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stances, he had so often insisted had been bestowed upon the nation, the fact remained that the situation was full of trial and danger, and demanded the application of the highest order of statesmanship.
Nor are we left to conjecture Washington's feelings in this regard.
Indeed, it may be said that at every period of his public life, though he possessed the talent for silence and did his work generally with closed lips, yet it is always possible to gather from his remarkable letters the line of his thought upon current affairs, and his inmost hopes, fears and aspirations as to the public weal.
Take for illustration that, in which, on the 9th of January, 1790, little more than eight months after his inauguration, he says:
"The establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment for promoting human happiness by a reasonable compact in civil society. It was to be, in the first instance, in a considerable degree a government of accommodation as well as a government of laws. Much was to be done by prudence, much by conciliation, much by firmness. Few, who are not philosophical spectators, can realize the difficult and delicate part which a man in my situation had to act. All see and most admire the glare which hovers round the external happiness of elevated office. To me there is nothing in it beyond the lustre which may be reflected from its connection with a power of promoting human felicity. In our progress towards political happiness my station is new, and, if I may use the expression, I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely an action the motive of which may not be subject to a double interpretation. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent. If, after all my honorable and faithful endeavors to advance the felicity of my country and mankind, I may indulge a hope that my labors have not been altogether without success, it will be the only compensation I can receive in the closing scenes of life."
Here he admits with a certain suppressed sadness that he realizes that private life has ceased to exist for him, and that from his previous participation in public affairs, the exalted character of the new office and the fact that he is the first to fill it, his every act and word thereafter may be referred to in guidance or control of others, and as bearing upon the nature of the Government of which he was the head. It is borne in upon him that in this instance, in a greater degree than ever before, his conduct is to become an historical example. Questions of etiquette, questions
pertaining to his daily life, unimportant in themselves, cease to be so under the new conditions, and this interruption of the domestic tenor of his way, to which he was of choice and ardently attached, finds no compensation in the gratification of a morbid hunger and thirst for applause, whether of the few or of the many.
But in the consciousness of having contributed to the advancement of the felicity of his country and of mankind lies the true reward for these renewed labors.
The promotion of human happiness was the key-note of the century within which Washington's life was comprised.
It was the century of Franklin and Turgot; of Montesquieu and Voltaire and Rousseau; of Frederick the Great and Joseph the Second; of Pitt and Fox and Burke and Grattan; of Burns and Cowper and Gray; of Goethe and Kant; of Priestly and Hume and Adam Smith; of Wesley and Whitefield and Howard, as well as of the long line of statesmen and soldiers, and voyagers over every sea; of poets and artists and essayists and encyclopædists and romancers, which adorned it.
It was the century of men like Condorcet, who, outlawed and condemned by a revolutionary tribunal, the outcome of popular excesses, calmly sat down, in hiding, to compose his work upon the progress of the human mind.
It was a century instinct with the recognition of the human soul in every human being, and alive with aspirations for universal brotherhood.
With this general longing for the elevation of mankind Washington sympathized, and in expressing a hearty desire for the rooting out of slavery considered this not only essential to the perpetuation of the Union, but desirable on the score of human dignity. Nevertheless, with the calm reason in reference to government, of the race from which he sprang, he regarded the promotion of human happiness as to be best secured by a reasonable compact in civil society, and that established by the Federal Constitution as the last great experiment to that end.
Washington and his colleagues were familiar with prior forms of government and their operation, and with the speculations of the writers upon that subject. They were conversant with the course of the Revolution of 1688, the then triumph of public opinion, and the literature of that period. They accepted the thesis of Locke that, as the true end of government is the mutual preservation of the lives, liberties and estates of the people, a government which invades these rights is guilty of a breach of trust,
and can lawfully be set aside; and they were persuaded of the soundness of the views of Montesquieu, that the distribution of powers is necessary to political liberty, which can only exist when power is not abused, and in order that power may not be abused it must be so distributed that power shall check power.
It is only necessary to consult the pages of the Federalistthat incomparable work on the principles of free government-to understand the acquaintance of American statesmen with preceding governmental systems, ancient and modern, and to comprehend that the Constitution was the result, not of a desire for novelty, but of the effort to gather the fruit of that growth which, having its roots in the past, could yield in the present and give promise for the future.
The colonists possessed practically a common nationality, and took by inheritance certain fundamental ideas upon the development of which their growth had proceeded. Self-government by local subdivisions, a legislative body of two houses, an executive head, a distinctive judiciary, constituted the governmental methods.
