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   Chapter 26 SEEKING RETIREMENT FOR LIFE IN THE PEACE OF A COUNTRY HOME

The Wonderful Story of Washington By Charles M. Stevens Characters: 5152

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


The Revolutionary war had extended over a period of eight years, through almost unparalleled discouragements and intolerable trials of faith and purpose, when the British troops were finally withdrawn from American soil. The differences in the appearances of the British and American troops are described by an American lady living in New York, while the British held possession there. She wrote, "We had been accustomed for a long time to the military display in all the finish and finery of garrison life; the troops just leaving us were as if equipped for show, and with their scarlet uniforms and burnished arms made a brilliant display. The troops that marched in, on the contrary, were ill-clad and weatherbeaten, and made a forlorn appearance; but then they were our troops, and, as I looked at them and thought of all they had done and suffered for us, my heart and my eyes were full, and I admired and gloried in them the more, because they were weatherbeaten and forlorn."

In a letter to Baron Steuben, written on the 23rd of December, 1783, Washington concludes as follows, "This is the last letter I shall write while I continue in the service of my country. The hour of my resignation is fixed at twelve today, after which I shall become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac."

At noon on that memorable day the Hall of Congress was filled with a notable assemblage of prominent people. The members of Congress remained seated with their hats on, as was the custom of the times, but the spectators were standing with uncovered heads when Washington, conducted by the secretary of Congress, entered and was given a seat appointed for him.

The President of Congress arose, and, after stating the purpose of the meeting at that hour, said to Washington, "The United States in Congress assembled are now prepared to receive your communication."

Washington arose and delivered a short address, at the close of which he said, "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God; and those who have the superintendence of them to His holy keeping. Having now finished the work assigned to me, I retire from the great theatre of action; and, bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life."

A writer who was present, speaking of this scene, says, "Few tragedies ever drew so many tears from so many

beautiful eyes as the moving manner in which his Excellency took his final leave of Congress."

The President of Congress replied to his address, and, after reciting the wisdom and valor with which Washington had accomplished the great task assigned him, said, "You retire from the theatre of action with the blessings of your fellow citizens; but the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your military command; it will continue to animate remote ages."

Washington arrived at Mount Vernon on Christmas eve, where the home-coming was duly celebrated as could be done only in the colonial plantation days.

"The scene is at last closed," he wrote to his friend, Governor Clinton of New York. "I feel myself eased of a load of public care. I hope to spend the remainder of my days in cultivating the affections of good men, and in the practice of domestic virtues."

How little Washington or his friends knew of the future! A task and a responsibility of no less importance than the conduct of the Revolutionary war was yet to devolve upon him. The repose of a soldier had to give way to the mind-work of a great statesman.

In a letter to that great friend of America, without whose aid there could hardly have been a free America, General Lafayette, Washington wrote, "Free from the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments which the soldier, who is ever in pursuit of fame; the statesman, whose watchful days and sleepless nights are spent in devising schemes to promote the welfare of his own, perhaps the ruin of other countries,-as if this globe were insufficient for us all; and the courtier, who is always watching the countenance of his prince in hopes of catching a gracious smile, can have very little conception."

Later, in writing to the Marchioness de Lafayette, inviting her to visit America, where her husband had earned such glory and where everybody loved and admired him, he gave a charming picture of the simplicity of his life.

"I am now enjoying domestic ease under the shadow of my own vine and fig tree, in a small villa, with the implements of husbandry and lambkins about me. Come, then, let me entreat you, and call my cottage your own; for your own doors do not open to you with more readiness than mine would. You will see the plain manner in which we live, and meet the rustic civility; and you shall taste the simplicity of rural life. It will diversify the scene, and may give you a higher relish for the gayeties of the court when you return to Versailles."

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