does nothing will end by doing evil is the right
conclusion of the Americans.”

No small part of Washington’s work consisted in regulating the labor of
his servants, overseeing them, and disposing the right forces in the
proper places. As we have said, he was as anxious to keep his slaves
from being overworked as he was to keep them from idleness. In his
diaries we find notes of how he managed to preserve the balance. He
noted exactly how much this or that piece of work progressed in a given
time and made a plan for the day’s work in accordance with this
observation. Of course he took into consideration the delays which are
inevitable under certain conditions. The best of all was that he often
lent a hand himself. One great feature of the evil which slavery brought
into the world consisted in the feeling which grew up among the masters
that any form of farm work or manual labor was degrading. As the slaves
had to do all of this “degrading work,” they felt that they were under a
curse. These were the common views of antiquity, and during slavery
times in the American colonies they began to acquire a fresh hold. It is
somewhat of a question whether even now more sensible opinions prevail
among those who call themselves aristocrats.

At Mount Vernon the slaves often saw their master at work in the garden
or in the fields. At one time he spent several days in the smithy with
his negroes, fashioning a new plough of his own invention. The work was
carried out to his satisfaction, and thereupon the negroes saw him set
to work ploughing up a new piece of meadow land. One of his mills was in
danger of being destroyed by a flood. In a pouring rain he marched out
at the head of his servants and helped to do the work which was needful
in order to save the building.

Washington was in the habit of rising very early, in the Winter long
before daybreak. He did not wish to disturb others, however, in the
early morning hours. He lit his own fire and read and wrote until
breakfast was ready for the family—which in Summer was at seven o’clock
and in Winter at eight o’clock. He then took two cups of tea and with
them a few hoecakes. At two o’clock he dined. Although he was rich, his
table was very simple. At dinner he drank two glasses of wine and
sometimes he took cider. He went to bed at nine o’clock. He kept a
complete record of the many kinds of work which were carried on on his
estates, with separate books for letter copies. Thus he was able to
maintain a complete and clear oversight over his affairs. The principal
product of the plantations was tobacco, which was an important article
of export to England. There were several lading places on the Potomac
River for the tobacco which was grown for the market on the Mount Vernon
estate. It was not long before Washington had acquired such a reputation
for reliability and square dealing with the foreign merchants that they
considered it unnecessary to examine the boxes and bales which bore his

He was very fond of exercising hospitality, as his diaries tell us. We
find in them the names of all the men who later became celebrated in the
colonies. Especially during the fox-hunting season, his house was often
the meeting place for neighboring lovers of the sport, for he found
hunting an agreeable relaxation. Among the visitors, one of whom was the
venerable Lord Fairfax, there were a number of highly educated
gentlemen. To have intercourse with men of this kind was as great a
necessity for him as was the reading of good books. But his activities
extended beyond the borders of his own estate. With men of congenial
minds he discussed a plan for draining and turning into pasture land a
great swamp nearly thirty miles long and ten miles wide. He made the
necessary inspection himself, both on foot and on horseback. The tour
was exceedingly toilsome and dangerous in many spots. At certain places
he found thick forests of cypresses, cedars, and foliage trees with long
moss hanging from the branches. Again he was obliged to force his way
through thickets of thorn and creepers. His horse often sunk to its
haunches in the marsh. It was then necessary to proceed on foot over the
uncertain ground, and after making a reconnoissance, to make his way
back to the horse over the same dangerous path. In this way he
penetrated from several directions into this unknown wilderness, until
he had as clear an idea of it as possible, and then he drew up a plan
for draining and making the marsh arable. The fact that the plan had
been drawn up by Washington, and that he considered its execution
entirely feasible, was sufficient to cause a number of well-to-do people
to form a company to take up the work. It took but a few years to
transform this wild region into a splendid strip of land composed of
fruitful fields and grassy pastures.

These occupations were very congenial and Washington wished for nothing
more earnestly than that he might be allowed to pass his whole life in
the same manner. But Providence had ordained otherwise. An event
happened which this law-abiding subject never could have desired, for he
was devoted to the mother country. The colonies quarrelled with England,
and it was this circumstance which suddenly tore him from his peaceful

                              Chapter VII
                   A Quarrel with the Mother Country

We must now consider the reasons for the quarrel with the mother
country. “Woe to the law breaker!” The law breaker causing this
disagreement was the English government. According to the English
constitution, new taxes could not be laid upon the people without the
consent of their representatives. It now suddenly occurred to the
government to tax the colonies without asking their permission. Thus it
was acting contrary to the principles of the constitution. All
right-thinking people will agree that one of the saddest spectacles in
history is to see a government, whose sacred duty it is to be the
guardian of the law, working for its overthrow. The Anglo-American
disagreement furnishes this mournful spectacle.

Lord Camden, one of those astute statesmen in England who foresaw the
consequences of such action, said to Franklin: “In spite of your
oft-protested love for England, I know that some day you Americans will
shake off the bonds which unite you to us and raise the flag of
independence.” This remark was afterward recalled and the reasons for it
were sought and not in vain. The English government seems to have been
possessed by a spirit of lawlessness at that time, while the American
colonies were distinguished, just at the same period, in an
extraordinary degree, by a high regard for law. Thus Lord Camden saw the
day approaching when the unjust demands of the government would arouse
the resistance of the Americans. Franklin had assured Camden that
nothing was farther from the thoughts of his countrymen than a
separation from the mother country and the formation of an independent
State. Franklin indeed added the words, “That is, unless you treat us
shamefully,” to which Lord Camden answered significantly, “That is true;
and that is precisely one of the reasons which I foresee will bring this
to pass.”

Lord Camden’s predictions were fulfilled. The ministry of King George
arbitrarily imposed duties upon certain articles in the colonies. This
illegal procedure was answered by the American population refusing to
buy the taxed goods sent over from England. The act was annulled, but
not on the ground of unlawfulness, but because it was determined to tax
a class of goods which, it was thought, America could not do without.
The government said to itself: Contracts shall be legal only when they
are executed upon stamped paper. As there are innumerable contracts
entered into between the merchants in the colonies, and stamps must be
purchased for them, there will be no alternative, the inhabitants will
be compelled to pay the tax which we shall lay upon these documents.
Here it made another mistake; the Americans, in their business dealings,
now employed only verbal promises and oaths—the English tax-agents could
not sell a single stamped paper.

There was more or less unrest here and there. The evident injustice of
the measure caused some outbreaks among the people, but the leaders
tried to keep the agitation within legal bounds. Even yet Washington was
far from thoughts of a separation. He wrote to a friend: “I can testify
that in fact independence is neither the desire nor for the interest of
the colonies. But,” he added, “you may be sure that not one of them will
ever allow those valuable rights to be destroyed which are essential to
the happiness of a free country and without which life, liberty, and
property are without security.” Parliament was blind enough to give its
approval to the arbitrary measures of the government. In spite of this
the wish was general among the great majority of American citizens that
matters should not come to a real break. The question was prayed over in
the churches, petitions were sent to London to the King and to
Parliament. Washington wrote to a member of that body: “The repeal, to
whatever cause owing, ought much to be rejoiced at, for, had the
Parliament of Great Britain resolved upon enforcing it, the
consequences, I conceive, would have been more direful than is generally
apprehended, both to the mother country and her colonies. All,
therefore, who were instrumental in procuring the repeal are entitled to
the thanks of every British subject, and have mine cordially.” The Stamp
Act was now annulled, but again only because nothing had been
accomplished by it. The evil intent toward the American colonies

It was not long before the English government, with the assistance of
Parliament, imposed a new duty on tea, paper, glass, and painters’
colors. This embittered every one anew. Immediately leagues were formed
in several colonies, whose members pledged themselves not to buy goods
imported from England, except in case of the greatest necessity. It was
hoped that this would cause English citizens at home to persuade the
government to cancel this new duty. Washington wrote to a friend: “At a
time when our lordly masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with
nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom, it seems highly
necessary that something should be done to avert the stroke and maintain
the liberty which we have derived from our ancestors. But the manner of
doing it to answer the purpose effectually is the point in question.
That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment, to use arms in defence
of so valuable a blessing is clearly my opinion. Yet arms, I would beg
leave to add, should be the last resource, the _dernier resort_. We have
already, it is said, proved the inefficacy of addresses to the throne
and remonstrances to Parliament. How far, then, their attention to our
rights and privileges is to be awakened or alarmed by starving their
trade and manufactures, remains to be tried. The northern colonies, it
appears, are endeavoring to adopt this scheme. In my opinion it is a
good one, and must be attended with salutary effects, provided it can be
carried pretty generally into execution.”

This letter of Washington shows the attitude of the best men of the time
toward the illegal measures of Parliament. But England went farther
still along the hazardous path on which she had entered. One wrong
begets another. It was determined to treat the resistance to the duties
as high treason. As the American judges would not agree to this, the
government arbitrarily introduced new courts composed of British naval
officers, whose attitude was assured beforehand. Besides this, it set
aside magistrates—this, again, contrary to the laws of the land—and
created new ones. Finally it was ordained that in future all of the more
serious crimes should be tried in England instead of in the colonies.
This despotic behavior increased the bitterness in the minds of the
Americans. Here and there their anger blazed up. One heard of bloody
encounters between the American populace and British soldiers. The
latter gave the Americans the nickname of Yankees, which in the Iroquois
tongue meant _cowardly_ and _bad_. The people retorted by calling the
British soldiers crabs and bloodhounds, in allusion to their red

For a time ships which brought tea from England were refused admission
to Boston Harbor, whereupon the harbor was surrounded by British ships
and it was proclaimed that the refusal of tea ships would no longer be
tolerated. This so aroused the ire of the Bostonians that it was
determined to destroy the tea. A band of men disguised as Indians
boarded the ships at night, and three hundred and forty-two chests of
tea were thrown into the water. In consequence of this act the port of
Boston was closed by the British. That was a heavy blow for the city,
whose commerce was practically destroyed by this measure. But the
inhabitants did not yield.

