History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter XXII
Immediately after the successful operations in Virginia, the Count of Grasse took leave of his American friend's and, conformably to orders received from his Court before he left France, sailed for the West Indies. He left the continent in the beginning of November, 1781. He was accompanied with the gratitude and good wishes of almost every individual in the United States; nor was this more than justice required.
A most extraordinary reverse of fortune and prospects had taken place in America after the arrival of this brave commander and the auxiliaries of his nation who had come forward and lent their aid to the Americans. This assistance was received by the United States at a period when her armies and America herself stood in the most serious and solemn point of her distress.
Decorated with the laurels of military fame, several of the principal officers withdrew from Virginia and repaired to other quarters. General Washington, laden with the splendid trophies of victory, went on to Philadelphia, where, by particular request of Congress, he continued for some time. There he received a personal and complimentary address from that body and the applauses of all conditions of men, in a degree sufficient to stimulate the least ambitious mind to pursue the path of victory, until time should bring a period of rest to the pursuits of war.
The Marquis la Fayette, desirous to revisit his native country, which had been several years involved in a war with Great Britain, embraced the present opportunity and returned to France. He was complimented by Congress with an advance of rank in the army and the highest expressions of esteem for his bravery and good conduct in their service. With a strong attachment to the inhabitants, and the most friendly disposition toward the United States, he promised to return again to America with further aids if it should be found necessary to try the fortune of another campaign before the contested object should be completely obtained.
After the capture of the British army, the surrender of their shipping in the Chesapeake, and the restoration of tranquility in the state of Virginia, General Wayne was ordered on with the Pennsylvania line to march with the utmost dispatch to South Carolina to aid General Greene, who had yet many difficulties to encounter in that quarter. The distance from the central states and the long service at the southward had exposed the American commander and the army there to sufferings indescribable.
After the action at the Eutaw Springs, we left General Greene on the High-Hills of Santee, where he thought it necessary to repair to secure and recruit the remainder of his army and to wait the exigencies that might again call him forward to the more active scenes of the field. He did not continue there long before he thought proper to move forwards toward Jacksonborough. There the light troops from Virginia, that had been commanded by the Colonels Laurens and Lee, joined him. But the whole army was so destitute of ammunition and every other necessary for an advance to any action that they had scarcely the means of supporting themselves in a defensive condition. Of consequence, only some small skirmishes ensued, without much advantage to either party. It was happy for the Americans that their enemies were now almost as much reduced in numbers as themselves. Yet the variegated causes of distress among this small remnant of continental soldiers were almost innumerable.
They were in an unhealthy climate, always unfriendly to northern constitutions. They were destitute of many of the necessaries for carrying on war with advantage, and almost without the means of supporting human life. In addition to this, the general had to combat disaffection, discontent, and mutiny, in his own army. The Maryland line, particularly, had indulged a mutinous spirit to an alarming extreme, which required all the address of the commander in chief to suppress. At the same time, he had to encounter dangers of every kind from a valiant enemy, stimulated to cruelty by many circumstances that led them almost to despair of their own cause.
On the other hand, the disaffection of most of the inhabitants of Charleston, and the sickliness of the country on which he had depended had been indeed discouraging circumstances to Lord Rawdon. Not willing to risk his constitution longer in that insalubrious latitude, he had embarked for England in the summer, was captured on his passage by the Count de Grasse, but was soon after stored to his native country. The troops he left behind were not in want of food, clothing, or warlike stores; while the little American army under General Greene was naked to that extreme that they had scarcely rags left to veil them from the most indecent appearances. [General Greene's letters at this period to General Washington and others.]
In this wretched situation, General Greene and his little army continued through the winter; and such was the severe and vigilant duty of the officers that for seven months the general himself was not able to take off his clothes for a night. This is sufficient to prove the assertion in one of his letters that the army was so destitute of everything that it was not able to make a march of a day.
General Leslie had again, by proclamation, called on all who had still any remains of attachment to the British government to adhere firmly to the royal cause. He assured them of the strongest support in his power, notwithstanding the acts of disenfranchisement, confiscation, and banishment which took place after Governor Rutledge had again resumed the administration of civil government. However, Leslie did not receive any new additions of strength by his proclamations or his letters of altercation with the governor who succeeded Mr. Rutledge, relative to the civil police of the country. Nor (as observed) was General Greene able to advance or take a single step further to put a period to the power of the British arms in that state. But it was not long before general Leslie proposed a cessation of arms. The citizens were sickly, the loyalists disheartened, and his own troops reduced. Every circumstance and every party required a respite from the distresses of war. As general Greene had not yet been authorized by Congress to accede to the proposal, he did not immediately comply.
