It was four o'clock when the troops started off on their seven-mile march to Trenton over the snowy ground, the icy wind driving the sleet and snow in their faces. But by eight o'clock they had reached Trenton. The British were utterly taken by surprise, and almost at once the Hessians surrendered.
Having sent his prisoners, to the number of nearly a thousand, to the other side of the river, Washington took possession of the town. But he was not long allowed to remain there. For the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, marched to dislodge him with an army of eight thousand men.
Washington let him come, and on the 2nd of January, Cornwallis encamped before Trenton, determined next morning to give battle. He was sure of victory, and in great spirits. "At last we have run down the old fox, and we will bag him in the morning," he said.
But Washington was not to be so easily caught. The two armies were so near that the watchfires of the one could be plainly seen by the other. All night the American watchfires blazed, all night men could be heard working at the fortifications. But that was only a blind. In the darkness Washington and his army quietly slipped away to Princeton. There he fell upon the British reinforcements, who were marching to join Cornwallis at Trenton, and put them to flight.
When day came Cornwallis was astonished to find the American camp empty. And when he heard the firing in the distance he knew what had happened, and hastily retreated to New York, while Washington drew off his victorious but weary men to Morristown in New Jersey. Here for the next few months they remained, resting after their labours, unmolested by the foe.
Chapter 57 - Burgoyne's Campaign - Bennington and Oriskany
As many of the Americans had foreseen, the British had from the first formed the design of cutting the colonies in two by taking possession of the great waterway from the Hudson to the St. Lawrence. Their plans had been long delayed, but in the spring of 1777, they determined to carry them out.
General Burgoyne was now in command of the Canadian troops. He was a genial man of fashion, a writer of plays, and a great gambler. But he was a brave soldier, too, and his men adored him. For in days when it was common to treat the rank and file as a little better than dogs, Burgoyne treated them like reasoning beings.
It was arranged that Burgoyne should move southward with his main force, by way of Lake Champlain to Ticonderoga, and that a smaller force should go by Lake Ontario and seize Fort Stanwix. Howe, at the same time, was in Albany, having, it was to be supposed, swept the whole country free of "rebels."
It was a very fine plan, but it was not carried out as intended - because, although Burgoyne received his orders, Howe did not receive his. For the British minister, who ought to have sent them, went off on a holiday and forgot all about the matter for several weeks. When at length he remembered, and sent the order, Howe was far away from the Hudson, at his old game of trying to run Washington to earth.
Burgoyne, however, knew nothing of this and cheerfully set out from Canada with a well drilled, well equipped, and well fed army of about eight thousand men, and on the 1st of July reached Ticonderoga.
Since this fort had been taken by Ethan Allen it had been greatly strengthened, and the Americans believed that now it could withstand any assault, however vigorous. But while strengthening the fort itself they failed to fortify a little hill near. They had already much experience of the danger of heights commanding a town or fort. But they thought that this hill was too steep and rugged to be a danger. No cannon, it was said, could ever be dragged up to the top of it. When the British came, however, they thought otherwise. They at once saw the value of the hill, and determined that guns should be dragged up it. For forty-eight hours they worked furiously, and when day dawned on the 5th of August both men and guns were on the summit.
The American commander, St. Clair, saw them with despair in his heart. Every corner of the fort was commanded by the guns, and the garrison utterly at the mercy of the enemy. To remain, he knew, would mean the loss of his whole force. So he resolved to abandon the fort, and as soon as the sun set the work was begun. Guns and stores were laden on boats, cannon too heavy to be removed were spiked, and nearly all the garrison had left when a fire broke out in the officers' quarters.
The light of the flames showed the British sentinels what was going on. The alarm was given. The British made a dash for the fort, and as day dawned on July 6, 1777, the Union Jack was once more planted upon its ramparts.
Then a hot pursuit began. At the village of Hubbardton the Americans made a valiant stand, but they were worsted and fled, and five days later St. Clair brought the remnant of his force into Fort Edward, where the main army under Schuyler was stationed.
