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Title: Washington and His Colleagues
Author: Henry Jones Ford
Release Date: March 24, 2004 [eBook #11702]
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WASHINGTON AND HIS COLLEAGUES
A CHRONICLE OF THE RISE AND FALL OF FEDERALISM
BY HENRY JONES FORD
NEW HAVEN: YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS
The Chronicles of America Series
Allen Johnson, Editor
Gerhard R. Lomer and Charles W. Jefferys, Assistant Editors
I. AN IMITATION COURT
II. GREAT DECISIONS
III. THE MASTER BUILDER
IV. ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS
V. TRIBUTE TO THE ALGERINES
VI. FRENCH DESIGNS ON AMERICA
VII. A SETTLEMENT WITH ENGLAND
VIII. PARTY VIOLENCE
IX. THE PERSONAL RULE OF JOHN ADAMS
AN IMITATION COURT
Washington was glad to remain at Mount Vernon as long as possible after he had consented to serve as President, enjoying the life of a country gentleman, which was now much more suited to his taste than official employment. He was weary of public duties and the heavy demands upon his time which had left him with little leisure for his private life at home. His correspondence during this period gives ample evidence of his extreme reluctance to reassume public responsibilities. To bring the matter to its true proportions, it must be remembered that to the view of the times the new constitution was but the latest attempt to tinker the federal scheme, and it was yet to be seen whether this endeavor would be any more successful than previous efforts had been. As for the title of President, it had already been borne by a number of congressional politicians and had been rather tarnished by the behavior of some of them. Washington was not at all eager to move in the matter before he had to, and he therefore remained on his farm until Congress met, formally declared the result of the election, and sent a committee to Mount Vernon to give him official notice. It was not until April 30, 1789, that he was formally installed as President.
Madison and Hamilton were meanwhile going ahead with their plans. This time was perhaps the happiest in their lives. They had stood together in years of struggle to start the movement for a new constitution, to steer it through the convention, and to force it on the States. Although the fight had been a long and a hard one, and although they had not won all that they had wanted, it was nevertheless a great satisfaction that they had accomplished so much, and they were now applying themselves with great zest to the organization of the new government. Madison was a member of Congress; Hamilton lived near the place where Congress held its sittings in New York and his house was a rendezvous for the federal leaders. Thither Madison would often go to talk over plans and prospects. A lady who lived near by has related how she often saw them walking and talking together, stopping sometimes to have fun with a monkey skipping about in a neighbor's yard.
At that time Madison was thirty-eight; Hamilton was thirty-two. They were little men, of the quick, dapper type. Madison was five feet six and a quarter inches tall, slim and delicate in physique, with a pale student's face lit up by bright hazel eyes. He was as plain as a Quaker in his style of dress, and his hair, which was light in color, was brushed straight back and gathered into a small queue, tied with a plain ribbon. Hamilton was of about the same stature, but his figure had wiry strength. His Scottish ancestry was manifest in his ruddy complexion and in the modeling of his features. He was more elegant than Madison in his habitual attire. He had a very erect, dignified bearing; his expression was rather severe when his features were in repose, but he had a smile of flashing radiance when he was pleased and interested, Washington, who stood over six feet two inches in his buckled shoes, had to look down over his nose when he met the young statesmen who had been the wheel horses of the federal movement.
Soon after Washington arrived in New York he sought Hamilton's aid in the management of the national finances. There was the rock on which the government of the Confederation had foundered. There the most skillful pilotage was required if the new government was to make a safe voyage. Washington's first thought had been to get Robert Morris to take charge again of the department that he had formerly managed with conspicuous ability, and while stopping in Philadelphia on his way to New York, he had approached Morris on the subject. Morris, who was now engaged in grand projects which were eventually to bring him to a debtor's prison, declined the position but strongly recommended Hamilton. This suggestion proved very acceptable to Washington, who was well aware of Hamilton's capacity.
The thorny question of etiquette was the next matter to receive Washington's attention. Personally he favored the easy hospitality to which he was accustomed in Virginia, but he knew quite well that his own taste ought not to be decisive. The forms that he might adopt would become precedents, and hence action should be taken cautiously. Washington was a methodical man. He had a well-balanced nature which was never disturbed by timidity of any kind and rarely by anxiety. His anger was strong when it was excited, but his ordinary disposition was one of massive equanimity. He was not imaginative, but he took things as they came, and did what the occasion demanded. In crises that did not admit of deliberation, his instinctive courage guided his behavior, but such crises belong to military experience, and in civil life careful deliberation was his rule. It was his practice to read important documents pen in hand to note the points. From one of his familiar letters to General Knox we learn that on rising in the morning he would turn over in his mind the day's work and would consider how to deal with it. His new circumstances soon apprised him that the first thing to be settled was his deportment as President. Under any form of government the man who is head of the state is forced, as part of his public service, to submit to public exhibition and to be exact in social observance; but, unless precautions are taken, engagements will consume his time and strength. Writing to a friend about the situation in which he found himself, Washington declared: "By the time I had done breakfast, and thence till dinner, and afterwards till bed-time, I could not get relieved from the ceremony of one visit, before I had to attend to another. In a word, I had no leisure to read or answer the dispatches that were pouring in upon me from all quarters."
The radical treatment which the situation