« AnteriorContinuar »
The Americans took three hundred prisoners, with but little loss. Among the killed was General Mercer, highly esteem. ed and deeply regretted by the victors; and Colonel James Monroe, afterwards the fifth President of the United States, was wounded.
Washington had scarcely occupied Princeton, and secured his prisoners, before he was compelled to retreat to avoid the fresh forces of Cornwallis, who, comprehending the design of Washington, had retraced his steps and hurried on towards Brunswick. The American army had now been eighteen hours under arms; some of them had been two days, all of them one day, without rest, undergoing severe labor, and were nearly exhausted by fatigue and want of sleep. They were accordingly prudently drawn off into a secure position in Upper Jersey, and encamped for the present at Morristown. Cornwallis, without pursuing them continued his march to Brunswick. Washington did not long remain inactive. Having refreshed his troops and received an increase of infantry, he re-entered the field, and overrun almost the whole of New Jersey to the Raritan, made himself master of many important points, and crossing the river, captured Newark, Elizabethtown, and Woodbridge, fortifying his positions and choosing his camps so strongly and with such judgment, that he could not be dislodged. In these expeditions he was aided by risings of the people in all parts of New Jersey, who during the ascendancy of the British had been treated with harshness, insult, and cruelty. The exasperation produced, especially by the conduct of the Hessians, broke forth in every direction, as soon as the American arms prevailed. Those who had before favored the royal cause, or sought a timid neutrality, were driven by the atrocities with which the steps of the British army had been marked, to make a common cause, and aid in expelling them from the country. Ambuscades were frequent, armed parties of farmers were constantly on the watch, and a universal hatred of the invader, stimulated even the most feeble to do something towards harassing their march, cutting off their stragglers, embarrassing their means of communication, and carrying information to the American camp. So successful were these enterprises, that when General Washington retired into secure quarters for the winter, on the 6th of January, the army that at Christmas were undis. puted masters of the whole State, were cooped up in two
posts, New Brunswick and Amboy, with no means of communication with New York except by sea, and straitened for forage, while Washington was safely entrenched at Morristown, having in a few weeks, with such scanty means, saved Philadelphia, protected Pennsylvania, reconquered New Jersey, infused ardor and enthusiasm into the hearts of his countrymen, and established for himself and country a reputation that attracted the attention of Europe.
Congress returned to Philadelphia in security, and testified their increased confidence in Washington, by making him the sole responsible director of the war, and formally releasing him from all obligations to be guided by councils of war.
The American Congress, while thus exerting themselves to repel invasion at home, had turned their earnest attention to the policy of securing foreign aid. Some months before the declaration of independence, communications had been opened by means of secret committees, with leading persons on the continent, to sound the disposition of those courts which were most hostile to Great Britain to take part with the Colonies, in the event of a war. In November 1775, a committee, consisting of Mr. Harrison, Dr. Franklin, Messrs. Johnson, Dickinson, and Jay, were appointed by resolution for this purpose. A letter written by Dr. Franklin shortly after, to a gentleman in Holland, asks with an evidentanticipation of independence, whether, if the colonies should be "obliged to break off all connexion with Great Britain," and declare themselves, "an independent people,” there was any state or power in Europe, would be willing to enter into an alliance with them for the benefit of their commerce. The passage of the violent acts of Parliament of the next session, stimulated the committee to fresh efforts; and accordingly Silas Deane, a member of Congress from Connecticut, was commissioned by them to the French court, with instructions, dated March 2d, 1776, signed by Franklin, Jay, Harrison, Dickinson, and Robert Morris, in the place of Mr. Johnson. He arrived in Paris about the first of July, and opened a communication with the French minister, Count de Vergennes, and pursuant to his instructions applied for immediate aid, in supplies of clothing and arms for 25,000 men, or in case they would not grant in that form, for permission to make purchases on credit. He was also direcied to ascertain the disposition of the French court, on the subject of a treaty of alliance, if the Colonies should declare themselves independent.
