Let the poor willing argue all he can
It is religion still that makes the man.

WHEN the children of years to come, hearing his great name re-echoed from every lip, shall say to their fathers, " What was it that raised Washington to such a height of glory?" let them be told that it was HIS GREAT TALENTS, CONSTANTLY GUIDED AND GUARDED BY RELIGION. For how shall man, frail man, prone to inglorious ease and pleasure, ever ascend the arduous steps of virtue, unless animated by the mighty hopes of religion? Or what shall stop him in his swift descent to infamy and vice, if unawed by that dread power, which proclaims to the guilty that their secret crimes are seen, and shall not go unpunished ? Hence, the wise, in all ages, have pronounced, that " there never was a truly great man without religion."

There have, indeed, been courageous generals, and cunning statesmen, without religion, but mere courage or cunning, however transcendent, never yet made a great man.

"Admit that this can conquer, that can cheat;
'Tis phrase absurd, to call a villain great!
Who wickedly is wise, or madly brave,
Is but the more a fool, the more a knave."

No! to be truly great, a man must have not only great talents, but those talents must be constantly exerted on great, i.e., good actions--and perseveringly too--for if he should turn aside to vice--farewell to his heroism. Hence, when Epaminondas was asked which was the greatest man, himself or Pelopidas? he replied, "wait till we are dead:" meaning that the all of heroism depends on perseverance in great and good actions. But sensual and grovelling as man is, what can incline and elevate him to those things like religion, that divine power, to whom alone it be- longs to present those vast and eternal goods and ills which best alarm our fears, enrapture our hopes, in- flame the worthiest loves, rouse the truest avarice, and in short, touch every spring and passion of our souls in favour of virtue and noble actions.

Did SHAME restrain Alcibiades from a base action in the presence of Socrates? " Behold," says Religion, "a greater than Socrates is here! "

Did LOVE embolden Jacob to brave fourteen years of slavery for an earthly beauty? Religion springs that eternal love, for whose sake good men can even glory in laborious duties.

Did the ambition of a civic crown animate Scipio to heroic deeds? Religion holds a crown, at the sight of which the laurels of a Cresar droop to weeds.

Did avarice urge Cortez through a thousand toils and dangers for wealth ? Religion points to those treasures in heaven, compared to which all diamond beds and mines of messy gold are but trash.

Did good Aurelius study the happiness of his subjects for this world's glory? Religion displays that world of glory, where those who have laboured to make others happy, shall "shine like stars for ever and for ever."

Does the FEAR of death deter man from horrid crimes? Religion adds infinite horrors to that fear-- it warns them of death both of soul and body in hell.

In short, what motives under heaven can restrain men from vices and crimes, and urge them on, full stretch, after individual and national happiness, like those of religion? For lack of these motives, alas' how many who once dazzled the world with the glare of their exploits, are now eclipsed and set to rise no more!

There was Arnold, who, in courage and military talents, glittered in the same firmament with Washington, and, for a while, his face shone like the star of the morning; but alas! for lack of Washington's religion, he soon fell, like Lucifer, from a heaven of glory, into an abyss of never ending infamy.

And there was general Charles Lee, too, confessedly a great wit, a great scholar, a great soldier, but, after all, not a great man. For, through lack of that magnanimous benevolence which religion inspires, he fell into the vile state of envy: and, on the plains of Monmouth, rather than fight to immortalize Washington, he chose to retreat and disgrace himself.

There was the gallant General Hamilton also a gigantic genius--a statesman fit to rule the mightiest monarchy--a soldier " fit to stand by Washington and give command." But alas! for lack of religion, see how all was lost! preferring the praise of man to that praise " which cometh from God," and pursuing the phantom honour up to the pistol's mouth, he is cut off at once from life and greatness, and leaves his family and country to mourn his hapless fate.

And there was the fascinating Colonel Burr, a man born to be great--brave as Gesar, polished as Chesterfield, eloquent as Cicero. Lifted by the strong arm of his country, he rose fast, and bade fair soon to fill the place where Washington had sat. But alas! lacking religion, he could not wait the spontaneous fall of the rich honours ripening over his head, but in an evil hour stretched forth his hand to the forbidden fruit, and by that fatal act was cast out from the Eden of our republic, and amerced of greatness for ever.

