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Chapter 37:

Massachusetts Asks for George Washington as com-mander in chief.

June 1—June 17, 1775.

in obedience to the injunctions of Lord North and
Chap. Xxxvii} 1775. June.
Lord Dartmouth, who earnestly wished that the effort should be made to reconcile some one of the several colonial assemblies to their insidious offer, the first day of June, 1775, saw the house of burgesses of Virginia convened for the last time by a British governor. Peyton Randolph, the speaker, who had been attending as president the congress at Philadelphia, arrived at Williamsburg with an escort of independent companies of horse and foot, which eclipsed the pomp of the government, and in the eyes of the people raised the importance of the newly created continental power. The session was opened by a speech recommending accommodation on the narrow basis of the resolve which the king had accepted. But the moment chosen for the discussion was inopportune; Dunmore's menace to raise the standard of a servile insurrection, and set the slaves upon their masters, with British arms in their hands, [385] filled the South with horror and alarm. Besides, the
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retreat from Concord raised the belief that the American forces were invincible; and the spirit of resist-June. ance had grown so strong, that Some of the burgesses appeared in the uniform of the recently instituted provincial troops, wearing a hunting shirt of coarse linen over their clothes, and a woodman's axe by their sides.

The great civilian of Virginia came down from Albemarle with clear perceptions of the path of public duty. When parliament oppressed the colonies by the imposing of taxes, Jefferson would have been content with their repeal; when the charter and laws of Massachusetts were mutilated and set aside by the same authority, he still hoped for conciliation through the wisdom of Chatham. But after Lexington green had been stained with blood, Jefferson would no longer accept acts of repeal, unless accompanied by security against future aggression. The finances of Virginia were at this time much embarrassed; beside her paper currency afloat, she was burdened with the undischarged expenses of the Indian war of the last year. The burgesses approved the conduct of that war, and provided the means of defraying its cost; but the governor would not pass their bill, because it imposed a specific duty of five pounds on the head, about ten per cent. on the value, of every slave imported from the West Indies. The last exercise of the veto power by the king's representative in Virginia was in favor of the slave trade.

The assembly, having on the fifth thanked the delegates of the colony to the first congress, prepared [386] to consider the proposal of the ministers. The gov-

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ernor grew uneasy, and sent them an apology for his removal of the fifteen half barrels of powder belonging to the province. ‘I was influenced in this,’ said he, in a written message, ‘by the best of motives,’ and he reminded them that he had ventured his life in the service of Virginia. But the burgesses took testimony relating to the transaction, which proved conclusively his open avowal of an intention to raise, free, and arm slaves. Meantime their consultations extended through several days, and Jefferson was selected to draft their reply.

While the house was thus engaged, Dunmore received an express from Gage to acquaint him of his intention to publish a proclamation, proscribing Samuel Adams and Hancock; and fearing he might be seized and detained as a hostage, he suddenly, in the night following the seventh of June, withdrew from the capital, and went on board the ‘Fowey’ man-of-war, at York. He thus left the Ancient Dominion in the undisputed possession of its own inhabitants, as effectually as if he had abdicated all power for the king; giving as a reason for his flight, his apprehension of ‘falling a sacrifice to the daringness and atrociousness, the blind and unmeasurable fury of great numbers of the people.’

The burgesses paid no heed to his angry words, but when they had brought their deliberations to a close, they, on the twelfth of June, addressed to him as their final answer, that ‘next to the possession of liberty, they should consider a reconciliation as the greatest of all human blessings, but that the resolution of the house of commons only changed the form of [387] oppression, without lightening its burdens; that gov-

