Abbildungen der Seite

had often been agitated by a thought similar to the one you expressed respecting a friend of yours; but heaven forbid that a crisis should come when he shall be driven to the necessity of making a choice of either of the alternatives there mentioned.” Having learned that the states had generally elected their representatives to the Convention, and Congress having given its sanction to it, he on the 28th of March communicated to the Governour of Virginia, his consent to act as one of the delegates of his state on this important occasion. On the second Monday in May 1787, the delegates of twelve states met in Convention at Philadelphia, and unanimously elected General GeoRGE WASHINGTon their President. The present Constitution of Government of the United States was the result of the deliberations and concessions of this venerable body. Although the friends of General WASHINGton had fully acquiesced in the propriety of his retiring from publick life at the close of the revolutionary war, yet from the moment of the adoption of the Federal Constitution, all eyes were directed to him as the first President of the United States. His correspondents early endeavoured to prepare his mind to gratify the expectations of his country. Mr. Johnson, a distinguished patriot of Maryland, wrote him, “We eannot do without you, and I and thousands more can explain to any body but yourself why we cannot do without you.” The struggle between inclination and duty was long and severe. His feelings on this occasion fully uppeared in the letters which he wrote to his friends on the subject Colonel Lee, then a member of Congress, communicating to General W Ashington the measures which that body were adopting to introduce the new government, thus alludes to the presidency. “The solemnity of the moment, and its application to yourself, have fixed my mind in contemplations of a publick and a personal nature, and I feel an involuntary impulse which I cannot resist, to communicate, without reserve to you some of the reflections which the hour has produced. Solicitous for our common happiness as a people, and convinced, as I continue to be, that oar peace and prosperity depend on the proper improvement of the present period, my anxiety is extreme that the new government may have an auspiclous beginning. To effect this, and to perpetuate a nation formed under your auspices, it is certain you will again be called forth. The same principles of devotion to the good of mankind, which have invariably governed your conduct, will no doubt continue to rul your mind, however opposite their consequences may be to your repose and happiness. It may be wrong, but I cannot suppress in my wishes for national felicity a due regard for your personal fame and content. “If the same success should attend your efforts on this important occasion which has distinguished you hitherto, then, to be sure, you will have spent a life which Providence rarely, if ever, before gave to the lot of man. It is my anxious hope, it is my belief that this will be the case, but all things are uncertain, and perhaps nothing imore so than political events. “Without you, the government can have but little chance of success; and the people, of that happiness which its prosperity must yield.” To these communications, the General thus replied “Your observations on the solemnity of the crisis, and its application to myself, bring before me subjects of the most momentous and interesting nature. In our endeavours to establish a new general government, the contest, nationally considered, seems not to have been so much for glory, as existence. It was for a long time doubtful whether we were to survive as an independent republick, or decline from our federal dignity into insonificant and wretched fragments of empire. The adoption of the constitution so extensively, and with so liberal an acquiescence on the part of the minorities in general, promised the former; but lately, the circular letter of New-York has manifested in Iny apprehension an unfavourable, if not an insidious tendency to a contrary policy. I still hope for the best; but before you mentioned it, I could not help fearing it would serve as a standard to which the disaffected could resort. It is now evidently the part of all honest men, who are friends to the new constitution, to endeavour to give it a chance to disclose its merits and defects by carrying it fairly into effect, in the first instance

“The principal topick of your letter is, to me, a point of great delicacy indeed, insomuch that I can scarcely, without some impropriety, touch upon it. In the first place, the event to which you allude may never happen, among other reasons because, if the partiality of my fellow-citizens conceive it to be a mean by which the sinews of the new government would be strengthened, it will of consequence be obnoxious to those who are in opposition to it; many of whom, unquestionably, will be placed among the electors. This consideration alone would supersede the expediency of announcing any definitive and irrevocable resolution. You are among the small number of those who know my invincible attachment to domestick life, and that my sincerest wish is to continue in the enjoyment of it solely, until my final hour. But the world would be neither so well instructed, nor so candidly disposed, as to believe me to be uninfluenced by sinister motives in case any circumstance should render a deviation from the line of conduct I had prescribed for myself indispensable. Should the contingency you suggest, take place, and (for argument's sake alone let me say) should my unfeigned reluctance to accept the office be overcome by a deference for the reasons and opinions of my friends; might I not, after the declarations I have made, (and heaven knows they were made in the sincerity of my heart) in the judg

men', of the impartial world, and of posterity, be chargeable with levity and inconsistency, if not with rash. ness and ambition ? Nay, farther, would there not even be some apparent foundation for the two former charges * Now, justice to myself, and tranquillity of conscience require that I should act a part, if not above imputation, at least capable of vindication. Nor will you conceive me to be too solicitous for reputa tion. Though I prize as I ought the good opinion of my fellow-citizens, yet if I know myself, I would not seek popularity at the expense of one social duty, or moral virtue. “While doing what my conscience informed me was right, as it respected my God, my country, and myself, I could despise all the party clamour and unjust censure which must be expected from some, whose personal enmity might be occasioned by their hostility to the government. I am conscious that I fear alone to give any real occasion for obloquy, and that I do not dread to meet with unmerited reproach. And certain I am, whensoever I shall be convinced the good of my country requires my reputation to be put in risk, regard for my own fame will not come in competition with an object of so much magnitude. “If I declined the task, it would be upon quite another principle. Notwithstanding my advanced season of life, my increasing fondness for agricultural amusements, and my growing love of retirement, augment and confirm my decided predeliction for the cha racter of a private citizen, yet it will be no one of these motives, nor the hazard to which my former reputation Inight be exposed, or the terrour of encoun. tering new fatigues and troubles, that would deter me from an acceptance; but a belief that some other person, who had less pretence and less inclination to be excused, could execute all the duties full as satisfactorily as myself. To say more would be indiscreet; as the disclosure of a refusal beforehand might incur the application of the fable, in which the fox is represented as undervaluing the grapes he could not reach. You will perceive, my dear sir, by what is here observed (and which you will be pleased to consider in the light of a confidential communication) that my inclinations will dispose and decide me to remain as I am; unless a clear and insurmountable conviction should be impressed on my mind, that some very disagreeable consequences must in all human probability result from the indulgence of my wishes.” To similar suggestions from Colonel Hamilton, General WashingtoN replied. “On the delicate subject with which you conclude your letter I can say nothing; because the event alluded to may never happen, and because in case it should occur, it would be a point of prudence to defer forming one's ultimate and irrevocable decision, so long as new data might be af. forded for one to act with the greater wisdom and propriety. I would not wish to conceal my prevailing sentiment from you. For you know me well enough, my good sir, to be persuaded that I am not guilty of affectation, when I tell you it is my great and sole desire to live and die in peace and retirement on my own farm. Were it even indispensable a different line of conduct should be adopted, while you and some others who are acquainted with my heart would acquit, the world and posterity might probably accuse me of inconsistency and ambition. Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an homest man. “Although I could not help observing from several publications and letters that my name had been sometimes spoken of, and that it was possible that contingency which is the subject of your letter might happen, yet I thought it best to maintain a guarded silence, and to lack the counsel of my best friends (which I certainly hold in the highest estimation) ra

« ZurückWeiter »