MIA: Writers Archive: Mary Beard
History of the United States. Charles Beard, Mary Beard, 1921
The Continental Congress. – When the news of the “intolerable acts” reached America, every one knew what strong medicine Parliament was prepared to administer to all those who resisted its authority. The cause of Massachusetts became the cause of all the colonies. Opposition to British policy, hitherto local and spasmodic, now took on a national character. To local committees and provincial conventions was added a Continental Congress, appropriately called by Massachusetts on June 17, 1774, at the instigation of Samuel Adams. The response to the summons was electric. By hurried and irregular methods delegates were elected during the summer, and on September 5 the Congress duly assembled in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. Many of the greatest men in America were there – George Washington and Patrick Henry from Virginia and John and Samuel Adams from Massachusetts. Every shade of opinion was represented. Some were impatient with mild devices; the majority favored moderation.
The Congress drew up a declaration of American rights and stated in clear and dignified language the grievances of the colonists. It approved the resistance to British measures offered by Massachusetts and promised the united support of all sections. It prepared an address to King George and another to the people of England, disavowing the idea of independence but firmly attacking the policies pursued by the British government.
The Non-Importation Agreement. – The Congress was not content, however, with professions of faith and with petitions. It took one revolutionary step. It agreed to stop the importation of British goods into America, and the enforcement of this agreement it placed in the hands of local “committees of safety and inspection,” to be elected by the qualified voters. The significance of this action is obvious. Congress threw itself athwart British law. It made a rule to bind American citizens and to be carried into effect by American officers. It set up a state within the British state and laid down a test of allegiance to the new order. The colonists, who up to this moment had been wavering, had to choose one authority or the other. They were for the enforcement of the non-importation agreement or they were against it. They either bought English goods or they did not. In the spirit of the toast – “May Britain be wise and America be free” – the first Continental Congress adjourned in October, having appointed the tenth of May following for the meeting of a second Congress, should necessity require.
Lord North’s “Olive Branch." – When the news of the action of the American Congress reached England, Pitt and Burke warmly urged a repeal of the obnoxious laws, but in vain. All they could wring from the prime minister, Lord North, was a set of “conciliatory resolutions” proposing to relieve from taxation any colony that would assume its share of imperial defense and make provision for supporting the local officers of the crown. This “olive branch” was accompanied by a resolution assuring the king of support at all hazards in suppressing the rebellion and by the restraining act of March 30, 1775, which in effect destroyed the commerce of New England.
Bloodshed at Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775). – Meanwhile the British authorities in Massachusetts relaxed none of their efforts in upholding British sovereignty. General Gage, hearing that military stores had been collected at Concord, dispatched a small force to seize them. By this act he precipitated the conflict he had sought to avoid. At Lexington, on the road to Concord, occurred “the little thing” that produced “the great event.” An unexpected collision beyond the thought or purpose of any man had transferred the contest from the forum to the battle field.
The Second Continental Congress. – Though blood had been shed and war was actually at hand, the second Continental Congress, which met at Philadelphia in May, 1775, was not yet convinced that conciliation was beyond human power. It petitioned the king to interpose on behalf of the colonists in order that the empire might avoid the calamities of civil war. On the last day of July, it made a temperate but firm answer to Lord North’s offer of conciliation, stating that the proposal was unsatisfactory because it did not renounce the right to tax or repeal the offensive acts of Parliament.
Force, the British Answer. – Just as the representatives of America were about to present the last petition of Congress to the king on August 23, 1775, George III issued a proclamation of rebellion. This announcement declared that the colonists, “misled by dangerous and ill-designing men,” were in a state of insurrection; it called on the civil and military powers to bring “the traitors to justice"; and it threatened with “condign punishment the authors, perpetrators, and abettors of such traitorous designs.” It closed with the usual prayer: “God, save the king.” Later in the year, Parliament passed a sweeping act destroying all trade and intercourse with America. Congress was silent at last. Force was also America’s answer.
Drifting into War. – Although the Congress had not given up all hope of reconciliation in the spring and summer of 1775, it had firmly resolved to defend American rights by arms if necessary. It transformed the militiamen who had assembled near Boston, after the battle of Lexington, into a Continental army and selected Washington as commander-in-chief. It assumed the powers of a government and prepared to raise money, wage war, and carry on diplomatic relations with foreign countries.
Events followed thick and fast. On June 17, the American militia, by the stubborn defense of Bunker Hill, showed that it could make British regulars pay dearly for all they got. On July 3, Washington took command of the army at Cambridge. In January, 1776, after bitter disappointments in drumming up recruits for its army in England, Scotland, and Ireland, the British government concluded a treaty with the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel in Germany contracting, at a handsome figure, for thousands of soldiers and many pieces of cannon. This was the crowning insult to America. Such was the view of all friends of the colonies on both sides of the water. Such was, long afterward, the judgment of the conservative historian Lecky: “The conduct of England in hiring German mercenaries to subdue the essentially English population beyond the Atlantic made reconciliation hopeless and independence inevitable.” The news of this wretched transaction in German soldiers had hardly reached America before there ran all down the coast the thrilling story that Washington had taken Boston, on March 17, 1776, compelling Lord Howe to sail with his entire army for Halifax.
The Growth of Public Sentiment in Favor of Independence. – Events were bearing the Americans away from their old position under the British constitution toward a final separation. Slowly and against their desires, prudent and honorable men, who cherished the ties that united them to the old order and dreaded with genuine horror all thought of revolution, were drawn into the path that led to the great decision. In all parts of the country and among all classes, the question of the hour was being debated. “American independence,” as the historian Bancroft says, “was not an act of sudden passion nor the work of one man or one assembly. It had been discussed in every part of the country by farmers and merchants, by mechanics and planters, by the fishermen along the coast and the backwoodsmen of the West; in town meetings and from the pulpit; at social gatherings and around the camp fires; in county conventions and conferences or committees; in colonial congresses and assemblies."
Paine’s “Commonsense." – In the midst of this ferment of American opinion, a bold and eloquent pamphleteer broke in upon the hesitating public with a program for absolute independence, without fears and without apologies. In the early days of 1776, Thomas Paine issued the first of his famous tracts, “Commonsense,” a passionate attack upon the British monarchy and an equally passionate plea for American liberty. Casting aside the language of petition with which Americans had hitherto addressed George III, Paine went to the other extreme and assailed him with many a violent epithet. He condemned monarchy itself as a system which had laid the world “in blood and ashes.” Instead of praising the British constitution under which colonists had been claiming their rights, he brushed it aside as ridiculous, protesting that it was “owing to the constitution of the people, not to the constitution of the government, that the Crown is not as oppressive in England as in Turkey."
