Commemorative of the
DEATH of GENERAL
First President of the United States of America.
Who departed this life, December 14, 1799, aet. 68.
Delivered at East-Windsor, Connecticut, February 22, 1800.
M’Clure, David, 1748-1820.
A Funeral Discourse,
ON THE DEATH OF GENERAL WASHINGTON.
OBEDIENT to the voice of Providence, with millions of our fellow citizens, throughout these United States, we assemble this day, with sympathizing hearts. Invited also, to this duty, by the supreme authority of the nation, we come to pay a merited tribute of respect to the memory of the man, who loved our nation, and who, under GOD, built us up, as a people.
Let me invite your solemn thoughts to what the mournful occasion suggests; taking for our guide, a sentence of that pathetic and beautiful Elegy on the death of Saul and Jonathan,
ii Samuel, I, xix.
HOW ARE THE MIGHTY FALLEN!
WASHINGTON, the great and good; the pride of America, and the ornament of human nature; WASHINGTON, the scourge of tyrants, the defender of the oppressed, the founder of an empire, and the father of his country, has fallen by the all conquering arm of death!
When our country was invaded by a great and powerful nation, and we were threatened with the loss of the rights of freemen; by a concurrence of Providences, Heaven designated him, to be the guide of our councils and the leader of the American Armies. He taught us to stand fast in defense of the liberties, in which GOD had made us free. In this respect, we may observe a similitude, between the conductor of the Armies of Israel and of our own; with this difference, that while Saul was given, as a rod of chastisement to an ungrateful and sinning people, GOD gave WASHINGTON as a blessing to America.
The character of our Illustrious General would suffer degradation by a comparison with an oppressive and ferocious Saul, or any other ancient and celebrated heroes and conquerers. In one circumstance of their life there is a resemblance, they were both valient defenders of their country.
In other respects their lives, characters and death, were a contrast. Saul, beaten by his enemies, and hated by his subjects; fell, in despair, on his own sword, on Mount Gilboa: WASHINGTON, victorious over all the enemies of his country, universally honored and loved, with peace of conscience and hope in GOD, dropped calmly into the arms of death, on Mount Vernon. Death brings to a period, the active life of the mightiest of the sons of men.
It is a duty to be deeply affected at the death of those, whom GOD has honored to be instruments of great good to mankind. And one great reason and motive, is, that the number of such men in the world, is comparatively small. While universal depravity, prompts men to indulge a spirit of selfishness, pride, oppression and violence; how few among the multitude do we find, who are actuated by the divine benevolence, which inclines not to seek their own, but the happiness of others? To hazard health and life, and renounce domestic ease and happiness, and to spend their best thoughts and their wealth, to secure and advance the happiness of mankind? Good men study to be useful. We love and admire such generous and disinterested benefactors. When such men are possessed of wealth and exalted to power, they are indeed ministers of GOD for good. They are the protection of the helpless, and a hiding place to the oppressed.—”They break the rod of the wicked, and give deliverance to them that are bound. When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice.” When such men are removed by death, pious souls will mourn. They will fear the outbreakings of those vices and disorders in the community, which the example and authority of great and good men, restrained and held in. It was at a time when men of this character were taken away, that the royal psalmist, in earnest prayer, called upon GOD; saying, “Help LORD for the godly man ceaseth, for the faithful fail from among the children of men.” The death of such persons, is still more, a cause of sorrow and deep humiliation, as it is a frown of Heaven. “The righteous are taken away from the evil to come;” and safely housed in Heaven, before the storms of judgment and desolation are poured out, upon a guilty nation.
As dutiful children mourn the death of wise and affectionate parents, on whom they depended for earthly comforts, so we, in duty bound, sorrow at the death of great and worthy characters, whose lives have been spent in the service of mankind. It was at the tomb of one of this description, that the Savior of the world, gave vent to sorrow, by flowing tears.
