History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter XII
|←Chapter XI||History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution
|Observations on the Conduct of the British Parliament, previous to the Capture of Burgoyne • The ineffectual Efforts of the Commissioners sent to America, in consequence of Lord North’s Conciliatory Bill—Their Attempts to corrupt Individuals and Public Bodies • Negotiation broken off • Manifesto published by the Commissioners • Counter Declaration by Congress • Sir William Howe repairs to England|
While America gloried in her recent successes against the northern army, and was making all possible preparations for vigorous action at the southward, the coercive system in Britain was so far from being relaxed that the most severe measures were urged with bitterness and acrimony. The speeches of the King were in the same tone of despotism as formerly; the addresses of Parliament were in the usual style of compliment and applause; as if they had little else to do but to keep each other in good humor until alienation was complete and the colonies so far connected with other powers that there could be no hope of reconciliation.
But though a unison of sentiment and a perfect conformity to the royal will previous to the new of Burgoyne's defeat appeared in the majority of both houses of Parliament, yet the measures of the ministry were, as usual, warmly opposed by some gentlemen of the first abilities in the nation. Several of the principal nobility were in the minority and urged an accommodation before American should be irretrievably lost. It was recommended to the minister "rather to forge bands of amity for the minds than chains for the bodies of Americans." The present moment of uncertainty with regard to success was urged as the proper season for giving the most unequivocal proofs of cordiality, by requesting His Majesty to order a cessation of hostilities and the immediate adoption of measures for accommodation. [Debates in Parliament before the new of the termination of the northern campaign reached England.]
Mr. Fox, whose powers of oratory were the admiration of the world, not only reasoned against their measures, but ridiculed the ministry in the most pointed manner, for their ignorance of America from the outset of the controversy. He alleged "that they had mistaken the extent of the thirteen colonies, and considered the Massachusetts as including the whole." Nor were they less mistaken in the weight of opposition they had to encounter. He observed "they had ever been blind to the consequences of their own measures, or they never would have rejected the most dutiful and loyal petitions; more especially that presented by Mr. Penn, late governor of Pennsylvania, even after the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill." [See Note 4, at the end of this chapter] He expatiated on the absurdity and injustice of the Bill for Transporting Americans to England for Trial, the Quebec Act, the Restraining Bill, the Declaratory Act, and the Boston Port Bill.
All papers relative to America for three years past were ordered to be laid before the House; and the state of the army and the expenditures in the course of the war loudly called for. But amidst the severe scrutiny of the House, the anxiety of the nation, the perseverance of the King, and the perplexity of the minister, all parties were thunderstruck by the arrival of the intelligence of Burgoyne's defeat and the capture of the army at Saratoga.
A general gloom overspread every countenance; the severest censures were cast on the late measures of administration; indignation burnt in the bosoms of those who opposed them; clamor raged without doors; asperity, sarcasm, and reproach from the lip of truth within; and, notwithstanding his abilities and his firmness, the minister was distressed and minority increased, and opposition was strengthened.
Lord Chatham rose with his usual energy, eloquence, and commanding spirit, and reprobated both the war and the mode of prosecuting it; and with vehemence and acrimony asserted, "that a court system of wickedness "had been adopted for the last 15 years, subversive of all faith and confidence, tending to extinguish all principle in the different orders of the community; and that an ascendancy had been obtained by worthless men, the dregs of party, where no influence ought to exist. That a spirit of delusion had gone forth, the people had been deceived by ministers, and Parliament had sanctioned the deception. False lights had been held out to the country gentlemen, imposed on by the ideal project of an American revenue; but that the visionary phantom, conjured up for the basest purposes of deception, was about to vanish."
The minister [Lord North], though attacked, mortified, and embarrassed, retreated with ability and address from ground to ground, through the debates, and endeavored to shift the blame from himself and cause the failure of the system and the odium of disappointment on the want of capacity in the officers employed. He manifested his regret for the unhappy differences between the two countries in passionate expressions and urged that the conciliatory plan he had proposed some time before might be immediately adopted; and that commissioners should be sent to America with powers to restore tranquility without further delay. He acknowledged that he began to despair of reducing the colonies by arms, unless a disunion could be effected and the intervention of foreign powers in their behalf decidedly prevented.
