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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

George Washington

  • [Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Feb. 22, 1732; sent by Gov. Dinwiddie on a mission to the French commander, 1753; lieutenant-colonel and aide-de-camp to Gen. Braddock, 1754; member of the House of Burgesses, 1758; delegate to the first Continental Congress; commander-in-chief of the American forces in the War of Independence; resigned his commission, December, 1783; President of the United States, 1789–97, when he finally retired from public life; died Dec. 14, 1799.]
  • I heard the bullets whistle; and believe me, there is something charming in the sound.

  • From a letter to his mother, of the first action of the French and Indian War, in which he defeated the enemy at Great Meadows, May 3, 1754. Charles XII. of Sweden, on hearing for the first time the bullets whistle at Copenhagen, said, “That shall be my music in the future!” Victor Emmanuel, when he first heard the roar of musketry, exclaimed, “This is the music which pleases me!”
  • The familiar story of Washington and his little hatchet is not to be found in the “Lives” of Marshall, Sparks, Irving, Everett, or Headley. Custis makes no mention of it in his “Recollections of Washington,” but illustrates the truthfulness which characterized the “Father of his Country” by the anecdote of the indomitable sorrel thoroughbred, which young Washington on a certain occasion engaged to tame, if his companions would hold the animal while a bridle was put into his mouth. The attempt was successful; but the American Bucephalus plunged with such tremendous violence, that he broke a blood-vessel, and died on the spot. Washington immediately told his mother what he had done; when she replied, “It is well; but while I regret the loss of my favorite, I rejoice in my son, who always speaks the truth.”
  • When Washington entered the House of Burgesses at the close of the French War, a vote of thanks was passed for his valuable services in the field. The young soldier hesitated in making a reply, when Speaker Robinson came to his aid by saying, “Sit down, sir: your modesty is equal to your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language I possess.” “Glory is like beauty,” says Lacordaire: “it is heightened by modesty.”
  • We must consult Brother Jonathan.

  • A frequent remark of Washington, by which he expressed his confidence in the judgment of his secretary and aide-de-camp, Col. Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut, afterwards member of Congress, senator, and governor. It is the origin of the nickname “Brother Jonathan,” applied to Americans.
  • In a pamphlet published in 1643, entitled, “The Reformado precisely characterized by a transformed Church warden at a Vestry,” the following passage occurs: “Queene Elizabeth’s monument was put up at my Charge when the regal government had fairer credit among us than now, and her epitaph was one of my Brother Jonathan’s best poems before he abjured the university, or had a thought of New England.”—Words, Facts, and Phrases.
  • Let posterity cheer for us.

  • Attributed to Washington, when some of the American troops cheered as the sword of Cornwallis was given to the American commander-in-chief by Gen. O’Hara, at the surrender of Yorktown, Oct. 19, 1781. The Hon. Robert C. Winthrop in his centennial address at Yorktown, Oct. 19, 1881, doubts the story, as incompatible with Washington’s character.
  • I require no guard but the affections of the people.

  • The same criticism might be made of his remark in declining a military escort for his first inauguration, at New York, 1789.
  • In peace prepare for war.

  • In a speech to Congress, Jan. 8, 1790, he said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” The Latin proverb, “Si vis pacem, para bellum” (If you wish peace, prepare for war), is not to be found in those words, although the thought is common to many writers. Cornelius Nepos (“Epaminondas,” V.) says, “Pax paritur bello,” Statius (“Thebaïs,” VII. 554), “Sævis pax quæritur annis,” Vegetius, a Roman military writer of the fourth century, says, “Qui desiderat pacem, præparat bellum.”
  • Washington wrote to Robert Morris in 1786: “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery.”
  • In his Farewell Address, September, 1796, Washington gave the people the advice repeated by Jefferson (vide), to “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
  • A few hours before his death (which was caused by acute laryngitis), he said, “I look to the event with perfect resignation.”
  • Chateaubriand said of his meeting Washington at Philadelphia: “There is virtue in the look of a great man. I felt myself warmed and refreshed by it during the rest of my life;” and he said to Washington, in allusion to the object which brought him to America, “It is less difficult to discover the polar passage than to create a nation as you have done.”
  • First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.

  • In a eulogy upon Gen. Washington, pronounced by Henry Lee of Virginia, Dec. 26, 1799. He had previously introduced a resolution in the National House of Representatives, that “a committee, in conjunction with one from the Senate, be appointed to consider on the most suitable manner of paying honor to the memory of the man first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow-citizens.” The word “countrymen,” used by Benton in his “Abridgment of the Debates of Congress,” has since been generally employed in place of “fellow-citizens.”
  • “The test of the progress of mankind,” says Brougham, “will be in the appreciation of the character of Washington.” Grattan declared that “the two greatest men of modern times are William III. and Washington.”
  • “Where Washington hath left
  • His awful memory
  • A light for after times!”
  • SOUTHEY: Ode during the War with America, 1814.
  • La Fayette’s opinion of his companion-in-arms is recorded in the Recollections of his Private Life, London, 1855, p. 25: “In my idea, Gen. Washington is the greatest man; for I look upon him as the most virtuous.” Charles James Fox exclaimed in the House of Commons, Jan. 13, 1794, “Illustrious man! deriving honor less from the splendor of his situation than from the dignity of his mind.”