Having thus summarily swept away the grounds of allegiance to the old order, Paine proceeded relentlessly to an argument for immediate separation from Great Britain. There was nothing in the sphere of practical interest, he insisted, which should bind the colonies to the mother country. Allegiance to her had been responsible for the many wars in which they had been involved. Reasons of trade were not less weighty in behalf of independence. “Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe and our imported goods must be paid for, buy them where we will.” As to matters of government, “it is not in the power of Britain to do this continent justice; the business of it will soon be too weighty and intricate to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience by a power so distant from us and so very ignorant of us."
There is accordingly no alternative to independence for America. “Everything that is right or natural pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries ‘’tis time to part.’ ... Arms, the last resort, must decide the contest; the appeal was the choice of the king and the continent hath accepted the challenge.... The sun never shone on a cause of greater worth. ‘Tis not the affair of a city, a county, a province or a kingdom, but of a continent.... ‘Tis not the concern of a day, a year or an age; posterity is involved in the contest and will be more or less affected to the end of time by the proceedings now. Now is the seed-time of Continental union, faith, and honor.... O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth.... Let names of Whig and Tory be extinct. Let none other be heard among us than those of a good citizen, an open and resolute friend, and a virtuous supporter of the rights of mankind and of the free and independent states of America.” As more than 100,000 copies were scattered broadcast over the country, patriots exclaimed with Washington: “Sound doctrine and unanswerable reason!"
The Drift of Events toward Independence. – Official support for the idea of independence began to come from many quarters. On the tenth of February, 1776, Gadsden, in the provincial convention of South Carolina, advocated a new constitution for the colony and absolute independence for all America. The convention balked at the latter but went half way by abolishing the system of royal administration and establishing a complete plan of self-government. A month later, on April 12, the neighboring state of North Carolina uttered the daring phrase from which others shrank. It empowered its representatives in the Congress to concur with the delegates of the other colonies in declaring independence. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia quickly responded to the challenge. The convention of the Old Dominion, on May 15, instructed its delegates at Philadelphia to propose the independence of the United Colonies and to give the assent of Virginia to the act of separation. When the resolution was carried the British flag on the state house was lowered for all time.
Meanwhile the Continental Congress was alive to the course of events outside. The subject of independence was constantly being raised. “Are we rebels?” exclaimed Wyeth of Virginia during a debate in February. “No: we must declare ourselves a free people.” Others hesitated and spoke of waiting for the arrival of commissioners of conciliation. “Is not America already independent?” asked Samuel Adams a few weeks later. “Why not then declare it?” Still there was uncertainty and delegates avoided the direct word. A few more weeks elapsed. At last, on May 10, Congress declared that the authority of the British crown in America must be suppressed and advised the colonies to set up governments of their own.
Independence Declared. – The way was fully prepared, therefore, when, on June 7, the Virginia delegation in the Congress moved that “these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states.” A committee was immediately appointed to draft a formal document setting forth the reasons for the act, and on July 2 all the states save New York went on record in favor of severing their political connection with Great Britain. Two days later, July 4, Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, changed in some slight particulars, was adopted. The old bell in Independence Hall, as it is now known, rang out the glad tidings; couriers swiftly carried the news to the uttermost hamlet and farm. A new nation announced its will to have a place among the powers of the world.
To some documents is given immortality. The Declaration of Independence is one of them. American patriotism is forever associated with it; but patriotism alone does not make it immortal. Neither does the vigor of its language or the severity of its indictment give it a secure place in the records of time. The secret of its greatness lies in the simple fact that it is one of the memorable landmarks in the history of a political ideal which for three centuries has been taking form and spreading throughout the earth, challenging kings and potentates, shaking down thrones and aristocracies, breaking the armies of irresponsible power on battle fields as far apart as Marston Moor and Château-Thierry. That ideal, now so familiar, then so novel, is summed up in the simple sentence: “Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Written in a “decent respect for the opinions of mankind,” to set forth the causes which impelled the American colonists to separate from Britain, the Declaration contained a long list of “abuses and usurpations” which had induced them to throw off the government of King George. That section of the Declaration has passed into “ancient” history and is seldom read. It is the part laying down a new basis for government and giving a new dignity to the common man that has become a household phrase in the Old World as in the New.
In the more enduring passages there are four fundamental ideas which, from the standpoint of the old system of government, were the essence of revolution: (1) all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; (2) the purpose of government is to secure these rights; (3) governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed; (4) whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and institute new government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Here was the prelude to the historic drama of democracy – a challenge to every form of government and every privilege not founded on popular assent.
The Committees of Correspondence. – As soon as debate had passed into armed resistance, the patriots found it necessary to consolidate their forces by organizing civil government. This was readily effected, for the means were at hand in town meetings, provincial legislatures, and committees of correspondence. The working tools of the Revolution were in fact the committees of correspondence – small, local, unofficial groups of patriots formed to exchange views and create public sentiment. As early as November, 1772, such a committee had been created in Boston under the leadership of Samuel Adams. It held regular meetings, sent emissaries to neighboring towns, and carried on a campaign of education in the doctrines of liberty.
Upon local organizations similar in character to the Boston committee were built county committees and then the larger colonial committees, congresses, and conventions, all unofficial and representing the revolutionary elements. Ordinarily the provincial convention was merely the old legislative assembly freed from all royalist sympathizers and controlled by patriots. Finally, upon these colonial assemblies was built the Continental Congress, the precursor of union under the Articles of Confederation and ultimately under the Constitution of the United States. This was the revolutionary government set up within the British empire in America.
State Constitutions Framed. – With the rise of these new assemblies of the people, the old colonial governments broke down. From the royal provinces the governor, the judges, and the high officers fled in haste, and it became necessary to substitute patriot authorities. The appeal to the colonies advising them to adopt a new form of government for themselves, issued by the Congress in May, 1776, was quickly acted upon. Before the expiration of a year, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, and New York had drafted new constitutions as states, not as colonies uncertain of their destinies. Connecticut and Rhode Island, holding that their ancient charters were equal to their needs, merely renounced their allegiance to the king and went on as before so far as the form of government was concerned. South Carolina, which had drafted a temporary plan early in 1776, drew up a new and more complete constitution in 1778. Two years later Massachusetts with much deliberation put into force its fundamental law, which in most of its essential features remains unchanged to-day.
The new state constitutions in their broad outlines followed colonial models. For the royal governor was substituted a governor or president chosen usually by the legislature; but in two instances, New York and Massachusetts, by popular vote. For the provincial council there was substituted, except in Georgia, a senate; while the lower house, or assembly, was continued virtually without change. The old property restriction on the suffrage, though lowered slightly in some states, was continued in full force to the great discontent of the mechanics thus deprived of the ballot. The special qualifications, laid down in several constitutions, for governors, senators, and representatives, indicated that the revolutionary leaders were not prepared for any radical experiments in democracy. The protests of a few women, like Mrs. John Adams of Massachusetts and Mrs. Henry Corbin of Virginia, against a government which excluded them from political rights were treated as mild curiosities of no significance, although in New Jersey women were allowed to vote for many years on the same terms as men.
