“the resignation of power over an immense country”

Henrietta Liston was keenly aware of George Washington’s importance as a key figure in America’s history. (See post.) When he voluntarily resigned his office, Mrs. Liston commented on what the reasons underlying that decision might have been.

On the third of March [1797], it being the last day of General Washington’s power as President, he gave a publick dinner to the officers of the State, Foreign Ministers principal Senators, & to their respective Ladies.

I had, as usual, the gratification of being handed to Table & of sitting by the President. Had I never before considered the character of Washington, I should certainly have joined the general voice, & pronounced him greater in this voluntary retreat, & in the resignation of power over an immense country, than when, having by his conduct as a Soldier, been the principal means of rendering his Country independent, he became, by the universal suffrage of the people, its ruler & director. I should have repeated with others—Washington is the first of Men, wise, great, & good, whereas as I now view him, he is in truth & reality, honest, prudent, & fortunate, & wonderful to say, almost without ambition; these words are less dignified but not less strong. . . .

The World gives General Washington more credit for his retirement from publick life than I am disposed to do. He has for eight years sacrificed his natural taste, first habits, & early propensities, I really believe we may truly say, solely to what he thought the good of his Country. But he was become tired of his situation, fretted by the opposition often made to his measures; & his pride revolted against the ingratitude he experienced, and he was also disgusted by the scurrilous abuse lavished upon him by his political enemies.

Later that year, the Listons visited Mount Vernon once again.

Washington still appears more amiable & happy since his retirement from a public life. He has had the good fortune to fill the three first situations in America—at the Head of the Army, during the Rebellion against England, The first Magistrate after the Independence of his Country, &, having voluntarily retired, after filling the office of President to the United States for eight years, He is now the first & most extensive Farmer, perhaps on the Continent. He possesses Lands in several different States, but at Mount Vernon He at present holds four thousand acres, in his own hands.

And, Liston added, “He has five hundred slaves.”

Quotations are from The Travel Journals of Henrietta Marchant Liston: North America and Lower Canada, 1796-1800 (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Press, 2014) pages 17-19. The map is from a drawing made by Washington himself and can be found HERE.

posted February 23rd, 2015 by Louise, CATEGORIES: Liston, Henrietta Marchant, Mount Vernon, Slaves/slavery, Washington, George

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