The Story of George Washington

by James Baldwin

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Chapter XV: 'First in the Hearts of His Countrymen'

In the enjoyment of his home life, Washington did not forget his country. It would, indeed, have been hard for him not to keep informed about public affairs; for men were all the time coming to him to ask for help and advice regarding this measure or that.

The greatest men of the nation felt that he must know what was wisest and best for the country's welfare.

Soon after his retirement an unexpected trouble arose. There was another war between England and France. The French were very anxious that the United States should join in the quarrel.

When they could not bring this about by persuasion, they tried abuse. They insulted the officers of our government; they threatened war. The whole country was aroused. Congress began to take steps for the raising of an army and the building of a navy. But who should lead the army?

All eyes were again turned toward Washington. He had saved the country once; he could save it again. The President asked him if he would again be the commander-in-chief.

He answered that he would do so, on condition that he might choose his assistants. But unless the French should actually invade this country, he must not be expected to go into the field.

And so, at the last, General Washington is again the commander-in-chief of the American army. But there is to be no fighting this time. The French see that the people of the United States cannot be frightened; they see that the government cannot be driven; they leave off their abuse, and are ready to make friends.

Washington's work is done now. On the 12th of December, 1799, he mounts his horse and rides out over his farms. The weather is cold; the snow is falling; but he stays out for two or three hours.

The next morning he has a sore throat; he has taken cold. The snow is still falling, but he will go out again. At night he is very hoarse; he is advised to take medicine.

"Oh, no," he answers, "you know I never take anything for a cold."

But in the night he grows much worse; early the next morning the doctor is brought. It is too late. He grows rapidly worse. He knows that the end is near.

"It is well," he says; and these are his last words.

Washington died on the 14th of December, 1799. He had lived nearly sixty-eight years.

His sudden death was a shock to the entire country. Every one felt as though he had lost a personal friend. The mourning for him was general and sincere.

In the Congress of the United States his funeral oration was pronounced by his friend, Henry Lee, who said:

"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was edifying to all around him, as were the effects of that example lasting.

"Such was the man America has lost! Such was the man for whom our country mourns!"


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