By the new state constitutions the signs and symbols of royal power, of authority derived from any source save “the people,” were swept aside and republican governments on an imposing scale presented for the first time to the modern world. Copies of these remarkable documents prepared by plain citizens were translated into French and widely circulated in Europe. There they were destined to serve as a guide and inspiration to a generation of constitution-makers whose mission it was to begin the democratic revolution in the Old World.
The Articles of Confederation. – The formation of state constitutions was an easy task for the revolutionary leaders. They had only to build on foundations already laid. The establishment of a national system of government was another matter. There had always been, it must be remembered, a system of central control over the colonies, but Americans had had little experience in its operation. When the supervision of the crown of Great Britain was suddenly broken, the patriot leaders, accustomed merely to provincial statesmanship, were poorly trained for action on a national stage.
Many forces worked against those who, like Franklin, had a vision of national destiny. There were differences in economic interest – commerce and industry in the North and the planting system of the South. There were contests over the apportionment of taxes and the quotas of troops for common defense. To these practical difficulties were added local pride, the vested rights of state and village politicians in their provincial dignity, and the scarcity of men with a large outlook upon the common enterprise.
Nevertheless, necessity compelled them to consider some sort of federation. The second Continental Congress had hardly opened its work before the most sagacious leaders began to urge the desirability of a permanent connection. As early as July, 1775, Congress resolved to go into a committee of the whole on the state of the union, and Franklin, undaunted by the fate of his Albany plan of twenty years before, again presented a draft of a constitution. Long and desultory debates followed and it was not until late in 1777 that Congress presented to the states the Articles of Confederation. Provincial jealousies delayed ratification, and it was the spring of 1781, a few months before the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, when Maryland, the last of the states, approved the Articles. This plan of union, though it was all that could be wrung from the reluctant states, provided for neither a chief executive nor a system of federal courts. It created simply a Congress of delegates in which each state had an equal voice and gave it the right to call upon the state legislatures for the sinews of government – money and soldiers.
The Application of Tests of Allegiance. – As the successive steps were taken in the direction of independent government, the patriots devised and applied tests designed to discover who were for and who were against the new nation in the process of making. When the first Continental Congress agreed not to allow the importation of British goods, it provided for the creation of local committees to enforce the rules. Such agencies were duly formed by the choice of men favoring the scheme, all opponents being excluded from the elections. Before these bodies those who persisted in buying British goods were summoned and warned or punished according to circumstances. As soon as the new state constitutions were put into effect, local committees set to work in the same way to ferret out all who were not outspoken in their support of the new order of things.
These patriot agencies, bearing different names in different sections, were sometimes ruthless in their methods. They called upon all men to sign the test of loyalty, frequently known as the “association test.” Those who refused were promptly branded as outlaws, while some of the more dangerous were thrown into jail. The prison camp in Connecticut at one time held the former governor of New Jersey and the mayor of New York. Thousands were black-listed and subjected to espionage. The black-list of Pennsylvania contained the names of nearly five hundred persons of prominence who were under suspicion. Loyalists or Tories who were bold enough to speak and write against the Revolution were suppressed and their pamphlets burned. In many places, particularly in the North, the property of the loyalists was confiscated and the proceeds applied to the cause of the Revolution.
The work of the official agencies for suppression of opposition was sometimes supplemented by mob violence. A few Tories were hanged without trial, and others were tarred and feathered. One was placed upon a cake of ice and held there “until his loyalty to King George might cool.” Whole families were driven out of their homes to find their way as best they could within the British lines or into Canada, where the British government gave them lands. Such excesses were deplored by Washington, but they were defended on the ground that in effect a civil war, as well as a war for independence, was being waged.
The Patriots and Tories. – Thus, by one process or another, those who were to be citizens of the new republic were separated from those who preferred to be subjects of King George. Just what proportion of the Americans favored independence and what share remained loyal to the British monarchy there is no way of knowing. The question of revolution was not submitted to popular vote, and on the point of numbers we have conflicting evidence. On the patriot side, there is the testimony of a careful and informed observer, John Adams, who asserted that two-thirds of the people were for the American cause and not more than one-third opposed the Revolution at all stages.
On behalf of the loyalists, or Tories as they were popularly known, extravagant claims were made. Joseph Galloway, who had been a member of the first Continental Congress and had fled to England when he saw its temper, testified before a committee of Parliament in 1779 that not one-fifth of the American people supported the insurrection and that “many more than four-fifths of the people prefer a union with Great Britain upon constitutional principles to independence.” At the same time General Robertson, who had lived in America twenty-four years, declared that “more than two-thirds of the people would prefer the king’s government to the Congress’ tyranny.” In an address to the king in that year a committee of American loyalists asserted that “the number of Americans in his Majesty’s army exceeded the number of troops enlisted by Congress to oppose them."
The Character of the Loyalists. – When General Howe evacuated Boston, more than a thousand people fled with him. This great company, according to a careful historian, “formed the aristocracy of the province by virtue of their official rank; of their dignified callings and professions; of their hereditary wealth and of their culture.” The act of banishment passed by Massachusetts in 1778, listing over 300 Tories, “reads like the social register of the oldest and noblest families of New England,” more than one out of five being graduates of Harvard College. The same was true of New York and Philadelphia; namely, that the leading loyalists were prominent officials of the old order, clergymen and wealthy merchants. With passion the loyalists fought against the inevitable or with anguish of heart they left as refugees for a life of uncertainty in Canada or the mother country.
Tories Assail the Patriots. – The Tories who remained in America joined the British army by the thousands or in other ways aided the royal cause. Those who were skillful with the pen assailed the patriots in editorials, rhymes, satires, and political catechisms. They declared that the members of Congress were “obscure, pettifogging attorneys, bankrupt shopkeepers, outlawed smugglers, etc.” The people and their leaders they characterized as “wretched banditti ... the refuse and dregs of mankind.” The generals in the army they sneered at as “men of rank and honor nearly on a par with those of the Congress."
Patriot Writers Arouse the National Spirit. – Stung by Tory taunts, patriot writers devoted themselves to creating and sustaining a public opinion favorable to the American cause. Moreover, they had to combat the depression that grew out of the misfortunes in the early days of the war. A terrible disaster befell Generals Arnold and Montgomery in the winter of 1775 as they attempted to bring Canada into the revolution – a disaster that cost 5000 men; repeated calamities harassed Washington in 1776 as he was defeated on Long Island, driven out of New York City, and beaten at Harlem Heights and White Plains. These reverses were almost too great for the stoutest patriots.
