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The life of our Washington cannot suffer by a comparison with those of other countries, who have been most celebrated and exalted by fame. The attributes and decorations of royalty, could have only served to eclipse the majesty of those virtues which made him, from being a modest citizen, a more resplendent luminary. Misfortune, had he lived, could hereafter have sullied his glory only with those superficial minds, who, believing that characters and actions are marked by success alone, rarely deserve to enjoy it. Malice could never blast his honour, and envy made him a singular exception to her universal rule.
For himself he had lived enough, to life and to glory. For his fellow-citizens, if their prayers could have been answered, he would have been immortal. For me, his departure is at a most unfortunate moment. Trusting, however, in the wise and righteous dominion of Providence over the passions of men, and the results of their councils and actions, as well as over their lives, nothing remains for me, but humble resignation.
His example is now complete, and it will teach wisdom and virtue to magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age, but in future generations, as long as our history shall be read. If a Trajan found a Pliny, a Marcus Aurelius can never want Biographers, Eulogists, or Historians.
In an address to the Senate on a previous occasion, when taking the chair as Vice-President of the United States, April 21st, 1789, JOHN ADAMS alluded to Washington in the following terms: “Were I blessed with powers to do justice to his character, it would be impossible to increase the confidence or affection of his country, or make the smallest addition to his glory .... May, I, nevertheless, be indulged to inquire, if we look over the catalogue of the first magistrates of nations, whether they have been denominated presidents or consuls, kings or princes, where shall we find one, whose commanding talents and virtues, whose overruling good fortune, have so completely united all hearts and voices in his favor, . who enjoyed the esteem and admiration of foreign nations and fellow citizens with equal unanimity? Qualities so uncommon, are no common blessings to the country that possesses them. By those great qualities, and their benign effects, has Providence marked out the head of this nation with a hand, so distinctly visible, as to have been seen by all men, and mistaken by none."
And again, in his inaugural address to both Houses of Congress, as President, March 4th, 1797, Mr. Adams referred to the Presidency of Washington, as “the administration of a citizen, who, by a long course of great actions regulated by prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, conducting a people, inspired with the same virtue, and animated with the same ardent patriotism and love of liberty, to independence and peace, to increasing wealth and unexampled prosperity, has merited the gratitude of his fellow-citizens, commanded the highest praises of foreign nations, and secured immortal glory with posterity.”
In obedience to your will,* I rise your humble organ, with the hope of executing a part of the system of public mourning which you have been pleased to adopt, commemorative of the death of the most illustrious and most beloved personage this country has ever produced; and which, while it transmits to posterity your sense of the awful event, faintly represents your knowledge of the consummate excellence you so cordially honour.
Desperate indeed is any attempt on earth to meet correspondently this dispensation of heaven; for, while with pious resignation we submit to the will of an all-gracious Providence, we can never cease lamenting, in our finite view of Omnipotent wisdom, the heart-rending privation for which our nation weeps. When the civilized world shakes to its centre; when every moment gives birth to strange and momentous changes; when our peaceful quarter of the globe, exempt as it happily has been from any share in the slaughter of the human race, may yet be compelled to abandon her pacific policy, and to risk the doleful casualities of war: what limit is there to the extent of our loss?—None within the reach of my words to express; none which your feelings will not disavow.
The founder of our federate republic-our bulwark in war, our guide in peace, is no more! Oh that this were but questionable! Hope, the comforter of the wretched, would pour into our agonizing hearts its balmy dew. But, alas! there is no hope for us; our Washington is removed for ever! Possessing the stoutest frame and purest mind, he had passed nearly to his sixty-eighth year, in the enjoyment of high health, when habituated by his care of us to neglect himself, a slight cold disregarded, became inconvenient on Friday, oppressive on Saturday, and defying every medical interposition, before the morning of Sunday, put an end to the best of men. An end did I say?-his fame survives! bounded only by the limits of the earth, and by the extent of the human mind. He survives in our hearts, in the growing knowledge of our children, in the affection of the good, throughout the world; and when our monuments shall be done away; when nations now existing shall be no more; when even our young and farspreading empire shall have perished, still will our Washington's glory unfaded shine, and die not, until love of virtue cease on earth, or earth itself sinks into chaos.
* The two Houses of Congress.
How, my fellow citizens, shall I single to your grateful hearts his pre-eminent worth! Where shall I begin in opening to your view a character throughout sublime! Shall I speak of his warlike achievements, all springing from obedience to his country's will-all directed to his country's good?
Will you go with me to the banks of the Mongahela, to see your youthful Washington, supporting, in the dismal hour of Indian victory, the ill-fated Braddock; and saving by his judgement and by his valour, the remains of a defeated army, pressed by the conquering savage foe? or, when-oppressed America nobly resolving to risk her all in defence of her violated rights—he was elevated by the unanimous voice of Congress to the command of her armies? Will you follow him to the high grounds of Boston, where to an undisciplined, courageous, and virtuous yeomanry, his presence gave the stability of system, and infused the invincibility of love of country? or shall I carry you to the painful scenes of Long Island, York Island, and New-Jersey, when, combating superior and gallant armies, aided by powerful fleets, and led by chiefs high in the roll of fame, he stood the bulwark of our safety; undismayed by disaster; unchanged by change of fortune? Or will you view him in the precarious fields of Trenton, where deep gloom unnerving every arm, reigned triumphant through our thinned, worn down, unaided ranks; himself unmoved? Dreadful was the night! It was about this time of winter—the storm raged—the Delaware, rolling furiously with floating ice, forbad the approach of man. Washington, self-collected, viewed the tremendous scene: his country called; unappalled by surrounding dangers, he passed to the hostile shore; he fought; he conquered. The inorning sun cheered the American world. Our country rose on the event; and her dauntless Chief pursuing his blow, completed in the lawns of Princeton, what his vast soul had conceived on the shores of Delaware.
Thence to the strong grounds of Morristown he led his small but gallant band; and through an eventful winter, by the high efforts of his genius, whose natchless force was measurable only by the growth of difficulties, he held in check formidable hostile legions, conducted by a chief experienced in the art of war, and famed for his valour on the ever-memorable heights of Abraham, where fell Wolfe, Montcalm, and since our much-lamented Montgomery—all covered with glory.