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American Heros

Robert Gould Shaw
Brave, good, and true, I see him stand before me n...

The Flag-bearer
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;...

Washington
The brilliant historian of the English people [*] has written...

John Quincy Adams And The Right Of Petition
He rests with the immortals; his journey has been long: ...

The Storming Of Stony Point
In their ragged regimentals Stood the old Contin...

Bennington
We are but warriors for the working-day; Our gayne...

The Battle Of Trenton
And such they are--and such they will be found: No...

Sheridan At Cedar Creek
Inspired repulsed battalions to engage, And taught...

Charles Russell Lowell
Wut's wurds to them whose faith an' truth On war'...

Lieutenant Cushing And The Ram Albemarle
God give us peace! Not such as lulls to sleep, But...

King's Mountain
Our fortress is the good greenwood, Our tent the ...

The General Armstrong Privateer
We have fought such a fight for a day and a night As m...

Daniel Boone And The Founding Of Kentucky
... Boone lived hunting up to ninety; And, what's s...

George Rogers Clark And The Conquest Of The Northwest
Have the elder races halted? Do they droop and end the...

The Death Of Stonewall Jackson
Like a servant of the Lord, with his bible and his sword...

General Grant And The Vicksburg Campaign
What flag is this you carry Along the sea and sho...

The Charge At Gettysburg
For the Lord On the whirlwind is abroad; I...

The Burning Of The Philadelphia
And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a mali...

Gouverneur Morris
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. PARIS. AUGUST 10, 1792. Justum et ...

Lincoln
O captain. My captain. Our fearful trip is done; T...



Washington






The brilliant historian of the English people [*] has written of
Washington, that "no nobler figure ever stood in the fore-front of a
nation's life." In any book which undertakes to tell, no matter how
slightly, the story of some of the heroic deeds of American history,
that noble figure must always stand in the fore-front. But to sketch the
life of Washington even in the barest outline is to write the history
of the events which made the United States independent and gave birth
to the American nation. Even to give alist of what he did, to name his
battles and recount his acts as president, would be beyond the limit and
the scope of this book. Yet it is always possible to recall the man and
to consider what he was and what he meant for us and for mankind He is
worthy the study and the remembrance of all men, and to Americans he is
at once a great glory of their past and an inspiration and an assurance
of their future.

* John Richard Green.


To understand Washington at all we must first strip off all the myths
which have gathered about him. We must cast aside into the dust-heaps
all the wretched inventions of the cherry-tree variety, which were
fastened upon him nearly seventy years after his birth. We must look at
him as he looked at life and the facts about him, without any illusion
or deception, and no man in history can better stand such a scrutiny.

Born of a distinguished family in the days when the American colonies
were still ruled by an aristocracy, Washington started with all that
good birth and tradition could give. Beyond this, however, he had
little. His family was poor, his mother was left early a widow, and he
was forced after a very limited education to go out into the world to
fight for himself He had strong within him the adventurous spirit of
his race. He became a surveyor, and in the pursuit of this profession
plunged into the wilderness, where he soon grew to be an expert hunter
and backwoodsman. Even as a boy the gravity of his character and
his mental and physical vigor commended him to those about him, and
responsibility and military command were put in his hands at an age when
most young men are just leaving college. As the times grew threatening
on the frontier, he was sent on a perilous mission to the Indians, in
which, after passing through many hardships and dangers, he achieved
success. When the troubles came with France it was by the soldiers under
his command that the first shots were fired in the war which was to
determine whether the North American continent should be French or
English. In his earliest expedition he was defeated by the enemy. Later
he was with Braddock, and it was he who tried, to rally the broken
English army on the stricken field near Fort Duquesne. On that day
of surprise and slaughter he displayed not only cool courage but the
reckless daring which was one of his chief characteristics. He so
exposed himself that bullets passed through his coat and hat, and the
Indians and the French who tried to bring him down thought he bore a
charmed life. He afterwards served with distinction all through the
French war, and when peace came he went back to the estate which he had
inherited from his brother, the most admired man in Virginia.

At that time he married, and during the ensuing years he lived the life
of a Virginia planter, successful in his private affairs and serving the
public effectively but quietly as a member of the House of Burgesses.
When the troubles with the mother country began to thicken he was slow
to take extreme ground, but he never wavered in his belief that all
attempts to oppress the colonies should be resisted, and when he once
took up his position there was no shadow of turning. He was one of
Virginia's delegates to the first Continental Congress, and, although
he said but little, he was regarded by all the representatives from
the other colonies as the strongest man among them. There was something
about him even then which commanded the respect and the confidence of
every one who came in contact with him.