Burgoyne had begun well, and when King George heard the news he clapped his hands with joy. "I have beat them," he cried, dashing into the queen's rooms, "I have beat all the Americans." But over America the loss cast a gloom. St. Clair and Schuyler were severely blamed and court-martialled. But both were honourably acquitted. Nothing could have saved the garrison from being utterly wiped out; and when men came to judge the matter calmly they admitted that it was better to lose the fort than to lose the fort and garrison also. Meanwhile Burgoyne was chasing hot-foot after the fugitives. As he approached, Schuyler abandoned Fort Edward, for it was a mere shell and impossible of defence for a single day. But as he fell back, he broke up the roads behind him. Trees were felled and laid across them every two or three yards, bridges were burned, fords destroyed. So thoroughly was the work done that Burgoyne, in pursuit, could only march about a mile a day, and had to build no fewer than forty bridges in a distance of little more than twenty-four miles.
Besides destroying the roads Schuyler also made the country a desert. He carried away and destroyed the crops, drove off the sheep and cattle, sweeping the country so bare that the hostile army could find no food, and were forced to depend altogether on their own supplies. Before long these gave out, and the British began to suffer from hunger.
Burgoyne now learned that at the village of Bennington the patriots had a depot containing large stores of food and ammunition. These he determined to have for his own army, and he sent a force of six hundred men, mostly Germans and Indians, to make the capture.
This old trapper, Captain John Stark, was in command of the American force at Bennington. He had fought in many battles from Bunker Hill to Princeton. But, finding himself passed over, when others were promoted, he had gone off homeward in dudgeon. But now in his country's hour of need he forgot his grievances and once more girded on his sword. He led his men with splendid dash and the enemy was utterly defeated, and Stark was made a brigadier general as a reward. It was a disaster for Burgoyne, and on the heels of this defeat came the news that the second force marching by way of Lake Ontario had also met with disaster at Oriskany near Fort Stanwix.
This force had surrounded Fort Stanwix, and General Nicholas Herkimer had marched to its relief.
General Herkimer was an old German of over sixty, and although he had lived all his life in America, and loved the country with his whole heart, he spoke English very badly, and wrote it worse. It must have sadly puzzled his officers sometimes to make out his dispatches and orders. One is said to have run as follows: "Ser, yu will orter yur bodellyen to merchs Immetdielich do ford edward weid for das broflesen and amenieschen fied for en betell. Dis yu will desben at yur berrel." This being translated means:" Sir, you will order your battalion to march immediately to Fort Edward with four days' provisions, and ammunition for one battle. This you will disobey at your peril."
As this doughty old German marched to the relief of Fort Stanwix he fell into an ambush prepared for him by the famous Indian chief, Joseph Brant, who, with his braves, was fighting on the side of the British. A terrible hand to hand struggle followed. The air was filled with wild yells and still wilder curses as the two foes grappled. It was war in all its savagery. Tomahawks and knives were used as freely as rifles. Stabbing, shooting, wrestling, the men fought each other more like wildcats than human beings. A fearful thunderstorm burst forth, too. Rain fell in torrents, a raging wind tore through the tree tops, thunder and lightning added their terrors to the scene.
For five hours the savage warfare lasted. Almost at the beginning a ball shattered Herkimer's leg and killed his horse. But the stout old warrior refused to leave the field. He bade his men take the saddle from his horse and place it at the root of a great beech tree. Sitting there he directed the battle, shouting his orders in his quaint guttural English, and calmly smoking a pipe the while. They were the last orders he was to give. For, ten days after the battle he died from his wound, serenely smoking his pipe, and reading his old German Bible almost to the last.
Soon the noise of the battle was heard at Fort Stanwix, and the garrison, led by Colonel Marinus Willett, sallied forth to the aid of their comrades, put a detachment of the enemy to flight, and captured their stores of food and ammunition, together with five flags. And now for the first time the Stars and Stripes were unfurled.
When Washington had taken command of the army there had still been no real thought of separating from Britain. So for his flag he had used the British ensign with the Union Jack in the corner. But instead of a red ground he had used a ground of thirteen red and white stripes, on stripe for each colony. But when all hope of reconciliation was gone Congress decided that the Union Jack must be cut out of the flag altogether, and in its place a blue square was to be used with thirteen white stars in a circle, one star for each state, just as there was one stripe for each state.
