Front Page Titles (by Subject) IN CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIV (1798-1799)
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IN CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. XIV (1798-1799) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. XIV (1798-1799).
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The first intimation of the death of GeneralWashington,was given to Congress on the 18th of December, in the following manner:
Mr. Marshall, in a voice that bespoke the anguish of his mind, and a countenance expressive of the deepest regret, rose, and delivered himself as follows:
“Information has just been received, that our illustrious fellow-citizen, the Commander in Chief of the American Armies and the late President of the United States, is no more.
“Though this distressing intelligence is not certain, there is too much reason to believe its truth. After receiving information of this national calamity, so heavy and so afflicting, the House of Representatives can be but ill fitted for public business. I move you therefore, they adjourn.”
The motion was unanimously agreed to; and the House adjourned till to-morrow morning, 11 o’clock.
This event was confirmed officially by a message from the President communicating a letter from Tobias Lear, Esq. private secretary to General Washington.
Gentlemen of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives.
The letter herewith transmitted will inform you that it has pleased Divine Providence to remove from this life, our excellent fellow-citizen GEORGE WASHINGTON, by the purity of his character and a long series of services to his country, rendered illustrious through the world. It remains for an affectionate and grateful people, in whose hearts he can never die, to pay suitable honor to his memory.
Mount Vernon, December 16, 1799.
It is with inexpressible grief that I have to announce to you the death of the great and good General WASHINGTON. He died last evening between 10 and 11 o’clock, after a short illness of about 24 hours. His disorder was an inflammatory sore throat, which proceeded from a cold, of which he made but little complaint on Friday. On Saturday morning about 3 o’clock he became ill. Doctor Dick attended him in the morning, and Dr. Craick, of Alexandria, and Dr. Brown, of Port Tobacco, were soon after called in. Every medical assistance was offered, but without the desired effect. His last scene corresponded with the whole tenor of his life. Not a groan or a complaint escaped him, in extreme distress. With perfect resignation and a full possession of his reason he closed his well spent life.
I have the honor to be, &c.
Mr. Marshall with deep sorrow on his countenance, and in a low, pathetic tone of voice, rose and addressed the House as follows:
The melancholy event which was yesterday announced with doubt, has been rendered but too certain. OUR WASHINGTON is no more! The hero, the sage, and the patriot of America—the man on whom in times of danger every eye was turned and all hopes were placed, lives now, only in his own great actions, and in the hearts of an affectionate and afflicted people.
If, sir, it had even not been usual openly to testify respect for the memory of those whom Heaven had selected as its instruments for dispensing good to men, yet such has been the uncommon worth, and such the extraordinary incidents which have marked the life of him whose loss we all deplore, that the whole American nation, impelled by the same feelings, would call with one voice for a public manifestation of that sorrow which is so deep and so universal.
More than any other individual, and as much as to one individual was possible, has he contributed to found this our wide-spreading empire, and to give to the western world its independence and its freedom.
Having effected the great object for which he was placed at the head of our armies, we have seen him convert the sword into the ploughshare, and voluntarily sink the soldier into the citizen.
When the debility of our federal system had become manifest, and the bonds which connected the parts of this vast continent were dissolving, we have seen him the chief of those patriots who formed for us a constitution, which, by preserving the union, will, I trust, substantiate and perpetuate those blessings our revolution had promised to bestow.
In obedience to the general voice of his country, calling on him to preside over a great people, we have seen him once more quit the retirement he loved, and in a season more stormy and tempestuous than war itself, with calm and wise determination, pursue the true interest of the nation, and contribute more than any other could contribute, to the establishment of that system of policy, which will, I trust, yet preserve our peace, our honor, and our independence.
Having been twice unanimously chosen the chief magistrate of a free people, we see him, at a time when his re-election with the universal suffrage could not have been doubted, affording to the world a rare instance of moderation by withdrawing from his high station to the peaceful walks of private life.
However the public confidence may change, and the public affection may fluctuate with respect to others, yet with respect to him they have, in war and in peace, in public and in private life, been as steady as his own firm mind, and as constant as his own exalted virtues.
Let us then, Mr. Speaker, pay the last tribute of respect and affection to our departed friend. Let the grand council of the nation display those sentiments which the nation feels.
For this purpose I hold in my hand some resolutions which I will take the liberty to offer to the House.
“Resolved, That this House will wait on the President of the United States, in condolence of this mournful event.
“Resolved, That the Speaker’s chair be shrouded in black, and that the members and the officers of the House wear black during session.
“Resolved, 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 country.
“Resolved, That this House when it adjourn, do adjourn to Monday.”1
These resolutions were unanimously agreed to.—Sixteen members were appointed on the third resolution.
Generals Marshall and Smith who were appointed to wait on the President with the first resolution, reported, that the President would be ready to receive them at one o’clock this day. The House accordingly waited on him.
The Speaker addressed the President in the following words:
The House of Representatives, penetrated with a sense of the irreparable loss sustained by the nation, by the death of that great and good man, the illustrious and beloved WASHINGTON, wait on you, sir, to express their condolence on this melancholy and distressing event.
To which the President made the following answer:
Gentlemen of the House of Representatives,
I receive with great respect and affection the condolence of the House of Representatives on the melancholy and afflicting event in the death of the most illustrious and beloved personage which this country ever produced. I sympathize with you, with the nation, and with the good men through the world, in this irreparable loss sustained by us all.
A message was received from the Senate informing the House that they had agreed to the appointment of a joint committee, to consider a suitable manner of paying honor to the memory of the man first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his country, and that they had appointed seven members to join a committee of the House for that purpose.
Agreeably to the first resolution the House waited on the President, whom they addressed in the following words:
The Senate of the United States respectfully take leave, sir, to express to you their deep regret for the loss their country sustains in the death of General GEORGE WASHINGTON.
