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dictions! 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 too much reason to apprehend !"
Fortunately for the great experiment of self-government, the "wise measures," so ardently looked to by the FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY, were taken in time to save the republic. The convention, which was called at Philadelphia in 1787, framed that glorious constitution under which we have, for more than fifty years, gone on triumphantly in the path of human progress prospering and to prosper, and proving that "systems, founded on the basis of equal liberty," are neither ideal nor fallacious. On the adoption of this constitution, the people unanimously called Washington from his loved retirement to preside in the chair of state and set in motion the wheels of the new government. Loth to abandon the quiet and peaceful pursuits which he had chosen, and especially to forsake his delightful abode on the banks of the Potomac, but still more loth to disobey the call of his country, he yielded to the popular will, and repaired to New-York to mingle again in the stormy scenes of public life. In his private journal his feelings on this occasion are thus chronicled: "About ten o'clock, I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New-York with the best disposition to render service to my country, in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations."
It was with good reason that Washington was anxious about the task on which he was entering. The throes which accompanied the birth of the constitution had deeply agitated the people, and already the germs of those two great parties which afterward divided the country had begun to make their appearance. The conflict of the revolution, and the looseness, not to say anarchy, which prevailed under the old confederation, had developed two distinct tendencies-one toward aristocracy, and the other toward democracy. These two tendencies were strongly manifested in the convention which framed the constitution, and that instrument was the result of a compromise between them. "I consent to this constitution," said Dr. Franklin, "because I expect no better, and because I am not sure it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good." "There are some things in the new form," writes Washington, "which never did,
and, I am persuaded, never will obtain my cordial approbation; but I did then conceive, and do now most firmly believe that, in the aggregate, it is the best constitution that can be obtained at this epoch; and that this or a dissolution awaits our choice." "No man in the United States, I suppose," says Jefferson, "approved of every tittle of the constitution, and no one, I believe, approved more of it than I did.”
But although the constitution was thus, in the main, satisfactory; and was finally adopted by eleven out of the thirteen states, yet the opinions which had prevailed in the convention were not forgotten, and the people were prepared to look with suspicion on the manner in which it should be construed by the administration. The debates on its adoption in the local conventions proved, besides, exceedingly stormy, and two distinct parties were formed, one in favor and one against the constitution; the former being called the federal party, and the latter the anti-federal. In this agitated state of society, Washington, without ambition; strong in the affections of the people; and with a single eye to the good of his country, commenced the difficult task of organizing the new government. Mr. Jefferson, who had been a conspicuous leader in the revolution, who had succeeded Dr. Franklin as minister at the court of Versailles, and whose splendid talents and great experience in public affairs eminently qualified him for the station, was placed at the head of the department of state; Mr. Hamilton, who had been an officer in the army, and was also possessed of great abilities, integrity, and patriotism, was placed at the head of the treasury; and General Knox, who had been in the war department under the confederation, was continued in his office.
When the constitution was adopted Mr. Jefferson was in France, and took no part in the discussions either for or against it. Colonel Hamilton, on the other hand, had been a member of the convention, and was known to have advocated a larger grant of powers to the general government. On coming into the treasury department he made his celebrated report on the subject of the finances, in which he recommended the funding system, the assumption of the state debts, and the establishment of a national bank. The opinions which he had advocated in the convention were immediately associated with these measures, and those who were jealous of the central government thought they saw in his financial plans a strong tendency to increase its powers, and to mold it after the British model. The debates were consequently long and stormy, and men began to aggregate, as if by elective attraction, into distinct parties. Those who sustained the measures of the trea
sury, and were thus understood to favor a strong federal government, were called federalists, and those who were for reserving the largest possible share of power to the people and the states, and for withholding it from the general government, were called democrats. Mr. Hamilton was soon the acknowledged head of the former, and Mr. Jefferson of the latter.
Washington was greatly perplexed. He had never made political science his study, and as the debates advanced, and arguments poured upon him from the national forum against the proposed measures, his embarrassments increased, and for a time he was undecided. He had, however, great confidence both in the wisdom and virtue of Hamilton, and, on the whole, his judgment inclined him to favor the new financial schemes. His deliberation was calm and uninfluenced by party excitement; and his mind, settled at length, resumed its wonted firmness. The recommendations of Hamilton passed both houses by small majorities and received the immediate sanction of the president. The wisdom of these measures is, to this day, a matter of difference between politicians but whatever may have been their ultimate tendency, there can scarcely be a doubt that their immediate effect was salutary. At any rate there was a vast improvement on the loose and shackling proceedings under the confederation. Confidence revived; agriculture and commerce were stimulated; activity reappeared in business; the public credit was restored; and the country rose rapidly from its depressed condition. The result was, at the time, fortunate for the success of Washington's administration, and, after making a tour through the country, he observes, "Every day's experience of the government seems to confirm its establishment and render it more popular." "Our affairs," says Jefferson, "are proceeding in a train of unparalleled prosperity. This arises from the real improvements of our government; from the unbounded confidence reposed in it by the people; their zeal to support it; and their conviction that a solid union is the best rock of their safety."