But the people in several counties were so infatuated by the popular theme of an American revenue that subscriptions were opened in London, Bristol, and other places for raising and supporting a body of troops at private expense to supply the deficiencies in the army by the Convention of Saratoga. The legality of this measure was contested in both houses of Parliament; and a resolve was proposed by the Earl of Abingdon "that granting moneys for private uses and without the sanction of Parliament was against both the letter and the spirit of the constitution; that obtaining money by subscription and applying it to His Majesty's use, in such manner as he should think fit, was unconstitutional, and a direct infringement of the principles of the British constitution." But the measure was not discountenanced by authority, and the subscriptions went on.
If not first suggested by them, these subscriptions were encouraged by some of the most affluent of the American refugees, who had repaired to England on the retreat of General Howe from Boston. This appearance of settled rancor against their native country increased the resentment of their countrymen; and in consequence thereof, some of their estates, which had been only sequestered, were confiscated and sold, and the moneys arising therefrom deposited in the public treasury. But many of this class of people who laid their real or pretended sufferings before administration, were afterwards amply provided for by the liberality of the British government, though not adequate to their own expectations.
All Europe had beheld with astonishment and applause the exertions and struggles of the America colonies against the opulence, the arms, and the intrigues of Britain. It was now three years that they had with uncommon resolution and systematical decision supported their armaments by sea and land, without a single ally.
The American Congress had indeed, as early as the beginning of the autumn, 1776, appointed commercial agents to several European courts, empowering them to procure arms, ammunition, and clothing, on the credit of the United States. They were received politely by the nation, though not publicly countenanced by the Court of France, on their first arrival. Yet their negotiations had been favorable to trade and to the condemnation of a vast number of prizes that had been taken by the Americans and sent into the several ports of France.
Doctor Franklin was soon after empowered to act as an American plenipotentiary there, and arrived in France, December, 1776. The celebrity of his character and the popularity of his mission insured him the warmest reception from all ranks; and the minister [the Count de Vergennes] gave him private encouragement to hope for all necessary aid, and a full completion of the wishes of his constituents. The Spanish ambassador, likewise, at this time requested copies of his instructions, and a sketch of the state of America, which he forwarded to his Catholic Majesty, as the two courts were determined to act in perfect unison, although no national compact was completed between France and America until early in the year 1778. [See Doctor Franklin's letter to Congress, March 1778.]
It required time to ripen a measure in a despotic court, to support a struggle like the present; a struggle unparalleled in modern nations. An effort for the liberties of mankind by colonial opposition to the parent state, the proud and potent sovereignty of Britain, might rationally be expected to have an influence on the political systems of the greatest part of Europe. Besides, the intrigues of the British cabinet and the policy of France might cooperate to postpone the event of any foreign alliance with the colonies, until American firmness had been tried in the ordeal of affliction, and her constancy and success had rendered her more respectable in the eyes of older nations and long practiced statesmen.
But the conquest and capture of a British army, commanded by officers of distinguished name and abilities, was considered as a decided proof of the importance of the connection, and hastened the determination of France to conclude a treaty that might cut off all hope of reconciliation between the colonies and the mother country. Thus on February 6, 1778, a treat of alliance, amity, and commerce was signed by the minister on the part of France and by Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and Silas Deane, Esquires, on the part o the United States of America. Doctor Franklin was immediately introduced to His Most Christian Majesty, as the minister plenipotentiary for the American states; and on the May following, the Sieur Gerard arrived on the continent, in quality of ambassador, and was introduced in form to the American Congress.