The advance of General Wayne with his detachment from the army in Virginia, which reached South Carolina before the close of the present year, was a necessary acquisition, and had been impatiently expected. Without this, it would have been impossible for General Greene to have held out much longer. Some provisions, clothing, and other necessaries, reached the army in the ensuing spring. This partially relieved the American commander from the complicated distresses he had suffered the preceding winter. It restored more order an satisfaction among his troops. The discontents and mutinous disposition among some of them were dissipated; and he was able, with truth, soon afterwards to observe in general orders that, "It is his happiness that he has the honor to command an army that has not been less distinguished for its patience, than bravery; and it will add no small luster to your character to say that you have rejected with abhorrence the practice of plundering and the exercise of cruelty, although urged by your necessities to the former, and by the example of your enemies to the lat. United by principle, and connected by affection, you have exhibited to the world a proof that elevated souls and persevering tempers can triumph over every difficulty."
General Wayne did not stay long in South Carolina, but marched forward by order of General Greene, to cross the Savannah. He was reinforced by a party from Augusta, sent forward to his aid. Though the state of Georgia was considered by the British as completely subjugated to their power, yet there was a considerable number of the inhabitants who still cooperated with Congress and continued a delegation of members of that body, though all the hostile movements or changes that had for several years been shifting the prospects of the inhabitants, who had been generally the subjects of the British Crown more in name than reality; and the greater their distance from the center of British operations, the less were they disposed to submit to British authority. A few other troops besides those from the neighborhood of Augusta, who had been stationed at different posts, but retained their attachment to the American cause, joined the troops collected under the command of General Wayne.
Thus the state of Georgia was relieved at a time when they least expected it. Animated by the successes in Virginia, and ambitious for the honor of relieving the state of Georgia, the advance of General Wayne was rapid, and his arrival on the borders very unexpected to General Clarke, who commanded at Savannah.
On the first rumor of the march of this party of victorious Americans, orders were given by General Clarke to the officers commanding the British outposts to burn and destroy everything on the fertile banks of the river and to retire with the troops within the works in the suburbs of the town.
After this waste of property and the destruction of their crops, the Georgians and the few American troops there to support them had more to endure than at any period before, from hunger, fatigue, the attacks of British partisans, the irruptions of the Creek Indians, and other savages in British service. We have seen the sufferings of that state had been grievous for several years, from invasion, slaughter, and conquest. Their subsistence now totally destroyed in the conflagration of the borders, the inhabitants were reduced to despair, until the arrival in Georgia of Wayne's detachment.
This happy event revived their sinking spirits and invigorated them to new exertions in defense of their country. The inhabitants from every quarter repaired immediately to the assistance of General Wayne; who, soon after he had crossed the river, was attacked by Colonel Brown, who had marched with a considerable party from Savannah. With this body of troops, he fell suddenly on and attacked General Wayne. They fought with great spirit and valor, but were soon defeated, and driven back by the Americans.
A few days after this, a very large body of Creek Indians, accompanied by their principal warriors and chieftains, headed by a British officer, attempted in the night to surprise General Wayne in his quarters. He, ever vigilant, and defying all personal danger, was in greater readiness for their reception than was expected. The assailants gained little advantage by this sudden onset. The affray was fierce, but did not continue long before the Indians were willing to retreat, having lost a number of their principal associates. But he capture of Lord Cornwallis and his army, the low state of British affairs in the Carolinas, and the advance of a body of American troops were circumstances so discouraging that the British did not think proper to make any vigorous resistance. A period was soon put to those hostilities that had for several years ravaged the state of Georgia and destroyed or driven away many of its former inhabitants.
General Wayne was an officer of high military reputation. His prudence and judgment had been conspicuous in the trying scene which called out his talents in 1780 on the mutiny and secession of the Pennsylvania line, which he commanded. His valor had been signalized at Stoney Point and in Virginia, as well as in many other places where decided action was necessary. He now had the honor of terminating the war in the state of Georgia.