Pamphleteers, preachers, and publicists rose, however, to meet the needs of the hour. John Witherspoon, provost of the College of New Jersey, forsook the classroom for the field of political controversy. The poet, Philip Freneau, flung taunts of cowardice at the Tories and celebrated the spirit of liberty in many a stirring poem. Songs, ballads, plays, and satires flowed from the press in an unending stream. Fast days, battle anniversaries, celebrations of important steps taken by Congress afforded to patriotic clergymen abundant opportunities for sermons. “Does Mr. Wiberd preach against oppression?” anxiously inquired John Adams in a letter to his wife. The answer was decisive. “The clergy of every denomination, not excepting the Episcopalian, thunder and lighten every Sabbath. They pray for Boston and Massachusetts. They thank God most explicitly and fervently for our remarkable successes. They pray for the American army."
Thomas Paine never let his pen rest. He had been with the forces of Washington when they retreated from Fort Lee and were harried from New Jersey into Pennsylvania. He knew the effect of such reverses on the army as well as on the public. In December, 1776, he made a second great appeal to his countrymen in his pamphlet, “The Crisis,” the first part of which he had written while defeat and gloom were all about him. This tract was a cry for continued support of the Revolution. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he opened. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of men and women.” Paine laid his lash fiercely on the Tories, branding every one as a coward grounded in “servile, slavish, self-interested fear.” He deplored the inadequacy of the militia and called for a real army. He refuted the charge that the retreat through New Jersey was a disaster and he promised victory soon. “By perseverance and fortitude,” he concluded, “we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission the sad choice of a variety of evils – a ravaged country, a depopulated city, habitations without safety and slavery without hope.... Look on this picture and weep over it.” His ringing call to arms was followed by another and another until the long contest was over.
The Two Phases of the War. – The war which opened with the battle of Lexington, on April 19, 1775, and closed with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 19, 1781, passed through two distinct phases – the first lasting until the treaty of alliance with France, in 1778, and the second until the end of the struggle. During the first phase, the war was confined mainly to the North. The outstanding features of the contest were the evacuation of Boston by the British, the expulsion of American forces from New York and their retreat through New Jersey, the battle of Trenton, the seizure of Philadelphia by the British (September, 1777), the invasion of New York by Burgoyne and his capture at Saratoga in October, 1777, and the encampment of American forces at Valley Forge for the terrible winter of 1777-78.
The final phase of the war, opening with the treaty of alliance with France on February 6, 1778, was confined mainly to the Middle states, the West, and the South. In the first sphere of action the chief events were the withdrawal of the British from Philadelphia, the battle of Monmouth, and the inclosure of the British in New York by deploying American forces from Morristown, New Jersey, up to West Point. In the West, George Rogers Clark, by his famous march into the Illinois country, secured Kaskaskia and Vincennes and laid a firm grip on the country between the Ohio and the Great Lakes. In the South, the second period opened with successes for the British. They captured Savannah, conquered Georgia, and restored the royal governor. In 1780 they seized Charleston, administered a crushing defeat to the American forces under Gates at Camden, and overran South Carolina, though meeting reverses at Cowpens and King’s Mountain. Then came the closing scenes. Cornwallis began the last of his operations. He pursued General Greene far into North Carolina, clashed with him at Guilford Court House, retired to the coast, took charge of British forces engaged in plundering Virginia, and fortified Yorktown, where he was penned up by the French fleet from the sea and the combined French and American forces on land.
The Geographical Aspects of the War. – For the British the theater of the war offered many problems. From first to last it extended from Massachusetts to Georgia, a distance of almost a thousand miles. It was nearly three thousand miles from the main base of supplies and, though the British navy kept the channel open, transports were constantly falling prey to daring privateers and fleet American war vessels. The sea, on the other hand, offered an easy means of transportation between points along the coast and gave ready access to the American centers of wealth and population. Of this the British made good use. Though early forced to give up Boston, they seized New York and kept it until the end of the war; they took Philadelphia and retained it until threatened by the approach of the French fleet; and they captured and held both Savannah and Charleston. Wars, however, are seldom won by the conquest of cities.
Particularly was this true in the case of the Revolution. Only a small portion of the American people lived in towns. Countrymen back from the coast were in no way dependent upon them for a livelihood. They lived on the produce of the soil, not upon the profits of trade. This very fact gave strength to them in the contest. Whenever the British ventured far from the ports of entry, they encountered reverses. Burgoyne was forced to surrender at Saratoga because he was surrounded and cut off from his base of supplies. As soon as the British got away from Charleston, they were harassed and worried by the guerrilla warriors of Marion, Sumter, and Pickens. Cornwallis could technically defeat Greene at Guilford far in the interior; but he could not hold the inland region he had invaded. Sustained by their own labor, possessing the interior to which their armies could readily retreat, supplied mainly from native resources, the Americans could not be hemmed in, penned up, and destroyed at one fell blow.
The Sea Power. – The British made good use of their fleet in cutting off American trade, but control of the sea did not seriously affect the United States. As an agricultural country, the ruin of its commerce was not such a vital matter. All the materials for a comfortable though somewhat rude life were right at hand. It made little difference to a nation fighting for existence, if silks, fine linens, and chinaware were cut off. This was an evil to which submission was necessary.
Nor did the brilliant exploits of John Paul Jones and Captain John Barry materially change the situation. They demonstrated the skill of American seamen and their courage as fighting men. They raised the rates of British marine insurance, but they did not dethrone the mistress of the seas. Less spectacular, and more distinctive, were the deeds of the hundreds of privateers and minor captains who overhauled British supply ships and kept British merchantmen in constant anxiety. Not until the French fleet was thrown into the scale, were the British compelled to reckon seriously with the enemy on the sea and make plans based upon the possibilities of a maritime disaster.
Commanding Officers. – On the score of military leadership it is difficult to compare the contending forces in the revolutionary contest. There is no doubt that all the British commanders were men of experience in the art of warfare. Sir William Howe had served in America during the French War and was accounted an excellent officer, a strict disciplinarian, and a gallant gentleman. Nevertheless he loved ease, society, and good living, and his expulsion from Boston, his failure to overwhelm Washington by sallies from his comfortable bases at New York and Philadelphia, destroyed every shred of his military reputation. John Burgoyne, to whom was given the task of penetrating New York from Canada, had likewise seen service in the French War both in America and Europe. He had, however, a touch of the theatrical in his nature and after the collapse of his plans and the surrender of his army in 1777, he devoted his time mainly to light literature. Sir Henry Clinton, who directed the movement which ended in the capture of Charleston in 1780, had “learned his trade on the continent,” and was regarded as a man of discretion and understanding in military matters. Lord Cornwallis, whose achievements at Camden and Guilford were blotted out by his surrender at Yorktown, had seen service in the Seven Years’ War and had undoubted talents which he afterward displayed with great credit to himself in India. Though none of them, perhaps, were men of first-rate ability, they all had training and experience to guide them.