Righteous men by their piety and their works, preserve the world from judgments. The holy GOD restrains the vials of his wrath, for their sake. They are the salt of the earth. Destruction could not come upon the impious cities of the plain, until righteous Lot was removed beyond the reach of the storm. Israel was blessed for Abraham’s piety; and the house of Potipher, yea, the kingdom of Egypt were prospered and saved, because the virtuous and godlike Joseph dwelt there. The wise and good man, who by his wisdom delivers a city, from the destruction of its enemies, is forgotten by its thoughtless and ungrateful inhabitants; but the people of these redeemed States will never forget its noble defenders, who have poured out their blood, and sacrificed their lives in their defense. And may our supreme gratitude centre in the goodness of the Almighty Jehovah, who gives such men to bless and to save us.
A reflection on the wonderful increase and prosperity of these New England States, from their feeble beginning, in the uncommon smiles of Heaven upon them, will constrain us to acknowledge, that GOD hath shewed mercy to the children, on account of the piety of their ancestors.
They fled from persecution, with the pure and laudable purpose of maintaining the knowledge and worship of the true GOD, and the simplicity and purity of the religion of JESUS; and to transmit the blessings of civil and religious liberty to future generations.
The first landing of the fathers of New England at Plymouth, an hundred and eighty years ago, with pious gratitude to their memories, is still commemorated, in an anniversary festival, by the inhabitants of that ancient town.
“Long toss’d by tempests, to this promised land,
Heaven led secure the patriarchal band;
Worn by fatigue, by famine and disease,
The streams lock’d up in ice, and bare the trees,
No fish nor fruit, and on the snowy plain,
Untill’d, no promise of the future grain:
While round their fires, they heard fierce panthers growl,
Their babes were frightned by the Indian howl:
Still undismay’d intent on Heaven’s design,
And full of hopes began a nation’s line.”
It is a duty to celebrate the worthy characters of departed benefactors of our country, because we enjoy the happy fruits of their good deeds, and because the example will excite the laudable emulation of others, to imitate their noble actions. The approbation of the wise and worthy, is a source of happiness next to that of our own conscience. While the remembrance of the wicked rots in the grave, the memorial of the righteous lives, in the grateful hearts of succeeding generations.
Every nation celebrates some noble patriots and benefactors, to whom, under Providence, they attribute their prosperity. They embalm their memories in grateful songs, and in the faithful page of history. While Britain celebrates her Alfreds, Edwards, Hamdens, Sidneys and Pitts—Russia, her Peter the great—France, her Henrys—Switzerland, her William Tells—and Holland, the family of Orange—and the Protestants of Christendom, their Luther and Calvin, Melancthon and Zuingleus. Wickliff, Knox and Robinson.—America will ever remember her WASHINGTON, who, among the constellation of worthies which have, at different periods blessed their country, shines as a star of superior orb, and will shed the happy radience of his virtues, to unborn generations. It is not possible for human eloquence to do justice to the character of this great man. There was something in the majestic cast of his countenance, which the most skilful limner, could not with precision and exactitude delineate on canvas; and in him was such a nobleness and elevation of mind, above the common lot of humanity, as baffles the powers of description.
Descended of respectable ancestors, who came from Britain to Virginia, at an early period of the settlement of that State; on the decease of an elder brother, he came into possession of the patrimonial estate of Mount Vernon. In early life he possessed the mature wisdom of age; and was called when a stripling, to lead a band of warriors, against a host of French and Savages, which like a dreadful storm, lay upon the defenceless frontiers. His prudence, valour and wisdom, saved the remains of the unfortunate army under Braddock, and covered their retreat from the bloody field.
When Britain prepared chains, to fetter the free born minds of the Americans, as the French once, in vain attempted to do; he stepped forth, the first among her worthy sons, to defend his country. When sufferings could no longer be borne, and the blood of Americans wontonly shed by Britons, roused our country to arms; the first illustrious Areopagus, and Congress of our nation, looked up to WASHINGTON, as the man, on whom, under GOD, they rested their dependence, for the protection of their country. Obedient to their voice, he came forward to the seat of the enemy, and soon, by his superior wisdom, an undisciplined multitude were formed to regularity and order.
Besieging the enemy, through a long winter, in their strong hold in Boston, of which they had gotten the possession under the mask of friends, by a bloodless victory, he forced their veteran armies and fleets, though commanded by their ablest officers, with precipitation and disgrace, to abandon the place.
