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the confederacy, they will laugh in your face. What then is to be done? Things cannot go on in the same train for ever. It is much to be feared, as you observe, that the better kind of people, being disgusted with these circumstances, will have their minds prepared for any revolution whatever. We are apt to run from one extreme into another. To anticipate and prevent disastrous contingences, would be the part of wisdom and patriotism.
“What astonishing changes are a few years capable of producing! I am told that even respectable characters speak of a monarchical form of government, without horror. From thinking, proceeds speaking ; thence to acting is often but a single step. But how irrevocable and tremendous ! What a triumph for our enemies to verify their predictions! What a triumph for the advocates of despotism, to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty, are merely ideal and fallacious ! Would to God that'wise measures may be taken in time to avert the consequences we have but too much reason to apprehend.” “Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge, I cannot feel myself an unconverned spectator. Yet, having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on a sea of troubles."
“Nor could it be expected that my sentiments and opinions would have much weight on the minds of my countrymen. They have been neglected, though given as a last legacy, in the most solemn manner. I had then, perhaps, some claims to public attentions. I consider myself as having none at present.”'
Illumination, on the subject of enlarging the powers of congress, was gradual. Washington, in his extensive correspondence and intercourse with the leading characters of the different states, urged the necessity of a radical reform in the existing system of government. The business was at length seriously taken up, and a proposition was made by Virginia, for electing deputies to a general convention, for the sole purpose of revising the federal system of government.
While this proposition was under consideration, an event occurred, which pointed out the propriety of its adoption. The pressure of evils, in a great degree resulting from the
imbecility of government, aided by erroneous opinions, which confound liberty with licentiousness, produced commotions in Massachusetts, which amounted to treason and rebellion. On this occasion, Washington expressed himself in a letter as follows; “ The commotions and temper of numerous bodies in the eastern country, present a state of things equally to be lamented and deprecated. They exhibit a melancholy verification of what our transatlantic foes have predicted, and of another thing, perhaps, which is still more to be regretted, and is yet more unaccountable, that mankind, when left to themselves, are unfit for their own government.-I am mortified, beyond expression, when I view the clouds which have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon my country. In a word, I am lost in amazement, when I behold what intrigue the interested views of desperate characters, ignorance and jealousy of the minor part, are capable of effecting, as a scourge on the major part of our fellow-cilizens of the union ; for it is hardly to be supposed, that the great body of the people, though they will not act, can be so short-sighted, or enveloped in darkness, as not to see rays of a distant sun through all this mist of intoxication and folly.
" You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, nor, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for these disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties, will be secured, or let us know the worst at once. Under these impressions, my humble opinion is, that there is a call for decision. Know precisely what the insurgents aim at. If they have real grievances, redress them if possible, or acknowledge the justice of them, and your inability to do it in the present moment. have not, employ the force of government against them at
2.- If this is inadequate, all will be convinced that the superstructure is bad, or wants support. To be more exposed in the eyes of the world, and more contemptible, is hardly possible. To delay one or the other of these expedients, is to exasperate on the one hand, or to give confidence on the other, and will add to their numbers ; for, like snowballs, such bodies increase by every movement, unless there
is something in the way to obstruct and crumble them before their weight is too great and irresistible.
“ These are my sentiments. Precedents are dangerous things. Let the reins of government, then, be braced and held with a steady hand, and every violation of the constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended, but not suffered to be trampled upon, while it has an existence.”
Virginia placed the name of Washington at the head of her delegates for the proposed convention. Letters poured in upon him from all sides, urging his acceptance of the appointment. In answer to a letter from Mr. Madison, who had been the principal advocate of the measure in the Virginia legislature, General Washington replied, “ Although I have oid a public adieu to the public walks of life, and had resolved never more to tread that theatre, yet, if upon any occasion so interesting to the well being of our confederacy, it nad been the wish of the assembly that I should be an associate in the business of revising the federal system, I should, from a sense of the obligation I am under for repeated proofs of confidence in me, more than from any opinion I could entertain of my usefulness, have obeyed its call ; but it is now out of my power to do this with any degree of consistency. The cause I will mention.
“I presume you heard, sir, that I was first appointed, and have since been re-chosen, president of the society of the Cincinnati ; and you may have understood, also, that the triennial general meeting of this body is to be held in Philadelphia the first Monday in May next. Some particular reasons, combining with the peculiar situation of my private concerns, the necessity of paying attention to them, a wish for retirement, and relaxation from public cares, and rheumatic pains, which I begin to feel very sensibly, induced me, on the 31st ultimo, to address a circular letter to each state society, informing them of my intention not to be at the next meeting, and of my desire not to be re-chosen president. The vicepresident is also informed of this, that the business of the society may not be impeded by my absence. Under these circumstances, it will readily be perceived, that I could not appear at the same time and place, on any other occasion, without giving offence to a very respectable and deserving
part of the community, the late officers of the American army.”
The meeting of the convention was postponed to a day subsequent to that of the meeting of the Cincinnati. This removed one of the difficulties in the way of Washington's acceptance of a seat in the convention, and, joined with the importance of the call, and his own eager desire to advance the public interest, finally induced his compliance with the wishes of his friends.
The convention met in Philadelphia, in May, and unanimously chose George Washington their president. On the 17th of September, 1787, they closed their labours, and submitted the result to congress, with their opinion " that it should be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof, under the recommendation of its legislature, for their assent and ratification.”
By this new form of government, ample powers were given to congress, without the intervention of the states, for every purpose that national dignity, interest, or happiness required.
The ablest pens, and most eloquent tongues, were employed for, and against, its acceptance. In this animated contest, Washington took no part. Having with his sword vindicated the right of his country to self-government, and, having with his advice aided in digesting an efficient form of government, which he most thoroughly approved, it seemed that he wished the people to decide for themselves, whether to accept or reject it.
The constitution being accepted by eleven states, and preparatory measures being taken for bringing it into operation, all eyes were turned to Washington, as the fittest man for the office of President of the United States. His correspondents began to press his acceptance of the high office, as essential to the well being of his country.
To those who think that Washington was like other men, it will scarcely appear possible, that supreme magistracy possessed no charms sufficient to tempt him from his beloved retirement, when he was healthy and strong, and only fiftyseven years old ; but, if an opinion can be formed of his real sentim
from the tenor of his life and confidential communications to his most intimate friends, a conviciion will be
produced, that his acceptance of the presidency of the United States was the result of a victory obtained by a sense of duty over his inclinations, and was a real sacrifice of the latter to the former.
In a letter to colonel Henry Lee, Washington observes ; “ Notwithstanding my advanced season of life, my increasing fondness for agricultural amusements, and my growing love of retirement, augment and confirm my decided predilection for the character of a private citizen; yet it will be no one of these motives, nor the hazard to which my former reputation might be exposed, nor the terror of encountering 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 a 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 probabilj. ty result from the indulgence of my wishes.”
In a letter to colonel Hamilton, Washington observes, “ If I am not grossly deceived in myself, I should unfeignedly rejoice, in case the electors, by giving their votes to some other person, would save me from the dreadful dilemma of being forced to accept or refuse. If that may not be, I am in the next place, earnestly desirous of searching out the truth, and of knowing whether there does not exist a probability that the government would just as happily and effectually be carried into execution, without my aid, as with it. I am truly solicitous to obtain all the previous information which the circumstances will afford, and to determine, when the determination can no longer be postponed, according to the principles of right reason, and the dictates of a clear conscience, without too great a reference to the unforeseen consequences
may affect my person or reputation. Until that period, I may fairly hold myself open to conviction,