The Americans had a host in Washington himself. He had long been interested in military strategy and had tested his coolness under fire during the first clashes with the French nearly twenty years before. He had no doubts about the justice of his cause, such as plagued some of the British generals. He was a stern but reasonable disciplinarian. He was reserved and patient, little given to exaltation at success or depression at reverses. In the dark hour of the Revolution, “what held the patriot forces together?” asks Beveridge in his Life of John Marshall. Then he answers: “George Washington and he alone. Had he died or been seriously disabled, the Revolution would have ended.... Washington was the soul of the American cause. Washington was the government. Washington was the Revolution.” The weakness of Congress in furnishing men and supplies, the indolence of civilians, who lived at ease while the army starved, the intrigues of army officers against him such as the “Conway cabal,” the cowardice of Lee at Monmouth, even the treason of Benedict Arnold, while they stirred deep emotions in his breast and aroused him to make passionate pleas to his countrymen, did not shake his iron will or his firm determination to see the war through to the bitter end. The weight of Washington’s moral force was immeasurable.
Of the generals who served under him, none can really be said to have been experienced military men when the war opened. Benedict Arnold, the unhappy traitor but brave and daring soldier, was a druggist, book seller, and ship owner at New Haven when the news of Lexington called him to battle. Horatio Gates was looked upon as a “seasoned soldier” because he had entered the British army as a youth, had been wounded at Braddock’s memorable defeat, and had served with credit during the Seven Years’ War; but he was the most conspicuous failure of the Revolution. The triumph over Burgoyne was the work of other men; and his crushing defeat at Camden put an end to his military pretensions. Nathanael Greene was a Rhode Island farmer and smith without military experience who, when convinced that war was coming, read Cæsar’s Commentaries and took up the sword. Francis Marion was a shy and modest planter of South Carolina whose sole passage at arms had been a brief but desperate brush with the Indians ten or twelve years earlier. Daniel Morgan, one of the heroes of Cowpens, had been a teamster with Braddock’s army and had seen some fighting during the French and Indian War, but his military knowledge, from the point of view of a trained British officer, was negligible. John Sullivan was a successful lawyer at Durham, New Hampshire, and a major in the local militia when duty summoned him to lay down his briefs and take up the sword. Anthony Wayne was a Pennsylvania farmer and land surveyor who, on hearing the clash of arms, read a few books on war, raised a regiment, and offered himself for service. Such is the story of the chief American military leaders, and it is typical of them all. Some had seen fighting with the French and Indians, but none of them had seen warfare on a large scale with regular troops commanded according to the strategy evolved in European experience. Courage, native ability, quickness of mind, and knowledge of the country they had in abundance, and in battles such as were fought during the Revolution all those qualities counted heavily in the balance.
Foreign Officers in American Service. – To native genius was added military talent from beyond the seas. Baron Steuben, well schooled in the iron régime of Frederick the Great, came over from Prussia, joined Washington at Valley Forge, and day after day drilled and maneuvered the men, laughing and cursing as he turned raw countrymen into regular soldiers. From France came young Lafayette and the stern De Kalb, from Poland came Pulaski and Kosciusko; – all acquainted with the arts of war as waged in Europe and fitted for leadership as well as teaching. Lafayette came early, in 1776, in a ship of his own, accompanied by several officers of wide experience, and remained loyally throughout the war sharing the hardships of American army life. Pulaski fell at the siege of Savannah and De Kalb at Camden. Kosciusko survived the American war to defend in vain the independence of his native land. To these distinguished foreigners, who freely threw in their lot with American revolutionary fortunes, was due much of that spirit and discipline which fitted raw recruits and temperamental militiamen to cope with a military power of the first rank.
The Soldiers. – As far as the British soldiers were concerned their annals are short and simple. The regulars from the standing army who were sent over at the opening of the contest, the recruits drummed up by special efforts at home, and the thousands of Hessians bought outright by King George presented few problems of management to the British officers. These common soldiers were far away from home and enlisted for the war. Nearly all of them were well disciplined and many of them experienced in actual campaigns. The armies of King George fought bravely, as the records of Bunker Hill, Brandywine, and Monmouth demonstrate. Many a man and subordinate officer and, for that matter, some of the high officers expressed a reluctance at fighting against their own kin; but they obeyed orders.
The Americans, on the other hand, while they fought with grim determination, as men fighting for their homes, were lacking in discipline and in the experience of regular troops. When the war broke in upon them, there were no common preparations for it. There was no continental army; there were only local bands of militiamen, many of them experienced in fighting but few of them “regulars” in the military sense. Moreover they were volunteers serving for a short time, unaccustomed to severe discipline, and impatient at the restraints imposed on them by long and arduous campaigns. They were continually leaving the service just at the most critical moments. “The militia,” lamented Washington, “come in, you cannot tell how; go, you cannot tell where; consume your provisions; exhaust your stores; and leave you at last at a critical moment."
Again and again Washington begged Congress to provide for an army of regulars enlisted for the war, thoroughly trained and paid according to some definite plan. At last he was able to overcome, in part at least, the chronic fear of civilians in Congress and to wring from that reluctant body an agreement to grant half pay to all officers and a bonus to all privates who served until the end of the war. Even this scheme, which Washington regarded as far short of justice to the soldiers, did not produce quick results. It was near the close of the conflict before he had an army of well-disciplined veterans capable of meeting British regulars on equal terms.
Though there were times when militiamen and frontiersmen did valiant and effective work, it is due to historical accuracy to deny the time-honored tradition that a few minutemen overwhelmed more numerous forces of regulars in a seven years’ war for independence. They did nothing of the sort. For the victories of Bennington, Trenton, Saratoga, and Yorktown there were the defeats of Bunker Hill, Long Island, White Plains, Germantown, and Camden. Not once did an army of militiamen overcome an equal number of British regulars in an open trial by battle. “To bring men to be well acquainted with the duties of a soldier,” wrote Washington, “requires time.... To expect the same service from raw and undisciplined recruits as from veteran soldiers is to expect what never did and perhaps never will happen."
