« AnteriorContinuar »
Copies of this declaration were immediately transmitted to all the states, and received with enthusiasm, and proclaimed with every demonstration of joyFive days after its adoption, the legislature of New York, that had not previously acted, unanimously resolved, that the reasons of Congress for declaring Independence, were “cogent and unanswerable.” At Philadelphia, when it was solemnly promulgated on the eighth, the artillery fired salutes, the bells rang a peal of triumph, and bonfires blazed all over the city. At New York, it was on the eleventh, by order of General Washington, read to the head of every brigade in the
army, amidst universal acclamations. The leaden statue of king George the Third, that had stood before the government house, was torn down, dragged through the streets, and i converted into musket-balls. In Baltimore the like enthusiasm prevailed, and the populace marched an effigy of the king through the streets, and then burnt it. In Boston the most extravagant demonstrations were made, of almost delirious exultation. Salutes of thirteen guns were fired from every place, and by every company that possessed the
All the authorities, civil and military, with a vast concourse of people, were collected together in King-street, and the Declaration read from the balcony of the State House, amidst deafening shouts and the roar of artillery. The name of King-street was changed to State-street, on the spot, and in the evening, the royal emblems throughout the town, crowns, sceptres, lions, &c. were torn down and burnt in triumph. In Virginia the like ardor prevailed; and the whole country hailed the Declaration as an act of liberation from slavery, and a victory over the institutions of despotism.
We cannot better illustrate these e feelings than by ian extract from a private letter, written on the morning after the vote in favour of Independence, by John Adams, to his wife, published many years afterwards. It shows the warmth of temperament which pervaded the patriot bosoms of that day ; the sagacity with which coming evils were foreseen, and courageous confidence with which they were defied. "The day is past. The fourth day of July, 1776, will be a memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp,
shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward for ever.
“You will think me transported with enthusiasm; but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph, although you and I may rue, which I hope we shall not.”
It was not, however, possible, in the nature of human affairs, that so complete a revolution could be made with perfect unanimity. Many individuals, from various reasons refused to acquiesce in the decision of the mass of the people, and continued to acknowledge and adhere to British authority. Persons of this description were called Tories and enemies to their country; and were so unpopular, that in many instances they were illegally siezed and violently abused by the people. Before the declaration of independ. ence, Congress had been compelled to interfere in their behalf, and pass resolutions to protect them from disturb. ances, except when taken in an overt-act of hostility to American liberty, or under circumstances of strong presumption. The resolution, already alluded to, declaring the Americans absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, passed in June, recognised the obligation of allegiance to the separate colonies, from all persons residing within the same; and therefore liable only to the colonial tribunals for violations of this duty. On the 24th, these principles were followed up more specifically by a declaration that " all persons abiding within any of the United Colonies, and deriving protection from the laws of the same, owed allegiance to the said laws, and were members of said colony.? And further, that all persons, members of any colony, who should levy war against any of the said colonies, or adhere to its enemies, os within the same,
were "guilty of treason against such colony.” It was further recommended to the legislatures of the several colonies, to provide laws for the punishment of such“ treasons.” No more explicit avowal of the separate sovereignty of the individual colonies, in fact, before the joint declaration, could be advanced. After the declaration, the states, or most of them, on the same or
similar suggestions, confiscated the estates of Tories, and adherents to Great Britain, and passed special laws inflicting severe punishments on all acts of hostility, and the punishment of death for treason.
The disasters to the arms of America, which followed the declaration of independence, increased the number of malcontents, and weakened the force of the country. The mass of the inhabitants, however, stood firm in the cause; and the consistency and courage of Congress, with the unequalled virtues of the Commander-in-chief, who held the destinies of the country in his hand for a long and critical period, sustained and invigorated the popular determination to a final triumph over foreign and domestic enemies.
