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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The sagacious planter turned out a great man


on the banks of the Potomac, at Bridge's Creek, in the county of Westmoreland in Virginia. He belonged to a family of consideration among the planters of Virginia, descended from that race of country gentlemen who had but lately effected the revolution in England. He lost his father early, and was brought up by a distinguished, firm, and judicious mother, for whom he always preserved equal affection and respect. Intended for the life of a surveyor of the still uncleared lands of Western America, he had led, from his youth up, a life of freedom and hardship; at nineteen, during the Canadian war, he had taken his place in the militia of his country, and we have seen how he fought with credit at the side of General Braddock. On returning home at the end of the war and settling at Mount Vernon, which had been bequeathed to him by his eldest brother, he had become a great agriculturist and great hunter, esteemed by all, loved by those who knew him, actively engaged in his own business as well as that of his colony, and already an object of confidence as well as hope to his fellow-citizens. In 1774, on the eve of the great struggle, Patrick Henry, on leaving the first Congress formed to prepare for it, replied to those who asked which was the foremost man in the Congress: "If you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina is the greatest orator; but, if you speak of solid knowledge of things and of sound judgment, Colonel Washington is indisputably the greatest man in the
Assembly." "Capable of rising to the highest destinies, he could have ignored himself without a struggle, and found in the culture of his lands satisfaction for those powerful faculties which were to suffice for the command of armies and for the foundation of a government. But when the occasion offered, when the need came, without any effort on his own part, without surprise on the part of others, the sagacious planter turned out a great man; he had in a superior degree the two qualities which in active life render men capable of great things: he could believe firmly in his own ideas, and act resolutely upon them, without fearing to take the responsibility." [M. Guizot, _Washington_].

He was, however, deeply moved and troubled at the commencement of a contest of which he foresaw the difficulties and the trials, without fathoming their full extent, and it was not without a struggle that he accepted the power confided to him by Congress. "Believe me, my dear Patsy," he wrote to his wife, "I have done all I could to screen myself from this high mark of honor, not only because it cost me much to separate myself from you and from my family, but also because I felt that this task was beyond my strength." When the new general arrived before Boston to take command of the confused and undisciplined masses which were hurrying up to the American camp, he heard that an engagement had taken place on the 16th of June on the heights of Bunker's Hill, which commanded the town; the Americans who had seized the positions had defended them so bravely that the English had lost nearly a thousand men before they carried the batteries. A few months later, after unheard of efforts on the general's part to constitute and train his army, he had taken possession of all the environs of the place, and General Howe, who had superseded General Gage, evacuated Boston (March 17, 1776).

Every step was leading to the declaration of independence. "If everybody were of my opinion," wrote Washington in the month of February, 1776, "the English ministers would learn in few words what we want to arrive at. I should set forth simply, and without periphrasis, our grievances and our resolution to have justice. I should tell them that we have long and ardently desired an honorable reconciliation, and that it has been refused. I should add that we have conducted ourselves as faithful subjects, that the feeling of liberty is too strong in our hearts to let us ever submit to slavery, and that we are quite determined to burst every bond with an unjust and unnatural government, if our enslavement alone will satisfy a tyrant and his diabolical ministry. And I should tell them all this not in covert terms, but in language as plain as the light of the sun at full noon."

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