Item of the Day: Timothy Dwight’s Discourse on the Character of George Washington (1800)

Full Title: A Discourse Delivered at New-Haven, Feb. 22, 1800; On the Character of George Washington, Esq. at the Request of the Citizens. By Timothy Dwight . . . New-Haven: Printed by Thomas Green and Son, 1800.

. . . GENERAL WASHINGTON  was great, not be means of that brilliancy of mind, often appropriately termed genius, and usually coveted for ourselves, and our children; and almost as usually attended with qualities, which preclude wisdom, and depreciate or forbid worth; but by a constitutional character more happily formed. His mind was indeed inventive, and full of resources; but his energy appears to have been originally directed to that which is practical and useful, and not to that which is shewy and specious. His judgment was clear and intuitive beyond that of most who have lived, and seemed instinctively to discern the proper answer to the celebrated Roman question: Cui bono erit? To this his incessant attention, and unweared observation, which nothing, whether great or minute, escaped, doubtless contributed in a high degree. What he observed he treasured up, and thus added daily to his stock of useful knowledge. Hence, although his early education was in a degree confined, his mind became possessed of extensive, various, and exact information. Perhaps there never was a mind, on which theoretical speculations had less influence, and the decisions of common sense more.

At the same time, no man ever more earnestly or uniformly sought advice, or regarded it, when given, with more critical attention. The opinions of friends and enemies, of those who abetted, and of those who opposed, his own system, he explored and secured alike. His own opinions, also, he submitted to his proper counsellours, and often to others; with a demand, that they should be sifted, and exposed, without any tenderness to them because they were his; insisting, that they should be considered as opinions merely, and, as such, should be subjected to the freest and most severe investigation.

When any measure of importance was to be acted on, he delayed the formation of his judgment until the last moment; that he might secure to himself, alway [sic], the benefit of every hint, opinion, and circumstance, which might contribute either to confirm, or to change, his decision. Hence, probably, it is a great measure arose, that he was so rarely committed; and that his decisions have so rarely produced regret, and have been so clearly justified both by their consequences and the judgment of mankind.

With this preparation, he formed a judgment finally and wholly his own; and although no man was ever more anxious before a measure was adopted, probably no man was ever less anxious afterward. He had done his duty, and left the issue to Providence . . .

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Filed under 1800's, Oratory, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Sermons, Washington

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