This mortifying event had for some time been predicted by the minority in the British Parliament; yet the minister affected to disbelieve even the probability of its taking place; and as late as March 11, 1778 desired "that it might be remembered he declared in his place that he knew of no such treaty, either in existence or contemplation." Only eight days after this, the Duc de Noailles, in the name of his sovereign, announced the treaty in form; and a rescript thereof was delivered to the King of Great Britain.
The ignorance or incapacity of the minister in not obtaining more early intelligence of the conduct of the House of Bourbon, or his wickedness in concealing the information if he had received it, was echoed from the House to the City, and from the City through the nation. But there was little reason to doubt, notwithstanding the solemn declaration of the minister, that he had obtained more authentic documents than he was willing to acknowledge, of the transactions of the French cabinet. This was undoubtedly the reason why the Conciliatory Bills were hurried through both houses and sent over to Lord and General Howe before the Act was completed or commissioners named for the purpose.
Many distinguished members in both houses of Parliament insisted that an immediate suspension of hostilities and a direct acknowledgment of the independence of America was the only medium of safety. They justly observed that burning some of their fairest towns, desolating their lands, plundering their houses, and abusing their wives and daughters had left such an acrimonious stamp on the minds of Americans as destroyed all faith and confidence in the appearances of accommodation, or advances towards reconciliation. Others still sanguine in prosecution of measures less derogatory to the pride of Britain, urged a change of ministry and a new arrangement of officers in both the civil an military departments. AT the same time they urged that commissioners should be appointed to repair to America to confer with Congress as a legal body or with the state legislatures in their present form; and that they should be authorized to offer a cessation of hostilities, a repeal of all obnoxious bills, a free trade, a representation in Parliament, and, in short, almost everything they could wish, except an explicit acknowledgment of independence.
This mode was adopted and commissioners appointed to make overtures from the parent state that would once have been received with the highest tokens of gratitude. But that period was irretrievably passed. Probably had administration taken a cool retrospect of the natural operations of the human mind and reflected on the insult and mortification, of the repeated rejection of sincere and ardent petitions; of the commencement of hostilities by staining the sword with the blood of innocence; of the miseries that awaited the unhappy victims, which the uncertain chances of war had thrown into their hands; and the numberless instances of deception, that had been practiced on the less experienced politicians of America — they must themselves have been sensible that all ideas of peace on any conditions but the most decided acknowledgment of the independence of the United States were precluded.
But men impelled by a partiality for systems of their own fabricating, whether they originated in passion, plausibility, or interest, can seldom bend their pride to a generous dereliction of their favorite object, though reason or time might have brought to their view a full conviction of its absurdity or impracticability.
Great Britain was at this time herself without allies; nor had she any reason to expect the assistance of foreigners to facilitate the subjugation of America, except the auxiliaries she had obtained at an immense expense from some of the petty princes of Germany. They had some time before applied to the states of Holland to send forward a Scotch brigade in their service in aid of their hostile operations against the colonies; but by a single voice of one of their honest republicans, it was presented, and the proposal rejected in a style characteristic of his nation. He observed that "it was more proper for Britain to hire janisaries for their purpose than to apply to the Batavians, who had so dearly purchased their own liberties." [Speech of Van der Capellen, in the Assembly of Overyssel.]
Thus, while a war with France was apprehended to be the immediate and inevitable consequence of the weak, pernicious, and perverse councils of the British cabinet, the opposition declared the nation had everything to fear from the House of Bourbon, and nothing to hope from the assistance of other European powers. These circumstances generally known, occasioned the most painful feelings to those who were actuated by the principles of justice or humanity; nor were the minds of such as were influenced only by the rancor of party, much more tranquil. But the loss of the colonies, the independence of America, her connection with France their hereditary fore, could not yet be digested by the King, the ministry, or the nation; and the conciliatory proposals were voted to be carried forward on other principles than those of humanity or equity. The army and navy establishments were augmented; and the proud display of war, power, and conquest as again to accompany the soft voice of peace and reunion.
