Saturday, December 31, 2016

Why Canada Is Not Part Of The United States

The two groups trudged through the darkness, under cover of a raging blizzard, footsteps muffled by the gathering snow.  They planned to approach the lower part of the town from opposite sides, meet in the center and then storm the upper town together, surprising the sleeping garrison.

The larger group met resistance in the lower town.  The dynamic and inspirational commander was wounded in the leg and carried off the field, but his subordinate led the remaining men into the upper town, where they then found themselves alone as the enemy troops rallied - where was the other contingent?

The smaller group, led by the overall commander of the little army, had encountered a blockhouse as they entered the lower town.  The outnumbered defenders fired a shot from their lone cannon, before retreating.  It hit the commander in the head, killing him instantly.  His command fell apart, and in the ensuing confusion most of the attackers were captured.  One of the few to escape was a future Vice President of the United States.

Abandoned in the upper town, the other group fought on, until surrounded and without hope of rescue, they surrendered.  It was all over.

It was the early morning hours of December 31, 1775.  The commander of the larger group was Benedict Arnold (see September 1780), his subordinate was Daniel Morgan, who after confinement on a British prison ship would be repatriated and then, five years later, demolish a British force at the pivotal Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina (see October 1780).  The dead commander was Richard Montgomery, and the officer who escaped was Aaron Burr, American's third Vice-President, the killer of Alexander Hamilton, organizer of a murky conspiracy to divide the newborn United States, and the reigning rogue and scoundrel of the early American Republic.

(Montgomery, Arnold, Morgan, Burr)

The invasion of Canada was born out of the early successes of the American rebels.  By the summer of 1775, the Continental Army, under newly appointed General George Washington, besieged the British in Boston.  In New York, Fort Ticonderoga, recently captured in a daring raid led by Ethan Allen and Arnold, protected the Hudson River Valley.  To the north lay Canada, a British bastion and potential launching point for invasion against the rebellious colonies.  The Americans were also aware that most Canadians were French Catholics who only became subjects of the British Protestants in 1763.  Out of these circumstances arose the idea of an American attack on Canada with the expectation that the French settlers would rise in support.

The Americans advanced on two fronts.  About 1,200 men under General Richard Montgomery left Fort Ticonderoga, heading north towards Montreal, which was captured in mid-November, reaching the area around the city of Quebec (capital of British Canada) on December 2.  Upon his arrival, he found Colonel Arnold and 600 ragged soldiers, survivors of one of the epic marches in American history.

Arnold set out on his expedition with 1100 men, and carrying orders from General Washington to allow freedom of conscience for Canadian Catholics;
 "While we are Contending for own own Liberty, we should be very cautious of violating the Rights of Conscience in others; ever considering that God alone is the Judge of the Hearts of Men and to him only in this Case they are answerable", (see All Possess Alike Liberty of Conscience)
His expedition left Fort Western (now Augusta, Maine) on September 25.  One battalion, commanded by Captain Morgan, consisted of his well-trained Pennsylvania and Virginia riflemen.  Little was known of the wild, wooded and wet route to Quebec City from Maine.  Arnold thought it was less than 200 miles; it was actually 350.   For the next 45 days the expedition battled heavy rain, snow, flooding, cold, and starvation.  The survivors reached the St Lawrence River opposite Quebec on November 9.  The American portion of Arnold's route was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and you can find an excellent fictional retelling of the ordeal in Kenneth Roberts' Arundel (1938).

The combined American force was about 1,200.  The British, well-provisioned inside the fortified city, totalled about 1,500.  The Americans had little artillery, were ill-equipped for the winter, and the enlistments of Arnold's men expired on January 1. Knowing substantial British reinforcements would be arriving in the spring, Montgomery and Arnold decided to risk storming the city.

The snowstorm that started on the night of December 30, 1775 provided perfect cover for the American approach and they moved out around 4am the next morning.  Though the attack went awry, Benedict Arnold refused to raise the siege, maintaining it despite being outnumbered three to one and not leaving the Quebec area until early May of 1776, when reinforcements arrived from Britain.  Montreal was recaptured by the British from the retreating Americans the next month.

With the expedition's failure, America's dream of conquering (or liberating, depending on your perspective), Canada was ended; at least until it was revived, and again left unfulfilled, in the War of 1812.

