First President

The Father of our Country was born in Westmorland Co., Va., Feb. 22, 1732. His parents were Augustine and Mary (Ball) Washington. The family to which he belonged has not been satisfactorily traced in England. His great-grandfather, John Washington, emigrated to Virginia about 1657, and became a prosperous planter. He had two sons, Lawrence and John. The former married Mildred Warner and had three children, John, Augustine and Mildred. Augustine, the father of George, first married Jane Butler, who born him four children, two of whom, Lawrence and Augustine, reached maturity. Of six children by his second marriage, George was the eldest, the others being Betty, Samuel, John, Augustine, Charles and Mildred.

Augustine Washington, the father of George, died in 1743, leaving a large landed property. To his eldest son, Lawrence, he bequeathed an estate on the Patomac [sic], afterwards known as Mount Vernon, and to George he left the parental residence. George received only such education as the neighborhood schools afforded, save for a short time after he left school, when he received private instruction in mathematics. His spelling was rather defective.

Remarkable stories are told of his great physical strength and development at an early age. He was an acknowledge leader among his companions, and was early noted for that nobleness of character, fairness and veracity which characterized his whole life.

When George was 14 years old he had a desire to go to sea, and a midshipman's warrant was secured for him, but through the opposition of his mother the idea was abandoned. Two years later he was appointed surveyor to the immense estate of Lord Fairfax. In this business he spent three years in a rough frontier life, gaining experience which afterwards proved very essential to him. In 1751, though only 19 years of age, he was appointed adjutant with the rank of major in the Virginia militia, then being trained for active service against the French and Indians. Soon after this he sailed to the West Indies with his brother Lawrence, who went there to restore his health. They soon returned, and in the summer of 1752 Lawrence died, leaving a large fortune to an infant daughter who did not long survive him. On her demise the estate of Mount Vernon was given to George.

Upon the arrival of Robert Dinwiddie, as Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia, in 1752, the militia was reorganized, and the province divided into four military districts, of which the northern was assigned to Washington as adjutant general. Shortly after this a very perilous mission was assigned him and accepted, which others had refused. This was to proceed to the French post near Lake Erie in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The distance to be traversed was between 500 and 600 miles. Winter was at hand, and the journey was to be made without military escort, through a territory occupied by Indians. The trip was a perilous one, and several times he came near losing his life, yet he returned in safety and furnished a full and useful report of his expedition. A regiment of 300 men was raised in Virginia and put in command of Col. Joshua Fry, and Major Washington was commissioned lieutenant-colonel. Action was then begun against the French and Indians, in which Washington took a most important part. In the memorable event of July 9, 1755, known as Braddock's defeat, Washington was almost the only officer of distinction who escaped from the calamities of the day with life and honor. The other aids of Braddock were disabled early in the action, and Washington alone was left in that capacity on the field. In a letter to his brothers he says "I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet I escaped unhurt, though death was leveling my companions on every side." An Indian sharpshooter said he was not born to be killed by a bullet, for he had taken direct aim at him seventeen times, and failed to hit him.
After having been five years in the military service, and vainly sought promotion in the royal army, he took advantage of the fall of Fort Duquesne and the expulsion of the French from the valley of the Ohio, to resign his commission. Soon after he entered the Legislature, where, although not a leader, he took an active and important part. January 17, 1759, he married Mrs. Martha (Dandridge) Custis, the wealthy widow of John Parke Custis.

When the British Parliament had closed the port of Boston, the cry went up throughout the provinces that the cause of Boston is the cause of us all. It was then, at the suggestion of Virginia, that a Congress of all the colonies was called to meet at Philadelphia, Sept. 5, 1774, to secure their common liberties, peaceably if possible. To this Congress Col. Washington was sent as a delegate. On May 10, 1775, the Congress re-assembled, when the hostile intentions of England were plainly apparent. The battles of Concord and Lexington had been fought. Among the first acts of this Congress was the election of a commander-in-chief of the colonial forces. This high and responsible office was conferred upon Washington, who was still a member of the Congress. He accepted it on June 19, but upon the express condition that he receive no

Presidents text
salary. He would keep an exact account of expenses and expect Congress to pay them and nothing more. It is not the object of this sketch to trace the military acts of Washington, to whom the fortunes and liberties of the people of this country were so long confided. The war was conducted by him under every possible disadvantage, and while his forces often met with reverses, yet he overcame every obstacle, and after seven years of heroic devotion and matchless skill he gained liberty for the greatest nation of earth. On Dec. 23, 1783, Washington, in a parting address of surpassing beauty, resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the army to the Continental Congress sitting at Annapolis. He retired immediately to Mount Vernon and resumed his occupation as a farmer and planter, shunning all connection with public life.

In February, 1789, Washington was unanimously, elected President. In his presidential career he was subject to the peculiar trials incidental to a new government; trails from want of harmony between the different sections of our own country; trials from the impoverished condition of the country, owing to the war and want of credit; trials from the beginnings of party strife. He was no partisan. His clear judgment could discern the golden mean; and whilce perhaps this alone kept our government from sinking at the very outset, it left him exposed to attacks from both sides, which were often bitter and very annoying.

At the expiration of his first term he was unanimously re-elected. At the end of this term many were anxious that he be re-elected, but he absolutely refused a third nomination. On the fourth of March, 1797, at the expiration of his second term as president, he returned to his home, hoping to pass there his few remaining years free from the annoyances of public life. Later in the years, however, his repose seemed likely to be interrupted by war with France. At the prospect of such a war he was again urged to take command of the armies. He chose his subordinate officers and left them the charge of matters in the field, which he superintended from his home. In accepting the command he made the reservation that he was not to be in the field until it was necessary. In the midst of these preparations his life was suddenly cut off. December 12, he took a severe cold from a ride in the rain, which, settling in his throat, produced inflammation, and terminated fatally on the night of the fourteenth. On the eighteenth his body was born with military honors to its final resting place, and interred in the family vault at Mount Vernon.

Of the character of Washington it is impossible to speak but in terms of the highest respect and admiration. The more we see of the operations of our government, and the more deeply we feel the difficulty of uniting all opinions in a common interest, the more highly we must estimate the force of his talent and character, which have been able to challenge the reverence of all parties, and principles, and nations, and to win a fame as extended as the limits of the globe, and which we cannot but believe will be as lasting as the existence of man.

The person of Washington was unusually tan, erect and well proportioned. His muscular strength was great. His features were of a beautiful symmetry. He commanded respect without any appearance of haughtiness, and ever serious without being dull.

Second President

John Adams, the second President and the first Vice-President of the United States, was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Mass., and about ten miles from Boston, Oct., 19, 1735. His great-grandfather, Henry Adams, emigrated from England about 1640, with a family of eight sons, and settled at Braintree. The parents of John were John and Susannah (Boylston) Adams. His father was a father of limited means, to which he added the business of shoemaking. He gave his eldest son, John, a classical education at Harvard College. John graduated in 1755, and at once took charge of the school in Worcester, Mass. This he found but a school of affliction, from which he endeavored to gain relief by devoting himself, in addition, to the study of law. For this purpose he placed himself under the tuition of the only lawyer in the town. He had thought seriously of the clerical profession but seems to have been turned from this by what he termed "the frightful engines of ecclesiastical councils, of diabolical malice, and Calvanistic good nature," of the operations of which he had been a witness in his native town. He was well fitted for the legal profession, possessing a clear, sonorous voice, being ready and fluent of speech, and having quick perceptive powers. He gradually gained practice, and in 1764 married Abigail Smith, a daughter of a minister, and a lady of superior intelligence. Shortly after his marriage, (1765), the attempt of Parliamentary taxation turned him from law to politics. He took initial steps toward holding a town meeting, and the resolutions he offered on the subject became very popular throughout the Province, and were adopted word for word by over forty different towns. He moved to Boston in 1768, and became one of the most courageous and prominent advocates of the popular cause, and was chosen a member of the General Court (the Legislature) in 1770.