The gentlemen appointed to undertake the arduous work of conciliation with the American states, after the inhumanity and irritation of a three years war, were the Earl of Carlisle, Sir William Eden, Governor Johnstone, and Sir Henry Clinton. Qualified for negotiation and determined if possible to reunite the revolted colonies with Great Britain, they left England with these flattering expectations, and arrived in the Delaware the latter part of May, amid every preparation on both sides for opening a vigorous campaign.
During their residence in America, they faithfully executed their trust; and by every exertion, both in their joint and separate capacity, they endeavored to fulfill the expectations of their sovereign. Yet from the reception which Congress had recently given to a previous intimation of their designs, the commissioners could have no very sanguine hopes of success.
General Howe had, as early as April 21, sent a flat to General Washington, informing him of his own expectations. At the same time, he transmitted him a copy of the Conciliatory Bill. These the General immediately forwarded to Congress, who appointed a committee to consider the proposition. It did not take much time to deliberate before the committee reported a number of reasons why the proposals of the British Court appeared to them fallacious; and that it was "their opinion that the United States could with no propriety hold any conference or treaty with commissioners on the part of Britain, unless as a preliminary they withdrew their fleets and armies and in positive and express terms acknowledged the independence of the United States."
This spirited language, before any account of the completion of any treaty with France had arrived in America, discovered a due dependence on their own magnanimity and firmness; and by the dignity of their resolutions, Congress manifested a consciousness of the justice of their cause and a reliance on that providential support they had hitherto remarkably experienced.
Perhaps at no time since hostilities had commenced between Great Britain and the colonies, could the United States have been found less disposed to negotiate on the terms now offered by the British government, than at the present.
When the commissioners arrived, they found the news of an alliance with France, and a treaty of amity and commerce with that nation had reached York Town, where Congress was sitting, on May 2, very short time after they had rejected the proposals sent on by Lord Howe. [These overtures were rejected on April 28, 1778. See Journals of Congress.]
All America was apprised of the divisions in the British Parliament, and happy in their own unanimity. An ambassador had been appointed to repair to America, and her independence was acknowledged by one of the first courts in Europe. The brilliant successes of the last year, and the promising appearances on the opening the campaign of the present, all cooperated to lead the Congress and the state legislatures to continue the high tone of sensibility and dignity, becoming a free and independent people, just emancipated from foreign domination. The commander in chief, the officers of the army, the soldiers in the field, and indeed every description of people, felt a new degree of enthusiasm, enkindled from the sanguine expectation of all necessary aid, in consequence of an alliance with France, which was now completed to their wishes.
The commissioners on their arrival lost no time. they immediately opened their correspondences both public and private. The secretary to this commission was the celebrated Doctor Ferguson, a gentleman well known in the literary world by his elegant historical and philosophical writings. Yet the respect for his character and abilities which would have insured his welcome on any occasion unconnected with political considerations, could not influence Congress to rant him passports, as requested by the commissioners, only to deliver in person the credentials for opening a treaty. In consequence of this refusal, the King's commission, and a letter from the commissioners, were both sent on by the usual military posts.
The letter contained some flattering advances towards America, and many complimentary expressions to individuals; but it was without the smallest appearance of any recognition of the independence of the United States. Many reproachful strictures on the insidious policy of France were interwoven in the letter. This rendered their address still more exceptionable in the eye of Congress; and their overtures were generally disgusting to the people at large.
In the present crisis, it was not thought either polite or politic by anyone to interlard the proposals for an accommodation with America with indelicate reflections on the new allies of the United States, almost at the moment when Congress had received the most indubitable proofs of the friendship of the House of Bourbon; and when every bosom glowed with hope and expectation, of the highest advantages from an alliance just sealed by each party, and ratified by Congress, to the mutual satisfaction of both nations.
Yet allowances ought ever to be made for hereditary or national prejudices, as well as for private disgusts. In both cases the soreness of the human mind feels the keenest sensibility, when old wounds are probed by a hand prepared to strike a mortal blow, the first favorable opportunity. Thus the commissioners and the British nation beheld with indignation and bitterness the arm of France, their hated rival, stretched out to rescue their colonies, now the United States, from the despotic view of the King and Parliament of England.