The British attempted to move south into New York in the late summer and early fall of 1776 to take advantage of the disarray among the Americans.  Their plans were thwarted by Arnold, who oversaw the building from scratch of a fleet of American gunboats to be used on Lake Champlain, which he used to battle the British to a standstill at the Battle of Valcour Island in October 1776, delaying British plans for a further advance until 1777.

The Americans put the year they gained to good use, building a large army in the Albany area, and then defeating and capturing a British army commanded by Johnny Burgoyne.  Once again Benedict Arnold played a key role, rallying the Americans at a critical moment at the Second Battle of Saratoga and, once again, suffering a severe leg wound.  Riflemen commanded by the recently released Daniel Morgan, inflicted large casualties on the British forces in both Saratoga battles. The American victory led directly to the decision of the King of France to enter the war against England in support of the American rebels.

The Canada campaign contained quite a rogue's gallery on the American side.  In addition to Arnold and Burr, there was also James Wilkinson, who joined Arnold as an aide during his retreat from Quebec.  Wilkinson went on to become part of Horatio Gates' efforts to remove George Washington as commander of American forces, and later, as commander of the United States Army in the 1800s, was in cahoots with Burr in his conspiracy, while also serving as a spy for Spain (for more, read The General Was A Spy)!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mother & Daughter

Carrie Fisher watching her mom, Debbie Reynolds, performing in Las Vegas, 1963.

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Different Kind Of Christmas

On Christmas Day in 438 the Praetorian Prefect of Italy, Glabrio Faustus, hosted a gathering at his luxurious home in Rome.  Assembled were the members of the Roman Senate, there for the presentation of the new compilation of Roman Law, the Theodosian Code, so-named after the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius (408-50), at whose direction the new code was compiled. Abe Books)

It was a well-rehearsed ceremony in which the attendees enthusiastically, and repetitively, endorsed the code.  Some of exhortations were the usual flattery of the Emperor:
"As Roman Emperors [Theodosius in the East, Valentinian in the West], pious and felicitous, may You rule for may years!" (repeated 22 times)    
But many others illustrate that bureaucracy has been around forever:.
"We give thanks for this regulation of Yours!" (repeated 23 times)
"Let many copies of the Code be made to be kept in the governmental offices!" (10 times)
"In order that the established laws may not be falsified, let all copies be written down in letters!" (18 times)
"To this copy which will be made by the constitutionaries, let no annotations upon the law be added!" (12 times)
"We request that copies to be kept in the imperial bureaux shall be made at public expense!" (16 times)
"You have removed the ambiguities of the imperial constitutions!" (23 times)
There's a lot more.  It's been calculated that with all the exhortations and repetitions, the shouting (in Latin) would have lasted for 40 minutes.  Sounds like a lot of fun.  Hope they exchanged gifts afterwards.


The Fall of the Roman Empire by Peter Heather.  According to Heather, minutes of this meeting in Rome were incorporated into the Preface to official copies of the Code made after 443.  The only surviving copy is an eleventh century manuscript copied from an earlier version of the Code, and preserved in the Ambrosian Library in Milan, Italy.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

General Washington Returns His Commission

The painting General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull(Washington Returns His Commission, painting by John Trumbull (1824), on display in rotunda of U.S. Capitol)

On December 23, 1783 General George Washington strode into the State House in Annapolis, Maryland, wearing his finest uniform.  Waiting for him was the entire Continental Congress and a full gallery of spectators.  The General was there to return his commission as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, a commission accepted from Congress at Philadelphia on June 16, 1775.  He'd held it for eight and a half years, a longer span than the Civil War and World War Two combined; of longer duration than the two terms Washington would serve as our first President.

There were times during those years that the new nation's prospects seemed dim, particularly in November 1776 (see The Jersey Campaign), and again in September 1780, when on top of a series of battlefield reversals he was betrayed by a highly trusted subordinate, General Benedict Arnold.  There were conspiracies to replace him as Commander in Chief with one of his rivals.  He and the army endured a terrible winter at Valley Forge (1777-8), and an even worse one at Morristown (1779-80), along with continued frustration at the failure of Congress to adequately supply and pay his troops, culminating in a potential revolt by his own officers at Newburgh, NY, earlier in 1783 which he'd defused by declaring his opposition and invoking their own sense of honor: 
And let me conjure you, in the name of our common Country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the Military and National character of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the Man who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our Country, and who wickedly attempts to open the flood Gates of Civil discord, and deluge our rising Empire in blood. By thus determining, and thus acting, you … will, by the dignity of your Conduct, afford occasion for Posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to Mankind, ‘had this day been wanting, the World had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining’ 
And then, in his closing remarks, upon pulling out a letter to read to the assemblage, reaching into his pocket to pull out a pair of spectacles, remarking:
"Gentleman, you must pardon me, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in service to my country."
The army and the nation had persevered and now it was time for the General to go home to his beloved Mount Vernon, to which he'd returned only once since leaving in May 1775.