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ernment in the colonies was instituted not for the British parliament, but for the colonies themselves; that the British parliament had no right to meddle with their constitution, or prescribe either the number, or the pecuniary appointments of their officers; that they had a right to give their money without coercion, and from time to time; that they alone were the judges, alike of the public exigencies and the ability of the people; that they contended, not merely for the mode of raising their money, but for the freedom of granting it; that the resolve to forbear levying pecuniary taxes still left unrepealed the acts restraining trade, altering the form of government of Massachusetts, changing the government of Quebec, enlarging the jurisdiction of courts of admiralty, taking away the trial by jury, and keeping up standing armies; that the invasion of the colonies with large armaments by sea and land was a style of asking gifts not reconcilable to freedom; that the resolution did not propose to the colonies to lay open a free trade with all the world; that as it involved the interest of all the other colonies, they were bound in honor to share one fate with them; that the bill of Lord Chatham on the one part, and the terms of congress on the other, would have formed a basis for negotiation and a reconciliation; that leaving the final determination of the question to the general congress, they will weary the king with no more petitions, the British nation with no more appeals.’ ‘What then,’ they ask, ‘remains to be done?’ and they answer: ‘That we commit [388] our injuries to the justice of the evenhanded
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Being who doth no wrong.’

‘In my life,’ said Shelburne, as he read Jefferson's report, ‘I was never more pleased with a state paper, than with the assembly of Virginia's discussion of Lord North's proposition. It is masterly. But what I fear is, that the evil is irretrievable.’ At Versailles, Vergennes was equally attracted by the wisdom and dignity of the document; he particularly noticed the insinuation, that a compromise might be effected on the basis of the modification of the navigation acts; and saw so many ways opened of settling every difficulty, that it was long before he could persuade himself, that the infatuation of the British ministry was so blind as to neglect them all. From Williamsburg, Jefferson repaired to Philadelphia; but before he arrived there, decisive communications had been received from Massachusetts.

That colony still languished in anarchy, from which they were ready to relieve themselves, if they could but wring the consent of the continental congress. ‘We hope,’ wrote they, in a letter which was read to that body on the second of June, ‘you will favor us with your most explicit advice respecting the taking up and exercising the powers of civil government, which we think absolutely necessary for the salvation of our country.’ The regulation of the army was a subject of equal necessity. Uncounted and ungoverned, it was already in danger of vanishing like dew, or being dissolved by discontents. The incompetency of Ward for his station was observed by Joseph Warren, now president of the congress, by James Warren of Plymouth, by Gerry and others; [389] every hour made it more imperative, that he should

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be superseded; and yet his private virtues and the fear of exciting dissensions in the province, required the measure to be introduced with delicacy and circumspection. The war was to become a continental war; the New England army a continental army; and that change in its relations offered the opportunity of designating a new commander in chief. To this end, the congress of Massachusetts formally invited the general congress ‘to assume the regulation and direction of the army, then collecting from different colonies for the defence of the rights of America.’ At the same time Samuel Adams received a private letter from Joseph Warren, interpreting the words as a request that the continent should ‘take the command of the army by appointing a generalissimo.’ The generalissimo whom Joseph Warren, Warren of Plymouth, Gerry and others desired, was Washington. The bearer of the letter who had been commissioned to explain more fully the wishes of Massachusetts, was then called in. His communication had hardly been finished, when an express arrived with further news from the camp; that Howe, and Clinton, and Burgoyne, had landed in Boston; that British reinforcements were arriving; that other parts of the continent were threatened with war. A letter was also received and read, from the congress of New Hampshire, remotely intimating that ‘the voice of God and nature’ was summoning the colonies to independence.

It was evident that congress would hesitate to adopt an army of New England men under a Massachusetts commander in chief. Virginia was the [390] largest and oldest colony, and one of her sons was

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acknowledged to surpass all his countrymen in military capacity and skill. The choice of Washington as the general, would at once be a concession to prejudice and in itself the wisest selection. On the earliest occasion John Adams explained the composition and character of the New England army; its merits and its wants; the necessity of its being adopted by the continent, and the consequent propriety that congress should name its general. Then speaking for his constituents, he pointed out Washington as the man, above all others, fitted for that station, and best able to promote union. Samuel Adams seconded his colleague. The delegates from the Ancient Dominion, especially Pendleton, Washington's personal friend, disclaimed any wish that the officer whom Massachusetts had advanced, should be superseded by a Virginian. Washington himself had never aspired to the honor; though for some time he had been ‘apprehensive that he could not avoid the appointment.’