On the expectation of the British leaving Savannah, some proposals were made to General Wayne by the merchants and others for the security of their property; and every reasonable indulgence was promised by him to those who chose to remain there. He engaged that those merchants who did not owe allegiance to the United States should be permitted to remain there a reasonable time to dispose of their property and settle their affairs; and that they should be protected by the military until delivered into the hands of the civil authority.
Thus, in a few months after the events above mentioned, the whole state of Georgia was evacuated by their formidable enemies. This was early in the ear 1782. Not a single British soldier was left in the pay of the King of England, except such as were prisoners to the Americans. Much to the honor of General Clarke, he quit the post without any injury to the town of Savannah, and left the works standing that had been erected by the industry of the royal troops.
This defeat of the efforts of the British government to hold the state of Georgia in subjection fully justified the observations of Lord Maitland, who had served his country with ability and applause in several parts of America. By his exertions, in conjunction with General Prevost, the sate of Georgia had been long retained against the combined force of an American army under General Lincoln and a French fleet commanded by the Count de Estaing.
The sum of Lord Maitland's speech in the British Parliament on his return to England afterwards was that those men who had brought the nation into its present state had come into life at a time when the arms of their country were carried to an unprecedented height of splendor and glory; when the Empire was under the benefit of wise councils and of a vigorous system, great and respectable abroad, opulent and happy at home, when her trade covered every sea and filled every port in the world, and when her navy claimed and enjoyed the proud and enviable dominion of the seas.
He observed that "their predecessors had come into life with gay prospects and with pleasing hopes; but how different was the fate of himself and those who entered into public life at the present moment? They came upon the stage of public action at a time when their country was perhaps upon the eve of dissolution; when it certainly was fallen from the high consideration in which it stood a few years before and when every prospect of grandeur was vanished; when every incitement to great and laudable ambition was extinguished, and when they had not even the consolation to believe that the efforts of their youth could snatch their country from impending ruin." His Lordship added, "that the prosecution of the war against America was criminal and absurd beyond expression; and that nothing short of the immediate discontinuance of it could save the nation from irretrievable destruction. It was, therefore, the duty of that house to raise their sinking country, which lay prostrate at their feet, and sought, amid the bitterest hours of calamity, their aid to snatch her from impending ruin."
Though the state of Georgia was now happily relieved from the oppression of its foreign forces, South Carolina continued some time longer in a state of hostility. They remained several months exposed to the ravages of small parties of the British, sent out for various purposes; the most important of which was to collect provisions for their own immediate necessities.
Among the most painful events which took place on these occasions and which was justly regretted by all America was the death of Colonel John Laurens. No one acquainted with his merits can forebear to drop a tear over the memory of so worthy an officer. His zeal for the interests of his country and the cause of freedom had often been exhibited by his exertions in the field; nor was he less distinguished as an able negotiator in France, where he had repaired in some of the darkest days of America. There he rendered his country the most essential service by procuring a loan of money and expediting, by his address, the troops and the navy that came to its relief in the year 1780.
Colonel Laurens was a gentleman, not only of great military talents and public virtues, but was endeared to everyone by his affability and manners, his polite accomplishments, refined understanding, and the most amiable private character.
Immediately after the capture of Lord Cornwallis, Colonel Laurens returned to the state of South Carolina to exert his talents in emancipating his native state from the power and oppression of its enemies. His zeal and activity ever prompted him to go forward on smaller, as well as the greatest occasions that required his assistance. He met his premature fate in one of the many desultory skirmishes that took place not far from the environs of Charleston. General Leslie had sent out a party to march toward the Combahee River to secure rice and other provisions, which his army greatly wanted. They were followed by a detachment sent on by General Greene. In this party, Colonel Laurens was a volunteer. He was mortally wounded in a severe rencounter, almost at the moment when victory declared in favor of the party commanded by General Gist.
His death was universally lamented. The tears of his country were but a just tribute due to his own merits; while grief was heightened in every compassionate bosom when reflecting on the sorrow this premature stroke must occasion to his respected father, just released from the calamities of a long imprisonment in England.
The work to be completed in the state of South Carolina was yet arduous. The sufferings of General Greene and his little army have been already portrayed. A more ample detail of these may be seen in his own letters, if curiosity is not sufficiently gratified. The distressing accounts from his own hand, above referred to, were not ameliorated, or did his military conflicts cease, until the final embarkation of the British troops from Charleston. Such had been the deranged state of affairs there, and such the distance of South Carolina from the central states, as had rendered it impossible for him to procure support, supplies, and pay, for his own army. He was obliged, in order to procure subsistence for them, to enter into large contracts on his own private security; this embarrassed him the remainder of his life.
