« ForrigeFortsett »
To the President he thus replied. “At the epoch of my retirement, an invasion of these states by any European power, or even the probability of such an event in my days, was so far from being contemplated by me, that I had no conception either that or any other occurrence would arise, in so short a period, which could turn my eyes from the shades of Mount Vernon. But this seems to be the age of wonders. And it is reserved for intoxicated and lawless France (for purposes of providence far beyond the reach of human ken) to slaughter her own citizens, and to disturb the repose of all the world besides. From a view of the past, from the prospect of the present, and of that which seems to be expected, it is not easy for me to decide satisfactorily on the part it might best become me to act. In case of actual' invasion by a formidable force, I certainly should not entrench myself under the cover of age and retirement, if my services should be required by my country to assist in repelling it. And if there be good cause to expect such an event, which certainly must be better known to the government than to private citizens, delay in preparing for it may be dangerous, improper, and not to be justified by prudence. The uncertainty however of the latter, in my mind, creates my embarrassment; for I cannot bring it to believe, regardless as the French are of treaties, and of the laws of nations, and capable as I conceive them to be of any species of despotism and injustice, that they will attempt to invade this country after such an uniform and unequivocal expression of the determination of the people in all parts to oppose them with their lives and fortunes. That they have been led to believe by their agents and partisans among us that we are a divided people, that the latter are opposed to their own government, and that the show of a small force would occasion a revolt, I have no doubt; and how far these men (grown desperate) will further at.
tempt to deceive, and may succeed in keeping up the deception is problematical. Without that, the folly of the Directory in such an attempt would, I conceive, be more conspicuous, if possible, than their wickedness.
“ Having with candour made this disclosure of the state of my mind, it remains only for me to add, that to those who know me best, it is best known, that should imperious circumstances induce me to exchange once more the smooth paths of retirement for the thorny ways of publick life, at a period too when repose is more congenial to nature, that it would be productive of sensations which can be more easily conceived than expressed.”
To the question of the Secretary of War, this was his answer.
It cannot be necessary for me to premise to you or to others who know my sentiments, that to quit the tranquillity of retirement, and enter the boundless field of responsibility, would be productive of sensations which a better pen than I possess would find it difficult to describe. Nevertheless the principle bý which my conduct has been actuated through life, would not suffer me, in any great emergency, to with. hold any services I could render when required by my country ; especially in a case where its dearest rights are assailed by lawless ambition and intoxicated power, in contempt of every principle of justice, and in violation of solemn compacts, and of laws which govern all civilized nations; and this too with the obvious intent to sow thick the seeds of disunion, for the purpose of subjugating our government, and destroying our independence and happiness.
Under circumstances like these, accompanied by an actual invasion of our territory, it would be difficult for me at any time to remain an idle spectator under the plea of age or retirement. With sorrow, it is true, I should quit the shades of my peaceful abode, and the ease and happiness I now enjoy, to encounter anew
the turmoils of war, to which, possibly, my strength and powers might be found incompetent. These, however, should not be stumbling blocks in my own way. But there are other things bighly important for me to ascertain and settle, before I could give a definitive answer to your question.
“ First, the propriety in the opinion of the publick, so far as that opinion has been expressed in conversation, of my appearing again on the publick theatre, after declaring the sentiments I did in my valedictory address of September, 1796.
“ 2dly. A conviction in my own breast, from the best information that can be obtained, that it is the wish of my country that its military force should be committed to my charge ; and
3dly. That the army now to be formed should be so appointed as to afford a well grounded hope of its doing honour to the country, and credit to him who commands it in the field.”
Before these letters had reached the seat of government, the President had nominated to the Senate, « General Washington to be Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the Armies raised and to be raised.” The Secretary of War waited upon him with his commission, and with the following letter from the President.
“ Mr. M'Henry, the Secretary of War, will have the honour to wait on you in my behalf, to impart to you a step I have ventured to take, which I should have been happy to have communicated in person, had such a journey at this time been in my power.
“My reasons for this measure will be too well known to need any explanation to the publick. Every friend and every enemy of America will comprehend them at first blush. To you, sir, I owe all the apology I can make. The urgent necessity I am in of your advice and assistance, indeed of your conduct and direction of the war, is all I can urge ; and that is a suf
ficient justification to myself and to the world. I hope it will be so considered by yourself. Mr. M'Henry will have the honour to consult you upon the organization of the army, and upon every thing relating to it."
With the order to wait on General WASHINGTON, the Secretary of War received from President Adams the following instructions.
“ It is my desire that you embrace the first opportunity to set out on your journey to Mount Vernon, and wait on General WASHINGTON with the commission of Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the armies of the United States, which, by the advice and consent of the Senate, has been signed by me.
The reasons and motives which prevailed on me to venture on such a step as the nomination of this great and illustrious character, whose voluntary resignation alone occasioned my introduction to the office I now hold, were too numerous to be detailed in this let. ter, and are too obvious and important to escape the observation of any part of America or Europe. But as it is a movement of great delicacy, it will require all your address to communicate the subject in a manner that shall be inoffensive to his feelings, and consistent with all the respect that is due from me to him.
“ If the General should decline the appointment, all the world will be silent, and respectfully acquiesce. If he should accept it, all the world, except the enemies of this country, will rejoice. If he should come to no decisive determination, but take the subject into consideration, I shall not appoint any other Lieutenant General until his conclusion is known.”
The General opened himself explicitly to the Secretary of War, and by him returned the following answer to the President's communication.
“ I had the honour, on the evening of the 11th instant, to receive from the hands of the Secretary of War your favour of the 7th, announcing that you had, with the advice and consent of the Senate, appointed
me Lieutenant General and Commander in Chief of the Armies raised, or to be raised for the service of the United States.
“ I cannot express how greatly affected I am at this new proof of publick confidence, and at the highly flattering manner in which you have been pleased to make the communication. At the same time, I must not conceal from you my earnest wish that the choice had fallen upon a man less declined in years, and better qualified to encounter the usual vicissitudes of war.
“ You know, sir, what calculations I had made relative to the probable course of events on my retiring from office, and the determination, with which I had consoled myself, of closing the remnant of my days in my present peaceful abode. You will therefore be at no loss to conceive and appreciate the sensations I must have experienced, to bring my mind to any conclusion that would pledge me at so late a period of life, to leave scenes I sincerely love, to enter upon the boundless field of publick action, incessant trouble, and high responsibility.
“ It was not possible for me to remain ignorant of, or indifferent to recent transactions. The conduct of the Directory of France towards our country ; their insidious hostility to its government; their various practices to withdraw the affections of the people from it; the evident tendency of their arts, and those of their agents, to countenance and invigorate opposition; their disregard of solemn treaties and the laws of na. tions; their war upon our defenceless commerce; their treatment of our Ministers of peace ; and their demands, amounting to tribute, could not fail to excite in me, sentiments corresponding with those my countrymen have so generally expressed in their affection. ate addresses to you.
"Believe me, sir, no man can more cordially ap. prove the wise and prudent measures of your Administration. They ought to inspire universal confidence,