Thoughts on the origin of “First in war, first in peace” & other matters – Bill Arp, 8/16/1890
Let us vindicate the truth of history. Whether it was John Marshall or Harry Lee who first used the phrase, “First in
war, first in peace.” etc., is of too much importance to be left in doubt. I made a mistake in a former letter in ascribing
it to Richard Henry Lee, but corrected it in my next at the instance of Judge Clark. But now comes Mr. Morrisett,
of Newberne. Ala., before the public and says it was neither of the Lees, but that John Marshall was the author. He
says that many learned men have fallen into the same error, and cites Dr. William Jones, who wrote “Personal Recollections
of Robert E. Lee,” as one of the learned but mistaken men. To prove his assertion that it was John Marshall, he refers
us to “Irving’s Life of Washington,” which contains the speech of Marshall in the House of Representatives on the
death of Washington and the resolutions that were adopted. and he asks me to rise again and make another correction.
I cannot do so yet. It is a matter we will not hurry over. It is, indeed, strange if all the Lees and their biographers should
have lived so long under such a delusion. The standard school histories and readers have got It down the same way.
Can it he possible that Irving. who is most excellent authority, should have ascribed it to Marshall. and nobody but.
Mr. Morrisett discover it. Let us investigate. I have before ire Bartlett’s dictionary of quotations in which he gIves the
authorship to Henry Lee and says in a note: “The resolutions that he drew up had the words “fellow citizens,” but when
he afterwards delivered the eulogy on Washington he changed it from fellow citizens to “countrymen.” See Marshall’s
life of Washington. Well, of course, if John Marshall himself gave the credit to Lee that settles it beyond dispute. But
possibly Bartlett may be mistaken. I have also Appleton’s last great work on American Biography (1889) and find that
Robert C. Winthrop L.L.D. and ex-United States Senator, wrote the biography of Washington. It is an admirable
history and most careful all its details and recitals of facts. In the sixth volume and page 381 we read as follows:
“Congress was in session at. *Philadelphia, and the startling news of Washington’s death reached there on the
day of his funeral.
The next morning John Marshall announced the death in the House of Representatives in a short but admirable tribute
to his illustrious friend, and concluded with resolutions prepared by General Lee which contained the grand words that
have ever since been associated with Washington, “First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his fellow citizens.”
On the 26th of December General Lee pronounced a eulogy by order of both houses of Congress, in which he changed
the last words of his own famous phrase from fellow citizens to countrymen. So it would seem that Marshall offered the
resolutions that Lee had prepared. Marshall’s speech did not contain the phrase, but the resolutions did. Irving does
not say to the contrary. He gives Marshall’s speech in full, and his concluding sentence was: “I hold in ‘my hand resolutions prepared for this occasion,” etc., but Irving does not say that Marshall prepared them. At all events the weight of evidence
is in favor of Lee, and I will not rise to correct at present. I believe that John Marshall could have said it, but no doubt
they divided the work-Marshall to make the speech and Lee to prepare the resolutions-for they were intimate friends.
Now, I hope that the young readers of the Constitution will stand on this verification until the contrary is clearly established.
Honor to whom honor is due. It is a real comfort to find so ! many inquiring minds among the Southern people. When I
made my mistake and gave the phrase to Richard Henry Lee it waked up the scholars from Virginia to Texas, and I
have to answer a score of letters and acknowledge my error. I thought for a time that Judge Clark was about the only.
one who would write. but I was pleased to receive many others and to answer them. It is a good sign, and especially
so as several of the letters were from school teachers not long from college. There is no better education for a .young
man than to teach. Teachers are the best students of history and they make the best writers, the best editors and the
best preachers. A college graduate cannot better prepare himself for any one of the professions than to teach school
for a year or two. It trains and solidifies the mind-it makes him thoughtful and precise in language.
Besides this it gathers around him a bulwark of friends-who stick to him through life. Not long ago we had an exciting election
for a superintendent of our public schools, and one of the candidates got one vote at every count for forty-nine ballotings.
went to school to him,” said the member of the board, “and I know him, but I don’t know the others, except from hearsay.”
