Dreams, like men, must be tested to determine what is real and good in them—or whether, on the other hand, they are not worth anything at all. Now George Washington was one of those who believed a great Dream of a strong and free American Christian Republic standing where once the thirteen divided and weak British-ruled colonies had been.
The Dream was called “The United States of America.” He and all those who shared this Dream sacrificed, fought, and eventually gained political victory, establishing the Dream as a new nation upon American shores.
Charters had been drawn up, ratified and signed by all participants, among them the Articles of Confederation, which in turn had been superceded by the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.
Wisely, the founders such as George Washington of Virginia knew that good dreams can founder for lack of a solid foundation. France was even then collapsing into utter anarchy and ruin, a nation of high civilization and learning that were the boast of Europe.
Why? Their great dream of a free and democratic France had been deliberately stripped of all Christian principles and divine anchorages in the Bible and in the existence of an Almighty God.
By human reason alone and the goodness they thought abided in the breast of every man, they thought their French Democracy would be able to stand and flourish for years and centuries to come.
Yet in the space of months it fell into the bloodbaths called by absolute despots who lorded it over the mobs of Paris--icy-hearted dictators such as Robiesperre, who thought nothing of sending innocent girls to their deaths under the blade of the guillotine for a single word spoken out of turn, or maybe it wasn’t anything even spoken, it was just something reported to the government’s spies by a shameless, unbridled gossip's tongue. France was now worse off than it had been under the Bourbons and their corrupt monarchy. Mention the very name of this nation, and the worst scenes imaginable of unleashed ferocity, inhumanity, and barbarism arose to the mind's eye!
How can we avoid the French disaster, which occurred when man trusted his own “good” nature and human reason? the founders of the American nation all wondered. They knew from each his own reading of the Bible that man was not good by nature; indeed, he had proven that fact by disobeying his Creator in the Garden of Eden, rebelling when the Creator commanded not to eat of a certain tree by eating of the tree. From that single act of rebellion came death, disease, and disunity. No, they knew better than to forget the Bible record and trust to man’s fallen, sin-flawed nature.
How may we construct a government by written contract that can be strong enough to ward off our nation’s enemies and yet preserve the liberties of the people? France soon reverted to despotism in order to curb anarchy in its midst and ward off invaders—in the process all liberties were lost. Again, the founders of the American nation resorted to the Bible and read how state powers can be divided in such a way as to check any one branch of government, or leader of that branch, from seizing dictatorial control of the whole government and nation. These means they instituted in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Yet Washington was one who realized that even with the best Constitution a nation can go awry, because men were still, with all their moral and irrational flaws, the material of which the nation was constructed.
This fact was the most troubling problem. All he and others could do was resort, again, to the Bible and to their trust in Almighty Providence to keep and preserve a free society under this new government of the people, by the people, and for the people. If the people turned to immorality, they knew, then the government would turn corrupt despite all the best procedures and laws. Once the people turned immoral, then they would elect immoral leaders.
Consequently, to strain at the gnat of despotism and then swallow a camel of immorality would gain them nothing from the revolution against King George. America would fall, miserably and surely!
Just as France had done, America would collapse in anarchy, immorality, injustice, and massacres. People, ruling as a pure democracy, would be worse than any King Louis! Revolutionary France had shown that clearly to the whole world.
No, the people must be protected by a Republican system, then the whole edifice built to protect their freedoms must in turn be undergirded by a vigilant religious conviction and training in Christianity.
Already the world had witnessed centuries of the Moslem religion, along with the Buddhist, and Hindu, not to mention the godless Rationalism of France and the so-called Enlightenment. None of these religions served liberty, as their nations had proven amply.
Christianity, however, was responsible for all the major advances in freedom since the Roman Empire’s fall despite many flaws in the character and behavior of its adherents. Despotism and corruption had crept in, of course, but Christianity always revived when there was religious conviction and training in the scriptures, and men brave enough to stand for Biblical principles against all opposition. In that way freedom was restored and won back for the people no matter how powerful and hostile the opposing forces of tyranny and false belief.
Taking Christian principles and the belief in the innate depravity of human nature the founders constructed the governmental system that became the United States of America’s federal government.
They also insured that no one church would become a tyrant over the others, as had happened in Church of England-dominated Britain.