Mr. Adams was chosen one of the first delegates from Massachusetts to the first Continental Congress, which met in 1774. Here he distinguished himself by his capacity for business and for debate, and advocated the movement for independence against the majority of the members. In May, 1776, he moved and carried a resolution in Congress that the Colonies should assume the duties of self-government. He was a prominent member of the committee of five appointed June 11, to prepare a declaration of independence. This article was drawn by Jefferson, but on Adams devolved the task of battling it through Congress in a three days debate.

On the day after the Declaration of Independence was passed, while his soul was yet warm with the glow of excited feeling, he wrote a letter to his wife, which, as we read it now, seems to have been dictated by the spirit of prophecy. "Yesterday," he says, "the greatest question was decided that ever was debated in America; and greater, perhaps, never was or will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colon, that these United States are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states. The day is passed. The fourth of July, 1776, will be a memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to Almighty God. It ought to be solemnized with pomp, shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward for ever. You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood and treasure, that it will cost to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States; yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory.

I can see that the end is worth more than all the means; and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not."

In November, 1777, Mr. Adams was appointed a delegate to France, and to co-operate with Bemjamin [sic] Franklin and Arthur Lee, who were then in Paris, in the endeavor to obtain assistance in arms and money from the French government. This was a severe trail to his patriotism, as it separated him from his home, compelled him to cross the ocean in winter, and exposed him to great peril of capture by the British cruisers, who were seeking him. He left France June 17, 1779. In September of the same year he was again chosen to go to Paris, and there hold himself in readiness to negotiate a treaty of peace and of commerce with Great Britain, as soon as the British Cabinet might be found willing to listen to such proposals. He sailed for France in November, from there he went to Holland, where he negotiated important loans and formed important commercial treaties.

Finally a treaty of peace with England was signed Jan. 21, 1783. The re-action from the excitement, toil and anxiety through which Mr. Adams had passed threw him into a fever. After suffering from a continued fever and becoming feeble and emaciated he was advised to go to England to drink the waters of Bath. While in England, still drooping and desponding, he received dispatches from his own government urging the necessity of his going to Amsterdam to negotiate another loan. It was winter, his health was delicate, yet he immediately set out, and through storm, on sea, on horseback and foot, he made the trip.

February 24, 1785, Congress appointed Mr. Adams envoy to the Court of St. James. Here he met face to face the King of England, who had so long regarded him as a traitor. As England did not condescend to appoint a minister to the United States, and as Mr. Adams felt that he was accomplishing but little, he sought permission to return to his own country, where he arrived in June, 1788.

When Washington was first chosen President, John Adams, rendered illustrious by his signal services at home and abroad, was chosen Vice President. Again at the second election of Washington as President, Adams was chosen Vice President. In 1796, Washington retired from public life, and Mr. Adams was elected President, though not without much opposition. Serving in this office four years, he was succeeded by Mr. Jefferson, his opponent in politics.

While Mr. Adams was Vice President the great French Revolution shook the continent of Europe, and it was upon this point which he was at issue with the majority of his countrymen led by Mr. Jefferson. Mr. Adams felt no sympathy with the French people in their struggle, for he had no confidence in their power of self-government, and he utterly abhored the class of atheist philosophers who he claimed caused it. On the other hand Jefferson's sympathies were strongly enlisted in behalf of the French people. Hence originated the alienation between these distinguished men, and two powerful parties were thus soon organized, Adams at the head of the one whose sympathies were with England and Jefferson led the other in sympathy with France.

The world has seldom seen a spectacle of more moral beauty and grandeur, that was presented by the old age of Mr. Adams. The violence of party feeling had died away, and he had begun to receive that just appreciation which, to most men, is not accorded till after death. No one could look upon his venerable form, and think of what he had done and suffered, and how he had given up all the prime and strength of his life to the public good, without the deepest emotion of gratitude and respect. It was his peculiar good fortune to witness the complete success of this institution which he had been so active in creating and supporting. In 1824, his cup of happiness was filled to the brim, by seeing his son elevated to the highest station in the gift of the people.

