Imágenes de páginas

by treaty. It was hailed by all as a great step in the national existence, although it was really a far greater step than any one yet dreamed. “No colony in America," wrote Washington, “was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum."

It had been provided that the new Constitution should go into effect when nine States had ratified it. That period having arrived, Congress fixed the first Wednesday in January, 1789, for the choice of Presidential electors, and the first Wednesday in March as the date when the new government should go into power. On March 4, 1789, the Continental Congress ceased to exist, but it was several weeks before either House of the new Congress was organized. On April 6th, the organization of the two Houses being complete, the electoral votes were counted; and on April 21st John Adams took his seat as Vice - president in the chair of the Senate. On the 30th of April the streets around the old “Federal Hall” in New York City were so densely crowded that it seemed, in the vivid phrase of an eye-witness, “as if one might literally walk on the heads of the people.” On the balcony of the hall was a table covered with crimson velvet, upon which lay a Bible on a crimson cushion. Out upon the balcony came, with his accustomed dignity, the man whose generalship, whose patience, whose self - denial had achieved and then preserved the liberties of the nation—the man who, greater than Cæsar, had held a kingly crown within reach and had refused it. Washington stood a moment amid the shouts of the people, then bowed, and took the oath administered by Chancellor Livingston. At this moment a flag was raised upon the cupola of the hall; a discharge of artillery followed, and the assembled people again filled the air with their shouting. Thus simple was the ceremonial which announced that a nation was born.



Peace, which in our country's cradle
Draws the sweet infant breath of gentle sleep.”


Richard II., i. 3.

THE year 1789 saw a new nation in its cradle in

the city of New York. Liberty was born, but had yet to learn how to go alone. Political precedents were still to be established, social customs to be formed anew. New York City, the first seat of national government, had warmly welcomed Washington, though the State of New York had not voted for him; and now that he was in office, men and women waited with eager interest to see what kind of political and social life would surround him. The city then contained nearly thirty-three thousand people. It had long been more cosmopolitan than any other in the colonies, but it had also been longer occupied by the British, and had been more lately under the influence of loyal traditions and royal officials. This influence the languid sway of the Confederation had hardly dispelled. What condition of things would the newly organized republic establish?

It was a period of much social display. Class distinctions still prevailed strongly, for the French Revolution had not yet followed the American Revolution to sweep them away. Employers were still called masters; gentlemen still wore velvets, damasks, knee-breeches, silk stockings, silver buckles, ruffled shirts, voluminous cravats, scarlet cloaks. The Revolution had made many poor, but it had enriched many, and money was lavishly spent. People gave great entertainments, kept tankards of punch on the table for morning visitors of both sexes, and returned in sedan-chairs from evening parties. Dr. Manasseh Cutler went to a dinner-party of forty-four gentlemen at the house of General Knox, just before his appointment as Secretary of War. All the guests were officers of the late Continental army, and every one, except Cutler himself, wore the badge of the Society of the Cincinnati. On another occasion he dined there with a French nobleman; the dinner was served “in high style, much in the French style. Mrs. Knox seemed to him to mimic “the military style,” which he found “very disgusting in a female." This is his description of her head-dress: “Her hair in front is craped at least a foot high, much in the form of a churn bottom upward, and topped off with a wire skeleton in the same form, covered with black gauze, which hangs in streamers down her back. Her hair behind is in a large braid, and confined with a monstrous crooked comb."

Mrs. Knox's head-dress would have had no more importance than that of any other lady of the period but that no other lady came so near to being the active head of American “society” at the outset of this government. General Knox and his wife were two people of enormous size-were, indeed, said to be the largest couple in New York-and they were as expansive in their hospitality as in their persons. The European visitors, who were abundant about that time, and especially the numerous Frenchmen who flocked to see the new republic-and who then, as now, gravitated naturally to that society where they were best amused-turned readily to Mrs. Knox's entertainments from those of Mrs. Washington. One traveller even complained of the new President that his bows were more distant and stiff than any he had seen in England. Of the other members of the cabinet, neither Hamilton, Jefferson, nor Randolph was in a position to receive company in the grand style, so that during the short period when New York was the seat of government the house of General Knox in Broadway was emphatically the centre of social vivacity for the nation.

This was a matter of some importance when more political questions were settled at the dinner-table than in public debate, and when Washington himself would invite his subordinates to discuss affairs of State “over a bottle of wine.” The social life of any community is always the foundation of its political life, and this was especially true when the United States began to exist, because there was a general suspicion in Europe that the new republic would be hopelessly plebeian. When we consider that even in 1845 an English lady of rank, trying to dissuade Dickens from visiting America, said, “Why do you not go down to Brighton, and visit the third and fourth rate people there?—that would be just the same," we know that she only expressed the current British feeling, which must have existed very much more strongly in 1789. What could be the social condition of that country whose highest official had never been in Europe, and did not speak French? Against this suspicion the six white horses of Presi

« AnteriorContinuar »