« PreviousContinue »
50 HENRY LEE
Possessing a clear and penetrating mind, a strong and sound judgment, calmness and temper for deliberation, with invincible firmness and perseverance in resolutions maturely formed ; drawing information from all ; acting from himself, with incorruptible integrity and unvarying patriotism ; his own superiority and the public confidence alike marked him as the man designed by Heaven to lead in the great political as well as military events which have distinguished the era of his life. The finger of an overruling Providence, pointing at Washington, was neither mistaken nor unobserved when, to realize the vast hopes to which our Revolution had given birth, a change of political system became indispensable. How novel, how grand the spectacle ! Independent States, stretched over an immense territory, and known only by common difficulty, clinging to their union as the rock of their safety, deciding by frank comparison of their relative condition to rear on that rock, under the guidance of reason, a common government, through whose commanding protection, liberty and order, with their long train of blessings, should be safe to themselves, and the sure inheritance of their posterity. This arduous task devolved on citizens selected by the people, from knowledge of their wisdom and confidence in their virtue. In this august assembly of sages and of patriots, Washington of course was found; and, as if acknowledged to be most wise where all were wise, with one voice he was declared their chief. How well he merited this rare distinction, how faithful were the labors of himself and his compatriots, the work of their hands, and our union, strength and prosperity, the fruits of that work, best attest. But to have essentially aided in presenting to his country this consummation of her hopes neither satisfied the claims of his fellow-citizens on his talents, nor those duties which the possession of those talents imposed. Heaven had not infused into his mind such an uncommon share of its ethereal spirit to remain unemployed ; nor bestowed on him his genius unaccompanied with the corresponding duty of devoting it to the common good. To have framed a constitution, was showing only, without realizing, the general happiness. This great work remained to be done; and America, steadfast in her preference, with one voice summoned her beloved Washington, unpracticed as he was in the duties of civil administration, to execute this last act in the completion of the national felicity. Obedient to her call, he assumed the high office with that self-distrust peculiar to his innate modesty, the constant attendant of pre-eminent virtue. What was the burst of joy through our anxious land, on this exhilarating event, is known to us all. The aged, the young, the brave,
HENRY LEE 51
the fair rivaled each other in demonstrations of their gratitude; and this high-wrought, delightful scene, was heightened in its effect by the singular contest between the zeal of the bestowers and the avoidance of the receiver of the honors bestowed. Commencing his administration, what heart is not charmed with the recollection of the pure and wise principles announced by himself, as the basis of his political life . He best understood the indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and individual felicity; watching, with an equal and comprehensive eye, over this great assemblage of communities and interests, he laid the foundations of our national policy in the unerring, immutable principles of morality, based on religion, exemplifying the pre-eminence of a free government by all the attributes which win the affections of its citizens, or command the respect of the world.
“O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint l''
Leading through the complicated difficulties produced by previous obligations and conflicting interests, seconded by succeeding Houses of Congress, enlightened and patriotic, he surmounted all original obstruction, and brightened the path of our national felicity. . Pursuing steadfastly his course, he held safe the public happiness, preventing foreign war, and quelling internal discord, till the revolving period of a third election approached, when he executed his interrupted but inextinguishable desire of returning to the humble walks of private life. The promulgation of his fixed resolution stopped the anxious wishes of an affectionate people from adding a third unanimous testimonial of their unabated confidence in the man so long enthroned in their hearts. When before was affection like this exhibited on earth 2 Turn over the records of ancient Greece; review the annals of mighty Rome; examine the volumes of modern Europe; you search in vain. America and her Washington only afford the dignified exemplification. The illustrious personage, called by the national voice in succession to the arduous office of guiding a free people, had new difficulties to encounter. The amicable effort of settling our difficulties with France, begun by Washington, and pursued by his successor in virtue as in station, proving abortive, America took measures of self-defence. No sooner was the public mind roused by a prospect of danger, than every eye was turned to the friend of all, though secluded from public view, and gray in public service. The virtuous veteran, following his plough, received the 52 HENRY LEE
unexpected summons with mingled emotions of indignation at the unmerited ill-treatment of his country, and of a determination once more to risk his all in her defence. The annunciation of these feelings, in his affecting letter to the President, accepting the command of the army, concludes
his official conduct. --T FIRST IN waR, FIRST IN PEACE AND FIRST IN THE HEARTS OF HIS
countRYMEN, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending ; to his inferiors kind; and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender. Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life; although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him ; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well-spent life. Such was the man America has lost ! Such was the man for whom our nation mourns ! Methinks I see his august image, and hear, falling from his venerable lips, these deep sinking words: “Cease, sons of America, lamenting our separation; go on and confirm by your wisdom the fruits of our joint counsels, joint efforts, and common dangers. Reverence religion ; diffuse knowledge throughout your land; patronize the arts and sciences; let liberty and order be inseparable companions; control party spirit, the bane of free government; observe good faith to and cultivate peace with all nations; shut up every avenue to foreign influence; contract rather than extend national connection ; rely on yourselves only; be American in thought and deed. Thus will you give immortality to the Union which was the constant object of my terrestrial labors. Thus will you preserve, undisturbed, to the latest posterity, the felicity of a people to me most dear; and thus will you supply (if my happiness is now aught to you) the only vacancy in the round of pure bliss high Heaven bestows.”
