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   Chapter 24 THE FIRST COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

The Wonderful Story of Washington By Charles M. Stevens Characters: 3921

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


There are events enough during the progress of the revolutionary war to give a complete analysis of Washington's mind and character, enough, indeed, to make a large volume in itself. But these incidents are easily available to any student of the revolutionary war. Of all his wonderful career, as a child born to the wealth and luxury of his times, as a landed proprietor of one of the greatest fortunes in America, as soldier, statesman and first President of the United States, there is nowhere on record a single ignoble, immoral or dishonorable word or deed in any way relating to the principles or interests fundamental for his character, mind and life. It is supremely gratifying to American ideals that Washington was in everything morally worthy of being known as "first in peace, first in war and first in the hearts of his countrymen," standing forth a great figure of American nobility, crowned with high title in being known as the "Father of his Country."

The army was anxious to see their chief and the people were eager for a look at the man who inspired them all with so much confidence. Washington's appearance could not disappoint them. No more born-commander of men, at least in appearance, ever sat in military uniform upon a horse. The emotions of the people in those troubulous times all went out to him, as they cheered him wherever he went. To know Washington is to know that his feelings responded heartily to their interests, and no doubt were strengthened by their trust for the wonder-working task before him.

One of the most intellectual and charming of the cultured women of New England was the wife of John Adams. After meeting Washington she wrote to her husband, "Dignity, ease and complacency, the gentleman and the soldier, look agreeably blended in him. Modesty marks every feature of his face. Those lines of Dryden instantly occurred to me:

'Mark his majestic fabric! He's a temple

Sacred by birth and built by

hands divine;

His soul's the deity that lodges there;

Nor is the pile unworthy of the God.'"

As an incident of the multitudinous varieties of problems that Washington had to solve may be mentioned the treatment of the American prisoners taken by the British. The Americans were regarded as rebels, having no more standing in law than traitors. If the student looks carefully at the dates of progress in the freedom of the colonies and their formation into a nation, he will see that many years of wrangle and debate took place. Nothing went by leaps. Opinions grew and they grew very slowly and uncertainly. Therefore, when a crisis came, Washington had to make momentous decisions that were not only of far reaching consequences, but that he could execute and that his people would sanction. He was not a silent man. He wrote and spoke much, thus clearing the way for action, and unifying the mind of the people on the needs and rights of the times.

An extract from a letter to the British General Gage, in the beginning of the war, shows on what grounds Washington demanded the right treatment of American prisoners, who had so far been grossly mistreated.

"They suppose," he wrote, concerning American prisoners, "that they act from the noblest of all principles, a love of freedom and their country. But political principles, I conceive, are foreign to this point. The obligations arising from the rights of humanity, and claims of rank, are universally binding and extensive, except in cases of retaliation.

"My duty now makes it necessary to apprise you that, for the future, I shall regulate all my conduct towards those gentlemen who are or may be in our possession exactly by the rule you shall observe toward those of ours now in your custody."

Though General Gage's reply was full of the words "criminals," "rebels," and "hanging," the harsh treatment became generally modified as he realized that Washington meant what he said.

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