But why should I summon the Arnolds and Lees, the Hamiltons and Burrs of the earth, to give sad evidence, that no velour, no genius alone can make men great? Do we not daily meet with instances, of youth amiable and promising as their fond parents' wishes, who yet, merely for lack of religion, soon make shipwreck of every precious hope, sacrificing their gold to gamblers, their health to harlots, and their glory to grog--making conscience their curse, this life a purgatory, and the next a hell! In fact, a young man, though of the finest talents and education, without religion, is but like a gorgeous ship with- out ballast. Highly painted, and with flowing canvass, she launches out on the deep; and during a smooth sea and gentle breeze, she moves along stately as the pride of the ocean; but as soon as the stormy winds descend, and the blackening billows begin to roll, suddenly she is overset, and disappears for ever. But who is this coming thus gloriously along, with masts towering to heaven, and his sails white, looming like the mountain of snows ? Who is it but "Columbia's first and greatest son! " whose talents, like the sails of a mighty ship, spread far and wide, catching the gales of heaven, while his capacious soul, stored with the rich ballast of religion, remains firm and unshaken as the ponderous rock. The warm zephyrs of prosperity breathe meltingly upon him--the rough storms of adversity descend--the big billows of affliction dash: but nothing can move him. His eye is fixed on God! the present joys of an approving conscience, and the hope of that glory which fadeth not away--these comfort and support him.

" There exists," says Washington, " in the economy of nature, an inseparable connexion between duty and advantage,"--the whole life of this great man bears glorious witness to the truth of this his favorite aphorism. At the giddy age of fourteen, when the spirits of youth are all on tiptoe for freedom and adventures, he felt a strong desire to go to sea but, very opposite to his wishes, his mother declared that she could not bear to part with him. His trial must have been very severe; for I have been told that a midshipman's commission was actually in his pocket--his trunk of clothes on board the ship--his honour in some sort pledged--his young companions importunate with him to go--and his whole soul panting for the promised pleasures of the voyage. But religion whispered " honour thy mother, and grieve not the spirit of her who bore thee."

Instantly the glorious boy sacrificed inclination to duty--drops all thought of the voyage--and gave tears of joy to his widowed mother, in clasping to her bosom a dear child who could deny himself his fondest wishes to make her happy.

'Tis said, that when he saw the last boat going on board, with several of his youthful friends in it-- when he saw the flash, and heard the report of the signal gun for sailing, and the ship in all her pride of canvas rounding off for sea, he could not bear it; but turned away; and half choked with grief, went into the room where his mother sat. " George, my dear! " said she, " have you already repented that you made your mother so happy just now?" Upon this, falling on her bosom, with his arms around her neck, and a gush of tears, he said: "My dear mother, I must not deny that I am sorry. But, indeed, I feel that I should be much more sorry, where I on board the ship, and knew that you were unhappy."

"Well," replied she, embracing him tenderly, "God, I hope, will reward my dear boy for this, some day or other." Now see here, young reader; and learn that HE who prescribes our duty, is able to reward it. Had George left his fond mother to a broken heart, and gone off to sea, 'tis next to certain that he would never have taken that active part in the French and Indian war, which, by securing him the hearts of his countrymen, paved the way for all his future greatness.

Now for another instance of the wonderful effect of religion on Washington's fortune. Shortly after returning from the war of Cuba, Lawrence (his half brother) was taken with the consumption, which made him so excessively fretful, that his own brother Augustin would seldom come near him. But George, whose heart was early under the softening and sweetening influences of religion, felt such a tenderness for his poor sick brother, that he not only submitted to his peevishness, but seemed, from what I have been told, never so happy as when he was with him. He accompanied him to the Island of Bermuda, in quest of health--and, after their return to Mount Vernon as often as his duty to Lord Fairfax permitted, he would come down from the back woods to see him. And, while with him, he was always contriving or doing something to cheer and comfort his brother Sometimes with his gun he would go out in quest of partridges and snipes, and other fine-flavored game, to tempt his brother's sickly appetite, and gain him strength. At other times he would sit for hours and read to him some entertaining book: and, when his cough came on, he would support his drooping head, and wipe the cold dew from his forehead, or the phlegm from his lips, and give him his medicine, or smooth his pillow, and all with such alacrity and artless tenderness as proved me sweetest cordial to his brother's spirits. For he was often heard to say to the Fairfax family, into which he married, that " he should think nothing of his sickness, if he could but always have his brother George with him." Well, what was the consequence? Why, when Lawrence was dying, he left almost the whole of his large estate to George, which served as another noble step to his future greatness.

