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Twenty-five of the Virginia delegates, who had remained in Williamsburg, among whom was Washington, met on the twenty-ninth of May, and issued a circular letter to the people of Virginia, recommending a meeting of deputies from the several counties at Williamsburg, on the first of August, for the purpose of a more full and deliberate discussion. Meetings were accordingly held in the several counties, resolutions were adopted, and delegates appointed to the proposed convention. In Fairfax county, Washington presided as chairman, and was one of a committee to prepare a series of resolves, expressive of the sense of the people. These resolves are twenty-four in number, and were drawn by George Mason; they constitute an able and luminous exposition of the points al issue between Great Britain and the colonies. They are of special interest as containing the opinions of Washington at a critical time, when he was soon to be raised by his countrymen to a station of the highest trust and responsibility.*
In a letter to his friend Bryan Fairfax, dated July 20, 1774, Washington writes as follows :
“Satisfied, then, that the acts of the British parliament are no longer governed by the principles of justice, that they are trampling upon the valuable rights of Americans, confirmed to them by charter and by the constitution they themselves boast of, and convinced beyond the smallest doubt, that these measures are the result of deliberation, and attempted to be carried into execution by the hand of power, is it a time to trifle, or risk our cause upon petitions, which with difficulty obtain access, and af. terward are thrown by with the utmost contempt? Or should we, because heretofore unsuspicious of design, and then unwilling to enter into disputes with the mother-country, go on to bear more, and forbear to enumerate our just causes of complaint ? For my own part, I shall not undertake to say where the line between Great Britain and the colonies should be drawn; but I am clearly of opinion that one ought to be drawn, and our rights clearly ascertained. I could wish, I own, that the dispute had been left to posterity to determine, but the crisis is arrived when we must assert our rights, or submit to every imposition that can be heaped upon us, till custom and use shall make us tame and abject slaves."
One of the principal acts of the Virginia convention, which met at Williamsburg on the first of August, 1774, of which body Washington was a member, was to adopt a new association, whose objects were resistance to parliamentary aggressions, by non-intercourse with Great Britain. The convention appointed Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Bland, and Edmund Pendleton, delegates to the first continental Congress, which met at Phil. adelphia, on the fifth of September. Two of Washington's associates, Mr. Henry and Mr. Pendleton stopped on their way at Mount Vernon,
* These resolves are in Washington's writings, vol. ii., appendis, page 488.
whence they all pursued their journey together and were present at the opening of the Congress. As the debates of that distinguished assembly were never made public, the part performed by each individual can not now be known. In its transactions, however, Washington took an active part, and Mr. Wirt in his life of Patrick Henry relates an anecdote which shows in what estimation he was held by his associate members of Congress. Soon after Patrick Henry returned home, being asked whom he thought the greatest man in Congress, he replied: “If you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina is by far the greatest orator; but if you speak of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel Wash. ington is unquestionably the greatest man on that floor."
Replying to a letter from his friend Captain Mackenzie of the British army, then stationed at Boston, in which that officer spoke of the rebellious conduct of the Bostonians, their military preparations, and their secret aim at independence, Washington wrote, while attending the Congress, giving his sentiments and views on the state of public affairs. The following are extracts :
Although you are taught to believe that the people of Massachusetts are rebellious, setting up for independence, and what not; give me leave, my good friend, to tell you that you are abused, grossly abused. Give me leave to add, and I think I can announce it as a fact, that it is not the wish or interest of that government, or any other upon this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for independence ; but this you may at the same time rely on, that none of them will ever submit to the loss of those valuable rights and privileges which are essential to the happiness of every free state, and without which, life, liberty, and property, are rendered totally insecure.
" Again, give me leave to add, as my opinion, that more blood will be spilled on this occasion, if the ministry are determined to push matters to extremity, than history has ever yet furnished instances of in the annals of North America, and such a vital wound will be given to the peace of this great country, as time itself can not cure, or eradicate the remembrance of.”
What is here said of independence is confirmed by the address of the first Congress to the people of Great Britain. “ You have been told that We are seditious, impatient of government, and desirous of independency. Be assured that these are not facts, but calumnies.” That such were at this time the sentiments of the leaders in America, there can be no reasonable doubt; being accordant with all their public acts and private dec. larations.
It is not easy to determine at what precise date the idea of independence was first entertained by the principal persons in America. The spirit and form of their institutions led the colonists frequently to act as an independent people, and to set up high claims in regard to their rights and
privileges ; but there is no sufficient evidence to prove that any province, or any number of prominent individuals, entertained serious thoughts of separating entirely from the mother-country, till very near the actual commencement of the war of the revolution. *
While Washington and his principal coadjutors had no confidence in the success of petitions to the king and parliament, and looked forward to the probable appeal to arms, they were still without any other anticipations than by a resolute vindication of their rights to effect a change in the conduct and policy of the British government, and restore the colonies to their former condition.
On returning from Congress to his farm, Colonel Washington was soon interrupted in his private occupations by the calls of his fellow-citizens of Virginia, to assist in organizing military companies for the defence of the colony, and to prepare for the approaching contest with Great Britain. He was consulted as the first military character in Virginia, and it seemed to be the expectation of the people that in the event of a war he would be placed in comand of the Virginia forces. Being solicited to act as fieldofficer in an independent company, he wrote to his brother as follows: " I shall very cheerfully accept the honor of commanding it, if occasion require it to be drawn out, as it is my full intention to devote my life and fortune in the cause we are engaged in, if needful.”