He observed their movements with vigilant attention; and when the enemy arrived at Long Island, and New York, he was there, stopping the progress of their desolating and murdering career. For a time, GOD suffered the enemy to prosper, and the time of the enlistments of the army having expired, our worthy general found himself almost alone in the field. With a handful of brave men, determined to share the fate of their beloved chief, he prudently retreated through the Jersies, before the face of a host of foes. Never did WASHINGTON appear greater than in seasons of the greatest perplexity and danger. In his own superior genius he found resources. When the enemy boasted that they had him in their power, and had won the day: when they were erecting royal standards, and issuing proclamations of pardon, behold, WASHINGTON suddenly appears, like the fun breaking from a dark cloud. And though the elements seemed to conspire with his foes, yet relying on Almighty Providence, and the justice of the cause, in the cold and dreary night of christmas, he crossed the Delaware, and came like a clap of thunder upon the enemy, secure of safety in the villages of Trenton. GOD inspired him with presence of mind, and invincible fortitude, and he pursued his victories, and conquered, like Gideon, numerous hosts, with an handful of men.
To deceive the enemy, at midnight, he left his camp and fires burning at Trenton, and the enemy preparing to fall upon him, and crush him, on the following morning. How great was their astonishment, when the roar of cannon, many miles in the north, first gave them intelligence where he was, and where he also successfully broke up another powerful cantonment. And in the midst of enemies, who were spread like grasshoppers over the plains of Jersey, he retired to a strong hold, and remained unmolested.
After various defeats, discomfitures and losses which we had sustained; it pleased Divine Providence, to make this brilliant affair the prelude of wonderful success, to the American arms.
The enemy finding their plans of conquest frustrated and broken, changed the theatre of their hostile operations, and transported themselves to the Chesepeak; but at the Brandy-wine, the illustrious Washington appeared, and checked their progress. We then beheld him compelling them to abandon the capital of America, as he had done at Boston, and seeking, with precipitation, through the Jersies, safety on board their fleet. By the co-operating wisdom of our illustrious chief, with the national Congress, in plans of military operations, we saw Burgoyne, the vaunting hero of the north, with a motley host of Britons, Germans and Savages, lay down their arms, before the veteran Gates, and the patriotic militia of New-England. And in the south, the good and valient Green, snatching from the brows of Britons, their fading laurels.
To complete the destruction of the unjust and cruel designs of the enemy, against our beloved country, one great work was still to be accomplished, and Heaven reserved this for its favorite son. Great was the joy of the United States, when the last great army in the field, under their puissant general, Cornwallis, surrendered at York Town.
The purest sentiments of gratitude to Heaven, must have inspired the breast of WASHINGTON, when the beams of peace diffused their blessings over our land. Rejoicing in this long wished for era, surrounded by his officers he said, “A retrospect of the scenes through which we have passed, from the commencement to the conclusion of the war, is sufficient to convince infidelity itself, of the existence of a Supreme governing Providence.”
Having accomplished eight years arduous labor in the defense of his country, and the establishment of its independence and peace, with undissembled meekness, and a dignity peculiar to himself, he resigned his military employments, into the hands of our national council, amidst universal tears of gratitude and applause; and taking an affectionate farewell, commended his dearest country to the protection and blessing of ALMIGHTY GOD. At his country’s call, again he relinquished the pleasures of domestic comforts, and with the wisdom of a sage, presided in the formation of the best system of government, which the world had ever seen. By the unanimous suffrage of his country, he was called to fill the highest office of state, in our new formed, and well organized Republic.—The wisdom, moderation and dignity of his administration, during eight years, in which he presided over the United States, add lustre to the glory which he had acquired by his military achievements.
Leaving to his fellow citizens, the invaluable legacy of his wife counsel and advice, for the preservation of their morals and government, freedom and happiness, with the fondest predilection for the charms of rural and contemplative life, he affectionately resigned his civil employments, and bid adieu to the burdens of State.
But when a great nation, once our friends and allies, poured indignity and insult upon us, and by menaces and insidious arts, labored to undermine the fair fabric of our liberties and independence; again obedient to the voice of his country, we saw the venerable WASHINGTON arise, to vindicate our wrongs. His sword sprung half way from its sleeping scabbard; that sword, on whose point the balance of justice was ever suspended, and which had always pointed the way to victory; and at his majestic presence, the wiles of gallic policy and perfidy, were abashed and confounded.
