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   Chapter 29 CROWNED IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME 1799

The Wonderful Story of Washington By Charles M. Stevens Characters: 6443

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


The beginning of the year 1799 was full of the romantic happiness of immortal youth for the household of Washington, but the close of the year brought to an end the career of the first great American. On the twelfth of December he rode as usual around the estate at Mount Vernon, and was caught in a sleety rain. From this he developed acute laryngitis and died on the night of the fourteenth. He said, "I die hard but I am not afraid to go," and his last words were, "'Tis well."

His loved ones were around him and his last look was lovingly upon them. The doctor saw his countenance change in death. He put his hands over the eyes out of which the light had forever gone, and one of the noblest souls of the earth passed away. There was not a struggle or a sigh.

Mrs. Washington was sitting at the foot of the bed, and she asked bravely, "Is he gone?"

The doctor could not speak, but he held up his hand as a sign that the spirit of their beloved was no longer there.

"'Tis well," she said, repeating his last words. "All is now over; I shall soon follow him; I have no more trials to pass through."

The tributes of America and the world to his honor and his name may be noted in the words of Lord Brougham, an eminent British statesman, who reflected the feeling of the nation against which he had waged a successful war: "It will be the duty of the historian, and the sage of all nations," he said, "to let no occasion pass of commemorating this illustrious man, and, until time shall be no more, will a test of the progress which our race has made in wisdom and virtue be derived from the veneration paid to the immortal name of Washington."

The great nations having any sort of democratic ideal fully recognized the fact that in his death had passed away one of the great men of the earth. The English Channel fleet lowered their ships' flags at half-mast in token of respect, and in the land of Napoleon, who was then master of France, there was crepe draped about all their standards. Talleyrand, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and one of the greatest orators and statesmen, prepared a report to the French government in which he said: "A nation which some day will be a great nation, and which today is the wisest and happiest on the face of the earth, weeps at the bier of a man whose courage and genius contributed most to free it from bondage and elevated it to the rank of an independent and sovereign power. The regrets caused by the death of this great man, the memories aroused by these regrets, and a proper veneration for all that is held dear and sacred by mankind, impel us to give expression to our sentiments by taking part in an event which deprives the world of one of its brightest ornaments, and removes to the realm of history one of the noblest lives that ever honored the human race.

"His own country now honors his memory with funeral ceremonies, having lost a citizen whose public actions and unassuming grandeur in private life were a living example of courage, wisdom and unselfishness; and France, which from the dawn of American Revolution hailed with hope a nation, hitherto unknown, that was discarding the vices of Europe, which foresaw all the glory that this

nation would bestow on humanity, and the enlightenment of governments that would ensue from the novel character of the social institutions, and the new type of heroism, of which Washington and America were models for the world at large,-France, I repeat, should depart from established usages, and do honor to one whose fame is beyond comparison with that of others. The man who, among the decadence of modern ages, first dared believe that he could inspire degenerate nations with courage to rise to the level of republican virtues, lived for all nations and for all centuries."

These tributes from the two greatest nations were sincere despite the fact that one of them had just been humiliated, beaten and dismembered by his leadership, and the other was only recently in the midst of open hostilities toward the United States, against which Washington was again made the national commander-in-chief, thus on the very verge of war with France. Only in his own country had Washington been the object of the bitterest personal slander and political calumny. But, at his death, all ignorant prejudice and foul-mouthed envy became silent and sought to be hidden from the public presence. In him there was greatness that could not be questioned and character that could be known only to be praised. The vision of him never fails from the sky of American ideals, and the young people of this nation have only to know his life to know for what kind of political interest each one should labor in the name of American liberty and the progress of an American humanity.

Washington regarded parties as one of the most inexcusable and disturbing elements in the political life of a nation. He believed in men and principles, not in parties and platforms. It was more than a hundred years after his death before the people of the United States began to discard allegiance to parties and platforms in favor of men and the principles of humanity.

When misrepresentation began its assault upon him in the presidency as it had done in the army, Washington wrote, "The man who means to commit no wrong will never be guilty of enormities; consequently he can never be unwilling to learn what are ascribed to him as foibles. If they are really such, the knowledge of them in a well disposed mind will go halfway towards a reform. If they are errors, he can explain and justify the motive of his actions."

It is thus that a well-balanced disposition willingly receives criticism, whatever its motive, for any value he can get out of it, with little concern for the intentions of the criticism, if his own purpose is fair and just.

He greatly deplored the misrepresentation of the partisan newspapers, believing that the people of a nation would never go wrong if they had the truth before them upon which to make up their minds. It is very generally true that parties have governed for the spoils of power and office. Political parties have very often fostered false argument and worse distortion of their opponents' meaning, so that large numbers of honorable and honest-minded persons have been misled into truly fearful fanaticism, and more fearful support of purposes, which, if they had known, they would have abhorred.

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