The Political History of England - Vol. X.
by William Hunt
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No wiser choice could have been made. Washington was a gentleman of Virginia, of independent fortune, descended from an English family of good position; he had served with distinction against the French, and as aide-de-camp to Braddock had behaved with remarkable intrepidity in the battle on the Monongahela river in 1755. Thoroughly unselfish, he devoted himself with all his heart to public duty; his integrity was above suspicion; he was free from personal ambition, and was never swayed by jealousy. His education had been neglected, but his intellect was clear and his judgment sound. He was naturally hot-tempered, and when his anger was roused he was a terror to evil-doers, to the officer who disobeyed his orders and to the rascally contractor who supplied his army with inferior stores. Yet he habitually kept his temper under control. Steadfast in purpose, he was never overwhelmed by misfortune and never yielded to factious opposition. And strong as his will was, it did not degenerate into obstinacy; he would gladly listen to the advice of others, and in military matters was sometimes too ready to act upon it. At first he made mistakes in generalship, but his military skill grew with his experience. In army administration he was excellent; his industry was unwearying; the smallest details received his personal attention. He was conscious of the difficulties of the task which lay before him; he believed, so he told Patrick Henry, that from the day of his appointment his reputation would begin to decline. The congress was an unorganised body without any constitutional status, conducting its business by means of constantly changing and irresponsible committees, and was utterly unfit to exercise executive functions; it had no means of enforcing its decrees, no revenue, and no munitions of war. The army which it adopted was little better than an assembly of armed men; many were volunteers, and it was decided to enlist men only for seven months. There was little discipline; the officers were for the most part ignorant of their duties and were of the same social standing as their men; and the New England privates, self-opiniated and obstinate, showed little respect for their orders. Washington had not merely to command an army in the field, he had to create one and, what was harder still, to keep it together.


Inside Boston life was by no means pleasant. All marketing from the country was at an end, for the town was closely beset by land and the islands were cleared of provisions; no fresh meat was to be had, and the besieged lived alternately on salt beef and salt pork. Attacks from fire-rafts and whale-boats were daily threatened, and fears were entertained that the inhabitants might set fire to the town in order to force the British to leave it.[101] On May 25 the three new generals landed, and the arrival of the reinforcements raised the number of Gage's army to about 10,000 men. Believing that the rebellion would soon be quelled, he issued a foolish proclamation, offering pardon to all rebels who laid down their arms, except Samuel Adams and Hancock, then president of the congress, and threatening those who continued in arms with punishment as traitors. As the insurgents had no ships, while the British had floating batteries and ships of war in the harbour, they could not hope to destroy Gage's army, or reduce it to surrender through famine. Their object was to compel him to evacuate the place and sail off. The peninsula on which the town stands was commanded by hills both on the north and south-east. On the north were the hills of the Charlestown peninsula, which was separated from Boston by the Charles river; it had the Mystic river on its northern side, and was joined to the mainland by a narrow neck. On the south-east it was commanded by the hills of another peninsula called Dorchester Neck. A battery on either the Charlestown hills or the Dorchester heights would have rendered Gage's position untenable; for, independently of any loss which his troops might sustain from bombardment, the British shipping would be drawn from its anchorage, and if he remained he would be practically imprisoned in the town and cut off from supplies. It should therefore have been Gage's first care to shut the insurgents out from those positions.

Hitherto he had not attempted to occupy the hills on either side, but after the arrival of the new generals it was decided to include them within the lines. On June 13 the insurgents heard that the British were about to occupy Dorchester heights. They determined to frustrate this move by occupying the ridge stretching along the Charlestown peninsula, and called by the general name of Bunker hill. Accordingly on the evening of the 16th a detachment of 1,200 men, with six field-pieces, was sent from Cambridge for that purpose. When they arrived at the summit their leaders determined to advance farther and to fortify a lower eminence of the ridge nearer Boston, which was distinguished by the name of Breeds hill. There during the night they formed a redoubt and breastwork. At daybreak on the 17th they were discovered from the sloop Lively, and her guns roused the British army. Before long a battery in Boston and the guns of other ships opened fire, but did little mischief. The insurgents received a small reinforcement, and formed a line of defence, protected by a low wall and rail, from their redoubt northward to the Mystic, in order to secure themselves from a flank attack. If Gage had placed a floating battery on the Mystic, which would have taken them on the left flank, and had landed troops to the rear of the redoubt, held the neck, and so cut them off from their main body, he would have had them at his mercy. This would have been easy, for by taking up a more advanced position than was laid down in their orders, they left their rear exposed to attack. He decided, however, to storm their works.


Not till midday did a detachment of British troops, grenadiers and light infantry, begin to land on the peninsula under the command of Howe and Pigot. They waited for reinforcements, which brought their number up to over 2,000 men, with artillery. Hot as the weather was, the men were burdened with knapsacks containing provisions for three days. At 3 P.M. they advanced in two divisions, the light infantry under Howe against the line of defence, the grenadiers under Pigot against the redoubt. At first their advance was covered by their artillery, but the guns stuck in the mire, and it is said that a fresh supply of ball sent from Boston was too large for the cannon. Even if this was the case, it could have made no difference, for the supply taken with the guns was not exhausted.[102] Up the steep hill, through long tangled grass, the red-coats toiled on towards the redoubt, each burdened with a weight of some 125 pounds. With admirable coolness the Americans held their fire until the enemy was about fifty yards from them, and then poured a volley into their ranks. For a few minutes the men stood steady and returned the fire, then they turned and retreated in disorder. The attack on the fence was equally unsuccessful. While the officers were rallying their men, the battery on Cops hill burnt the wooden houses of the almost deserted village of Charlestown, from which the troops had been fired upon as they advanced. Then a second attack was made, and again the British were sent staggering back by the enemy's fire. At this crisis Clinton came over from Boston, took command of two battalions, a body of marines, and the 47th, and did good service in helping to rally the troops. With fine persistency they made ready for a third attack. More rational orders were given; the force was not divided, and only a feint was made against the line of defence, the men laid aside their knapsacks, advanced in column against the redoubt, and attacked with the bayonet. The Americans, who had received little support of any kind from headquarters, were weary, and their ammunition was almost exhausted; they were driven from their works and retreated across the neck. Their retreat was covered with bravery and military skill[103] by the body stationed along the line of defence on their left, but as they passed over the neck they suffered severely from the guns of the Glasgow sloop of war. Howe would not pursue them, and at once began to fortify the peninsula.

The victory was decisive, for it gave the English the ground for which they fought, and enabled them to hold Boston for nine months longer. It was dearly purchased by the loss of 19 officers and 207 men killed, and 70 officers and 758 men wounded, making a total of 1,054 casualties, an extraordinarily large proportion of the number engaged, apparently about 2,500. This was the natural result of sending troops up a hill to deliver a frontal attack on an earthwork held by a body of men well used to shoot. It will be observed that the loss of officers was extremely heavy; they fearlessly exposed themselves, as the British officer always does, in order to encourage their men. The Americans, who for the most part fought behind cover, stated their loss at 449. After Bunker hill, no one whose judgment was not warped by prejudice could believe that the Americans were cowards. They were not, so Gage wrote, the disorderly rabble too many have supposed; he had seen enough to convince him that the conquest of the country could only be effected by perseverance and strong armies.[104] The behaviour of the insurgent troops greatly encouraged their party. When Washington heard how they had fought he declared that the liberties of the country were safe.


Already some colonies were making temporary arrangements for popular government and issuing bills for the expenses of defence, and in July Georgia expressed its adherence to the general policy of armed resistance. For a while, however, royal governors still remained, and government was everywhere in a chaotic state. In New York the mob committed many outrages on the persons and property of loyalists, and hostilities took place with crews of the king's ships in the bay. Yet the town was not prepared to take a decided part; and it received Tryon, the royal governor, and Washington with the same tokens of respect. A like incongruity marked the proceedings of congress. Besides adopting addresses to the people of Great Britain and Ireland, it sent a petition to the king on whom it was levying war from his "faithful subjects," expressing attachment to his "person, family, and government" and beseeching him to "settle peace". At the same time, in spite of its declaration to the contrary, it ordered an invasion of Canada. The Americans flattered themselves that the Canadians would rise against the British, and Allen, puffed up by his recent success, made a dash at Montreal with only 150 men. He was defeated and taken prisoner. Meanwhile Montgomery started from Ticonderoga in August with over 2,000 men, captured Chamblee, where he found a good supply of military stores, and laid siege to St. John's. Canada was practically defenceless, for Carleton had only 900 regular troops; the English-speaking Canadians were disaffected, the French for the most part either apathetic or hostile. He sent to Gage for reinforcements, but the admiral, Samuel Graves, declined to transport troops to Quebec, for as it was then late in October the voyage from Boston would have been dangerous. Carleton's efforts to relieve St. John's were unsuccessful, and after a stout resistance the garrison surrendered on November 13. The fall of St. John's involved the surrender of Montreal, which was defenceless, and Carleton hastened to the defence of Quebec.

