Page images
PDF
EPUB

HIS PRIVATE LIFE.

475

“I feel,” he writes, “as a wearied traveller must do, who, after treading many a painful step with a beavy burden on his shoulders, is eased of the latter, having reached the haven to which all the former were directed, and from his house-top is looking back and tracing with an eager eye the meanders by which he escaped the quicksands and mires which lay in his way, and into which none but the all-powerful Guide and Dispenser of human events could have prevented his falling.

“I have become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, and, under the shadow of my own vine and my own fig-tree, from the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments, of which the soldier, who is ever in pursuit of fame; the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries, as if this globe was insufficient for us all; and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his prince, in the hope of catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception. I have not only retired from all public employments, but am retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life with heartfelt satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order of my march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my fathers.”

Agriculture, which had always been the favourite employment of Washington, was now resumed with increasing delight. The energies of his active mind were devoted to this first and most useful art. No improvements in the construction of farming utensils, no valuable experiments in husbandry, escaped his attention. He saw, with regret, the miserable system of cultivation which prevailed too generally in his native country, and wished to introduce a better. With this view, he engaged in a correspondence with some of the distinguished agriculturists in Great Britain, particularly the celebrated Arthur Young. He traced the different states of agriculture in the two countries, in a great degree, to the following obvious principles. In Great Britain, land was dear, and labour cheap. In America, the reverse took place, to such a degree that manuring land was comparatively neglected, on the mistaken, short-sighted idea, that it was cheaper to clear and cultivate new fields, than to improve and repair such as were old. To this radical error, which led to idleness and a vagabond, dispersed population, he opposed the whole weight of his influence. His example and recommendations tended to revolutionize the agriculture of his country, as his labour had revolutionized its government.

The extension of inland navigation occupied much of Washington's attention, at this period of exemption from public cares. Soon after peace was proclaimed, he made a tour as far west as Pittsburgh, and also traversed the western parts of New England and New York, and examined for himself the difficulties of bringing the trade of the west to different points on the Atlantic. Possessed of an accurate knowledge of the subject, he corresponded with the different governors of the States, and other influential characters. To them he suggested the propriety of making, by public authority, an appointment of commissioners of integrity and ability, whose duty it should be, after accurate examination, to ascertain the nearest and best portages between such of the eastern and western rivers as headed near to each other, though they ran in opposite directions; and also to trace the rivers west of the Ohio to their sources and mouths, as they respectively emptied either into the Ohio, or the lakes of Canada, and to make an accurate map of the whole, with observations on the impediments to be overcome, and the advantages to be acquired on the completion of the work.

The views of Washington in advocating the extension of inland navigation were grand and magnificent. He considered it as an effectual means of cementing the union of the States. In his letter to the governor of Virginia, he observed: “I need not remark to you, sir, that the flanks and rear of the United States are possessed by other powers, and formidable ones too; nor need I press the necessity of applying the cement of interest to bind all parts of the Union together by indissoluble bonds, especially of binding that part of it which lies immediately west of us, to the Middle States. For what ties, let me ask, should we have upon those people; how entirely unconnected with them shall we be, and what troubles may we not apprehend, if the Spaniards on their right, and Great Britain on their left, instead of throwing impediments in their way as they do now, should hold out lures for their trade and alliance ? When they get strength, which will be sooner than most people conceive, what will be the consequence of their having formed close commercial connections with both or either of those powers? It needs not, in my opinion, the gift of prophecy to foretell." After stating the same thing to a member of Congress, he proceeds: “It may be asked, how we are to prevent this? Happily for us, the way is plain. Our immediate interests, as well as remote political advantages, point to it, whilst a combination of circumstances

HIS PRIVATE LIFE.

477

render the present time more favourable than any other to accomplish it. Extend the inland navigation of the eastern waters; communicate them as near as possible with those which run westward ; open these to the Ohio; open also such as extend from the Ohio towards Lake Erie ; and we shall not only draw the produce of the western settlers, but the peltry and fur trade of the lakes also, to our ports; thus adding an immense increase to our exports, and binding those people to us by a chain which never can be broken."

The Virginia legislature acted on the recommendation of General Washington to the extent of his wishes; and in consequence thereof, works of the greatest utility have been nearly accomplished. They went one step farther, and by a legislative act, vested in him, at the expense of the state, one hundred and fifty shares in the navigation of the rivers Potomac and James. The act for this purpose was introduced with the following preamble: “Whereas, it is the desire of the representatives of this Commonwealth to embrace every suitable occasion of testifying their sense of the unexampled merits of George Washington, Esq., towards his country; and it is their wish in particular that those great works for its improvement, which, both as springing from the liberty which he has been so instrumental in establishing, and as encouraged by his patronage, will be durable monuments of his glory, may be made monuments also of the gratitude of his country: Be it enacted,” &c.

