Sunday, July 2

The Vow of Washington

Following his successful campaign to insure the independence of his new nation, General George Washington surrendered his commission to President Thomas Mifflin and the assembled Congress of the United States on December 23, 1783. Though his troops were ready to declare him king, he desired to honor the federal government as it was then constituted. He then retired to private life at his home on the Potomac River, Mount Vernon. It would only be a short retirement however, the controversy over a new form of federalism ultimately brought him back into public life and ultimately to the presidency itself. This verse by John Greenleaf Whittier celebrates his extraordinary commitment and submission to authority:

The sword was sheathed: In April's sun
Lay green the fields by Freedom won;
And severed sections, weary of debates,
Joined hands at last and were United States.

O City sitting by the Sea!
How proud the day that dawned on thee,
When the new era, long desired, began,
And, in its need, the hour had found the man!

One thought the cannon salvos spoke,
The resonant bell-tower's vibrant stroke,
The voiceful streets, the plaudit-echoing halls,
And prayer and hymn borne heavenward from Saint Paul's!

How felt the land in every part
The strong throb of a nation's heart,
As its great leader gave, with reverent awe,
His pledge to Union, Liberty, and Law!

That pledge the heavens above him heard,
That vow the sleep of centuries stirred;
In world-wide wonder listening peoples bent
Their gaze on Freedom's great experiment.

Could it succeed? Of honor sold
And hopes deceived all history told.
Above the wrecks that strewed the mournful past,
Was the long dream of ages true at last?

Thank God! The people's choice was just,
The one man equal to his trust,
Wise beyond lore, and without weakness good,
Calm in the strength of flawless rectitude!

His rule of justice, order, peace,
Made possible the world's release;
Taught prince and serf that power is but a trust,
And rule alone, which serves the ruled, is just.

That Freedom generous is, but strong
In hate of fraud and selfish wrong,
Pretence that turns her holy truth to lies,
And lawless license masking in her guise.

Land of his love! With one glad voice
Let thy great sisterhood rejoice;
A century's suns o'er thee have risen and set,
And, God be praised, we are one nation yet.

And still we trust the years to be
Shall prove his hope was destiny,
Leaving our flag, with all its added stars,
Unrent by faction and unstained by wars.

Lo! Where with patient toil he nursed
And trained the new-set plant at first,
The widening ranches of a stately tree
Stretch from the sunrise to the sunset sea.

And in its broad and sheltering shade,
Sitting with none to make afraid,
Were we now silent, through each mighty limb,
The winds of heaven would sing the praise of him.

1 comment:

Dr. Knox said...

Thank you for your timely reminders of history's greatest moments. Thank you too for your interesting takes on the Tour de France and the World Cup on your other blog. It seems your appetites are boundless and your influence is everywhere: I heard you on the radio one evening last week here in the UK; then I saw your book and film recommendations in World Magazine this weekend; finally, our rector quoted extensively from one of your books in his homily this morning. What a gift your productivity is to all of us.