He was great and exemplary in his death, as well as life. Heaven took him suddenly from us, lest perhaps, we should place, too much, our hopes and affections on him, and yield to him those honors, which are due to GOD.
Such was the man, whom the world admires, and America delights to honor. O WASHING|TON, how precious is the remembrance of thy deeds! How will thy name descend, embalmed with the incense of gratitude and love, to the millions of yet unborn Americans! The prosperty, the peace, the liberties, and the good and equal laws, and government of thy native country, will be ascribed, under Providence, to thy valour, thy wisdom and benevolence! Enemies venerated thy virtues. The kings of the earth listened, at the mention of thy name, and shrunk to concious inferiority, at the portrait of thy more than royal and human virtues.
A celebrated orator in the British parliament, pronounced his eulogeum. “Illustrious man! deriving less from the splendor of situation, than from the dignity of his mind; before whom all borrowed greatness sinks into insignificance. Who can refrain admiring the wisdom and fortune of this great man? It is singularly fortunate, that he should have experienced a lot which so seldom falls to the portion of humanity, and have passed through such a variety of scenes, without stain and without reproach. It must indeed create astonishment, that placed in circumstances so critical, and filling for a series of time a station so conspicuous, his character should never once been called in question; that he should on no occasion have been accused, either of improper insolence, or of mean submission, in his transactions with foreign nations—It has been reserved for him to run the race of glory, without experiencing the smallest interruption, to the brilliancy of his career. The breath of censure has not dared to impeach the purity of his conduct, nor the eye of envy to raise its malignant glance to the elevation of his virtues. Such has been the transcendent merit, and the unparrelled fate of this illustrious man.”
The rank and reputation which this nation holds among the nations of the Earth, are to be ascribed to him, as the honored instrument, in the hands of him who ruleth among the nations, and builds them up, or pulls them down, at his pleasure. Let us, sirs, be devoutly thankful to GOD for the gift of this great and good man. It was GOD who formed and fitted him for the noble and exalted stations which he filled, and gave him ability and inclination to go through the arduous labors, which were assigned him. He was a happy pledge of the smiles of Heaven on our righteous cause, and an earnest of its eventual success. He, in whose hands are the hearts of all men, qualifies them for the work which he assigns them. While therefore, we pay a deserved tribute of gratitude to those who have done well in the service of mankind, let our higher praise and gratitude ascend to GOD, from whom cometh down all the good and perfect gifts, which his creatures possess or enjoy.
Let us be devoutly thankful to GOD, that he hath not suffered the righteous cause of our revolution, to be frustrated; nor our nation dishonored, by selfish and ambitious men. What a contrast is the character of the sage WASHING|TON, to the aspiring knight errants of modern European republics? Who, amidst the whissing of balls, and the points of bayoners, are climbing to power, that they may hold the rod over their prostrate fellow citizens. Look through the history of nations, and you will see no man In similar situations, like minded to him, whose death we lament. He rejoiced in the salvation of his country, as the supreme happiness of his life; and the consciousness of his integrity, was his consolation in death. Let us bless, honor and love the LORD our GOD, for the innumerable mercies conferred on our land, by the labors of this his faithful servant.
And on this occasion, can we be forgetful of that cloud of witnesses of civil and religious liberty, who have bled and died in our defence?
The generous spirit of Warren and Montgomery, of Mercer, Wooster and Green, hail their beloved chief on the immortal shores; and Winthrop and Trumbull, Lawrens and Hancock, Huntington and Wolcott, rejoice in the benevolent and godlike deeds, of the friend and father of his country.
What was the governing principle which formed the character of this great man? In my opinion, it was religion. Without the smallest tincture of bigotry or superstition, he appears in all his public and private life, to have possessed a firm belief in GOD, and in divine revelation. He lived and acted under the influence of an habitual and lively impression of the Deity, and his all governing Providence, and expressed it on all proper occasions. Among numerous evidences of this, let me mention his declaration, on the solemn occasion of his unanimous election and investiture with the supreme authority of our new formed Republic. “It would,” says he, “be peculiarly improper, to omit in this official act, my fervent supplications, to that AL|MIGHTY 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 loss 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 conducts the affairs of men more than the people of these United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government, the tranquil deliberations, and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude, with a humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed.”
