« ZurückWeiter »
when in the seventeenth year of her age. Her departure left a great void in the heart of the mother, and Washington remained for some time at Mount Vernon, in seclusion, to console his afflicted wife, instead of taking the contemplated journey with the governor.
And now the flames of the Revolution were rapidly kindling all over the land. The representatives of royal authority had been buffeted in Boston, and acts of parliament had been set at naught, in such manner, that an indignant decree went forth from the throne, that the port of the New England capital should be shut, and the entire machinery of the colonial government be clogged, until the people there should show practical signs of penitence for their political sins. The people defied the ministerial power, and laughed at ministerial anathemas. Then a new governor, with armed soldiers, took possession of Boston, and, with iron heel, crushed its commerce and its prosperity.
Hot was the indignation of the colonists over the length and breadth of the land, and to every stroke of resistance given by the people of Massachusetts, those of Virginia abetted and gare loud acclamations of applause. For ten long years the people, in separate communities, had petitioned and remonstrated in vain. Now there was a universal desire for unity of action, and a GENERAL CONGRESS was proposed, in accordance with a suggestion made by Doctor Franklin. It received a hearty response in every colony, and the 5th of September, 1774, was the time agreed upon for such congress to assemble, and Philadelphia the place.
For a long time Washington had been much engaged in the discussion of the momentous political questions of the day. He was firm in his opinion, but no enthusiast; and with cautious but unwavering step, he had walked in the path of opposition to ministerial measures. He heartily approved of a General Congress; and when, after the Virginia Assembly, of which he was a member, had been dissolved by the governor, and met in informal convention, to consult upon the expedient of holding another council to elect representatives to a general congress, he was warmly in favor of the measure. And when that congress met, he was among the delegates chosen for the important business of conferring, in solemn earnestness, upon the destinies of a nation.
Washington was now fairly embarked upon the stormy ocean of political life in troublous times—"times," as Paine afterward said, “ that tried men's souls.” Vast were the stakes that he pledged. Life, fortune, honor, and every social enjoyment were all imperilled; and while his friend and neighbor of Gunston Hall as warmly espoused the same cause, those of Belvoir adhered to the crown.
The sports of the chase, social visiting, and almost every amusement of life now ceased at Mount Vernon. Grave men assembled there, and questions of mighty import were considered thoughtfully and prayerfully, for Washington was a man of prayer from earliest manhood.
At length the time arrived for the assembling of the national congress, and from all the colonies, except Georgia, the delegates began to make their way toward Philadelphia, some on horseback, others in coaches or chaises, but none by public conveyances, for there were few of these even in the most populous provinces. Some travelled alone, others in pairs; and as they approached the Delaware or the Schuylkill, they four d themselves in companies. What a glorious spectacle! From twelve strong viceroyalties, containing an aggregate population of almost three millions of people, the best and the wisest among them, obedient to the public will, were on their way, through vast forests, and over rugged mountains, across broad rivers, and broader morasses, and through richly cultivated districts, cheerful villages, and expanding cities, to a common goal, there to meet, deliberate, and confederate, for the welfare, not only of a continent, but of the world! It was a moral spectacle such as had been hitherto unrecorded by the pen of history.
On Wednesday morning, the 31st of August, 1774, two men approached Mount Vernon on horseback. One of them was a slender man, very plainly dressed in a suit of ministers' gray, and about forty years of age.
The other was his senior in years, likewise of slender form, and a face remarkable for its expression of unclouded intelligence. He was more carefully dressed, more polished in manners, and much more fluent in conversation than his companion. They reached Mount Vernon at seven o'clock, and after an exchange of salutations with Washington and his family, and partaking of breakfast, the three retired to the library and were soon deeply absorbed in the discussion of the great questions then agitating the people of the colonies. The two travellers were Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton. A third, the silver-tongued Cicero of Virginia, Richard Henry Lee, was expected with them, but he had been detained at Chantilly, his seat in Westmoreland.
All day long these three eminent Virginians were in council; and early the next morning they set out on horseback for Philadelphia, to meet the patriots from other colonies there. Will Lee, Washington's huntsman, and favorite body servant, now that
Bishop had become too old and infirm to be active, was the only attendant upon his master. They crossed the Potomac at the Falls (now Georgetown), and rode far on toward Baltimore, before the twilight. On the 4th of September, the day before the opening of the Congress, they breakfasted at Christina Ferry (now Wilmington), and dined at Chester; and that night Washington, according to his diary, “lodged at Doctor Shippen's, in Philadelphia, after supping at the New Tavern. At that house of public entertainment he had lodged nearly two years before, while on his way to New York to place young Custis in King's (now Columbia) College.
At ten o'clock on Monday morning, the 5th of September, 1774, the First Continental Congress commenced its sessions in Carpenter's Hall, in Philadelphia. The members first assembled at the City Tavern, and marched in procession to the Hall. They organized the congress by choosing Peyton Randolph—a large, fleshy, good-looking Virginian, five-and-forty years of age-as president; and for secretary they appointed Charles Thomson, a lean man, with hollow, sparkling eyes, hair quite thin and gray, and a year younger than the president, though bearing marks of premature old age. Thomson was an accomplished Pennsylvanian ; and, notwithstanding he appeared so old at the age of forty-four, he lived fifty years longer, while the florid, healthful-looking Randolph died the very next year, within an hour after eating a hearty dinner at Richard Hill's country seat, near Philadelphia.
The business of the congress was opened by Patrick Henry, and the session continued until the 26th of October, when they had laid the foundations of a new Republic, deep in the principles of Truth and Justice. They debated great questions with the dignity and wisdom of sages, and, by a large majority adopted the following resolution—a resolution which reaffirmed all
previous resolves of the Americans to fight for freedom rather than submit to inglorious political servitude:
“ Resolved,—THAT THIS CONGRESS APPROVE THE OPPOSITION OF THE INHABITANTS OF MASSACHUSETTS BAY 10 THE EXECUTION OF THE LATE ACTS OF PARLIAMENT; AND IF THE SAME SHALL BE ATTEMPTED TO BE CARRIED INTO EXECUTION BY FORCE, IN SUCH CASE, ALL AMERICA OUGHT TO SUPPORT THEM IN THEIR OPPOSITION.
The Congress closed their important labors by putting forth some of the most remarkable state papers that ever appeared