Washington was a delegate to the second Virginia convention, which met at Richmond on the 201h of March, 1775, and approved of the proceedings of the continental Congress of 1774. A committee, of which Washington was a member, was appointed, on motion of Patrick Henry, and reported a plan of defence, by embodying, arming, and disciplining the militja. He was also on a committee to devise a plan for the encouragement of domestic arts and manufactures. The people were advised to form societies for that purpose, and the members of the convention agreed that they would use home manufactures in preserence to any others,
Among those who from the first seemed, to have a presentiment that reconciliation with Great Britain was out of the question was Patrick Henry. As early as 1773, according to Mr. Wirt, he alluded to the probability of a Declaration of Independence, and predicted that after being assisted by France, Spain, and Holland, “our independence would be established and we should take our stand among the nations of the earth !" Down to the year 1775, bow. ever the idea of independence was not generally prevalent or popular among the great mass of the American people. Doctor Timothy Dwight of New Haven, Connecticut, for many years president of Yale college, and for a time a chaplain in the revolutionary army, confirms this statement in his writings. “ In the month of July, 1775," he says, “I urged in conversation
' with several gentlemen of great respectability, firm whigs, and my intimate friends, the importance, and even the necessity, of a declaration of independence on the part of the colonics, and alleged for this measure the very same arguments which afterward were generally considered as decisive ; but found them disposed to give me and my arguments, a hostile and contemptuous, instead of a cordial reception. These gentlemen may be considered as repre- , sentatives of the great body of the thinking men in this country. A few may perhaps be excepted, but none of these durst at that time openly declare their opinions to the public."
Droight's Travels, vol. i., page 159.
themselves. The former delegates were again chosen by the convention to represent Virginia in the next continental Congress, and Washington with his colleagues repaired to Philadelphia, where that body assembled on the 10th of May, 1775.
Hostilities having commenced between Great Britain and the colonies, Congress first proceeded to consider the state of the country and to provide for defence. The military fame and reputation of Washington were universally acknowledged by his countrymen and duly appreciated by his associates in the national councils. He was appointed chairman of the various committees charged with the duty of making arrangements for defence; including the devising of ways and means, making estimates, and preparing rules and regulations for the government of the army. The forces under the direction of Congress were, on motion of John Adams, called the continental army."
The selection of a commander-in-chief of the American armies, was a task of great delicacy and difficulty. There were several older officers than Colonel Washington, of experience and reputation, who had claims for the appointment, but it was considered good policy to make the selection from Virginia, and all acknowledged the military accomplishments and other superior qualifications of Washington. The New England delegates were among the foremost to propose and the most zealous to promote the appointment of Colonel Washington. John Adams, one of the Massachusetts delegates, on moving that the army then besieging the British troops in Boston should be adopted by Congress as a continental army, said it was his intention to propose for the office of commander-inchief, a gentleman from Virginia who was at that time a member of their own body. When the day for the appointment arrived (the fifteenth of June, 1775), the nomination was made by Mr. Thomas Johnson of Maryland. The choice was by ballot, and Colonel Washington was unanimously elected. As soon as the result was ascertained, the house adjourned. On the convening of Congress the next morning, the president communicated to him officially the notice of his appointment, and he rose in his place, and signified his acceptance in the following brief and appropriate reply :
"MR. PRESIDENT: Though I am truly sensible of the high honor done me in this appointment, yet I feel great distress from a consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not be equal to the extensive and important irust. However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for support of the glorious cause. I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks, for this distinguished testimony of their approbation.
“But lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room, that
I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.
"As to pay, sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress, that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous employment, at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses; those I doubt not they will discharge, and that is all I desire."
In a letter to his wife, announcing his appointment, dated Philadelphia, June 18, 1775, Washington expressed similar sentiments to the foregoing, as follows:
"MY DEAREST: I am now set down to write to you on a subject which fills me with inexpressible concern, and this concern is greatly aggravated and increased, when I reflect upon the uneasiness I know it will give you It has been determined in Congress, that the whole army raised for the defence of the American cause shall be put under my care, and that it is necessary for me to proceed immediately to Boston to take upon me the command of it.
"You may believe me, when I assure you in the most solemn manner, that, so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity, and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home, than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years. But as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking it is designed to answer some good purpose. You might and I suppose did perceive, from the tenor of my letters, that I was apprehensive I could not avoid this appointment, without exposing my character to such censures, as would have reflected dishonor upon myself, and given pain to my friends. This, I am sure, could not, and ought not, to be pleasing to you, and must have lessened me considerably in my own esteem. I shall rely, therefore, confidently on that Providence which has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me."
The appointment was made on the 15th of June, four days after which he received his commission from the president of Congress, declaring him. commander-in-chief of all the forces then raised, or that should be raised, in the united colonies, or that should voluntarily offer their services for the defence of American liberty. The members of Congress by resolution, unanimously pledged themselves to maintain, assist, and adhere to him with their lives and fortunes, in the same cause. Four major-generals, eight brigadier-generals, and an adjutant-general, were likewise appointed by Congress for the continental army.
On the 21st of June, Gen. Washington hastened from Philadelphia to join the continental army at Cambridge near Boston. He was accompa