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EULOGY ON WASHINGTON,
DELIVERED AT THE REQUEST OF THE LEGISLATURE OF
MASSACHUSETTS, FEBRUARY 8, 1800.
BY FISHER AMES.
It is natural that the gratitude of mankind should be drawn to their benefactors. A number of these have successively arisen, who were no less distinguished for the elevation of their virtues, than the lustre of their talents. Of those, however, who were born, and who acted, through life, as if they were born, not for themselves, but for their country and the whole human race, how few, alas! are recorded in the long annals of ages, and how wide the intervals of time and space that divide them. In all this dreary length of way, they appear like five or six lighthouses on as many thousand miles of coast; they gleam upon the surrounding darkness, with an inextinguishable splendor, like stars seen through a mist; but they are seen like stars, to cheer, to guide, and to save.
ASHINGTON is now added to that small number. Already he attracts curiosity, like a newly discovered star, whose benignant light will travel on to the world's and time's farthest bounds. Already his name is hung up by history as conspicuously, as if it sparkled in one of the constellations of the sky.
By commemorating his death, we are called this day to yield the homage that is due to virtue; to confess the common debt of mankind as well as our own; and to pronounce for posterity, now dumb, that eulogium, which they will delight to echo ten ages hence, when we are dumb.
I consider myself not merely in the midst of the citizens of this town, or even of the state. In idea, I gather
round me the nation. In the vast and venerable congregation of the patriots of all countries and of all enlightened men, I would, if I could, raise my voice, and speak to mankind in a strain worthy of my audience, and as elevated as my subject. But how shall I express emotions that are condemned to be mute, because they are unutterable? I felt, and I was witness, on the day when the news of his death reached us, to the throes of that grief that saddened every countenance, and wrung drops of agony from the heart. Sorrow labored for utterance, but found none. Every man looked round for the consolation of other men's tears. Gracious Heaven! what consolation ! Each face was convulsed with sorrow for the past; every heart shivered with despair for the future. The man who, and who alone, united all hearts, was dead -dead, at the moment when his power to do good was the greatest, and when the aspect of the imminent public dangers seemed more than ever to render his aid indispensable, and his loss irreparable: irreparable; for two WASHINGTONS come not in one age.
A grief so thoughtful, so profound, so mingled with tenderness and admiration, so interwoven with our national self-love, so often revived by being diffused, is not to be expressed. You have assigned me a task that is impossible.
O if I could perform it, if I could illustrate his principles in my discourse as he displayed them in his life, if I could paint his virtues as he practised them, if I could convert the fervid enthusiasm of my heart into the talent to transmit his fame, as it ought to pass, to posterity, I should be the successful organ of your will, the minister of his virtues, and may I dare to say, the humble partaker of his immortal glory. These are ambitious, deceiving hopes, and I reject them; for it is, perhaps, almost as difficult, at once with judgment and feeling, to praise great actions, as to perform them. A lavish and undistinguishing eulogium is not praise; and to discriminate such excellent qualities as were characteristic and peculiar to him, would be to raise a name, as he raised it, above envy, above parallel, perhaps, for that very reason, above emulation.
Such a portraying of character, however, must be addressed to the understanding, and, therefore, even if it were well executed, would seem to be rather an analysis of moral principles, than the recital of a hero's exploits.
With whatever fidelity I might execute this task, I know that some would prefer a picture drawn to the imagination. They would have our WASHINGTON represented of a giant's size, and in the character of a hero of romance. They, who love to wonder better than to reason, would not be satisfied with the contemplation of a great example, unless, in the exhibition, it should be so distorted into prodigy, as to be both incredible and useless. Others, I hope but few, who think meanly of human nature, will deem it incredible, that even WASHINGTON should think with as much dignity and elevation as he acted; and they will grovel in vain in the search for mean and selfish motives, that could incite and sustain him to devote his life to his country.
Do not these suggestions sound in your ears like a profanation of virtue--and, while I pronounce them, do you not feel a thrill of indignation at your hearts? Forbear. Time never fails to bring every exalted reputation to a strict scrutiny; the world, in passing the judgment that is never to be reversed, will deny all partiality even to the name of Washington. Let it be denied, for its justice will confer glory.
Such a life as .WASHINGTON's cannot derive honor from the circumstances of birth and education, though it throws back a lustre upon both. With an inquisitive mind, that always profited by the lights of others, and was unclouded by passions of its own, he acquired a maturity of judgment, rare in age, unparalleled in youth. Perhaps no young man had so early laid up a life's stock of materials for solid reflection, or settled
so soon the principles and habits of his conduct. Gray experience listened to his counsels with respect, and, at a time when youth is almost privileged to be rash, Virginia committed the safety of her frontier, and, ultimately, the safety of America, not merely to his valor, for that would be scarcely praise, but to his prudence.
It is not in Indian wars that heroes are celebrated; but it is there they are formed. No enemy can be more formidable, by the craft of his ambushes, the suddenness of his onset, or the ferocity of his vengeance. The soul of WASHINGTON was thus exercised to danger; and, on the first trial, as on every other, it appeared firm in adversity, cool in action, undaunted, self-possessed. His spirit, and still more his prudence, on the occasion of Braddock's defeat, diffused his name throughout America, and across the Atlantic. Even then his country viewed him with complacency, as her most hopeful son.
At the peace of 1763, Great Britain, in consequence of her victories, stood in a position to prescribe her own terms. She chose, perhaps, better for us than for herself: for by expelling the French from Canada, we no longer feared hostile neighbors; and we soon found just cause to be afraid of our protectors. We discerned, even then, a truth, which the conduct of France has since so strongly confirmed, that there is nothing which the gratitude of weak states can give, that will satisfy strong allies for their aid, but authority: nations that want protectors, will have masters. Our settlements, no longer checked by enemies on the frontier, rapidly increased; and it was discovered, that America was growing to a size that could defend itself.
In this, perhaps unforeseen, but at length obvious state of things, the British government conceived a jealousy of the colonies, of which, and of their intended measures of precaution, they made no secret.
Our nation, like its great leader, had only to take counsel from its courage. When Washington heard the voice of his country in distress, his obedience was
prompt; and though his sacrifices were great, they cost him no effort. Neither the object, nor the limits of my plan, permit me to dilate on the military events of the revolutionary war. Our history is but a transcript of his claims on our gratitude: our hearts bear testimony, that they are claims not to be satisfied. When overmatched by numbers, a fugitive with a little band of faithful soldiers, the states as much exhausted as dismayed, he explored his own undaunted heart, and found there resources to retrieve our affairs. We have seen him display as much valor as gives fame to heroes, and as consummate prudence as ensures success to valor ; fearless of dangers that were personal to him; hesitating and cautious, when they affected his country; preferring fame before safety or repose, and duty before fame.
Rome did not owe more to Fabius, than America to WASHINGTON. Our nation shares with him the singular glory of having conducted a civil war with mildness, and a revolution with order.
The event of that war seemed to crown the felicity and glory both of America and its chief. Until that contest, a great part of the civilized world had been surprisingly ignorant of the force and character, and almost of the existence of the British colonies. They had not retained what they knew, nor felt curiosity to know the state of thirteen wretched settlements, which vast woods enclosed, and still vaster woods divided from each other. They did not view the colonists so much a people, as a race of fugitives, whom want, and solitude and intermixture with the savages, had made barbarians.
At this time, while Great Britain wielded a force truly formidable to the most powerful states, suddenly, astonished Europe beheld a feeble people, till then unknown, stand forth, and defy this giant to the combat. It was so unequal, all expected it would be short. Our final success exalted their admiration to its highest point: they allowed to Washington all that is due