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George Washington From Various Letters, Speeches, And Addresses

( Originally Published 1916 )



To the Captains of Several Independent Companies in Virginia. Philadelphia, June, 1775

" Gentlemen,

" I am now about to bid adieu to the companies under your respective commands, at least for a time. I have launched into a wide and extensive field, too boundless for my abilities, and far, very far, beyond my experience. I am called by the unanimous voice of the Colonies to the command of the Continental army; an honor I did not aspire to, an honor I was solicitous to avoid, upon a full conviction of my inadequacy to the importance of the service. I have only to beg of you, therefore, before I go, by no means to relax in the discipline of your respective companies.

" I cannot doubt but the asserters of freedom and the right of the Constitution are possessed of your most favorable regards and wishes for success. As descendants of freedom, and heirs with us of the same glorious inheritance, we flatter our-selves that, though divided by our situation, we are firmly united in sentiment. The cause of virtue and liberty is confined to no continent or climate. It comprehends within its capacious limits the wise and good, however dispersed and separated in space and distance."

To the Inhabitants of the Island of Bermuda

" While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to Him only they are answerable."

To Colonel Benedict Arnold, 1775

" The man who means to commit no wrong will never be guilty of enormities; consequently he can never be unwilling to learn what is ascribed to him as foibles. If they are really such, the knowledge of them in a well-disposed mind will go half way towards a reform. If they are not errors he can explain and justify the motives of his actions."

To Patrick Henry, Valley Forge, 27th March, 1778

" I have ever been happy in supposing that I had a place in your esteem, and the proof you have afforded makes me peculiarly so. The favorable light in which you hold me is truly flattering; but I should feel much regret, if I thought the happiness of America so intimately connected with my personal welfare as you so obligingly seem to consider it. All I can say is, that she has ever had, and I trust she ever will have, my honest exertions to promote her interest. I cannot hope that my services have been the best; but my heart tells me they have been the best that I could render.

" However it may be the practice of the world and those who see objects but partially or through a false medium, to consider that only as meritorious which is attended with success, I have accustomed myself to judge human actions very differently, and to appreciate them by the manner in which they are conducted more than by the event ; which it is not in the power of human foresight and prudence to command.

" My political creed is, to be wise in the choice of delegates, support them like gentlemen while they are our representatives, give them complete powers for all federal purposes, support them in the due exercise thereof, and lastly, to compel them to close attendance in Congress during their delegation.

" We ought not to look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience. To enveigh against things that are past and irremediable is unpleasing; but to steer clear of the shelves and rocks we have struck upon is the part of wisdom, equally as incumbent on political as other men who have their own little bark or that of others to navigate through the intricate paths of life, or the trackless ocean, to the haven of security or rest."

Extracts from a Circular Letter Addressed to the Governors of All the States on Disbanding the Army, Newburgh, 8 June, 1783

" Sir:—The great object for which I had the honor to hold an appointment in the service of my country, being accomplished, I am now preparing to resign it into the hands of Congress, and to re-turn to that domestic retirement which it is well known I left with the greatest reluctance; a retirement for which I have never ceased to sigh, through a long and painful absence, and in which I meditate to pass the remainder of life, in a state of undisturbed repose. But before I carry this resolution into effect, I think it a duty incumbent on me to make this, my last official communication ; to congratulate you on the glorious events which Heaven has been pleased to produce in our favor; to offer my sentiments respecting some important subjects which appear to me to be intimately connected with the tranquillity of the United States, to take my leave of your excellency as a public character, and to give my final blessing to that country in whose service I have spent the prime of my life, for whose sake I have consumed so many anxious days and watchful nights, and whose happiness, being so extremely dear to me, will always constitute no inconsiderable part of my own."

From the same circular letter :

" The foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy age of ignorance and superstition, but at an epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined than at any former period. The researches of the human mind after social happiness have been carried to a great extent; the treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labors of philosophers, sages, and legislators through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the establishment of our forms of government."

From the same :

" The free cultivation of letters, the unbounded extension of commerce, the progressive refinement of manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and, above all, the power and benign light of revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind, and increased the blessings of society. An indissoluble union of the states under one federal head—a sacred regard to public justice—the adoption of a proper peace establishment, and the prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and politics; to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and in some instances to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community—these are the pillars on which the glorious fabric of our independence and national character must be supported. Liberty is the basis, and whoever would dare to sap the foundation or overturn the structure, under whatever specious pretext he may attempt it, will merit the bitterest execration, and the severest punishment which can be inflicted by his injured country."

From the same :

I now make it my earnest prayer that God would have you and the State over which you pre-side in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to the government ; to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one an-other and for their fellow-citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the field, and finally that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation."

Washington on Slavery

" There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery; but there is only one proper and effectual mode by which it can be accomplished, and that is by legislative authority, and this as far as my suffrage will go shall never be wanting."

In a Letter to Lafayette, Washington Expresses His Views on Commerce

" Although I pretend to no peculiar information respecting commercial affairs, nor any foresight into the scenes of futurity, yet, as a member of an infant empire, as a philanthropist by character, and if I may be allowed the expression, as a citizen of the great republic of humanity at large, I cannot help turning my attention sometimes to this subject. I would be understood to mean I cannot avoid reflecting with pleasure on the probable influence that commerce may hereafter have on human manners and society in general. On these occasions I consider how mankind may be connected like this one great family of fraternal ties. I indulge a fond, perhaps an enthusiastic idea, that as the world is evidently much less barbarous than it has been, its melioration must still be progressive; that nations are becoming more humanized in their policy, that the subjects of ambition and causes for hostility are daily diminishing, and in fine, that the period is not very remote when the benefits of a liberal and free commerce will pretty generally succeed to the devastations and horrors of war.

" Men's minds are as varied as their faces, and where the motives to their actions are pure, the operation of the former is no more to be imputed to them as a crime than the appearance of the latter; for both being the work of nature, are equally unavoidable. Liberality and charity, instead of clamor and misrepresentation, which latter only serve to foment the passions without enlightening the understanding, ought to govern in all disputes about matters of importance."

From a Letter, 1793

" If it can be esteemed a happiness to live in an age productive of great and interesting events, we of the present age are very highly favored. The rapidity of national revolutions appears no less astonishing than their magnitude. In what they will terminate is known only to the Great Ruler of events; and confiding in His wisdom and goodness, we may safely trust the issue to Him, without perplexing ourselves to seek for that which is beyond human ken, only taking care to perform the parts assigned to us in a way that reason and our own conscience approve."

From a Speech to Both Houses of Congress, 1790

" To administer justice to and receive it from every power with whom they are connected will, I hope, be always found the prominent feature in the administration of this country; and I flatter myself that nothing short of imperious necessity can occasion a breach with any of them.

" Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one of which the measures of government receive their impression so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours, it is proportionably essential. To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways; by convincing those who are entrusted with the public administration that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights ; to discern and to provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the latter, and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachment with an inviolable respect to the laws."

From a Speech to Both Houses of Congress, 1794

" Let praise be given to every description of citizens. Let them persevere in their affectionate vigilance over that precious depository of American happiness, the Constitution of the United States. Let them cherish it, too, for the sake of those, from every clime, daily seeking a dwelling in our land.

" Let us unite, therefore, in imploring the Supreme Ruler of nations to spread His holy protection over these United States ; to enable us at all times to root out internal seditions and put invasion to flight; to perpetuate to our country that prosperity which His goodness has already conferred; and to verify the anticipations of this government being a safeguard to human rights."



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