Magna Charta, the Petition and Declaration of Right, the habeas corpus act, the act of settlement, all the muniments of English liberty, were theirs, and the New England Confederation of 1643, the schemes of union of 1754 and 1765, the revolutionary Congress, the Articles of Confederation, the colonial charters and constitutions furnished a vast treasury of experience upon which they drew.
Their work in relation to what had gone before was in truth but in maintenance of that continuity of which Hooker speaks: "We were then alive in our predecessors and they in their successors do live still." They did not scek to build upon the ruins of older institutions, but to develop from them a nobler, broader and more lasting structure, and in effecting this upon so vast a scale and under conditions so widely different from the past, the immortal instrument was indeed the product of consummate statesmanship.
Of the future greatness of the new nation Washington had no doubt. He saw, as if face to face, that continental domain which glimmered to others as through a glass darkly.
The great West was no sealed book to him, and no one knew better than he that no foreign power could long control the flow of the Father of Waters to the Gulf.
He is said to have lacked imagination, and if the exhilaration of the poet, the mystic, or the seer is meant, this may be true.
His mind was not given to indulgence in dreams of ideal com
monwealths like the republic of Plato or of Cicero, the City of God of Augustine, or the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, but it grasped the mighty fact of the empire of the future, and acted in obedience to the heavenly vision.
But the question was, could that empire be realized and controlled by the people within its vast boundaries in the exercise of self-government?
Could the conception of a central government, operating directly upon citizens, who at the same time were subject to the jurisdiction of their several States, be carried into practical working operation so as to reconcile imperial sway with local independence?
Would a scheme work which was partly national and partly federal, and which aimed at unity as well as union?
And could the rule of the majority be subjected with binding force to such restraints through a system by representation, that of a republic rather than that of a pure democracy, that the violence of faction could not operate in the long run to defeat a common government by the many, throughout so immense an area? Could the restraints essential to the preservation of society, the equilibrium between progress and order, be so guarded as to allow of that sober second thought which would secure their observance, and thus the liberty and happiness of the people and the enduring progress of humanity?
While the general genius of the Government was thoroughly permeated with the ideas of freedom in obedience, yet time was needed to commend the form in which it was for the future to exert itself.
Hence administration in the first instance required accommodation as well as adherence to the letter, and prudence and conciliation as well as firmness.
The Cabinet of the first President illustrates his sense of the nature of the exigency.
All its members were friends and supporters of the Constitution, but possessed of widely different views as to the scope of its powers and the probabilities of its successful operation in the shape it then bore.
Between Jefferson and Hamilton there seemed to be a great gulf fixed, yet a common patriotism bridged it, and a common purpose enabled them for these critical years to act together. And this was rendered possible by the fact that the leadership of Washington afforded a common ground upon which every lover of a united country could stand. And as the first four years were
nearing their close, Hamilton and Jefferson severally urged Washington to consent to remain at the helm for four years longer, that the Government might acquire additional firmness and strength before being subjected to the strain of the contention of parties.
Undoubtedly Hamilton desired this also, because of nearer coincidence of thought on some questions involving serious difference of opinion, but both concurred in urging it upon the ground that the confidence of the whole Union was centred in Washington, and his being at the helm would be more than an answer to every argument which could be used to alarm and lead the people in any quarter into violence or secession.
Appointments to the Supreme Bench involved less reason for accommodation, but equal prudence and sagacity.
The great part which that tribunal was to play in the development of our institutions was yet to come, but the importance of that branch of the Government to which was committed the ultimate interpretation of the Constitution was appreciated by Washington, who characterized it as the keystone of the political fabric.
To the headship of the court, Washington called the pure and great-minded Jay of New York, and associated with him John Rutledge of South Carolina, who, from the stamp-act Congress of 1765, had borne a conspicuous part in the history of the country and of his State; James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who, like Rutledge, had been prominent in the Continental Congress and in the Federal convention, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the most forcible, acute and learned debaters on behalf of the Constitution, as the records of the Federal and his State conventions show; Cushing, chief-justice of Massachusetts, experienced in judicial station, and the only person holding office under the Crown who adhered to his country in the Revolution; Harrison of Maryland, Washington's well-known secretary; Blair of Virginia, a judge of its court of appeals, and one of Washington's fellow-members in the convention; and in place of Rutledge and Harrison, who preferred the highest judicial positions in their own States, Thomas Johnson of Maryland and James Iredell of North Carolina.
It will be perceived that the distribution was made with tact, and the selections with consummate wisdom.
The part the appointees had taken in the cause of the country, and especially in laying the foundations of the political edifice, their eminent qualifications and recognized integrity, commended the court to the confidence of the people, and gave assurance that