The fourth of July, 1826, which completed the half century since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, arrived, and there were but three of the signers of that immortal instrument left upon the earth to hail its morning light. And, as it is well known, on that day two of these finished their earthly pilgrimage, a coincidence so remarkable as to seem miraculous. For a few days before Mr. Adams had been rapidly failing, and on the morning of the fourth he found himself too weak to rise from his bed. On being requested to name a toast for the customary celebration of the day, he exclaimed "INDEPENDENCE FOREVER." When the day was ushered in, by the ringing of the bells and the firing of cannons, he was asked by one of his attendants if he knew what day it was? He replied, "O yes; it is the glorious fourth of July-God bless it-God bless you all." In the course of the day he said, "It is a great and glorious day." The last words he uttered were, "Jefferson survives." But he had, at one o'clock, resigned his spirit into the hands of his God.

The personal appearance and manners of Mr. Adams were not particularly prepossessing. His face, as his portrait manifests, was intellectual and expressive, but his figure was low and ungraceful, and his manners were frequently abrupt and uncourteous. He had neither the lofty dignity of Washington, nor the engaging elegance and gracefulness which marked the manners and address of Jefferson.

Third President

Thomas Jefferson was born April 2,1743, at Shadwell, Albermarle couny, Va. His parents were Peter and Jan (Randolph) Jefferson, the former a native of Wales, and the latter born in London. To them were born six daughters and two sons, of whom Thomas was the elder. When 14 years of age his father died. He received a most liberal education, having been kept diligently at school from the time he was five years of age. In 1760 he entered William and Mary College. Williamsburg was then the seat of the Colonial Court, and it was the obode [sic] of fashion and splendor. Young Jefferson, who was then 17 years old, lived somewhat expensively, keeping fine horses, and much caressed by gay society, yet he was earnestly devoted to his studies, and irreproachable in his morals. It is strange, however, under such influences, that he was not ruined. In the second years of his college course, moved by some unexplained inward impulse, he discarded his horses, society, and even his favorite violin, to which he had previously given much time. He often devoted fifteen hours a day to hard study, allowing himself for exercise only a run in the evening twilight of a mile out of the city and back again. He thus attained very high intellectual culture, alike excellence in philosophy and the languages. The most difficult Latin and Greek authors he read with facility. A more finished scholar has seldom gone forth from college halls: and there was not to be found, perhaps, in all Virginia, a more pureminded, upright, gentlemanly young man.

Immediately upon leaving college he began the study of law. For the short time he continued in the practice of his profession he rose rapidly and distinguished himself by his energy and acuteness as a lawyer. But the times called for greater action. The policy of England had awakened the spirit of resistance of the American Colonies, and the enlarged views which Jefferson had ever entertained, soon led him into active political life. In 1769 he was chosen a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1772 he married Mrs. Martha Skelton, a very beautiful, wealthy and highly accomplished young widow.

Upon Mr. Jefferson's large estate at Shadwell, there was a majestic swell of land, called Monticello, which commanded a prospect of wonderful extent and beauty. This spot Mr. Jefferson selected for his new home; and here he reared a mansion of modest yet elegant architecture, which, next to Mount Vernon, became the most distinguished resort in our land.

In 1775 he was sent to the Colonial Congress, where, though a silent member, his abilities as a writer and a reasoner soon became known, and he was placed upon a number of important committees, and was chairman of the one appointed for the drawing up of a declaration of independence. This committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson, as chairman, was appointed to draw up the paper. Franklin and Adams suggested a few verbal changes before it was submitted to Congress. On June 28, a few slight changes were made in it by Congress, and it was passed and signed July 4, 1776. What must have been the feelings of that man-what the emotions that swelled his breast-who was charged with the preparation of that Declaration, which, while it made known the wrongs of America, was also to publish her to the world, free, soverign and independent. It is one of the most remarkable papers ever written; and did no other effort of the mind of its author exist, that alone would be sufficient to stamp his name with immortality.

