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General Washington, on retiring from public life, devotes
himself to agricultural pursuits. Favours inland navigation. Declines offered emoluments from it. Urges an alteration of the fundamental rules of the society of the Cincinnati. Regrets the defects of the federal system, and recommends a revisal of it. Is appointed a member of the continental convention for that purpose, which, appointment, after hesitation, he accepts. is chosen
president thereof. Is solicited to accept the presidency of the United States. Writes sundry letters, expressive of the conflict in his mind, between duty and inclination. Answers applications for offices. His reluctance to enter on public life.
The sensations of Washington, on retiring from public business, are thus expressed : “ I feel as a wearied traveller must do, who, after treading many a painful step with a heavy burden on his shoulders, is eased of the latter, having reached the haven to which all the former were directed, and from his house-top is looking back, and tracing with an eagle eye, the meanders by which he escaped the quicksands and mires which lay in his way, and into which none but the All Powerful Guide and Dispenser of human events could have prevented his falling:
“I have become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, and, under the shadow of my own vine and my own fig-tree, free from the bustle of a camp, and the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments, of which the soldier, who is ever in pursuit of fame; the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries, as if this globe was insufficient for us all; and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his prince, in the hope of catching a gracious smile; can have very
concepe tion.--I have not only retired from all public employments, but am retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the
solitary walk, and tread the paths of private life, with heartfelt satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order of my march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my fathers."
Agriculture, which had always been the favourite employment of Washington, was now resumed with increasing de. light. The energies of his active mind were devoted to this first and most useful art. No improvements in the construction of farming utensils, no valuable experiments in husbandry, escaped his attention. He saw with regret the miserable system of cultivation which prevailed too generally in his native country, and wished to introduce a better. With this view, he engaged in a correspondence with some of the distinguished agriculturists in Great Britain, particularly the celebrated Arthur Young.--He traced the different states of agriculture in the two countries, in a great degree to the following obvious principles. In Great Britain, land was dear, and labour cheap. In America, the reverse existed, to such a degree, that the manuring of land was comparatively neglected, on the mistaken, short-sighted idea, that it was cheaper to clear and cultivate new fields, than to improve and repair such as were old. To this radical error, which led to idleness and a vagabond dispersed population, he opposed the whole weight of his influence. His example and recommendations tended to revolutionize the agriculture of his country, as his valour had revolutionized its government.
The extension of inland navigation occupied much of Washington's attention, at this period of exemption from public cares.
Soon after peace was proclaimed, he made a tout as far west as Pittsburg, and also traversed the western parts of New England and New York, and examined for himself the difficulties of bringing the trade of the west to different points of the Atlantic. Possessed of an accurate knowledge of the subject, he corresponded with the governors of different states, and other influential characters. To them, he suggested the propriety of making, by public authority, an appointment of commissioners of integrity and ability, whose duty it should be, after accurate examination, to ascertain the nearest and best portages between such of the eastern
and western rivers as headed near to each other, though they ran in opposite directions; and also to trace the rivers west of the Ohio to their sources and mouths, as they respectively emptied either into the Ohio, or the lakes of Canada, and to make an accurate map of the whole, with observations on the impediments to be overcome, and the advantages to be acquired on the completion of the work.
The views of Washington, in advocating the extension of inland navigation, were grand and magnificent. He considered it as an effectual means of cementing the union of the states. In a letter to the governor of Virginia, he observed, “ I need not remark to you, sir, that the flanks and rear of the United States are possessed by other powers, and formidable ones too; nor need I press the necessity of applying the cement of interest to bind all parts of the union together by indissoluble bonds; especially of binding that part of it which lies immediately west of us, to the middle states.For what tie, let me ask, should we have upon those people; how entirely unconnected with them shall we be, and what troubles may we not apprehend, if the Spaniards on the right, and Great Britain on their left, instead of throw ing impediments in their way as they do now, should hold out lures for their trade and alliance? When they get strength, which will be sooner than most people conceive, what will be the consequence of their having formed close commercial connexions with both or either of those powers ? It needs not, in my opinion, the gift of prophecy to foretell.”—After stating the same thing to a member of congress, he proceeds, “It may be asked, how we are to prevent this? Happily for us, the way is plain. Our immediate interest, as well as remote political advantages, point to it; whilst a combination of circumstances render the present time more favourable than any other, to accomplish it. Extend the inland navigation of the eastern waters ; communicate them as near as possible with those which run westward ; open these to the Ohio; open also such as extend from Ohio towards Lake Erie; and we shall not only draw the produce of the western settlers, but the peltry and fur trade of the lakes also, , to our ports ; thus adding an immense increase to our exports, and binding those people to us by a chain which never can be broken."
The Virginia legislature acted on the recommendation of General Washington, to the extent of his wishes; and in consequence, works of the greatest utility have been nearly accomplished. They went one step farther, and, by a legislative act, vested in him, at the expense of the state, one hundred and fifty shares in the navigation of the rivers Pow tomac and James. The act for this purpose was introduced with the following preamble : “Whereas it is the desire of the representatives of this commonwealth, to embrace every suitable occasion of testifying their sense of the unexampled merits of George Washington, Esq. toward his country; and it is their wish in particular that those great works for its improvement, which, both as springing from the liberty which he has been so instrumental in establishing, and has encouraged by his patronage, will be durable monuments of his glory, may be made monuments also of the gratitude of his country. Be it enacted,” &c.
To the friend who conveyed to Washington the first intelligence of this bill, he replied ; . It is not easy for me to decide, by which my mind was most affected upon the receipt of your letter of the sixth instant,-surprise or gratitude. Both were greater than I had words to express. The attention and good wishes which the assembly have evidenced by their act for vesting in me one hundred and fifty shares in the navigation of the rivers Potomac and James, is more than mere compliment. There is an unequivocal and substantial meaning annexed.-But believe me, sir, no circumstance has happened since I left the walks of public life, which has so much embarrassed me. On the one hand, I consider this act as a noble and unequivocal proof of the good opinion, the affection, and disposition of my country to serve me; and I should be hurt, if, by declining the acceptance of it, my refusal should be construed into disre spect, or the smallest slight upon the generous intention of the legislature, or that an ostentatious display of disinterestedness or public virtue was the source of refusal. On the other hand, it is really my wish to have my mind and my actions, which are the result of reflection, as free and in dependent as the air, that I may be more at liberty to express my sentiments, and if necessary to suggest what may occur to me under the fullest conviction, that, although my