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Administration of Washington. First Term.
HE impotence of the general government under the Articles of Confederation, and the dilatory and vexatious manner in which its business was of necessity conducted, had produced a great want of punctuality among the members of Congress. Although the new Constitution, which had been the theme of popular discussion ever since its promulgation, was appointed to go into operation on the 4th of March, 1787, a House of Representatives could not be formed until the 1st of April, nor a Senate until the 6th of that month. The delay thus produced was compared, by General Washington himself, to a reprieve, so great was the reluctance which he felt to enter upon his new dignity. Writing, in confidence, to General Knox, he says:
My movements to the chair of government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution; so unwilling am I, in the evening of life, nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities, and inclination, which are necessary to manage the helm. I am sensible that I am embarking the voice of the people, and a good name of my own on this voyage; but what returns will be made for them Heaven alone can foretell. Integrity and firmness are all I can promise; these, be the voyage long or short, shall never forsake me, although I may be deserted by all men; for, of the consolations which are to be derived from these, under any circumstances, the world cannot deprive me."
Similar sentiments were expressed in letters written about this period to General Wayne, General Schuyler, Mr. Hamilton, and others.
Twelve senators being in attendance, on the 6th of April, John Langdon, of New Hampshire, was elected president of that body, for the purpose of opening and counting the votes for President of the United States. A message, announcing the presence of a quorum, and the election of a temporary president, was then sent to the House of Representatives. That body repaired to the Senate chamber, and the votes of the electoral colleges were examined in the presence of both houses; Mr. Patterson, of New Jersey, on the part of the Senate, and Mr. Heister, of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Parker, of Virginia, on the part of the House, acting as tellers. The result, as declared by the president of the Senate, was, that George Washington was unanimously elected President, and John Adams, Vice-president of the United States. In compliance with a resolution of the House, the Senate directed that the persons elected be notified thereof. In the course of the few following days, the necessary preparations for the reception of the President and the commencement of his administration were made by the joint committee of the two houses; and Mr. Osgood, the proprietor of the house lately occupied by the president of Congress, was engaged in putting that house and its furniture in proper condition for the residence and use of the President of the United States. His temporary accommodation, at the expense of the United States, was further provided for by a joint resolution of both houses.*
Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress,
officially announced his election to the chief magistracy of the Union to General Washington, at Mount Vernon, on the 14th of April, 1789. Having previously determined upon the course which he would pursue, in the event of the choice of his fellow-citizens falling upon him, he complied with their wishes, and prepared to set out immediately for the seat of government. Two days after receiving notice of his election, he « bade adieu,” in the words of his diary, "to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity; and with a mind impressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York, in company with Mr. Thomson and Colonel Humphries, with the best disposition to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations." He was met on the road by a number of gentlemen of Alexandria, who had come to invite and escort him to a public dinner in that city. All its inhabitants united to do him honour, and their address, considered as the production of the minds and hearts of his neighbours and friends, deserves a place in every memoir of his life.
"Again," said they, your country commands your care. Obedient to its wishes, unmindful of your ease, we see you again relinquishing the bliss of retirement; and this, too, at a period of life when nature itself seems to authorize a preference of repose!
"Not to extol your glory as a soldier; not to pour forth our gratitude for past services; not to acknowledge the justice of the unexampled honour which has been conferred upon you by the spontaneous and unanimous suffrages of three millions of freemen in your election to the supreme magistracy; nor to admire the patriotism which directs your conduct, do your neighbours and friends now address you. Themes less splendid but more endearing impress our minds. The first and best of citizens must leave us our aged must lose their ornament; our youth their model; our agriculture its improver; our commerce its friend; our infant academy its protector; our poor their benefactor; and the interior navigation of the Potomac (an event replete with the most extensive utility, already, by your unremitted exertions, brought into partial use) its institutor and promoter.