People, however, were too busy doing other things and had no time to see to the making of flags. So the first one was hoisted by Colonel Willett, after the battle of Orskany. He had captured five standards. These, as victor, he hoisted on the fort. To make his triumph complete, however, he wanted an American flag to hoist over them. But he had none. So a soldier's wife gave her red petticoat, some one else supplied a white shirt, and out of that and an old blue jacket was made the first American flag to float upon the breeze.
This, of course, was only a rough and ready flag, and Betsy Ross, a seamstress, who lived in Arch Street, Philadelphia, had the honour of making the first real one. While in Philadelphia Washington and some members of council called upon Betsy to ask her to make the flag. Washington had brought a sketch with him, but Betsy suggested some alterations. So Washington drew another sketch, and there and then Betsy set to work, and very soon her flag also was floating in the breeze.
Chapter 58 - Burgoyne's Campaign - Bemis Heights and Saratoga
After all the fierce fighting at Oriskany neither side could claim a victory. The British had received a check, but were by no means beaten. Fort Stanwix was still besieged, and unless relief came must soon fall into the hands of the enemy.
Colonel Gansewoort, the commandant of the fort, therefore now sent to Schuyler asking for help, and Benedict Arnold, who had but lately arrived, volunteering for the service, was soon on his way with twelve hundred men. Arnold was ready enough to fight, as he was. But he knew that his force was much smaller than that of the British, and, after some thought, he fell upon a plan by which theirs could be made less.
A spy had been caught within the American lines, and was condemned to death. He was an almost half-witted creature, with queer cunning ways, and the Indians looked upon him as a sort of Medicine Man, and feared him accordingly. Knowing this, Arnold thought that he might be useful to him, and promised to spare his life if he would go to the British camp and spread a report among their Indian allies that the Americans were coming down upon them in tremendous force.
The man was glad enough to get a chance to escape being hanged, and his brother being held as hostage, he set out. He acted his part well. Panting and breathless, with his coat torn in many places by bullets, and a face twisted with fear, he dashed into the enemy camp. There he told his eager listeners that he had barely escaped with his life from the Americans (which was true enough) and that they were marching towards them in vast numbers, and showed his bullet-riddled coat as proof of his story.
"How many are they?" he was asked.
In reply the man spread his hands abroad, pointing to the leaves of the trees and shaking his head as if in awe.
The Indians were greatly disturbed, and began to hold a council. While they were still consulting, an Indian, friendly to the Americans, who was in the plot, arrived. He told the same story as the spy, pointing like him to the numberless trees of the forest when asked how many of the enemy were coming.
Then another and still another Indian arrived. They all told the same tale. A mysterious bird had come to warn them, they said, that the whole valley was filled with warriors.
At length the Indians could bear no more. Already many of their best warriors had been slain. They would no longer stay to be utterly wiped out, and they prepared to flee.
In vain the British commander implored them to stay. Bribes, threats, and promises were all alike useless. At last he offered them "fire water." For if only he could make them drunk, he thought, they might forget their fear. But even the much coveted "fire water" had no power to still their terrors. They refused to drink, and with clamour and noise they fled.
The panic spread to the rest of the army. Two battalions of white men followed in the wake of their redskin brothers, and the commander, deserted by the bulk of his army, was forced to join in the general retreat.
It was a humiliating and disorderly flight. The Indians, when they recovered from their terror, had lost every vestige of respect for their white brothers. Soon they became insolent, and amused themselves by playing on their fears. "They are coming! They are coming!" they would cry whenever the weary fugitives lay down to rest. Then they would laugh to see the white men leap up again, fling away their knapsacks and their rifles, so as to make the greater haste, and stumble onward.
At length the shameful retreat came to an end, and, hungry and ragged, a feeble remnant of the expedition reached the shores of Lake Ontario, and passed over into Canada.
Such was the news brought to Burgoyne soon after the defeat at Bennington. It make his dark outlook darker still. No help could ever come to him now from the north, and all his hopes were fixed on Howe's advancing host from the south. But no news of Howe's approach reached him. Day by day the American force round him was increasing. Day by day his own was growing weaker. At last in desperation he decided to risk a battle. For he saw that he must either soon cut his way through the hostile forces or perish miserable.