His presence was needed there, for on September 13 a detachment of about 1,500 men under the command of Arnold was sent from the army at Cambridge to surprise and capture the city. It was to proceed by land and water up the Kennebec, and down the Chaudiere to the St. Lawrence. The route, though used by trappers and Indians, was dimly traced, and the equipment of the expedition was too cumbersome for the rough work which lay before it.[105] Soon after leaving their transports at Fort Western, where, fifty-eight miles from its mouth, the Kennebec ceased to be navigable except by bateaux, the troops began to suffer great hardships. Their stores were conveyed in bateaux, which they were constantly forced to haul against currents and carry over land. Many of them leaked, some were abandoned, and provisions ran short. The weather became cold and rainy. The whole rear division, with its officers, lost heart and turned back, taking with them a large share of food and ammunition. The rest toiled on through swamps and mire, half-starved and benumbed with cold. Many perished, some lost their way, and the men of one company were reduced to eating their dogs and gnawing the leather of their shoes. It was not until November 9 that Arnold's troops, a ragged and shivering crowd of about 600 men, with some Indians who had joined them, reached Point Levi. Montgomery, who was to have met them, was not there; they crossed the St. Lawrence, and Arnold sent an absurd summons to the garrison of Quebec. He then retreated to Pointe-aux-Trembles to wait for Montgomery.

The defences of Quebec were in bad condition, the garrison was small, and there was much disaffection among the inhabitants. The whole country was in the power of the invaders, the people were on their side, and it seemed as though the hopes of the Americans would be fulfilled. But while Quebec remained untaken, Canada would still be unconquered, and the defence was in good hands. The garrison was commanded by Colonel Maclean of the 84th, or Royal Highland Emigrants, a regiment largely raised by him from Frazer's Highlanders who had done good service under Wolfe. Carleton soon entered the place, and while Arnold was waiting for Montgomery, took vigorous measures for securing its safety. Montgomery arrived at Pointe-aux-Trembles on December 1, and on the night of the 31st the rebels attempted to carry Quebec by storm. They were repulsed with heavy loss, Montgomery was killed and Arnold wounded. They continued the siege, but were too weak either to invest the city completely or make any offensive movement. Carleton waited quietly until the breaking up of the ice should allow reinforcements to come up the river. Before long the French Canadians began to transfer their sympathies to the British. Their priests were too well satisfied with the Quebec act to desire change. Bishop Briand published a mandement, reminding his people of the benefits they received from English rule and calling upon them to defend their province. His exhortation had a powerful effect, for priests refused to confess men who joined the rebels.


The victory of Bunker hill made no change in the position of Gage's army, which suffered from the want of wholesome food and from other privations. As England had command of the sea the troops could have been removed, and the generals wrote to the government suggesting that Boston should be evacuated and the royal forces concentrated at New York, which was more open to communication by sea, and in every respect a better base for future operations. The government, however, was unwilling to give up the town, and things remained as they were, for the generals considered that nothing was to be gained by an attack on the enemy's lines, because their army was not supplied with the materials necessary to move at a distance. Plans were indeed proposed for embarrassing the enemy by sending out a detachment to make a descent on Rhode Island;[106] but Gage did nothing, and the government, convinced of his incapacity, recalled him to England. He sailed from Boston in October, and Howe was appointed to the chief command. By sea there was as little done as by land, for the naval force under Graves was so inefficient that he was unable even to prevent the whale-boats of the rebels from intercepting supplies and destroying lighthouses. He was unjustly blamed for inaction, both by the army in Boston and the government. His removal was, the king thought, "as necessary as the mild general's".[107] This and every other matter connected with the war was directed by the king. His industry and his knowledge of details, military and naval, were extraordinary, and North, Dartmouth, and Barrington, whatever their own opinions were, had no choice but to carry out his orders.

On the outbreak of the war the army of Great Britain was on its normal peace establishment of about 17,000 men, besides the Irish army of 15,235, the garrison of Gibraltar 3,500, and of Minorca 2,500. It was an amazingly small number, considering the accessions made to the empire by the late war. George always wished for a larger permanent force; but his ministers shrank from raising a storm by increasing the estimates or provoking the popular jealousy of a standing army. Men were wanted at once. The first reinforcements were obtained from Ireland, and the Irish parliament agreed that 4,000 men should be drafted out of the country beyond the number allowed by statute. It soon became evident that the war required the immediate supply of a far greater number of men than could be spared from the present establishment or could be raised quickly. Parliament was not in session, and the king determined to obtain the services of foreign troops. As Elector of Hanover he lent 2,355 Hanoverians to garrison Gibraltar and Minorca, and so set a corresponding number of the British garrisons free to be employed in the war. He sought to hire men from other sovereigns. A proposal made to Catherine of Russia for the hire of 20,000 men was scornfully declined, and the States-General refused to sell him their Scots brigade. With the petty princes of Germany he was more lucky; the Duke of Brunswick, the Landgrave and the hereditary Prince of Hesse Cassel, and the Prince of Waldeck were happy to sell their subjects, and agreed to supply 17,742 in return for a liberal payment. These arrangements enraged the Americans, who spoke of them as though the king was delivering a loyal people to be massacred by foreign mercenaries. As a matter of fact they were making war on the king, and he had as good a right to buy troops to fight in his quarrel as he had to buy cannon. It is on the princes who sold the blood of their subjects that the disgrace of these transactions must rest. Frederick of Prussia expressed his disgust at their greediness in bitter terms, and is said to have jeeringly declared that when any of the unfortunate men whose lives they were selling passed through his dominions he would levy toll on them at so much a head as though they were cattle.


Nothing was gained by the recall of Gage, for Howe was equally incompetent. Privateers were fitted out in great number in the New England ports, which did mischief to English commerce and intercepted the supplies sent out to the army. In order to check this privateering business two ships-of-war sailed from Boston in October, under a lieutenant named Mowat, with orders to burn the shipping along the coast. Mowat exceeded his orders and destroyed the town of Falmouth. This useless act of barbarity, which excited violent indignation among the Americans, was reprehended by the British government. In Boston sickness continued rife among the troops, and in November there was an outbreak of small-pox. Washington, however, was not in a position to attack; he had great difficulty in obtaining ammunition and not less in raising men. The revolutionary spirit was spreading, but there was little military ardour. In December the period of enlistment ended; his army was disbanded, and he could not obtain quite 10,000 men to take its place. Though Howe's army was weakened by sickness, such effective troops as he had were well-trained soldiers. Yet he made no attempt to force the American lines. By the beginning of March Washington was able to take the offensive, and on the night of the 4th occupied Dorchester heights and began to plant cannon there. It is amazing that Howe should have neglected this important position. A storm prevented him from sending a force across the bay to attack the Americans' works before they were completed; their batteries rendered Boston untenable and endangered the ships in the harbour. Howe was forced to abandon the town, and on the 17th the British troops, about 7,600 in number, together with nearly 1,000 loyalists, embarked for Halifax, where Howe waited for reinforcements which would enable him to strike at New York.