When Congress had given the proposals for peace, offered under the sanction of royal authority, a fair and candid discussion, a reply was concisely drawn up and signed by the Honorable Henry Laurens, President of the Continental Congress. It was observed in this answer to the proposals, that "both the late acts of Parliament, and a commission empowering a number of gentlemen to negotiate, and the letter received by Congress from those gentlemen, all went upon the same mistaken ground, on the supposition that the people of America were the subjects of the Crown of Britain.
"That such ideas were by no means admissible. Yet notwithstanding the injustice of the claim on which the war originated, and the savage manner of conducting it, Congress was inclined to peace, whenever the King of England should manifest a sincere disposition therefore, by an explicit acknowledgment of the independence of America, and by withdrawing his fleets and armies; that they will then enter into a treaty of commerce, not inconsistent with treaties already existing."
They also referred the commissioners to their resolves and determinations of April 23,k a short time before the arrival of the treaty of alliance with France.
This drew out a second letter from the commissioners, drafted with much art, ability, and address. In this, they observed that "they were not disposed to dispute about words; that a degree of independence was admitted in their letter of June 10; that the people of America had the privilege of disposing of their own property, and to govern themselves without any reference to Britain, beyond what is necessary to preserve a union of force, in which mutual safety consists." They added "that danger from their hereditary enemy and gratitude to those who had hazarded much for their affection to Britain must for a time prevent His Majesty from withdrawing his fleets and armies; but that they were willing to enter on a discussion of circumstances that might be necessary to secure an enlarge their independence; and that they wished for a full communication of the powers by which Congress was authorized to treat with foreign nations."
They intimated that there had been no resolutions of the particular assemblies conferring this power. Thus an effort was made in the beginning of negotiation to diffuse jealousies, and divide the people. In short, the sophistry that marked their public declarations, and the insidious proposals made to corrupt private persons were very unbecoming the negotiators for peace an inconsistent both with the probity of individual character and the dignity of their master.
It does not appear that the conduct of any of these gentlemen singly was equally reprehensible with that of Governor Johnstone. By private letters to some of the members of Congress, [The principal of these were Joseph Reed and Robert Morris, Esquire, of Pennsylvania, and Francis Dana or Massachusetts.] he endeavored to warp their integrity with the flattering promises of distinguished offices an emoluments in proportion to their risk in promoting the present views of administration. He was bold enough to say, "Washington an the president would have a right to everything a grateful nation could bestow if they would be instrumental once more in uniting the interests of Great Britain and America." [See Governor Johnstone's letter to Robert Morris, Esquire, laid before Congress, June 1778.]
His advances to Mr. Reed, an influential member of Congress, were still more openly affrontive, by offering him a direct bribe, and naming the conditions for the sale of his honor. Governor Johnstone doubtless thought he knew his men, when he selected Mr. Reed, Robert Morris, Esquire, and Mr. Francis Dana to open his correspondence with and try the golden effects of secret influence that had been so often successful in his native land. He might perhaps think it some extenuation of the affront offered to Mr. Reed that he had formerly fallen under some suspicions from his countrymen.
He had been early and zealous in opposition got Britain; had repaired to Cambridge as aid decamp to General Washington; was afterwards appointed adjutant general; and continued in habits of intimacy and confidence with the commander in chief until the retreat through the Jerseys and the gloomy and desperate situation of American affairs towards the close of the winter of 1776. His fortitude then forsook him, [See Cadwallader's letters to and of Mr. Reed. They exhibit strong suspicions that agitated by fear in the most gloomy period of American affairs, he really contemplated security for himself and friends, under the protection of the British standard. This appeared at the time to be the apprehension of many of his connections. However, if he was really as culpable as represented by some of those letters, he soon recovered his firmness, his character, and the confidence of his country, and the commander in chief.] and despairing of brighter prospects in his country, more from timidity than disaffection, he was on the point of relinquishing the public cause. It was asserted he absolutely applied to Count Donop at Burlington for a protection for himself and family, on condition of his forsaking his country, in the lowest stage of her distress and his general and friend, at a period when he most needed his assistance.
