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A private letter written by Washington shortly afterwards to the Secretary of War, bespeaks his apprehensions : “I have for
“ some time past viewed the political concerns of the United States with an anxious and painful eye. They appear to me to be moving by hasty strides to a crisis; but in what it will result, that Being, who sees, foresees, and directs all things, alone can tell. The vessel is afloat, or very nearly so, and considering myself as a passenger only, I shall trust to the mariners (whose duty it is to watch) to steer it into a safe port.”
His latest concern about the army was to give instructions for hutting the troops according to an idea originally suggested by Hamilton, and adopted in the Revolutionary War. “Although I had determined to take no charge of any military operations,” writes he, "unless the troops should be called into the field, yet, under the present circumstances, and considering that the advanced season of the year will admit of no delay in providing winter-quarters for the troops, I have willingly given my aid in that business, and shall never decline any assistance in my power, when necessary, to promote the good of the service." *
* Washington's Writings, xi., 463.
Washington Digests a Plan for the Management of
his Estate-His Views in Regard to a Military Academy-Letter to Hamilton-His Last HoursThe Funeral—The Will—Its Provisions in Regard to his Slaves— Proceedings of Congress on his Death-Conclusion.
INTER had now set in, with occa
sional wind and rain and frost, yet Washington still kept up his active
round of in-door and out-door avocations, as his diary records. He was in full health and vigor, dined out occasionally, and had frequent guests at Mount Vernon, and, as usual, was part of every day in the saddle, going the rounds of his estates, and, in his military phraseology, “visiting the outposts."
He had recently walked with his favorite nephew about the grounds, showing the improvements he intended to make, and had especially pointed out the spot where he purposed building a new family vault; the old one being damaged by the roots of trees which had over-grown it and caused it to leak. "This change," said he, “I shall make the first of all, for I may require it before the rest."
“When I parted from him," adds the nephew,
he stood on the steps of the front door, where he took leave of myself and another. It was a bright frosty morning; he had taken his usual ride, and the clear healthy flush on his cheek, and his sprightly manner, brought the remark fronı both of us that we had never seen the general look so well. I have sometimes thought him decidedly the handsomest man I ever saw; and when in a lively mood, so full of pleasantry, so agreeable to all with whom he associated, that I could hardly realize he was the same Washington whose dignity awed all who approached him."*
For some time past Washington had been occupied in digesting a complete system on which his estate was to be managed for several succeeding years; specifying the cultivation of the several farms, with tables designating the rotations of the crops. It occupied thirty folio pages, and was executed with that clearness and method which characterized all his business papers.
This was finished on the roth * Paulding's Life of Washington, vol. ii., p. 196.
of December, and was accompanied by a letter of that date to his manager or steward. It is a valuable document, showing the soundness and vigor of his intellect at this advanced stage of his existence, and the love of order that reigned throughout his affairs. 'My greatest anxiety,” said he on a previous occasion, “is to have all these concerns in such a clear and distinct form, that no reproach may attach itself to me when I have taken my departure for the land of spirits.”*
It was evident, however, that full of health and vigor, he looked forward to his long cherished hope, the enjoyment of a serene old age in this home of his heart.
According to his diary, the morning on which these voluminous instructions to his steward were dated was clear and calm, but the afternoon was lowering. The next day (11th), he notes that there was wind and rain, and “at night a large circle round the moon.”
The morning of the 12th was overcast. That morning he wrote to Hamilton, heartily approving of a plan for a military academy, which the latter had submitted to the Secretary of War. "The establishment of an institution of this kind upon a respectable and extensive basis,” observes he, “has ever been considered
* Letter to James McHenry. Writings, xi., 407.
by me an object of primary importance to this country; and while I was in the chair of
government I omitted no proper opportunity of recommending it in my public speeches and otherwise, to the attention of the legislature. But I never undertook to go into a detail of the organization of such an academy, leaving this task to others, whose pursuit in the path of science and attention to the arrangement of such institutions, had better qualified them for the execution of it.
I sincerely hope that the subject will meet with due attention, and that the reason for its establishment which you have clearly pointed out in your letter to the secretary, will prevail upon the legislature to place it upon a permanent and respectable footing.” He closes his letter with an assurance of “very great esteem and regard,” the last words he ever was to address to Hamilton.
About ten o'clock he mounted his horse, and rode out as usual to make the rounds of his estate. The ominous ring round the moon, which he had observed on the preceding night, proved a fatal portent. “About one o'clock,' he notes,
it began to snow, soon after to hail, and then turned to a settled cold rain. Having on an overcoat, he continued his ride without regarding the weather, and did not return to the house until after three.