If the English had abandoned Boston after the battle of Bunker hill, the evacuation would have merely been a military movement, adopted for the purpose of obtaining a more convenient base for future operations. The government decided that the place should be held, and its enforced evacuation was a moral defeat and a legitimate cause of triumph to the Americans. Their exultation was dashed by the failure of their attempt on Canada. Fresh troops were sent to support the invasion, but the feelings of the people, English as well as French, were turning strongly against the Americans. After the evacuation of Boston, congress ordered Washington to send nearly half his effective force into Canada, and despatched Franklin and other commissioners thither to allure the people with promises. The Canadians turned a deaf ear to their offers. The moment for which Carleton waited so patiently came at last. On May 6, before the river was fully cleared of ice, three British ships made their way to Quebec with reinforcements. He at once sallied out, and the Americans fled in confusion, leaving their cannon and baggage behind, and even their pots boiling, so that the king's troops sat down and ate their dinners from them. Further reinforcements arrived from Halifax and from Ireland, and in June Burgoyne, who had spent the winter at home, brought over the Hessian and Brunswick troops, raising Carleton's army to about 12,000 men. The Americans, under Sullivan, retreated from the neighbourhood of Quebec to Sorel. A large detachment was routed at Three Rivers, and Sullivan retreated to St. John's, leisurely pursued by Burgoyne. There he was joined by Arnold, and the remnants of the army of Canada, some 5,000 men, suffering severely from sickness and privation, escaped to Isle-aux-Noix, and thence to Crown Point. Canada was evacuated in June. Left almost defenceless by England, it was preserved to her by Carleton's firmness and intrepidity.

By the beginning of 1776 the idea of separation from Great Britain was daily gaining ground in the revolted colonies. It was strengthened by the publication of a pamphlet entitled Common Sense by Thomas Paine. This Paine, a staymaker by trade, after he had failed in business in England, and had been dismissed from employment as an exciseman for neglect of duty, emigrated to America in 1774, and came into notice through introductions given him by Franklin. He was bitterly hostile to his own country, a violent advocate of revolutionary ideas, ignorant and conceited; yet he had much shrewdness, and expressed his rude opinions with a force and vivacity which appealed strongly to readers prepared to assent to them. Common Sense taught thousands of Americans to recognise for the first time their own thoughts and wishes, and encouraged others, who already knew what they wanted, to cease from disguising their hopes by empty professions. Separation would, it was expected in England, be opposed most vigorously in the southern colonies. In them its cause was forwarded by violence. Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia, took refuge on board a man-of-war in June, 1775, manned a small flotilla, and attempted to reduce his province by making descents upon the coast. He enraged the people by offering freedom to slaves who would enlist under him, and by destroying the town of Norfolk through setting fire to some wharfs from which his men had been shot at while landing for water. He further engaged in a scheme for invading the southern colonies from inland with the help of the Indians. It failed, and the result of his proceedings was that Virginia was foremost in urging congress to a declaration of independence.


The governors of the two Carolinas assured the king that if a force were sent to their provinces the loyalists would rise; the Carolinas might be secured, Virginia coerced, and all the south recovered for the crown. Both George and Dartmouth believed them, and, against the advice of military men, an expedition was prepared to sail to Cape Fear. The troops were conveyed in a squadron under Sir Peter Parker and were under the command of Lord Cornwallis. Clinton left Boston in December to take the command, but the expedition was long a-preparing: it did not leave Cork until February 12, 1776; the ships met with storms; none arrived at Cape Fear before May 3, some were even later. Meanwhile Martin, the governor of North Carolina, stirred up the loyalist Scots settled in the province to take arms; they marched towards the coast, expecting to meet the royal troops, were intercepted, and utterly routed. When at last Clinton's force was gathered together, his time for action was short, for he was under orders to meet Howe at New York at an early date. He and Parker decided to make an attempt on the harbour of Charleston, the chief town of South Carolina, for the trade carried on there was an important source of the insurgents' funds. It was not until June 4 that the British force, about 2,000 troops, with Parker's squadron arrived at Charleston harbour.

The entrance was commanded by Sullivan's island and there the insurgents under Moultrie had erected a fort and mounted guns. Clinton landed his troops on Long island, intending that at low tide they should wade across to Sullivan's island and attack the garrison on their rear, while the ships bombarded them in front. The attempt was made on the 28th. The tide did not run out sufficiently to allow the troops to ford the shoals and the engagement was simply an artillery duel. The British ships suffered severely; one frigate which went aground was set on fire to prevent the enemy from taking it, Parker's flagship the Bristol and the Experiment, both of fifty guns, were much knocked about, and some 200 men were killed or wounded. The attack failed, and on July 21 Clinton's force sailed for New York under convoy of a single frigate, the rest of Parker's ships being forced to refit. The expedition strengthened the party of separation and bound the south closely together. Its failure depressed the loyalists, and for three years freed the southern colonies from invasion, and enabled them to send help to other quarters. Less than a week after the unsuccessful attempt on Charleston, on July 4, the congress at Philadelphia, in which all the thirteen colonies were represented, put forth a declaration of independence; the colonies renounced their allegiance, and declared themselves free and independent states, the United States of America.

The progress of the revolt during the summer of 1775 strengthened the king's determination to subdue it by force. A proclamation was issued in August against traitorous correspondence with the Americans, and in September Penn, who brought over the petition of congress to the king, was informed that no answer would be made to it. George could not have received it without recognising congress, an unauthorised assemblage of his subjects engaged in levying war against him. The government was powerful in parliament, and the great majority of the nation warmly approved the royal policy, of which the ministers were scarcely more than the agents. Little doubt was felt as to the successful issue of the war; public spirit was aroused, and the cause of England was generally held to be just. The landed gentry and the professions of the Church, the army, and the law were strongly on the king's side. Self-interest largely decided the attitude of the mercantile class: some of its members were opposed to the war because it injured their trade; others were in favour of it; for trade generally was brisk and was increased by the demands brought by war. In London and Bristol the opposition had many supporters, but in both cities there was a strong party in favour of the government. Among the labouring classes the war was not popular and recruiting was difficult, for service in America entailed a long voyage full of discomfort, and the prospect of fighting with men of the same race and language was repellent. The evangelicals and methodists sided with the government; the dissenters generally were against the war and their preachers were active in encouraging their dislike to it. Addresses approving of the king's policy were numerous and unsolicited; they poured in from all quarters, from tory Oxford and whiggish Cambridge, from country towns and great commercial centres like Liverpool and Manchester. Rockingham observed that violent measures were countenanced by a majority of persons "of all ranks, professions, or occupations in this country". Scotland almost to a man was of the same persuasion. In Ireland the nobles and the gentry generally upheld the court, but with the majority of protestants, and specially with the presbyterians of the north, the war was highly unpopular.[108]


The opponents of the government were not less resolute than the king. Lord Effingham resigned his commission in the army lest he should be called upon to serve against the Americans, and Chatham's eldest son took the same course in obedience to the wishes of his parents. Grafton wrote to North in August, 1775, expressing his desire for conciliation. On October 20 North sent him a draft of the king's speech which showed him that the government was determined to reduce the rebellion by force of arms. He resigned the privy seal and went into opposition. The changes which followed proved that a vigorous policy would be carried out. Dartmouth took Grafton's place and was succeeded as secretary of state for the colonies by Lord George Germain, previously known as Lord George Sackville. Germain was at this time one of North's followers, and was appointed in order that he might help him in the commons. Violent in his feelings against the Americans, he was acceptable to the king and acquired influence over him. His appointment was unpopular. He had fair ability, but as minister allowed himself to be swayed by personal motives, and he pursued a system already adopted by the king of directing military operations in America from London which had disastrous consequences. Rochford retired with a pension of L2,500 and was succeeded by Weymouth as secretary of the southern department.

The king's speech at the opening of parliament on October 26, 1775, stated that the Americans were in rebellion and were seeking to "establish an independent empire". Eight months had yet to pass before the colonies declared their independence, and the effect of events which hastened their decision, such as the employment of German troops and the refusal to answer the petition of congress, was not yet known in England. It will, however, scarcely be denied that between the proceedings of congress and a formal declaration of independence the distance was not great. The strength of the king's position lay in his recognition of this fact and of the course which alone might have quelled the growing spirit of rebellion without humiliation to Great Britain. The opposition did not see facts as they really were, and called for remedies which were either vague, of various import, insufficient, or such as would have placed the crown in a humiliating position. In the lords' debate on the address, Rockingham urged a vague undertaking to adopt measures of conciliation, Grafton the repeal of the acts relating to America since 1763, and Shelburne that the petition of congress proved that the colonies were not "planning independence". In the commons Burke taunted the ministers with failure; and Fox, who was coming to the front, praised the spirit of the Americans, denied that they were aiming at independence, and bitterly attacked North, who, said he, had lost more in one campaign than Chatham, Frederick of Prussia, or Alexander the Great had ever gained—he had lost a whole continent. The address was carried in the lords by 76 to 33, and in the commons by 176 to 72.