The balloting for continental officers was delayed, that the members from New York might consult their provincial congress on the nominations from that colony.

With an empire to found and to defend, congress had not, as yet, had the disposal of one penny of money. The army which beleaguered Boston had sent for gunpowder to every colony in New England, to individual counties and towns, to New York and still further south; but none was to be procured. In the urgency of extreme distress, congress undertook to borrow six thousand pounds, a little more [391] than twenty-five thousand dollars, ‘for the use of

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America,’ to be applied to the purchase of gunpowder for what was now for the first time called the continental army.

In the arrangement of its committees and the distribution of business, it still sought to maintain a position, adverse alike to a surrender of liberty and to a declaration of independence; its policy was an armed defence, while waiting for a further answer from the king. On Wednesday the seventh of June, one of its resolutions spoke of ‘the Twelve United Colonies,’ Georgia being not yet included; and the name implied an independent nation; but on the eighth, it tardily recommended to Massachusetts not to institute a new government, but to intrust the executive power to the elective council, ‘until a governor of the king's appointment would consent to govern the colony according to its charter.’ For a province in a state of insurrection and war, a worse system could hardly have been devised. It had no unity, no power of vigorous action; it was recommended because it offered the fewest obstacles to an early renewal of allegiance to the British crown.

The twelfth of June is memorable for the contrast between the manifest dispositions of America and of the British representatives at Boston. On that day, Gage, under pretence of proclaiming a general pardon to the infatuated multitude, proscribed by name Samuel Adams and John Hancock, reserving them for condign punishment, as rebels and traitors, in terms which included as their abettors not only all who should remain in arms about Boston, [392] but every member of the provincial government

Chap. Xxxvii} 1775. June 12.
and of the continental congress. In the same breath he established martial law throughout Massachusetts, while vessels cruised off Sandy Hook to turn to Boston the transports which were bound with four regiments to New York. He also called upon the British secretary of state to concentrate at Boston fifteen thousand men, of whom a part might be hunters, Canadians, and Indians; to send ten thousand more to New York; and seven thousand more, composed of regular troops with a large corps of Canadians and Indians, to act on the side of Lake Champlain. ‘We need not be tender of calling upon the savages,’ were his words to Dartmouth; some of the Indians, domiciled in Massachusetts, having strolled to the American camp to gratify curiosity or extort presents, he pretended to excuse the proposal which he had long meditated, by falsely asserting that the Americans ‘had brought down as many Indians as they could collect.’

On that same day the congress of New York, which had already taken every possible step to induce the Indians not to engage in the quarrel, had even offered protection to Guy Johnson, the superintendent, if he would but leave the Six Nations to their neutrality, and had prohibited the invasion of Canada, addressed to the merchants of that province the assurance, ‘that the confederated colonies aimed not at independence,’ but only at freedom from taxaation by authority of parliament. On that same twelfth of June, the general congress made its first appeal to the people of the twelve united colonies by an injunction to them to keep a fast on one and [393] the same day, when they were to recognise ‘king

Chap. Xxxvii} 1775. June 12.
George the Third as their rightful sovereign, and to look up to the supreme and universal superintending Providence of the great Governor of the world, for a gracious interposition of heaven for the restoration of the invaded rights of America, and a reconciliation with the parent state.’ Every village, every family, whether on the seaside or in the forest, was thus summoned to give the most solemn attestation of their desire to end civil discord, and ‘regard the things that belong to peace.’

Measures were next taken for organizing and paying an American continental army, to be enlisted only till the end of the year, before which time a favorable answer from the king was hoped for. Washington, Schuyler, and others were deputed to prepare the necessary rules and regulations. It was also resolved to enlist ten companies of expert riflemen, of whom six were to be formed in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia.

Then on the fifteenth day of June, it was voted

June 15.
to appoint a general. Johnson, of Maryland, nominated George Washington; and as he had been brought forward ‘at the particular request of the people in New England,’ he was elected by ballot unanimously.