All involved understood the significance of the moment.  Not only at Newburgh, but throughout the war, as well as in his Farewell Order to the Army in November 1783, Washington stressed the subordination of the military to the civilian government.  He would be Cincinnatus, returning to his plow, not Caesar nor, looking to the future, Bonaparte.  He and Congress planned every detail to emphasize this point.

Washington left New York City on December 5, after a farewell meeting with his officers at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan.  Accompanied by several aides, he rode through New Jersey to Philadelphia and then on to Annapolis via Delaware, feted along the way by officials and citizens, along roads frequently lit by bonfires in his honor.

The day after his arrival, he wrote Thomas Mifflin, President of Congress, inquiring as to the desire of Congress regarding the proper way for Washington to return his commission, whether by letter or in person.  Congress decided on a public audience to be held on the 23rd, as well as appointing Thomas Jefferson, Elbridge Gerry and James McHenry to draft a response to the General's speech.  While Jefferson is a figure familiar to us today, the others were also well-known at the time.  Mifflin was a Pennsylvania merchant and first Quartermaster General of the Continental Army.  He became President of Congress in November 1783, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and first governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, serving for nine years.  Gerry was a Massachusetts merchant, an early supporter of independence, serving in the Continental Congress in 1776.  Although a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he was one of three to vote against the document.  Later elected governor of Massachusetts, he also served as Vice-President during the second term of James Madison.  McHenry, a physician from Maryland and aide to Washington and Lafayette during the war, delegate to the Constitutional Convention and, from 1796 to 1800, Secretary of War under Washington and John Adams, is the man for whom Ft McHenry in Baltimore Harbor was named.

An entertainment was held the evening before at Mann's Tavern, followed by a ball given by the Maryland General Assembly.  The General opened by dancing with one of the ladies, and reportedly danced every dance that evening (George was reputed to be a very good dancer).

When Washington entered the State House late the next morning, members of Congress remained seated, a gesture meant to emphasize the primacy of civilian over military.  The General also took a seat, though the surrounding crowd remained standing.  President Mifflin announced Congress was in session and assembled to hear a communication from General Washington.  The General rose and spoke:

The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I have now the honor of offering my sincere Congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the Service of my Country.

Happy in the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, and pleased with the opportunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable Nation, I resign with satisfaction the Appointment I accepted with diffidence. A diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our Cause, the support of the Supreme Power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.

The Successful termination of the War has verified the most sanguine expectations, and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my Countrymen, increases with every review of the momentous Contest.

While I repeat my obligations to the Army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar Services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the War. It was impossible the choice of confidential Officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in Service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice and patronage of Congress.

I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.

Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action; and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.
Image 160 of 164, George Washington, December 23, 1783, Resignation

Washington then handed his commission and a copy of the speech to President Mifflin, who responded, ". . .  Called upon by your country to defend its invaded rights, you accepted the sacred charge, before it had formed alliances, and whilst it was without funds or a government to support you . . .", ending with these words:
And for you we address to him our earnest prayers, that a life so beloved may be fostered with all his care; that your days may be happy as they have been illustrious; and that he will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.
With that the ceremony ended.  Washington and his aides quickly rode off and by Christmas Day he had reached Mount Vernon. Three and a half years later he would return to public life to preside over the Constitutional Convention.

Of the commission ceremony, the Maryland Gazette would write, "Few tragedies ever drew so many tears from so many beautiful eyes as the moving manner in which his Excellency took his final leave of Congress".

Later that day, James McHenry wrote a letter to his future wife, Margaret (Peggy) Caldwell, describing Washington's speech and reflecting on the meaning of the event:
. . . It was a solemn and affecting spectacle; such an one as history does not present. The spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears. The General’s hand which held the address shook as he read it. When he spoke of the officers who had composed his family, and recommended those who had continued in it to the present moment to the favorable notice of Congress he was obliged to support the paper with both hands. But when he commended the interests of his dearest country to almighty God, and those who had the superintendence of them to his holy keeping, his voice faultered and sunk, and the whole house felt his agitations . . .