The British ministry, aware of these movements, sent Lord Stormont express to Paris to watch the movements of the American envoy, who was not openly countenanced by the French court, though his interviews were frequent in private. Personally, Mr. Deane was assured of the protection, of the police, and a free intercourse between the ports of France and America was at once promised him. He was also assured that all obstructions to the purchase and shipment of warlike stores, would be removed. The British government went so far as to demand that Deane should be given up to them as a rebel, which was refused.'
Before Deane's arrival in France, a voluntary offer had e been made to the Americans, through their agent in Lon
don, Arthur Lee of Virginia, by one Beaumarchais, to advance them supplies to the amount of a million of livres. The loan or gift,—for the nature of the transaction remains still a mystery,—was afterwards completed at Paris, by Mr. Deane, and the supplies furnished by the way of Cape Francois under fictitious names, and apparently as a commercial speculation. The profound secrecy with which the transaction was managed, with a design that the government of France should appear to take no part in it, has never been fully explained; and for a long time the heirs of Beaumarchais made an individual claim against the American government for a repayment of this million, as though it had been the private advance of their ancestor. · The remonstrances of the British minister, Lord Stormont, were politely listened to, but evaded. Vessels laden with warlike stores were detained on his representation, but afterwards suffered to depart; and when these shipments were complained of, in a tone more menacing than was agreeable to the French court, the Count de Vergennes inquired significantly whether a declaration of war was meant? which produced an alteration in the manner of remonstrance.
The indulgences extended to the American agents in France, in procuring supplies, were liberally construed and diligently improved. During the year 1776, the feeling in favor of America, originally encouraged through a desire of crippling the power of Great Britain, increased among the French people; and practices, beyond the letter of the grants of the government, and contrary in fact, to the existing engagements with England, were connived at and encouraged. Arms and munitions of war were not only allowed to be purchased and sent to America, but were actually furnished covertly from the public arsenals. Their ports gave as great facilities, as could be done without committing the government, to American privateers, and especially in the West-Indies, ready harbors and markets were found for their prizes, of which great numbers were captured during the year 1776. These naval enterprises were of the greatest consequence to the Americans, and had been prosecuted with much spirit and perseverance. Authority had been granted by Congress in November 1775, for capturing vessels laden with military stores or reinforcements, which was in March 1776, extended to permit the general arming of privateers against the commerce of the enemies of the united colonies. Under this permission American privateers swarmed on the seas, to the coasts of Great Britain, and especially in the West Indies, and proved successful in making captures of many valuable vessels. The value of their prizes in that year has been estimated as high as six millions of dollars. They were sold principally in the French ports, and instances not unfrequently occurred of privateers fitted out against British commerce altogether from French ports, under the American flag.
During Mr. Deane's agency in Paris, with the co-operation of Arthur Lee, in London, to induce the French court to take active measures for assisting the Colonies, the Declaration of Independence was made, and one of the first diplomatic measures of the new States was to prepare a plan for obtaining foreign alliances. Before the Declaration was finally adopted, and on the same day on which it was agreed to in committee of the whole, the 11th of June, a committee was appointed to report on this matter, consisting of Mr. Dickinson, Dr. Franklin, John Adams, Mr. Harrison, and Robert Morris. Richard Henry Lee and James Wilson were afterwards added; and on the 17th of September they reported a plan of foreign alliance, which Congress adopted. Dr. Franklin, Silas Deane, and Thomas Jefferson were appointed commissioners to France. For Mr. Jefferson, who could not leave home, Arthur Lee was substituted. The mission was designed to be kept a profound secret, and their instructions were special, and included authority to make application and offer inducements for Spanish aid. Dr. Franklin sailed on the mission, and with Mr. Lee, who was at the time of his appointment in London, joined Mr. Deane, in Paris, in December.
The gloomy prospect of affairs in America, as the campaign advanced, produced stronger efforts in Congress to obtain aid from abroad. On the 30th of December, reso