Upon this the English government, through the Parliament in London,
instructed the other colonies to treat the inhabitants of Massachusetts
as rebels. Arguments were made in Parliament for and against this
course. A general, who denounced the attitude of the citizens of Boston
with extreme bitterness, said that he would pledge himself to drive the
whole lot of American rebels from one end of the world to the other with
five regiments of infantry. Others defended the Americans. Wilkes showed
that the British had adopted an unjust and inequitable course against
the colonists. “It is our ministers,” he continued, “who wish to loose
the bonds which unite North America with Great Britain, while the
colonists wish for nothing but peace, freedom, and security.” He adjured
Parliament to adopt a more just procedure toward them. “It is possible,”
he concluded, “that you might be able to burn Boston, or to place a
strong garrison there, but the whole province will be lost to you. From
this moment I see America’s independence growing and gathering strength;
I see her, in her freedom, attaining a greatness equal to the richest
and mightiest empires in the world. Do you wish to push the Americans to
desperation? Good! You will see them defend their property with that
courage which hatred of tyranny inspires, with the courage that comes
down to them from our illustrious forefathers, who fought in defence of
their threatened liberties!” The warning was in vain. The majority in
Parliament shared the blindness of the ministry and not only the
inhabitants of Boston, but of the whole province were declared rebels;
that is, they were put under military law. This was equal to a
declaration of war.

As soon as the decree was made known in Massachusetts, the
representatives of the colony met at Salem and from there issued a call
to all the American colonies to a general congress. The call was
accepted by nearly all of them, though the delegates from Georgia did
not arrive until later. Philadelphia was chosen as the place of meeting
and the first Continental Congress convened on the fourth of September,
1774. The greater part of the fifty-one members were thoughtful,
dignified men. Washington was the most distinguished amongst them. He
had written a short time before this to a friend: “What is it we are
contending against? Is it against paying the duty of threepence per
pound on tea, because burdensome? No, it is our right only that we have
all along disputed.... If I had no doubt that the British Parliament had
a right to tax us without our consent, and contrary to our charters and
our constitution, I should consider entreaties, and entreaties only, the
sole means through which we should seek redress. But my firm conviction
is that the British Parliament has no more right to put its hand in my
pocket than I have to put mine into my neighbor’s.”

The proposal to open the Congress with prayer was adopted unanimously.
The minister began his petition for God’s aid in a just cause with the
words of the Thirty-fifth Psalm: “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that
strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of
shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.” Next a “declaration of
rights” was drawn up, which stated the lawful rights of the colonies
clearly and concisely. Furthermore the resolution to refrain from buying
English goods until the unlawful demands had been withdrawn was renewed,
and finally an address to the English people, a memorial to the American
people, and a petition to the King were framed. They were anxious not to
destroy the possibility of a peaceable adjustment, even at the last

The English people were addressed with firmness and dignity. “You have
been told,” the address says, “that we are rebels who are weary of
submission to authority and seek independence. Be assured that this is
calumny. Grant us the same freedom that you enjoy and we shall glory in
our union with you and esteem it our greatest happiness. We shall always
be ready to sacrifice all that lies in our power for the welfare of the
empire; we shall consider your enemies our enemies, and your interests
our interests. But should you be determined to allow your ministers to
trifle with human dignity, should neither the voice of justice, nor the
precepts of the law, nor the basis of the constitution, nor feelings of
humanity, deter you from shedding our blood—we must declare to you that
we shall never debase ourselves to become the slaves of any minister or
of any nation in the world.”

The King, as well as the ministry and Parliament, persisted in their
blindness. The greatest English statesman, Chatham, warned his
countrymen in vain and pleaded with enthusiasm, but fruitlessly, the
just and honorable cause of the Americans. “When your Lordships,” he
cried, “look at the papers transmitted us from America, when you
consider their decency, firmness, and wisdom, you can not but respect
their cause and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must avow that
in all my reading—and I have read Thucydides and have studied and
admired the master States of the world—for solidity of reason, force of
sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion under a complication of difficult
circumstances, no body of men can stand in preference to the General
Congress at Philadelphia.” At another time he said: “I rejoice that
America has resisted. Three millions of people so dead to all the
feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have
been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest.”

Not only Washington’s whole previous life and career, but particularly
his attitude at the Congress, caused his countrymen to look to him with
the greatest confidence. When one of the most prominent members, Patrick
Henry, was asked on his return home whom he considered the most
important man among the members, he answered: “If you refer to
eloquence, Rutledge of South Carolina is by far the greatest orator; but
if you speak of thorough knowledge and sound judgment, without question
Colonel Washington is the greatest man in that body.”

It was a comfort to all who had reached the conclusion that the day of
conflict was not far distant that Washington not only had great gifts as
a statesman, but had already proved himself an accomplished soldier.

                              Chapter VIII
                            A Trial of Arms

The best men in England had appealed to the sense of justice and
fairness of the government and of Parliament without effect. The colony
of Massachusetts was placed under military rule. The order was given to
seize the military stores in the colonies and the beginning was made in
Boston. At this a cry of indignation resounded throughout the country.
It was no longer possible not to perceive that tyranny was determined to
set its foot on the necks of the American people. Patriots assembled
ready to give their lives for the preservation of their rights. The
abolition of a second armory at Concord led to a conflict. The British
were eight hundred strong, the Americans but eighty. When the British
had accomplished their purpose, they began their march back to Boston.
But this retreat proved calamitous. They were surrounded by the
Americans, who had received reinforcements and who continually attacked
them. Their loss was frightful and not one of the eight hundred would
have reached Boston had not the British general sent out a troop of one
thousand men to meet them.

The Americans had not been able to save their stores at Concord, but
this success was a great encouragement to them. They had fought against
picked and well-disciplined troops, while they were only an untrained
band of citizens and farmers, armed with any kind of weapon that came to
hand. They were good hunters and knew well how to make use of each tree
and ridge and stone wall for a shelter from behind which to fire; a mode
of fighting (sharp shooting) which later was used by all armies. The cry
“to arms” was now heard from hamlet to hamlet, from village to village,
and from town to town. Whoever had the freedom of his country at heart
and a just hatred of tyranny took his musket from the wall, girded on
his sword, and bade his dear ones farewell. These plain people, ready to
assemble at a moment’s notice, the “minute-men,” did not stop to don
uniforms, but wore a simple blouse over their clothes; the well-to-do
wore their powdered wigs. Shortly before this the British soldiers had
made fun of the blouses and wigs, but after the disastrous retreat from
Concord to Boston, all their waggery deserted them. From all sides the
Americans began their march on Boston, which was in the hands of the
enemy. The city was soon surrounded on the land side by fifteen thousand
Americans. Their first duty was to observe the enemy and not to allow
them to enter the country. The situation was hard on the citizens, who
were under the eyes of the British and could not make a move. The
British general, Gage, fearing that the inhabitants might embrace some
favorable opportunity to rise against him, promised to allow them to
join their comrades and march out of the city if they would leave their
arms behind. They delivered up their weapons, whereupon he broke his
word and detained them as hostages.

To the joy of the British and the despair of the Americans, English
ships appeared one day in the harbor. They brought reinforcements of
four thousand men under General Howe, an arrogant man, who believed that
it would be the easiest thing in the world to disperse the Americans. He
had been made commander-in-chief of the British army in the colonies.
What he now heard on landing in Boston of the retreat of the British
from Concord must have somewhat shaken his feeling of security, for he
did not, in accordance with his boastful words, proceed immediately to
attack the besieging American troops. Instead, the first move was made
by them. In a single night they had thrown up intrenchments close to the
city. To take these General Howe sent out the whole British force
against the enemy. Both sides fought desperately. The American riflemen
had twice repulsed the British and would probably have met further
attacks successfully had not their ammunition given out. Thus the brave
men were obliged to retreat after the third assault, but they retired in
good order, leaving the enemy too exhausted to think of pursuing them.

The British held the battlefield, but how brilliantly the untrained
defenders of liberty had met the well-disciplined and picked troops of
the enemy, led by their experienced generals! The loss of the Americans
was but four hundred and fifty-three, while the British had lost ten
hundred and fifty-four men. “I have never heard of such slaughter within
so short a time!” said General Howe.

This was the battle of Bunker Hill, and the Americans who fell there
richly merited the monument which was afterward erected on this spot to
their memories. Every one felt that troops inspired with such a spirit
would know how to defend the liberties of their country! When Washington
heard of the battle, he cried with profound emotion: “The freedom of the
country is assured!” The intrenchments were in the possession of the
British, but the battle had not raised the siege of Boston.

                               Chapter IX
                  Washington Chosen Commander-in-Chief

On the tenth of May, 1775, the Continental Congress again assembled. The
means of defence for all the colonies was taken under consideration.
Washington took the principal part in these deliberations, as he had
been chosen chairman of all the committees on military affairs. The
situation now called for the appointment of a commander-in-chief. There
were able men in Congress who had served as officers in the British army
and one or another of them rather expected to be chosen for the
position. In the first battles—the pursuit of the British and the bloody
battle of Bunker Hill—able leaders had also arisen. There were a few who
made great efforts to get the appointment, while Washington refrained
from influencing any one in his own behalf, as indeed was his custom
under like circumstances throughout his life.

At last, on the fifteenth of June, a vote was taken, and when the votes
were counted it was found that Washington, with the exception of his own
vote, had been unanimously elected. He expressed his thanks to the
members for the confidence they had shown in him and promised to serve
his country faithfully, but added that he feared the task would be too
great for him. In closing he said: “Lest some unlucky event should
happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered, by
every gentleman in this room, that I this day declare, with the utmost
sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored
with.” He looked upon his election as a providential call which it would
be very wrong to refuse; it was his intention to exert his powers to the
utmost, his hope that God would lend him aid. In accepting this
appointment he made a great personal sacrifice to his country, for he
was not spurred by ambition and he comprehended clearly the magnitude of
the task which was set before him. His tastes inclined toward the
delights of peaceful domestic life, the activities of the garden and
fields, and now he was selected to conduct military operations which, he
must have known, would, even under the most favorable circumstances,
keep him away from his family and his home for a long time to come. But
piety and a strong sense of duty filled his manly soul and only a slight
tinge of sadness marks the letters which he wrote immediately after the
appointment. He wrote to his wife, whom he loved tenderly: “You may
believe me when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that so far
from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to
avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part from you and the
family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my
capacity; and I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you
at home than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad. I shall
rely constantly on that Providence which has heretofore preserved and
been bountiful to me, not doubting but that I shall return safe to you
in the Fall. I shall feel no pain from the toil or danger of the
campaign; my unhappiness will flow from the uneasiness I know you will
feel from being left alone. I therefore beg that you will summon your
whole fortitude and pass your time as agreeably as possible. Nothing
will give me so much sincere satisfaction as to hear this, and to hear
it from your own pen.”