For further proof of "the inseparable connexion between duty and advantage," let us look at Washington's conduct through the French and Indian war. To a man of his uncommon military mind, and skill in the arts of Indian warfare, the pride and precipitance of General Braddock must have been excessively disgusting and disheartening. But we hear nothing of his threatening either to leave or supplant Braddock. On the contrary, he nobly brooked his rude manners; gallantly obeyed his rash orders; and, as far as in him lay, endeavoured to correct their fatal tendencies.

And, after the death of Braddock, and the desertion of Dunbar, that weak old man, Governor Dinwiddie, added infinitely to his hardships and hazards, by appointing him to the defence of the frontiers, and yet withholding the necessary forces and supplies. But though by that means the western country was continually overrun by the enemy, and cruelly deluged in blood--though much wearied in body by marchings and watchings, and worse tortured in soul, by the murders and desolations of the inhabitants, he shrinks not from duty--still seeking the smiles of conscience as his greatest good; and as the sorest evil, dreading its frowns, he bravely maintained his ground, and, after three years of unequalled dangers and difficulties, succeeded.

Well, what was the consequence ? why it drew upon him, from his admiring countrymen, such an unbounded confidence in his principles and patriotism" as secured him the command of the American armies, in the revolutionary war!

And there again the connexion between "duty and advantage," was as gloriously displayed. For though congress was, in legal and political knowledge, an enlightened body, and for patriotism equal to the senate of Republican Rome, yet certainly in military matters they were no more to be compared to him, than those others were to Hannibal. But still, though they were constantly thwarting his counsels, and, in place of good soldiers, sending him raw militia, thus compelling inactivity, or insuring defeat--dragging out the war--dispiriting the nation--and disgracing him, yet we hear from him no gusts of passion--no dark intrigues to supplant congress--and with the help of an idolizing nation and army, to snatch the power from their hands, and make himself king. On the contrary, he continues to treat congress as a virtuous son his respected parents. He points out wiser measures, but in defect of their adoption, makes the best use of those they give him; at length, through the mighty blessing of God, established the independence of his country; and then went back to his plough.

Well, what was the consequence ? Why, these noble acts so completely filled up the measure of his country's love for him, as to give him that first of all felicities, the felicity to be regarded as the guardian angel of his country, and to be able, by the magic of his name, to scatter every cloud of danger that gathered over her head.

For example, at the close of the war, when the army, about to be disbanded without their wages, were wrought up to such a pitch of discontent and rage, as seriously to threaten civil war, see the wonderful influence which their love for him gave him over themselves! In the height of their passion, and that a very natural passion too, he merely makes a short speech to them, and the storm is laid! the tumult subsides! and the soldiers, after all their hardships, consent to ground their arms, and return home without a penny in their pockets!!!

Also, in that very alarming dispute between Vermont and Pennsylvania, when the furious parties, in spite of all the efforts of congress and their governors, had actually shouldered their guns, and were dragging on their cannon for a bloody fight--Washington only gave them a few lines of his advice, and they instantly faced about for their homes, and laying by their weapons, seized their ploughs again, like dutiful children, on whose kindling passions a beloved father had shaken his hoary locks ! !

And, in the western counties of Pennsylvania, where certain blind patriots affecting to strain at the gnat of a small excise, but ready enough to swallow the infernal camel of rebellion, had kindled the flames of civil war, and thrown the whole nation into a tremor, Washington had just to send around a circular to the people of the union, stating the infinite importance of maintaining the sacred reign of the laws, and instantly twenty thousand well armed volunteers marched among the insurgents, and, without shedding a drop of blood, extinguished the insurrection. In short, it were endless to enumerate the many dire insurrections and bloody wars which were averted from this country by Washington, and all through the divine force of early Religion ! for it was this that enabled him inflexibly to do his duty, by imitating God in his glorious works of wisdom and benevolence; and all the rest followed as naturally as light follows the sun.

We have seen, at page 27 of this little work, with what pleasure the youthful Washington hung upon his father's lip, while descanting on the adorable wisdom and benevolent designs of God in all parts of this beautiful and harmonious creation. By such lessons in the book of nature, this virtuous youth was easily prepared for the far higher and surer lectures of revelation, I mean that blessed gospel which contains the moral philosophy of heaven. There he learnt, that "God is love;"--and that all he desires, with respect to men, is to glorify himself in their happiness; and since virtue is indispensable to that happiness, the infinite and eternal weight of God's attributes must be in favour of virtue, and against vice; and consequently that God will sooner or later gloriously reward the one, and punish the other. This was the creed of Washington. And looking on it as the only basis of human virtue and happiness, he very cordially embraced it himself, and wished for nothing so much as to see all others embrace it.