But the brilliant action at Trenton, and the subsequent successes at Princeton, and other places at the beginning of the year 1777 restored the tone of his nerves so as to enable him to act with distinguished firmness, fidelity, and bravery on many trying occasions; and disposed almost everyone to throw a veil over the momentary weakness of a mind generally well disposed to his country. [Mr. Reed had publicly announced his regret that a letter written by him to General Lee in the year 1776 had been published to the world. He observed that "that letter was written in haste and written in a moment of great anxiety; not from any diminution of affection for General Washington" whom he justly styles "a great and good man." This letter was undoubtedly the result of Mr. Reed's apprehensions at a period when there was utmost danger, that all would be lost to America, from various causes that presented more vigorous operations. But he ever after expressed the highest respect for the character of the commander in chief; and observed that his countrymen might rest in full confidence in the judgment, abilities, and discretion of General Washington.]
These circumstances were known in the British army, and probably induced Governor Johnstone to think Mr. Reed a proper subject for his designs. He proposed as an adequate reward for his treachery if Mr. Reed would engage his interest to promote the object to their commission, that he should have any office in the colonies in the gift of his Britannic Majesty, and the sum of 10,000 pounds sterling in hand. This extraordinary proposal was made through a lady, who had some connections in the British army. Finding she expected an explicit reply, and being a lady of so much respectability as to demand it, Mr. Reed answered that "he was not worth the purchasing, but such as he was, the King of Great Britain was not rich enough to do it."
Mr. Johnstone knew Mr. Morris to be a commercial character, a speculating genius, a calculator of finances, and a confidential friend of General Washington. He might probably think that if the commander in chief of the American army could once be brought to listen to proposals or to barter his fidelity, no one could make a better bargain for Britain than Mr. Morris, who had so much the ear and confidence of General Washington.
From some circumstances in Mr. Dana's former conduct, Mr. Johnstone might think himself sure of his influence, without bidding very high; and though liberal of his master's gold, it does appear that he offered him a direct bribe. Mr. Johnstone's confidence in the success of his attempt on the fidelity of this gentleman was probably grounded on a circumstance generally known. Mr. Dana had formerly fallen under the suspicions of many of his countrymen that he was not friendly to their opposition of British measures.
This suspicion arose from his having repaired to England a short time before the commencement of the war. But within a year after the Battle of Lexington, he had eradicated those prejudices by returning to his native country, entrusted with some secret communications from the friends of America then in England. This recommended him to favor and reconciliation with t his countrymen. They laid aside their suspicions; and some characters of known integrity brought him forward, and soon after he was chosen a member of the general Congress.
The above traits of character might be thought proper materials for a British commissioner to operate upon, but Governor Johnstone was mistaken in the character of Americans. For, notwithstanding their passions, their foibles, or their weaknesses, there were few at that time who would not have spurned at the idea of being purchased. They highly resented the effort to tamper with their integrity at any price, when the liberty of America was the stake.
These letters and transactions were immediately laid before Congress by the several gentlemen, who thought themselves particularly insulted by such unequivocal attempts on their honor and fidelity. This demeanor of one of the commissioners was resented in a manner that might be expected from that respectable body. The American Congress at this period was, with few exceptions, composed of men jealous of their rights, proud of their patriotism and independence, and tenacious of their honor and probity. They resolved that as they felt, so they ought to demonstrate the most pointed indignation against such daring attempts to corrupt their integrity. They added that "it was incompatible with their honor to hold any further intercourse with George Johnstone, Esquire, more especially to negotiate" with him on affairs in which the cause of liberty was interested." [For Mr. Johnstone's private letter to the President of Congress, and Mr. Laurens' reply, which was equally honorable to himself and to his country, and which breathed that spirit of dignity, independence, and virtue, which uniformly marked the character of this gentleman, the reader is referred to the journals of Congress.]