Motions were made in both houses declaring that the employment of Hanoverian troops within the king's dominions, at Gibraltar and Minorca, without previous consent of parliament was unconstitutional. It was, the opposition maintained, a violation of the bill of rights, which declared that "the keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of parliament, is against law". On the government side it was pointed out that it was not a time of peace and that the clause did not apply to the dependencies of the kingdom. North, however, consented to a bill of indemnity which was thrown out by the lords, the opposition objecting to it on the ground that it asserted the legality of the measure, the government that it was totally unnecessary. Numerically weak as the opposition was, it maintained the fight with spirit. Motions more or less directly aimed at the war policy of the government were made in the lords by Grafton and Richmond, and in the commons by Luttrell, Fox, Burke, Oliver, Hartley, Lowther, and Sawbridge. On none of these did the minority vote stronger than 33 in the lords and 105 in the commons. Burke, in bringing in a bill on November 16 for composing the troubles in America, urged that the right way was by concessions to be followed by treaty. He would maintain the declaratory act of 1766 as necessary to the authority of parliament, and certain acts passed since 1763 as necessary to British trade; and he desired that parliament should enact that no tax should be levied on the colonies other than by their voluntary grant, and should repeal coercive acts such as that closing Boston harbour. These concessions, while greater than the government would make, would not, it was pointed out, have satisfied the Americans; they did not go to the root of American discontent, which lay in the revenue laws, and dated not from the year 1766, but reached back to 1672. After a long debate, of which we have virtually no record, for strangers were excluded from the house, the bill was lost by 210 votes to 105.


The government was successful in its proposals for the maintenance of the war. Only 15,230 seamen were in pay in 1775; for 1776 the number voted was 28,000. In the debate serious charges were brought against the administration of the navy. Sandwich was diligent; he constantly inspected the dockyards, an excellent custom which he instituted when first lord in 1749, and he kept the navy board to its duties.[109] At his office early in the morning he got through an amount of work surprising in the case of a man who habitually spent the later part of his day and his nights in drinking, gambling, and debauchery. The effect of his diligence was spoilt by corrupt practices. Many abuses prevailed in the administration of the navy before his time; money voted for repairs was applied to other purposes, stores were paid for which were used for private gain, sea-pay was drawn for men who existed only on paper. Under Sandwich abuses of all kinds seem to have been carried further than before. The navy in 1776 consisted of 317 ships of various sizes and 49 sloops.[110] Of these 123 ships were "of the line of battle," a term then generally restricted to the first three rates, ships of sixty-four guns and upwards. In spite of the large sums voted for repairs, many of the king's ships were utterly unseaworthy, and it was alleged with truth that ships, perfectly capable of repair, were sold as useless, while others, for which much money had been voted, had not had a penny spent upon them. On this matter more must be said later.

A bill enabling the king to embody the militia in times of rebellion met with strong opposition on the ground that it would place a dangerous power in the hands of the crown, and was subversive of the constitutional idea of the militia as a purely local force to be used only for domestic defence; it was, however, finally carried by large majorities. On the other hand, North's proposal to extend the militia to Scotland was defeated by 112 to 95, for the country gentlemen, who regarded the militia system with extreme jealousy, voted against it. For the army a vote was obtained for 55,000 men, of which 25,000 were to be employed in America. It was easier to vote the money than to find the men. The difficulty of recruiting was alleged by government to be a result of the briskness of trade and such like causes. Already the Irish army was reduced by drafts to less than the 12,000 men that by statute were to be kept in that kingdom, and the government excited the indignation of an independent section in the Irish parliament and of the protestants of Ulster by obtaining leave to withdraw 4,000 men more. The conduct of the government in this matter and in that of the hiring of German troops was strenuously though ineffectually attacked in the British parliament. The supplies voted for the year 1776 amounted to L9,097,000. The land tax was raised to four shillings in the pound, and that with other ordinary ways and means would, North calculated, bring in L7,143,000. He proposed to make up the deficiency by borrowing L2,000,000; the loan was to be funded, and the interest of the new stock was provided for by new taxes on carriages and stage coaches, dice and cards, by an additional stamp duty, and by raising the penny stamp on newspapers to three-halfpence.


Acting on the ground taken up by the king's speech that the colonies were waging a rebellious war, North, on November 20, 1775, brought in a "prohibitory" bill, which forbade all trade and intercourse with the Americans, provided that American ships and goods taken at sea should be forfeited to the captors, being officers and crews of the king's ships, and repealed certain acts as no longer appropriate in the present state of war. It also empowered the crown to appoint commissioners to inquire into grievances, to grant pardons to individuals, and to receive into the king's peace any districts or colonies which would return to obedience. North declared himself ready to repeal the tea duty and to suspend all exercise of the right of taxation if the Americans would bear their share of the burden of national defence. The bill was carried after violent opposition in both houses. Fox described the war as unjust and impracticable, and said that the bill exhibited the folly of the ministers. It was, the opposition urged, cruel and indiscriminate in its scope; it excited our seamen to "promiscuous rapine," and provided that American sailors who were taken prisoners might be compelled to serve in the British navy against their own people. Such severity, they said, would drive the Americans to a permanent separation and would eventually land us in a war with European powers. On the other hand it was reasonably maintained that, as the Americans were already at war with us, the war must be carried on as if against alien enemies. In April, 1776, the king appointed Admiral Richard Lord Howe, then about to take the command in American waters, and his brother, General Howe, as commissioners in pursuance of the act. Their appointment testifies to the sincerity of the king's desire for peace, for the Howes were friendly to the Americans and had already made efforts to bring the quarrel to a peaceful ending; the admiral, indeed, declared in the lords that if he were ordered to take part in the war, it would be painful to him as a man, though he should obey as an officer. George, however, was determined not to sacrifice any of the rights of his crown. Submission would be rewarded with pardon, obstinacy in rebellion met by war. He feared lest Lord Howe should concede too much, and wished that he would decline the commission.[111] He did not decline, and sailed for America with offers of pardon. The king's speech at the close of the session on May 23 expressed the earnest hope that his rebellious subjects would "voluntarily return to their duty". Peace was only to be obtained by obedience.


[99] P. O. Hutchinson, Hutchinson's Diary and Letters, i., 461.

[100] Burke's Correspondence, i., 272, 274, 276.

[101] Hutchinson's Diary and Letters, i., 459, 469.

[102] Cp. Stedman, History of the American War, i., 129, and Duncan, History Of the Royal Artillery, i., 303.

[103] Burgoyne to Rochfort, Fonblanque, Burgoyne, p. 147.

[104] Gage to Dartmouth, June 25, 1775, Dartmouth Papers, ii., 320.

[105] Codman, Arnold's Expedition to Quebec, pp. 22-25, 141.

[106] Fonblanque, Burgoyne, p. 195; Dartmouth Papers, ii., 357.

[107] The King to North, July 28, 1775, Correspondence with North, i., 256.

[108] On national feeling generally see Annual Reg., xix. (1776), 38-39; Burke to Champion, Jan. 10, 1775, and Rockingham to Burke, Sept. 24, Burke's Works, i., 259 sq., 291-92; Lecky, History, iii., 528-34.

[109] Barrow, Life of Anson, pp. 214-16.

[110] Progress of the Navy, MS. Admiralty, Miscell., 567, R.O.

[111] George to North, April 13, 1776, Corr. with North, ii., 18.



On June 11, 1776, Howe sailed from Halifax with his army of 9,000 men, and on July 3 occupied Staten Island without opposition. There he was joined by the reinforcements from England, conveyed by Lord Howe, and by Clinton and his troops, so that in August he had with him some 25,000 men, English and German. Washington's army at New York numbered about 19,000 effectives.[112] Mindful of his commission to restore tranquillity, Lord Howe wrote to him enclosing a copy of the king's offers. Washington would not receive the letter because the address did not acknowledge his military rank, and observed that the powers of the commissioners extended only to granting pardons, and that his people had done nothing for which they needed pardon. The pacific mission of the Howes having so far failed, the general on August 22-25 landed an army on Long Island, which is separated from New York by the East river. Brooklyn heights on Long Island, opposite New York, were strongly fortified and held by the Americans. Washington, believing that a larger British force was left in Staten Island than was really the case, thought it necessary to keep a numerous garrison in New York to meet a direct attack on the place, and detached only some 9,000 men under Putnam to Long Island. They were for the most part posted so as to hold a belt of wooded hills lying between their lines and the royal army. During the night of the 26th Howe outflanked them and brought his main body to a position on their rear. The next day an attack was made on their front; they were caught between two divisions of the king's troops and were defeated. Howe put their loss at 3,300, which is certainly an overestimate, though he made nearly 1,100 prisoners, among them the generals Sullivan and Lord Stirling, as the Americans called him, an unsuccessful claimant of that earldom.[113] The British casualties were 377. The Americans retreated within their inner lines. If Howe had allowed his troops to storm their entrenchments he would probably have destroyed or taken the whole force on the island. He considered, however, that the lines could in a few days be taken "at a very cheap rate" by regular approaches, and decided not to risk the loss of any more men.[114] He let his opportunity slip, and on the night of the 29th Washington, helped by a fog, cleverly withdrew his troops across the river.