It was to be a level playing field for all Christian churches and sects. But they also, with this system, warned repeatedly that religion and public character must never be separated.
They had witnessed the prime ministers of Britain, who could perform superbly in their public office while living the most dissolute lives. This, they knew, would surely corrupt the nation under such leaders.
Having spoken to all these pitfalls and necessities, the Virginian who was elected for two terms as the first president of the new nation should have been satisfied with his work, but he was not. He knew full well he and his colleagues had done all humanly possible, when subject to the frailties of human reason and the even great frailties of the human condition, to ensure a free union and a free society for Americans for as long as it could be possible.
But that was not enough, they knew. Should succeeding generations fail to honor the Word of God and live according to its precepts and commandments, then all that had built with such great sacrifice would eventually crumble and collapse in utter ruin.
The responsibility lay with all moral Christian men and clergymen to keep the people informed as to their great responsibility to obey God and live according to the Christian life prescribed in the Bible. Would they? Would they honor God and also teach their children to honor God? Or would they gradually turn to godless living and immorality and give up all their God-given liberties?
The Founders had clearly stated that the rights of man were not innate, or man-derived, but God-given, God-derived. What man granted, he could also take away. But the rights of man, Washington and the other founders, declared in word and document, were “inalienable” and God-granted. Man had no right to take them away from the people. This one point was the pillar that uphold the whole edifice of liberty, they knew.
Yet, after their writing thousands of letters, judicial opinions, documents, charters, and then the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights, if the people wandered from God and righteous living, the state would in turn become corrupt and despotic.
Washington himself, in his Second Inaugural Address, warned the American people repeatedly on all these points. Yet was that enough? He knew it could not be enough. So much depended on their successors remaining faithful to the Dream and to the Bible and belief in God that undergirded the Dream—and would they not forsake their inheritance just as the rebellious Israelites had forsaken their true God and gone whoring after depraved Canaanitish gods?
God had sent His prophets to warn His people again and again, and they had been stoned by the Israelites and killed. Finally, all freedom was lost, along with the nation, as foreign nations came as a judgment upon the rebellious and immoral Israelites and destroyed their once great nation.
Was this to be the American experience? Why sacrifice for the Dream and go to all the trouble to establish a new government for the American people if it were to end in such a sorry state?
Will the American people remain righteous and obey God’s Ten Commandments? No, they will not do what is right, he knew. This government too will turn despotic and corrupt, a mirror-like reaction to the corrupting of the American people!
The winter of a Dream, indeed, is a time of great peril, a time when even the dreamer begins to doubt and turn from the Dream as if it were folly and a lie.
None of the slaves were his, of course, since he had freed his wards, but his wife’s possessions he could not think to touch without her permission, since she had brought the slaves with her into the marriage union.
As long as she did not follow his example, he could only hope that she would in time—forcing her was out of the questions, since it was a matter of conscience and Christian sensibility. Moral persuasion was permitted, but never force and coercion, where conscience was involved, he believed.
What made a Christian a believer in Christ was through the offices of grace, not authority and force of superior power. Should his wife, whom he dearly loved, be treated any differently?
Nevertheless, slavery troubled and offended him deeply. He had come to detest the whole institution, which undergirded the agriculture and industry of Virginia and other states in the southern part of the country. All he could do, consequently, since force was ruled out, was to appeal to Providence to rectify the situation by working on the consciences of slave-holders.
Just as God had done with him, he hoped God would do for others who were presently holding slaves as possessions and laborers on their estates or in their shops.
Mt. Vernon was an extensive enterprise of many acres. The Dreamer who had been Founder of the Nation, then its first and second Presidents, mounted his horse to begin the tour.
Pausing to inspect the fields, shops, buildings, fencing, animals and their husbandry, and also to view the slaves’ huts and working conditions, Washington made slow but steady progress.
What he saw was out of order or unprofitably done, he put right to the best of his ability.
He had made it his strength to choose good and moral overseers such as George Rawlins, and these he charged to conduct themselves in a Christian manner, no matter what the task. He permitted no profane speech or loose talk either! He had been known to stop eating and stare at an offending guest who had dared to swear at his table.