This resolve announced in all the public papers drew out a very angry declaration from Mr. Johnstone. He intimated that he should decline acting in future as a commissioner, or in any other way negotiating with Congress. He observed that "the business would be left in abler hands; and that he should be happy to find no other impediment in the way of accommodation, after he was removed; but that he was inclined to believe the resolutions of Congress were dictated on similar motives to the Convention of Saratoga." Mr. Johnstone alluded to a resolve of Congress in reply to the offer of the commissioners to ratify the Convention of Saratoga. To this offer they had replied "that no ratification that maybe tendered in consequence of powers that only reached the case by construction or which may subject all transactions relative thereto either to the future approbation or disapprobation of Parliament can be accepted by Congress."
To the resentful language of Governor Johnstone, he added that Congress acted a delusory part, contrary to the wishes of their constituents; and after many very severe reflections on their connection with France, he avowed a total disregard either of the good or ill opinion of such a body; but acknowledged "that making a just allowance for men acting under the heats of civil convulsions, he had a regard for some individuals that composed it."
Doubtless, at the moment of this passionate declaration, Mr. Johnstone had forgotten the flattering epithets, even to adulation, that he had recently bestowed on the same body he now affected to hold in sovereign contempt. But Congress persevered in their usual steady line of conduct, and took no farther notice of the letters, declarations, or addresses of the commissioners.
Thus closed their public negotiations. Yet they did not despair of dividing the colonies. Letters and addresses were still circulated to the governors of particular states, and to private gentlemen, and inflammatory declarations were spread throughout America. The poison of these new modes of overture for peace, between contending nations, was effectually antidoted by the spirited publications of several gentlemen of ability, in their private capacity. [W.H. Drayton and others.]
The last effort made by these disappointed negotiators before they left America as the publication of a manifesto signed by three of them and dispersed throughout the continent. This address appeared to be dictated more by resentment and despair than expectation or hope. It contained an endeavor to foment jealousies between the several states; and insinuated that Congress were not authorized by their constituents to reject the offers of Britain or to enter into alliances with foreign nations. Proposals were made for separate treaties either with the governors, the legislative bodies, or individual gentlemen; and offers of pardon were held out to any in civil or military departments, and to all descriptions of men who should, within 40 days, desert the service of their country and enlist under the standard of Britain.
This was not the most offensive part of this extraordinary manifesto. Vindictive threatenings were denounced against all who should continue deaf to these gracious and generous calls of their Sovereign. It finished by declaring that if America still preferred her connection with the insidious and hereditary enemy of Britain, she must expect the operations of war would be continued in such modes as tended most to distress, depopulate, and ruin. [See the manifesto at large in the British Remembrancer and in the Annual Register, as well as in the Journals of Congress.]
Mankind are seldom driven into compliance by the haughty threats of powerful adversaries, unless they feel their own weakness to such a degree as to render them abject. But America, conscious of her own internal strength, and sure of the assistance of foreign allies, rather spurned at the virulent spirit of this declaration. It did not increase their respect towards the negotiators for peace. Nor were the Americans alone offended at the style and manner of this address. It was considered as deficient both in policy and humanity even by some officers in the British army. One of them, of high rank, immediately repaired to England and declared with honest indignation in the House of Commons, of which he was a member, that "he could not bear the attempt to convert soldiers into butchers, assassins, and incendiaries; or the abominable idea of sheathing his sword in the bowels of age and innocence. Nor would he be instrumental in tarnishing the luster of the British name by acts of barbarity, in obedience to the man dates of the most infamous administration that ever disgraced a free country." [See debates in Parliament.]
But by the activity of officers of less delicacy and tenderness, the theory of cruelty held out by the commissioners was soon realized by the perpetration of every crime; and the extreme rigor of war, which in modern times has been meliorated by the general consent of civilized nations, was renewed in America, in all the barbarous shapes that the ingenuity or the wickedness of man could invent.