So many circumstances crowded into view and gave rise to so many affecting emotions. The events of the revolution just accomplished—the new situation into which it had thrown the affairs of the world—the great man who had borne so conspicuous a figure in it, in the act of relinquishing all public employments to return to private life—the past—the present—the future—the manner—the occasion—all conspired to render it a spectacle inexpressibly solemn and affecting.
The event also evoked astonishment and admiration in Europe. The artist John Trumbull (40 years later to paint the picture of the event that hangs in our capitol), was in London when news arrived of Washington's resignation, writing that it:
“excites the astonishment and admiration of this part of the world. ‘Tis a Conduct so novel, so inconceivable to People, who, far from giving up powers they possess, are willing to convulse the Empire to acquire more.”
And let us end with the response of Washington's foe, King George III, who, when informed by American artist Benjamin West of the general's planned resignation, reportedly exclaimed:
"If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Shaw & Lee

This is an odd one I discovered recently.  Al Shaw (1902-85), born Albert Schultzman in Poland, and Sam Lee (1891-1980), the former Samuel Levy of Newark, were Shaw & Lee, a long-time vaudeville act.  In 1928 they made The Beau Brummels, a short film, and one of the early talkies.

What caught my eye is their routine, which has elements of post-modern deadpan and absurdist humor.  Shaw & Lee don't move much, they don't smile, speak in monotones and don't pause between jokes.  A sample of their humor:
When were you born?
I wasn't born, I'm a self-made man.                                                                                      Well, come around when you're finished. 
I dreamt that I died and went to heaven.
What woke you up?
The heat.
I suggest you start watching the video about 4 minutes in and stick around to the end for the self-referential absurdist song.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Don't Complain

From the backwoods of Maine, sit back and read this wonderful piece of writing from Sippican Cottage, telling a tale of gathering firewood during the harsh and dreary DownEast winter.

Here's the opening:
Winter came like a postcard a long time ago. The snow drifted down in slow motion, the big, fat flakes parachuting in and accumulating gently on the frosted earth. There was a lot, all at once, and in the morning the birdhouse wore a pope's hat, and the birdbath was a cheesecake. The sun shone and the trees wore their coat of flakes like ermine.

Then the rain came. It turned the pope's hat to a drunkard's fedora, and the cheesecake to a dog's breakfast. It came down mechanically, at an angle that could be measured anywhere along its route, as methodical as a secret policeman; the icicles on the eaves turned from a little fringe to dragon's teeth. The trees threw their coats on the ground with their shivering, and left craters like the moon in the slumping snow.

Then it did it all again. Snow fell on top of the icy film over the styrofoam snow, and brought Currier and Ives back to town. Then the ice came and put Currier and Ives in the stocks in the town square for the crime of being jolly out of turn, and pelted them with everything handy. The roads turned to suggestions. The pavement was just the bottom layer of an arctic lasagne of sand and ice and mud and snow and general corruption. My wife's car and my truck told me to shove it more than once when I turned their keys.

My favorite lines:
Winter is very solicitous here, and worries you might get the Alzheimer's, and tries to help you remember things.   

This tool is of absolutely no use, until it's essential, like a lawyer or a prostitute.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Reforming The World Series

After decades as a devoted fan of baseball, I can no longer keep silent about a miscarriage of justice. I ask you to join in two petitions I am preparing for the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

In 1960, the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates (of Pennsylvania, no less) played in the world series. Over seven games, the Yankees outscored the Pirates by an overwhelming and record-setting margin, 55 runs to 27 runs, proving themselves the better team. Despite this, baseball’s archaic “rules” led to the Pirates being acclaimed as World Champions. The Yankees won three contests by overwhelming scores of 16-3, 12-0 and 10-0, while “losing” four games by scores of 6-4, 3-2, 5-2 and 10-9.

To confirm the inequity of the “runs scored in a game” metric, we need to recognize it dates from an era when African-Americans were barred from the major league game.  Other equitable factors also weigh in favor of the Yankees. It turns out the Bronx Bombers had more hits than the Pirates in six of the seven games, and despite only playing three games at Yankee Stadium compared to four at Forbes Field, the total population of Yankee attendees was 200,566 compared to a mere 149,137 at the Pirates games.