Washington was then forty-three years of age. In stature he a little exceeded six feet; his limbs were sinewy and well proportioned; his chest broad; his figure stately, blending dignity of presence with ease. His robust constitution had been tried and invigorated by his early life in the wilderness, his habit of occupation out of doors, and his rigid temperance; so [394] that few equalled him in strength of arm or power of

Chap. Xxxvii} June 15.
endurance. His complexion was florid; his hair dark brown; his head in its shape perfectly round. His broad nostrils seemed formed to give expression and escape to scornful anger. His dark blue eyes, which were deeply set, had an expression of resignation, and an earnestness that was almost sadness.

At eleven years old, left an orphan to the care of an excellent but unlettered mother, he grew up without learning. Of arithmetic and geometry he acquired just knowledge enough to be able to practise measuring land; but all his instruction at school taught him not so much as the orthography or rules of grammar of his own tongue. His culture was altogether his own work, and he was in the strictest sense a self-made man; yet from his early life he never seemed uneducated. At sixteen he went into the wilderness as a surveyor, and for three years continued the pursuit, where the forests trained him, in meditative solitude, to freedom and largeness of mind; and nature revealed to him her obedience to serene and silent laws. In his intervals from toil, he seemed always to be attracted to the best men, and to be cherished by them. Fairfax, his employer, an Oxford scholar, already aged, became his fast friend. He read little, but with close attention. Whatever he took in hand, he applied himself to with care; and his papers, which have been preserved, show how he almost imperceptibly gained the power of writing correctly; always expressing himself with clearness and directness, often with felicity of language and grace.

When the frontiers on the west became disturbed, [395] he at nineteen was commissioned an adju-

Chap. Xxxvii} 1775. June 15.
tant-general with the rank of major. At twenty-one he went as the envoy of Virginia to the council of Indian chiefs on the Ohio and to the French officers 15 near Lake Erie. Fame waited upon him from his youth; and no one of his colony was so much spoken of. He conducted the first military expedition from Virginia, that crossed the Alleghanies. Braddock selected him as an aid, and he was the only man who came out of the disastrous defeat near the Monongahela, with increased reputation, which extended to England. The next year, when he was but four and twenty, ‘the great esteem’ in which he was held in Virginia, and his ‘real merit,’ led the lieutenant governor of Maryland to request that he might be ‘commissionated and appointed second in command’ of the army designed to march to the Ohio; and Shirley, the commander in chief, heard the proposal ‘with great satisfaction and pleasure,’ for ‘he knew no provincial officer upon the continent to whom he would so readily give it as to Washington.’ In 1758 he acted under Forbes as a brigadier, and but for him that general would never have been able to cross the mountains.

Courage was so natural to him, that it was hardly spoken of to his praise; no one ever at any moment of his life discovered in him the least shrinking in danger; and he had a hardihood of daring which escaped notice, because it was so enveloped by superior calmness and wisdom.

He was as cheerful as he was spirited, frank and communicative in the society of friends, fond of the fox-chase and the dance, often sportive in his letters, [396] and liked a hearty laugh. This joyousness of

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disposition remained to the last, though the vastness of his responsibilities was soon to take from him the right of displaying the impulsive qualities of his nature, and the weight which he was to bear up, was to overlay and repress his gaiety and openness.

His hand was liberal; giving quietly and without observation, as though he was ashamed of nothing but being discovered in doing good. He was kindly and compassionate, and of lively sensibility to the sorrows of others; so that if his country had only needed a victim for its relief, he would have willingly offered himself as a sacrifice. But while he was prodigal of himself, he was considerate for others; ever parsimonious of the blood of his countrymen.

He was prudent in the management of his private affairs, purchased rich lands from the Mohawk Valley to the flats of the Kanawha, and improved his fortune by the correctness of his judgment; but as a public man he knew no other aim than the good of his country, and in the hour of his country's poverty, he refused personal emolument for his service.

