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In writing the Lives of the Presidents of the United States, it has been difficult to preserve the strict impartiality which the nature of the work requires, and avoid running either into eulogy or abuse. The circumstances of their administration are so recent, that one who has lived through the greater portion of them, and entered into all the excited feelings of party strife, can hardly be supposed capable of divesting himself of prejudices, and passions, however much he may desire to be an honest chronicler of the times. We can only say, that it has been our sincere aim and endeavor to see near events with the eye of a distant spectator, and to anticipate the dispassionate judgment which posterity will pass upon the great men who have admi"nistered our Government. The affairs of the last twenty years are yet hardly ripe for the biographer, and the materials for their history are scattered in various directions, and to be drawn from many different sources. That all those sources should be pure, is more than can be expected; but we have uniformly endeavored to resort only to those least exposed to suspicion.
For the materials of our work, we owe much obligation to many distinguished writers. To the Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, by a gentleman who has done a great deal for the illustration of American history, we have been much indebted in the course of the volume, and particularly in our summary of their biographies. To the eloquent eulogist of Mr. Monroe, to Marshall, Bancroft, Ramsay, Thacher, Tudor, Wirt, Lee, Jefferson, Irving, Knapp, the author of a Biographical Sketch of J. Q. Adams, Goodrich, Hinton, the editor of Ame
rican Anecdotes, the author of the History of the United States, published in Lardner's Cyclopædia, to Eaton, Goodwin, the editors of the Annual Register and North American Review, and many others, of whose labors we have had occasion to avail ourselves, we take this opportunity of noticing our repeated obligations. It is idle, in a work of this description, to pretend to originality, and unfair not to acknowledge the sources to which we have been indebted.
We hope that our readers will find in this work all that has been promised, and indeed more. Of its imperfections no one can be more aware than ourself; but of its impartiality and honesty we believe that no one will have reason to doubt.
R. W. LINCOLN. New-YORK, JULY 20, 1833.
LIVES OF THE PRESIDENTS.
There is no individual whose life is more completely identified with the history of his country, than is that of George Washington. Notwithstanding the order, dignity, and beauty of his private character, there are many whose private life would furnish much more interesting subjects to the pen of a biographer. The interest of his life depends upon more important circumstances than personal adventure, or romantic incident. It rests upon his connexion with the great events, which led to the independence of his country, and which, in their still spreading and accumulating effects, may break up the institutions of tyranny all over the globe.
GEORGE WASHINGTON was born at Bridge's Creek, in Westmoreland county, Virginia, on the twenty-second of February, 1732. He was the son of Augustine Washington, a descendant of one of the earliest settlers of the first English colony in America, who died when his son George was about ten years of age. The education of the orphan devolved upon his mother, who devoted herself to the task with a zeal and industry, for which she afterwards reaped an ample reward. The means of education at that period were of course very limited, and a grammatical knowledge of the English language, mathematics, history, natural and moral philosophy, formed the course of his youthful studies. Of this education, mathematics formed by far the most important part. This was of great advantage to him in early life, in qualifying him for the office of practical surveyor, and in later years in its connexion with military science. At the
age of fifteen, he was desirous to enter into active life, and obtained the birth of a midshipman in the British navy; but the anxiety of an affectionate mother dissuaded him from the adoption of this course of life.
Of the early youth of Washington, no authentic anecdotes have been preserved. He has been described by his contemporaries as grave, silent, and thoughtful ; diligent in his business; correct in his deportment, and strictly honorable in all his conduct. His patrimony was small, but managed with prudent industry. Of the estimation in which he was held, even when quite young, we may judge, from his being appointed one of the adjutants general of Virginia, at the age of nineteen. When hardly twenty-one, he was employed by the government of his native colony in an enterprise of very considerable importance.