Oration by Elisha Cullen Dick, February 22, 1800.
“On the 22d of February, 1800, Dr. Dick delivered, at the First Presbyterian Church, an oration on ‘The Day and Decease of WASHINGTON.’ On this occasion the Lodge, accompanied by Brooke Lodge, No. 47, was escorted to the church by the several uniformed militia companies of Alexandria, and a long line of the citizens of the town.” -- History of Lodge 39 by Donald M. Robey, P.G.M.
Alexandria , February 24.
Doctor Eliſha Cullen Dick.
The Committee appointed to make arrangements for the 22d of February, take pleaſure in expreſsing to you the entire approbation of the Eulogy pronounced by you, on our late illuſtrious Neighbor and Fellow Citizen, which they are well aſsured gave general fatisfaction to your Fellow Citizens; and they requeſt your permiſsion to have it publiſhed.
Your obed't ſerv'ts,
The approbation which you have been pleaſed to expreſs, of the Eulogy pronounced by me, on our late illuſtrious Neighbor, and the aſsurances you entertain of the general ſatisfaction of the audience, afford me ample teſtimony of the good wiſhes of my Fellow Citizens, and produce in my mind the moſt lively and appropriate impreſsions.
Without conſidering it as poſseſsing any intrinſic title to publicity, I feel bound to comply with your requeſt, and ſend you a copy for publication.
I am, Gentlemen,
With great reſpect,
Your obed't ſerv't
ELISHA C. DICK.
In attempting to execute the part aſsigned me by your committee, on this ſorrowful occaſion, I riſe with a confidence in your indulgence, upon which I reſt an only hope, that my humble efforts may be found in any degree commenſurate with your moſt moderate expectations.
The people of America are this day aſsembled in multitudes, to mingle in grief, and to expreſs to the world in one united voice, the cauſe of their afflictions: — to cheriſh the recollection of departed worth; and to evince to diſtant nations, that they are grateful to a benefactor. If there be an animating thought, while yet the tear of ſorrow hangs upon the cheek, may it not be drawn from an imaginary view of that moſt intereſting picture, which America would at this moment exhibit, were it poſsible to be compriſed within the ſcope of viſion?
Four millions of the human race, free in their thoughts and affections — unreſtrained in their actions, widely diſperſed over an extenſive portion of the habitable globe, are ſeen devoted to a ſingle purpoſe; — A people detached by local cauſes — actuated in common life by oppoſite views, or rivals in the purſuit of ſimilar objects; — jealous in all other matters of general concern — are offering the tribute of affection to the memory of their common friend. In vain ſhall we examine the records of antiquity for its parallel.
Worth ſo tranſcendent as to merit univerſal homage, with a correſpondent deſire to beſtow it, mark an event in the hiſtory of our country, that may be conſidered as a phenomenon in the annals of man.
The inſtitution of games, the denomination of cities and empires, the erection of monuments of marble and bronze, have ſeverally ſerved to perpetuate the memory of illuſtrious characters; but how often may the parentage of their celebrity be traced to either a ſingle accident, or to a fortuitous combination of circumſtances. To which of the Sages, Patriots, or Heroes of paſt ages, ſhall we recur for an example of that uncommon aſsemblage of virtues and talents that were blended in the character of our beloved WASHINGTON? Be it the privilege of poſterity, when it ſhall deſire to honor unuſual merit, by comparative commendation, to employ his name as a term of ſuperlative applauſe; but let us no longer mutilate his well earned fame, by looking back to antiquity for his model. His early manifeſtation of extraordinary capacity — his uniform preference of the public good to private enjoyment — his unwearied labours in the ſervice of his country, for upwards of forty years, deſervedly place him on the higheſt point of human exaltation.
Pre-eminence in ſocial life, is more frequently the effect of exertion than of unuſual talents; and moſt men might have been wiſer and better than they are, had improvement at all times been their fixed purpoſe: but the individual whom a beneficent Providence ſelected, as his favorite inſtrument to diſpenſe the bleſsings of political life and liberty to his country, ſeemed peculiarly fitted for that reſplendent commiſsion, by the munificent hand of nature. Preſages of his future eminence were to be drawn from his earlieſt life. While yet at ſchool, his deportment was ſuch as to procure him the confidence and reſpect of his young companions: He was the common arbiter of their juvenile diſputations, and his deciſions were concluſive and ſatisfactory.
