A Discourse DELIVERED AT WELLS, On the 22d February, 1800; OCCASIONED BY THE LAMENTED DEATH OF General George Washington.






☞ If the publication of the ensuing Discourse should be blamed, after so many better ones, on the sad occasion, have been published, let not the whole blame be laid to the Author; who consented to it, with reluctance, in compliance with the importunity of those, whom he was loth to disoblige.


A Discourse, &c.

AGREEABLY to the recommendation of the great Council of our United States, seconded by that of the Sen­ate, and Representatives of this Commonwealth, we are convened, this day, publicly to testify our grief "for the death of GENERAL GEORGE WASHINGTON," with decent formalities of mourning suitable to the sor­rowful occasion, and expressive of the honor and respect, due to the memory of so illustrious and worthy a person­age, and of those sentiments, with which the mind of all ranks and orders of men among us, seems to be so deeply and extraordinarily affected.

As it has been requested that a discourse suitable to the occasion be publicly delivered, the words of king David, spoken on an occasion somewhat similar, occurred to mind as no improper motto. "KNOW YE NOT THAT THERE IS A PRINCE AND A GREAT MAN THIS DAY FALLEN IN ISRAEL?" 2 SAMUEL III. 38.

They were occasioned by the lamented death of Abner, the chief captain of the host of Israel; and, I think, they may be adopted by us at this time with great propriety. A great man indeed has fallen: yea, may we not say in sober truth that a greater, than Abner, is this day fallen in our nation: An important pillar in our political build­ing [Page 4] has given way, and sunk to the ground; and United America has very sensibly felt the shock through its whole extent and trembles at the fall. Since the sun has shone on these regions, a death so lamented has never been known among us.

Had the counsels and decrees of Heaven concurred with our wishes, this day had been celebrated, as former­ly, as a day of rejoicing, and grateful commemoration of the day, which, sixty-eight years ago, gave birth to one, whom God raised up to be a distinguished honor and blessing to his country, and a great example to the world of those virtues and other shining accomplishments, which give dignity to human nature. But the sovereign Disposer of all events has turned it into a day of mourning. THIS GREAT MAN IS FALLEN. Having served his generation by the will of God, he is gone the way of all the earth, and sleeps in the tomb, never to wake and rise again till the heavens are no more. And we join sincerely with our fellow citizens in expressing our sorrowful resent­ments of the great loss the nation and the world have sustained, of the frown of heaven upon us, and also the great respect and veneration we have for one, whose extra­ordinary talents, virtues, and achievments had been so long, so honorably, and successfully displayed in the service of his country in its highest offices and de­partments. We take up the lamentation of the mourning prophet, ‘The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning; the crown is fallen from our head; wo unto us that we have sinned.’

[Page 5]But let us mourn like christians, with humble, patient, unrepining submission to God; who, though surrounded with clouds and darkness, governs the world with perfect wisdom, righteousness, and goodness. He gives, and he takes away, blessed be his name; yet sentiments of sub­mission forbid us not to have, and decently express the feelings of humanity. This we would now do, not in the wild effusions of passion, but by modest, sober, unaffected tokens, and language of deep and serious concern.

Without entering upon a detail of those accomplish­ments, which are requisite to form the character of a GREAT MAN, perhaps no man of the age, certainly no one in these parts of the world has a more universally acknowledged right to a high rank among the most illust­rious characters in the world, than he, whose death we are now called to lament; whose great abilities and virtues, were displayed in a series of heroic acts and achievements, which will doubtless immortalize his name. The pen of the historian, will we trust, do justice to his character, which has also been emblazoned in the many splendid and eloquent panegyrics, which have been pronounced, throughout the United States, in honor to his memory. If it be expected that something be now said on this sub­ject; yet, I know you do not expect that it will be done with that beauty and energy of thought and language, which others have exhibited. You know the Speaker has not talents for this, nor does his ambition prompt him to so vain an attempt. But the honor he has for the name of the illustrious WASHINGTON constrains him to a­rise [Page 6] and call him blessed. A heart impressed with deep concern does not much regard ornaments. A mourning habit needs not splendid embellishments; nor need a fu­neral discourse affect to shine in a fine dress.