As General Greene had now nearly finished his military drama, it may not be improper to observe here that this worthy officer survived the war but a few years. He died in Georgia by a coup de soliel, or sudden stroke of the sun, not unusual in the southern parts of America, which instantly puts a period to human life. His property was afterwards seized by his creditors, and his family, after his death, left to the mercy of the public.
It would not be doing justice to his memory to pass unobserved that General Greene conducted the whole campaign at the southward with the most consummate prudence, courage, and ability, notwithstanding the innumerable difficulties that lay in his way. He entered on the command under every disadvantage. He superseded a brave, unfortunate, popular officer, just beaten from the field. The country was divided in opinion and intimidated by the power of Britain. His troops, unprovided, naked, and desponding, had to march a long way through a barren and inhospitable country, tripped of its small produce by the previous march of the British army. They had to attack and retreat, to advance and to fly, over rivers, swamps, and mountains, in opposition to a conquering foe flushed with recent success, who considered at that time South Carolina and Georgia as already subdued, and North Carolina on the point of submission to royal authority.
Cities have often contended for the honor of giving birth to men of eminence; and when a great degree of celebrity has been acquired, it awakens a curiosity in everyone to inquire after their origin. General Greene was a native of the state of Rhode Island. He was a gentleman of moderate fortune, who, previous to the American war, had lived in the plain and sober habits in which he was education, which were in that simplicity of style that usually marks the manners of those denominated Quakers.
It is well known that he religious tenets of that sect are averse to all the operations of offensive war. The situation of America was then such that no man of principle could balance on the line of conduct which duty impelled him to take. The natural and civil rights of man invaded, and all the social enjoyments interrupted, he did not think himself bound to sit a quiet spectator of the impending distractions and distresses of his country. He viewed the opposition to the oppressions of Great Britain in the light of necessary and defensive war.
On these rational principles, he early girded on the buckler and the helmet; and with the purest intentions in his heart, and the sword in his hand, he came forward. Nor did he resheathed it until he had, without the smallest impeachment of reputation, passed through many of the most active and arduous scenes, as already related, and in conjunction with many others of the same patriotic and heroic feelings, essentially aided in delivering his country from foreign domination.
His valor and magnanimity, humanity and probity, through all his military career, need no other encomium than a just detail of his transaction to complete the character of a brae and accomplished officer, formed for the command of armies, by the talents and resources of his own mind, which were discoverable in a variety of instances.
Beloved by the soldiery, esteemed by his country; a confidential friend of the commander in chief; endowed by nature with a firmness of mind that in great characters runs parallel with hazard and fatigue; and possessing that amor patriae that bids defiance to danger and death, when contrasted with the public safety; General Greene did not leave the southern department until the British troops were beaten from post to post, their proud designs of conquest and subjugation extinguished, the whole country recovered, and the inhabitants who survived the severe convulsion again restored to the quiet possession of their plantations. This was not finally completed until the latter part of the year 1782, when the last remnant of British troops in the southern states embarked under the command of General Leslie. This finished the invasion of the Carolinas, and the inglorious ravage of so fair a part of America.
Savannah and Charleston evacuated, the British troops driven from the Carolinas and captured in Virginia; the southern sates were restored to that kind of repose which is felt after a frightful and turbulent dream which exhausts the strength and so far unnerves the system that energies of nature cannot be immediately called into exercise. After such a total derangement of government, of civil order, and the usual course of business, it must require a considerable lapse of time to awake from that kind of torpor, the result of too much agitation, and from the languor which pervades the mind when former habits are interrupted, and the usual stimulants to action annihilated. They had to restore confidence and justice at home, to settle equitably the demands of creditors, and at the same time to secure the debtor from oppression on each side of the Atlantic, where long commercial intercourse had subsisted for so many years.
This variety of difficulties must be left to the arrangements which may take place when the independence of America shall be acknowledged by foreign powers. We shall here only observe that by the invasion of America and the attempts of the British government to reduce the colonies by conquest, the narrow prejudices of national attachment were laid aside, and those ideas nearly obliterated that by long habit had led America to view with peculiar respect the customs, manners, religion, and laws of the country whence she originated and on whom she too partially leaned in the days of infantile weakness.
