On this day in 1799 George Washington died at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia. Funeral memorials were held in major U.S. cities , and throughout the world people were saddened by Washington’s death. In France, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered ten days of mourning for America’s great leader and Founding Father.
Following Washington’s death, the Sixth Congress commissioned Henry Lee, the father of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee, to write a eulogy. Having served under Washington as a major general in the Continental Army, Lee was a logical choice (1).
Written in the elaborate and elevated prose characteristic of the 18th century, Lee demonstrates mastery of parallelism as he praises his comrade in arms:
First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well spent life. Such was the man America has lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns (2).
Today’s Challenge: A Word of Praise Before You Go
The word eulogy is from Greek meaning “praise.” Although we normally associate eulogies with funerals, eulogies can also praise a person who is still alive. Who is someone who is alive today that you think deserves sincere praise? Write a eulogy for a living person. Identify specifically the positive traits of this person with specific examples of what makes the person so special. Whether or not the person is someone you have met, make it clear to the audience why this person means so much to you. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: The promulgation of his fixed resolution stopped the anxious wishes of an affectionate people from adding a third unanimous testimonial of their unabated confidence in the man so long enthroned in their hearts. When before was affection like this exhibited on earth? Turn over the records of ancient Greece ; review the annals of mighty Rome ; examine the volumes of modern Europe – you search in vain. America and her Washington only afford the dignified exemplification. -Henry Lee on Washington
2-Safire, William. Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997: 169.