[Sidenote: NEW YORK TAKEN.]

Lord Howe took advantage of the American defeat to invite congress to send some of its members to confer with him unofficially as to possible terms of peace. Congress, though it refused to sanction any unofficial negotiations, sent commissioners from its own body to confer with him. Nothing came of the conference, for the American commissioners would not treat except on the basis of independence. On September 15 the British army descended on Manhattan Island, on which New York stands, and the American militia fled in disorder. The British took possession of New York and of sixty-six of the enemy's guns. If Howe's movements had been more prompt he might have cut off a large number of the enemy; he is said to have wasted time by lingering over luncheon at the house of the mother of Lindley Murray, the grammar-writer, who detained him by her crafty hospitality. Washington drew off his troops to Haarlem heights, in the northern part of the island. The next day there was some skirmishing in which the Americans held their ground. The loyalists of New York had been shamefully treated by the dominant faction, and the British were received with joy.[115] A few days later a large part of the city was destroyed by fires evidently kindled by incendiaries. Washington and other generals had wished for military reasons to burn the place. They were prevented by congress, but the idea was taken up by some violent revolutionists. The Americans were disheartened by their ill-success; Washington's troops deserted in large numbers, and the greatest disorder prevailed in his army. In England the news of Howe's victory and his occupation of New York was received with delight, and the king rewarded him with the Order of the Bath.

The acquisition of New York gave the army an excellent base for operations either in the northern or southern provinces; it was easily accessible by sea, and lay in the midst of a district where loyalism was strong. According to the ministerial plan, Howe should have been joined by Carleton's army, which was to have taken Crown Point and Ticonderoga, gained possession of the upper Hudson, and invaded the province of New York from the north. After the Americans were chased out of Canada, Carleton's operations were stopped by the lack of a fleet to wrest the command of Lake Champlain from the rebels. During the summer he devoted himself with extraordinary energy to collecting and building vessels. Ships sent out from England were taken to pieces, carried overland to St. John's and put together again, little gunboats and transports were built, and by the beginning of October a larger and better fleet than that of the Americans was afloat on the lake. It engaged the enemy's fleet, under Arnold, off Valcour island, on the 11th and again on the 13th, and utterly destroyed it; only three of their vessels escaped.[116] Carleton occupied Crown Point, but as the season was so far advanced did not attack Ticonderoga, or stay long enough to put Crown Point in a defensible condition; he placed his army in winter quarters and returned to Quebec. He might have done more. His decision disappointed the king, and was represented to him in an unfavourable light, for Germain had a personal grudge against Carleton, and had already, in August, sent an order, which failed to reach him, that beyond his province the command was to be taken by Burgoyne. George, conscious of Carleton's signal services, at first declared himself satisfied that he had good reason for his decision; but Germain had the royal ear, and when the news came that Carleton had actually closed the campaign, the king accused him of slackness.


An example of real slackness was being given by Howe at New York. He should with the aid of the fleet have made a prompt effort to prevent Washington from retreating from Manhattan island, and to cut off his communications with Connecticut whence he was drawing supplies. Even before occupying New York he might have conveyed his army by water to a point from which White Plains, where the land begins to broaden out rapidly, might have been reached with ease. He wasted four weeks of precious time at New York, and did not embark his troops till October 12. Washington left his narrow position on Haarlem heights, gained White Plains before him, and fortified his camp. Howe attacked him on the 28th with the object of outflanking him. Although part of his army by a frontal attack drove the American right from a strong position, this success was fruitless as well as costly. The insurgents' centre was weak, and if he had attacked it in force he might have crushed them completely. He made no further attempt in that direction, and Washington retreated to a good position behind Croton river. Howe returned to New York. There, however, he dealt the Americans a serious blow. Fort Washington, on Manhattan island, and Fort Lee, opposite to it on the Jersey shore, were intended to bar the Hudson and so secure communications with the country to the west of it. Congress, which often interfered in military matters, ordered that Fort Washington should be held, though in fact the forts did not prevent our ships from passing up the river. On November 16 a well-planned attack was made upon the fort; it was forced to surrender, and 2,858 prisoners, forty-three cannon, and a large quantity of small arms were taken by the British.

Two days later Cornwallis took possession of Fort Lee, together with 140 cannon and stores of various kinds. He rapidly overran New Jersey. Washington had been drawn down thither, and Lee, whom he left at the Croton, failed to support him. He retreated hastily through New Jersey with a force daily diminished by desertion. Cornwallis pressed upon him, but was detained by Howe's orders for a week at Brunswick; and Washington, who left Princeton only an hour before Cornwallis entered it, had just time to convey his army, then reduced to some 3,300 men,[117] across the Delaware on December 8 before the British came up. They were unable to follow him at once for no boats were left on the eastern bank. Howe, who had joined Cornwallis, decided that no more could be done and placed the army in winter quarters. He divided it into small detachments, and for the sake of protecting and encouraging the loyalists, extended his line of communication for eighty miles. The fortunes of the insurgents were at low ebb. Not only were the loyalists strong in New Jersey, but crowds of the rebel party, many of them men of high standing, took advantage of the amnesty which Howe was empowered to offer. The Delaware would soon be frozen over, and, if the British crossed it, Washington had not a sufficient force to hinder them from marching on Philadelphia. The town was panic-stricken, and congress removed to Baltimore. Washington's army dwindled. The period for which his regular troops were enlisted would end on January 1, and as for the militia, that "destructive, expensive, and disorderly mob" as he called them, they came and went as they pleased. "The game," he thought, "was pretty well played out."[118] The Americans' distress was heightened by the capture of Lee, who was on his way to join Washington. They reckoned him their ablest general, though his insubordination and self-seeking rendered the loss of him an actual gain. About the same time Clinton sailed to Rhode Island with Sir Peter Parker, and occupied Newport without opposition.

Washington's only chance lay in immediate action. The foolish disposition of the British army gave him an opportunity. Their central cantonments, nearest to the enemy, were weak. Trenton was held by only 1,200 Hessians; their discipline was relaxed, they were hindered by difference of language from gaining intelligence, and they lived in careless security. Washington was reinforced by Lee's troops and by three regiments from Ticonderoga, which Carleton's inaction had rendered available for service in the south. On the night of December 25 he crossed the Delaware, and before daybreak took Trenton by surprise. The startled garrison could make no resistance; about 200 escaped and 918 were taken prisoners. Of the Americans only two were killed and six wounded. Cornwallis, who was on the point of embarking for England, hastened back to the Jersey army. Washington avoided a general engagement, defeated two regiments employed in an operation for the defence of Princeton, and before the middle of January, 1777, compelled the British by a series of well-conducted movements to evacuate West Jersey and withdraw to Brunswick and Amboy, where they went into quarters. The king's troops, British and German, committed many excesses, plundering friends and foes alike; and the inhabitants, indignant at their conduct, took advantage of Washington's success and turned against them. Many joined Washington's army. The British were in the midst of a hostile population, and though they had communication with New York by water, were almost besieged by land, for their supplies were constantly intercepted. The Jersey loyalists were left to the vengeance of their neighbours and were mercilessly plundered. Many of them fled to New York where several thousand provincial troops were embodied. Howe remained inactive at New York until the spring, and Washington also stayed quietly at his headquarters at Morristown.


Parliament was opened on October 31, 1776. An amendment to the address referring to American affairs was defeated in the lords by 91 to 26 and in the commons by 242 to 87. The news of the victory at Brooklyn—"the terrible news," as Fox indecently called it—and of the occupation of New York strengthened the ministers; and on a motion to revise the acts by which the Americans considered themselves aggrieved, the minority in the commons sank to 47. Depressed by the exhibition of their weakness, the Rockingham section ceased to attend parliament except on the occasion of private bills in which they were interested. Petulance and a false notion of dignity led them to neglect their duty to their country and their party. Their conduct was blamed by other whigs, and their secession, though it occasioned discord in the opposition, did not paralyse its efforts. Fox, by that time its most effective orator, went off to Paris, and the king advised North to proceed with as much business as possible in his absence.

