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so signally manifested in more than one event of his life “By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence,” wrote Washington himself to his venerated parent, after Braddock's defeat, “I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation ; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me; yet I escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me.” Well did the eloquent pastor of a neighboring parish, on his return, “ point out to the public that heroic youth, Colonel Washington, whom (says he) I cannot but hope Providence has hitherto preserved in so signal a manner for some important service to the country.”
And not less natural or less striking was the testimony of the Indian chief, who told Washington, fifteen years afterwards, “ That at the battle of the Monongahela, he had singled him out as a conspicuous object, had fired his rifle at him many times, and directed his young warriors to do the same, but that, to his utter astonishment, none of their balls took effect; that he was then persuaded that the youthful hero was under the special guardianship of the Great Spirit, and immediately ceased to fire at him; and that he was now come to pay homage to the man who was the particular favorite of Heaven, and who could never die in battle.”
Our Revolutionary fathers had many causes for adoring the invisible hand by which they were guided and guarded in their great struggle for liberty; but none, none stronger than this Providential preparation and preservation of their destined chief. Be it ours to prolong that anthem of gratitude which may no more be heard from their mute lips: “The grave cannot praise Thee ; death cannot celebrate Thee; but the living, the living, they shall praise Thee, as we do this day !"
Of the public services of WASHINGTON to our own country, for which he was thus prepared and preserved, it is enough to say, that in the three great epochs of our national history he stands forth pre-eminent and peerless, the master-spirit of the time.
In the war of the Revolution we see him the Leader of our Armies.
In the formation of the Constitution, we see him the President of our Councils.
In the organization of the Federal Government, we see him the Chief Magistrate of our Republic.
Indeed, from the memorable day when, under the unheard but by no means inauspicious salute of both British and American batteries, engaged in no holiday exercise on Bunker Hill, it was unanimously resolved, that, George Washington having been chosen commander-in-chief of such forces as are or shall be raised for the maintenance and preservation of American liberty, “ This Congress doth now declare that they will maintain and assist him, and adhere to him, the said George Washington, with their lives and fortunes in the same cause ;' from this ever-memorable 17th of June, 1775-a day on which (as has been well said*) Providence kept an even balance with the cause, and while it took from us a Warren gave us a Washington—to the 14th day of December
* By Edward Everett.
1799, when he died, we shall search the annals of our land in vain for any important scene, in which he was anything less than the principal figure.
It is, however, the character of Washington, and not the mere part which he played, which I would hold up this day to the world as worthy of endless and universal commemoration. The highest official distinctions may be enjoyed, and the most important public services rendered, by men whose lives will not endure examination. It is the glory of Washington, that the virtues of the man outshone even the brilliancy of his acts, and that the results which he accomplished were only the legitimate exemplifications of the principles which he professed and cherished.
In the whole history of the world it may be doubted whether any man can be found, who has exerted a more controlling influence over men and over events than George Washington. To what did he owe that influence? How did he win, how did he wield, that magic power, that majestic authority, over the minds and hearts of his countrymen and of mankind ? In what did the power of Washington consist ?
It was not the power of vast learning or varied acquirements. He made no pretensions to scholarship, and had no opportunity for extensive reading.
It was not the power of sparkling wit or glowing rhetoric. Though long associated with deliberative bodies, he never made a set speech in his life, nor ever mingied in a stormy debate.
It was not the power of personal fascination. There
was little about him of that gracious affability which sometimes lends such resistless attraction to men of commanding position. His august presence inspired more of awe than of affection, and his friends, numerous and devoted as they were, were bound to him rather by ties of respect than of love.
It was not the power of a daring and desperate spirit of heroic adventure. "If I ever said so,” replied Washington, when asked whether he had said that there was something charming in the sound of a whistling bullet ; “if I ever said so, it was when I was young.” He had no passion for mere exploits. He sought no bubble reputation in the cannon's mouth. With a courage never questioned, and equal to every exigency, he had yet "a wisdom which did guide his valor to act in safety.”
In what, then, did the power of Washington consist ? When Patrick Henry returned home from the first continental Congress, and was asked who was the greatest man in 'that body, he replied : “If you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge, of South Carolina, is the greatest orator; but if you speak of solid information and sound judgment, Col. Washington is by far the greatest man on that floor.”
When, fifteen years earlier, Washington, at the close of the French war, took his seat for the first time in the House of Burgesses of Virginia, and a vote of thanks was presented to him for his military services to the Colony, his hesitation and embarrassment were relieved by the Speaker, who said, “Sit down, Mr. Washington, your
modesty equals your valor; and that surpasses the power of any language that I possess.”
But it was not solid information, or sound judgment, or even that rare combination of surpassing modesty and valor, great as these qualities are, which gave Washington such a hold on the regard, respect, and confidence of the American people. I hazard nothing in saying that it was the high moral elements of his character which imparted to it its preponderating force. His incorruptible honesty, his uncompromising truth, his devout reliance on God, the purity of his life, the scrupulousness of his conscience, the disinterestedness of his purposes, his humanity, generosity, and justice—these were the ingredients which, blending harmoniously with solid information and sound judgment and a valor only equalled by his modesty, made up a character to which the world may be fearlessly challenged for a parallel.
"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, conscience,” was one of a series of maxims which 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