It was from New England, far removed from his own State, that the demand
came for his appointment as commander-in-chief of the American army.
Silently he accepted the duty, and, leaving Philadelphia, took command
of the army at Cambridge. There is no need to trace him through the
events that followed. From the time when he drew his sword under the
famous elm tree, he was the embodiment of the American Revolution, and
without him that revolution would have failed almost at the start. How
he carried it to victory through defeat and trial and every possible
obstacle is known to all men.

When it was all over he found himself facing a new situation. He was the
idol of the country and of his soldiers. The army was unpaid, and the
veteran troops, with arms in their hands, were eager to have him take
control of the disordered country as Cromwell had done in England
a little more than a century before. With the army at his back, and
supported by the great forces which, in every community, desire order
before everything else, and are ready to assent to any arrangement which
will bring peace and quiet, nothing would have been easier than for
Washington to have made himself the ruler of the new nation. But that
was not his conception of duty, and he not only refused to have anything
to do with such a movement himself, but he repressed, by his dominant
personal influence, all such intentions on the part of the army. On
the 23d of December, 1783, he met the Congress at Annapolis, and there
resigned his commission. What he then said is one of the two most
memorable speeches ever made in the United States, and is also memorable
for its meaning and spirit among all speeches ever made by men. He spoke
as follows:

"Mr. President:--The great events on which my resignation depended having
at length taken place, I have now the honor of offering my sincere
congratulations to Congress, and of presenting myself before them, to
surrender into their hands the trust committed to me and to claim the
indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.

Happy in the confirmation of our independence and sovereignity and
pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming
a respectable nation, I resign with satisfaction the appointment I
accepted with diffidence; a diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so
arduous a task, which, however, was superseded by a confidence in the
rectitude of our cause, the support of the supreme power of the Union,
and the patronage of Heaven.

The successful termination of the war has verified the most sanguine
expectations, and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence and
the assistance I have received from my countrymen increases with every
review of the momentous contest.

While I repeat my obligations to the Army in general, I should do
injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge, in this place, the
peculiar services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have
been attached to my person during the war. It was impossible that the
choice of confidential officers to compose my family should have been
more fortunate. Permit me, sir, to recommend in particular those
who have continued in service to the present moment as worthy of the
favorable notice and patronage of Congress.

I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my
official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the
protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of
them to His holy keeping.

Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great
theatre of action, and, bidding an affectionate farewell to this
august body, under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my
commission and take my leave of all the employments of public life."

The great master of English fiction, writing of this scene at Annapolis,
says: "Which was the most splendid spectacle ever witnessed--the opening
feast of Prince George in London, or the resignation of Washington?
Which is the noble character for after ages to admire--yon fribble
dancing in lace and spangles, or yonder hero who sheathes his sword
after a life of spotless honor, a purity unreproached, a courage
indomitable and a consummate victory?"

Washington did not refuse the dictatorship, or, rather, the opportunity
to take control of the country, because he feared heavy responsibility,
but solely because, as a high-minded and patriotic man, he did not
believe in meeting the situation in that way. He was, moreover, entirely
devoid of personal ambition, and had no vulgar longing for personal
power. After resigning his commission he returned quietly to Mount
Vernon, but he did not hold himself aloof from public affairs. On the
contrary, he watched their course with the utmost anxiety. He saw the
feeble Confederation breaking to pieces, and he soon realized that that
form of government was an utter failure. In a time when no American
statesman except Hamilton had yet freed himself from the local feelings
of the colonial days, Washington was thoroughly national in all his
views. Out of the thirteen jarring colonies he meant that a nation
should come, and he saw--what no one else saw--the destiny of the
country to the westward. He wished a nation founded which should cross
the Alleghanies, and, holding the mouths of the Mississippi, take
possession of all that vast and then unknown region. For these reasons
he stood at the head of the national movement, and to him all men turned
who desired a better union and sought to bring order out of chaos. With
him Hamilton and Madison consulted in the preliminary stages which
were to lead to the formation of a new system. It was his vast personal
influence which made that movement a success, and when the convention
to form a constitution met at Philadelphia, he presided over its
deliberations, and it was his commanding will which, more than anything
else, brought a constitution through difficulties and conflicting
interests which more than once made any result seem well-nigh hopeless.
When the Constitution formed at Philadelphia had been ratified by the
States, all men turned to Washington to stand at the head of the new
government. As he had borne the burden of the Revolution, so he now
took up the task of bringing the government of the Constitution into
existence. For eight years he served as president. He came into
office with a paper constitution, the heir of a bankrupt, broken-down
confederation. He left the United States, when he went out of office,
an effective and vigorous government. When he was inaugurated, we
had nothing but the clauses of the Constitution as agreed to by the
Convention. When he laid down the presidency, we had an organized
government, an established revenue, a funded debt, a high credit, an
efficient system of banking, a strong judiciary, and an army. We had a
vigorous and well-defined foreign policy; we had recovered the western
posts, which, in the hands of the British, had fettered our march to the
west; and we had proved our power to maintain order at home, to repress
insurrection, to collect the national taxes, and to enforce the laws
made by Congress. Thus Washington had shown that rare combination of the
leader who could first destroy by revolution, and who, having led his
country through a great civil war, was then able to build up a new and
lasting fabric upon the ruins of a system which had been overthrown.
At the close of his official service he returned again to Mount Vernon,
and, after a few years of quiet retirement, died just as the century in
which he had played so great a part was closing.