To a friend he wrote: “The cause of my country has laid a difficult and
dangerous duty upon me; but I hope that the all-wise Providence, which
guides human destinies, will enable me to fulfil this duty faithfully
and with success.”

As commander-in-chief the sum of five hundred dollars a month was
granted him, but he positively refused any remuneration for his
services. He said that he would keep an account of expenses which he
might incur in the public service and that if these should be paid, it
was all that he wished. A prominent member of Congress, the accomplished
John Adams, wrote to a friend: “There is something charming to me in the
conduct of Washington, a gentleman of one of the first fortunes upon the
continent, leaving his delicious retirement, his family and friends,
sacrificing his ease, and hazarding all in the cause of his country. His
views are noble and disinterested.”

In the official letter of appointment, which was delivered to him on the
twentieth of July, a tribute was paid to his love of country, his
courage, his faithfulness, and the conscientiousness which he had shown
under all circumstances, and to the purity of his life. As the day for
his departure for the army drew near, every one who had not yet seen him
endeavored to do so. At the request of the officers, he reviewed several
companies of militia. All were delighted with his military bearing.
Washington Irving says: “Rarely has the public _beau ideal_ of a
commander been so fully answered. He was now in the vigor of his days,
forty-three years of age, stately in person, noble in his demeanor, calm
and dignified in his deportment; as he sat his horse, with manly grace,
his military presence delighted every eye, and wherever he went the air
rang with acclamations.” The brilliant wife of John Adams wrote in a
letter to a friend: “Dignity, ease, and complacency, the gentleman and
the soldier, look agreeably blended in him. Modesty marks every line and
feature of his face. Those lines of Dryden instantly occurred to me:

  “‘Mark his majestic fabric! He’s a temple
  Sacred by birth and built by hands Divine.’”

                               Chapter X
                        Washington Before Boston

At this crisis Congress felt that it must make one more appeal to the
King. This was done in a petition couched in the most respectful
language. It says: “We beg to assure Your Majesty that, in spite of the
sufferings of your loyal colonists during the present disagreement, we
still cherish such tender consideration for the kingdom to which we owe
our origin that we are far from demanding any agreement incompatible
with the dignity and prosperity of the mother country.” Thus the English
government had another opportunity of adopting a conciliatory course. It
did not do so. London paid no attention whatever to Congress. The answer
intended for the Americans was to be written by Howe’s bayonets and the
English government had no doubt that their general would soon report the
downfall of the rebellion, as they called this justifiable resistance.

In the meanwhile Washington had appeared before Boston. An army chaplain
has left us the following characteristic picture of the American camp:
“It is very diverting to walk among the camps. They are as different in
their forms as the owners are in their dress; and every tent is a
portraiture of the temper and taste of the persons who encamp in it.
Some are made of boards and some are made of sailcloth; some are partly
of one and partly of the other. Again, others are made of stone and
turf, brick and brush. Some are thrown up in a hurry, others curiously
wrought with wreaths and withes.” To his discomfiture, Washington did
not find what he had hoped for. The American army consisted of sixteen
thousand men instead of twenty thousand, as he had been told, and of
these only fourteen thousand were fit for military service. He found
brave men, but not a homogeneous army; instead, large and small bands of
men, armed in promiscuous fashion, under leaders who were totally
independent of each other. There was no artillery and even the most
rudimentary military organization was lacking. To make a military unit
of this heterogeneous mass was the first task which lay before him. It
was to be expected that the solution of this problem would be attended
with extraordinary difficulties. He had to deal with sons of the forest
who, though brave, were, owing to their unrestrained and independent
lives, unused to military discipline. Such a task was not to be
accomplished in a few days or weeks, but needed a long time. Inside the
city a picked body of eleven thousand men was quartered, splendidly
armed and well equipped with all that was necessary to carry on the war.

Thus Washington found more than enough work awaiting him from the first
day of his arrival at headquarters. He was now repaid for the careful
training of his youth and his habit of conscientiously carrying out
whatever he undertook, of seizing upon the essentials of a matter, and
of persevering, with strict attention and diligence, to the end. What
industry, strength, firmness, and patience were necessary to call forth
that spirit, without which harmony in action would be lacking and
enduring success could not be attained! Under the existing circumstances
there was at first no other course open to him than to imitate the
method of Fabius, the delayer. Thus the year passed and nothing had been
done by either side. At the end of December a part of the American
troops who had only enlisted for the current year demanded to be
mustered out. It was their right and Washington let them go. There were
about ten thousand men left in the camp before Boston, while the enemy
inside had in the meanwhile been strengthened by reinforcements from

The patriots of the country had no idea of the difficulties with which
Washington had to struggle. Many had expected to read in the newspapers
of battles and victories during the first days of Washington’s command
and now a year had passed and nothing had been done. Two of Washington’s
letters of that time, both of them to Colonel Reed, give sufficient
explanation of the situation. The first letter says: “Search the vast
volumes of history through and I much question whether a case similar to
ours is to be found; to wit, to maintain a post against the flower of
the British troops for six months together, without powder, and at the
end of them to have one army disbanded and another to raise, within the
same distance of a reinforced enemy. It is too much to attempt—what may
be the final issue of the last manœuvre, time only can tell. I wish this
month were well over our heads!” The second letter is dated in February
of the next year (1776), in which he says: “I know the unhappy
predicament I stand in. I know that much is expected of me. I know that
without men, without arms, without ammunition, without anything fit for
the accommodation of a soldier, that little is to be done, and, which is
mortifying, I know that I cannot stand justified to the world, without
exposing my own weakness and injuring the cause by declaring my wants,
which I am determined not to do, further than unavoidable necessity
brings every man acquainted with. My own situation feels so irksome to
me at times that if I did not consult the publick good more than my own
tranquillity I should long ere this have put everything to the cast of a
die. So far from my having an army of twenty thousand men, well armed,
etc., I have been here with less than one-half of it, including sick,
furloughed, and on command; and those neither armed or clothed as they
should be. In short, my situation has been such that I have been obliged
to use art to conceal it from my own officers.”

Washington worked tirelessly over the reorganization of the army. He
paid heed, not only to outward conditions, accoutrements, maintenance,
etc., but he aimed to infuse a new spirit into the whole mass. Among his
troops there were not a few wild fellows who led disgraceful lives.
Washington issued an order, which read as follows: “At this time of
public distress, men may find enough to do in the service of God and
their country without abandoning themselves to vice and immorality. It
is a noble cause we are engaged in. It is the cause of virtue and
mankind. Every advantage and comfort to us and our posterity depend upon
the vigor of our exertions; in short, freedom or slavery must be the
result of our conduct. There can, therefore, be no greater inducement to
men to behave well. But it may not be amiss to the troops to know that,
if any man in action shall presume to skulk, hide himself, or retreat
from the enemy without the order of his commanding officer, he will be
instantly shot down as an example of cowardice; cowards having too
frequently disconcerted the best-formed troops by their dastardly

In camp this order of the day was attributed to a determination on the
General’s part to risk striking a blow. And it was so. It was his
intention to occupy Dorchester Heights, overlooking the city. On the
night of the third to fourth of March, while he heavily bombarded the
city to distract the attention of the enemy, the Heights were occupied
and immediately fortified. This work was carried on with such zeal and
success that the next morning at daybreak, when General Howe gazed up at
the Heights, he could not conceal his amazement and broke out with the
words: “The rebels have done more work in one night than my whole army
would have done in one month.” Washington was prepared for a furious
onslaught from the enemy, for Dorchester Heights commanded the town and
therefore a repetition of the bloody fight at Bunker Hill was to be
expected. Heavy rains for the next two days, however, prevented the
British from advancing to the attack, while the Americans continued
their work on the fortifications industriously. When the storm had
subsided and Howe again inspected the works on the Heights, he decided
that he dare not risk an attack. There was nothing left for him but the
bitter alternative of evacuating the city and taking to the ships with
his whole army. Immediately afterward Washington entered Boston.

The news of this event aroused the greatest joy all over the country.
Congress determined to cause a gold medal, bearing the relief of
Washington, to be coined in commemoration of the liberation of Boston.
With a humble heart the General thanked God for the victory that had
been won. He was happy in the conviction that this event would
strengthen the confidence of the patriots. He would have been glad to
dispense with the honor, which was to be paid him, for he foresaw full
well that the road to complete success in the establishment of
independence was to be a long and arduous one.

                               Chapter XI
                    The Declaration of Independence

As all their representations and petitions for just treatment had been
made in vain, the Americans felt that the time had come to declare this
to the world and to explain that they considered themselves absolved
from all their duties to England and resolved to form a State of their
own. It was a solemn moment when the announcement was made to the people
assembled before the house of Congress in Philadelphia, on the fourth of
July, 1776, that the thirteen colonies of America had voted for the
Declaration of Independence and the bell rang out, upon which were
engraved the words, “Liberty throughout the land to all its
inhabitants!” The pealing of this bell awakened the neighboring bells to
life, and these still others, so that they echoed and reëchoed from
village to village, from town to town, and thus within a short time the
whole expectant country learned that the great and momentous step had
been taken that separated it completely and irrevocably from the mother
country; a step to which English tyranny had forced the American people.