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS (1752-1816)
THE ONE-LEGGED STATESMAN
two men of the name of Morris, especially to Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution. The second, Gouverneur Morris, while less distinguished, made himself prominent among the statesmen and orators of that era. He began to win credit for oratory in his college career. He became a lawyer in 1771, and in this profession soon gained reputation for unusual eloquence. During the Revolution he was a member of the Continental Congress. In 1780, after he had resumed the practice of the law, he had the misfortune to be thrown from his carriage, and was so injured that the amputation of his leg became necessary, a loss which he bore with remarkable fortitude.
In 1781 he was appointed assistant to Robert Morris in adjusting the finances of the country, and remained his aid for three years. In 1787 he became a member of the Convention that framed the Constitution of the United States, of which, as Madison says, “he was an able, an eloquent, and an active member. . . . The finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution fairly belongs to the pen of Mr. Morris.” He was sent as Minister to France in 1792, and in 1800 was elected United States Senator from New York. While in Paris, he wore an ordinary wooden leg, in preference to any artistic substitute for his lost limb. It served him well on one occasion during the French Revolution. A mob of fiery revolutionists attacked his carriage in the street, with the fatal cry of “Aristocrat l” Morris coolly thrust his wooden leg out of the window, and cried out: “An aristocrat 2 Yes; who lost his leg in the cause of American liberty 2 * This apt reply turned the temper of the mob; they
T HE early period of United States history brought distinction to
54 GOUVERNEUR MORRIS
cheered the man they had been eager to hang, and the quick-witted American proceeded triumphantly on his way.
THE FREE USE OF THE MISSISSIPPI
[In the opening years of the nineteenth century, when emigrants from the Eastern States were pouring rapidly into the valley of the Mississippi, the freedom of navigation of that great artery of the West became a burning question, and the obstacles which the Spanish at New Orleans put in the way of free river commerce stirred up the high-spirited pioneers almost to the point of war. In 1802 it was learned that France, by a secret treaty with Spain, had become the owners of the Louisiana territory, and the irritation which had existed in the country deepened into alarm. Napoleon, then First Consul of France, was a different character to deal with than the weak monarch of Spain, and it was impossible to conjecture to what critical conditions his restless ambition might lead. The difficulty was soon to be settled by the diplomacy of Jefferson and his ministers, who purchased the whole vast tract from Napoleon; but it was a burning question on the 24th of February, 1803, when Morris delivered an able and spirited speech, in which he openly advocated war as the only available means of securing the freedom of America's greatest stream. We quote some stirring passages from this lengthy address.]
What is the state of things? There has been a cession of the island of New Orleans and of Louisiana to France. Whether the Floridas have also been ceded is not yet certain. It has been said, as from authority, and I think it probable. Now, sir, let us note the time and the manner of this cession. It was at or immediately after the treaty of Luneville, at the first moment when France could take up a distant object of attention. But had Spain a right to make this cession without our consent? Gentlemen have taken it for granted that she had. But I deny the position. No nation has a right to give to another a dangerous neighbor without her consent. This is not like the case of private citizens, for there, when a man is injured, he can resort to the tribunals for redress; and yet, even there, to dispose of property to one who is a bad neighbor, is always considered as an act of unkindness. But as between nations, who can redress themselves only by war, such transfer is in itself an aggression. . . . .
But it is not this transfer alone; there are circumstances, both in the time and in the manner of it, which deserve attention. A gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Wright, has told you, that all treaties ought to be published and proclaimed for the information of other nations. I ask, was this a public treaty 2 No. Was official notice of it given to the government of this country 2 Was it announced to the President of the United States, in the usual forms of civility between nations who duly respect each other ? It was not. Let gentlemen contradict me if they can. They will say, perhaps, that it was the omission only of a vain and idle ceremony. Ignorance may, indeed, pretend that such communication is an