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EULOGY ON WASHINGTON,
DELIVERED FEBRUARY 22, 1800, BY APPOINTMENT OF A
NUMBER OF THE CLERGY OF NEW YORK.
BY JOHN M. MASON,
PASTOR OF THE ASSOCIATE-REFORMED CHURCH IN THE CITY OF
FELLOW-CITIZENS. The offices of this day belong less to eloquence than to grief. We celebrate one of those great events which, by uniting public calamity with private affliction, create in every bosom a response to the throes of an empire. God, who doeth wonders; whose ways must be adored, but not questioned, in severing from the embraces of America her first-beloved patriot, has imposed on her the duty of blending impassioned feeling with profound and unmurmuring submission. An assembled nation, lamenting a father in their departed chief; absorbing every inferior consideration in the sentiment of their common loss; mingling their recollections and their anticipations, their wishes, their regrets, their sympathies and their tears, is a spectacle not more tender than awful, and excites emotions too mighty for utterance. I should have no right to complain, Americans, if, instead of indulging me with your attention, you should command me to retire, and leave you to weep in the silence of wo. I should deserve the reprimand, were I to appear before you with the pretensions of eulogy. No! Eulogy has mistaken her province and her powers, when she assumes for her theme the glory of WASHINGTON. His deeds and his virtues are his high eulogium-his deeds most fami
liar to your memories, his virtues most dear to your affections. To me, therefore, nothing is permitted but to borrow from yourselves. And though a pencil, more daring than mine, would languish in attempting to retrace the living lines which the finger of truth has drawn upon your hearts, you will bear with me, while, on a subject which dignifies every thing related to it, I tell you that which you yourselves do know.'
The name of Washington, connected with all that is most brilliant in the history of our country, and in human character, awakens sensations which agitate the fervors of youth, and warm the chill bosom of age. Transported to the times when America rose to repel her wrongs, and to claim her destinies, a scene of boundless grandeur bursts upon our view. Long had her filial duty expostulated with parental injustice. Long did she deprecate the rupture of those ties which she had been proud of preserving and displaying. But her humble entreaty spurned, aggression followed by the rod, and the rod by scorpions, having changed remonstrance into murmur, and murmur into resistance, she transfers her grievances from the throne of earth to the throne of heaven; and precedes by an appeal to the God of judgment, her appeal to the sword of war.
At issue now with the mistress of the seas; unfurnished with equal means of defence; the convulsive shock approaching; and every evil omen passing before her, one step of rashness or of folly may seal her doom. In this accumulation of trouble, who shall command her confidence, and face her dangers, and conduct her cause? God, whose kingdom ruleth over all, prepares from afar the instruments best adapted to his purpose. By an influence which it would be as irrational to dispute as it is vain to scrutinize, he stirs up the spirit of the statesman and the soldier. Minds, on which he has bestowed the elements of greatness, are brought, by his providence, into contact with exigencies which rouse them into action. It is in the season
of effort and of peril that impotence disappears, and energy arises. The whirlwind, which sweeps away the glow-worm, uncovers the fire of genius, and kindles it into a blaze, that irradiates, at once, both the zenith and the poles.
But among the heroes who sprung from obscurity, when the college, the counting-house, and the plough teemed with “ thunderbolts of war,” none could, in all respects, meet the wants and the wishes of America. She required, in her leader, a man reared under her own eye; who combined with distinguished talent, a character above suspicion; who had added to his physical and moral qualities the experience of difficult service; a man, who should concentrate in himself the public affections and confidences; who should know how to multiply the energies of every other man under his direction, and to make disaster itself the means of success—his arm a fortress and his name a host. Such a man it were almost presumption to expect; but such a man all-ruling heaven had provided, and that man was WASHINGTON.
