Life of George Washington

The Convention was six days in session. Resolutions, in the same spirit
with those passed in Fairfax County, were adopted, and Peyton Randolph,
Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Bland,
Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton, were appointed delegates, to
represent the people of Virginia in the General Congress.

Shortly after Washington’s return from Williamsburg, he received a reply
from Bryan Fairfax, to his last letter. Fairfax, who was really a man of
liberal views, seemed anxious to vindicate himself from any suspicions of
the contrary. In adverting to the partial suppression of his letter by some
of the gentlemen of the committee: “I am uneasy to find,” writes he, “that
any one should look upon the letter sent down as repugnant to the
principles we are contending for; and, therefore, when you have leisure, I
shall take it as a favor if you will let me know wherein it was thought so.
I beg leave to look upon you as a friend, and it is a great relief to
unbosom one’s thoughts to a friend. Besides, the information, and the
correction of my errors, which I may obtain from a correspondence, are
great inducements to it. For I am convinced that no man in the colony
wishes its prosperity more, would go greater lengths to serve it, or is, at
the same time, a better subject to the crown. Pray excuse these
compliments, they may be tolerable from a friend.” [Footnote: Sparks.
Washington’s Writings, vol. ii., p. 329.]

The hurry of various occupations prevented Washington, in his reply, from
entering into any further discussion of the popular theme. “I can only in
general add,” said he, “that an innate spirit of freedom first told me that
the measures which the administration have for some time been, and now are
violently pursuing, are opposed to every principle of natural justice;
whilst much abler heads than my own have fully convinced me, that they are
not only repugnant to natural right, but subversive of the laws and
constitution of Great Britain itself. … I shall conclude with remarking
that, if you disavow the right of Parliament to tax us, unrepresented as we
are, we only differ in the mode of opposition, and this difference
principally arises from your belief that they (the Parliament I mean), want
a decent opportunity to repeal the acts; whilst I am fully convinced that
there has been a regular systematic plan to enforce them, and that nothing
but unanimity and firmness in the colonies, which they did not expect, can
prevent it. By the best advices from Boston, it seems that General Gage is
exceedingly disconcerted at the quiet and steady conduct of the people of
the Massachusetts Bay, and at the measures pursuing by the other
governments. I dare say he expected to force those oppressed people into
compliance, or irritate them to acts of violence before this, for a more
colorable pretence of ruling that, and the other colonies, with a high

Washington had formed a correct opinion of the position of General Gage.
From the time of taking command at Boston, he had been perplexed how to
manage its inhabitants. Had they been hot-headed, impulsive, and prone to
paroxysm, his task would have been comparatively easy; but it was the cool,
shrewd common sense, by which all their movements were regulated, that
confounded him.

High-handed measures had failed of the anticipated effect. Their harbor had
been thronged with ships; their town with troops. The port bill had put an
end to commerce; wharves were deserted, warehouses closed; streets
grass-grown and silent. The rich were growing poor, and the poor were
without employ; yet the spirit of the people was unbroken. There was no
uproar, however; no riots; every thing was awfully systematic and according
to rule. Town meetings were held, in which public rights and public
measures were eloquently discussed by John Adams, Josiah Quincy, and other
eminent men. Over these meetings Samuel Adams presided as moderator; a man
clear in judgment, calm in conduct, inflexible in resolution; deeply
grounded in civil and political history, and infallible on all points of
constitutional law.

Alarmed at the powerful influence of these assemblages, government issued
an act prohibiting them after the 1st of August. The act was evaded by
convoking the meetings before that day, and _keeping them alive_
indefinitely. Gage was at a loss how to act. It would not do to disperse
these assemblages by force of arms; for, the people who composed them
mingled the soldier with the polemic; and, like their prototypes, the
covenanters of yore, if prone to argue, were as ready to fight. So the
meetings continued to be held portinaciously. Faneuil Hall was at times
unable to hold them, and they swarmed from that revolutionary hive into old
South Church. The liberty tree became a rallying place for any popular
movement, and a flag hoisted on it was saluted by all processions as the
emblem of the popular cause.

