The Trumpet Sounds Again


Washington rode beyond Baltimore to spend the night at Montpelier, near Elk Ridge Landing, Maryland. He had traversed this region before when vainly seeking shipping that would carry his army and that of his French allies down the Chesapeake to attack Cornwallis at Yorktown. Old strains, old memories crowded in upon him, jostling away the vision of the quiet fields of Mount Vernon. Four days later, after being buffeted by much bad weather and delayed for a night because the Susquehanna River was too storm-agitated to cross, Washington reached Philadelphia. “On my arrival,” he noted, “the Bells were chimed.”

That Washington set off so reluctantly and sadly to an event which was to be among the supreme ones in American history helped make that event important. Had he leapt to the constitutional call, like a war horse at the sound of the bugle, suspicion would have been raised that the Virginia landholder was serving his interests and those of his class. His long and painful hesitation not only absolved him of selfish motives but, when he felt he could no longer refuse, dramatized the significance of the meeting.

In a letter involving three future presidents of the United States, James Monroe wrote Thomas Jefferson about George Washington: “To forsake the honorable retreat to which he had retired and risk the reputation he had so deservedly acquired, manifested a zeal for the publick interest, that could after so many and illustrious services, and at this stage of his life, scarsely have been expected of him.” And Knox wrote Lafayette, “Secure as he was in his fame, he has again committed it to the mercy of events. Nothing but the critical situation of his country would have induced him to so hazardous a conduct.”