Everywhere festivities were held to celebrate this great event. The
inhabitants of Savannah organized a funeral procession and the effigy of
George the Third was buried in front of the State House. One of the
citizens pronounced a formal funeral oration in which he said, among
other things: “The King has broken his oath to the crown in the most
shameless fashion. He has trodden the constitution of our country and
the sacred rights of man under foot. For this we lay his political body
in the grave—the corrupt to corruption—in the confident hope that it
will remain buried forever and ever, and never be resurrected to reign
again over these free and independent States of America.” All
freedom-loving people in Europe were in sympathy with the struggle
across the ocean. Timid souls, to be sure, believed that this example
would raise a storm everywhere against the monarchical form of
government, although the Americans had been an example of long-suffering
patience. Had they not striven to maintain the monarchical form with
admirable devotion? What had they asked of the King? Only that the laws
of the land should be respected. Laws are the foundation pillars of all
government, even the monarchic. It is certainly true that it was King
George the Third and his ministers who broke the tie which bound the
colonies to England, and that the colonies did not declare themselves an
independent nation until all their sincere efforts for just legislation
had failed, owing to the obstinacy of the English government. Instead of
giving them bread it offered them a stone. Tyranny answered their
respectful petitions with powder and lead, instead of a conciliatory
recognition of their rights.

The Declaration of Independence is a masterpiece in style and contents.
The Americans did not invite others to follow their example; indeed they
deprecate this, for it says: “Prudence indeed will dictate that
governments long established should not be changed for light and
transient causes”; but, on the other hand, the intention is evident,
from the beginning of the document, of justifying their step before the
whole world, while setting forth the true principles of government. It
says, among other things:

  The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of
  repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the
  establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this,
  let facts be submitted to a candid world:

  He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to
  our constitutions and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to
  their pretended acts of legislation:

  For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

  For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;

  For transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offences;

  For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring
  province, establishing therein an arbitrary government;

  For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and
  altering fundamentally the forms of our governments;

  For suspending our own legislatures and declaring themselves invested
  with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever;

  He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his
  protection and waging war against us.

  He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and
  destroyed the lives of our people.

  He is, at this time, transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries
  to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny.

  He has constrained our fellow-citizens taken captive on the high seas
  to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of
  their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

  He has excited domestic insurrections among us and has endeavored to
  bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian
  savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction
  of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

  In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in
  the most humble terms; our repeated petitions have been answered only
  by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every
  act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free

  Nor have we been wanting in our attentions to our British brethren.
  They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and consanguinity. We
  must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our
  separation and hold them as we hold the rest of mankind—enemies in
  war—in peace, friends.

  We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in
  general congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the
  world, for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the
  authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and
  declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free
  and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to
  the British crown and that all political connection between them and
  the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. And
  for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the
  protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our
  lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

This Declaration of Independence, as well as the whole conduct of the
Congress, won the admiration of the most brilliant thinkers of Europe,
among them some who occupied thrones, but were watching without
prejudice the progress of affairs. We shall mention only Frederick the
Great, who, in his “Observations on the Condition of the European
Governmental System,” had given utterance to ideas on the aims of
government which were in complete accord with those being promulgated in
the forests of America.

                              Chapter XII
                              Trying Times

“The star-spangled banner” had been raised; thirteen white stars, to
represent the thirteen States, shone upon its blue field. The patriots
must now win freedom beneath its folds or fall with honor. Many
difficulties had been overcome, but still greater ones remained to be
conquered. England was gathering all her strength together to subjugate
the so-called rebels. New troops were sent to General Howe, including
German subjects whom Great Britain had bought to use as executioners in
America. The sale of subjects as mercenaries was of common occurrence
during the heyday of the small principalities in Germany. The Princes of
Hesse-Bayreuth-Anspach, Braunschweig, and Anhalt-Zerbst were engaged in
this traffic. Hesse provided the greatest number, so that the German
mercenaries in America were generally called Hessians. In Hesse a man
who tried to get out of trouble by running away and fell into the hands
of the elector’s spies was handcuffed and gagged. Complaints by his
parents were answered by putting the father in irons and the mother in
prison. In the market-place in Cassel, English agents bought Hessian
subjects for one hundred dollars apiece. Frederick the Great said with
bitter irony: “Let the lords of the country not forget to raise the duty
on cattle also!” “No one,” relates the celebrated Seume, “was safe from
these traders in souls [the princes]. They tried all methods—persuasion,
strategem, deception. Even strangers of all kinds were attacked, locked
up, and exported.” While his subjects were being marched on board ship,
Alexander of Bayreuth-Anspach stood on the banks of the Main ready to
shoot down any one who made an attempt to escape. In this way
twenty-nine thousand Germans were sold to the English as “food for
cannon.” “The thoughtful traveller,” says an English lord, “cannot look
upon the magnificent gardens of ‘Wilhelmsberg’ at Cassel without a sigh,
for the blood money of the citizens of Cassel and other places has been
expended upon them.”

As we know, General Howe had been obliged to take refuge, with his
troops, on the ships in Boston Harbor. It was his intention to land in
another part of the country. Washington suspected that Howe had selected
New York. Therefore he had sent the second officer in command of the
American forces thither and he followed him in haste. Howe’s fleet had
in the meantime joined the new fleet, so that the enemy was greatly in
excess of the Americans in numbers. Howe landed on Long Island near New
York. His object was to take that city and from thence cut off
communications between the North and the South. A battle took place in
which the Hessians especially greatly distinguished themselves by their
bravery. They attacked the Americans with such desperation that it
seemed as though these men, so brutally torn from their homes, were
seeking death. The Americans were defeated. They were even in danger,
during the next few days, of being surrounded on the island and taken
prisoners. Therefore Washington determined under cover of night to
embark with his little army. But while he was preparing, at dusk, for
the execution of his plan and had given instructions to keep the
campfires burning, in order to deceive the enemy, no one suspected that
treason was already at work to destroy the American army. A lady of
English sympathies had sent a slave to the British to carry them word of
the movements of the Americans. Fortunately the slave fell into the
hands of Hessian soldiers who stood guard at the outpost. It availed him
nothing to declare that he had a very important message for General
Howe. The Hessians did not understand a word of the language of the
frantically gesticulating negro. They thought he might be a spy, so
bound him and took him into custody, not turning him over to
headquarters until next morning. By this time, however, his message,
which would have been worth a fortune to General Howe the night before,
had lost its importance, for the embarkation was completed and the
enemy, whom he thought he had caught securely in a trap, had
disappeared. Under the existing conditions Washington had acted for the
best, and he carried out the plan of retreat with admirable skill. He
had been on horseback for forty-eight hours—until all the army was

Thus the nucleus of the American forces was saved, but their number was
insignificant indeed compared with the enemy’s. Many a patriot was full
of dark forebodings and Washington passed many hours and days in which
he was almost overwhelmed with fear that the good cause was doomed to
defeat. But he was firmly resolved to remain true to it, even if his
faithfulness should cost him his life.

He who has dedicated himself to the service of his country is most
faithful in its hour of need. After this battle on Long Island, a time
of deep distress began for the Americans, of which we get a clear
picture from Washington’s letters. He wrote to the president of
Congress: “Our situation is truly distressing. The check our detachments
sustained in the battle on Long Island has dispirited too great a
proportion of our troops and filled their minds with apprehension and
despair. The militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts to a
brave and manly opposition in order to repair our losses, are dismayed,
intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone
off, in some instances almost by whole regiments, by half ones, and by
companies at a time. This circumstance of itself, when fronted by a
well-appointed enemy, superior in numbers to our whole collected force,
would be sufficiently disagreeable; but when their example has infected
another part of the army and destroyed all discipline, our condition is
still more alarming. All these circumstances fully confirm the opinion I
ever entertained that no dependence could be put in a militia. I am
persuaded, and as fully convinced as I am of any one fact that has
happened, that our liberties must of necessity be greatly hazarded, if
not entirely lost, if their defence is left to any but a permanent
standing army, I mean, one to exist during the war. Obedience, order,
discipline are only possible with such an army.”

Two days later he wrote: “Our affairs have not undergone a change for
the better. The militia under various pretences, of sickness, etc., are
daily diminishing; and in a little time, I am persuaded, their number
will be very inconsiderable.” In spite of all this, he still preserved
enough calmness of soul to say a few words in defence of the faltering
one. He wrote to a friend: “Men just dragged from the tender scenes of
domestic life, unaccustomed to the din of arms, totally unacquainted
with every kind of military skill, when opposed to troops regularly
trained, disciplined, and appointed, became timid and ready to fly from
their own shadows. Besides, the sudden change in their manner of living
brings on sickness in many and impatience in all, and an unconquerable
desire of returning to their respective homes.” A few days later,
however, when he saw his best divisions giving way before a small
company of Hessians, he lost the composure which nearly always
distinguished him. He dashed in among the fleeing men, pulled his
pistols from the holsters, and aimed them at his own soldiers, crying,
“Are these the men with whom I am expected to defend my country?”
Despair seized the General. It seemed as though he sought death, for he
drew rein, while his men deserted him and the enemy was only fifty paces
distant. His adjutant seized his horse’s bridle and led him away almost
by force. The retreat was continued, Congress was kept informed of the
situation, and at last they determined to raise a new body of troops.
But the carrying out of this measure took time; men were not so quickly
to be found, and when enlisted had to have some little military

The enemy, on the other hand, feeling encouraged by their late
successes, were seeking to put the finishing touch to their opponents as
quickly as possible. Other things helped to complicate the difficulties
with which the American army had to contend. There were still many
secret adherents of the British government in the United States. They
now raised their heads once more and tried, wherever they found an
opportunity, to aid the English army. Some of the States even sent
recruits to General Howe! Under such circumstances what other
alternative had the General than again to play the role of Fabius, to
avoid the enemy, and postpone the decisive moment to a more favorable
time? Many people, however, who were in sympathy with Congress, but did
not know any particulars about the existing military conditions, became
impatient with Washington’s tactics. The difficulty was, that a public
explanation of the condition of affairs would have still more depressed
the patriots and have encouraged the enemy in proportion. He was even
attacked behind his back by ambitious men who, not understanding the
situation, united for his downfall and for the purpose of transferring
his rank and authority to another. For the sake of his country he bore
even this indignity, it never entering his mind to quarrel with his
intriguing enemies. Instead, he worked indefatigably for the cause of
freedom. He carried on by far the greater part of the business at
headquarters without any help. His correspondence with Congress alone
took up a good deal of his time. The laws that were passed in Congress
had to be referred to the governments of the several States for
ratification, and the manner in which the laws were enacted made fresh
negotiations with the thirteen State governments necessary at every
juncture. We can readily see how all this complicated the work of the
commander-in-chief, and what indefatigable energy, what self-control and
patience were necessary not to lose sight of the end in view and not to
fall into faults, either of rashness or negligence! In order to judge
how comprehensive Washington’s correspondence was during the war and his
public life afterward, we have only to learn that the letters written by
his own hand and the answers to them, which were afterward carefully
collected, fill two hundred folio volumes! They are a precious bequest
to the American people. “Whoever wishes to understand the whole
greatness of the Father of our Country, the grandeur and repose of his
character, his unalterable aims and gigantic strength, must go to the
font of his letters and reports.”