Opposition to the new plan of government assumed a more violent aspect at
the extremity of the province, and was abetted by Connecticut. “It is very
high,” writes Gage, (August 27th,) “in Berkshire County, and makes way
rapidly to the rest. At Worcester they threaten resistance, purchase arms,
provide powder, cast balls, and threaten to attack any troops who may
oppose them. I apprehend I shall soon have to march a body of troops into
that township.”

The time appointed for the meeting of the General Congress at Philadelphia
was now at hand. Delegates had already gone on from Massachusetts. “It is
not possible to guess,” writes Gage, “what a body composed of such
heterogeneous matter will determine; but the members from hence, I am
assured, will promote the most haughty and insolent resolves; for their
plan has ever been, by threats and high-sounding sedition, to terrify and



When the time approached for the meeting of the General Congress at
Philadelphia, Washington was joined at Mount Vernon by Patrick Henry and
Edmund Pendleton, and they performed the journey together on horseback. It
was a noble companionship. Henry was then in the youthful vigor and
elasticity of his bounding genius; ardent, acute, fanciful, eloquent.
Pendleton, schooled in public life, a veteran in council, with native force
of intellect, and habits of deep reflection. Washington, in the meridian of
his days, mature in wisdom, comprehensive in mind, sagacious in foresight.
Such were the apostles of liberty, repairing on their august pilgrimage to
Philadelphia from all parts of the land, to lay the foundations of a mighty
empire. Well may we say of that eventful period, “There were giants in
those days.”

Congress assembled on Monday, the 5th of September, in a large room in
Carpenter’s Hall. There were fifty-one delegates, representing all the
colonies excepting Georgia.

The meeting has been described as “awfully solemn.” The most eminent men of
the various colonies, were now for the first time brought together; they
were known to each other by fame, but were, personally, strangers. The
object which had called them together, was of incalculable magnitude. The
liberties of no less than three millions of people, with that of all their
posterity, were staked on the wisdom and energy of their councils.
[Footnote: Wirt’s Life of Patrick Henry, p. 224.]

“It is such an assembly,” writes John Adams, who was present, “as never
before came together on a sudden, in any part of the world. Here are
fortunes, abilities, learning, eloquence, acuteness, equal to any I ever
met with in my life. Here is a diversity of religions, educations, manners,
interests, such as it would seem impossible to unite in one plan of

There being an inequality in the number of delegates from the different
colonies, a question arose as to the mode of voting; whether by colonies,
by the poll, or by interests.

Patrick Henry scouted the idea of sectional distinctions or individual
interests. “All America,” said he, “is thrown into one mass. Where are your
landmarks–your boundaries of colonies? They are all thrown down. The
distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers and New
Englanders, are no more. _I am not a Virginian, but an American._”
[Footnote: J. Adams’ Diary.]

After some debate, it was determined that each colony should have but one
vote, whatever might be the number of its delegates. The deliberations of
the House were to be with closed doors, and nothing but the resolves
promulgated, unless by order of the majority.

To give proper dignity and solemnity to the proceedings of the House, it
was moved on the following day, that each morning the session should be
opened by prayer. To this it was demurred, that as the delegates were of
different religious sects, they might not consent to join in the same form
of worship.

Upon this, Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said: “He would willingly join in
prayer with any gentleman of piety and virtue, whatever might be his cloth,
provided he was a friend of his country;” and he moved that the reverend
Mr. Duche, of Philadelphia, who answered to that description, might be
invited to officiate as chaplain. This was one step towards unanimity of
feeling, Mr. Adams being a strong Congregationalist, and Mr. Duche an
eminent Episcopalian clergyman. The motion was carried into effect; the
invitation was given and accepted.

In the course of the day, a rumor reached Philadelphia that Boston had been
cannonaded by the British. It produced a strong sensation; and when
Congress met on the following morning (7th), the effect was visible in
every countenance. The delegates from the east were greeted with a warmer
grasp of the hand by their associates from the south.

The reverend Mr. Duche, according to invitation, appeared in his
canonicals, attended by his clerk. The morning service of the Episcopal
church was read with great solemnity, the clerk making the responses. The
Psalter for the 7th day of the month includes the 35th Psalm, wherein David
prays for protection against his enemies. “Plead my cause, O Lord, with
them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.

“Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for my help.

“Draw out, also, the spear, and stop the way of them that persecute me. Say
unto my soul, I am thy salvation,” &c., &c.

The imploring words of this psalm, spoke the feelings of all hearts
present; but especially of those from New England. John Adams writes in a
letter to his wife: “You must remember this was the morning after we heard
the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston. I never saw a greater effect
upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that psalm to be read
on that morning. After this, Mr. Duche unexpectedly struck out into an
extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present.
Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervor,
such ardor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so eloquent and
sublime, for America, for the Congress, for the province of Massachusetts
Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon
every body here.” [Footnote: John Adams’ Correspondence and Diary.]

It has been remarked that Washington was especially devout on this
occasion–kneeling, while others stood up. In this, however, each, no
doubt, observed the attitude in prayer to which he was accustomed.
Washington knelt, being an Episcopalian.

The rumored attack upon Boston, rendered the service of the day deeply
affecting to all present. They were one political family, actuated by one
feeling, and sympathizing with the weal and woe of each individual member.
The rumor proved to be erroneous; but it had produced a most beneficial
effect in calling forth and quickening the spirit of union, so vitally
important in that assemblage.

Owing to closed doors, and the want of reporters, no record exists of the
discussions and speeches made in the first Congress. Mr. Wirt, speaking
from tradition, informs us that a long and deep silence followed the
organization of that august body; the members looking round upon each
other, individually reluctant to open a business so fearfully momentous.
This “deep and deathlike silence” was beginning to become painfully
embarrassing, when Patrick Henry arose. He faltered at first, as was his
habit; but his exordium was impressive; and as he launched forth into a
recital of colonial wrongs he kindled with his subject, until he poured
forth one of those eloquent appeals which had so often shaken the House of
Burgesses and gained him the fame of being the greatest orator of Virginia.
He sat down, according to Mr. Wirt, amidst murmurs of astonishment and
applause, and was now admitted, on every hand, to be the first orator of
America. He was followed by Richard Henry Lee, who, according to the same
writer, charmed the house with a different kind of eloquence, chaste and
classical; contrasting, in its cultivated graces, with the wild and grand
effusions of Henry. “The superior powers of these great men, however,” adds
he, “were manifested only in debate, and while general grievances were the
topic; when called down from the heights of declamation to that severer
test of intellectual excellence, the details of business, they found
themselves in a body of cool-headed, reflecting, and most able men, by whom
they were, in their turn, completely thrown into the shade.” [Footnote:
Wirt’s Life of Patrick Henry.]

The first public measure of Congress was a resolution declaratory of their
feelings with regard to the recent acts of Parliament, violating the rights
of the people of Massachusetts, and of their determination to combine in
resisting any force that might attempt to carry those acts into execution.

A committee of two from each province reported a series of resolutions,
which were adopted and promulgated by Congress, as a “declaration of
colonial rights.” In this were enumerated their natural rights to the
enjoyment of life, liberty, and property; and their rights as British
subjects. Among the latter was participation in legislative councils. This
they could not exercise through representatives in Parliament; they
claimed, therefore, the power of legislating in their provincial
assemblies; consenting, however, to such acts of Parliament as might be
essential to the regulation of trade; but excluding all taxation, internal
or external, for raising revenue in America.

The common law of England was claimed as a birthright, including the right
of trial by a jury of the vicinage; of holding public meetings to consider
grievances; and of petitioning the king. The benefits of all such statutes
as existed at the time of the colonization were likewise claimed; together
with the immunities and privileges granted by royal charters, or secured by
provincial laws.

The maintenance of a standing army in any colony in time of peace, without
the consent of its legislature, was pronounced contrary to law. The
exercise of the legislative power in the colonies by a council appointed
during pleasure by the crown, was declared to be unconstitutional, and
destructive to the freedom of American legislation.

Then followed a specification of the acts of Parliament, passed during the
reign of George III., infringing and violating these rights. These were:
the sugar act; the stamp act; the two acts for quartering troops; the tea
act; the act suspending the New York legislature; the two acts for the
trial in Great Britain of offences committed in America; the Boston port
bill; the act for regulating the government of Massachusetts, and the
Quebec act.

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