Whoever would understand the character of Washington, in all its compass and grandeur, must learn it from his own writings, and from a complete history of his country during the long period in which he was the most prominent actor.
My brave fellows, let no sensation of satisfaction for the triumphs you have gained induce you to insult your fallen enemy. Let no shouting, no clamorous huzzaing increase their mortification. It is sufficient for us that we witness their humiliation. Posterity will huzza for us.
Where is the man to be found who wishes to remain indebted for the defense of his own person and property to the exertions, the bravery, and the blood of others, without making one generous effort to repay the debt of honor and gratitude?
If there was the same propensity in mankind for investigating the motives, as there is for censuring the conduct, of public characters, it would be found that the censure so freely bestowed is oftentimes unmerited and uncharitable.
More than all, and above all, Washington was master of himself. If there be one quality more than another in his character which may exercise a useful control over the men of the present hour, it is the total disregard of self when in the most elevated positions for influence and example.
God be thanked that in General Washington we have the picture of one such man, set where it cannot be hid, in the glorious frame of our countrys early history, as an example to the Americans of to-day! May it find no small number who, living by the same great principles, may in no long time work in our land a moral revolutiona regeneration into a purer, sweeter, and nobler life.
He stands the noblest leader who ever was entrusted with his countrys life. His patience under provocation, his calmness in danger, and lofty courage when all others despaired, his prudent delays when delay was best, and his quick and resistless blows when action was possible, his magnanimity to defamers and generosity to his foes, his ambition for his country and unselfishness for himself, his sole desire of freedom and independence for America, and his only wish to return after victory to private life, have all combined to make him, by the unanimous judgment of the world, the foremost figure of history.
It must, indeed, create astonishment that, placed in circumstances so critical, and filling a station so conspicuous, the character of Washington should not once have been called in question; that he should, in no instance, have been accused either of improper insolence or of mean submission, in his transactions with foreign nations. It has been reserved for him to run the race of glory without experiencing the smallest interruption to the brilliancy of his career. The breath of censure has not dared to impeach the purity of his conduct, nor the eye of envy to raise its malignant glance to the elevation of his virtues. Such has been the transcendent merit and the unparalleled fate of this illustrious man!
Charles James Fox in the British Parliament, 1794.
His genius, it is true, was of a peculiar kind; the genius of character, of thought, and the objects of thought solidified and concentrated into active faculty. He belongs to that rare class of menrare as Homers and Miltons, rare as Platos and Newtonswho have impressed their characters upon nations without pampering national vices. Such men have natures broad enough to include all the facts of a peoples practical life, and deep enough to discern the spiritual laws which underlie, animate, and govern those facts.
But perhaps he excels all the great men that ever lived in the steadiness of his adherence to his maxims of life, and in the uniformity of his conduct to the same maxims. These maxims, though wise, were yet not so remarkable for their wisdom as for their authority over his life; for if there were any errors in his judgment (and he discovered as few as any man), we know of no blemishes in his virtue. He was the patriot without reproach; he loved his country enough to hold his success in serving it an ample recompense. Thus far self-love and love of country coincided; but when his country needed sacrifices few could, or perhaps would, be willing to make, he did not even hesitate. This was virtue in its most exalted character.
The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practise of profane cursing and swearing, a vice hitherto little known in an American army, is growing into fashion. He hopes the officers will, by example as well as influence, endeavor to check it, and that both they and the men will reflect that we can have little hope of the blessing of heaven on our arms, if we insult it by our impiety and folly. Added to this, it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense and character detests and despises it.
A true son of nature was George Washingtonof nature in her brightest intelligence and noblest mold; and the difficulty, if such there be, in comprehending him, is only that of reviewing from a single standpoint the vast procession of those civil and military achievements which filled nearly half a century of his life, and in realizing the magnitude of those qualities which were requisite to their performancethe difficulty of fashioning in our minds a pedestal broad enough to bear the towering figure, whose greatness is diminished by nothing but the perfection of its proportions.
Grand and manifold as were its phases, there is yet no difficulty in understanding the character of Washington. He was no Veiled Prophet. He never acted a part. Simple, natural, and unaffected, his life lies before usa fair and open manuscript. He disdained the arts which wrap power in mystery in order to magnify it. He practised the profound diplomacy of truthful speechthe consummate tact of direct attention. Looking ever to the All-Wise Disposer of events, he relied on that Providence which helps men by giving them high hearts and hopes to help themselves with the means which their Creator has put at their service. There was no infirmity in his conduct over which charity must fling its veil; no taint of selfishness from which purity averts her gaze; no dark recess of intrigue that must be lit up with colored panegyric; no subterranean passage to be trod in trembling, lest there be stirred the ghost of a buried crime.
Conquerors who have stretched your scepters over boundless territories; founders of empires who have held your dominions in the reign of law; reformers who have cried aloud in the wilderness of oppression; teachers who have striven to cast down false doctrine, heresy, and schism; statesmen whose brains have throbbed with mighty plans for the amelioration of human society; scar-crowned vikings of the sea, illustrious heroes of the land, who have borne the standards of siege and battle, come forth in bright array from your glorious fanes, and would ye be measured by the measure of his stature? Behold you not in him a more illustrious and more venerable presence? Statesmen, soldier, patriot, sage, reformer of creeds, teacher of truth and justice, achiever and preserver of liberty, the first of men, founder and savior of his country, father of his peoplethis is he, solitary and unapproachable in his grandeur! Oh, felicitous Providence that gave to America our Washington!
The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of a brave resistance or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or to die. Our own, our countrys honor, calls upon us for a vigorous and manly exertion; and if we now shamefully fail, we shall become infamous before the whole world. Let us, then, rely on the goodness of our cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions. The eyes of all our countrymen are now upon us; and we shall have their blessings and praises if happily we are the instruments of saving them from the tyranny meditated against them. Let us, therefore, animate and encourage each other, and show the whole world that a freeman contending for liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth. Liberty, property, life, and honor are all at stake. Upon your courage and conduct rest the hopes of our bleeding and insulted country. Our wives, children, and parents expect safety from us only; and they have every reason to believe that heaven will crown with success so just a cause. The enemy will endeavor to intimidate us by show and appearance; but remember they have been repulsed on various occasions by a few brave Americans. Their cause is badtheir men are conscious of it; and, if opposed with firmness and coolness on their first onset, with our advantages of works and knowledge of the ground, the victory is most assuredly ours. Every good soldier will be silent and attentive, wait for orders, and reserve his fire until he is sure of doing execution.
Washingtons Address to the American Troops before the Battle of Long Island, Aug. 27, 1776.
Encompassed by the inviolate seas, stands to-day the American Republic which he foundeda freer, Greater Britainuplifted above the powers and principalities of the earth, even as his monument is uplifted over roof and dome and spire of the multitudinous city. Long live the Republic of Washington! Respected by mankind, beloved by all its sons, long may it be the asylum of the poor and oppressed of all lands and religionslong may it be the citadel of that Liberty which writes beneath the eagles folded wings, We will sell to no man, we will deny to no man, right and justice. Long live the United States of America! Filled with the free, magnanimous spirit, crowned by the wisdom, blessed by the moderation, hovered over by the guardian angel of Washingtons example.