These were the work of his own pen. But besides these, what a work
remained to be done! There was no end of conferences with professional
men in the most various branches of activity. His strength and his time
were in demand on all sides. It seems a marvel that a single man was
able to attend to so many things at the same time; that misjudgment did
not embitter him, and that the situation which seemed hopeless to most
people did not discourage him. New York fell into the hands of the
enemy, also Fort Washington, and the General had to withdraw his troops
still farther. Lee, who tried to join him, was taken prisoner.

                              Chapter XIII
                    Washington Crosses the Delaware

There are times in the history of every nation when “the deepest
sentiments of the people are revealed.” The young American nation was
passing through such a period. Let us listen to Thomas Paine, whose
writings greatly aided the American cause. He said: “These are the times
that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will,
in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that
stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. It is
astonishing to see how suddenly a panic arises and how rapidly it
spreads throughout the country. Every nation is, at times, subject to
such panics, but they have their good side. The panic is of short
duration and the heart is then firmer and more determined. Such panics
are the touchstone of sincerity and hypocrisy.” And truly this period of
hardship was of real advantage to the country, for the unreliable
elements came to light, while the true patriots were the more clearly
recognized. Congress gave expression to its renewed confidence in
Washington’s ability by making him independent dictator of the military
forces for six months. Before, however, the news of this proof of
confidence reached him, he had proceeded to the execution of a daring
plan, by the success of which he hoped greatly to strengthen the courage
of some and remove the faint-heartedness of others.

December had set in with great severity, so that the British were not
anxious to follow up their victories. Howe went into winter quarters
with his regiments, thinking that he could afford to wait for a more
favorable season before beginning to stamp out the expiring sparks of
the rebellion. In the disposition of the troops at winter quarters the
same method was pursued as in the attacks. The Hessians were placed at
the front. Washington, who had made the necessary observations of the
situation of the enemy, learned that the Hessians lay twelve or fifteen
miles the other side of the Delaware River, in and about Trenton.
Washington’s whole army consisted of seven thousand men. These he
divided into three columns, which were to cross the Delaware
simultaneously at three different points and attack the enemy. Christmas
night was chosen for the attempt. Washington, at the head of the first
column of twenty-four hundred men, whom he had chosen to lead himself,
arrived at the river as night fell. A fierce north wind drove snow and
hail into the faces of the Americans and the water was full of floating
ice. Under these circumstances, crossing the river was not only
difficult, but very dangerous. Washington had counted upon reaching the
other side by midnight. On such a night and against such odds of storm
and ice this was impossible, and it was not until three o’clock that the
last of the troops were landed. The column carried twenty field pieces
with them. About four o’clock all was in order and the march on Trenton
began. The storm continued to rage. How was this march to end? They were
to meet an enemy of ten times their strength who, in case they had
learned of the plan, would doubtless have taken up favorable positions
to receive them. It was uncertain whether the other two columns had been
able to cross. (Later it was found that they had not crossed until
several hours later.) Toward eight o’clock the vanguard of the first
column was greeted with rifle shots which gave the alarm to the division
of Hessians occupying Trenton. They had scarcely assembled before
Washington appeared before the city and began the attack. They made, at
first, a gallant defence, but when their colonel fell, they laid down
their arms. Thus about one thousand men, among them twenty-four
officers, fell into the hands of the Americans. Several hundred men
saved themselves by flight, which would not have occurred had the other
two columns of Washington’s forces succeeded in crossing the river in
time to occupy the bridges according to his orders.

           [Illustration: _WASHINGTON CROSSING THE DELAWARE_]

Discretion led him for the present to be satisfied with the success
already won. The enemy was in the neighborhood with the bulk of his
forces and it was to be expected would immediately try to wipe out the
disgrace it had suffered. Washington recrossed the Delaware. This daring
feat, crossing the river and the successful battle at Trenton, had
magical effect upon thousands of citizens. Wherever the captured
Hessians were taken the people turned out to see them. They had shown
themselves to be the most dangerous foes of the Americans in battle.
They had become brutalized through war, and misery had led them into
committing many deeds of violence in the towns and country. The
prisoners were now in danger of having the vengeance of the people
visited upon them for the outrages committed by them or their comrades.
Washington issued a manifesto in which he explained that these men had
not voluntarily come to America to fight against the liberties of the
people, but were the victims of the tyranny of a prince, who had sold
them like cattle, wherefore he bespoke pity for them instead of
revengeful feelings. His appeal had the desired effect.

In the meantime Washington learned that instead of pursuing him, the
British had retired. He then determined to risk a second blow. Four days
after the first attempt he crossed the Delaware again. General Howe sent
Lord Cornwallis with eight thousand men against him. Washington took up
a strong position and repulsed several attacks of the British. Lord
Cornwallis was full of confidence, for, in the first place, his army was
greatly in excess of the enemy’s in numbers and besides he was expecting
reinforcements. So, as he expressed it, he thought he had caught the fox
in his lair. He did not dream that Washington had no intention of
remaining at the fortified place until it should please his excellency,
Lord Cornwallis, to attack him with his reinforced army. To be sure the
campfires still blazed through the night upon the spot which had been
occupied by the Americans the day before; but when morning dawned and
Cornwallis looked upon the empty lair with astonishment and disgust,
Washington, who had marched around him with his troops, was in his rear
at Princeton, several miles away. There he fell upon the reinforcements
intended for Lord Cornwallis, three British regiments, and a fierce
encounter took place. The British defended themselves desperately and
for quite a while the outcome was uncertain. The danger for the
Americans was growing greater every moment. The fact of finding the camp
deserted in the morning, together with the distant cannonading, must
long ago have enlightened Cornwallis as to the enemy’s movements.
Suppose that he should come up and attack the Americans in the rear,
while they were still engaged in the struggle with his reinforcements!
They _must_ gain the victory and that right soon. The Americans, who had
been greatly encouraged by the victory at Trenton four days previously,
fought with wonderful intrepidity. They were inspired too by the ardor
of their General. Wherever the fight was fiercest, he was to be seen.
That tall, manly figure, glowing with the fire of battle, was a
magnificent sight. Often the General was lost to the view of his anxious
men amid the smoke of battle, and they trembled at the thought of what
would become of the cause if death should overtake him now. Such
superhuman efforts could not fail of success. The enemy fled, leaving
five hundred men dead and wounded on the battlefield and three hundred
more prisoners in the power of the enemy. Washington’s soldiers were
wonderfully elated. One of them wrote shortly afterward: “We felt as
though resurrected from the dead. Recruits flocked into our lines, old
soldiers reënlisted.” Another soldier wrote of Washington’s conduct in
the battle: “The army loves the General mightily; but one thing they
criticise about him—he is too careless of his person in every battle.
His personal courage and the wish to enkindle his troops by his own
example makes him forget all danger.” Washington now went into winter
quarters in the mountainous region about Morristown, took up an
invulnerable position, and continued to molest the enemy by sending out
marauding parties, to such an extent that they found it necessary to
withdraw from the neighborhood.

In Europe also, before the crossing of the Delaware, the American cause
was considered lost. Now confidence that America would be able to
establish her independence was reawakened both at home and abroad. In
France there was an enthusiastic espousal of the cause of the American
people and their heroic General. Even in England many gave Washington
the honorable title of the American Fabius.

                              Chapter XIV

France was the country where enthusiasm for America was first kindled
and where it burned most brightly. The struggle of a people for their
liberties found great sympathy there, because the French people had for
a long time suffered deeply under the misrule of the Bourbons, and the
discontent was already brewing which, a few years later, led to such a
terrible outbreak. There are those who put the American war for
independence and the French revolution in the same category. But what a
gulf there is between the two historical events! The cause, tyranny of
the ruler, was the same in both instances, but the conduct of the
revolution, the aim and consequences, were as different from one another
as the Anglo-Saxon character is from that of the Latin. We must again
recall the fact that the Americans had been anxious for a long time to
reëstablish the old ties, which had been so recklessly loosened by the
rulers, on a constitutional basis, and that it was not until they had
exhausted every possible means of reconciliation, and until the
government had closed every avenue of legal justice against them that
they set to work to create a new constitution for themselves. In all
their operations they never so far forgot themselves as to misuse the
property of the church; on the contrary, their action was consecrated by
religion. It was and remained their standard in the creation of a new
constitution. What a contrast to the French people, who, in breaking the
fetters of their slavery, overthrew the altars of religion at the same
time! America gained her liberties in a reverent spirit, through earnest
work; while France, possessed by madness, rent herself and did not
succeed in shaking off the bonds of tyranny, though under new
circumstances it gave itself grandiose names to deceive itself and
others. What do the differing manifestations of the popular spirit mean?
The Americans belong to the great Anglo-Saxon race, which has a deeply
religious spirit. To them the laws of government mean a reflection of
the eternal laws which find their expression in religion. Their object
is to bring the laws of the State into harmony with the tenets of
religion; to make it an animating and illuminating force in the life of
the State. Thus in seeking to develop earthly life they draw from a
divine source. It is different with the Latin race, in whom this deep
religious strain is absent. This is most clearly apparent in the French
nation. They have had many political revolutions without gaining any
permanent constitutional advantages, and they will probably continue to
teach the world that a people, however talented they may be in some
directions, will nevertheless never reach the harbor of a well-ordered
political status unless the aspiration dwell within them continually to
purify and elevate their moral condition by serious examination of