Poſseſsing a mind peculiarly collected in its ſtructure , elevated in its views, and firm in its purpoſes, he ſaw at once the importance of intellectual aſcendency, and ſoon acquired the abſolute dominion of himſelf. — Endowments ſo rare and ineſtimable drew him early into general view, and attracted the notice of the conſtituted authorities. At the age of twenty-one years, bearing a major's commiſsion in the provincial forces, he is ſelected by the Colonial executive of Virginia, for the performance of a critical and momentous embaſsy to the French commander on the Ohio. He engages in the perilous and reſponſible enterprize. Undaunted by the chill blaſts of winter — undiſmayed by a view of the pathleſs wild that lay before him, he takes his departure from Williamſburg, and moves on with unſhaken purpoſe to his point of deſtination. Having produced his credentials and remonſtrated ineffectually againſt the incurſions of the French, we ſee him on his return, environed by imminent and complicated dangers, from which the providential hand of Heaven alone can extricate him. He has already eſcaped the murderouſly meditated volley of the favage in ambuſh — he is now contending with the elements. Embarked with his few attendants on a haſtily conſtructed raft, the impetuoſity of the torrent, with aſsailing bodies of ice, bear him along their turbulent courſe, and threaten inevitable deſtruction. The youthful hero, oppoſing his utmoſt ſtrength to the wayward current, is plunged into its icy boſom. For a moment he is inviſible, and his diſconſolate companions deplore the loſs of their leader; — But he riſes again, and buffeting the angry ſurface of the food, recovers the raft, which is arreſted in its progreſs by an inſulated cluſter of rocks. The night approaches and patiently to wait the return of day is a point of neceſsity. Diſconſolate and drear the abode, but more terrible the ſurrounding profpect. The intenſe ſeverity of the weather in recompenſe for his ſufferings preſented in the morning an animated ſpectacle. The ice locked and firm, enables him to proceed in ſafety to the deſtined ſhore, and he purſues without further impediment his homeward way.
The extraordinary capacity, firſt exemplified in the proſecution of this inaugural miſsion, was afterwards more amply diſplayed on the Banks of Monongahela. — On that occaſion, the ſeveral important properties eſsential to military command, were manifeſted in the preſervation of the remnant of a vanquiſhed army. A youth untutored in the ſchools of war — by the peculiar ſtrength and ingenuity of his own mind, effected an atchievement, that would have given additional luſtre to the fame of a diſtinguiſhed veteran, exec An eventful page in the book of fate, was yet undiſcloſed. An era approached when the hero of Monongahela, was to be introduced to an admiring world; — A memorable epoch, that was at once to give exiſtence to one of the moſt extenſive empires on earth, and to ſtamp a brilliant immortality on the individual, who was choſen by Heaven to execute its mighty mandate. The American colonies, the legitimate offspring of Britain, feel the hand that ſhould foſter, become oppreſsive and ſevere. They venture but affectionately to complain. — The parent rebukes, urges ſubmiſsion, impoſes with augmented rigor and threatens coerſion. Petitions and reſpectful expoftulations are tried ineffectually. In pacific, but in more dignified terms, they now remonſtrate. — They appeal to reaſon, to juſtice and truth. Parental diſpleaſure is kindling into wrath and revenge. They view at a diſtance the gathering ſtorm and prepare to encounter it. Dreadful the impending conflict and incalculable the iſsue; but the price of victory is ineſtimable. A ſenſe of common injury, common danger, and common intereſt, inſpire union and energy. They collect their little army, untried, undiſciplined. In the hands of their beloved WASHINGTON, they at the ſame moment depoſit the chief command and their hopes of ſucceſs. Pledged to himſelf, his fellow citizens and to his God, he accepts the ſacred truſt, and determines to give liberty to his country, or periſh in the enterprize. Thus prepared and thus headed, making a folemn appeal to the inhabitants of the earth, they implore the Almighty aid, and enter upon the unequal and terrible combat.
It is unneceſsary to our preſent purpoſe to trace minutely the chain of ſucceeding incidents. The iſsue at once gave birth to our wide ſpreading empire, and crowned the hero with wreaths of immortal glory. Gazing nations paſsing in wonder from the magnificent work to its author, are unſettled as to their chief point of admiration; while Columbia, growing with celeſtial rapture, greets with boundleſs gratitude and affection her favorite Son.
The Saviour of his country, diſbanding his martial ranks, tenders his ſage advice to his fellow citizens, beſtows a benediction on his companions in arms, and retires to the calm retreat of private life.
Smiling peace reſumes her gentle reign. Agriculture and commerce, reviving from their bed of anguiſh, lead on in triumph to the altar of liberty, their long train of national bleſsings. A plan for the preſervation of the altar, and the equitable diſtribution of its bleſsings, requires the aid of the aggregate wiſdom of the United States. Amidſt this brilliant aſsemblage, this conſtellation of enlightened minds, the father of his people again appears and ſhines ſupremely refulgent. Reſtraining by his harmonizing preſence, the diſcordant operation of ſocial intereſts, tempering the ardor of diſcuſsion, and holding up to view the balance of relative rights, he ſaw their united labors terminate in the production of a ſyſtem or general government, which, receiving the ſanction of his approbation, became the palladium of the national independence.