To the friend who conveyed to Washington the first intelligence of this bill, he replied :

“ It is not easy for me to decide, by which my mind was most affected, upon the receipt of your letter of the 6th instant, surprise or gratitude. Both were greater than I had words to express, The attention and good wishes which the Assembly have evidenced by their act for vesting in me one hundred and fifty shares in the navigation of the rivers Potomac and James is more than mere compliment. There is an unequivocal and substantial meaning annexed. But, believe me, sir, no circumstance has happened since I left the walks of public life which has so much embarrassed me. On the one hand, I consider this act as a noble and unequivocal proof of the good opinion, the affection and disposition of my country to serve me; and I should be hurt, if, by declining the acceptance of it, my refusal should be construed into disrespect, or the smallest slight upon the generous intention of the legislature, or that an ostentatious display of disinterestedness or public virtue was the source of refusal.

[ocr errors]

« On the other hand, it is really my wish to have my mind and my actions, which are the result of reflection, as free and independent as the air, that I may be more at liberty to express my sentiments, and, if necessary, to suggest what may occur to me, under the fullest conviction, that although my judgment may be arraigned, there will be no suspicion that sinister motives had the smallest influence in the suggestion. Not content, then, with the bare consciousness of my having, in all this navigation business, acted upon the clearest conviction of the political importance of the measure, I would wish that every individual who may hear that

I it was a favourite plan of mine, may know also that I had no other motive for promoting it than the advantage of which I conceived it would be productive to the Union at large, and to this state in particular, by cementing the eastern and western territory together; at the same time that it will give vigour to, and increase our commerce, and be a convenience to our citizens.

- How would this matter be viewed, then, by the eye of the world, and what opinion would be formed, when it comes to be related that G-W- -n exerted himself to effect this work, and that GW W- -n has received twenty thousand dollars, and five thousand pounds sterling of the public money as an interest therein ? Would not this (if I am entitled to any merit for the part I have performed, and without it there is no foundation for the act) deprive me of the principal thing which is laudable in my conduct ? Would it not in some respects be considered in the same light as a pension? And would not the apprehensions of this induce me to offer my sentiments in future with the more reluctance? In a word, under whatever pretence, and however customary these gratuities may be in other countries, should I not thenceforward be considered as a dependent ? One moment's thought of which would give me more pain than I should receive pleasure from the product of all the tolls, was every farthing of them vested in me.”

To the governor of the state, on receiving from him an official copy of the aforesaid act, Washington replied as follows:

“ Your excellency having been pleased to transmit me a copy of the act appropriating to my benefit certain shares in the companies for opening the navigation of James and Potomac rivers ; I take the liberty of returning, to the General Assembly, through your hands, the profound, and grateful acknowledgments inspired by so signal a mark of their beneficent intentions towards me. I beg you, sir, to assure them, that I am filled, on this occasion,

REFUSAL OF A GIFT FROM VIRGINIA.

479

with every

sentiment which can flow from a heart warm with love to my country, sensible to every token of its approbation and affection, and solicitous to testify, in every instance, a respectful submission to its wishes.

“ With these sentiments in my bosom, I need not dwell on the anxiety I feel, in being obliged, in this instance, to decline a favour which is rendered no less flattering by the manner in which it is conveyed than it is affectionate in itself. In explaining this, I pass over a comparison of my endeavours in the public service, with the many honourable testimonies of approbation which have already so far overrated and overpaid them; reciting one consideration only, which supersedes the necessity of recurring to every other.

- When I was first called to the station with which I was honoured during the late conflict for our liberties, to the diffidence which I had so many reasons to feel in accepting it, I thought it my duty to join a firm resolution to shut my hand against every pecuniary recompense. To this resolution I have invariably adhered, and from it (if I had the inclination) I do not consider myself at liberty now to depart.

“Whilst I repeat, therefore, my fervent acknowledgments to the legislature for their very kind sentiments and intentions in my favour, and at the same time beg them to be persuaded, that a remembrance of this singular proof of their goodness towards me will never cease to cherish returns of the warmest affection and gratitude ; I must pray that their act, so far as it has for its object my personal emolument, may not have its effect; but if it should please the General Assembly to permit me to turn the destination of the fund vested in me, from my private emolument to objects of a public nature, it will be my study in selecting these, to prove the sincerity of my gratitude for the honour conferred upon me, by preferring such as may appear most subservient to the enlightened and patriotic views of the legislature.”

The wishes suggested in this letter were sanctioned by the legislature ; and, at a subsequent time, the trust was executed by conveying the shares to the use of a seminary of learning in the vicinity of each river.

Near the close of the revolutionary war, the officers of the American army, with a view of perpetuating their friendships, formed themselves into a society, to be named after the famous Roman patriot, Cincinnatus. At the head of their society General Washington was placed. By the rules of their institution, the honours

« PreviousContinue »