External distinctions, indeed, of which many make much account, are but the trappings of greatness. The true dignity of man is to be estimated from the accomplish­ments of the mind and virtues of the heart, exerted for great, noble, and useful purposes. Our WASHINGTON, however, possessed in a high degree those advantages, which outward distinction gives a man, in the eye of the world.

The family from which he descended was honorable*; but in no external respect was it more honorable than in having so illustrious a branch spring from it. Besides possessing an affluent fortune, his personal accomplishments were extraordinary. In his countenance, which some think is no small index of the mind, majesty and comeli­ness were, I am informed, admirably blended. It was very commanding, and engaging. Penetrating sagacity, conscious integrity, and goodness were there so lively expressed, that it seemed a mirror of those qualities, which strike the beholder with reverence and love.

But the accomplishments, which are seated in the mind and the inner man of the heart, and in which he had few equals, were an early presage of future greatness. So conspicuous were his talents for great public services, that, when he was little more than twenty years old, he was, though so young, employed to conduct an important [Page 7] negotiation, and discharged his trust with judgment and fidelity. At this early period he began to gather the lau­rels of military glory in the defence of his country. Holding a Major's commission in the army, he gained an advantage over a superior enemy; and afterward, when a colonel under the unfortunate Braddock, who not heark­ening to his advice, fell, and his army was defeated on the banks of Monongahela, our WASHINGTON was honor­ed as the instrument, under God, of bringing off the shatter­ed remains of that army; and it may not be unworthy of notice, that, in a public address delivered about this time, he was spoken of, as one, who seemed designed in provi­dence to be a Savior of his country; words, which have been verified in a more remarkable manner, than was probably thought of, at the time they were spoken.

When he had no longer occasion to employ his military talents in the service of his country, he was a magistrate of the county, a Judge of the Court, and a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

But it was upon occasion of the disputes between Bri­tain and its American colonies and the war, which was in consequence of them, that his superior talents and heroic virtues were drawn forth and presented to view in their full lustre. Then he entered on a new and shining ca­reer of military glory. Having been chosen a delegate to the Congress, which the breaking out of the war had called together, he was unanimously chosen chief commander of the American Army; and took a commission for the execution of this most arduous and hazardous office, at the call of his country; and, in defence of its invaded rights and privileges, shrunk not from standing foremost [Page 8] in the post of danger and exposing his life and its dearest interests in the perilous contest. In the discharge of this high trust for eight years, in which the difficulties, dangers, and hardships he endured were inconceivable by those, who did not experience them, he displayed the abil­ities, wisdom, unbroken fortitude, firm resolution, incor­ruptible fidelity, and integrity of a great and accomplish­ed Captain. Nor was his clemency and humanity to­wards enemies, when the fortune of war had put them in his power, less conspicuous than his courage and conduct in repelling their hostilities. Such was also his kindness and tenderness towards those, whom he commanded, that he was revered and loved by them as a father. Though he was, it is said, one of great sensibility, as most great men are, yet he had such uncommon government of him­self, that the very trying and provoking scenes, with which he was often exercised, very seldom occasioned any visible discomposure of spirits. An achievement truly heroic. "He that ruleth his spirit is better than the mighty who taketh a city." And when by means of his valour and conduct, with that of the other brave officers, and soldiers under him, the war was, by the blessing of God, brought to a happy and triumphant close, and peace, liberty, and independence secured to United America, then, with a magnanimity and generosity scarce to be paralleled, he gave up his commission to the Congress, and fell into the rank again with private citizens, resolutely refusing to re­ceive any compensation for the toils and dangers of eight years spent in the service of his country, except what should accrue to him from the applauses of his own con­science, [Page 9] from seeing his fellow citizens enjoy the fruits of his toils and travail, exp [...]essing their high grateful sense of his services, and from the hope "that God would think on him for good according to all that he had done for his people." We may say, as Mr. Jefferson said several years ago, ‘in war we have produced a WASHINGTON, whose memory will be adored, while liberty shall have votaries; whose name will triumph over time, and will in future ages assume its just rank among the most cele­brated worthies of the world.’

But it was not long before he was again called forth, from the shades of his retirement, for further services of the highest importance. The independency of the Ame­rican States being gained and recognised, it was soon found necessary that a more strong and energetic form of government be established, which should embrace, and be a firm band of union to the whole system of American States. To form this a convention was appointed, to be composed of men of approved wisdom and virtue, delega­ted from the several parts of the union. To this con­vention, WASHINGTON was delegated; and unani­mously chosen President of that venerable council of sages, by whom our excellent federal constitution was framed, which has been highly approved by the most eminent civilians, and of which we have experienced the happy ef­fects equal to our most sanguine hopes.