He reviewed the accounts that were kept at various buildings of supplies, tasks, and things to be done. It was a complicated task, since he had many irons in the fire besides agriculture and sheep husbandry. In his time not spent administering the new nation for two terms, or generaling the armies in the war of liberation from King George the Tyrant, he had operated a fishery, gristmill, and a quarry. He was an inventor and architect as well. His barn was sixteen-sided to speed the processing of wheat. He was the first American agriculturalist to employ the mule, using it to pull a plow of his own invention.
Finally, when he was satisfied he had seen into and evaluated all the aspects of the operation of the estate, leaving the kitchens and the house servants for his wife to inspect, he turned his horse back home.
By this time five hours had passed, and the cold, wet day was as chilling as a winter day in Virginia could be at that date, and Washington was feeling the effects of the long tour, most of it spent outdoors.
The two-story mansion was warm, with many fireplaces kept lit by the servants and household slaves, but a chilled to the bone Washington did not feel improved after he changed his clothes and sat in his bedroom. His feet felt like ice and his throat was raw. His secretary Tobias Lear, observing his sixty-seven-year old master’s ashen complexion and hearing his raspy voice, felt he should do something.
“Sir, perhaps you ought to take some medicine for your cold.”
Washington shook his head. He knew he had gone an entire winter in the cold of Valley Forge without medicine, and so had his men. Here he was surrounded by all the warmth and luxury of his home, and then take medicine for a simple cold?
Yet as hours passed and he grew worse, Washington turned to medicine without another word from Tobias Lear. He ordered the kitchen to send up some vinegar, molasses, and butter, and he tried to drink a mixture of this in a mug, but could not get it down. Then he retired with his wife to bed.
He got no sleep, for his throat grew worse and he began to suffer from a fever. Tossing in bed, he disturbed his wife. Toward dawn, realizing he must do something more, he had a servant call George Rawlins, who had the ability to treat sick livestock and also the slaves. Rawlins drew about three-quarters of a pint of blood from Washington, which was the latest practice of medical men at the time.
Morning dawned and Washington was no better, in fact, he had grown weaker. Martha Washington called in James Craik, a doctor and close friend of Washington’s, who had done military service with him in the French and Indian War along the Pennsylvania frontier in the 1750s.
More bleeding of the patient, doses of calomel, a laxative infusion of “emetic tartar,” a poultice dressing applied to the throat called a “cantharides blister,” but the patient continue to breathe with great difficulty. When he tried to gargle with vinegar and sage tea, he choked.
In the afternoon two more doctors arrived at Mt. Vernon. They bled Washington of a full quart of blood. The patient was also given heated to steaming vinegar fumes to inhale, but the patient continued to slip from life. Desperate, the doctors applied more “blister” poultices, more calomel, and vinegar.
The old general finally, seeing no good come of any of it, called the procedures to a halt. He asked for them to allow him to die without any more interruption.
When this was made known, all of Mt. Vernon was stunned, and nothing more was done on the estate. All waited on the coming event, for it seemed unavoidable.
Washington’s wife and her personal servants had been praying for hours. Now it seemed unavailing to hope for his recovery, but the servants continued to pray. Slaves who had known the Lord’s healing (for Overseer Rawlins was not the healer he wished himself to be) turned to the wellsprings of their deep faith to aid the grand old master of Mt. Vernon—for Washington had won their deep love and trust in the Christian way he had consistently treated them all.
They all knew that if it had been his right, he would have freed his wife’s slaves at once, despite the great loss of income that would entail. Had he not freed his own slaves and taken the loss without complaint?
Prayers were uttered, in private, and sometimes together, by maids and kitchen workers. They could not imagine the estate without their good governor. What would become of them? Yes, the mistress was a wife, good woman, but it would not be the same without the master, who was most honest and upright, honored by all decent people, slave and free.
One aged slave woman, who had worked too long in the fields to be much good in the house but was kept there for her own comfort, turned to the God of her fathers in the emergency. As she was praying for the general’s recovery, she saw some things. She was lifted up as if to a grand position above the earth. She saw the whole nation spread before her. It stretched from sea to sea!
Strangely, she could still see Mt. Vernon, from which she was lifted, with herself down there praying in her little room! Yet she could see the entire nation—and how great and grand it was! Yet the carriages were unknown to her—they streaked along the many roadways without horses! And people had even taken to sky carriages by the hundreds and thousands, not to mention, uncountable boats and sea-going craft of all descriptions. It was more than this old woman could comprehend.