"Farewell! Go! and make a grateful people happy; a people who will be doubly grateful when they contemplate this recent sacrifice for their interest.
"To that Being who maketh and unmaketh at his will, we commend you, and after the accomplishment of the arduous business
o which you are called, may he restore to us again the best of men, and the most beloved fellow-citizen."
General Washington returned an answer to this address, expressing the emotions he felt at leaving them, and his desire that they might meet happily again, as they had done after the long and distressing separation occasioned by the war. In the afternoon of the same day, he was escorted by the people to Georgetown, where a delegation from Maryland received him. Everywhere his journey was a continued scene of public rejoicing and congratulation. At Philadelphia, the bridge over which he crossed the Schuylkill was decorated by a laurel shrubbery on each side, and a triumphal arch of laurel was erected at each end. The road was blocked up by masses of people, eager to catch a sight of their favourite, and at night the whole city was illuminated. The roaring of cannon at each successive town he visited, gave notice of his approach to the people of the next, and they immediately made ready to receive him. At Trenton, the ladies were prepared to testify, in a novel manner, their grateful sense of the deliverance from the power of a brutal enemy, which he had wrought for them twelve years before. On the bridge over the creek which passes through the town, a triumphal arch was erected, highly ornamented with laurels and flowers; and supported by thirteen pillars, each entwined with evergreen. In large gilt letters, on the front of the arch, was the inscription
"THE DEFENDER OF THE MOTHERS WILL BE THE PROTECTOR OF THE
On another portion of the arch were conspicuously displayed the dates of the two memorable occasions in which the valour of the commander-in-chief was displayed at Trenton. Here he was met by a party of matrons leading their daughters, clothed in white, and carrying baskets of flowers in their hands.
The latter sang,
with great effect, the following ode, strewing their flowers before him when they reached the last line :
"Welcome mighty chief, once more
Welcome to this grateful shore;
Aims again the fatal blow,
Aims at THEE, the fatal blow.
"Virgins fair and matrons grave,
At Brunswick, the governor of New Jersey met him and accompanied him to Elizabethtown Point, the committee of Congress also forming a part of the great military parade which escorted him thither. The governor and authorities of New Jersey having taken leave of him, he embarked with the deputation from Congress, in a barge manned by thirteen branch pilots, which had been prepared by the citizens of New York. From this he landed on the 23d of April at Murray's Wharf, which had been magnificently prepared for that purpose. There, the governor of New York received him and conducted him with military honours amid an immense concourse of people, to the apartments prepared for him. A general illumination at night followed this day of extravagant joy. Yet all these public testimonials of his popularity failed to divert the attention of General Washington from the arduous and fearful duties and responsibilities he was about to assume. His solid judgment was neither perverted nor corrupted thereby, and the proofs of confidence thus afforded, while they certainly gave him reason for present rejoicing, filled him with anxieties for the future. In his jour nal, speaking of the escort which accompanied him from Elizabethtown Point to New York, he says: "The display of boats which attended and joined on this occasion, some with vocal and others with instrumental music on board, the decorations of the ships, the roar of cannon, and the loud acclamations of the people, which rent the air as I passed along the wharves, filled my mind with sensations as painful (contemplating the reverse of this scene, which may be the case after all my labours to do good) as they were pleasing."
Two days before the arrival of General Washington, Mr. Adams, having arrived in New York, was inducted into the chair of the vice-president. Upon taking his seat, he addressed the Senate in a neat speech, in which he alluded to the formation of the new government and character of the chief magistrate elect, in the following terms:
"It is with satisfaction that I congratulate the people of America on the formation of a national constitution, and the fair prospect of a consistent administration of a government of laws; on the acquisition of a House of Representatives chosen by themselves, of a Senate thus composed by their own state legislatures; and on the prospect of an executive authority in the hands of one whose portrait I shall not presume to draw. Were I blessed with powers to do justice to his character, it would be impossible to increase the confidence or affection of his country, or make the smallest addition