Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

It is not in Indian wars that hèroes are celebrated; but it is there they are formed. No enemy, can be more formidable, by the craft of his ambushes, the suddenness of his onset, or the ferocity of his vengeance. The soul of Washington was thus exercised to danger ; and on the first trial, as on every other, it appeared firm in adversity, cool in action, undaunted, selfpossessed. His spirit, and still more his prudence, on the oce casion of Braddock's defeat, diffused his name throughout America, and across the Atlantic. Even then his country viewed him with complacency, as her most hopeful son.

At the peace of, 1763, Great-Britain, in consequence of her victories, stood in a position to prescribe her own terms. She chose, perhaps, better for us than herself ; for by expelling the French from Canada, we no longer feared hostile neighbors ; and we soon found just cause to be afraid of our protectors, We discerned even then a truth, which the conduct of France has since so strongly confirmed, that there is nothing which the gratitude of weak' states can give, that will satisfy strong al lies for their aid, but authority. Nations that want protectors, will have masters. Our settlements, no:longer checked by enemies on the frontier, rapidly encreased ; and it was discovered, that America was growing to a size that could defend itself.

In this, perhaps unforeseen, but at length obvious state of things, the British government conceived a jealousy of the con Jonies, of which, and of their intended measures of precaution, they made no secret. : .

[ocr errors]

· Thus it happened, that their foresight of the evil aggravated its symptoms, and accelerated its progress. The colonists perceived that they could not be governed, as before, by affection;. and resolved that they would not be governed by force. No. bly, resolved! for had we submitted to the British claims of - right, we should have had, if any, less than our antient liberty;

and held what might have been left by a worse tenure. . : ;

Our națion, like its great leader, had only to take counsel from its.courage, When Washington:heard the voice of his

country in distress, his obedience was prompt; and though his sacrifices were great, they cost him no effort. Neither the object nor the limits of my plan, permit me to dilate on the military events of the revolutionary war. Our history is but a transcript of his claims on our gratitude. Our hearts bear tes.' timony, that they are claims not to be satisfied. When overmatched by numbers, a fugitive, with a little band of faithful soldiers ; the states as much exhausted as dismayed; he explored his own undaunted heart, and found there resources to retrieve our affairs. We have seen him display as much valor as gives fame to lieroes, and as consummate prudence as ensures success to valor ; fearless of dangers that were personal to him ; hesitating and cautious, when they affe&ted his country; preferring fame before safety or repose ; and duty, before fame.

· ROMB did not owe more to Fabius than America to Washington. Our nation shares with him the singular glory of having conducted a civil war with mildness, and a revolution with order.

The event of that war seemed to crown the felicity and glory both of America and its chief. Until that contest, a great part of the civilized world had been surprizingly ignorant of the force and character, and almost of the existence, of the British colonies. They had not retained what they knew, nor felt curiosity to know the state of thirteen wretched settlements, which vast woods enclosed, and still vaster woods divided from each other. They did not view the colonists so much a people, as a race of fugitives, whom want and solitude, and intermixture with the savages, had made barbarians. Great-Britain, they saw, was elate with her victories : Europe stood in awe of her power : her armis made the thrones of the most powerful ungteady, and disturbed the tranquillity of their states, with an agitation more extensive than an earthquake. As the giant Enceladus is fabled to lie under Etna, and to shake the mountain when he turns his limbs, her hostility was felt to the extremities of the world. It reached to both the Indies ; in the wilds of Africa, it obstructed the commerce in slaves; the whales finding, in time of war, a respite from their pursuers, could

venture to sport between the tropics, and did not flee, as in peace, to hide beneath the ice-fields of the polar circle.

: At this time, while Great Britain wielded a force not inferior to that of the Roman empire, under Trajan, suddenly, astonished Europe beheld a feeble people, 'till then unknown, stand forth, and defy this. giant to the combat. I was so unequal, all expected it would be short. The events of that war were so many miracles, that attracted, as much perhaps as any. war ever did, the wonder of mankind. Our final success exalted their admiration to its highest point: they allowed to Washington all that is due to transcendent virtue, and to the Americans more than is due to human nature. They considered us a race of Washingtons, and admitted that nature in America was fruitful only in prodigies. Their books and their travellers, exaggerating and distorting all their representations, assisted to establish the opinion, that this is a new world, with a new order of men and things adapted to it; that here we practice industry, amidst the abundance that requires none ; that we have morals so refined, that we do not need laws; and though we have them, yet we ought to consider their execution as an insalt and a wrong ; that we have virtue without weakness, sentiment without passions, and liberty without factions. These allusions, in spite of their absurdity, and, perhaps, because they are absurd enough to have dominion over the imaginaticn only, have been received by many of the malecontents against the governments of Europe, and inducod them to emigrate. Such allusions are too soothing to vanity, to be entirely checked in their currency among Americans,