In its proper place, hereafter, we shall trace the history of the Confederation among the colonies, which took its rise out of the new state of separate sovereignty, in which the declaration of independence placed them. So obvious was the necessity of some such compact, that on the 12th of June, the next day after that in which the resolution in favour of independence passed the committee of the whole, Congress determined to appoint a committee to prepare and digest a form of Confederation; and on the 13th the committee was selected, consisting of Mr. Bartlett, of New Hampshire, Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts, Stephen Hopkins, of Rhode Island, Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, R. R. Livingston, of New York, John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, Thomas M'Kean, of Delaware, Mercer, of Maryland, Nelson, of Virginia, Hewes, of North Carolina, Rutledge, of South Carolina, and Gwinnett, of Georgia. This committee reported a plan of Confederacy on the 12th of July. After discussions and amendments, an amended draft was reported late in August, and the whole subject then laid over until April of the next year, and was not finally adopted until November, 1777, under which date, a review of its progress and details more properly belongs.
The position of American affairs, at the date of the declaration of independence, was not encouraging. The repulse of Clinton from Charleston was a gallant action, but did not counterbalance the reverses in Canada. A very powerful force by sea and land was concentrating on the city of New York, where the means for defence were very inadequate. Admiral Howe joined his brother at Staten Island on the 12th July. About the same time, General Clinton arrived with the troops which had attacked Charleston, and Admiral Hotham with a strong reinforcement under his escort. The army, in a short time, amounted to 24,000 of the best troops in Europe, to whom several regiments of Hessian infantry were expected to be added; making the aggregate not less than 35,000 men.
To oppose these, the American General had a force, consisting chiefly of undisciplined and badly provided militia, amounting in number to about seventeen thousand men. Deducting for invalids and those without means for going into active service, the effective force, at no time previous to the battle of Long Island, was greater than fourteen thousand. These were necessarily divided into detachments and parties on New York, Long and Governor's Islands, and Paulus Hook, upon the Jersey shore of the Hudson, opposite the city,-a space extending over fifteen miles.
While waiting for reinforcements, Admiral and General Howe, who were commissioners under the late act of the British parliament, undertook, in their civil capacity, to open negotiations for a re-union between the countries. The declaration of independence probably hastened their anxiety to improve what they thought would be the alarms of the timid, on the first promulgation of so bold a measure.
In the month of June, while on the coast of Massachusetts, Lord Howe had issued circulars to the royal governors of the provinces for distribution, explaining the commission with which he and his colleagues were charged. These were to grant “general or particular pardons to all those who, though they had deviated from their allegiance, were
willing to return to their duty.” Congress, on the receipt of these and subsequent documents of a like character, took the bold step of ordering them to be published and circulated for the purpose of showing the insulting nature of the powers and the absence of all concession to the rights that had been so strenuously claimed. The reason assigned in the resolution for publication was, that the good people of the United States "might see the terms, with the expectation of which the insidious court of Great Britain had endeavoured to amuse and disarm them;" and that “the few, who still remained suspended by a hope founded either in the justice or moderation of their late king, might now at length be convinced that the valor alone of their country could save its liberties.”
A more direct attempt at negotiation was made on the July 14.
u | 14th, by a flag of truce, which brought a letter
*** from General Howe, addressed simply to George Washington, Esq. without official designation. This was refused, not, as General Washington informed Congress, upon a mere point of personal punctilio, but because, in a “public point of view," it was due to his "country and appointment,” to insist upon respect to the Commander-in-chief of the American forces. Congress applauded his course, and directed by resolution, that no letter nor communication from the enemy should be received by any officer whatever, unless directed to him properly in his official capacity.
A second letter, brought by Adjutant-general Patterson, addressed to “George Washington; &c. &c. &c.” was in like manner declined. To the remark that these et ceteras implied every thing, and were not liable to the previous objection, Washington replied, that they also implied any thing; and he should in consequence refuse to receive all communication not explicitly acknowledging his public capacity. Gen. Patterson concluded a long conference, managed on both sides with great dignity and courtesy, by remarking, that the commissioners had a great powers, and would be happy to effect an'acoommodation. :+“ Their powers," rejoined Washington,' " are only to grant pardons. They who have committed no fault; want no pardon." This peremptory rejection of the views with which the royal commissioners came charged, closed their attempts to negotiate upon the ground of pardon. A correspondence was afterwards opened between the two generals, with regard to the treatment of