BY HAMILTON WRIGHT MABIE
On the 4th of March, 1797, Washington went to the inauguration of his successor as President of the United States. The Federal Government was sitting in Philadelphia at that time, and Congress held sessions in the courthouse on the corner of Sixth and Chestnut Streets.
At the appointed hour Washington entered the hall, followed by John Adams, who was to take the oath of office. When they were seated, Washington arose and introduced Mr. Adams to the audience, and then proceeded to read in a firm, clear voice his brief valedictory—not his great “Farewell Address,” for that had already been published. A lady who sat on “the front bench,” “immediately in front” of Washington, describes the scene in these words:
There was a narrow passage from the door of entrance to the room. General Washington stopped at the end to let Mr. Adams pass to the chair. The latter always wore a full suit of bright drab, with loose cuffs to his coat. General Washington’s dress was a full suit of black. His military hat had the black cockade. There stood the “Father of his Country,” acknowledged by nations the first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. No marshals with gold-colored scarfs attended him; there was no cheering, no noise; the most profound silence greeted him as if the great assembly desired to hear him breathe. Mr. Adams covered his face with both his hands; the sleeves of his coat and his hands were covered with tears. Every now and then there was a suppressed sob. I cannot describe Washington’s appearance as I felt it—perfectly composed and self-possessed till the close of his address. Then, when strong nervous sobs broke loose, when tears covered the faces, then the great man was shaken. I never took my eyes from his face. Large drops came from his eyes. He looked as if his heart was with them, and would be to the end.
On Washington’s retirement from the Presidency one of his first employments was to arrange his papers and letters. Then, on returning to his home, the venerable master found many things to repair. His landed estate comprised eight thousand acres, and was divided into farms, with inclosures and farm buildings. And now, with body and mind alike sound and vigorous, he bent his energies to directing the improvements that marked his last days at Mount Vernon.
In his earlier as well as in later life, his tour of the farms would average from eight to twelve or fourteen miles a day. He rode upon his farms entirely unattended, opening his gates, pulling down and putting up his fences as he passed, visiting his laborers at their work, inspecting all the operations of his extensive establishment with a careful eye, directing useful improvements, and superintending them in their progress.