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The Unselfishness Of George Washington

( Originally Published 1916 )



BY ROBERT TREAT PAINE

To the pen of the historian must be resigned the more arduous and elaborate tribute of justice to those efforts of heroic and political virtue which conducted the American people to peace and liberty. The vanquished foe retired from our shores, and left to the controlling genius who repelled them the gratitude of his own country, and the admiration of the world. The time had now arrived which was to apply the touchstone to his integrity, which was to assay the affinity of his principles to the standard of immutable right.

On the one hand, a realm to which he was endeared by his services almost invited him to empire; on the other, the liberty to whose protection his life had been devoted, was the ornament and boon of human nature.

Washington could not depart from his own great self. His country was free. He was no longer a general. Sublime spectacle ! more elevating to the pride of virtue than the sovereignty of the globe united to the scepter of the ages ! Enthroned in the hearts of his countrymen, the gorgeous pageantry of prerogative was unworthy the majesty of his dominion. That effulgence of military character which in ancient states has blasted the rights of the people whose renown it had brightened, was not here permitted, by the hero from whom it emanated, to shine with so destructive a luster. Its beams, though intensely resplendent, did not wither the young blossoms of our Independence; and Liberty, like the burning bush, flourished, unconsumed by the glory which surrounded it.

To the illustrious founder of our Republic it was reserved to exhibit the example of a magnanimity that commanded victory, of a moderation that retired from triumph. Unlike the erratic meteors of ambition, whose flaming path sheds a disastrous light on the pages of history, his bright orb, eclipsing the luminaries among which it rolled, never portended " fearful change " to religion, nor from its " golded tresses " shook pestilence on empire.

What to other heroes has been glory, would to Washington have been disgrace. To his intrepidity it would have added no honorary trophy, to have waded, like the conqueror of Peru, through the blood of credulous millions, to plant the standard of triumph at the burning mouth of a volcano. To his fame, it would have erected no auxiliary monument to have invaded, like the ravager of Egypt, an innocent though barbarous nation, to inscribe his name on the pillar of Pompey.



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