I have often been informed by Colonel B. Temple (of King William County, Virginia,) who was one of his aids in the French and Indian war, that he has frequently known Washington, on the Sabbath, to read scriptures and pray with his regiment, in the absence of the chaplain; and also that, on sudden and unexpected visits into his marquee, he has, more than once, found him on his knees at his devotions.

The Reverend Mr. Lee Massey, long a rector of Washington's parish, and from early life his intimate, has frequently assured me, that " he never knew so constant an attendant on church as Washington. And his behaviour in the house of God," added my reverend friend, " was so deeply reverential, that it produced the happiest effects on my congregation; and greatly assisted me in my moralizing labours. No company ever withheld him from church. I have often been at Mount Vernon, on the Sabbath morning, when his breakfast table was filled with guests. But to him they furnished no pretext for neglecting his God, and losing the satisfaction of setting a good example. For instead of staying at home, out of false complaisance to them, he used constantly to invite them to accompany him."

His secretary, Judge Harrison, has frequently been heard to say, that " whenever the general could be spared from camp on the Sabbath, he never failed riding out to some neighbouring church, to join those who were publicly worshipping the great Creator."

And while he resided in Philadelphia, as president of the United States, his constant and cheerful attendance on divine service was such as to convince every reflecting mind, that he deemed no levee so honourable as that of his Almighty Maker; no pleasures equal to those of devotion; and no business a sufficient excuse for neglecting his supreme benefactor.

In the winter of '77, while Washington, with the American army, lay encamped at Valley Forge, a certain good old friend, of the respectable family and name of Potts, if I mistake not, had occasion to pass through the woods near headquarters. Treading in his way along the venerable grove, suddenly he heard the sound of a human voice, which, as he advanced, increased on his ear; and at length became like the voice of one speaking much in earnest. As he approached the spot with a cautious step, whom should he behold, in a dark natural bower of ancient oaks, but the commander in chief of the American armies on his knees at prayer I Motionless with surprise, friend Potts continued on the place till the general, having ended his devotions, arose; and, with a countenance of angelic serenity, retired to headquarters Friend Potts then went home, and on entering his parlour called out to his wife, " Sarah! my dear Sarah ! all's well ! all's well! George Washington will yet prevail! "

"What's the matter, Isaac?" replied she, "thee seems moved."

" Well, if I seem moved, 'tis no more than what I really am. I have this day seen what I never expected. Thee knows that I always thought that the sword and the gospel were utterly inconsistent, and that no man could be a soldier and a Christian at the same time. But George Washington has this day convinced me of my mistake."

He then related what he had seen, and concluded with this prophetical remark--" If George Washington be not a man of God, I am greatly deceived--and still more shall I be deceived, if God do not, through him, work out a great salvation for America."

When General Washington was told that the British troops at Lexington, on the memorable 19th of April, 1775, had fired on and killed several of the Americans, he replied, " I grieve for the death of my countrymen; but rejoice that the British are still so determined to keep God on our side," alluding to that noble sentiment which he has since so happily expressed; viz. " The smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained."

When called by his country in 1775, to lead her free- born sons against the arms of Britain, what charming modesty, what noble self-distrust, what pious confidence in Heaven, appeared in all his answers. " My diffidence in my own abilities," says he, " was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our cause, and the patronage of Heaven."

And when called to the presidency by the unanimous voice of the nation, thanking him for his great services past, with anticipations of equally great to come, his answer deserves approbation.

"When I contemplate the interposition of Providence, as it was visibly manifested in guiding us through the revolution--in preparing us for the reception of a general government--and in conciliating the good will of the people of America towards one another after its adoption; I feel myself oppressed and almost overwhelmed with a sense of the divine munificence. I feel that nothing is due to my per- sonal agency in all those complicated and wonderful events, except what can simply be attributed to the exertions of an honest zeal for the good of my country."

And when he presented himself for the first time before that august body, the Congress of the United States, April 30th, I78~when he saw before him the pride of Columbia in her chosen sons, assembled to consult how best to strengthen the chain of love between the states--to preserve friendship and harmony with foreign powers--to secure the blessings of civil and religious liberty--and to build up our young re- public a great and happy people among the nations of the earth--never patriot entered on such important business with fairer hopes, whether we consider the unanimity and confidence of the citizens, or his own abilities and virtues, and those of his fellow- counsellors.

