페이지 이미지

to transcendent virtue, and to the Americans more than is due to human nature. They considered us a race of WASHINGTONS, and admitted that nature in America was fruitful only in prodigies. Their books and their travellers, exaggerating and distorting all their representations, assisted to establish the opinion that this is a new world, with a new order of men and things adapted to it; that here we practise industry, amidst the abundance that requires none; that we have morals so refined, that we do not need laws; and though we have them, yet we ought to consider their execution as an insult and a wrong; that we have virtuc without weaknesses, sentiment without passions, and liberty without factions. These illusions, in spite of their absurdity, and perhaps because they are absurd enough to have dominion over the imagination only, have been received by many of the malecontents against the governments of Europe, and induced them to emigrate. Such illusions are too soothing to vanity to be entirely checked in their currency among Americans.

They have been pernicious, as they cherish false ideas of the rights of men and the duties of rulers. They have led the citizens to look for liberty, where it is not; and to consider the government, which is its castle, as its prison.

WASHINGTON retired to Mount Vernon, and the eyes of the world followed him. He left his countrymen to their simplicity and their passions, and their glory soon departed. Europe began to be undeceived, and it seemed for a time, as if, by the acquisition of independence, our citizens were disappointed. The confederation was then the only compact made "to form a perfect union of the states, to establish justice, to ensure the tranquillity, and provide for the security of the nation;" and accordingly, union was a name that still commanded reverence, though not obedience. The system called justice was, in some of the states, iniquity reduced to elementary principles; and the

public tranquillity was such a portentous calm, as rings in deep caverns before the explosion of an earthquake. Most of the states then were in fact, though not in form, unbalanced democracies. Reason, it is true, spoke audibly in their constitutions; passion and prejudice louder in their laws. It is to the honor of Massachusetts, that it is chargeable with little deviation from principles: its adherence to them was one of the causes of a dangerous rebellion. It was scarcely possible that such governments should not be agitated by parties, and that prevailing parties should not be vindictive and unjust. Accordingly, in some of the states, creditors were treated as outlaws; bankrupts were armed with legal authority to be persecutors; and, by the shock of all confidence and faith, society was shaken to its foundations. Liberty we had, but we dreaded its abuse almost as much as its loss; and the wise, who deplored the one, clearly foresaw the other..

The peace of America hung by a thread, and factions were already sharpening their weapons to cut it. The project of three separate empires in America was beginning to be broached, and the progress of licentiousness would have soon rendered her citizens unfit for liberty in either of them. An age of blood and misery would have punished our disunion: but these were not the considerations to deter ambition from its purpose, while there were so many circumstances in our political situation to favor it.

At this awful crisis, which all the wise so much dreaded at the time, yet which appears, on a retrospect, so much more dreadful than their fears; some man was wanting who possessed a commanding power over the popular passions, but over whom those passions had no power. That man was WASH


His name, at the head of such a list of worthies as would reflect honor on any country, had its proper weight with all the enlightened, and with almost all

the well disposed among the less informed citizens, and, blessed be God! the constitution was adopted. Yes, to the eternal honor of America among the nations of the earth, it was adopted, in spite of the obstacles, which, in any other country, and, perhaps, in any other age of this, would have been insurmountable; in spite of the doubts and fears, which well meaning prejudice creates for itself, and which party so artfully inflames into stubbornness; in spite of the vice, which it has subjected to restraint, and which is, therefore, its immortal and implacable foe; in spite of the oligarchies in some of the states, from whom it snatched dominion; it was adopted, and our country enjoys one more invaluable chance for its union and happiness: invaluable! if the retrospect of the dangers we have escaped shall sufficiently inculcate the principles we have so tardily established. Perhaps multitudes are not to be taught by their fears only, without suffering much to deepen the impression; for experience brandishes in her school a whip of scorpions, and teaches nations her summary lessons of wisdom by the scars and wounds of their adversity.

The amendments which have been projected in some of the states show, that, in them at least, these lessons are not well remembered. In a confederacy of states, some powerful, others weak, the weakness of the federal union will, sooner or later, encourage, and will not restrain, the ambition and injustice of the members: the weak can no otherwise be strong or safe, but in the energy of the national government. It is this defect, which the blind jealousy of the weak states not unfrequently contributes to prolong, that has proved fatal to all the confederations that ever existed.

Although it was impossible that such merit as WashINGTON'S should not produce envy, it was scarcely possible that, with such a transcendent reputation, he should have rivals. Accordingly, he was unanimously chosen President of the United States.

As a general and a patriot, the measure of his

glory was already full; there was no fame left for him to excel but his own; and even that task, the mightiest of all his labors, his civil magistracy has accomplished.

No sooner did the new government begin its auspicious course, than order seemed to arise out of confusion. Commerce and industry awoke, and were cheerful at their labors; for credit and confidence awoke with them. Everywhere was the appearance of prosperity; and the only fear was, that its progress was too rapid to consist with the purity and simplicity of ancient manners. The cares and labors of the President were incessant: his exhortations, example and authority, were employed to excite zeal and activity for the public service: able officers were selected, only for their merits; and some of them remarkably distinguished themselves by their successful management of the public business. Government was administered with such integrity, without mystery, and in so prosperous a course, that it seemed to be wholly employed in acts of beneficence. Though it has made many thousand malecontents, it has never, by its rigor or injustice, made one man wretched.

Such was the state of public affairs; and did it not seem perfectly to ensure uninterrupted harmony to the citizens? Did they not, in respect to their government and its administration, possess their whole heart's desire? They had seen and suffered long the want of an efficient constitution; they had freely ratified it; they saw WASHINGTON, their tried friend, the father of his country, invested with its powers; they knew that he could not exceed or betray them, without forfeiting his own reputation. Consider, for a moment, what a reputation it was: such as no man ever before possessed by so clear a title, and in so high a degree. His fame seemed in its purity to exceed even its brightness; office took honor from his acceptance, but conferred Ambition stood awed and darkened by his shadow. For where, through the wide earth, was the man so vain as to dispute precedence with him; or


what were the honors that could make the possessor WASHINGTON'S Superior? Refined and complex as the ideas of virtue are, even the gross could discern in his life the infinite superiority of her rewards. Mankind perceived some change in their ideas of greatness ; the splendor of power, and even of the name of conqueror, had grown dim in their eyes. They did not know that WASHINGTON could augment his fame; but they knew and felt, that the world's wealth, and its empire too, would be a bribe far beneath his accept


This is not exaggeration: never was confidence in a man and a chief magistrate more widely diffused, or more solidly established.

If it had been in the nature of man, that we should enjoy liberty, without the agitations of party, the United States had a right, under these circumstances, to expect it but it was impossible. Where there is no liberty, they may be exempt from party. It will seem strange, but it scarcely admits a doubt, that there are fewer malecontents in Turkey, than in any free state in the world. Where the people have no power, they enter into no contests, and are not anxious to know how they shall use it. The spirit of discontent becomes torpid for want of employment, and sighs itself to rest. The people sleep soundly in their chains, and do not even dream of their weight. They lose their turbulence with their energy, and become as tractable as any other animals: a state of degradation, in which they extort our scorn, and engage our pity, for the misery they do not feel. Yet that heart is a base one, and fit only for a slave's bosom, that would not bleed freely, rather than submit to such a condition; for liberty, with all its parties and agitations, is more desirable than slavery. Who would not prefer the republics of ancient Greece, where liberty once subsisted in its excess, its delirium, terrible in its charms, and glistening to the last with the blaze of the very fire that consumed it?

I do not know that I ought, but I am sure that I do,

« 이전계속 »