His faculties were so well balanced and combined, that his constitution, free from excess, was tempered evenly with all the elements of activity, and his mind resembled a well ordered commonwealth; his passions, which had the intensest vigor, owned allegiance to reason; and, with all the fiery quickness of his spirit, his impetuous and massive will was held in check by consummate judgment. He had in his composition a calm, which gave him in moments of highest excitement the power of self-control, and enabled him [397] to excel in patience, even when he had most cause for

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disgust. Washington was offered a command when there was little to bring out the unorganized resources of the continent but his own influence, and authority was connected with the people by the most frail, most attenuated, scarcely discernible threads; yet vehement as was his nature, impassioned as was his courage, he so restrained his ardor, that he never failed continuously to exert the attracting power of that influence, and never exerted it so sharply as to break its force.

In secrecy he was unsurpassed; but his secrecy had the character of prudent reserve, not of cunning or concealment.

His understanding was lucid, and his judgment accurate; so that his conduct never betrayed hurry or confusion. No detail was too minute for his personal inquiry and continued supervision; and at the same time he comprehended events in their widest aspects and relations. He never seemed above the object that engaged his attention, and he was always equal, without an effort, to the solution of the highest questions, even when there existed no precedents to guide his decision.

In this way he never drew to himself admiration for the possession of any one quality in excess, never made in council any one suggestion that was sublime but impracticable, never in action took to himself the praise or the blame of undertakings astonishing in conception, but beyond his means of execution. It was the most wonderful accomplishment of this man that placed upon the largest theatre of events, at the head of the greatest revolution in human affairs, he [398] never failed to observe all that was possible, and at

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the same time to bound his aspirations by that which was possible.

A slight tinge in his character, perceptible only to the close observer, revealed the region from which he sprung, and he might be described as the best specimen of manhood as developed in the south; but his qualities were so faultlessly proportioned, that his whole country rather claimed him as its choicest representative, the most complete expression of all its attainments and aspirations. He studied his country and conformed to it. His countrymen felt that he was the best type of America, and rejoiced in it, and were proud of it. They lived in his life, and made his success and his praise their own. Profoundly impressed with confidence in God's Providence, and exemplary in his respect for the forms of public worship, no philosopher of the eighteenth century was more firm in the support of freedom of religious opinion; none more tolerant, or more remote from bigotry; but belief in God and trust in His overruling power, formed the essence of his character. Divine wisdom not only illumines the spirit, it inspires the will. Washington was a man of action, and not of theory or words; his creed appears in his life, not in his professions, which burst from him very rarely, and only at those great moments of crisis in the fortunes of his country, when earth and heaven seemed actually to meet, and his emotions became too intense for suppression; but his whole being was one continued act of faith in the eternal, intelligent, moral order of the universe. Integrity was so completely the law of his nature, that [399] a planet would sooner have shot from its sphere, than

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he have departed from his uprightness, which was so constant, that it often seemed to be almost impersonal.

They say of Giotto, that he introduced goodness into the art of painting; Washington carried it with him to the camp and the cabinet, and established a new criterion of human greatness. The purity of his will confirmed his fortitude; and as he never faltered in his faith in virtue, he stood fast by that which he knew to be just; free from illusions; never dejected by the apprehension of the difficulties and perils that went before him, and drawing the promise of success from the justice of his cause. Hence he was persevering, leaving nothing unfinished; free from all taint of obstinacy in his firmness; seeking, and gladly receiving advice, but immovable in his devotedness to right.

Of a ‘retiring modesty and habitual reserve,’ his ambition was no more than the consciousness of his power, and was subordinate to his sense of duty; he took the foremost place, for he knew from inborn magnanimity, that it belonged to him, and he dared not withhold the service required of him; so that, with all his humility, he was by necessity the first, though never for himself or for private ends. He loved fame, the approval of coming generations, the good opinion of his fellow-men of his own time, and he desired to make his conduct coincide with their wishes; but not fear of censure, not the prospect of applause, could tempt him to swerve from rectitude, and the praise which he coveted, was the sympathy of that moral sentiment which exists in every human breast, and goes forth only to the welcome of virtue. [400]

