Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

ration of a free government, than in attracting, by every external excitement, the studies and the affections of our citizens to the most perfect model, and the most animating example of political and domestic virtue which the world has ever exhibited.

Your honourable body need not be reminded of the great importance which the nations of the world have uniformly attached to the commemoration, either by public monuments or festivals, of the virtues of those who deserved well of their country. This object formed a part of the fundamental policy of the commonwealths of antiquity; it was their aim, not merely to discharge a debt of gratitude, but to foster the spirit of emulation, and to kindle the fire of generous enthusiasm, by constantly presenting models of excellence to the youthful mind. They exalted the benefactors of the state into heroes, whom the multitude, dazzled by the effulgence which every form of panegyric conspired to throw over their name, gradually invested with the honours of the godhead. The noblest works of the chisel, the most majestic monuments of architecture, the most solemn games, the pageantry of festivals, were regularly devoted to the memory of those who raised the renown or upheld the liberties of their country. After the battle of Thermopylæ every Spartan child committed to memory the names of the three hundred companions of Leonidas. After that of Platea, a whole people were solemnly set apart by the rest of Greece, to proclaim without intermission, the praises of those who shed their blood in the common cause. Among the Greeks, who so well understood the genius and the interests of freedom, it was held sacrilegious to destroy a statue or a trophy, even when the vouchers of imposture or crime, in order that merit might, in no one instance, lose its reward, or fail to produce its effect. They knew the force of early and habitual impressions, and sedulously laboured to cultivate the natural feeling of admiration for shining examples of public worth. They enlisted studiously on its side, the prejudices of education and habit, and thus planted and propagated the seeds of public wisdom and virtue: it was their maxim that glory was inestimable; and that he who gave the smallest particle to his country merited eternal gratitude and veneration. It was their belief that a nation could not degenerate into slavery, which, at every step in the path of dishonour, sustained a bitter reproach from its own public rewards; which was often roused to the

recollection of the champions of freedom, and fired by the recital of their principles and exploits. The republic of Rome pursued the same policy under the same conviction, that the spirit of liberty could not, in any other way, be more efficaciously preserved, and that without that spirit, the forms of freedom could not long endure. The sacred cause of religion itself is promoted, and the spirit of piety quickened and perpetuated by the periodical celebration of the divine merits of the Saviour, and the public monuments raised to his glory. The posthumous honours paid to merit by the nations of Europe are scarcely less liberal than those of the ancients. It may be added that the languor with which we celebrate the anni- . versary of our independence; and the slender tribute which we have, as yet, paid to the memory of Washington, are already, in Europe, urged against us as grounds of reproach. They are also assumed as proofs of the decay of that republican zeal which it is now the object of your memorialists to draw forth; an object in which your honourable body is earnestly solicited to cooperate. If ever there was an instance in which a nation was summoned by the strongest motives both of pride and policy to multiply proofs of gratitude and love to an individual, it is this, which your memorialists now press upon the attention of your honourable body. An illustrious orator* of another country, has said of Washington, that he, more than any other human being, gave to the world the example of a perfect man. An American may add, that he alone, besides conferring on his country the unequalled honour of such an example, secured to it a practical system of government and laws, founded in the perfection of human reason : a constitution in which, (to repeat the eulogy of another great orator)t there is more to admire and less to deplore; a more sacred regard to property, a more inviolable security to the rights of individuals, than in that of any other country under heaven. There is no one, among the many advantages which we possess over the rest of the world, which we would more ambitiously select than that of having so bright an example wherewith to assert the dignity of the American name—to train our youth to virtue, and to enforce the lessons of freedom.

* Mr. Fox.

† Lord Erskine.

The ancients allotted to the memory of their heroes, statues as large as life; and to their gods, figures above the natural size. In tracing the character of those to whom mankind has been most prodigal of their applause, a similar rule may be observed, and a faithful resemblance drawn, within the common stature, as it were, of human genius and virtue. But in delineating general Washington, the dimensions of the portrait swell insensibly beyond the ordinary standard of human perfection, and exhibit, not merely the dignity of Solon or Epaminondas, but an imposing, although temperate and natural majesty like that of the Apollo of Belvedere. His character resembles that idea of perfection, which is said to float before the imagination of the painter and the sculptor, but which no human skill can embody—it has an airy elevation to which the mind may soar, but which no hand can reach—it is a pure essence—a fine extractan etherial substance without any of the dross and residuum of our nature. The strength of his judgment; the moderation of his desires; the lustre of his virtues; the perfect aptitude of his talents for every situation; the magnitude of his services, the whole tenor of his life and his character, which left nothing to desire, and exhibited nothing to reprehend-form altogether a combination of excellence, which, if it were not attested by the voice of all mankind, might be hereafter regarded as the fiction of some extravagant romance.