General Horatio Gates was now in command of the Americans instead of Schuyler. Gates was nothing of a soldier. Indeed it was said of him that all throughout the beginning of the war he never so much as heard the sound of a gun, and that when there was a battle to the fore he always had business elsewhere. Like Lee he was an Englishman by birth. And even as Lee had been jealous of Washington so Gates was jealous of Schuyler, and at last he succeeded in ousting him. He did so at a good time for himself, for all the hard work of this campaign was done, and Gates stepped in time to reap the glory.
Burgoyne thought little of Gates, and called him an old woman. So he was the more ready to give battle. But the Americans were now so thoroughly aroused that they would have fought well without a leader. Besides, Arnold was with them, and Arnold they would have followed anywhere.
The Americans were strongly entrenched on Bemis Heights, and on the day of battle Gates would have done nothing but sit still and let the enemy wear himself out in attacks. But this did not suit Arnold's fiery temper, and he begged hard to be allowed to charge the enemy. Bates grudgingly gave him leave, and with a small force he bore down upon the British. The fight was fierce, and finding his force too small Arnold sent to Gates asking for reinforcements. But Gates, although he had ten thousand troops standing idle, refused to send a man. So, with his always diminishing handful of troops, Arnold fought on till night fell.
Again neither side could claim a victory. But Burgoyne had lost nearly six hundred men, and his position was not one whit the better. Gates took all the credit to himself, and when he sent his account of the battle to Congress he did not so much as mention Arnold's name. Out of this, and his refusal to send reinforcements, a furious quarrel arouse between the two men, and Gates told Arnold that he had no further use for his services and that he could go. Arnold, shaken with wrath, would have gone had not his brother officers with one voice begged him to stay. So he stayed, but he had no longer any command.
Like a caged and wounded lion Burgoyne now sought a way out of the trap in which he was. But turn which way he would there was no escape. He was hemmed in on all sides. So eighteen days after the battle of Bemis Heights he took the field again on the same ground. It was a desperate adventure, for what could six thousand worn and weary men do against twenty thousand already conscious of success?
The British fought with dogged courage. Chafing with impatience Arnold watched the battle from the heights. He saw how an attack might be made with advantage, how victory might be won. At length he could bear inaction no longer, and, leaping on to his horse, he dashed into the fray.
"Go after that fellow and bring him back," shouted Gates; "he will be doing something rash."
The messenger sped after him. But Arnold was too quick, and the battle was well nigh won before Gates' order reached him. As Arnold came his men gave a ringing cheer, and for the rest of the day he and Daniel Morgan were the leaders of the battle, Gates never leaving his headquarters.
Where the bullets flew thickest, there Arnold was to be found. The madness of battle was upon him, and, like one possessed, he rode through flame and smoke, his clear voice raised above the hideous clamour, cheering and directing his men.
The fight was fierce and long, but as the day wore on there could be no more doubt about the end. The British were defeated. Yet so long as daylight lasted they fought on.
Just as the sun was setting Arnold and his men had routed a party of Germans, and a wounded German, lying on the ground, shot at Arnold, killing his horse and shattering his leg - the same leg which had been wounded at Quebec.
As Arnold fell, one of his men, with a cry of rage dashed at the German and would have killed him where he lay. But Arnold stopped him. "For God's sake, don't hurt him." he cried, "he's a fine fellow." So the man's life was spared.
Arnold's leg was so badly shattered that the doctors talked of cutting it off. Arnold, however, would not hear of it.
"If that is all you can do for me," he said, "put me on another horse and let me see the battle out."
But the battle was over, for night had put an end to the dreadful strife.
With this defeat Burgoyne's last hope vanished. To fight again would be merely to sacrifice his brave soldiers. He had only food in the camp for a week, and there was still no sign of help coming from the south. There was nothing left to him but to surrender.
So on October 17th he surrendered to General Gates, with all his cannon, ammunition, and great stores, and nearly six thousand men.