The American colonies, from their first settlement, had little reason for this partial attachment to the parent state. Their progress in arts and manufactures was continually checked. They were prohibited from working up many of the raw materials which the country produced, for their own necessary use. They were restricted from carrying wool from one colony to another, though the coldness of the climate in many parts of America required the most ready means of procuring and working it into clothing. In a country abounding with iron ore, they were restrained by act of Parliament from erecting slitting mills to manufacture it for their own use. In instances too innumerable to be again recapitulated, the British government had endeavored to cramp the growth of the young settlements, to keep them in poverty an dependence, and to compel them to repair to their stores for almost all the necessaries of life.
It was a cruel exercise of power to endeavor to prohibit a great people from making all the advantages they could of their own produce and employing their stock and industry in their own way. This, as observed by a writer, "is a manifest violation of the most sacred rights of mankind. Such prohibitions are only impertinent badges of slavery, imposed without sufficient reason, by groundless jealousies." The same writer had observed, "When the English colonies were established and had become so considerable as to attract the attention of the mother country, the first regulations which she made with regard to them had always in view to secure to herself the monopoly of their commerce; to confine their market, and to enlarge her own at their expense; and consequently, rather to damp and discourage than to quicken and forward the course of their industry." [Smith's Wealth of Nations.]
In what way, therefore, it may be asked, has the policy of England contributed, either to the first establishment or the present grandeur of America? Let the same writer reply. "In one way, and in one way only, it has contributed much. Magna virum mater! It bred and formed the men who were capable of achieving such great actions and of laying the foundation of so great an empire; and there is no other quarter of the world of which the policy is capable of forming or has ever actually and in fact formed such men. The colonies owe to the policy of Europe the education and great views of their active and enterprising founders; and some of the greatest and most important of them, so far as concerns their internal government, owe it to scarce anything else."
The folly and misguided policy of the government of England has dissevered the colonies from them forever. Their oppression, their invasions, and aggressions first taught America to view the island of Great Britain with an averted eye and an alienated mind. Their alienation was completed when the King of England sent out his fleets and his armies, strengthened by subsidized strangers, to subjugate and bend to servile submission the inhabitants of a country which has been emphatically styled by one of the first statesmen and patriots [Lord Chatham.] of the nation "the promised land, the Eden of England, her seminary for seamen; that from thence England supplied the neighboring nations with fish, tobacco, rice, and indigo; thence she draws all her naval stores; and that the command of the sea would give her the dominion of the land."
The happy termination of the melancholy events which had for a series of years pervaded America, soon after the present period raised the United States to the zenith of their respectability. The world now viewed with humane satisfaction, millions of people, by unexampled sufferings and steady perseverance, emancipated from a foreign yoke. This pleasure as heightened by the contemplation that a more universal sprit of liberality and a more perfect knowledge of the rights of man might be disseminated by their struggles for freedom, not only in the colonies, but through a considerable part of the civilized world.
The singular combination of events which effected a total separation and annihilated the former political relation between Great Britain and the colonies may be held up by the philosopher or the statesman in various points of view. While the reflective mind, which believes and rejoices in the intervention of Divine Providence, keeps its eye on the Superintending Power which governs the universe and whose finger points the rise and fall of empires. Nor dare a weak mortal to suggest amid all the confusion of the present world that this may not be permitted in order finally to complete the beauty and harmony of the divine system. The world has recently beheld an infant nation at once arise from the vigor of manhood and with the cool resolution of maturity, opposing the intrigues and resisting the power of Britain. In strictest amity with the hereditary foe of Britain, America has been seen leading captive the armies and smiling at the impotent threats of the King of England, to hold her longer in bondage.
This liberation of the American colonies was the wish of the first statesmen and politicians of the world, exclusive of Englishmen; and even among them America had many powerful friends. The great Lord Chatham, whose unshaken patriotism and incorruptible integrity had braved the storms of court faction and intrigue until the frowns of majesty, the fury of party and the arts of ambitious courtiers had caused him to retire from the helm of state, stood at the head of the distinguished list of nobles who advocated the American cause. But though his humanity an justice led him to vindicate the American opposition to ministerial measures, it was with the utmost reluctance that he contemplated the alienation of the colonies from their dependence on the Crown of Britain.