His superior powers of mind were, by his reverence of GOD and his providence, consecrated to most extensive usefulness, to universal veneration and immortal fame.
It was religion which inspired him with meekness and moderation in prosperity, and with calmness and fortitude in adversity: which shed its cheering beams, around him in his departing moments, and smoothed his dying pillow.
There can be no true greatness without goodness. The noblest object this world can afford, is a great man, at the head of a nation, adorned with the attributes of religion. In the language of inspiration, he is “a God on earth;” an humble representative of the Deity in human form; and will command universal veneration.
In vain will the meer ambitious man, the immoral philosophist, and the unprincipled atheist, labor to rise to respectability and glory; though their talents may be brilliant, their motives are despicable and dangerous. The irreligious and vicious, are enemies of their country. And when this is the general character of a people, they invite and draw down public ruin.
May the present and future rulers of our favored land, and all its citizens, be inspired with the lovely spirit of WASHINGTON, and be as he was, peaceable and generous, diligent and faithful, pious and valiant.
He has given freedom to his numerous slaves, and made provision for their comfortable existence! May his example be imitated by the numerous holders of their fellow men in bondage, in the southern states, and throughout the world; and the unfortunate children of Ham, possess the blessings of liberty, and the comforts of religion.
Every man who loves his country, and wishes its prosperity, will be the friend and promoter of virtuous education, good morals and the duties and offices of religion. For on these immutable pillars, all good government rests. Especially are the general diffusion of these blessings necessary, in such a free government as the one, under which we live.
For building up, and carrying on to perfection, the civil and social, domestic and national happiness; where shall we find a system of religion equal, or worthily to be compared, with that which is professed by the people of these States? A religion from Heaven; founded on the divine principle of benevolence: proclaiming “peace on earth, and good will to men.”
This was the birth day of our illustrious chief. An anniversary, no more to be celebrated, on earth, in joyous festivals and grateful songs.—Our joy is turned to mourning. A happy exchange, we trust, for him; who, released from the labors of this transitory state, is new-born into the world of happy spirits, the kingdom of the just. A celestial birth; celebrated by angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. Methinks I see him, with lowly reverence, bow before the throne of GOD and of the LAMB; and hear pronounced the blessed Euge, “Well done good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things, enter into the joy of thy LORD.”
Now the chariot and Horsemen of our American Israel has ascended to Heaven, let us imitate his virtues. And though none of us can be a WASHINGTON, yet we can be friends of GOD and of mankind. Lovers of religion and government, of our country, and of every institution productive of human happiness. Let us perpetuate the influence of his good example, who has left us the invaluable legacy of his life, his patriotism and his virtues. “By these he has taught us, to be pure in morals—devout in religion—fervent in patriotism—just in the cabinet—and invincible in the field.”
How are the mighty fallen! While the hearts of millions of Americans, are living monuments of grief; are there any who secretly rejoice at our loss? The enemies of our rising empire, of religion and order, rejoice.
WASHINGTON is no more! Tell it not in France: publish it not in the hostile streets of the envious nations of Europe, lest the wicked triumph.
Let us not give ourselves up to sorrow and despondence, at this mournful crisis: but rather imitate the example of the royal psalmist, who did not neglect the care of the Commonwealth, in the midst of his mourning the death of Saul and Jonathan; but directs his officers, to teach the men of Judah the use of the bow; and be prepared to defend their country.
Let this instance of death, teach us the vanity of life, and of all earthly greatness, and excite us to a vigorous preparation for our own dissolution.
To conclude, while we mourn the death of this great benefactor of his country, let us return our unfeigned thanksgivings to GOD, for the good land which he hath given us, and for the great and good men, whom his providence hath raised up, to prosper and defend it; and especially that he hath been pleased to preserve to us, the invaluable life of the beloved WASH|INGTON so long; covered him in the day of battle; continued his public labors and usefulness to the last moment of a long life; and honored and supported him in death. “Blessed are the dead who die in the LORD; they cease from their labors, and their works follow them.”