When this constitution, in the framing of which he had borne so distinguished a part, having been accepted by the people, came to be organized; by the unanimous votes [Page 10] of the electors he was once, and again chosen to the highest place of honor and authority; and ascended to it with the universal acclamations of all ranks and orders of the people. And his administration realized the exalted hopes and expectations, which his abilities and virtues had raised. And the President appeared in the cabinet with the dig­nity of a great and accomplished statesman, not inferior to the general in his military line.

After sixteen years had been devoted to the service of his country, under the heavy burdens with which its highest and most arduous offices were loaded, he resigned the reins of civil government, as he had before resigned his military commission. It would have been agreeable to the general wish of the people, if they could have longer enjoyed the advantages of his wise and faithful administra­tion; and he would doubtless have had another unani­mous election, had not his advanced age craved repose from the cares and toils of office, so strongly, that he ex­cused himself from standing candidate for it.

But when his country's wrongs and grievances, of which no redress could be obtained by peaceable negociation, called to arms, and he perceived that the public eye was looking up to him for his help, he immediately complied with the unexpected call, and took upon him the com­mand of the army to be raised for the defence of the na­tion. And had his life been prolonged, in the present critical situation of affairs, we should have hoped for im­portant advantages from his wisdom and influence.— But these hopes have now vanished with his expiring [Page 11] breath. WASHINGTON, whose life, from his early youth to hoary age, has been so distinguished in the service of his country, as to gain him the title of the SAVIOUR AND FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY, is taken from us, and that at a time when his services seem to be peculiarly wanted. His breath is gone forth, and, in that very day, his thoughts and cares for us are all perish­ed.

Before we finish this sketch, it must not be omitted that he was a serious professor of the christian religion,* and held in utter abhorrence the principles of that vile, atheistical, Epicurian Philosophy, which has corrupted the minds and morals of so many, and produced incalculable mischief in the world.

You are sensible that what has been said concerning this great man, whose fall occasions a general mourning, cannot be from a personal knowledge, but from such credible information as one in these distant parts, and so low a station, has had access to; I think nothing has been said but what is consistent with truth. And more might have been said, with equal justice, respecting his most amiable and exemplary deportment, in the private walks of life; such was the man to the honor of whose mem­ory the solemnities of this day are observed.

These honors we are all sensible can add nothing to him. And the chief view, we are to have in commemo­rating these things, is (besides expressing due respect to [Page 12] the memory of one, who has served his generation with so much fidelity and success) to give God the glory that is due to his name, who raised up and formed this his ser­vant to be a fit instrument, in his hand, to accomplish the great things, which he has done for us. Far be it from us to give that honor to any creature, however dignified, which is due to God alone, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things.

Are we not loudly called, this day, to humble ourselves under his hand, who has so sorely smitten and wounded us, and made so great a breach upon us? When a great man falls, of whom it may be said, as was said to David, "Thou art better than ten thousands of us," whose great wisdom and influence, were likely to guide, unite, and an­imate a people in pursuing those measures, which would promote their true interest more, than could be expected from myriads of ordinary men, the quenching of such a light ought to be considered as an alarming frown of Prov­idence. It darkens our day; and all who are wise to discern the signs of the times should lay it to heart with suitable concern. ‘The Lord hath taken away the mighty man, the man of war, the judge, the prudent man, the antient, the captain of thousands, the honor­able man, the counsellor, and the eloquent orator. Help Lord for the faithful fail.’