How the War Was Won. – Then how did the American army win the war? For one thing there were delays and blunders on the part of the British generals who, in 1775 and 1776, dallied in Boston and New York with large bodies of regular troops when they might have been dealing paralyzing blows at the scattered bands that constituted the American army. “Nothing but the supineness or folly of the enemy could have saved us,” solemnly averred Washington in 1780. Still it is fair to say that this apparent supineness was not all due to the British generals. The ministers behind them believed that a large part of the colonists were loyal and that compromise would be promoted by inaction rather than by a war vigorously prosecuted. Victory by masterly inactivity was obviously better than conquest, and the slighter the wounds the quicker the healing. Later in the conflict when the seasoned forces of France were thrown into the scale, the Americans themselves had learned many things about the practical conduct of campaigns. All along, the British were embarrassed by the problem of supplies. Their troops could not forage with the skill of militiamen, as they were in unfamiliar territory. The long oversea voyages were uncertain at best and doubly so when the warships of France joined the American privateers in preying on supply boats.
The British were in fact battered and worn down by a guerrilla war and outdone on two important occasions by superior forces – at Saratoga and Yorktown. Stern facts convinced them finally that an immense army, which could be raised only by a supreme effort, would be necessary to subdue the colonies if that hazardous enterprise could be accomplished at all. They learned also that America would then be alienated, fretful, and the scene of endless uprisings calling for an army of occupation. That was a price which staggered even Lord North and George III. Moreover, there were forces of opposition at home with which they had to reckon.
Women and the War. – At no time were the women of America indifferent to the struggle for independence. When it was confined to the realm of opinion they did their part in creating public sentiment. Mrs. Elizabeth Timothee, for example, founded in Charleston, in 1773, a newspaper to espouse the cause of the province. Far to the north the sister of James Otis, Mrs. Mercy Warren, early begged her countrymen to rest their case upon their natural rights, and in influential circles she urged the leaders to stand fast by their principles. While John Adams was tossing about with uncertainty at the Continental Congress, his wife was writing letters to him declaring her faith in “independency."
When the war came down upon the country, women helped in every field. In sustaining public sentiment they were active. Mrs. Warren with a tireless pen combatted loyalist propaganda in many a drama and satire. Almost every revolutionary leader had a wife or daughter who rendered service in the “second line of defense.” Mrs. Washington managed the plantation while the General was at the front and went north to face the rigors of the awful winter at Valley Forge – an inspiration to her husband and his men. The daughter of Benjamin Franklin, Mrs. Sarah Bache, while her father was pleading the American cause in France, set the women of Pennsylvania to work sewing and collecting supplies. Even near the firing line women were to be found, aiding the wounded, hauling powder to the front, and carrying dispatches at the peril of their lives.
In the economic sphere, the work of women was invaluable. They harvested crops without enjoying the picturesque title of “farmerettes” and they canned and preserved for the wounded and the prisoners of war. Of their labor in spinning and weaving it is recorded: “Immediately on being cut off from the use of English manufactures, the women engaged within their own families in manufacturing various kinds of cloth for domestic use. They thus kept their households decently clad and the surplus of their labors they sold to such as chose to buy rather than make for themselves. In this way the female part of families by their industry and strict economy frequently supported the whole domestic circle, evincing the strength of their attachment and the value of their service."
For their war work, women were commended by high authorities on more than one occasion. They were given medals and public testimonials even as in our own day. Washington thanked them for their labors and paid tribute to them for the inspiration and material aid which they had given to the cause of independence.
When the Revolution opened, there were thirteen little treasuries in America but no common treasury, and from first to last the Congress was in the position of a beggar rather than a sovereign. Having no authority to lay and collect taxes directly and knowing the hatred of the provincials for taxation, it resorted mainly to loans and paper money to finance the war. “Do you think,” boldly inquired one of the delegates, “that I will consent to load my constituents with taxes when we can send to the printer and get a wagon load of money, one quire of which will pay for the whole?"
Paper Money and Loans. – Acting on this curious but appealing political economy, Congress issued in June, 1776, two million dollars in bills of credit to be redeemed by the states on the basis of their respective populations. Other issues followed in quick succession. In all about $241,000,000 of continental paper was printed, to which the several states added nearly $210,000,000 of their own notes. Then came interest-bearing bonds in ever increasing quantities. Several millions were also borrowed from France and small sums from Holland and Spain. In desperation a national lottery was held, producing meager results. The property of Tories was confiscated and sold, bringing in about $16,000,000. Begging letters were sent to the states asking them to raise revenues for the continental treasury, but the states, burdened with their own affairs, gave little heed.
Inflation and Depreciation. – As paper money flowed from the press, it rapidly declined in purchasing power until in 1779 a dollar was worth only two or three cents in gold or silver. Attempts were made by Congress and the states to compel people to accept the notes at face value; but these were like attempts to make water flow uphill. Speculators collected at once to fatten on the calamities of the republic. Fortunes were made and lost gambling on the prices of public securities while the patriot army, half clothed, was freezing at Valley Forge. “Speculation, peculation, engrossing, forestalling,” exclaimed Washington, “afford too many melancholy proofs of the decay of public virtue. Nothing, I am convinced, but the depreciation of our currency ... aided by stock jobbing and party dissensions has fed the hopes of the enemy."
The Patriot Financiers. – To the efforts of Congress in financing the war were added the labors of private citizens. Hayn Solomon, a merchant of Philadelphia, supplied members of Congress, including Madison, Jefferson, and Monroe, and army officers, like Lee and Steuben, with money for their daily needs. All together he contributed the huge sum of half a million dollars to the American cause and died broken in purse, if not in spirit, a British prisoner of war. Another Philadelphia merchant, Robert Morris, won for himself the name of the “patriot financier” because he labored night and day to find the money to meet the bills which poured in upon the bankrupt government. When his own funds were exhausted, he borrowed from his friends. Experienced in the handling of merchandise, he created agencies at important points to distribute supplies to the troops, thus displaying administrative as well as financial talents.
Women organized “drives” for money, contributed their plate and their jewels, and collected from door to door. Farmers took worthless paper in return for their produce, and soldiers saw many a pay day pass without yielding them a penny. Thus by the labors and sacrifices of citizens, the issuance of paper money, lotteries, the floating of loans, borrowings in Europe, and the impressment of supplies, the Congress staggered through the Revolution like a pauper who knows not how his next meal is to be secured but is continuously relieved at a crisis by a kindly fate.
When the full measure of honor is given to the soldiers and sailors and their commanding officers, the civilians who managed finances and supplies, the writers who sustained the American spirit, and the women who did well their part, there yet remains the duty of recognizing the achievements of diplomacy. The importance of this field of activity was keenly appreciated by the leaders in the Continental Congress. They were fairly well versed in European history. They knew of the balance of power and the sympathies, interests, and prejudices of nations and their rulers. All this information they turned to good account, in opening relations with continental countries and seeking money, supplies, and even military assistance. For the transaction of this delicate business, they created a secret committee on foreign correspondence as early as 1775 and prepared to send agents abroad.