In 1779 Mr. Jefferson was elected successor to Patrick Henry, as governor of Virginia. At one time the British officer, Tarleton, sent a secret expedition to Monticello, to capture the Governor. Scarcely five minutes elapsed after the hurried escape of Mr. Jefferson and his family, ere his mansion was in possession of the British troops. His wife's health, never very good, was much injured by this excitement, and in the summer of 1782 she died.

Mr. Jefferson was elected to Congress in 1783. Two years later he was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France. Returning to the United States in September, 1789, he became Secretary of State in Washington's cabinet. This position he resigned Jan. 1, 1794. In 1797, he was chosen Vice President, and four years later was elected President over Mr. Adams, with Aaron Burr as Vice President. In 1804, he was re-elected with wonderful unanimity, and George Clinton, Vice President. The early part of Mr. Jefferson's second administration was disturbed by an event which threatened the tranquility and peach of the Union; this was the conspiracy of Aaron Burr. Defeated in the late election to the Vice Presidency, and led on by an unprincipled ambition, this extraordinary man formed the plan of a military expedition into the Spanish territories on our southwestern frontier, for the purpose of forming there a new republic. This has been generally supposed was a mere pretext; and although it has not been generally known what his real plans were, there is no doubt that they were of a far more dangerous character.

In 1809, at the expiration of the second term for which Mr. Jefferson had been elected, he determined to retire from political life. For a period of nearly forty years, he had been continually before the public, and all that time had been employed in offices of the greatest trust and responsibility. Having thus devoted the best part of his life to the service of his country, he now felt desirous of that rest which his declining years required, and upon the organization of the new administration, in March, 1809, he bid farewell forever to public life, and retired to Monticello.

Mr. Jefferson was profuse in his hospitality. Whole families came in their coaches with their horses, fathers and mothers, boys and girls, babies and nurses, and remained three and even six months. Life at Monticello, for years resembled that at a fashionable watering-place.

The fourth of July, 1826, being the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of American Independence, great preparations were made in every part of the Union for its celebration, as the nation's jubilee, and the citizens of Washington, to add to the solemnity of the occasion, invited Mr. Jefferson, as the framer and one of the few surviving signers of the Declaration, to participate in their festivities. But an illness, which had been of several weeks duration, and had been continually increasing, compelled him to decline the invitation.

On the second of July, the disease under which he was laboring left him, but in such a reduced state that his medical attendants, entertained no hope of his recovery. From this time he was perfectly sensible that his last hour was at hand. On the next day, which was Monday, he asked of those around him, the day of the month, and on being told it was the third of July, he expressed the earnest wish that he might be permitted to breathe the air of the fiftieth anniversary. His prayer was heard that day, whose dawn was hailed with such rapture through our land, burst upon his eyes, and then they were closed forever. And what a noble consummation of a noble life! To die on that day,--the birthday of a nation,--the day which his own name and his own act had rendered glorious; to die amidst the rejoicings and festivities of a whole nation, who looked up to him, as the author, under God, of their greatest blessings, was all that was wanting to fill up the record his life.

Almost at the same house of his death, the kindred spirit of the venerable Adams, as if to bear him company, left the scene of his earthly honors. Hand in hand they had stood forth, the champions of freedom; hand in hand, during the dark and desperate struggle of the Revolution, they had cheered and animated their desponding countrymen; for half a century they had labored together for the good of the country; and now hand in hand they depart. In their lives they had been united in the same great cause of liberty, and in their deaths they were not divided.

In person Mr. Jefferson was tall and thin, rather above six feet in height, but well formed; his eyes were light, his hair originally red, in after life became white and silvery; his complexion was fair, his forehead broad, and his whole countenance intelligent and thoughtful. He possessed great fortitude of mind as well as personal courage; and his command of temper was such that his oldest and most intimate friends never recollected to have seen him in a passion. His manners, though dignified, were simple and unaffected, and his hospitality was so unbounded that all found at his house a ready welcome. In conversation he was fluent, eloquent and enthusiastic; and his language was remarkably pure and correct. He was a finished classical scholar, and in his writings is discernable the care with which he formed his style upon the best models of antiquity.

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