The split in the opposition was specially manifested on the introduction of a government bill in February, 1777, for a partial suspension of the habeas corpus act, in order to secure the detention of persons charged with high treason in America or on the high seas; Rockingham, Burke, and others adhered to their secession, while Dunning and Fox headed the minority in the commons. Fox warned the house not to be deceived by the amicable professions of the French ministers, who, he said, were holding conferences with delegates from congress while he was in Paris, and were only delaying to take part against England until the French navy was in good order. He declared that our losses were far greater and our successes far smaller than they were represented by government, and inveighed against the inhumanity with which he asserted the war was conducted on our side. He attacked the solicitor-general, who in answering him pointed out that if, as he asserted, France was secretly intriguing against us the bill was specially necessary. In a personal encounter Wedderburn was a dangerous antagonist, and Fox met more than his match. Dunning urged an amendment to prevent any abuse of the act; and North, always averse from violent measures, accepted his proposal. The bill was carried by 112 to 33. Public feeling had lately been excited on the subject of treason by incendiary fires which did much damage in the Portsmouth dockyard and destroyed some buildings on Bristol quay. They were found to have been the work of one James Aitken, commonly called John the painter, who had lately returned from America, and who stated in his confession that he had acted at the instigation of Silas Deane, one of the emissaries of congress in Paris.[119] He was hanged at Portsmouth on March 10.

The expenses of the war were growing. For 1777 parliament voted 45,000 seamen, including 1,000 marines. The difficulty was to get them. A seaman's service was not continuous; when his ship was paid off he could go whither he would. The peace establishment of the navy was ridiculously small, and when a war broke out it was always difficult to get men in a hurry. Many of the best seamen would have taken service on board merchant ships and would, perhaps, be at sea; and life on the king's ships in time of war was often so rough that it is not surprising that men should have avoided it. The usual difficulty of manning the fleet at the beginning of a war was increased at the present time, for it was calculated that the revolt of the colonies deprived England of 1,800 seamen. The navy in time of war was recruited by impressment, a system which, though recognised by common law, entailed much hardship. Seamen were kidnapped, often after a bloody struggle, and if caught inland were sent to the ports ironed like criminals. Men who had been at sea for years were liable, as soon as their ships neared home, to be taken out of them, put into a press tender and sent to sea again. Merchant ships were stripped of their best men, and were left to be brought into port by the master and a few lads. The press gangs looked for trained seamen, though when a war lasted for some years they took what they could get; landsmen were impressed, and the press was sometimes abused as a means of getting rid of a personal enemy, a rival in love, or an inconvenient claimant. The system was expensive; it was stated that from 4,000 to 5,000 seamen were employed on the business, and that every pressed man who was found to be fit for sea cost the nation L30. High bounties were offered, but they failed to entice men to enter a service which the press might make practically continuous, and a proposal for a limited term of service was rejected by the commons. The supplies for the year amounted to L12,592,534. New taxes calculated to yield L237,000 were laid on male servants, a guinea on each, stamps, imported glass, auctioneers, and sales by auction; and the deficiency of L5,500,000 was met by a loan, raised at 4 per cent., with a premium of 1/2 per cent. to meet the state of the stocks.


While war was thus increasing the burden of the nation, the king again applied to parliament for payment of the arrears of the civil list, amounting to L618,000. The ministers exhibited accounts which failed to satisfy the opposition. Wilkes pointed out that payments since 1769 of L171,000 and L114,000 for secret service were each noted in a single line, and that there was a general charge of L438,000 for pensions. As in 1769, the arrears must be traced to an expenditure which increased the king's influence. Wilkes said this plainly, Burke in less broad terms, and Fox taunted North with the pledge given when he was in office in 1769 that no such demand should be made again. Besides money deliberately spent in corruption, vast sums were wasted on abuses in the royal household, on sinecures, and on other useless places of profit. One of the king's turnspits was a member of the house of commons, and paid L5 a year to a humble deputy, and no fewer than twenty-three separate tables were kept up, eleven for the nurses. For such abuses George was only partially responsible. Though he lived with a frugality which was almost meanness, he was in dire distress for money; the wages of his menial servants were six quarters in arrear, and he owed his coal-merchant L6,000.[120] After much discussion the money was voted, and the civil list was increased to L900,000 a year. In presenting the bill to the king the speaker, Sir Fletcher Norton, dwelt on the magnificence of the gift, and added that the commons were confident that he would apply wisely what they had granted liberally. Though the court party in the commons declared that he had not expressed the feeling of the house, he received a vote of thanks for his speech. Towards the close of the session Chatham was sufficiently recovered from his long illness again to attend parliament, and moved an address to the crown to put an end to the war. He pointed out the danger of foreign intervention, and declared that France was already destroying our commerce. The idea of conquering America was absurd; America would not be conquered by the loss of ten pitched battles. He was against American independence, but this country, he said, was the aggressor, and "instead of exacting unconditional submission from the colonies, we should grant them unconditional redress". His motion was negatived by 99 votes to 28.


A fresh plan for obtaining the mastery of the line of the Hudson was already in course of preparation. Burgoyne, who returned home in December, obtained the command of the northern army, and, on February 28, laid a project of campaign before the government. He proposed to secure Ticonderoga and the lakes, and march down the Hudson to Albany, where he was to effect a junction with Howe, previously detaching a small force to create a diversion by advancing from Oswego and down the Mohawk river to Albany. The object of this plan was to open communication between New York and Canada, cut off New England from the southern provinces, and enable Howe to operate in the south with an overwhelming force. He pointed out the difficulties of the proposed march and suggested alternative schemes; but his first project was chosen by the king, and he was ordered to carry it out. The projected campaign, if successful, would have been disastrous to the Americans. Its success depended on Howe's co-operation. An invasion by distinct armies, such as Burgoyne proposed, with bases far apart and acting on converging lines, can only be undertaken with safety when intercommunication is secure and co-operation assured. Otherwise one of the invading armies is liable to be crushed before it can receive help from another, specially when, as was the case here, the enemy can act on lines interior to those on which the invaders move. Burgoyne fell into the error, common throughout the war, of trusting too much to loyalist help. Apart from that, however, his project assumed that Howe would be advancing up the Hudson in time to get between him and any large force which might advance against him, and it failed miserably, because Howe did not co-operate with him. Germain informed Carleton of the plan and ordered him to resign the command of the northern army to Burgoyne; he was to command only within his own province, keeping 3,700 men with him, and was to forward Burgoyne's expedition. Germain reproached him for his retirement from Ticonderoga, which, he said, gave Washington the means of breaking the British line at Trenton. Carleton was indignant at this unworthy treatment, and though he did what he could to help Burgoyne, he resigned the governor-generalship.[121]

During the winter Howe formed a plan for taking Philadelphia, and on December 20, 1776, expounded it by letter to Germain, observing that the northern army would not reach Albany before September. Germain wrote on March 8 approving of his plan,[122] which might have been executed without preventing the junction contemplated by the minister. After some unimportant operations Howe took the field in June, and on the 5th received a copy of Carleton's instructions relating to Burgoyne's campaign. Washington's difficulties were then somewhat relieved; he encamped at Middlebrook in a position too strong to be forced; he would not be enticed to a general engagement, and Howe could not leave him in his rear and push on to Philadelphia. Time was passing, yet Howe was still set on prosecuting his design on Philadelphia. Finally he embarked an army of 14,000 men at Sandy Hook, and instead of remaining to be in readiness to co-operate with Burgoyne, left Clinton with 8,500 men to garrison New York and "act as circumstances may direct," and on July 23 sailed for the Delaware, where he considered he would be sufficiently near to New York to act with Burgoyne, if necessary, and yet could carry out his own main design. The naval officers were unwilling to risk disembarkation in the Delaware, and Howe, determined not to give up his design, sailed for Chesapeake bay. The fleet met with contrary winds, and it was not until August 25 that his army landed at the head of Elk river. Washington with about an equal force marched to the north of the Brandywine to defend Philadelphia. The two armies met on September 11. Howe, who well knew how to handle an army in the field, out-manoeuvred him, and after some sharp fighting the American army was defeated with a loss of over 1,400 men, killed, wounded, and taken, and eleven guns. Congress again decamped, and on the 27th Cornwallis took possession of Philadelphia amid the acclamations of a large part of the inhabitants, while Howe and the main army encamped at Germantown, five miles to the north.