Things are not altogether calm and serene in these parts. The farmers’ ground swell amazed and bewildered the people.
I asked my friend John Black, what he was doing in politics over in Rome. “Nothing, nothing, at all,” said he in a sad sweet
tone of voice. “I’m staying inside the house now and waiting for the storm to blow over.” “Suppose it don’t blow over at all,”
said I. “Maybe the thing is like the deluge and all you political sinners are out of the ark and floating around on the logs
and chicken coops, and every little while you look up at the great floating warehouse with its closed doors and say. “Boys
how long is this infernal shower to last?'” Blessed is he who hath a boat of his own and does not have to depend upon
the people’s line. Blessed is he who don’t hanker after office. This whole thing would he funny if it wasn’t death to the frogs.
A few months ago our town boys were puzzling around and laying their plans for the legislature, and were fixing to catch
the alliance vote for it had not gone into politics then, and the boys got hot over their rights, but they have all swaged down
and look as meek and humble as a run-over calf. The farmers made no noise, but simply said: “Boys, we don’t think your
sort are fitten, and you ain’t fitten to get fitten, so we will attend to this business ourselves.” And the boys made a bow and
said: “Jesso.” It reminds me of a story they tell on Mrs. Brown, the Senator’s plain-spoken and discerning wife. After old
Joe had served nearly two terms as governor, some gentlemen were discussing, in her presence, the question as to who
would be his successor. Mrs. Brown was stitching away on some garment and took no part in the conversation until one
of them said: “Mrs. Brown, who do you think will wear the governor’s mantle when he retires?” She looked up and replied
in a matter-of-fact way, “I don’t think he is going to retire; he calculates to wear it himself for two years more.”
And he did. I heard a big man say “We’ll show you how to run a legislature when our boys get there. The boys will eat
breakfast by sun-up, just like they do at home, and in an hour more you will hear a horn blow at the capitol and they will
all be there and go to work, and there wont be any fooling around and no excuses nor absentees, nor going down town
to get a drink, nor running off on excursions to Tybee and Chautauqua. Mark Hardin shant have fourteen clerks, dog-on
him, but he shall do the clerking himself. We can’t do without him, and don’t expect to, but he will have to knuckle down
to work. The last session cost $150,000 but the next won’t cost third of it. I’ll bet any man a suit of clothes it don’t. We are
going to rent out about half the state house. Every one of them stall-fed fellows have got a front room, and a back room,
and a sanctum, and a fifty-dollar sofa to sleep on, and they have their business hours just like the banks, and you can’t
see ’em only when you don’t want to see ’em; and they haven’t got to go to mill either, or take up the fodder, dog-on-em.
We’ll straighten out their chains when the boys get there.” “I hear,- said I, “that some of your members are opposed to
George Lester for attorney general because he is a lawyer.” “Well, yes,” said he, “some of ’em was, but I told ’em that
George was a poor man and a good soldier, and was no lawyer to hurt, and I think they will go for him. I know he ain’t
much of a lawyer for. I had a case in his court when he was judge and he decided it pintblack agin me, though I knowed
I was right all the time. No, he ain’t much of a lawyer, but we don’t expect to need any-we are going to run the machine
in a common sense farmer way, without any red tape or Sallymagundy, and if these judges and solicitors don’t do better
than they have been doing we’ll turn ’em all out and put in some old fashioned farmers who don’t know much law, but
do know a power of gospel and high natral justice. There’s too much trigger work going on, The courts have been three
years trying to hang that devil, Woolfolk, and he ain’t hung yet. We could have tried him in Euharlee justice’s court in three
days, and hung him and saved twenty thousand dollars that it has already cost Bibb county. It’s the lawyers that do it all,
judges keep on letting ’em and if they don’t change their ways we’ll abolish the whole concern. There’s too much law and
too many books anyhow, and every time a lawyer makes a speech he gets some newspaper to say it was the greatest
speech of his life. But we’ll straighten ’em out, and put about-two thirds of ’em in the cotton patch.” Well, maybe these
farmers will reform things, for our folks are getting a little loose in the socket. All’s well that ends well.
Last Updated on April 25, 2021 by Bill Arp
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