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Washington framed or copied for his own use when a boy. His rigid adherence to principle, his steadfast discharge of duty, his utter abandonment of self, his unreserved devotion to whatever interests were committed to his care, attest the more than Vestal vigilance with which he observed that maxim.
He kept alive that spark. He made it shine before men. He kindled it into a flame which illumined his whole life. No occasion was so momentous, no circumstances were so minute, as to absolve him from following its guiding ray. The marginal explanation in his account book, in regard to the expenses of his wife's annual visit to the camp during the Revolutionary war, with his passing allusion to the "self-denial” which the exigencies of his country had cost him, furnishes a charming illustration of his habitual exactness. The fact that every barrel of flour which bore the brand of “ George Washington, Mount Vernon,” was exempted from the customary inspection in the West India ports, - that name being regarded as an ample guaranty of the quality and quantity of any article to which it was affixed, — supplies a not less striking proof that his exactness was everywhere understood.
Everybody saw that Washington sought nothing for himself. Everybody knew that he sacrificed nothing to personal or to party ends. Hence, the mighty influence, the matchless sway, which he exercised over all around him. “He was the only man in the United States who possessed the confidence of all, (said Thomas Jefferson ;) there was no other one who was considered as any thing more than a party leader.”
Who ever thinks of Washington as a mere politician? Who ever associates him with the petty arts and pitiful intrigues of partisan office-seekers or partisan office-holders? Who ever pictures him canvassing for votes, dealing out proscription, or doling out patronage ?
“ No part of my duty," wrote Washington to Governor Bowdoin, in a letter, the still unpublished original of which is a precious inheritance of my own : “ No part of my duty will be more delicate, and in many instances more unpleasant, than that of nominating and appointing persons to office. It will undoubtedly happen that there will be several candidates for the same office, whose pretensions, abilities, and integrity may be nearly equal, and who will come forward so equally supported in every respect as almost to require the aid of supernatural intuition to fix upon the right. I shall, however, in all events, have the satisfaction to reflect that I entered upon my administration unconfined by a single engagement, uninfluenced by any ties of blood or friendship, and with the best intention and fullest determination to nominate to office those persons only who, upon every consideration, were the most deserving, and who would probably execute their several functions to the interest and credit of the American Union ; if such characters could be found by my exploring every avenue of information respecting their merits and pretensions that it was in my power to obtain."
And there was as little of the vulgar hero about him, as there was of the mere politician. At the head of a victorious army, of which he was the idol, - an army too often provoked to the very verge of mutiny by the neglect of an inefficient Government, - we find him the constant counsellor of subordination and submission to the civil authority. With the sword of a conqueror at his side, we find him the unceasing advocate of peace. Repeatedly invested with more than the power of a Roman Dictator, we see him receiving that power with reluctance, employing it with the utmost moderation, and eagerly embracing the earliest opportunity to resign it. The offer of a crown could not, did not, tempt him for an instant from his allegiance to liberty.* He rejected it with indignation and abhorrence, and proceeded to devote all his energies and all his influence, all his popularity and all his ability, to the establishment of that Republican System, of which he was from first to last the uncompromising advocate, and with the ultimate success of which he believed the best interests of America and of the world were inseparably connected.
It is thus that, in contemplating the character of Washington, the offices which he held, the acts which he performed, his successes as a statesman, his triumphs as a soldier, almost fade from our sight. It is not the Washington of the Delaware or the Brandywine, of Germantown or of Monmouth; it is not Washington, the President of the Convention, or the President of the Republic, which we admire. We cast our eyes over his life, not to be dazzled by the meteoric lustre of particular passages, but to behold its whole pathway radiant, radiant everywhere, with the true glory of a just, conscientious, consummate man! Of him we feel it to be no exaggeration to say that
* Sparks's Life of Washington, pp. 354 - 5.
“ All the ends he aimed at
Of him we feel it to be no exaggeration to say, that he stands upon the page of history the great modern illustration and example of that exquisite and Divine precept, which fell from the lips of the dying monarch of Israel,
“ He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God;
" And he shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds !”