Soon after the manifesto of the commissioners was published, a declaration was issued by Congress, though not in terms equally cruel and threatening. They, however, discovered their resentment by the severity of their language; and a sort of license was encouraged for retaliation on individuals, if the British proceeded to murder the inhabitants and burn the houses of private persons. They thought themselves justifiable in this from past sufferings, and the present threatenings of officers commissioned to reconcile, instead of further irritating the injured Americans.
Congress reproached them with meanness, in attempting to carry their point by bribery, corruption, and deceit; an charged their nation with making "a mock at humanity, by the wanton destruction of men; a mock at religion by impious appeals to God, whilst in the violation of his sacred commands; and a mockery of reason itself, by supposing that the liberty and happiness of America could safely be entrusted to those who had sold their own, unawed by a sense of virtue or shame." They appealed to the Searcher of Hearts for the rectitude of their intentions, and observed that not instigated by anger or revenge, they should, through every possible change of fortune, adhere to their determinations. In this state and temper of the Congress, the people, and the commissioners, Sir Henry Clinton took the command of all the royal troops in America. Previous to the opening of the summer campaign, Sir William Howe had obtained leave to repair to England. His intended absence was much regretted by the British army, and, as a man of pleasure and address, by the gay part of the city of Philadelphia. Every manifestation of respect was expressed on the occasion, and the most superb display of modern luxury exhibited in a n elegant entertainment, which drew attention from the novelty of the style. The mischianza was considered a new species of pleasure; but the appellation was only an additional decoration to an effort designed to pay the highest compliment and respect both to the military and the private character of General Howe.
Notwithstanding this and other testimonials of the affection of his officers and his army, he was censured by the ministry on his arrival in England, and a public clamor prevailed against his general conduct, during his command in America. In consequence of the ill temper excited against him, he published a long narrative in his own defense, and urged a free examination of his conduct in the House of Commons.
But the minister appeared averse to strictures that might lay open too many of the secrets of the cabinet. However, several distinguished gentlemen of the army were at last called to examination, and on the whole gave a favorable testimony to the military character and operations of General Howe, and extenuated the failure of particular maneuvers by the difficulty and embarrassment of his situation, in a country where it was impossible for him to know whether he was surrounded by friends or foes, and where he often found himself deceived by the misrepresentations of the loyalists. In order to invalidate the evidence of Lord Cornwallis and other respectable characters, the party against Sir William Howe procured the examination and evidence of Joseph Galloway and some others of the most inveterate refugees who had fled from America and were disappointed that the subjugation of their country was thus long delayed.
Much censure fell on the ministry for their resorting to the testimony of American refugees, pensioners, and custom-house officers, whose places, pensions, and existence depended on their adherence to ministerial measures, to invalidate the evidence of military men of high rank and great professional knowledge.
Sir William Howe was not again vested with command during the American war. Some other officers, either disgusted or discouraged, returned to England after the summer campaign. Several of them were advanced and sent out again in the succeeding spring to pursue the work of slaughter or to humble the spirit of Americans at the feet of monarchy. A number of these ill-fated officers, whose merits were conspicuous in their line, did not again return to the bosom of their native country, the beloved island of Britain; where their surviving friends were left to weep at the recollection of the ashes of the brave, scattered over the heights and plains of the American world.
Governor Penn was the last proprietary governor of the state of Pennsylvania. After the Revolution, different modes were adopted. The patent granted by the Crown to the celebrated Penn, the founder of that colony, included a vast territory; but the enormous claims of the family were extinguished by an act of the legislature of Pennsylvania. This was not in consequence of any political delinquency of the late governor, who had acquitted himself with ability and address, and retained his patriotism and attention to the interests of his country to the end of the contest. The heirs of the family voluntarily relinquished their extensive claims in consideration of a very handsome sum of money paid to the claimants by the legislature, in lieu of all quit-rents that might hereafter be demanded.