In his highest prosperity, during that struggle for national independence of which he was the soul, he manifested nothing of the intoxication of success. In the lowest depression of the public fortunes, if he ever doubted of the issue, he never failed to exhibit the rare union of practical vigour with speculative despondency. After having successfully maintained the cause of his country in arms, he twice saved it by the wisdom of his councils; once by secuiing the adoption and establishing the influence of the federal constitution; again—by resisting the spirit of innovation, when it was the epidemical disease of the world-he loved subordination, which excludes arbitrary power; and detested licentiousness, which leads to despotism. The whole tenor of his administration was not only immediately, but prospectively, useful. . As Apelles painted, he legislated, for posterity. His aim was not merely to complete a work of temporary benefit, but to establish a model for the instruction of every age. He generalized, in governing, and framed a system adapted, not only to the circumstances of his own time, but to every vicissitude of affairs, and to every combination of difficulties to which his successors could be exposed. His maxims and his strokes of policy, were of the highest order and of universal application. They were drawn from a lofty sense of honour, from the most enlarged patriotism, from a comprehensive survey both of the proximate effects, and of the remote relations and indirect tendencies of public measures. Never in any one act of his administration, was he known to consult his personal interests, or to have in view the support of his individual authority. There was nothing about him of littleness, either in object or in means. With the most consuminate prudence, and the most profound discretion, he was, nevertheless, totally devoid of cunning. He acted always upon great principles; from the dictates of a pure heart, auxiliary to the operations of a sound understanding. We have never seen him, therefore, at a loss in any conjuncture; never stooping to the low artifices which cunning suggests—nor involved in the difficulties to which a crooked or sinister policy so commonly leads. He understood, fully, the difference between the patience of fortitude, and the endurance of pusillanimity between the puling policy of a weak and confused administration and the distempered vigour and insane alacrity of those who court danger without necessity, and make war the universal resort. In the iconology of the ancients, honour is appropriately sculptured with the sword in one hand, and the olive branch in the other. He bore this image constantly in his mind, and never wished to see peace unless led by “ warlike honour,” nor war unaccompanied by the emblems of peace. He felt, and in all cases, acted upon that peculiar responsibility which is imposed upon every administration by the infancy of this nation: the responsibility of exciting among the people, for the inheritance of posterity, a gallantry of spirit, a quick sense of honour; an abhorrence of despotism; the virtues of magnanimity, of fortitude, and of perseverance, by which nations contending in the cause of justice and freedom, have triumphantly surmounted difficulties otherwise invincible, and by which they have erected, on their very misfortunes, imperishable trophies to their renown.

When public virtue and real capacity, says a great writer, are rendered the sole means of acquiring any degree of power or profit in the state, the passions of the heart are enlisted on the side of liberty and good government. This was Washington's maxim-he knew it to be one of the ends of the constitution of this country, that the stations of dignity, and the ranks of society, should be allotted to merit alone. He deprecated the dominion of weak understandings and strong prejudices. He governed by no party—he laboured to raise up a spirit fit to cope' with the passions which division calls into action, and which have so often disordered the frame, and, not unfrequently, extinguished the principles of a free government. He wished to inflame us with one common zeal, and to unite us in one common end—that we might be faithful to ourselves and to the state. He wished that the government, when called upon to exert its strength, should exert the strength of the whole nation. He knew that factions, like the iron race of Cadmus, destroy each other: that under their guidance, fools and knaves are often invested with the robes of honour and the emblems of wisdom; that the intemperance of party is, generally, more prone to emblazon, than solicitous to remedy the evils which incapacity or corruption may entail on a country. Your memorialists state, the more readily, the doctrines of Washington on this head, as it cannot be concealed that we now labour under unhappy divisions; and as they lament to see, so many whom the public good summons to act in concert, thrown into opposite ranks of party, with no real difference of principles or designs to support the distinction. Those who think alike, on the subject of Washington, cannot want a bond of union; and your memorialists know of no more efficacious means of producing unanimity, than that of attracting the attention of the country to his memory.

It has not been the intention of your memorialists to pronounce an elaborate panegyric on the character of Washington: but they have thus ventured to suggest some of the leading features and maxims of his mind, both because it is natural for his countrymen to dwell upon them at all times with delight, and because such a review strikingly 'illustrates the obligation and the utility of the end for which your memorialists now present themselves before your hoBourable body. They wish his principles to exert a universal influ

« AnteriorContinuar »