In order to secure communication with New York and to supply the army, it was all-important that the fleet should be able to pass up the Delaware, which was strongly defended by forts, a bar, and a fleet of little vessels; and Howe detached troops to act against the forts. Washington lay a few miles to the north; he was joined by strong reinforcements, and determined to take advantage of the division of the British troops. He formed a plan for surprising and driving in their advanced posts, cutting their force in two, crushing their right wing, and then doubling the whole army back on the Schuylkill river where it would be at his mercy. He attacked at daybreak on October 4 under cover of a fog. The head of the British position was insufficiently guarded and the 40th regiment was driven back. At this critical moment its commander, Musgrave, and a party of his men stopped the enemy's advance by seizing a house which stood in their way and holding it against them until the army had time to form. His gallant conduct saved the army. The Americans fought well until, misled by the fog, one of their brigades fired on another. This threw them into disorder, which was increased by the drunkenness of some of their officers and men. Cornwallis came up from Philadelphia in hot haste and pressed upon them. They retreated with a loss of 673 killed and wounded, and 400 taken; on the British side the casualties were 551. Both in this action and in the battle on the Brandywine the Americans showed that they had learned to fight with resolution and to retreat in good order. The two engagements proved that though they might be defeated in the field, the war would not come to a speedy end, and this enlisted foreign sympathy and encouraged France to intervene on their side.

For a month Howe was engaged in opening the passage of the Delaware. He sent for 4,000 men from New York. This reduction of the garrison was most unfortunate, for, as we shall see, it put an end to Clinton's attempt to co-operate with Burgoyne.[123] At last the defences of the river were destroyed, and communication was established between the army and the fleet. Washington retreated to Valley Forge, about twenty-five miles from Philadelphia, and there put his army into quarters. During the winter his troops suffered terribly from lack of clothing and provisions. By Christmas nearly 3,000 were unfit for duty because they were "barefoot or otherwise naked". They deserted in parties, a large number came to the British quarters, and scarcely a day passed without the resignation of an officer. In February, 1778, there was almost a famine in the camp, and Washington feared a general mutiny and dispersion.[124]

Meanwhile the British were in comfortable quarters in Philadelphia. Howe's object was attained; but though the capture of their capital discouraged the Americans, the loss of Philadelphia is not to be compared with the loss of a capital of an organised state; it did not paralyse an administrative machinery or lessen the means of resistance. Howe's anxiety for its capture largely proceeded from his expectation that it would be followed by a rising of the loyalists; he placed too high a value on professions of loyalty and on loyalist support. In itself the place was important; it was the largest of the American towns, and it opened communication between the northern and southern provinces, though so long as an insurgent army existed in Pennsylvania, an invader could not safely take advantage of its position. British officers marvelled that Howe did not attack Washington while his army was in so miserable a state. His inactivity cannot be defended satisfactorily. He was looking forward to be relieved of his command; he was disgusted by the inadequate response made by the government to his repeated demands for large reinforcements; he informed Germain that without 10,000 more troops the war would not be ended in the next campaign, and on October 22 wrote resigning his command. He allowed the discipline of his army to become lax. The winter was spent in idleness and dissipation. A bank at faro was opened, and many officers were ruined by gambling. All ranks were demoralised, and sober townspeople who had welcomed the arrival of the troops were disgusted by their disorderly behaviour. The only fruit of Howe's victories during the campaign of 1777 was the acquisition of good winter quarters at Philadelphia, and that he purchased at the price of an appalling disaster to a British army.[125]

Burgoyne took the field in June with 7,251 rank and file of regular troops, of which 3,116 were Germans, 148 militia, and 503 Indians, in all 7,902. Shortly before he left Canada a small force set out under Colonel St. Leger to march from Lake Ontario, take Fort Stanwix, and form a junction with him by an advance through the Mohawk valley. Burgoyne's army was in fine order, but the arrangements for the carriage of supplies and the making of roads were insufficient. His troops were carried up Lake Champlain and landed at Crown Point, where he made a speech to his Indian allies, commanding them to observe the customs of civilised warfare and to behave with humanity. He was to find that such orders could not be enforced. On July 6, almost as soon as he arrived at Ticonderoga, the Americans hastily abandoned it, leaving their guns behind them. They were promptly pursued and suffered heavy losses. The fugitives joined Schuyler, the commander of the army in the north, at Fort Edward; he evacuated the place and retreated southwards in the direction of Albany. The news of Burgoyne's success caused much rejoicing in England. George is said to have rushed into the queen's room as soon as he heard of it crying, "I have beat them! beat all the Americans!" For the moment the Americans were panic-struck. Men said angrily that their troops would never hold a place until a general had been shot, and Schuyler was superseded by Gates.


On July 10 Burgoyne set out to march from Skenesborough to Fort Edward, sending his artillery and stores by water to Fort George. His route, though not more than twenty miles, was extremely difficult; it was obstructed by trees felled by the enemy and lay through swamps and forests, and at least forty bridges had to be constructed in its course. He might have avoided these difficulties by returning to Ticonderoga and conveying his army by water up Lake George; but he rejected that route because he thought that a retrograde movement would discourage his troops and abate the panic of the enemy. His army did not reach the Hudson until the 30th. At Fort Edward his supplies ran short and he had to wait there, for his means of transport were not sufficient to bring his stores from Fort George. Garrisons had to be found for Ticonderoga and for posts of communication, and this diminished his army. Meanwhile the enemy was increasing in force. While at Ticonderoga he published a foolish proclamation reminding those who persisted in rebellion that he had it in his power to let loose the Indians upon them. Nothing would have induced him to commit so hideous a crime, and his proclamation only served to enrage the Americans and swell the number of their troops. The Indians were offended by his efforts to restrain them, and deserted him; they were no loss, for they caused more trouble than they were worth, and some excesses which they committed, and specially the murder of a Miss McCrae by an Indian who, it is said, was sent by her betrothed to bring her into the British lines, excited widespread indignation. Burgoyne was in sore need of supplies and made an attempt to seize the insurgents' stores and horses collected at Bennington. He sent only some 500 men on this service, for he was assured that the district was friendly. It was far otherwise. The party was surrounded on August 16, and another detachment formed of German troops which was despatched to help them marched so slowly that it did not come up in time. Both bodies were defeated with a loss, perhaps, of about 500 men.

News came of the failure of St. Leger's expedition. On his arrival at Oswego he was joined by Sir John Johnson and Butler with their loyalist regiments, and by a force of Indians whom Johnson, one of their superintendents, and the Mohawk leader, Brant, persuaded to march with them. He besieged Fort Stanwix, and, on August 6, defeated a force sent to relieve it. But his guns were too light for siege operations; the garrison held out, and his Indians forced him to raise the siege. During his retreat they mutinied; he was barely able to bring off his regular troops, and lost his guns and stores. Burgoyne was in a dangerous position; the country swarmed with enemies; "wherever the king's troops point," he wrote, "militia to the number of three or four thousand assemble in a few hours". He might have retreated to Fort Edward, where he would have had communication with Lake George; but he held that he was bound by his orders to advance, and on September 15, after collecting provisions for about a month, he conveyed his force to the western bank of the Hudson and cut himself off from communication with the lakes. Besides artillery, he had then with him only 5,000 men under arms.[126] On the 19th his force was partially engaged by Arnold at Freeman's Farm. The British held their ground but lost over 500 men, and Gates, the American commander, with 11,000 men, who did not take part in the fight, occupied a strong position in front of them. A message came from Clinton that he was about to attack the forts on the Hudson below Albany, and Burgoyne sent answer that he hoped to be able to hold his ground until October 20. He fortified his position and waited for further news. None came to him. The insurgent forces grew to at least 16,000 men; Burgoyne's provisions were becoming exhausted and on October 3 he put his little army on half rations. Despite the overwhelming number of the enemy, he moved forward on the 7th to ascertain whether he could force a passage through their lines. He was defeated with heavy loss and fell back on Saratoga.