This criticism refers to the French people as a whole. That there were
excellent individuals among them no one will dispute, and these were
full of enthusiasm for the struggle for liberty in the forests of
America. One of the noblest among them was Lafayette. He was nineteen
years old, an officer, handsome, rich, happily married, and his family
was one of the most influential in France. He had the prospect of a
brilliant position at court, but he despised the luxurious life there.
It was revolting to him to see how the taxes, which were squeezed out of
the people, were wasted, and as the frivolous and bewildering Parisian
life was very distasteful to him, he had retired to live on one of his
estates far from the capital, where he passed happy days in the society
of his beautiful, amiable, and well-educated wife. But his love of
liberty urged him continually to devote himself to the great work of
emancipation. Botta tells us: “Filled with the enthusiasm which great
events usually inspire in noble natures, he made the cause of the
Americans his own with that peculiar ardor which possessed most people
at that time and particularly the French. He felt it to be just and
sacred. Burning with the desire to take part in the struggle, he had
laid his plan of going to their country before the American ambassadors
in Paris, and they had confirmed him in his resolution. But when they
received news of the disasters on Long Island and were almost in despair
of the success of the revolution, they were honorable enough to advise
him not to go. They even told him that in the terrible situation in
which they were placed, they did not have the means to fit out a ship to
carry him to America. The undismayed young man is said to have answered
that now was the time when their cause most needed help; that his
departure would have all the more effect because the people were so
discouraged; and finally, that if they could not provide a ship for him,
he should fit one out at his own expense. What he had said came to pass.
The world was amazed. This decision on the part of a man of such rank
gave rise to all kinds of rumors. The French court, perhaps because it
did not wish to offend England, forbade the marquis to embark. It was
even said that ships had been sent out to capture him in the waters of
the Antilles. In spite of all this, he tore himself from the arms of his
lovely young wife and set sail.” Lafayette landed safely in America and
presented himself immediately before the president of Congress. Shortly
before this there had been some unfortunate experiences with Frenchmen.
French officers had presented themselves with high pretensions to rank
and compensation. Lafayette offered to serve as a common soldier and to
pay his own expenses. His bearing and appearance immediately won the
confidence of the earnest men in Congress, and he was accorded the rank
of major-general. Washington received him at headquarters with open
arms, and a particularly intimate friendship sprang up between them,
which was terminated only by death. Lafayette found many opportunities
of proving his capabilities on the battlefield.

A noble Pole, the celebrated Thaddeus Kosciuszko, also dedicated his
sword to the American struggle for independence. From youth he had been
distinguished by a noble and generous nature. At the Institute for
Cadettes at Warsaw he soon surpassed all his fellow students through his
indefatigable devotion to his studies. As an officer, he became
acquainted with the daughter of the rich and aristocratic Marshal of
Lithuania, Joseph Sosnowsky, and was soon hopelessly enamoured of her.
Both of them were young, handsome, intellectual, and full of enthusiasm
for all that was good and beautiful, seemingly created for each other.
Her father thought otherwise, for he wished for a son-in-law of rank and
wealth. On his knees and with tears, Kosciuszko begged the marshal for
his consent to the union of their hearts. Insolent words and threats
were his answer. In vain the marshal’s wife and daughter threw
themselves at his feet. He threatened to put his daughter in a convent.
Then the lovers resolved to fly together. The execution of the plan took
place on a dark night, but their secret was betrayed and the marshal
sent a number of armed horsemen after the pair. A struggle took place
and Kosciuszko, seriously wounded, sank to the ground. When he awakened
after a swoon of several hours, he found himself lying in his own blood.
Beside him lay a white veil which his beloved had lost in the moment of
danger. This he kept and wore always as a sacred treasure upon his
person in all his battles. Kosciuszko came to America to triumph or die
in the war for independence. He presented himself, without means or any
letters of introduction whatever, to the commander-in-chief, General
Washington. “What do you wish to do?” asked the General, who was always
laconic. “I have come to fight as a volunteer for the independence of
America,” was the equally short and fearless answer. “What are you
capable of doing?” the General asked further, and Kosciuszko answered
with his characteristic noble simplicity: “Put me to the test.” It was
done, and Washington soon recognized the abilities of the noble Pole.
With the rank of colonel, he was on the staff of several generals. When
the British were pursued on their retreat from Philadelphia, Kosciuszko,
at the head of a band of volunteers, performed marvels of valor.
Lafayette, who was chief in command of that section of the army which
was pursuing the enemy, asked, on the evening of that fierce day’s work,
who the leader of those volunteers was. Some one told him: “He is a
young Pole of noble lineage, but poor. His name, if I am not mistaken,
is Kosciuszko.” The volunteers were encamped about a half hour’s ride
distant. Lafayette galloped thither straightway, had Kosciuszko’s tent
pointed out to him, and entered it. There he found the hero, still
covered with dust and blood, sitting at a table, his head resting on his
arm and with a map spread out before him. From that time the two were
close friends.

We must also mention a German who played a prominent role in the war for
independence—Baron Steuben. He was a graduate of the Prussian military
academy, the foremost one in Europe, as Washington declared, and in him
America had a General who was able to accomplish wonders in discipline.
Without understanding a word of English he undertook the office of
inspector-general which was offered him, and he understood how to train
these free men so that a word or a look was sufficient to carry out his
orders with absolute precision. Later the government made him a present
of twenty-six thousand acres, “for the eminent services rendered to the
United States during the war,” and on this property he settled down.
Like him, many Germans had come to America to help complete the great
task of the emancipation of a people from tyranny. Whole regiments were
formed of German immigrants and American descendants of Germans, and
these Washington considered among his most daring and reliable troops.

                               Chapter XV
                           Peace is Declared

It was a seven years’ holy war which the Americans were obliged to wage.
Dark times were still to follow, times in which, even among the best
men, the belief in a successful outcome was shaken. In regard to
military organization and discipline there was still much to be desired,
for the measure of it which had been successfully introduced by Baron
Steuben had not immediately permeated the whole army. Indeed the whole
military body was as yet only in process of formation and at the same
time the situation was such that unprecedented feats of endurance had to
be required of the soldiers. They were very badly off in the matter of
arms and other necessaries. Often even proper food was wanting. Clothing
and weapons were scarce. Congress had been obliged to resort to the
introduction of paper money, which was copied in England, sent over in
quantities, and by this means reduced in value. As the enemy commanded
the seas and occupied first one part of the country, then another,
taking possession relentlessly of whatever they wanted, trade and
commerce were extinguished and misery and want were prevalent among the
inhabitants. What would have happened had the country not possessed in
Washington a commander whose example was always an inspiration to others
and whose words of wisdom always appealed to hearts and heads! In war
the soldier is readily inclined, especially when he is in need, to take
possession of whatever seems necessary or desirable by force. We read of
wars in which the peaceable inhabitants suffer equally from friend and
foe in this respect. Even Congress closed an eye when it became known
that parts of the American army had taken forcible possession of
provisions. Not so the commander-in-chief. In this matter also he strove
for the just and the right course. He urged Congress to regulate the
supplies for the army and showed the unfortunate consequences which must
ensue if it became their custom to take possession of the necessaries of
life by force. “Such a proceeding,” he says, in one of his letters,
“must, even though it should afford temporary relief, have the most
disastrous consequences eventually. It spreads discontent, hatred, and
fear amongst the people, and never fails, even among the best
disciplined troops, to fan the flame of degeneracy, plunder, and
robbery, which is later hard to subdue; and these habits become ruinous,
not only to the populace, but especially to the army. I shall consider
it as the greatest of misfortunes if we are reduced to the necessity of
adopting such methods.” In spite of all this the General was continually
the victim of slanders. Foolish people misunderstood him, ambitious ones
strove to procure his position. Like General Lee, earlier in the war,
General Gates now schemed to supersede the commander-in-chief. In some
parts of the army there were mutinies. To Congress, which demanded
relentless punishment, Washington said: “One must consider that the
soldiers are not made of stone or wood, invulnerable to hunger and
thirst, frost and snow.” It sometimes happened that the roads were
marked with the bloody footprints of the soldiers, who were mostly
without shoes even in winter! But at the same time he appealed to the
soldiers, explained to them with urgent words the situation of their
country, the dignity of their profession, and the demands which the
country had a right to make on them. Among other things he said: “Our
profession is the most chaste of any; even the shadow of a fault sullies
the purity of our praiseworthy deeds.” While appealing thus to the
better elements in human nature, he had the satisfaction of seeing that
his procedure was meeting with success. The iron hand of severity and
its attendant horrors he kept for the most extreme cases, but in these
he let the military laws take their course inexorably. Mutineers were
sometimes shot and spies were delivered up to the rope.

In the Fall of 1777 the fortunes of war were twice in quick succession
favorable to the British in the battles of the Brandywine and
Germantown. A second British army under Burgoyne was to advance from
Canada. Washington had sent a division to meet him under Gates and
Arnold. An engagement took place which was undecided, but soon
afterward, at Saratoga, the British general was obliged to capitulate
and Congress was notified that: “This fortunate day’s work has given us
six generals and five thousand soldiers, five thousand guns and
twenty-seven cannon, with their ammunition. During the campaign we have,
besides, taken two thousand prisoners, among them several of the higher

This success ripened a project which had been under consideration for a
long time: an alliance with France. It was not love of the newly
constructed nation that induced the French government to declare herself
openly as an ally of America, but hatred of England, whom she wished to
weaken as much as possible. Joy was great among the American people over
the conclusion of the alliance. However, comparatively little was done
by France, who, moreover, intended to reimburse herself, for the
assistance rendered, by acquiring lands. The Americans, after all, had
to rely principally on their own exertions and resources. As England now
had two enemies to contend with, she redoubled her efforts with great
vigor. General Howe, who for years had been boasting and had so often
announced that in a short time the rebels would be completely routed,
but had never reached this goal, was recalled and replaced by General
Clinton. To a greater extent than had ever been done before, the Indian
tribes of the Iroquois and Creeks were urged by British agents to
undertake marauding expeditions in the American settlements. They even
offered themselves as leaders of these murderous bands. They spread fire
and murder through the American colonies to the full extent of their
power. The consequence was a campaign in which the colonists sought to
revenge themselves. But this was not the only result. The resistance of
the Americans was inflamed by the fact that the British had let loose
these bands of savages, who practised many unheard-of cruelties even
against women and girls. Patriotism had been awakened in the breasts of
the women, and a youth or man who did not show himself ready to serve
his country was now looked upon with scorn.