I therefore ask for your support in petitioning (1) to retroactively award the 1960 championship to the Yankees and (2) preventing future miscarriages of justice by providing that, in future series, the team that scores the most overall runs is declared the champion.  This is hard for me as a Red Sox fan, but social justice demands it, and I have empathy for Yankee fans unfairly deprived of yet another championship, particularly when I reflect back on the 1975 World Series in which the Red Sox beat the Reds three games to four, another triumph ignored by the 1% of baseball's elite who control the rigged system!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Washington's Last Will & Testament

(Thanks to Richard Samuelson of the Liberty Law Blog for bringing this to my attention)

On December 18, 1799, a private funeral was held at Mt Vernon for George Washington who died four days earlier, at age 67, two and a half years after leaving the Presidency.  It was to be followed by the new nation's first national funeral at Philadelphia (seat of federal government before the District of Columbia) on December 26, 1799.
(Funeral procession Philadelphia, December 1799)

Washington remains a towering, but personally remote, figure, at least partly by his own design. Unlike Benjamin Franklin or the voluble John Adams, Washington seems as a man always in control of himself, though in reality, he had an explosive, but rarely triggered, temper (for an occasion when an enraged Washington used "very singular expressions", read this account).  Nor was he a great political philosopher like Madison or Jefferson and, always conscious of how he was viewed by his fellow citizens, he allowed us only brief glimpses of his inner life.

The ex-President's final will and testament, a document prepared and written by him, is dated July 9, 1799.  Below are some of the interesting excerpts with some background (you can fine the entire text here)
In the name of God amen I George Washington of Mount Vernon—a citizen of the United States, and lately Pr⟨es⟩ident of the same, do make, ordai⟨n⟩ and declare this Instrument; w⟨hic⟩h is written with my own hand ⟨an⟩d every page thereof subscribed ⟨wit⟩h my name, to be my last Will & ⟨Tes⟩tament, revoking all others.
"In the name of God amen" was a common opening phrase in wills, though its popularity sharply declined during the 20th century.  It was used by figures as disparate as William Shakespeare (d.1616) and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (d.1951), according to In the Name of God, Amen: Language in Last Wills and Testaments, by Karen J Sneddon, Quinnipiac Law Review, Vol. 29:665 (2011), as well as in the opening of the Mayflower Compact of November 1620, entered into by the ship's passengers, just before landing at Plymouth, and considered the first document of popular government in the Americas, which includes this language:
. . . do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony . . .

"a citizen of the United States, and lately President of the same"
I searched online for the last wills and testaments of the next six Presidents and was able to find those of Jefferson (d.1826), Madison (d.1836) and Jackson (d.1845).  None include these phrases, nor anything close to them.  Jefferson and Jackson make no reference to their role in the National Government and Madison's is limited to a request that his Report on the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention be published:
Considering the peculiarity and magnitude of the occasion which produced the Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, the Characters who composed it, the Constitution which resulted from their deliberations, its effects during a trial of so many years on the prosperity of the people living under it, and the interest it has inspired among the friends of free Government,
Madison provided that any profits from such publication were to go to his wife, Dolly, but only after the first $2000 went to the American Colonization Society, an organization founded by abolitionists to provide free transport for free African-Americans to return to Africa.  These returnees founded the country of Liberia.

Inserting "a citizen of the United States, and lately President of same", as the only descriptors for himself, was a deliberate public statement by Washington of what he felt most important for posterity.  He was not, unlike Jefferson, first and foremost a citizen of Virginia, rather he was a citizen of the United States.  As a strong Federalist and advocate for a stronger central government to replace the weak Articles of Confederation (he was a forceful presence behind the scenes in the political maneuvering leading to the Constitutional Convention), the preservation of the Union was his overriding concern, and the symbolism of those words in his will reinforced the sentiment expressed in his Farewell Address (1796)
The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you.  It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad, of your safety, of your prosperity, of that very liberty which you so highly prize. 

"⟨I⟩tem. To my dearl⟨y be⟩loved wife Martha Washington ⟨I⟩ give and bequeath the use, profit ⟨an⟩d benefit of my whole Estate, real and p⟨er⟩sonal, for the term of her natural li⟨fe⟩—except such parts thereof as are sp⟨e⟩cifically disposed of hereafter:"
Washington married Martha Custis, a wealthy widow, in 1759.  They had no children, but raised the two surviving children from Martha's marriage to Daniel Parke Custis as their own.  When 24 year old John Parke Custis, died of camp fever at Yorktown in 1781, while serving as an aide to his step-father, they also raised two of his children, one of whom, George Washington Parke Custis, had a daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis.  In 1831, Mary Custis married a young lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Robert E Lee.  It was through the Custis marriage that Lee became master of the great mansion that is now part of Arlington Cemetery, property confiscated by the Federal government during the Civil War after Lee joined the Confederate cause, after declining an offer to command the Federal forces.  Martha died in May 1802.