Washington was re-elected. Both Hamilton and Jefferson, though heading opposite parties, joined in pressing solicitations for him to remain at the head of the government. He yielded once more to the public voice, but it was with an increased reluctance, and only because he was, on every hand, assured that his commanding influence was now even more necessary than ever to keep steady the ark of government. The political horizon bore a threatening aspect on every side, and the elements were in strange commotion. Besides the plunder of our commerce by Algiers; a
vexatious Indian war; dissensions in the cabinet; and the discontents occasioned by a tax on domestic spirits, there was an ominous cloud gathering across the Atlantic-a tremendous revolution had taken place in France. From the first, Washington seems to have had apprehensions of this new-born republic. "If it ends," he wrote in 1789, "as our last accounts predict, that nation will be the most powerful and happy in Europe; but I fear, though it has gone triumphantly through the first paroxysm, it is not the last it has to encounter before matters are finally settled." His fears proved to be but too well founded.
Washington had scarcely entered on his second term when intelligence arrived that the French republic had declared war against England. He was at Mount Vernon, at a distance from his cabinet, when he heard the news, but he did not fail to see that this event must necessarily produce a serious influence on our foreign relations, and that great care and circumspection would be required to prevent the United States from being embroiled with the contending powers. He, therefore, immediately wrote to Mr. Jefferson, avowing his determination to preserve a strict neutrality, and, on returning to the seat of government, which was now removed to Philadelphia, summoned a meeting of the cabinet, and laid the subject before them. They were unanimous in favor of a strict neutrality, and the president immediately issued his proclamation "forbidding the citizens of the United States to take part in any hostilities on the seas either with or against the belligerent powers," and "enjoining them to refrain from all acts and proceedings inconsistent with the duties of a friendly nation toward those at war."
This measure, both in regard to its character and consequences, was one of the most important of Washington's administration. It was the only course which could have saved us from being drawn into the vortex of European wars, and its wisdom is now generally acknowledged. But although it was well received at first, yet as new intelligence arrived and spread like wild-fire through the country, an irresistible sympathy was kindled in favor of the French republic, and the democratic party availing themselves of this sudden advantage, used it with tremendous force against the administration. Jefferson had retired from the cabinet, and the president could no longer use his mighty influence to still the murmurings of the people. Hamilton was attacked on every side, and even the long services and lofty character of the president did not shield him from the shafts of party strife. In this state of the public mind came the French minister, Genet, with all the ardor
of a new convert, to add fuel to the flame, and, before his mad career was fairly checked, a new firebrand was thrown into the combustibles in the shape of Jay's Treaty.
The predilections of Hamilton for the British constitution were now remembered, and it was said that the administration favored the old enemy of America in preference to republican France. The levees of the president; his formality and state; his custom of opening congress by a set speech, after the manner of the British king, were all brought into view and assigned as evidences of his attachment to Great Britain, and as reasons why he extended no sympathy to our former ally and friend. In the midst of this storm of popular wrath Washington swerved neither to the right hand nor to the left. The high moral qualities which he had so often exhibited in his brilliant career, shone forth in all their sublimity, and his unparalleled greatness was never exhibited to so much advantage. He enforced with a firm hand the neutrality which he had proclaimed; he placed an immediate check on the high-handed assumptions of Genet; he confirmed the treaty with England; and marched an army into Pennsylvania to enforce obedience to the laws.
We have said elsewhere that Washington entered not into the spirit of that reformation which he did so much to advance, and of which Jefferson was the soul. His ideas of government were liberal, but they were strict. Both his habits of life and his modes of thinking inclined him to a government of law emanating from the centre, and not from the circumference. But his motives were as pure as the dew of heaven; his only object the good of his country; and to this he hesitated not to offer up his own spotless reputation. "In eight years of a turbulent and tempestuous administration," says Mr. Adams, "Washington had settled upon firm foundations the practical execution of the constitution of the United States. In the midst of the most appalling obstacles, through the bitterest internal dissensions, and the most formidable combinations of foreign antipathies and cabals, he had subdued all opposition to the constitution itself; had averted all dangers of European war; had redeemed the captive children of his country from Algiers; had reduced by chastisement, and conciliated by kindness the most hostile of the Indian tribes; had restored the credit of the nation and redeemed their reputation of fidelity to the performance of their obligations; had provided for the total extinguishment of the public debt; had settled the Union upon the firm foundation of principle; and had drawn around his head, for the admiration and emulation of after times, a brighter blaze of glory