And now, fellow-citizens, it is this incomparable and transcendent character, which America, on this occasion, holds up afresh to the admiration of mankind. Believing it to be the only character which could have carried us safely through our own Revolutionary struggles, we present it, especially, this day, to the wistful gaze of convulsed and distracted Europe. . May we not hope that there may be kindred spirits over the seå, upon whom the example may impress itself, till they shall be inflamed with a noble rage to follow it? Shall we not call upon them to turn from a vain reliance upon their old idols, and to behold here, in the mingled moderation and courage, in the combined piety and patriotism, in the blended virtue, principle, wisdom, valor, self-denial, and self-devotion of our Washington, the express image of the man, the only man, for their occasion ?
Daphni, quid antiquos signorum suspicis ortus ?
Let us rejoice that our call is anticipated. Washington is no
new name to Europe.
His star has been seen in every sky, and wise men everywhere have done it homage. To what other merely human being, indeed, has such homage ever before or since been rendered ?
“ I have a large acquaintance among the most valuable and exalted classes of men,” wrote Erskine to Washington himself, “ but you are the only being for whom I ever felt an awful reverence."
“ Illustrious man!” said Fox of him, in the British House of Commons in 1794,“ deriving honor less from the splendor of his situation than from the dignity of his mind; before whom all borrowed greatness sinks into insignificance, and all the potentates of Europe* become little and contemptible.”
Washington is dead!” proclaimed Napoleon, on hearing of the event. “ This great man fought against tyranny; he established the liberty of his country. His memory will be always dear to the French people, as it will be to all free men of the two worlds."
“ It will be the duty of the historian and the sage in all ages," says Lord Brougham,“ to let no occasion pass of commemorating this illustrious man; and, until time shall be no more, will a test of the progress which our race has made in wisdom and virtue be derived from the veneration paid to the immortal name of Washington.”
“One thing is certain," says Guizot — "one thing is certain ; that which Washington did — the founding of a free government by order and peace, at the close of the revolution - no other policy than his could have accomplished.”
And later, better still : “ Efface henceforth the name of Machiavel,” said Lamartine, within a few weeks past, in his reply to the Italian association, "efface henceforth the name of Machiavel from your titles of glory, and substitute for it the name of Washington; that is the one which should now be proclaimed ; that is the name of modern liberty. It is no longer the name of a politician or a conqueror that is required; it is that of a man, the most disinterested, the most devoted to the people.
It was not thought necessary to disfigure the text, by inserting the loyal parenthesis, " (excepting the members of our own royal family.”)
This is the man required by liberty. The want of the age is a
And who shall supply that want but he who so vividly real. izes it? Enthusiastic, eloquent, admirable Lamartine! Though the magic wires may even now be trembling with the tidings of his downfall, we will not yet quite despair of him. Go on in the high career to which you have been called! Fall in it, if it must be so; but fall not, falter not, from it! Imitate the character
have so nobly appreciated! Fulfil the pledges you have so gloriously given! Plead still against the banner of blood! Strive still against the reign of terror! Aim still
“ By winning words to conquer willing hearts,
May a gallant and generous people second you, and the Power which preserved Washington sustain you, until you have secured peace, order, freedom to your country!
“Si qua fata aspera rumpas, Tu Marcellus eris." *
But, fellow-citizens, while we thus commend the character and example of Washington to others, let us not forget to imitate it ourselves. I have spoken of the precise period which we have reached in our own history, as well as in that of the world at large, as giving something of peculiar interest to the proceedings in which we are engaged. I may not, I will not, disturb the harmony of the scene before me by the slightest allusion of a party character. The circumstances of the occasion forbid it; the associations of the day forbid it; the character of him in whose honor we are assembled forbids it; my own feelings revolt from it. But I may say, I must say, and every one within the sound of my voice will sustain me in saying, that there has been no moment since Washington himself was among us, when it was more important than at this moment, that the two great leading principles of his policy should be remembered and cherished.
* These forebodings were but too soon fulfilled. The tidings of the downfall of Lamartine's administration were received a few days after this Address was delivered.