⟨Ite⟩m Upon the decease ⟨of⟩ my wife, it is my Will & desire th⟨at⟩ all the Slaves which I hold in ⟨my⟩ own right, shall receive their free⟨dom⟩
The longest section of the will concerns the disposition of slaves, a tangled story reflecting the laws and customs of the time.  Before the Revolution, Washington seems to have not examined the moral aspects of slavery, though he had expressed sentiments in the 1760s about its economic inefficiency.  His attitude began to change during the war.  In part, because of his exposure to free black American soldiers, in part because of the prompting of two of his young aides, John Laurens and Marquis de Lafayette.  Laurens was an impassioned opponent of slavery (see the Forgotten Americans post) who, in turn, inflamed Lafayette on the same topic.  Both never hesitated to raise the issue with General Washington.,_1784_by_Rossiter_and_Mignot,_1859.jpg
(Washington and Lafayette at Mt Vernon, 1784)

By 1779, Washington told Lund Washington, manager of Mt Vernon, of his desire to abandon slave labor when the war ended.  Though that did not happen, Washington continued to seek a solution. During Lafayette's visits in 1784 and 1785 they held lengthy discussions about slavery, and by 1786 he supported a proposal in the Virginia legislature for gradual emancipation, in September of that year writing John Francis Mercer, who owed him money, that he would not accept payment in slaves:
I never mean (unless some particular circumstances should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by the legislature by which slavery in this Country may be abolished by slow, sure & imperceptible degrees.
Washington's evolving views contained an element of moral recognition, as well as his sensitivity of how future generations would judge his actions, combined with an acute appreciation of the economic impacts of any type of emancipation that served to temper his sense of urgency.

In 1790 he showed that, as a matter of national policy, his priority was preservation of the new Union, over action to abolish slavery, when he supported James Madison in deferring action on an emancipation proposal in the first session of the U.S. Congress, because of his fear that the issue could lead to dissolution of the country.

Nonetheless, he continued to seek a solution to his personal situation at Mt Vernon, as described in detail in Joseph Ellis' splendid short biography, His Excellency: George Washington.  As an operating concern, Mt Vernon did not make money.  Washington refused to sell or break up slave families and, as a result, he had an aging population of enslaved that was increasingly unproductive.

To emancipate them during ⟨her⟩ life, would, tho’ earnestly wish⟨ed by⟩ me, be attended with such insu⟨pera⟩ble difficulties on account of thei⟨r interm⟩ixture by Marriages with the ⟨dow⟩er Negroes, as to excite the most pa⟨in⟩ful sensations, if not disagreeabl⟨e c⟩onsequences from the latter, while ⟨both⟩ descriptions are in the occupancy ⟨of⟩ the same Proprietor; it not being ⟨in⟩ my power, under the tenure by which ⟨th⟩e Dower Negroes are held, to man⟨umi⟩t them.
In this passage, Washington begins to explain the reasons for his decisions to contemporaries and posterity.  At the time of his death there were 317 slaves at Mt Vernon.  Washington owned 124 and leased 40 others.  The remainder were part of the dower of Martha Washington from her first husband, and would revert to her son upon her death.  The only slaves that George could legally emancipate were those he owned.  And while there is no direct evidence, Ellis convincingly speculates, based on what we know, that Martha Washington did not share her husband's views on the desirability of ending slavery.  It also references the reality of extensive intermarriage between George and Martha's slaves, potentially created a situation where one would be free and the other enslaved.

And whereas among ⟨thos⟩e who will recieve freedom ac⟨cor⟩ding to this devise, there may b⟨e so⟩me, who from old age or bodily infi⟨rm⟩ities, and others who on account of ⟨the⟩ir infancy, that will be unable to ⟨su⟩pport themselves; it is m⟨y Will and de⟩sire that all who ⟨come under the first⟩ & second descrip⟨tion shall be comfor⟩tably cloathed & ⟨fed by my heirs while⟩ they live; and that such of the latter description as have no parents living, or if living are unable, or unwilling to provide for them, shall be bound by the Court until they shall arrive at the ag⟨e⟩ of twenty five years;
The first provision regarding support of old and infirm freed slaves, was a requirement of Virginia law.  The latter part goes to Washington's desire to ensure support.

