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feeling between the United States and France had become greatly weakened. The French Directory assumed a tone of incomparable insolence, and the American representatives in Paris were insulted. Three judicious men had been sent to adjust all difficulties with the French government. They were refused an audience with the Directory unless they would agree to pay a large sum into the French treasury. "Millions for defence, but not one cent for tribute!" said Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, one of the American envoys; and he and John Marshall, another of the envoys, were ordered out of the country. This insult the United States did not choose to allow to pass unheeded, and all diplomatic intercourse between the two governinents was suspended. Preparations were made for war; and in May, 1798, Congress authorized the formation of a large military force, to be called a Provisional Army. The movement was popular with the people, and with anxious hearts their thoughts turned instinctively to Washington as the man for the commander-in chief.
There appeared to be a universal opinion that the weight of Washington's name and character would be necessary in order to produce unanimity among the military leaders that would be brought upon the stage, and to secure the confidence and support of the people.
Washington, though in absolute retirement, had watched the progress of affairs in France with sorrow and indignation, and had expressed his mind freely to his friends upon the subject. President Adams, in the perplexities which the progress of events produced, turned to him for advice, and looked to him for aid. "I must tax you," he said, "sometimes for advice. We must have your name, if you will in any case
permit us to use it. There will be more efficacy in it than in many an army." And before Washington could reply, Adams nominated to the Senate: "George Washington, of Mount Vernon, to be lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief of all the armies raised and to be raised in the United States."
Already Mr. McHenry, the secretary of war, had written: "You see how the storm thickens, and that our vessel will soon require our ancient pilot. Will you may we flatter ourselves that, in a crisis so awful and important, you will accept the command of all our armies? I hope you will, because you alone can unite all hearts and all hands, if it is possible that they can be united."
The Senate confirmed the nomination of the president, and Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the Provisional Army. True to the prophecies and promises of his antecedents, he accepted the trust, for his country demanded his services, but with the provision that he should not be required to take the field until circumstances should make it absolutely necessary.
* * * *
"I see, as you do," he said to McHenry, "that clouds are gathering and that a storm may ensue; and I find, too, from a variety of hints, that my quiet, under these circumstances, does not promise to be of long continuance. whole life has been dedicated to my country in one shape or another, for the poor remains of it it is not an object to contend for ease and quiet, when all that is valuable is at stake, further than to be satisfied that the sacrifice I should make of these is acceptable and desired by my country."
And now there were stirring times again at Mount Vernon. Washington's post-bag came filled with a score of letters some
times, for to him had been entrusted the selection of officers for the army, and there were thousands of aspirants for places of almost every grade. He nominated Colonel Alexander Hamilton as first major-general, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, then on his way from France, the second, and General Knox the third. The subordinate offices were frequently filled by the sons of his old companions in arms, and several of his own family received commissions. Young Custis, his adopted son, was appointed aide-de-camp to General Pinckney, and his favorite nephew, Lawrence Lewis, also received a commission.
Many were the visitors who flocked to Mount Vernon during the autumn of 1798. A large number of these were army officers, who went to head-quarters to consult with the chief about military affairs; and General Pinckney having returned, was there at Christmas time. At the same time Judge Cushing, of the Supreme Court of the United States, who administered the oath of office to Washington at his second inauguration, was also there.
"We reached Mount Vernon," wrote the wife of Judge Cushing, in February, 1799, "the evening before Christmas, and if any thing could have added to our enjoyment, it was the arrival of General and Mrs. Pinckney the next day [Tuesday], while we were dining. You may be sure it was a joyful meeting, and at the very place my wishes had pointed out. To be in the company of so many esteemed friends, to hear our good General Washington converse upon political subjects without reserve, and to hear General and Mrs. Pinckney relate what they saw and heard in France, was truly a feast to Thus the moments glided away for two days, when our
reason pointed out the propriety of our departing and improv ing the good roads, as the snow and frost had made them better than they are in summer."
The attitude assumed by the United States, and the appearance of Washington at the head of the army, humbled the French Directory, and President Adams was encouraged to send representatives to France again. When they arrived, toward the close of 1799, the weak Directory were no more. Napoleon Bonaparte was at the head of the government as first consul, and soon the cloud of war that hung between France and the United States was dissipated.
We now come to consider the associations of Mount Vernon during the last year of Washington's life. It opened with joy, it closed with sorrow.
Lawrence Lewis, son of Washington's sister Elizabeth, had been a resident at Mount Vernon for some time. We have already observed, by an expression in a letter of Washington to Mr. McHenry, that the visits of strangers to Mount Vernon had become somewhat burdensome to the master. With this feeling he wrote to Lawrence, giving him a formal invitation to reside at Mount Vernon, and saying:
"As both your aunt and I are in the decline of life, and regular in our habits, especially in our hours of rising and going to bed, I require some person (fit and proper) to ease me of the trouble of entertaining company, particularly of nights, as it is my inclination to retire (and unless prevented by very particular company, I always do retire) either to bed or to my study soon after candlelight. In taking those duties (which hospitality obliges one to bestow on company) off my hands, it would render me a very acceptable service." Lawrence com
plied with the request of his uncle, and became an inmate of the family at Mount Vernon at the beginning of 1798.
Nelly Custis was at this time blooming into womanhood, and was exceedingly attractive in person and manners. She was a great favorite with her foster-father, and as she approached marriageable age, he had indulged many anxious thoughts respecting her. The occasional visits of Lawrence Lewis to Mount Vernon had been productive of the most intimate friendly relations between them, and when he became a resident there, his respect for Nelly grew into warm and tender attachment. Washington was pleased; but there came a rival, whose suit Mrs. Washington decidedly encouraged. That rival was a son of Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, who had just returned from Europe, and displayed all the accomplishments of a good education, adorned with the social graces derived from foreign travel.
"I find that young Mr. C has been at Mount Vernon, and, report says, to address my sister," wrote her brother to Washington, in April, 1798, from Annapolis, where he was at school. "It may be well to subjoin an opinion," he said, "which I believe is general in this place, viz., that he is a young man of the strictest probity and morals, discreet without closeness, temperate without excess, and modest without vanity; possessed of those amiable qualities and friendship which are so commendable, and with few of the vices of the age. In short, I think it a most desirable match, and wish that it may take place with all my heart."
Washington, who favored the suit of his nephew, closed abruptly the correspondence with young Custis on that sub ject, by saying, in a letter to him a fortnight afterward: