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Tributes To George Washington

( Originally Published 1916 )

Extract from an address by President Cary of the Union League Club, at the celebration of Washington's Birthday at the Auditorium, Chicago, February 22, 1900.

It is needless to dispute with others as to Washington's rank in minor things. We know that for us and for our country his is the greatest name that lives; that in the grand struggle and march for freedom he was humanity's greatest leader, and that through us as a nation he gave to the world its chiefest example of republican self-government. And now that his greatness is acknowledged and his praises sung the world round, our hearts swell with pride and gratitude that he is ours our countryman ; our great American; our Washington. Not the safe and invincible general merely, not the wise first President, but George Washington, the sublime personality, greatest seen when all props and scaffoldings of rank and station are torn away.

From Green's " History of the English People ":

No nobler figure ever stood in the forefront of a nation's life. Washington was grave and courteous in address; his manners were simple and unpretending; his silence and the serene calmness of his temper spoke of a perfect self-mastery; but little there was in his outer bearing to reveal the grandeur of soul which lifts his figure with all the simple majesty of an ancient statue, out of the smaller passions, the meaner impulses of the world around him.

It was only as the weary fight went on that the colonists learned, little by little, the greatness of their leader—his clear judgment, his calmness in the hour of danger or defeat; the patience with which he waited, the quickness and hardness with which he struck, the lofty and serene sense of duty that never swerved from its task through resentment or jealousy, that never, through war or peace, felt the touch of a meaner ambition; that knew no aim save that of guarding the freedom of his fellow-countrymen; and no personal longing save that of returning to his own fireside when their freedom was secured.

It was almost unconsciously that men learned to cling to Washington with a trust and faith such as few other men have won, and to regard him with reverence which still hushes us in presence of his memory.

Washington's is the mightiest name of earth—long since mightiest in the cause of civil liberty; still mightiest in moral reformation. On that name no eulogy is expected. It cannot be. To add brightness to the sun, or glory to the name of Washing-ton, is alike impossible. Let none attempt it. In solemn awe pronounce the name, and in its naked deathless splendor leave it shining on.


Washington cannot be stripped of any part of his credit for patriotism, wisdom, and courage; for the union of enterprise with prudence; for integrity and truthfulness; for simply dignity of character; for tact and forbearance in dealing with men; above all for serene fortitude in the darkest hour of his cause, and under trials from the perversity, insubordination, jealousy, and perfidy of those around him, severer than any defeat.


The life of our Washington cannot suffer by a comparison with those of other countries who have been most celebrated and exalted by fame. The at-tributes and decorations of royalty could have only served to eclipse the majesty of those virtues which made him, from being a modest citizen, a more resplendent luminary.

Malice could never blast his honor, and envy made him a single exception to her universal rule. For himself he had lived enough to life and to glory. For his fellow-citizens, if their prayers could have been answered, he would have been immortal. His example is complete, and it will teach wisdom and virtue to magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age, but in future generations, as long as our history shall be read.


His character, though regular and uniform, possessed none of the littleness which may sometimes belong to these descriptions of men. It formed a majestic pile, the effect of which was not inspired, but improved, by order and symmetry. There was nothing in it to dazzle by wildness, and surprise by eccentricity. It was of a higher species of moral beauty. It contained everything great and elevated, but it had no false or trivial ornament. It was not the model cried up by fashion and circumstance : its excellence was adapted to the true and just moral taste, incapable of change from the varying accidents of manners, of opinions, and times. General Washington is not the idol of a day, but the hero of ages.


Washington stands alone and unapproachable like a snow peak rising above its fellows into the clear air of morning, with a dignity, constancy, and purity which have made him the ideal type of civic virtue to succeeding generations.


Pale is the February sky,
And brief the midday's sunny hours;
The wind-swept forest seems to sigh
For the sweet time of leaves and flowers.

Yet has no month a prouder day,
Not even when the Summer broods
O'er meadows in their fresh array,
Or Autumn tints the glowing woods.

For this chill season now again
Brings, in its annual round, the morn
When, greatest of the sons of men,
Our glorious Washington was born !

Amid the wreck of thrones shall live
Unmarred, undimmed, our hero's fame,
And years succeeding years shall give
Increase of honors to his name.


Washington, the warrior and legislator ! In war contending, by the wager of battle, for the independence of his country, and for the freedom of the human race; ever manifesting amidst its horrors, by precept and example, his reverence for the laws of peace and the tenderest sympathies of humanity: in peace soothing the ferocious spirit of discord among his countrymen into harmony and union; and giving to that very sword, now presented to his country, a charm more potent than that attributed in ancient times to the lyre of Orpheus.


George Washington may justly be pronounced one of the greatest men whom the world has produced. Greater soldiers, more intellectual states-men, and profounder sages have doubtlessly existed in the history of the English race—perhaps in our own country—but no one who to great excellence in each of these fields has added such exalted integrity, such unaffected piety, such unsullied purity of soul, and such wondrous control of his own spirit. That one grand rounded life, full-orbed with intellectual and moral glory, is worth, as the product of Christianity, more than all the dogmas of all the teachers. He was a blessing to the whole human race, no less than to his own countrymen—to the many millions who celebrate the day of his birth.


First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere, uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him, as were the effects of that example lasting. HENRY LEE.

Happy was it for America, happy for the world, that a great name, a guardian genius, presided over her destinies in war. The hero of America was the conqueror only of his country's foes, and the hearts of his countrymen. To the one he was a terror, and in the other he gained an ascendency, supreme, unrivaled, the triumph of admiring gratitude, the re-ward of a nation's love. JARED SPARKS.

The sword of Washington ! The staff of Franklin ! Oh sir, what associations are linked in adamant with these names ! Washington, whose sword, as my friend has said, was never drawn but in the cause of his country, and never sheathed when wielded in his country's cause. Franklin, the philosopher of the thunderbolt, the printing-press, and the plowshare. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.

Others of our great men have been appreciated,—many admired by all. But him we love. Him we all love. About and around him we call up no dissentient and discordant and dissatisfied elements, no sectional prejudice nor bias, no party, no creed, no dogma of politics. None of these shall assail him. When the storm of battle blows darkest and rages highest, the memory of Washington shall nerve every American arm and cheer every American heart. It shall relume that Promethean fire, that sublime flame of patriotism, that devoted love of country, which his words have commended, which his example has consecrated.


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