“Lord!” she cried, her hands extended. “Lord, have mercy!”
But the Vision held her there in her vantage point amidst the sky as she was shown other things that came flying out from various points to be seen and then, after she had viewed them, withdrawn just as quickly.
She saw a city grow in size and glory, set in the middle of the Atlantic seaboard, and it held her master’s name and also a tall spiked monument in his honor. This city sent out hands that held scepters, which then extended to all the nations of the earth.
By this she understood that this new country would rule by influence and example over all the other nations, yet it did not send forth armies and conquer them. Only now and then did other nations rise up, send forth armies and attack America, and then America’s warriors rose up and attacked and conquered them. Yet the Americans returned to their own country each time and continued working their own land.
Riches of gold and produce of all kinds continued to mount all over the rich land. Yet she saw the people divide between the South and North, and Virginia too fought against the North, and the North prevailed after many great, bloody battles. After this, while she viewed the unfolding of the Vision with amazed eyes, the nation, reunited, grew yet richer and stronger, its wounds slowly healing.
But her own people, she saw, though freed in the war, remained poor and oppressed.
And other people, the Indians, were pushed onto little pieces of land and their numbers dwindled. More wars with foreigners followed. More victories. But the rich, powerful, great nation of many, increasingly diverse people began to turn from its churches and the God-fearing, holy living of the Bible and drink and carouse and fight and steal as the heathen would do. They elected leaders who would serve their lusts.
And foreign countries rose up to attack America after she turned from God. She saw foreigners sneaking into America through the unattended, broken, wide-open gates and the towers of her cities begin to explode in fire and fall
It was eleven o’clock, as the old servant was still praying and weeping for not only the general but the nation, when a servant girl knocked and rushed in with the news of the master’s death.
The great Dreamer had died, but had his Great Dream perished with him?
Hearing of Washington’s demise, the architect and inventor William Thorton rushed to Mt. Vernon. He knew how to raise the dead, he believed. Rubbing the skin, blowing air into the lungs, transfusing him with lamb’s blood, he thought Washington could be restored to life! But the Washington household opposed it, and Thornton was not allowed to touch the dead man lying in state in the master bedroom.
One old slave woman, nodding to sleep in her room, had heard of such things being done, but she knew better. “It is God’s will he be taken now,” she thought. The Lord, she knew, even after showing her all the things to come, never put a burden of prayer on her for her master’s recovery. No, it was rather for the nation the Lord had shown her all things—and the sake of her people, who remained oppressed in the land.
“Someday they will be free,” she thought. “It will take a bloody war, brother against brother, to decide it for us! Yet that won’t decide it altogether. And even when we grow rich, many of us, just like our white masters, even when many of us live in all these big, fine houses and drive those swift-as-the-wind horseless chariots I seen, that won’t be all to good. For this nation will be turnin’ from God, and we will suffer many things, many things for our evil-doing…”
The old woman fell asleep as the whole nation around her roused itself to grieve Washington’s death. There was one other thing she knew too. The master’s heart-—it couldn’t go on much longer anyway. It bore, the Lord had shown her, a great golden Ark that held the freedom of the people like a rainbow, but the rainbow escaped out of the Ark and fled away even while the people danced around it, throwing off their clothes and getting drunk.
Feeling the loss of the rainbow, the master’s heart had begun to slow and die, like an eagle’s heart would die when it was made captive and not allowed to fly. Only the Lord had given her a promise He had not given the master: the rainbow would return after a time away, returning to a despairing people who were chained with many shackles and bonds.
As they turned back to God and cried out to Him, He would hear their cries and forgive them, and send back his rainbow to arch over the land in all its glory.
Seeing this great promise, that is why she could sigh and slip off into sleep with contentment while others sank in grief and mourning.
Yet her master perhaps saw the same end after all. At ten’oclock, after giving his last instructions for the burial of his body, Washington asked Lear, “Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” said the grief-stricken secretary. Washington, the Great Dreamer who himself was tested for faithfulness to the truths he knew about God and man and nations, then spoke his final words. “’Tis well.”
And his Great Dream? --only time would tell.