There were many battles in which first one side, then the other, gained
the advantage. At last, through clever generalship, Washington, who had
the French troops also under his command, was successful in shutting up
General Cornwallis in Yorktown. Having had several successes the British
general had become too daring and had ventured too far to the front. By
means of counter marches Washington managed to conceal his intentions
from General Clinton very successfully. Cornwallis’ cry for help reached
the British commander too late: “I cannot hold Yorktown for any length
of time. If you cannot relieve me, you may expect the worst.” The
engagement was opened with the combined forces and soon afterward,
October 19, 1781, Cornwallis capitulated. Nearly eight thousand of the
British were taken captive and two hundred cannon were seized. Not a
prisoner was harmed, although it was well known that a short time before
this American prisoners had been murdered by the British.

Everywhere the conviction spread that American independence was assured!
Lafayette, who had greatly distinguished himself in leading a storming
column, wrote to Count Maurepas: “The piece is played out, the fifth act
is just ended.” On receiving the news, Franklin said: “Hearty thanks for
the glorious news. The young Hercules has strangled his second serpent
in the cradle!” In England also it was recognized more and more that
“the colonies cannot again be brought under our dominion!” A new
ministry took the reins, negotiations were begun, and at last, on
September 3, 1783, peace was formally declared between Great Britain and
the American Republic, whose independence was thereby recognized.

                              Chapter XVI
                   Washington’s Farewell to the Army

America was free. It had won its freedom by an heroic struggle. And now
came the task of making a wise use of this freedom. One who had
contemplated the character of the American people, as it had revealed
itself during the preliminaries to the war and during its progress, must
have said to himself: “A circumspect and therefore secure procedure in
the affairs of the new government is to be expected from a people of
such character!” And yet, immediately after the conclusion of peace, the
republic was in great danger. The nucleus of the army consisted of men
who for years had been weaned from the occupations of peace. Congress
had granted them a bonus of several years’ pay, but after that the
prospect remained of their being obliged to return to their former
occupations. This did not suit them. They had had an opportunity of
comparing their position with that of the French soldiers with whom they
had fought side by side. In the French army the officers were in great
part young nobles, to whom the profession of arms was a sort of
charitable institution and haven of refuge. What a contrast between
these gold-embroidered marquises, counts, and cadets and the plainly
dressed officers of the American army. In their outward appearance the
American officers could not even compare with the common French
soldiery, the spruce musketeers and grenadiers of the French line. Thus
the American soldiers, thinking more of their own advantage and position
than of the general good, considering that the soldier would be better
off if the country were ruled by a king, conceived the wish that the
free form of government which had arisen during the war should be set
aside and a monarchical form substituted for it. If this had been the
general demand of the country, there would have been nothing to be said
against it. The discussion as to whether the republican or monarchic
form of government is the better is an idle one. Nations have lived
happily under one as well as the other. The happiness of a people does
not depend on a particular form of government so much as on the respect
for law and on the self-sacrificing devotion of individuals to the
welfare of the State. The wish for a monarchy proceeded only from the
selfish desires of one class. Of course if they wished to carry out
their plan, it was necessary to fix upon some prominent man, and who
else should this be but Washington? A reputable officer, Colonel Lewis
Nicola, was appointed to notify the commander-in-chief of the wishes of
the army. He did this very tactfully in a letter. A constitution with a
king at the head, he said, was the best form of government for America.
Washington was requested to work toward this end, taking at first a more
modest title and later calling himself king.

For many a man in the General’s position this would have been a
temptation impossible to resist. With a consenting nod, the army would
have proclaimed the commander-in-chief king. If the army had made him
king, to be sure, he would then have been obliged to come to their
terms. There is no doubt that had Washington obeyed that voice his fame
would have been sullied for all time. The majority would have been
coerced for the sole purpose of ministering to the selfishness of the
minority. Foundation principles expressing the will of the majority had
already been formulated during the terrible struggle and were sealed
with the heart’s blood of the nation, and in this constitution a crown
had no place. Frankly considered, what was now proposed to Washington
was that he should make himself guilty of treason to the people. The
most zealous fighter against the destruction of constitutional
government was expected to commit this detestable crime.

As the witches had shown Macbeth a golden circlet, so now Washington was
tempted with a sparkling crown. Ah! but he was not a Macbeth. Ambitious
greed held no place in his great and pure soul. “This will I give you,
if you will sin; the greatness of your fortunes shall be worthy of the
greatness of the crime!” Thus, though disguised in innocent form, read
the words of the venomous old serpent of ambition, the liar, the
destroyer of human happiness. Not for a moment did Washington allow
himself to become entangled in the web of temptation. He immediately
sent the following answer to the colonel: “With a mixture of great
surprise and astonishment, I have read with attention the sentiments you
have submitted to my perusal. Be assured, sir, no occurrence in the
course of this war has given me more painful sensations than your
information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have
expressed, and which I must view with abhorrence and reprehend with
severity. For the present the communication of them will rest in my own
bosom, unless some further agitation of the matter shall make a
disclosure necessary. I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my
conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems
big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not
deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person
to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice
to my own feelings, I must add that no man possesses a more serious wish
to see ample justice done to the army than I do; and as far as my power
and influence, in a constitutional way, extend, they shall be employed
to the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any
occasion. Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your
country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish
these thoughts from your mind and never communicate, as from yourself or
any one else, a sentiment of the like nature.”

In the same spirit he took his farewell of the army in announcing the
declaration of peace. After he had recalled the heroic deeds which they
had done on the battlefield, he paid his tribute to them for the manner
in which they had discarded all narrow provincial prejudices, made up,
as they were, of the greatest variety of elements, and had become a
harmonious body, a patriotic brotherhood. He urged them to maintain in
times of peace the reputation which they had won; that his friends
should not forget that thrift, wisdom, and industry, the virtues of the
citizen in private life, were not less valuable than the brilliant
qualities of courage, endurance, and initiative in war; that officers
and men should live amicably with the other citizens and strive with all
their might to preserve and strengthen the government of the United
States. If this should not be done, the honor and dignity of the nation
would be lost forever.

He took particular leave of his officers at a banquet. Taking his glass
of wine in his hand he said: “With a heart full of love and gratitude, I
now take leave of you, most devoutly wishing that your latter days may
be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and
honorable.” After lifting the wine to his lips and drinking a farewell
benediction, he added, while his voice trembled with emotion: “I cannot
come to each of you to take my leave, but shall be obliged if each of
you will come and take me by the hand.” With deep emotion General Knox,
who stood nearest to the General, went to him and held out his trembling
hand. Overcome by his feelings, Washington could not speak a word and
could only embrace the General affectionately. The other officers
followed and not an eye remained dry.

There had been some men in Congress who, considering the ominous
examples in history, had not been free of anxiety lest Washington might
not easily relinquish his powerful position after peace had been won.
They were now reassured. At a solemn session of Congress he laid down
his office. In the address which he gave on this occasion he said, among
other things: “Happy in the confirmation of our independence and
sovereignty and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States
of becoming a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the
appointment I accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to
accomplish so arduous a task, which, however, was superseded by a
confidence in the rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme
power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven. The successful
termination of the war has verified the most sanguine expectations; and
my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I
have received from my countrymen, increases with every view of the
momentous contest.” In closing he said: “I consider it as an
indispensable duty to close this last 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 so long acted, I here offer my
commission and take my leave of all the employments of public life.”

Washington then handed his marshal’s staff to the president. The
president replied to the address, and said, among other things: “Having
defended the standard of liberty in this new world; having taught a
lesson useful to those who inflict and to those who feel oppression, you
retire from the great theatre of action with the blessings of your
fellow citizens. But the glory of your virtues will not terminate with
your military command. It will continue to animate remotest ages. We
join you in commending the interests of our dearest country to the
protection of Almighty God, beseeching Him to dispose the hearts and
minds of its citizens to improve the opportunity afforded them of
becoming a happy and respectable nation!”

Before his departure Washington sent a letter to General Steuben, in
which he cordially acknowledged the debt which America owed to him and
his German countrymen for the effective assistance rendered in the work
of freeing the colonies, and he added that Steuben might consider him a
true friend and be assured that if there should be any opportunity of
giving practical proof of this friendship, he should not fail to do so.

Washington refused any remuneration and accepted only compensation for
the expenses and outlay which he had incurred, presenting an account
which contained the smallest details of his expenses.

Then this great, wise, and good man returned to his country seat at
Mount Vernon to pass the rest of his life in quiet retirement. His
manner of life there is best shown by a letter which he wrote to
Lafayette: “At length I am become a private citizen, 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 hopes of catching a gracious smile, can have very little
conception. 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.”

Hospitality was one of the principal virtues practised at Mount Vernon.
“A glass of wine and a piece of mutton are always to be had,” wrote
Washington to Lafayette. “Whoever is satisfied with these will always be
welcome; if he expects more he will be disappointed.”