Once more, in obedience to the united ſuffrage of his country, he foregoes the enjoyment of domeſtic ſcenes, and accepts the ſuperintendency of the great and mighty concerns of the empire. Events ariſe in the courſe of his adminiſtration that call forth freſh demonſtrations of his ſuperior wiſdom.
The exiſting relations between America and the two great contending nations of Europe, neceſsarily placed the former in a ſituation peculiarly hazardous and embarraſsing. Devotees in the cauſe of republicaniſm, it was impoſsible for its citizens to become unconcerned ſpectators of the eventful conteſt. Lively impreſsions of gratitude ſtill remained for the magnanimous ſuccors formerly received from one of the powers, which naturally inſpired a warm intereſt in the iſsue of the war, and had a ſtrong tendency to draw them ultimately within its deſtructive vortex. But the vigilant guardian of his country's ſafety, by baſing his poſition on the broad and commanding ground of neutrality, moſt effectually ſecuring our peace, our honor, and our independence.
After eight ſucceſive years, in the autumn of his life, excluſively devoted to the national intereſt, he is permitted to repoſe a while his venerable head on the pillow of domeſtic eaſe; and but a little while is his repoſe free from interruption. The eſtabliſhment of a military force is deemed neceſsary for the public ſafety, and the laureled veteran is ſolicited, and agrees to take the proviſional command. But the fleeting and variegated ſcenes of his probationary exiſtence were drawing to a cloſe. The inauſpicious gloom which had excited the apprehenſion of America having, in a great meaſure, diſappeared — the ſoul of this great and good man took its final departure to the manſions of eternal reſ.
To his ſurvivors, in the unexampled tenor of his actions, he has bequeathed a legacy of ineſtimable value. In the walks of private life, he was no leſs exemplary than in the more conſpicuous ſcenes of public employment. His private friendſhip terminated only with his lateſt breath. Modeſt and unaſsuming, yet dignified in his manners — acceſsable and communicative; yet ſuperior to familiarity, he inſpired and preſerved the love and reſpect of all who knew him. For the promotion of all public and uſeful undertaking, he was ſingularly munificent. The indigent and diſtreſsed, were at all times ſubjects of his ſympathy and concern. His charity flowed in quiet but conſtant ſtreams, from a fountain that was at no time ſuffered to ſuſtain the ſmalleſt diminution. No purſuit or avocation, however momentous, was permitted to interrupt his ſyſtematic attention to the children of want. His anxious ſolicitude on this ſcore is pathetically exemplified in a letter written in 1775, at a time when the unorganized ſtate of the army might have demanded his excluſive concern. Addreſsing himſelf to the late Lund Waſhington, he writes —
“ Let the hoſpitality of the houſe be
“ kept with reſpect to the poor. Let no one go
“ away hungry. If any of this kind of people
“ ſhould be in want of corn , ſupply their neceſ
“ ſities, provided it does not encourage them in
“ idleneſs. I have no objection to your giving
“ my money in charity, when you think it will
“ be well beſtowed. I mean that it is my deſire,
“ that it ſhould be done. You are to conſider
“ that neither myſelf nor my wife are now in the
“ way to do theſe good offices.”
Such, my fellow citizens, was the man whoſe memory we have aſsembled to honor. It has been your peculiar felicity often to have ſeen him on the footing of ſocial intimacy. That the inhabitants of Alexandria, held a diſtinguiſhed place in his affection, you have had repeated teſtimony. You have ſeen his ſenſibility awakened, on occaſions calculated to call forth a diſplay of his partiality. The laſt time we met to offer our ſalutations, and expreſs our inviolable attachment to the venerable ſage, on his retiring from the chief Magiſtracy of the Union, you may remember that in telling you how peculiarly grateful were your expreſsions, the viſible emotions of his great ſoul, had almoſt deprived him of the power of utterance.
But heaven has reclaimed its treaſure, and America has loſt its firſt of patriots and beſt of men — its ſhield in war; in peace its brighteſt ornament, the avenger of its wrongs, the oracle of its wiſdom and the mirror of its perfection. His fair fame, ſecure in its immortality, ſhall ſhine thro' countleſs ages with undiminiſhed luſtre. It ſhall be the ſtateman's polar-ſtar, the hero's deſtiny; the boaſt of age; the companion of maturity, and the goal of youth. It ſhall be the laſt national office of hoary dotage, to teach the infant that hangs on his trembling knee, to liſp the name of WASHINGTON.