The commanding and comprehensive genius of a Chatham, viewed the consequences of such a dismemberment of the Empire in a clearer light and with superior penetration to most of the statesmen in England. Yet he was among the most strenuous advocates for the maintenance of the constitutional rights claimed by Americans; and on many occasions had exerted his brilliant talents in opposition to the ministerial measures relative to the colonies. He criminated the war, its prosecution, and its effects in the most glowing epithets which ever marked his superior elocution. It is recorded [Life of Lord Chatham.] that he once in the House of Lords felt himself so interested in the American cause and so warmed by the subject that though he had passed his grand climacteric, he, with the vigor of youth and the strong language of maturity expressed himself in his own peculiar manner. He asserted that as "he saw the declining liberties of England and the growing spirit of the colonies, were it not for invincible obstacles, he would infallibly retire from Britain and spend the remainder of his days in that glorious asylum of liberty, of manliness, and of virtue."
Yet his patriotism with regard to Great Britain and his just ideas relative to the oppression of the colonies an their laudable opposition to ministerial measures could never reconcile him for a moment to the thoughts of a total separation, and the unqualified independence of the United States. But his energies in their defense were called forth to the latest period of his lie, when he had nearly reached the term allotted of the existence of man.
Though debilitated by pain and sickness, tortured by gout almost to the dislocation of his limbs, and from feebleness of body rendered unable to stand alone, at a critical period of national affairs, he caused himself to be supported and led into the House of Lords by his friends; where the vigor of a great soul was exerted and the oratory of Greece and Rome rivaled by the pathos, energy, and argument which flowed from a lip quivering on the marge of eternity.
The sudden seizure of this noble patriot in the House of Lords, while thunder rolled from his tongue, and the acumen of his arguments, like lightning, flashed conviction to the bosoms of the advocates of a continuance of war, has been told and repeated with so many affecting circumstances that it is needless to say more in this place than that the event of his death seemed for a time to palsy all parties and make a pause in the prosecution of public measures.
No example in English story has exhibited a character more zealous to extricate his country, plunged in difficulties which were indeed irretrievable. To arise from the chamber of sickness and the bed of lassitude, while "every limb was a rebel to his will," and with the awakened energies of a most vigorous mind and the marks of a "never ebbing spirit," is one among the singular efforts of the human soul to continue the elevation hoped for in immortality, when the teguments of the brittle casement were on the verge of crumbling into dust. One of his biographers has observed that those exertions of the intellectual powers, discoverable to the last in the character of Lord Chatham, "were of all others the most unparalleled, in whatever view considered, and must be forever admired. Those instances in which the soul bursts the ands of earth and stands alone in confessed eternity, are the most beautiful, the most pathetic, the most sublime exhibitions of which the mind of man is capable to conceive."
The death of this illustrious champion of freedom, a justly boasted ornament of the British nation, took place at a very interesting period. It was soon after the misfortunes, the defeat, and the capture, of General Burgoyne a his army, an before the nation had recovered from their deep consternation and dismay, on the unexpected intelligence of the failure of the northern expedition. In the last speech made by the illustrious character above mentioned, who will never be passed over in silence in any historic record connected with the affairs of Great Britain, he observed when he adverted to the disaster at Saratoga that "the presiding deities of Great Britain appeared to have abandoned her, and that Providence militated against her arms, and spurned with indignation at her cause."
But though the most brilliant talents were displayed and the firmest opposition made by many of the best orators, and most enlightened and disinterested patriots of the nation, against the continuance of a ruinous war that produced nothing but defeat and disgrace, yet we have seen that only a short time elapsed before the King and his ministry were again ready to prosecute their hostile intentions and to continue desolation and carnage among the inhabitants of the United States. Reiterated barbarities have been detailed, miseries displayed, and the tragic tale continued, until the mortifying surrender of a second British army. The bosom of humanity was lacerated in the barbarous scenes of protracted war. Yet the breast of His Britannic Majesty seemed rather hardened by the misfortunes of the nation; and the flinty hearts of a majority in Parliament still urged that the scourge of war might pursue those who claimed the just rights of men, in whatever part of the globe there appeared any attempt to defend them.