American Agents Sent Abroad. – Having heard that France was inclining a friendly ear to the American cause, the Congress, in March, 1776, sent a commissioner to Paris, Silas Deane of Connecticut, often styled the “first American diplomat.” Later in the year a form of treaty to be presented to foreign powers was drawn up, and Franklin, Arthur Lee, and Deane were selected as American representatives at the court of “His Most Christian Majesty the King of France.” John Jay of New York was chosen minister to Spain in 1779; John Adams was sent to Holland the same year; and other agents were dispatched to Florence, Vienna, and Berlin. The representative selected for St. Petersburg spent two fruitless years there, “ignored by the court, living in obscurity and experiencing nothing but humiliation and failure.” Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, expressed a desire to find in America a market for Silesian linens and woolens, but, fearing England’s command of the sea, he refused to give direct aid to the Revolutionary cause.
Early French Interest. – The great diplomatic triumph of the Revolution was won at Paris, and Benjamin Franklin was the hero of the occasion, although many circumstances prepared the way for his success. Louis XVI’s foreign minister, Count de Vergennes, before the arrival of any American representative, had brought to the attention of the king the opportunity offered by the outbreak of the war between England and her colonies. He showed him how France could redress her grievances and “reduce the power and greatness of England” – the empire that in 1763 had forced upon her a humiliating peace “at the price of our possessions, of our commerce, and our credit in the Indies, at the price of Canada, Louisiana, Isle Royale, Acadia, and Senegal.” Equally successful in gaining the king’s interest was a curious French adventurer, Beaumarchais, a man of wealth, a lover of music, and the author of two popular plays, “Figaro” and “The Barber of Seville.” These two men had already urged upon the king secret aid for America before Deane appeared on the scene. Shortly after his arrival they made confidential arrangements to furnish money, clothing, powder, and other supplies to the struggling colonies, although official requests for them were officially refused by the French government.
Franklin at Paris. – When Franklin reached Paris, he was received only in private by the king’s minister, Vergennes. The French people, however, made manifest their affection for the “plain republican” in “his full dress suit of spotted Manchester velvet.” He was known among men of letters as an author, a scientist, and a philosopher of extraordinary ability. His “Poor Richard” had thrice been translated into French and was scattered in numerous editions throughout the kingdom. People of all ranks – ministers, ladies at court, philosophers, peasants, and stable boys – knew of Franklin and wished him success in his mission. The queen, Marie Antoinette, fated to lose her head in a revolution soon to follow, played with fire by encouraging “our dear republican."
For the king of France, however, this was more serious business. England resented the presence of this “traitor” in Paris, and Louis had to be cautious about plunging into another war that might also end disastrously. Moreover, the early period of Franklin’s sojourn in Paris was a dark hour for the American Revolution. Washington’s brilliant exploit at Trenton on Christmas night, 1776, and the battle with Cornwallis at Princeton had been followed by the disaster at Brandywine, the loss of Philadelphia, the defeat at Germantown, and the retirement to Valley Forge for the winter of 1777-78. New York City and Philadelphia – two strategic ports – were in British hands; the Hudson and Delaware rivers were blocked; and General Burgoyne with his British troops was on his way down through the heart of northern New York, cutting New England off from the rest of the colonies. No wonder the king was cautious. Then the unexpected happened. Burgoyne, hemmed in from all sides by the American forces, his flanks harried, his foraging parties beaten back, his supplies cut off, surrendered on October 17, 1777, to General Gates, who had superseded General Schuyler in time to receive the honor.
Treaties of Alliance and Commerce (1778). – News of this victory, placed by historians among the fifteen decisive battles of the world, reached Franklin one night early in December while he and some friends sat gloomily at dinner. Beaumarchais, who was with him, grasped at once the meaning of the situation and set off to the court at Versailles with such haste that he upset his coach and dislocated his arm. The king and his ministers were at last convinced that the hour had come to aid the Revolution. Treaties of commerce and alliance were drawn up and signed in February, 1778. The independence of the United States was recognized by France and an alliance was formed to guarantee that independence. Combined military action was agreed upon and Louis then formally declared war on England. Men who had, a few short years before, fought one another in the wilderness of Pennsylvania or on the Plains of Abraham, were now ranged side by side in a war on the Empire that Pitt had erected and that George III was pulling down.
Spain and Holland Involved. – Within a few months, Spain, remembering the steady decline of her sea power since the days of the Armada and hoping to drive the British out of Gibraltar, once more joined the concert of nations against England. Holland, a member of a league of armed neutrals formed in protest against British searches on the high seas, sent her fleet to unite with the forces of Spain, France, and America to prey upon British commerce. To all this trouble for England was added the danger of a possible revolt in Ireland, where the spirit of independence was flaming up.
The British Offer Terms to America. – Seeing the colonists about to be joined by France in a common war on the English empire, Lord North proposed, in February, 1778, a renewal of negotiations. By solemn enactment, Parliament declared its intention not to exercise the right of imposing taxes within the colonies; at the same time it authorized the opening of negotiations through commissioners to be sent to America. A truce was to be established, pardons granted, objectionable laws suspended, and the old imperial constitution, as it stood before the opening of hostilities, restored to full vigor. It was too late. Events had taken the affairs of America out of the hands of British commissioners and diplomats.
Effects of French Aid. – The French alliance brought ships of war, large sums of gold and silver, loads of supplies, and a considerable body of trained soldiers to the aid of the Americans. Timely as was this help, it meant no sudden change in the fortunes of war. The British evacuated Philadelphia in the summer following the alliance, and Washington’s troops were encouraged to come out of Valley Forge. They inflicted a heavy blow on the British at Monmouth, but the treasonable conduct of General Charles Lee prevented a triumph. The recovery of Philadelphia was offset by the treason of Benedict Arnold, the loss of Savannah and Charleston (1780), and the defeat of Gates at Camden.
The full effect of the French alliance was not felt until 1781, when Cornwallis went into Virginia and settled at Yorktown. Accompanied by French troops Washington swept rapidly southward and penned the British to the shore while a powerful French fleet shut off their escape by sea. It was this movement, which certainly could not have been executed without French aid, that put an end to all chance of restoring British dominion in America. It was the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown that caused Lord North to pace the floor and cry out: “It is all over! It is all over!” What might have been done without the French alliance lies hidden from mankind. What was accomplished with the help of French soldiers, sailors, officers, money, and supplies, is known to all the earth. “All the world agree,” exultantly wrote Franklin from Paris to General Washington, “that no expedition was ever better planned or better executed. It brightens the glory that must accompany your name to the latest posterity.” Diplomacy as well as martial valor had its reward.
