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doubt my sincerity, when I assure you, that I Chap, L place you among the foremost of this class. Letters 1783 of friendship require no study. The communi- 17g7 cations they contain flow with ease; and allowances are expected and are made. But this is not the case with those which require research, consideration, and recollection."
It was some time after the date of this letter before he could introduce into his family a young gentleman, whose education and manners enabled him, at the same time, to fill the station of a private secretary and of a friend.
This multiplicity of private avocations could not entirely withdraw the mind of Washington from objects tending to promote and secure the public happiness. Though his resolution never again to appear in the busy scenes of political life was believed by himself, and by his bosom friends to be unalterable, it was impossible that he should become regardless of those measures which must inevitably produce consequences infinitely interesting to his country.
To a person looking beyond the present moment, and taking the future into view, it was only necessary to glance over the map of the United States, to be impressed with the incalculable importance of connecting the western with the eastern territory, by facilitating the means of intercourse between them. To this subject, the attention of general Washington had been in some measure directed in the early part of his life. While the American states were yet British colonies, he had obtained the passage of a bill Vol. v. c
Chap. i. empowering those individuals who would engage 1783 in the work, to open the Potomac so as to render 17'87. it navigable from tide water to Wills creek.* The river James had also been comprehended in this plan; and he had triumphed so far over the opposition produced by local interests and prejudices, that the business was in a train which promised success, when the revolutionary war diverted the attention of its patrons, and of all America, from internal improvements to the great objects of liberty and independence. As that war approached its termination, subjects which for a time had yielded their pretensions to consideration, reclaimed that place to which their real magnitude entitled them; and the internal navigation again attracted the attention of the wise and thinking part of society. Accustomed to contemplate America as his country, and to consider with solicitude the interests of the whole, Washington now took a more enlarged view of the advantages to be derived from opening both the eastern and the western waters; and for this, as well as for other purposes, after peace had been proclaimed, he traversed the western parts of New England and New York. "I have lately," said he in a letter to the marquis of Chastellux, a foreigner, who was in pursuit of literary as well as of military fame, "made a tour through the lakes George and Champlain as far as Crown point; ...then returning to Schenectady, I proceeded up the Mohawk river to fort Schuyler, crossed over to Wood creek which empties into the Oneida lake, and affords the water communication with * About one hundred and fifty miles.
Ontario. I then traversed the country to the head Chap. I. of the eastern branch of the Susquehanna, and nss viewed the lake Otswego, and the portage between 1787. that lake and the Mohawk river at Conajohario. Prompted by these actual observations, I could not help taking a more contemplative and extensive view of the vast inland navigation of these United States, and could not but be struck with the immense diffusion and importance of it; and with the goodness of that Providence which has dealt his favours to us with so profuse a hand. Would to God we may have wisdom enough to improve them. I shall not rest contented until I have explored the western country, and traversed those lines (or great part of them) which have given bounds to a new empire."
Scarcely had he answered those spontaneous offerings of the heart, which, on retiring from the head of the army, flowed in upon him from every part of a grateful nation, when his views were once more seriously turned to this truly interesting subject. Its magnitude was also impressed on others; and the value of obtaining the aid which his influence and active interference would afford to any exertions for giving this direction to the public mind, and for securing the happy execution of the plan which might be devised, was perceived by all those who attached to the great work a sufficient degree of importance, and who were anxious for its success. In a letter from a gentleman* who had taken an expanded
• Mr. Jefferson.
Chaf. *• view of the subject, who felt an ardent wish for 1783 its accomplishment, and who relied on funds to 1787. De advanced by the public for its execution, a detailed statement of his ideas was thus concluded."But a most powerful objection always arises to propositions of this kind. It is, that public undertakings are carelessly managed, and much money spent to little purpose. To obviate this objection is the purpose of my giving you the trouble of this discussion. You have retired from public life. You have weighed this determination, and it would be impertinence in me to touch it. But would the superintendance of this work break in too much on the sweets of retirement and repose ? If they would, I stop here. Your future time and wishes are sacred in my eye. If it would be only a dignified amusement to you, what a monument of your retirement would it be! It is one which would follow that of your public life, and bespeak it the work of the same great hand. I am confident, that would you either alone, or jointly with any persons you think proper, be willing to direct this business, it would remove the only objection, the weight of which I apprehend."
In the beginning of the autumn of 1784, general Washington made a tour as far west as Pittsburgh; after returning from which, his first moments of leisure were devoted to the task of engaging his countrymen in a work which appeared to him to merit still more attention from its political, than from its commercial influence on the union. In a long and interesting letter to Mr. Harrison,
then governor of Virginia, he detailed the advan- Chap, L tages which might be derived from opening the 170,3 great rivers, the Potomac and the James, as ^8.^ hieh as should be practicable. After stating with Recommend.
, , the opening
his accustomed exactness the distances, and the ?ndtihnj?,^d difficulties to be surmounted in bringing the trade gj|g*"" of the west to different points on the Atlantic, hevirgLu". expressed unequivocally the opinion, that the rivers of Virginia afforded a more convenient, and a more direct course than could be found elsewhere, for that rich and increasing commerce. This was strongly urged as a motive for immediately commencing the work. But the rivers of the Atlantic constituted only a part of the great plan he contemplated. He suggested the appointment of commissioners of integrity and abilities, exempt from the suspicion of prejudice, whose duty it should be, after an accurate examination of the James and the Potomac, to search out the nearest and best portages between those waters and the streams capable of improvement, which run into the Ohio. Those streams were to be accurately surveyed, the impediments to their navigation ascertained, and their relative advantages examined. The navigable waters west of the Ohio, towards the great lakes, were also to be traced to their sources, and those which empty into the lakes to be followed to their mouths. "These things being done, and an accurate map of the whole presented to the public, he was persuaded that reason would dictate what was right and proper." For the execution of this latter part of his plan he had also much reliance on congress; and