Private persons as well as the government had vainly tried to induce
Washington to accept a reward for his services. A stock company which
had been formed, on Washington’s advice, to make two rivers navigable,
received the approval of Congress for its work. The opportunity was
seized as a new means of rewarding him, for he was responsible for the
drawing up of the well-considered plan. The board of directors
determined to turn over to him 150 shares at 100 pounds sterling each.
The presentation was made in such a way that Washington feared that a
refusal to accept might be construed as a lack of respect. Therefore he
accepted the shares, adding, however, that he intended to use them for
the public welfare. And in his will we read that he set aside that sum
for the building of a university in the central part of the United

               [Illustration: _WASHINGTON AS PROPRIETOR_]

                              Chapter XVI
                               Last Days

Washington had enjoyed the pleasures of retirement on his estate for
four years when his country again claimed his services for the general
good and he was unanimously elected President of the United States. He
had misgivings as to his ability to fulfil the duties of the highest
office in the government. His success in the military field, he argued,
did not guarantee that he was capable of becoming a wise administrator.
The people, however, thought otherwise. In the countless decrees and
orders which Washington had issued during the long period of the war,
the great statesman had been apparent as well as the great general. And
especially at the moment when the constitution, which had been amended
in the meanwhile, was to receive its first trial, every one felt that no
hand could hold the rudder of State so securely as Washington’s. His
friends urged him to sacrifice his love of private life once more for
his country. He hesitatingly accepted. “To-day,” he writes in his diary
on April 16, 1789, “I bade farewell to private life and domestic
felicity. I am so overwhelmed with care and painful emotion that words
fail me to express it. I have set out on the journey to New York to obey
the call of my country with the best intentions to serve her in every
possible way, but with poor prospect of fulfilling her expectations.”

His journey resembled a triumphal procession. The inhabitants of Trenton
paid him particular honors, in remembrance of his memorable crossing of
the Delaware twelve years previously. Triumphal arches were erected on
the bridge, bearing appropriate inscriptions, and little girls in white
dresses strewed the path which the “choice of the people” was to tread
with flowers. A gayly decorated vessel, guided by thirteen pilots in the
name of the thirteen States, brought him into New York Harbor. The love
of the people touched and encouraged him, but did not suffice to quite
banish the burden of care which the contemplation of all the
difficulties which were awaiting him had laid upon him. It was to be
read in his face and in his whole bearing. He said in his inaugural

“It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my
fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the
Universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose
providential aids can supply every human defect that His benediction may
consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United
States, a government instituted by themselves for these essential
purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration
to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In
tendering this homage to the great Author of every public and private
good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments, not less than
my own, nor those of my fellow citizens at large less than either. No
people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which
conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States.”
The close says: “There is no truth more thoroughly established than that
there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union
between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the
genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards
of the public prosperity and felicity. Since we ought to be no less
persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on
a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which
Heaven itself has ordained, and since the preservation of the sacred
fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government
are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the
experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

He wrote to his friend Lafayette: “Harmony, honesty, industry, and
temperance are the qualities to make us a great and happy people. This
path to the attainment of the people’s happiness is as plain and
straight as a ray of light.” He would not accept a salary even as
President. He considered it a great boon to be in a position to render
services to the State without remuneration. With grave earnestness he
took up the labors of his position, in order to master the difficulties
that awaited him on all sides. A heavy load of debt was hanging over the
country, commerce and trade needed encouragement, and the frontiers
suffered much from the depredations of Indian tribes. With the outbreak
of the French revolution new difficulties arose. Washington considered
the events in Paris a natural consequence of previous misgovernment, but
in spite of his esteem for certain Frenchmen, he soon felt that the
moral earnestness essential for the attainment of true liberty was
lacking among the masses of the French people. His prophetic soul
already foresaw what the end of the movement would be. He pointed out
the erratic qualities of the French people and the bloody acts of
revenge of which they were guilty and continued: “There certainly are
reefs and sand-bars enough on which the Ship of State may be wrecked,
and in this case a much more disastrous despotism will result from the
movement than that from which the people have suffered before.” Whatever
was sound in the French revolution was brought back by the French who
had fought in America. Unfortunately the sound ideas, as we know, did
not long prevail, and with the reaction came corresponding bestial
degeneration. The fate which overtook King Louis the Sixteenth moved
Washington profoundly; never in his life, those close to him have told
us, had he been so crushed and bowed down as when the news of Louis’
execution was received. The horrors in France had their echoes in
America; clubs were formed which presented the claims of the French
Jacobins. A picture was published by them with the inscription,
“Washington’s Funeral,” in which he was represented standing under the
guillotine; they did not conceal their intention of ignoring the
President and the Constitution. Washington stood firm amidst party
storms, as he had once stood on the Delaware when storm and ice
threatened to destroy his bark. This firmness and the further
development of the bloody drama in France caused the extreme party in
America gradually to lose its influence with the people and finally to

Washington was elected President for the second time in 1793. The eight
years of his administration were very prosperous ones. His
interpretation and administration of the Constitution have always been
considered the standard, among the best of his successors, for their
actions. At the end of his second term, when Washington learned that the
people really intended to confer on him for the third time the highest
honor in the land, he begged his fellow citizens to put the rudder of
State into younger hands, and in an official declaration he decisively
declined a reëlection. He also took leave of the nation, at the same
time giving them some golden words of advice: “Of all the dispositions
and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are
indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of
patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human
happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The
mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to
cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with
private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the
security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of
religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of
investigation in courts of justice; let us with caution indulge the
supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever
may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of
peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that
national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

In closing he said: “Though, in reviewing the incidents of my
administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am,
nevertheless, too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I
may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently
beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may
tend. I shall also carry with me the hope that my country will never
cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of
my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of
incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion as myself must soon
be to the mansions of rest.”

For a year and a half thereafter he led a life of tranquil happiness on
his estate in the country. On the twelfth of December, 1799, during a
ride, he was overtaken by a storm and took a severe cold. All treatment
was unavailing. His breathing became very painful. He said to the
doctor, with unclouded glance and in a calm voice, “Doctor, I die hard,
but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should
not survive it. My breath cannot last long.” In the evening, at ten
o’clock, he sank to eternal rest.

His death took place December 14, 1799, in his sixty-eighth year. In his
will Washington freed his slaves, providing at the same time for the old
and infirm among them, and setting aside large sums for the founding of
a university and of a free school for poor children.

                             Chapter XVIII
                          Blest be His Memory

John Marshall announced the death of Washington in the House of
Representatives in a trembling voice. The emotion with which this news
was received was so profound that the session had to be suspended. In
conformity with his expressed desire, the deceased was buried on the
grounds of his estate, without pomp and without any funeral oration.
Members of the order of Free Masons, whose noble principles he had
always practised during his lifetime, silently cast a shower of white
roses into his grave.

In the House of Representatives the speaker’s chair was hung with black
and the members wore mourning during the remainder of the session. The
above-mentioned John Marshall pronounced a touching eulogy on Washington
and made a proposal which was unanimously seconded. This was that a
committee should be named to consider how best to honor the memory of
Washington, the man who was “first in war, first in peace, and first in
the hearts of his countrymen.”

What was the secret of the mysterious power in Washington which enhanced
all his talents and gave him control over men and events? It was reason
ruling his passions, his modest deference to the judgment of others, his
just consideration of the rights and claims of others, his deliberation
in promises and undertakings, the deep earnestness of his nature, the
respect-compelling firmness of his actions, his strong sense of duty in
carrying out his work, the high regard for the voice of conscience which
he exacted of himself even in his youth. Washington had a horror of
gambling, which he called the source of all vice, the destroyer of
character and health, the child of greed, the brother of injustice, the
father of depravity. He looked upon war only as a means toward peace,
for his sole object was the welfare of the people. His triumphs in war
were in themselves but as dross to him if they had not guaranteed
liberty and the assured development of the prosperity of the country. In
making appointments to positions of trust he never allowed
considerations of friendship or relationship to influence him, and even
his opponents admitted that no man’s sense of justice in this regard was
more unbending than his. How touching it is to note that at every stage
of his glorious career the longing prevailed to return to the
employments of country life, from the field of war to the shade of his
own vine and fig tree on the banks of the Potomac, to escape from the
publicity of official life to the happy domestic circle, to withdraw
into the sweet retirement of an inner life which gave him a happiness of
which the ambitious soldier and the anxious statesman know nothing. The
Christian world can scarcely find, in the life of a public man, another
example of such religious conviction, such humility, and such a deep and
sincere purpose to emulate Christ’s example in justice, charity,
brotherly love, moderation, and equanimity of soul. And it was not only
his admirers who conceded to him the highest attributes of wisdom,
moderation, and justice in intellectual, ethical, and political fields,
but also his opponents and enemies. In examining his life, wherever we
look, the absolute sincerity of the man’s nature is apparent. In every
direction the study of his life gives us the most fruitful incentives
and examples. It teaches a lesson to those who doubt the real power of
virtue. His sterling worth eclipses all false brilliancy and his life
has given us a higher standard in our judgment of the great characters
in history, a standard which had almost been lost during centuries of
despotism. The dazzling events and brilliant deeds in the life of a
Napoleon lowered the standard for a time, but were not able to destroy


The following is a chronological statement of the principal events
connected with this narrative:

    1732       Birth of Washington.
    1748-51    Surveyor.
    1751       Adjutant of Virginia troops.
    1753       Commander of a military district.
    1753-54    Mission to French authorities.
    1754       Appointed lieutenant-colonel.
    1755       Braddock’s defeat.
    1758       Reduction of Fort Duquesne.
    1759       Marriage.
    1775       Delegate to Continental Congress.
    1775       Appointed commander-in-chief.
    1776       British evacuate Boston.
    1776       American defeat, Long Island.
    1777       Victory of Princeton.
    1777       Defeat at Germantown.
    1778       Drawn battle at Monmouth.
    1781       Surrender of Cornwallis.
    1783       Resigned his commission.
    1787       President of Constitutional Convention.
    1789       Elected President of the United States.
    1793       Reëlected President of the United States.
    1796       Farewell address to the people.
    1799       Death.

                     LIFE STORIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

                    _Translated from the German by_
                            GEORGE P. UPTON

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Transcriber’s note:

--Silently corrected obious typographical errors

--Left non-standard spellings and dialect unchanged.

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