This event, so distressing to all our fellow citizens, must be peculiarly heavy to you, who have long been associated with him in deeds of patriotism. Permit us, sir, to mingle our tears with yours: on this occasion it is manly to weep. To lose such a man at such a crisis is no common calamity to the world; our country mourns her father. The Almighty disposer of human events has taken from us our greatest benefactor and ornament. It becomes us to submit with reverence to him, who “maketh darkness his pavilion.”
With patriotic pride we review the life of our WASHINGTON, and compare him with those of other countries who have been pre-eminent in fame. Ancient and modern names are diminished before him. Greatness and guilt have too often been allied; but his fame is whiter than it is brilliant. The destroyers of nations stood abashed at the majesty of his virtue. It proved the intemperance of victory. The scene is closed, and we are no longer anxious lest misfortune should sully his glory; he has travelled on to the end of his journey and carried with him an encreasing weight of honor; he has deposited it safely, where misfortune cannot tarnish it, where malice cannot blast it. Favored of Heaven, he departed without exhibiting the weakness of humanity; magnanimous in death, the darkness of the grave could not obscure his brightness.
Such was the man whom we deplore. Thanks to God, his glory is consummated. WASHINGTON yet lives on earth in his spotless example—his spirit is in Heaven.
Let his countrymen consecrate the memory of the heroic general, the patriotic statesman, and the virtuous sage; let them teach their children never to forget that the fruits of his labors, and his example are their inheritance.
To which the President returned the following answer:
Gentlemen of the Senate,
I receive with the most respectful and affectionate sentiments, in this impressive address, the obliging expressions of your regret for the loss our country has sustained, in the death of her most esteemed, beloved, and admired citizen.
In the multitude of my thoughts and recollections, on this melancholy event, you will permit me only to say, that I have seen him in the days of adversity, in some of the scenes of his deepest and most trying perplexities; I have also attended him in his highest elevation and most prosperous felicity; with uniform admiration of his wisdom, moderation and constancy.
Among all our original associates, in that memorable league of the continent in 1774, which first expressed the sovereign will of a free nation in America, he was the only one remaining in the general government. Although, with a constitution more enfeebled than his, at an age when he thought it necessary to prepare for retirement, I feel myself alone, bereaved of my last brother; yet I derive a strong consolation from the unanimous disposition, which appears in all ages and classes, to mingle their sorrows with mine, on this common calamity to the world.
The life of our WASHINGTON cannot suffer by a comparison with those of other countries, who have been most celebrated and exalted by fame. The attributes and decorations of royalty, could have only served to eclipse the majesty of those virtues, which made him, from being a modest citizen, a more resplendent luminary. Misfortune, had he lived, could hereafter have sullied his glory only with those superficial minds, who, believing that characters and actions are marked by success alone, rarely deserve to enjoy it. Malice could never blast his honor, and envy made him a single exception to her universal rule. For himself he had lived enough, to life and to glory. For his fellow-citizens, if their prayers could have been answered, he would have been immortal. For me, his departure is at a most unfortunate moment. Trusting, however, in the wise and righteous dominion of Providence over the passions of men, and the results of their councils and actions, as well as over their lives, and nothing remains for me, but humble resignation.
His example is now complete, and it will teach wisdom and virtue to magistrates, citizens, and men, not only in the present age, but in future generations, as long as our history shall be read. If a Trajan found a Pliny, a Marcus Aurelius can never want biographers, eulogists or historians.
In the House of Representatives General Marshall made a report from the joint committee appointed to consider a suitable mode of commemorating the death of General WASHINGTON.
He reported the following resolutions:
Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That a marble monument be erected by the United States at the capitol of the city of Washington, and that the family of General WASHINGTON be requested to permit his body to be deposited under it, and that the monument be so designed as to commemorate the great events of his military and political life.
And be it further resolved, That there be a funeral procession from Congress hall to the German Lutheran church, in memory of General GEORGE WASHINGTON, on Thursday the 26th inst., and that an oration be prepared at the request of Congress, to be delivered before both Houses that day; and that the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, be desired to request one of the members of Congress to prepare and deliver the same.
And be it further resolved, That it be recommended to the people of the United States, to wear crape on their left arm, as mourning, for thirty days.
And be it further resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to direct a copy of these resolutions to be transmitted to Mrs. Washington, assuring her of the profound respect Congress will ever bear for her person and character, of their condolence on the late affecting dispensation of Providence, and entreating her assent to the interment of the remains of General WASHINGTON in the manner expressed in the first resolution.
And be it further resolved, That the President of the United States be requested to issue his proclamation, notifying the people throughout the United States, the recommendation contained in the third resolution.
These resolutions passed both Houses unanimously.
[1 ]“Your letter of the 25th reached me last night. The transaction concerning which you enquire passed in the following manner. As the stage passed through Philadelphia some passenger mentioned to a friend he saw in the street the death of General Washington. The report flew to the hall of Congress and I was asked to move an adjournment. I did so. General Lee was not at the time in the House. On receiving the intelligence, which he did on the first arrival of the stage, he retired to his room and prepared the resolutions which were adopted, with the intention of offering them himself. But the House of Representatives had risen on my motion, and it was expected by all that I would on the next day announce the lamented event and propose resolutions adapted to the occasion. General Lee immediately called on me and shewed me his resolutions. He said it had now become improper for him to offer them, and wished me to take them. As I had not written anything myself and was pleased with his resolutions which I entirely approved I told him I would offer them the next day, when I should state to the House of Representatives the confirmation of the melancholy intelligence received the preceding day. I did so. You will see the facts stated in a note to the preface to the Life of Washington, p. v, and again in a note to the 5th Vol., p. 765.”—Marshall to Charles W. Hanson, 29 March, 1832.