There have been soldiers who have achieved

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mightier victories in the field, and made conquests more nearly corresponding to the boundlessness of selfish ambition; statesmen who have been connected with more startling upheavals of society; but it is the greatness of Washington, that in public trusts he used power solely for the public good; that he was the life, and moderator, and stay of the most momentous revolution in human affairs, its moving impulse and its restraining power. Combining the centripetal and the centrifugal forces in their utmost strength and in perfect relations, with creative grandeur of instinct he held ruin in check, and renewed and perfected the institutions of his country. Finding the colonies disconnected and dependent, he left them such a united and well ordered commonwealth as no visionary had believed to be possible. So that it has been truly said, ‘he was as fortunate as great and good.’

This also is the praise of Washington; that never in the tide of time has any man lived who had in so great a degree the almost divine faculty to command the confidence of his fellow-men and rule the willing. Wherever he became known, in his family, his neighborhood, his county, his native state, the continent, the camp, civil life, the United States, among the common people, in foreign courts, throughout the civilized world of the human race, and even among the savages, he, beyond all other men, had the confidence of his kind.

Washington saw at a glance the difficulties of the position to which he had been chosen. He was appointed by a government which, in its form, was one [401] of the worst of all possible governments in time of

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peace, and was sure to reveal its defects still more plainly in time of war. It was inchoate and with-June. out an executive head; the several branches of administration, if to be conducted at all, were to be conducted by separate, ever changing, and irresponsible committees; and all questions of legislation and of action ultimately decided by the one ill organized body of men, who, in respect of granted powers, were too feeble even to originate advice. They were not the representatives of a union; they alone constituted the union of which, as yet, there was no other bond. One whole department of government, the judicial, was entirely wanting. So was, in truth, the executive. The congress had no ability whatever to enforce a decree of their own; they had no revenue, and no authority to collect a revenue; they had none of the materials of war; they did not own a cannon, nor a pound of powder, nor a tent, nor a musket; they had no regularly enlisted army, and had even a jealousy of forming an army, and depended on the zeal of volunteers, or of men to be enlisted for less than seven months. There were no experienced officers, and no methods projected for obtaining them. Washington saw it all. He was in the enjoyment of fame; he wished not to forfeit the esteem of his fellow-men; and his eye glistened with a tear, as he said in confidence to Patrick Henry on occasion of his appointment: ‘This day will be the commencement of the decline of my reputation.’

But this consideration did not make him waver. On the sixteenth of June, he appeared in his place in congress, and after refusing all pay beyond his expenses, [402] he spoke with unfeigned modesty: ‘As the

Chap. Xxxvii} 1755. June.
congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty, and exert every power I possess in their service, and for the support of the glorious cause. But 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.’

The next day, the delegates of all the colonies resolved unanimously in congress ‘to maintain and assist him, and adhere to him, the said George Washington, Esquire, with their lives and fortunes in the same cause.’ By his commission, he was invested with the command over all forces raised or to be raised by the United Colonies, and with full power and authority to act as he should think for the good and welfare of the service; and he was instructed to take ‘special care that the liberties of America receive no detriment.’

Washington knew that he must depend for success on a steady continuance of purpose in an imperfectly united continent, and on his personal influence over separate and half-formed governments, with most of which he was wholly unacquainted; he foresaw a long and arduous struggle; but a secret consciousness of his power bade him not to fear; and whatever might be the backwardness of others, he never admitted for a moment the thought of sheathing his sword or resigning his command, till his work of vindicating American liberty should be done. To his wife he unbosomed his inmost mind: ‘I hope my undertaking this service is designed to answer some good purpose. [403] I rely confidently on that Providence, which

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has heretofore preserved and been bountiful to me.’

His acceptance at once changed the aspect of June. affairs. John Adams, looking with complacency upon ‘the modest and virtuous, the amiable, generous, and brave general,’ as the choice of Massachusetts, said: ‘This appointment will have a great effect in cementing the union of these colonies.’ ‘The general is one of the most important characters of the world; upon him depend the liberties of America.’ All hearts turned with affection towards Washington. This is he who was raised up to be not the head of a party, but the father of his country.

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