Pre-eminent already in worth, he is summoned to the pre-eminence of toil and of danger. Unallured by the charms of opulence: unappalled by the hazard of a dubious warfare: unmoved by the prospect of being, in the event of failure, the first and most conspicuous victim, he obeys the summons, because he loves his duty. The resolve is firm, for the probation is terri. ble. His theatre is a world; his charge, a family of nations; the interest staked, in his hands, the prosperity of millions unborn in ages to come; his means, under aid from on high, the resources of his own breast, with the raw recruits and irregular supplies of distracted colonies. O crisis worthy of such a hero! Followed by her little bands, her prayers and her tears, WASHINGTON espouses the quarrel of his country. As he moves on to the conflict, every heart palpitates, and every knee trembles. The foe, alike valiant and veteran, presents no easy conquest, nor aught inviting but to those who had consecrated their blood to the public weal. The Omnipotent, who allots great enjoyment as the meed of great exertion, had ordained that America should be free; but that she should learn to value the blessing by the price of its acquisition. She shall go to a “ wealthy place,” but her way is “through fire and through water.” Many a generous chief must bleed, and many a gallant youth sink, at his side, into the surprised grave; the field must be heaped with slain; the purple torrent must roll, ere the angel of peace descend with his olive. It is here, amid devastation, and horror, and death, that WASHINGTON must reap his laurels, and engrave his trophies on the shields of immortality. Shall Delaware and Princeton-shall Monmouth and York—But I may not particularize; far less repeat the tale which babes recite, which poets sing, and fame has published to the listening world. Every scene of his action was a scene of his triumph. Now, he saved the republic by more than Fabian caution; now, he avenged her by more than Carthagenian fierceness. While, at every stroke, her forests and her hills reechoed to her shout, “ The sword of the LORD and of Washington!” Nor was this the vain applause of partiality and enthusiasm. The blasted schemes of Britain; her broken and her captive hosts, proclaimed the terror of his arms. Skilled were her chiefs, and brave her legions; but bravery and skill rendered them a conquest more worthy of WASHINGTON. True, he suffered, in his turn, repulse and even defeat. It was both natural and needful. Unchequered with reverse, his story would have resembled rather the fictions of romance, than the truth of narrative; and had he been neither defeated nor repulsed, we had never seen all the grandeur of his soul. He arrayed himself in fresh honors by that which ruins even the great-vicissitude. He could not only subdue an enemy, but what is infinitely more, he could subdue misfortune. With an equanimity which gave temperance to victory, and cheerfulness to disaster, he balanced the fortunes of
dure in mo to fear from t sanguine presa
the state. In the face of hostile prowess; in the midst of mutiny and treason; surrounded with astonishment, irresolution and despondence, WASHINGTON remained erect, unmoved, invincible. Whatever ills America might endure in maintaining her rights, she exulted that she had nothing to fear from her commander-inchief. The event justified her most sanguine presages. That invisible hand which girded him at first, continued to guard and to guide him through the successive stages of the revolution. Nor did he account it a weakness to bend the knee in homage to its supremacy, and prayer for its direction. This was the armor of WASHINGTON; this the salvation of his country.
The hope of her reduction at length abandoned; her war of liberty brought, in the establishment of independence, to that honorable conclusion for which it had been undertaken, the hour arrived when he was to resign the trust which he had accepted with diffidence. To a mind less pure and elevated, the situation of America would have furnished the pretext, as well as the means, of military usurpation. Talents equal to daring enterprise; the derangement of public affairs; unbounded popularity; and the devotion of a suffering army, would have been to every other a strong, and to almost any other, an irresistible temptation. In WASHINGTON they did not produce even the pain of self-denial. They added the last proof of his disinterestedness; and imposed on his country the last obligation to gratitude. Impenetrable by corrupting influence; deaf to honest but erring solicitation; irreconcileable with every disloyal sentiment, he urged the necessity, and set the example of laying down, in peace, arms assumed for the common defence.* But to separate from the companions of his danger and his glory, was, even for WASHINGTON, a difficult task. About to leave them forever, a thousand
* Morris' Oration.