American History Stories—Volume III. - Mara L. Pratt

Washington's Administration

Ad-min-is-tra'-tion is a large word, perhaps you think. But, after all, it isn't very much larger than Revolution, or Constitution; and when you come to know what it means, and why we have to use it, you will find it just as easy as many words which are perhaps not quite so long.

While a President holds his office we speak of it as his administration; and those events which occur while a certain person is President, are always spoken of as the events of that President's administration.

Although it was no doubt a great honor to have been chosen first President of the United States, and although it must have been very pleasant to Washington to know that his people so loved and trusted him, still he knew there was hard, hard work ahead, and no little worriment; for, although the States had accepted the Constitution, still there were persons here and there who still clung to the idea of having each State rule itself without any President at all or any Congress; others there were, who had wanted a king and who would have much preferred to keep the government out of the hands of the common people. All these critics were of course watching every movement of the new President, ready to find fault, and say, "Just what we expected," if the least thing went wrongly. Then, too, there were other difficulties. The treasury was nearly empty, and no other nation was willing to lend money to this new government; the Indians were rioting, burning and plundering on the frontiers; pirates from the Barbary States were attacking American ships and putting American seamen into prison; Spain had refused to allow the Americans the use of the Mississippi River for their trade; England, too, would not make any treaty of commerce with the new country—and, worst of all, there was the empty treasury—no money with which to raise armies to fight the Indians; no money with which to send ships to attack the Barbary States; no money to offer Spain; no money even with which to pay the old debts of the Revolution. A perplexing place it was, indeed, for Washington and his cabinet. But they were equal to the occasion. Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, managed the money affairs so successfully that he has ever since been held up as an example of wisdom to all succeeding Treasurers. He established a National Bank, and levied taxes in order to raise the money which the government so much needed.

I shall not attempt to tell you how all these things were brought about, for you could not understand it, and it would not be very interesting to you even if you could.

All I want you to remember just now is, that Washington and his Cabinet were very wise in their dealings with all these troubles—so wise that, when, eight years later, Washington retired from public life, the money troubles were greatly improved, the Indians had been held back, Spain had been made to allow the Americans the use of the Mississippi, and the Barbary States had given up the prisoners, and had promised not to interfere further with American vessels.

The country, you see, was in a far better condition than it had been when, eight years before, Washington was made President.

As the President's term is four years, Washington had, you will understand, served two terms. As the time for a third election drew near, Washington resigned his office, saying that he had tried to serve his country faithfully through its darkest hours, and that now, being sixty-five years old, he wished to retire to his home at Mt. Vernon and spend the rest of this life in rest and quiet.

There had been on all sides men who said, during Washington's administration, "Washington will be King yet. He means to be King. He will hold his office until he is  King." But I wonder what these men said when, at the end of the second term, Washington so quietly and modestly retired to his own home, thus proving how little he cared for public life except when his country needed him.

Washington did not live very long after his return to his home. Not many months had passed when there came news of his sudden death.

Every possible honor was paid this brave, good man, the Father of his Country, as he was called. In England and France even, the highest honors were paid him. The English ships were ordered to wear their flags at half mast, and the French ruler ordered that the banners be draped with crape.

Wherever Washington's name was mentioned, it was always with tender reverence and love.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - III by Mara L. Pratt