British Opposition to the War. – In measuring the forces that led to the final discomfiture of King George and Lord North, it is necessary to remember that from the beginning to the end the British ministry at home faced a powerful, informed, and relentless opposition. There were vigorous protests, first against the obnoxious acts which precipitated the unhappy quarrel, then against the way in which the war was waged, and finally against the futile struggle to retain a hold upon the American dominions. Among the members of Parliament who thundered against the government were the first statesmen and orators of the land. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, though he deplored the idea of American independence, denounced the government as the aggressor and rejoiced in American resistance. Edmund Burke leveled his heavy batteries against every measure of coercion and at last strove for a peace which, while giving independence to America, would work for reconciliation rather than estrangement. Charles James Fox gave the colonies his generous sympathy and warmly championed their rights. Outside of the circle of statesmen there were stout friends of the American cause like David Hume, the philosopher and historian, and Catherine Macaulay, an author of wide fame and a republican bold enough to encourage Washington in seeing it through.
Against this powerful opposition, the government enlisted a whole army of scribes and journalists to pour out criticism on the Americans and their friends. Dr. Samuel Johnson, whom it employed in this business, was so savage that even the ministers had to tone down his pamphlets before printing them. Far more weighty was Edward Gibbon, who was in time to win fame as the historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He had at first opposed the government; but, on being given a lucrative post, he used his sharp pen in its support, causing his friends to ridicule him in these lines:
Lord North Yields. – As time wore on, events bore heavily on the side of the opponents of the government’s measures. They had predicted that conquest was impossible, and they had urged the advantages of a peace which would in some measure restore the affections of the Americans. Every day’s news confirmed their predictions and lent support to their arguments. Moreover, the war, which sprang out of an effort to relieve English burdens, made those burdens heavier than ever. Military expenses were daily increasing. Trade with the colonies, the greatest single outlet for British goods and capital, was paralyzed. The heavy debts due British merchants in America were not only unpaid but postponed into an indefinite future. Ireland was on the verge of revolution. The French had a dangerous fleet on the high seas. In vain did the king assert in December, 1781, that no difficulties would ever make him consent to a peace that meant American independence. Parliament knew better, and on February 27, 1782, in the House of Commons was carried an address to the throne against continuing the war. Burke, Fox, the younger Pitt, Barré, and other friends of the colonies voted in the affirmative. Lord North gave notice then that his ministry was at an end. The king moaned: “Necessity made me yield."
In April, 1782, Franklin received word from the English government that it was prepared to enter into negotiations leading to a settlement. This was embarrassing. In the treaty of alliance with France, the United States had promised that peace should be a joint affair agreed to by both nations in open conference. Finding France, however, opposed to some of their claims respecting boundaries and fisheries, the American commissioners conferred with the British agents at Paris without consulting the French minister. They actually signed a preliminary peace draft before they informed him of their operations. When Vergennes reproached him, Franklin replied that they “had been guilty of neglecting bienséance [good manners] but hoped that the great work would not be ruined by a single indiscretion."
The Terms of Peace (1783). – The general settlement at Paris in 1783 was a triumph for America. England recognized the independence of the United States, naming each state specifically, and agreed to boundaries extending from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from the Great Lakes to the Floridas. England held Canada, Newfoundland, and the West Indies intact, made gains in India, and maintained her supremacy on the seas. Spain won Florida and Minorca but not the coveted Gibraltar. France gained nothing important save the satisfaction of seeing England humbled and the colonies independent.
The generous terms secured by the American commission at Paris called forth surprise and gratitude in the United States and smoothed the way for a renewal of commercial relations with the mother country. At the same time they gave genuine anxiety to European diplomats. “This federal republic is born a pigmy,” wrote the Spanish ambassador to his royal master. “A day will come when it will be a giant; even a colossus formidable to these countries. Liberty of conscience and the facility for establishing a new population on immense lands, as well as the advantages of the new government, will draw thither farmers and artisans from all the nations. In a few years we shall watch with grief the tyrannical existence of the same colossus."
The independence of the American colonies was foreseen by many European statesmen as they watched the growth of their population, wealth, and power; but no one could fix the hour of the great event. Until 1763 the American colonists lived fairly happily under British dominion. There were collisions from time to time, of course. Royal governors clashed with stiff-necked colonial legislatures. There were protests against the exercise of the king’s veto power in specific cases. Nevertheless, on the whole, the relations between America and the mother country were more amicable in 1763 than at any period under the Stuart régime which closed in 1688.
The crash, when it came, was not deliberately willed by any one. It was the product of a number of forces that happened to converge about 1763. Three years before, there had come to the throne George III, a young, proud, inexperienced, and stubborn king. For nearly fifty years his predecessors, Germans as they were in language and interest, had allowed things to drift in England and America. George III decided that he would be king in fact as well as in name. About the same time England brought to a close the long and costly French and Indian War and was staggering under a heavy burden of debt and taxes. The war had been fought partly in defense of the American colonies and nothing seemed more reasonable to English statesmen than the idea that the colonies should bear part of the cost of their own defense. At this juncture there came into prominence, in royal councils, two men bent on taxing America and controlling her trade, Grenville and Townshend. The king was willing, the English taxpayers were thankful for any promise of relief, and statesmen were found to undertake the experiment. England therefore set out upon a new course. She imposed taxes upon the colonists, regulated their trade and set royal officers upon them to enforce the law. This action evoked protests from the colonists. They held a Stamp Act Congress to declare their rights and petition for a redress of grievances. Some of the more restless spirits rioted in the streets, sacked the houses of the king’s officers, and tore up the stamped paper.
Frightened by uprising, the English government drew back and repealed the Stamp Act. Then it veered again and renewed its policy of interference. Interference again called forth American protests. Protests aroused sharper retaliation. More British regulars were sent over to keep order. More irritating laws were passed by Parliament. Rioting again appeared: tea was dumped in the harbor of Boston and seized in the harbor of Charleston. The British answer was more force. The response of the colonists was a Continental Congress for defense. An unexpected and unintended clash of arms at Lexington and Concord in the spring of 1775 brought forth from the king of England a proclamation: “The Americans are rebels!"
The die was cast. The American Revolution had begun. Washington was made commander-in-chief. Armies were raised, money was borrowed, a huge volume of paper currency was issued, and foreign aid was summoned. Franklin plied his diplomatic arts at Paris until in 1778 he induced France to throw her sword into the balance. Three years later, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. In 1783, by the formal treaty of peace, George III acknowledged the independence of the United States. The new nation, endowed with an imperial domain stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, began its career among the sovereign powers of the earth.
In the sphere of civil government, the results of the Revolution were equally remarkable. Royal officers and royal authorities were driven from the former dominions. All power was declared to be in the people. All the colonies became states, each with its own constitution or plan of government. The thirteen states were united in common bonds under the Articles of Confederation. A republic on a large scale was instituted. Thus there was begun an adventure in popular government such as the world had never seen. Could it succeed or was it destined to break down and be supplanted by a monarchy? The fate of whole continents hung upon the answer.
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