The Negros thus bound, are (by their Masters or Mistresses) to be taught to read & write; and to be brought up to some useful occupation, agreeably to the Laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, providing for the support of Orphan and other poor Children, and I do hereby expressly forbid the Sale, or transportation out of the said Commonwealth, of any Slave I may die possessed of, under any pretence whatsoever.
Here Washington sought to ensure the freed slaves be provided with the ability to support themselves.  The latter part continues his practice, while living, of not selling any slaves or breaking up families.

And I do moreover most pointedly, and most solemnly enjoin it upon my Executors hereafter named, or the Survivors of them, to see that th⟨is cla⟩use respecting Slaves, and every part thereof be religiously fulfilled at the Epoch at which it is directed to take place; without evasion, neglect or delay, after the Crops which may then be on the ground are harvested, particularly as it respects the aged and infirm; seeing that a regular and permanent fund be established for their support so long as there are subjects requiring it; not trusting to the ⟨u⟩ncertain provision to be made by individuals.
This section can be read as both an attempt to make the public understand the seriousness of his undertakings regarding his slaves as well as further emphasizing to his Executors, who may not have shared his views on slavery, about the need to adhere to these provisions.  The evidence is that the Executors abide by terms of the will, and according to their accounts, by 1833, more than $10,000 had been provided in pensions to former slaves living at, or near, Mt Vernon.

On January 1, 1801, seventeen months prior to her death, Martha Washington freed her husband's slaves.  This was done in advance of her death upon the advice of her nephew, Bushrod Washington, because news of her husband's direction to free his slaves upon her death, created anticipation and impatience among the slaves and it was felt better to move more quickly towards emancipation.

And to my Mulatto man William (calling himself William Lee) I give immediate freedom; or if he should prefer it (on account of the accidents which ha⟨v⟩e befallen him, and which have rendered him incapable of walking or of any active employment) to remain in the situation he now is, it shall be optional in him to do so: In either case however, I allow him an annuity of thirty dollars during his natural life, whic⟨h⟩ shall be independent of the victuals and cloaths he has been accustomed to receive, if he chuses the last alternative; but in full, with his freedom, if he prefers the first; & this I give him as a test⟨im⟩ony of my sense of his attachment to me, and for his faithful services during the Revolutionary War.
William Lee was purchased by Washington in 1767.  Interestingly, until the Revolution all of Washington's references call him "Billy", but after that time he is called "Will" or "William".  Lee remained at Washington's side throughout the Revolution and also attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  By this time, Lee was crippled from leg injuries.  He continued to live at Mt Vernon before dying in 1810. with William Lee, painting by John Trumbull (1780))
The balance due to me from the Estate of Bartholomew Dandridge deceased (my wife’s brother) and which amounted on the first day of October 1795 to four hundred and twenty five pounds (as will appear by an account rendered by his deceased son John Dandridge, who was the acting Exr of his fathers Will) I release & acquit from the payment thereof. And the Negros, then thirty three in number) formerly belonging to the said estate, who were taken in execution—sold—and purchased in on my account in the year [ ] and ever since have remained in the possession, and to the use of Mary, Widow of the said Bartholomew Dandridge, with their increase, it is my Will & desire shall continue, & be in her possession, without paying hire, or making compensation for the same for the time past or to come, during her natural life; at the expiration of which, I direct that all of them who are forty years old & upwards, shall receive their freedom; all under that age and above sixteen, shall serve seven years and no longer; and all under sixteen years, shall serve until they are twenty five years of age, and then be free.  
This provision relates to a complicated family history.  After Martha Custis' first husband died and before marrying George, she made a large loan to her brother Bartholomew Dandridge, secured by a bond for the debt.  In 1773, George ended up holding the bond, and when Dandridge died in 1785,  the loan, and accumulated interest, remained unpaid.  In 1788, Dandridge's son persuaded Washington to seek title to Dandridge's slave in partial payment of the debt and to forestall other creditors who would force their sale.  Washington obtained title, but left the slaves in the possession of Bartholomew's widow.  The provision in the will provides for their eventual emancipation after her death.

