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Page:Collier's New Encyclopedia v. 10.djvu/357

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WASHINGTON

307

WASHINGTON

weighing the claims of mercy and justice in the case of André, and we recall only his own imperial self. Yes, Washington the general is a supremely great man, and those who deny the fact do so because they have not been able to survey his career from the proper point of view. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that to the trained student his greatness is even implicit in his proclamations to his soldiers from first to last.

He was no master of style, but certainly for directness and vigor of phrase, for patriotic purpose, for clear-sighted content, his circular letter to the governors of all the States (June 8, 1783) is unsurpassed among the political documents of the world. His entire correspondence from the time he retired from command of the army till he re-entered the service of his country as its first President, is a monument to his modesty, his magnanimity, his prudence, and his wisdom. Frederick the Great himself, resting from war that he might restore order and peace to the people, is no grander figure than this victorious American general, watching from Mount Vernon the fortunes of his country, and lending the weight of his counsel and his example to the sacred cause of union. He served this cause still further by presiding over the convention in 1787, and 1789 he entered on the presidency of the nation, assuming a new role for which he was admirably fitted and in which he was destined to achieve magnificent success.

To many persons Washington the statesman is harder to realize than Washington the general. This is probably a result of political partisanship. Men look back to those two great founders of parties, Jefferson and Hamilton, and forget the chief who dominated and controlled them. Washington really made Hamilton and he always used Jefferson when he needed him; it was thus perhaps in accordance with weak human nature that Hamilton should have been ungrateful to his memory, while Jefferson was impelled to pay him a tribute—noble in spite of its jealous touches. No fact in history is more clearly established than that Washington was the chief figure in his own administrations. He came to the chair of State with the best equipment possible, and he would have left it vacant forever had it been requisite to fill it with a successor who should be his equal. He had not the analytic mind of Hamilton nor the philosophic grasp of Jefferson, but his training for the duties of a statesman had been superior to theirs. He came of a race used to act and to command. From an early age he had to rely on himself, and so he attained to that self-discipline which is indispensable to a political leader. Circumstances determined that he should learn the lessons of life from men rather than from books; thus he stood in no danger of becoming a doctrinaire. His early experiences as a surveyor, a backwoodsman, and a soldier gave him a true sympathy with democracy, and hence enabled him to understand the only rational principle on which a stable government could be founded in America; while his good birth and training, and his position as a planter aristocrat, put him in touch with that English past from which it would have been impossible for the new nation to break entirely. Add to all this the fact that his nature was essentially straightforward and manly, and that he had not a conspicuous weakness, that his mind was clear and flexible, and if not quick, certainly not slow, and we surely have as well-equipped a statesman as the world's history can furnish.

Compared with him, how the other figures of the period, even the greatest, shrink and diminish! The spiritual dignity of his altruism sits not on Franklin; his breadth and catholic charity of judgment belong neither to Hamilton nor to Jefferson: and who would think of comparing with him the Madisons, the Jays, the Morrises, the Ameses, the Wilsons of the time, able and patriotic men though they all were. Dignity, steadfastness, uprightness, serenity, benignity, wisdom—these are the characteristics of Washington's statesmanship, whether we regard his firm policy of resistance to the insolence of revolutionary France, or his refusal to plunge his country into a second war with England, or his cordial acceptance of the financial measures of Hamilton, or his steady accentuation of the national principle, or his noble efforts to reconcile his cabinet, or his strong but humane policy toward the Indians, or his prompt crushing of the Whisky Rebellion, or finally, his progressive views on the subjects of slavery and national education, and his prophetic comprehension of the importance of the West. A perfect equipoise of powers, which taken separately would not be supreme, appears to be the characteristic mark of his rare variety of genius, which among men of action is illustrated in Alfred the Great, and among men of letters in Sophocles. It is to this class that Washington belongs—to the class of men whose balance of faculties is so serenely perfect as to constitute genius of perhaps the highest order. What shall we say of such a man, save that he was as great in peace as he was in war; that he was veritably the Father of his Country?