Should we not then humbly enquire wherefore our God is contending with us; our sins doubtless are the procur­ing cause of our calamities; shall there be evil in the city and the Lord hath not done it? And is it not our ini­quities [Page 13] which cause him to hide his face from us? Among numberless other provocations of divine displeasure, which are too visible among us, have we not abused our pros­perity, as an encouragement to a presumptuous security, and insensibility of our dependence on God? We then need not wonder if he frown upon us. When the Psalm­ist said, in his prosperity, that he should never be moved, but that his mountain stood strong, it immediately follows, "Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled." Again have we not been too ready to trust in man and make flesh our arm? and when our undertakings have had suc­cess, have we not sacrificed to our net, and burnt incense to our own drag, giving that honour to the instruments, which is due only to the supreme agent? We do well to honor those, on whom God puts distinguishing honor, endowing them with superior gifts and virtues, and mak­ing them guardian angels of a nation; as such, we honor the memory of that GREAT MAN, whose fall we la­ment. But God forbid that we should make an idol of any creature, our God is a jealous God. If we give his glory to another, we provoke his jealousy to take away our idol, and shew us that those, whom we adore as Gods, must die like men. ‘All flesh is as grass and all glory of man as the fading flower of the field. Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his rich­es. Surely man in his best estate is altogether vanity.’

Of this we have lately had awakening and repeated admonitions. We had scarce put off our mourning for our excellent governor,* when the fall of a greater man renews [Page 14] our grief; and we have the more reason to be alarmed, at these sad visitations, when such men are taken away at such a time as this, when our prospects are darkened by those clouds, which with portentous aspect have been gathering ove [...] us; and the setting of such luminaries must increase the darkness. God grant that it be not a presage of further calamities.

How are all the glories of this world eclipsed by the mortality of the greatest men! In what a striking light must their folly appear who set their affections and found their hopes on things, which are so soon to fade and utter­ly fail! And what contempt has God poured upon the grandeur and glitter of wordly honor and riches, not on­ly by soon stripping the possessors of all this false glory, but also by often bestowing it on the basest of men, and so as it were exposing it to open shame. But though the wicked are sometimes exalted to the summit of earthly greatness, their triumphing is short. Their end is fast ap­proaching. Death will soon lay all their glory in the dust; and how great will be their fall! The wicked are driven away in their wickedness, and their name shall rot. But the righteous hath hope in his death; his end is peace; his memory is blessed; He shall be had in ever­lasting remembrance.

Such was his end, for whose death a nation mourns, and whose name is honored as the friend of man, the patron and defender of the liberties and rights of his country. He received the sudden summons with a mind raised a­bove fear. "I am not afraid to die," said he, with his [Page 15] expiring breath, and then closing his eyes and mouth, with his own hands, closed a useful and glorious life with that serenity of mind, and composure of countenance, for which he had been so remarkable while passing through the suc­cessive and changing scenes of his life.

With growing dignity behold him rise,
Great while he lives, but greater when he dies.

The solemnities of this day, I have said, can add nothing to the dead; but, by a wise improvement, they may be profitable to us; and our coming together in this house, which is become a house of mourning, may be better than to go to the house of feasting. For this end we should not only contemplate with due honor the characters of those, who have shone with distinguished lustre, as public benefactors, but a noble emulation should be enkindled within us to imitate their virtues. It was not merely pos­sessing great talents that made GENERAL WASH­INGTON so much greater than others, but it was his improving them so eminently for the good of mankind. Let us go and do likewise; though we expect not to rise to the height of his greatness, yet let us endeavour in our narrower sphere to serve God and our generation with dil­igence and fidelity. To him, who improves well what he hath, more shall be given, and though his beginning were small, his latter end may greatly increase.

When we see that the life of the greatest, the most honorable, and useful men is but a vapour, like that of others, which soon vanishes away, sometimes when we most need the benefit of their talents, virtues, and influ­ence, [Page 16] we are loudly admonished not to put our trust in any of the sons of men. They who seem most worthy of our confidence may, we find, break like reeds when we lean upon them, and pierce our hearts with sorrow and disappointment. God is our only sure refuge, and pre­sent help, in time of trouble. His name is a strong tow­er to which we may fly and be safe. Under his protection we may hope to escape those evils, of which we seem to have reason to be apprehensive, in consequence of the breaches he has made upon us. We shall not suffer ship­wreck, if God takes our helm to steer us safe through the rocks of danger, though the under pilots of the state should be washed overboard and drowned in the most dangerous and tempestuous season, the stormy wind is obedient to him, and will fulfil his word. Though WASHINGTON is dead, GOD lives and reigns, the king eternal and im­mortal. Let the earth rejoice, clouds and darkness are round about him, but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne. Alleluia for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth; and if we seek him he will be found of us. He is with us while we are with him. This God will then be our God forever and ever. Happy is the people that is in such a case, yea happy is the people whose God is the Lord.


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