Item To my Nephew Bushrod Washington, I give and bequeath all the Papers in my possession, which relate to my Civel and Military Administration of the affairs of this Country; I leave to him also, such of my private Papers as are worth preserving;13 and at the decease of wife, and before—if she is not inclined to retain them, I give and bequeath my library of Books and Pamphlets of every kind. 
Bushrod Washington (b.1762) was the son of George's brother John.  The year prior to Washington's death he was appointed an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a position he held until his death in 1829.  Bushrod was a founder and first President of the American Colonization Society to which James Madison made a bequest in his will.  Abolitionists criticized Bushrod because, despite his role with the Society, he sold many of his own slaves to raise fund to support Mt Vernon, rather than free them. Washington)

George Washington took great care to preserve his papers (though Martha burned all letters between the two of them before her death).  These included 28 volumes of Revolutionary War documents, hundreds of private letters and his presidential papers (other than those he had designated be provided to John Adams, his presidential successor).  The papers remained the possession of the Washington family until Bushrod's nephew, George Corbin Washington sold the public papers to the United States in 1834 for $25,000 and the private papers in 1849 for $20,000.  They now reside in the Library of Congress.  GC Washington served four terms as a member of the U.S. Congress from Maryland. 

Item To my brother Charles Washington I give & bequeath the gold headed Cane left me by Doctr Franklin in his Will.
A year before his death in 1790, Benjamin Franklin added a codicil to his will, bequeathing his treasured gold-headed walking stick to George Washington; "My fine crab-tree walking-stick, with a gold head curiously wrought in the form of the cap of liberty, I give to my friend, and the friend of mankind, General Washington. If it were a Sceptre, he has merited it, and would become it. . "  The walking stick had been a gift from an admirer during Franklin's stint as Ambassador to France.  For some more background on the item, watch this video:.

Charles Washington predeceased his brother, dying in September 1799.  The walking stick has been in possession of the United States since 1845 and is currently on display at the National Museum of American History.

To General de la Fayette I give a pair of finely wrought steel Pistols, taken from the enemy in the Revolutionary War.
There is some confusion about these Pistols.  The inventory of Washington's estate included four pairs of pistols and it is unclear which pair, and the provenance, of was gifted to the Marquis.  You can read more of the close relationship between Washington and LaFayette, often seen as the son Washington never had, in Lafayette's Tour.

And by way of advice, I recommend it to my Executors not to be precipitate in disposing of the landed property (herein directed to be sold) if from temporary causes the Sale thereof should be dull; experience having fully evinced, that the price of land (especially above the Falls of the Rivers, & on the Western Waters) have been progressively rising, and cannot be long checked in its increasing value. 
From the time of his youth, George Washington was convinced that America's future lay to the West. Over the decades he invested heavily in western lands in anticipation of that growth and his perpetual optimism is reflected in his instructions to his Executors.  

In five separate provisions, the childless Washington, contrary to common practice, provided for the division of the 7,000 acre Mt Vernon property upon Martha's death.  For large estates, the normal practice was to provide for transfer to one person to guarantee the continued economic viability of the property as well as the family's prestige and power.  Instead, Washington divided the property among five nephews, with Bushrod getting the most valuable parcel, 2200 acres including the mansion house.  Washington's true bequest was a united country, not maintaining the power of his descendants.  There would be no continuing First Family.

And it is my express desire that my Corpse may be Interred in a private manner, without parade, or funeral Oration. 
Washington modeled his behavior on the leading citizens of the Roman Republic.  Like Lucius Quinctus Cincinnatus, the legendary Roman who left his farm to take control of the state during an emergency, and promptly surrendered his powers when the emergency ended, returning to his farm, Washington astounded the European world, when with the treaty with Britain ending the Revolutionary War, he returned his commission to the Continental Congress and returned to his farm.  His burial instructions followed the austere practice of classical Rome.

My Will and direction expressly is, that all disputes (if unhappily any should arise) shall be decided by three impartial and intelligent men, known for their probity and good understanding; two to be chosen by the disputants—each having the choice of one—and the third by those two. Which three men thus chosen, shall, unfettered by Law, or legal constructions, declare their sense of the Testators intention; and such decision is, to all intents and purposes to be as binding on the Parties as if it had been given in the Supreme Court of the United States. 
It is fitting that the will ends with a discussion of dispute resolution with an invocation of the name of the newly created supreme court of the United States.