This was exhibited, not only in their determined coercion of the American colonies, and their hostile dispositions toward the Batavian Republic, but even in their refusal of assistance to the little distressed state of Geneva, when struggling against the encroachments of the aristocratic branch of the government. The people of Geneva had borne too much to continue longer silent under their oppressions. They had complained that the magistrates had encroached on their privileges further than their constitution authorized. These complaints only drew upon themselves new severities from an ambitious aristocracy. The democratic party had required a new code of laws, which should be a standard for the conduct of rulers and also a clear decision on the fundamental principles of their own constitution that they might thereby be excited to a prompt and willing obedience to the laws, when the foundation which demanded it was clearly defined. Mutual confidence would have rested on this basis of public order and common security, had the intrigues of the aristocratic party defeated the salutary project.
The magistrates not only employed the most unjustifiable practices for the support of their authority, but represented their internal disputes in such exaggerated colors and in such a favorable light for themselves that they successfully interested several foreign powers to support their claims. The Court of France interfered; the aristocratic cantons of Zurich and Berne, and the King of Sardinia cooperated; and brought forward a body of 12,000 men, with whom they blockaded the city of Geneva. The citizens were thus compelled to admit these military mediators within their city. A code of laws was prepared under the point of the bayonet, for the future regulation of their government.
This was so inconsistent with the liberties of the people or the independence of their republic that vast numbers of the Genevese abandoned the city to seek an asylum in distant regions, where they might again possess that freedom their ancestors had one enjoyed. The deserted habitations of the citizens were converted into barracks, and a great part of the city, once flourishing under the benign influence of their liberal institutions, reduced to a desert. Thus, as observed "It is a just subject of regret that the ambition of some individuals who aimed at a degree of power to which they had no just claim, should have thus put a period to the prosperity of a republic which has been the abode of so much liberty and happiness."
Amid the distresses of their state, the Genevese had applied to the Earl of Abingdon, once a resident among them, and a known friend to the liberties of mankind in every part of the world, to employ hi influence in their favor with the Court of Great Britain. In this, His Lordship was successes. They had besought the noble Earl to continue his friendly disposition and to urge his nation to watch over the situation of a little state, now on the point of being sacrificed to the principles of despotism, to urge his nation to watch over the situation of a little state, now on the point of being sacrificed to the principles of despotism, whose struggles must be interesting to all in whom the fine feelings of humanity were not totally extinguished. He replied that it was with much regret that he had not succeeded in his application to the British ministry to afford relief to the oppressed state of Geneva, and that there was too much reason to fear no assistance would be sent them.
He attributed this to the present situation in Great Britain, rent by divisions at home, and surrounded by enemies abroad. [See the Earl of Abingdon's reply to the applications of the Genevans.] It is, however, probable that their indifference might arise from the general spirit of all monarchies to discountenance every effort of the people in favor of republicanism. It is not to be expected there should be any partial bias to those liberal principles of democratic government where a monarch is enthroned with all the powers of despotism in his hands, a parliament at command to enforce his mandates, and a people ready to relinquish their own will to the caprice or pride of a sovereign.
His Lordship had observed in answer to the Genevan application that "there was a time when the fleets of England were the speaking trumpets to the whole world. At that period their grievances would have been listened to, and their redress would have been certain. But there was sad reverse in the affairs of Great Britain, which was no longer in a capacity to speak to the enemy so the liberties of mankind in its wonted tone of authority."
In Ireland, the emigrants from the ruined state of Geneva met with the most liberal encouragement from the government, from the nobility, and from the nation at large. In an assembly of delegates in the province of Leinster, it was unanimously resolved "that the virtuous citizens of Geneva, who wished for an asylum in that kingdom, from the hand of tyranny an oppression, deserved their highest commendation; and that such of them as had established themselves among them, should upon every occasion receive their utmost attention and support." Sympathy for oppressed sufferers under the hand of despotic power had been taught the inhabitants of Ireland from similar afflictions, under which they had long groaned, and against which they were still struggling to rescue their prostrated rights and privileges, which were invaded by the haughty and domineering spirit of a more potent sister kingdom.
The history of Geneva displays a striking portrait of the means by which most republics have been subverted. This is generally done by the pride of a few families, the ambition of individuals, and the supineness of the people. Thus an undue authority is established by a select number, more mortifying to the middling class of mankind and which has a tendency to render more abject and servile the mass of the people than the single arm of the most despotic individual. [The history of Geneva has very properly been recommended to the study of every American citizen by a political writer.]