But all this would not do. Nothing short of the divine friendship could satisfy Washington. Feeling the magnitude, difficulty, and danger of managing such an assemblage of communities and interests; dreading the machinations of bad men, and well knowing the insufficiency of all second causes, even the best, he piously reminds congress of the wisdom of imploring the benediction of the great first cause, without which he knew that his beloved country would never prosper.

" It would," says he, "be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe; who presides in the councils of nations; and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States, a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes; and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand which con- ducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking, that there are none, under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence."

And after having come near to the close of this, the most sensible and virtuous speech ever made to a sensible and virtuous representation of a free people, he adds--" I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the human race in humble supplication, that, since he has been pleased to favour the American people with opportunities for deliberating with perfect tranquillity, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity, on a form of government for the security of their union, and the advancement of their happiness; so his divine blessings may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures, on which the success of this government must depend."

In this constant disposition to look for national happiness only in national morals, flowing from the sublime affections and blessed hopes of Religion, Washington agreed with those great legislators of nations, Moses, Lycurgus, and Numa. " I ask not gold for Spartans," said Lycurgus. " Virtue is better than all gold." The event showed his wisdom-- The Spartans were invincible so long as they remained virtuous--even 500 years.

" I ask not wealth for Israel," cried Moses. " But O that they were wise!--that they did but fear God and keep his commandments! The Lord himself would be their sun and shield." The event proved Moses a true prophet. For while they were religious they were unconquerable. " United as brothers, swift as eagles, stronger than lions, one could chase a thousand; and two put ten thousand to flight."

" Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to the prosperity of a nation," says Washington, " Religion is the indispensable support. Volumes could not trace all its connexions with private and public happiness. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life itself, if there be no fear of God on the minds of those who give their oaths in courts of justice."

But some will tell us, that human laws are sufficient for the purpose! Human laws!--human nonsense! For how often, even where the cries and screams of the wretched called aloud for lightning speeded vengeance, have we not seen the sword of human law loiter in its coward scabbard, afraid of angry royalty? Did not that vile queen Jezebel, having a mind to compliment her husband with a vineyard belonging to poor Naboth, suborn a couple of villains to take a false oath against him; and then cause him to be dragged out with his little motherless, crying babes, and barbarously stoned to death.

Great God! what bloody tragedies have been acted on the poor ones of the earth by kings and great men, who were above the laws, and had no sense of Religion to keep them in awe! And if men be not above the laws, yet what horrid crimes! what ruinous robberies ! what wide-wasting havoc! what cruel murders may they not commit in secret, if they be not withheld by the sacred arm of religion! " In vain, therefore," says Washington, " would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should do any thing to discountenance Religion and morality, those great pillars of human happiness, those firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them."

But others have said, and with a serious face too, that a sense of honour is sufficient to preserve men from base actions! O blasphemy to sense! Do we not daily hear of men of honour, by dice and cards, draining their fellow citizens of the last cent, reducing them to beggary, or driving them to a pistol? Do we not daily hear of men of honour corrupting their neighbours' wives and daughters and then murdering the husbands and brothers in duels ? Bind such selfish, such inhuman beings, by a sense of honour! ! why not bind roaring lions with cobwebs? "No," ex 'aims Washington, " whatever a sense of honour may do on men of refined education, and on minds of a peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of Religious principles."

And truly Washington had abundant reason, from his own happy experience, to recommend Religion so heartily to others.

For besides all those inestimable favours which he received from her at the hands of her celestial daughters, the Virtues; she threw over him her own magic mantle of Character. And it was this that immortalized Washington. By inspiring his countrymen with the profoundest veneration for him as the best of men, it naturally smoothed his way to supreme command; so that when War, that monster of Satan, came on roaring against America, with all his death's heads and garments rolled in blood, the nation unanimously placed Washington at the head of their armies, from a natural persuasion that so good a man must be the peculiar favourite of Heaven, and the fastest friend of his country. How far this precious instinct in favour of goodness was correct, or how far Washington's conduct was honourable to Religion and glorious to himself and country, bright ages to come and happy millions yet unborn, will, we confidently hope, declare to the most distant posterity.

Return to Weems' Page

Return to Home