A council of war held on the 12th decided on a retreat to Fort Edward. It was too late; the Americans held the fords and had a strong force encamped between Fort George and Fort Edward. Only 3,500 fighting men were left with Burgoyne; he was completely surrounded, and on the 14th he opened negotiations with Gates. Even then he refused to surrender unconditionally, and the convention of Saratoga was concluded on the 17th. His troops marched out with the honours of war, and were to be allowed to return to England on condition of not serving again in the war. The whole number which surrendered, including camp-followers, labourers, and detachments, was 5,762. Gates's behaviour at the surrender was such as became an officer and a gentleman. Congress shamefully broke the engagement. The captive troops were marched to Boston, but when the transports called for them, they were not allowed to embark. The paltry subterfuges by which congress defended its conduct only throw a specially odious light on its sacrifice of honour to policy. From the beginning of the war both sides made frequent complaints as to the treatment of prisoners, and both apparently with justice. Burgoyne's men were shamefully treated. He and his staff were allowed to return home in the spring of 1778; others were exchanged from time to time, but the mass of the army never came back. Clinton, who was then unaware of Burgoyne's distress, did what he could to render his position secure in case he arrived at Albany. As soon as he received reinforcements from England, he pushed up the Hudson and on October 6 destroyed the forts which barred the passage of our ships. He could do no more, for he was forced to send 4,000 men to Howe and could not leave New York without a sufficient garrison. A messenger from Burgoyne at last reached him. The way being cleared, the ships ascended the river and burnt the batteries and town at Esopus creek. The news of Clinton's activity doubtless secured Burgoyne more favourable terms than Gates was at first inclined to grant.

The chief blame for this disaster must rest on Howe. His assertion that Philadelphia was the prime object of his campaign made Germain uneasy, and he wrote to him on May 18 that whatever he might meditate, he was not to neglect to co-operate with the northern army.[127] This despatch did not reach Howe until August 16, when he had made co-operation with Burgoyne impossible. A few days later Germain wrote again; the despatch was not ready for his signature at the time at which he wished to go into the country, and when he came back it was forgotten. It was a piece of gross carelessness, but an undue importance has been attached to it.[128] Howe was well aware of Burgoyne's expedition. On June 5 he had received a copy of a despatch from Germain which told him that Burgoyne was ordered to "force his way to Albany" and join him with the utmost speed.[129] Nevertheless, he persisted in pursuing his own plan. He must have hesitated whether to reach Philadelphia by land or water. When in June he at last made up his mind to move, he evidently tried to reach Philadelphia by land. If he had succeeded and had swept Washington before him, he might have kept in communication with Burgoyne and have co-operated with him. Failing in this, he decided to go by sea, and when he was told that he could not safely land in the Delaware, went on to Chesapeake bay. When he gained his object by taking Philadelphia he did so by a course which made it impossible for him to co-operate with Burgoyne, and put Washington's army between them.

According to the government plan the chief object of his campaign should have been his junction with Burgoyne. The government, that is Germain, certainly erred in not giving him precise orders, while Burgoyne had virtually no discretionary power. Yet it was for Howe, as commander-in-chief on the spot, to judge of the situation without explicit instructions. According to his own statements, his view of the situation was that Burgoyne would march through a friendly country and encounter no enemy except the army of 4,000 men under Schuyler, that Clinton would be able to give him any assistance which he might require, that his own expedition to Philadelphia would divert the enemy from Burgoyne, that he would be able to "account for" Washington, and that if Washington gave him the slip, he would be able to follow him up and prevent him from annoying Burgoyne.[130] These considerations may be supposed to have satisfied him that no direct co-operation with Burgoyne was required of him. Burgoyne had to encounter foes whom neither he nor Howe reckoned upon, and it was Howe's duty to be at hand to prevent their crushing him. Burgoyne made some mistakes in preparing for and prosecuting his campaign, but he and his men exhibited splendid courage, and he is not to be blamed for trying his fortune to the utmost. In view of his orders, and of the risk of leaving a co-operating force unsupported, he was bound to ascertain whether he could force his way through the enemy. The irregular character of the American force rendered success possible, and justified his gallant attempt of October 7. He was a fine soldier, and was regarded with confidence and affection by his subordinates. Clinton seems to have done all that was in his power considering the small force left with him in New York.[131]


The surrender of Burgoyne's army could not in itself affect the issue of the war. Its importance lies in its effect on the policy of foreign nations and specially of France. So far as the Americans alone were concerned, England had good reason to expect ultimate success. They would neither enlist in sufficient numbers to keep up a regular army nor provide for such troops as they had. The meddlesomeness and incapacity of congress were destroying its army; generals were intriguing against one another, soldiers were perishing for lack of necessaries, stores were wasted. Money was scarce and public credit bad. Early in 1778 congress had 5,500,000 paper dollars in circulation, and the value of its paper dollar was from half to a quarter of the silver dollar. Above all, the Americans had no fleet, and were consequently unable to protect their sea-board. Their alliance with France and subsequently with Spain brought them, along with other help, the sea-power without which the issue of the struggle might well have been adverse to them. France and Spain hoped to recoup themselves for former losses, France by conquests in the West Indies, Spain by regaining Gibraltar, Minorca, and Jamaica. In 1775 an agent of the French court went over to America with offers of help, and early in 1776 the Count de Vergennes, foreign minister of Louis XVI., proposed as a system of policy that the Bourbon kings should give secret aid to the Americans and strengthen their own forces, taking care, however, to persuade England that their intentions were pacific. About the same time congress sent Deane to France as a secret agent.

In accordance with the proposal of Vergennes the French and Spanish courts provided money for the Americans; and Beaumarchais, the dramatist, who masqueraded as a firm of merchants in order to conceal the participation of his government, spent it in purchasing military stores for them. The young Marquis de Lafayette and other Frenchmen entered their army. So too did the Poles, Kosciusko and Pulaski, and the Germans, Kalb and Steuben. In December Franklin went over to Paris. The philosophic movement was then at its height in France. The philosophes desired freedom of thought in religion, constitutional liberty, and the abolition of privilege of all kinds. They speculated as to the origins of political and social institutions and the laws of human progress. The works of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Montesquieu were eagerly studied by the nobles and fine ladies of the court with whom philosophisme was fashionable. America they regarded as a land of freedom and primitive simplicity; and they hailed the crude assertions of the Declaration of Independence, issued by a body largely composed of slave-owners, that all men are created equal and with an inalienable right to liberty, as bringing their theories within the range of practical politics. Franklin was received with ludicrous adulation as an embodiment of republican virtue and philosophic thought. He busied himself in stirring up hostility to England. Another American envoy sought help from Prussia. Frederick showed his hatred of England by forbidding some German troops which George had hired to pass through his dominions; but his quarrel with Austria with reference to the Bavarian succession rendered him unwilling to provoke Great Britain: he had no sympathy with the Americans and would not receive their envoy.


Besides the stores sent by Beaumarchais and 1,000 livres in cash, France helped the Americans by neglecting to prevent the violation of her neutrality by their ships. Although the Americans could not dispute with Great Britain on the sea, they had a few ships built by congress, more belonging to the maritime provinces, and a vast number of privateers. These ships did much damage to British trade. Already they hovered about the coasts of England and Ireland, and were so dangerous to our merchant vessels that merchants embarked their goods on foreign ships to avoid the risk of capture. By the end of 1778 nearly 1,000 merchant ships were taken by American privateers. Some of these privateers were fitted out in French ports, brought their prizes into them, and sailed from them again on fresh expeditions. Our ambassador, Lord Stormont, complained vigorously of these open breaches of neutrality, and at last the French government took some measures to stop them. The opposition in parliament constantly insisted that, if the war went on, France and Spain would certainly take part with the Americans. The government could no longer ignore, though it still strove to discredit, the danger of foreign intervention. The king's speech at the opening of parliament on October 20, 1777, took note of the naval preparations of the two powers and recommended an augmentation of the navy. Tidings of Burgoyne's disaster reached Europe on December 2. Vergennes at once informed the American agents that his master would make a treaty with them. The alliance was concluded on February 6, 1778; it was agreed that, in the event of war between France and England, neither of the contracting parties should make peace without the consent of the other or until the independence of the United States should be assured by treaty. France renounced all claim to Canada. If taken from England, it was to belong to the United States, while all conquests in the West Indies were to belong to France. Spain at this time declined to join in the alliance. That a treaty was signed was soon generally believed in England; it was officially declared by France on March 13. War between Great Britain and France began in the summer.

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