They have been pernicious, as they cherish false ideas of the rights of men and the duties of rulers. They have led the citizens to look for liberty, where it is not; and to consider the government, which is its castle, as its prison.

WASHINGTON retired to Mount-Vernon, and the eyes of the world followed him. He left his countrymen to their simplicity and their passions, and their glory soon departed. Europe began to be undeceived, and it seemed for a time, as if, by the

acquisition of independence, our citizens were disappointed:Y The confederation was then the only compact made to form. a perfect union of the states, to establish justice, to ensure the tranquillity, and provide for the security, of 'the “nation ; and accordingly, union was a name that still commanded reverence; though not obedience. The system called justice was, in some of the states, iniquity reduced to elementary principles ; and the public tranquillity was such'a portenious calm, as rings in deep caverns before the explosion of an earthquake. Most of the states then were in fact, though not in form, unbalanced de-" ** mocracies. Reason, it is true, spoke aúdibly in their constitu-' tions ; passion and prejudice louder in their laws. It is to the honor of Massachusetts, that it is chargeable with little devia-tion from principles. Its adlierence to them was one of the causes of a dangerous rebellion. It was scarcely possible that such governments should not be agitated by parties, and that prevailing parties should not be vindi&tive and unjust. Accords ingly, in some of the states, creditors were treated as outlaws bankrupts were armed with legal authority to be persecutors; and, by the shock of all confidence and faith, society was shaken to its foundations. Liberty we had ; but we dreaded its abuse almost as much as its loss; and the wise, who deplored the one, clearly foresaw the other..

The states were also becoming formidable to each other. Tribute, under the name of impost, was for years levied by · some of the commercial states upon their neighbors.—Measures

of retaliation were resorted to, and mutual recriminations had begun to whet the resentments, whose never failing progress among states is more injustice, vengeance and war.

The peace of America hung by a thread, and factions were' already sharpening their weapons to cut it. The project of three separate empires in America was beginning to be broached, and the progress of licentiousness would have soon rendered her citizens unfit for liberty in either of them. An'age of blood and misery would have punished our disunion : But these were not the considerations to deter ambition from its purpose, while

there were so many circumstances in our political situation to favor it. Ti jis il

,

objici in * At this awful crisis, which all the wise so much dreaded at the time, yet which appears, on a retrospect, so much more dreadful than their fears; some man was wanting, who possessessed a commanding power over the popular passions, but over whom those passions had no power that man was Washington.

His name, at the head of such a list of worthies as would reflect honor on any country, had its propers weight with all the enlightened, and with almost all the well-disposed among the less informed citizens; and, blessed be God! the constitution was adopted. Yes, to the eternal honor of America among the nations of the earth, it was adopted, in spite of the obstacles which, in any other country, and perhaps in any other age than this, would have beed insurmountable ; in spite of the doubts and fears, which well meaning prejudice creates for itself, and which party so artfully inflames into stubbornness ; in spite of the vice, which it has subjected to restraint, and which is therefore its immortal and implacable foe ; in spite of the oligarchies in some of the states, from whom it snatched domipion; it was adopted, and our country enjoys one more invalu. able chance for its union and happiness : invaluable ! if the retrospect of the dangers we have escaped, shall sufficiently inculcate the principles we have so tardily established. Perhaps multitudes are not to be taught by their fears only, without suffering inuch to deepen the impression : for experience brandishes in her school a wbip of scorpions, and teaches nations her summary lessons of wisdom by the scars and wounds of their advers sity. .

... The amendments which have been projected in some of the states shew, that in them at least, these lessons are pot well re: membered. In a confederacy of states, some powerful, others weak, the weakness of the federal union will, sooner or later, encourage, and will not restrain, the ambition and injustice of the members. The weak can no otherwise be strong or safe, but in the energy of the national government. It is this defect,

N

« AnteriorContinuar »