Washington stands among the greatest men of human history, and those in
the same rank with him are very few. Whether measured by what he did, or
what he was, or by the effect of his work upon the history of mankind,
in every aspect he is entitled to the place he holds among the greatest
of his race. Few men in all time have such a record of achievement.
Still fewer can show at the end of a career so crowded with high
deeds and memorable victories a life so free from spot, a character
so unselfish and so pure, a fame so void of doubtful points demanding
either defense or explanation. Eulogy of such a life is needless, but it
is always important to recall and to freshly remember just what manner
of man he was. In the first place he was physically a striking figure.
He was very tall, powerfully made, with a strong, handsome face. He
was remarkably muscular and powerful. As a boy he was a leader in all
outdoor sports. No one could fling the bar further than he, and no one
could ride more difficult horses. As a young man he became a woodsman
and hunter. Day after day he could tramp through the wilderness with his
gun and his surveyor's chain, and then sleep at night beneath the stars.
He feared no exposure or fatigue, and outdid the hardiest backwoodsman
in following a winter trail and swimming icy streams. This habit of
vigorous bodily exercise he carried through life. Whenever he was at
Mount Vernon he gave a large part of his time to fox-hunting, riding
after his hounds through the most difficult country. His physical power
and endurance counted for much in his success when he commanded his
army, and when the heavy anxieties of general and president weighed upon
his mind and heart.

He was an educated, but not a learned man. He read well and remembered
what he read, but his life was, from the beginning, a life of action,
and the world of men was his school. He was not a military genius like
Hannibal, or Caesar, or Napoleon, of which the world has had only three
or four examples. But he was a great soldier of the type which the
English race has produced, like Marlborough and Cromwell, Wellington,
Grant, and Lee. He was patient under defeat, capable of large
combinations, a stubborn and often reckless fighter, a winner of
battles, but much more, a conclusive winner in a long war of varying
fortunes. He was, in addition, what very few great soldiers or
commanders have ever been, a great constitutional statesman, able to
lead a people along the paths of free government without undertaking
himself to play the part of the strong man, the usurper, or the savior
of society.

He was a very silent man. Of no man of equal importance in the world's
history have we so few sayings of a personal kind. He was ready enough
to talk or to write about the public duties which he had in hand, but he
hardly ever talked of himself. Yet there can be no greater error than
to suppose Washington cold and unfeeling, because of his silence and
reserve. He was by nature a man of strong desires and stormy passions.
Now and again he would break out, even as late as the presidency, into
a gust of anger that would sweep everything before it. He was always
reckless of personal danger, and had a fierce fighting spirit which
nothing could check when it was once unchained.

But as a rule these fiery impulses and strong passions were under the
absolute control of an iron will, and they never clouded his judgment or
warped his keen sense of justice.

But if he was not of a cold nature, still less was he hard or unfeeling.
His pity always went out to the poor, the oppressed, or the unhappy, and
he was all that was kind and gentle to those immediately about him.

We have to look carefully into his life to learn all these things, for
the world saw only a silent, reserved man, of courteous and serious
manner, who seemed to stand alone and apart, and who impressed every one
who came near him with a sense of awe and reverence.

One quality he had which was, perhaps, more characteristic of the man
and his greatness than any other. This was his perfect veracity of mind.
He was, of course, the soul of truth and honor, but he was even more
than that. He never deceived himself He always looked facts squarely in
the face and dealt with them as such, dreaming no dreams, cherishing no
delusions, asking no impossibilities,--just to others as to himself, and
thus winning alike in war and in peace.

He gave dignity as well as victory to his country and his cause. He was,
in truth, a "character for after ages to admire."





Next: Daniel Boone And The Founding Of Kentucky




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