Page images

Immediately on resigning his commission, general Washington “hastened with ineffable delights” (to use his own words) to his seat at Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potowmac, in Virginia.

The country now free from foreign force and domestic violence, and in the enjoyment of general tranquillity, a proposition was made by Virginia to all the other states, to meet in convention, for the purpose of digesting a form of government; which finally issued in the establish ment of a new constitution. Congress, which formerly consisted of one body, was made to consist of two: one of which was to be chosen by the people, in proportion to their numbers, the other by the state legislatures. Warm and animating debates took place on the propriety of establishing, or rejecting it. The ratification of it was celebrated in most of the states with elegant processions.

The first congress under the new constitution met at New York in April, 1789. Though there were a great diversity of opinions about the new constitution, all were of one mind who should be their chief executive officer. The people unanimously turned their eyes on the late commander in chief, as the most proper person to be their first president. Unambitious of any increase of honours, he had retired to his farm in Virginia, and hoped to be excused from all further public service. But his country called him by an unanimous vote to fill the highest station in its gift.

That pure and upright zeal for his country's welfare, which had uniformly influenced him to devote his time and talents to its service, again influenced him to relinquish the more pleasing scenes of retirement, and induced him once more to engage in the important concerns of public life. The intelligence of his election was communicated to him, while he was on his farm in Virginia ; he soon after set out for New York : on his way thither, every expression of respect, that a grateful people could bestow, was shewn him. Gentlemen of the first character and station, attended him from state to state. A day was fixed soon after his arrival at New York, for his taking the oath of office. In the morning of the day appointed for this purpose, the clergy, of different denominations, assembled their congregations in their respective places

of worship, and offered up prayers for the president and
people of the United States. About noon, a procession,
followed by a multitude of citizens, moved from the pre-
sident's house to Federal Hall. When they came within
a short distance of the hall, the troops formed a line on
both sides of the way, through which the president and
vice-president, John Adams, passed into the senate cham-
ber. Immediately after, accompanied by both houses, he
went into the gallery fronting Broad street, and before
them and an immense crowd of spectators, took the oath
prescribed by the constitution ; which was administered
by R. R. Livingston, the chancellor of the state of New
. During the performance of this ceremony, an awful
silence prevailed. The chancellor then proclaimed him,
President of the United States of America. This was an-
nounced by the discharge of thirteen guns, and by the
joyful acclamations of near ten thousand citizens. He then
retired to the senate-chamber, where he delivered a peech
to both houses: near the conclusion of which, he renounced
all pecuniary compensation.

This memorable day completed the organization of the new constitution. The experience of former ages, as well as of later times, has given many melancholy and fatal proofs, that popular governments have seldom answered in practice. The inhabitants of the United States are now making the experiment. That they may succeed in as, şerting the dignity of human nature, and a capacity for self government, is devoutly to be wished.

The appointment of general Washington to the presidency of the United States, was peculiarly fortunate ; he possessed such a commanding influence in the minds of the great bulk of the people, arising from a sure and Well placed confidence in his patriotism and integrity; that they, with cheerfulness acquiesced in all his measures for the public welfare ; and notwithstanding, that during his administration, Great Britain and France, were involved in a ruinous war, and there were many partizans in America, in favour of the latter, and would gladly have made a common cause with her against Great Britain ; yet his firmness and sagacity, prevented the threatened evil, though they were encouraged by Genet, the ambassador

[ocr errors]

from France, who openly, and in defiance of the government of the United States, attempted to commission - American citizens to arm, and fit out vessels, to cruize against the British subjects. The president's proclamation, enjoining a strict neutrality, was sanctioned by the great body of the people ; and the insulent ravings of Genet was taken no further notice of, than to furnish the different states with a fresh opportunity of expressing their continued approbation and confidence, in his political mea


When the term of his appointment as president had expired, he intimated to his friends, his intention to return once more to his loved retirement; he had even contemplated his farewell address, and was preparing to retire from the weight of public cares, when his countrymen, apprehensive for the public safety, in so critical a moment, united to implore him to desist from a resolution so alarming to their fears. Their interposition prevailed, and he again entered upon the arduous task, to the mani. fest satisfaction of every honest American; but what made the task set more easy upon him, was, the assistance of eminent men in the executive department. The names of Adams, Hamilton, Pickering, Wollcoti and others, are names which will long be remembered with gratitude by posterity, when the envenomed tongue of detraction will be forgotten. In 1796, in the month of September, a new election was to take place, when the public was anxiously desirous, that general Washington would again accept the first office in their gift ; but his unalterable resolution was taken, to recede from the toils of state. His farewel address, contains such prudent and sound advice to his fellow citizens, as shews that his country's welfare was still dear to his heart.

« Friends and Fellow-Citizens,

The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person, 'who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more dis

tinct expression of the public voice, that I should now as. prize you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those, out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you, at the same time, to do me the justice to be assured, that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the .relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country ; and that, in withdrawing the tender of service which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest; no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness; but am supported .by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in the of. fice to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been an uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, * from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence, impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety; - and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government, the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of

myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me, as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary; I have the consolation io believe, that while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country, for the many honours it has conferred upon me; still more for the stedfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstan. ces in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which, not unfrequently, want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected....Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows, that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained ; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that in fine, the happiness of the people of these states, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation, and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to applause, the affection and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps, I ought to stop; but a solicitude for your welfare, which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge



« PreviousContinue »