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Americans, strengthened by French alliance, terms which had been peremptorily rejected when they were alone and unaided. In these altered relations a very difficult task was before the Commissioners, and they accordingly manifested an eager desire to extend the powers of their commission, and concede as largely as possible to all the claims of the Americans short of an acknowledgment of their Independence. Immediately on their arrival, they applied to Washington for a passport to their secretary, Dr. Ferguson, to be permitted to make communications personally to Congress. This was re
fused. They then forwarded letters, by the ordinary
post, covering their commissions, the acts of Lord North, and a series of propositions for conciliation. These were of the most comprehensive description, offering to proclaim a cessation of hostilities by sea and land; to agree to a freedom of trade to any extent required by the joint interests of the two countries; to renounce the right of keeping military forces without the consent of the Congress or particular assemblies; to establish a union, by a reciprocal right of representation; to provide means for raising the credit of American paper, and paying their debts; in short, to use the words of the Commissioners, " to establish the power of the respective legislatures for each particular State to settle its own revenue, its civil and military establishment, and to exercise a perfect freedom of legislation and internal government; so that the British States throughout North America, acting with us in peace and war under one common sovereign, may have the irrevocable enjoyment of every privilege that is short of a total separation of interests, or consistent with that union of force, on which the safety of our common religion and liberty depends."
These offers came too late. A war of three years duration had totally extinguished the affection which prevailed with such unanimity, at the commencement of the quarrel. Nothing but an unconditional acknowledgment of the sovereignty of the States would be listened to; and so the Presi dent of Congress was instructed to reply. Some insinuations against the good faith of the French in their interference in the quarrel, which the Commissioners had introduced into their letter, excited so much indignation among some of the members, that a motion was made to suspend the reading of the papers,
and refuse to notice them further. That motion was finally postponed, and a Committee, consisting of R. H.
Lee, Samuel Adams, W. H. Drayton, Governeur Morris, and Mr. Witherspoon, reported an answer, to be transmitted by President Laurens. It treated their assumption, that "the people of the States are still subjects of Great Britain," as
wholly inadmissible," but informed the Commissioners that tåey were willing to negotiate a treaty of peace and commerce, whenever the king of Great Britain should manifest a sincere disposition for that purpose. It adds: “The only solid proof of that disposition will be, an explicit acknowledgment of the Independence of the States, or the withdrawing of his fleets and armies."
To this firm annunciation the Commissioners made a reply, insisting that they had conceded a degree of independence sufficient to justify Congress in treating with them. They went on to question Congress as to the extent of its own powers, and how these were derived from the States. Of this no other notice was taken by Congress except to declare, that as neither branch of their proposition, the acknowledgment of Independence nor the withdrawal of the British forces, had been assented to, the negotiation was closed.
Foiled in their open efforts, the Commissioners, or one of them at least, endeavoured to compass the same ends by private influence, and the use of liberal promises to individuals supposed to have influence in the American councils. Governor Johnston, whose personal acquaintance with Americans was large, made himself notorious in these intrigues and attempts at bribery. He wrote private letters to Mr. Laurens, to Robert Morris, Mr. Dana, and Mr. Reed, in all of which intimations were given of the great gain which would accrue, by the favor of the British government, to those who should be instrumental in reconciling the two countries. To General Reed a direct offer was made through a lady, a mutual friend, that for his influence he might have 10,0001., and the best office in the Colonies in the gift of the Crown. "I am not worth purchasing," was the prompt reply of the incorruptible patriot, " but such as I am, the king of England is not rich enough to do it.”
These letters and offers being laid before Congress, were considered by them as attempts to bribe their members, and pronounced to be such an indignity as to prevent them from holding any intercourse with Governor Johnston. Their declaration produced an angry rejoinder from him, and dis
claimers of all participation in his plans from the other Commissioners.
