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The Wonderful Story of Washington By Charles M. Stevens Characters: 5363

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04

Public sentiment when not aroused by immediate danger gets into action very slowly, and especially if it is divided into numerous rival sections as was the case in the colonies. The army at first consisted of two extremes, the real patriots and the many army adventurers. It was an age of travelling soldiers. Especially was there an overwhelming offer from foreign officers to go into service. To refuse them looked like ingratitude. It brought up the old saying of "looking a gift horse in the mouth." But the wisdom and firmness of Washington was never put to better use than here. He believed that Americans should win the war. In the darkest period he said, "Put none but Americans on guard tonight."

In one of his letters he speaks of the "hungry adventurers," whose endless applications for commands were one of his worst annoyances. And, still more, many of these soldiers of fortune came from Europe with great recommendations and they secured powerful influences in Congress to force themselves upon Washington.

The mind of the times stood in great awe of British power, therefore it is additional credit to the mind of Washington that he had no such fear or awe toward British might. Besides, the country was always asking impossible things. Congress urged Washington to surround the enemy and cut off their supplies. They had no vision of Washington's inadequate means. Therefore enemies arose asserting they could do what Washington was not doing, and the American army had not only the confusion of interests in its own ranks to contend with, but was between a contentious congress and a hardly more contentious British army. Washington's methods now look so reasonable and practical that we wonder how the people could be so ignorant, blind and obstructive, but a century later than our time may show us to be stoning our prophets and killing our saviors, just as they have done through all the periods of history. It is the disastrous tribute that democracy pays to partisanship, and that humanity has always paid partisan leadership.

The malignant intrigues that tried to take advantage of the slow progress of the war, and have hungry rivals put into Washington's place, are matters of special history. But Washington met those ill-begotten schemes with the cold indifference and calm dignity which were the unfailing measures of his life and character. Though he was sensitive, and high-spirited, he would not let that trait in his nature work to the advantage of his enemies. They worked up slights and insults all around him, but he never replied unless he dealt a stinging blow, or showed up the treacherous character of their work. Much of the rivalr

y developed against Washington was of sectional prejudices, but the real intelligence and patriotism of the colonies would have nothing to do with it. In all those schemes to injure Washington we see the same method in politics used on up to the present time. Newspapers and speakers distort the achievements of political opponents into the most fanatical accusations, and bewilder the voter with charges and countercharges till he feels as if he were between the firing lines of two fighting armies, for one or the other of which he must cast his votes. But "belonging to a party" is happily not the honor it once was. The good of the country is found to be, not so much in the political platform of parties but in the character of men, harmonizing with the rights of man. It is thus that the congressional resolutions and the party wrangling of Washington's time, as in that of Lincoln, are wholly discredited in estimating the lives of those great leaders of the American mind. In its full view, the American ideal is seen to be that the man or woman who presides decently and righteously over the humanity of self or family or group is president of the human world.

The ignorant criticism of the time is well illustrated from the dark winter days of Valley Forge. There, so little had Congress done for the army, the soldiers were literally starving. Most of them were barefoot, and so poorly provided that they had to sit up all night close to their camp-fire in order to keep from freezing. And yet the legislature of Pennsylvania issued a stern remonstrance against their going into winter quarters. Washington must keep to the open field and be in continual operation against the well-fed, thoroughly trained and highly equipped British troops.

Washington closed a letter to Congress, saying, in referring to those who thus condemned him, "They seem to have little feeling for the naked and distressed soldiers. I feel superabundantly for them, and from my soul I pity those miseries which it is neither in my power to relieve nor prevent."

As in our own times, big business found opportunity to fatten itself on the needs of the people. The greatness of Washington is in startling evidence when it is seen how he not only had to conduct a war and guide an unprovided army split up into rival sections, but he had to be statesman and diplomat enough to manage a menagerie of ideas ranging through the congressional sessions like animals broken loose in a circus. Each one was trying to perform something that was in effect worse than nothing. The representatives of the people gathered in the American capital have often since that time repeated the original show.

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