Finding Congress inflexible, the Commissioners addressed themselves to the people directly, by publishing a manifesto and proclamation. They denounced the obstinacy of Congress, and the ambitious designs of France, in unmeasured terms, and, losing the tone of conciliation, threatened the extremities of war against the allies of France, the natural enemy of Britain. It was declared, that if the British Colonies were to become the dependencies of France, self-preservation would dictate that they should be made of " as little avail as possible." These papers they circulated under cover of flags of truce.
Congress met these inflammatory attempts by declaring, that whoever might circulate them should forfeit the protection of the flag; and then, boldly relying on the integrity of the people, published them themselves. They issued a counter manifesto, repelling with indignation the threats of devastation, and declaring, “if our enemies persist in their present career of barbarity, we will take such exemplary vengeance as will deter others from a like conduct.”_ - We appeal,” they said, " to that God who searcheth the hearts of men, for the rectitude of our intentions, and in his holy presence declare, that as we are not moved by any light or hasty suggestions of anger or revenge, so, through every possible change of fortune, will adhere to this our determination.”
In the Commissioners' proclamation, dated in October, forty days had been limited for the granting of pardons to such as should return to their allegiance. After the expiration of the term, without any applications for favor, they returned to England, leaving the conflict to be determined by the fortune of war.
The military events of the year were by no means commensurate in importance with these civil and political occurrences, nor did they answer the expectations of either party. The sanguine calculations of the Americans, on the decisive co-operation of the French, ended in disappointment; while, on the other hand, the British, with all their increased exertions, made no progress in reconquering their revolted Colonies. Both sides were slow in taking the field. The American forces remained in their encampment at Valley Forge; and the British, first under General Howe,
and subsequently under Sir Henry Clinton, occupied Philadelphia. No other enterprises were undertaken than some successful predatory excursions into the neighborhood, for the purpose of obtaining supplies, or the less defensible object of destroying property. Four store houses, with a large amount of goods, were burnt at Bordentown, and on the same occasion, they destroyed a large number of American vessels, including two frigates, nine ships, six privateer sloops, twenty-three brigs, besides sloops and schoon
Great ravages were also committed in Rhode Island, by the British forces there. They burnt the church and seven dwelling houses in Warren; the church, and about twenty houses in Bristol, and destroyed a great number of vessels and stores.
The regular operations of the field were not opened, by the main army on either side, until summer.
The campaign of 1778, arranged at Paris between the French and American Commissioners, had for its object the blockade of the forces of General Howe in Philadelphia Washington, with a recruited army, commanding the passes of New Jersey, was expected to hold the land forces in check, while a powerful French fleet, despatched before the British could reinforce or succor Admiral Howe, should blockade him effectually in the Delaware. The British fleet consisted of six sixty-four-gun ships, three of fifty, two of forty, with some frigates and sloops. Count D'Estaing, with a French fleet, comprising twelve ships of the line, one carrying ninety guns, one eighty, and six seventy-fours, with three frigates, sailed from Toulon, on the 18th of April, and arrived off the Delaware in the beginning of July. He was too late by a few days for the success of the meditated blow. The British ministry had already anticipated such a scheme, and directed a concentration of the whole force in America, at the city and harbour of New York. The Commissioners for conciliation carried out the order to the brothers Howe, to evacuate Philadelphia, and remove the fleet from the Delaware. Admiral Howe had left the Capes of the Delaware, and arrived safely within Sandy Hook, only about a week before Count D'Estaing, who had been detained by contrary winds, reached the coast. A reinforcement of twelve ships of the line was ordered to join the British fleet at New York, under the command of Admiral Byron, appointed to take the place of Admiral Howe, who had asked leave to return. The
army also executed the same orders, but not without obstruction. It was for some time uncertain whether Sir Henry Clinton would retreat through New Jersey, or em bark on board of the feet with his army. The difficulty of embarkation, and the danger of meeting with the French fleet, determined him to take the land route, and accord ingly on the eighteenth of June, he put his whole army in motion, evacuated Philadelphia, and commenced his retreat to New York. His force was rather over