As his soldiers laid down their arms many of them wept bitterly. But there was no one there to see or deride their grief. For the Americans, having no wish to add to the sorrow of their brave foe, stayed within their lines. Then, as the disarmed soldiers marched away, Burgoyne stepped out of the ranks, and, drawing his sword, gave it to General Gates.
"The fortune of war has made me your prisoner," he said.
"It was through no fault of yours," replied Gates, with a grave courtesy, as he handed back the sword.
Chapter 59 - Brandywine - Germantown - Valley Forge
Washington spent the winter of 1776-7 at Morristown. In May he once more led his army out, and while the forces in the north, under Schuyler and then Gates, were defeating Burgoyne, he was holding his own against Howe's far more formidable army further south.
Howe had spent the winter at New York, which from the time of its capture to the end of the war, remained the British headquarters. In the spring he determined to capture Philadelphia, the "revel capital," and began to march through New Jersey. But in every move he made he found himself checked by Washington. It was like a game of chess. Washington's army was only about half the size of Howe's, so he refused to be drawn into an open battle, but harried and harassed his foe at every turn, and at length drove Howe back to Staten Island.
Having failed to get to Philadelphia by land, Howe now decided to go by sea, and , sailing up Chesapeake Bay, he landed in Maryland in the end of August. But there again he found Washington waiting for him. And now, although his army was still much smaller than Howe's, Washington determined to risk a battle rather than give up Philadelphia without a blow.
With his usual care and genius Washington chose his position well, on the banks of the Brandywine, a little river which falls into the Delaware at Wilmington about twenty-six miles from Philadelphia. On both sides the battle was well fought. But the British army was larger, better equipped, and better drilled, and they gained the victory.
This defeat made the fate of Philadelphia certain, and Congress fled once more, this time to Lancaster. Yet for a fortnight longer Washington held back the enemy, and only on the 26th of September did the British march into the city. But before they had time to settle into their comfortable quarters Washington gave battle again, at Germantown, on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
It was a well contested battle, and at one time it seemed as if it might end in victory for the Americans. But Washington's plan of battle was rather a hard one for inexperienced troops to carry out. They were as brave as any men who ever carried rifles, but they were so ignorant of drill that they could not even form into column or wheel to right or left in soldierly fashion. A thick fog, too, which hung over the field from early morning, made it difficult to distinguish friend from foe, and at one time two divisions of the Americans, each mistaking the other for the enemy, fired upon each other.
But although the battle of Germantown was a defeat for the Americans it by no means spelled disaster. Another two months of frays and skirmishes followed. Then the British settled down to comfortable winter quarters in Philadelphia, and Washington marched his war-worn patriots to Valley Forge, about twenty miles away.
Wile the Americans had been busy losing and winning battles, Pitt in England was still struggling for peace and kindly understanding between Britain and her colonies. "You can never conquer the Americans," he cried. "If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country I would never lay down my arms, —never, never, never!"
But Pitt talked in vain. For the King was deaf to all the great minister's pleadings. In his eyes the Americans were rebels who must be crushed, and Pitt was but the "trumpet of sedition."
But meanwhile all Europe had been watching the struggle of these same rebels, watching it, too, with keep interest and admiration. And now soldiers from many countries came to offer help to the Americans. Among them the best known perhaps are Kosciuszko, who later fought so bravely for his own land, Poland; and Lafayette, who took a large share in the French Revolution.
Lafayette was at this time only nineteen. He had an immense admiration for Washington, and after they met, in spite of the difference in the their ages, they became lifelong friends, and Lafayette named his eldest son after Washington.
But the Americans owed more perhaps to Baron von Steuben than to any other foreigner. Von Steuben was a German, and had fought under Frederick the Great.
Washington had taken up winter quarters at Valley Forge, which is a beautiful little valley. But that winter it was a scene of misery and desolation. The cold was terrible, and the army was ragged and hungry. The men had neither coats, shirts, nor shoes, and often their feet and hands froze so that they had to be amputated. For days at a time they had but one poor meal a day. Even Washington saw no hope of help. "I am now convinced beyond a doubt," he wrote, "that unless some great and capital change takes place this army must inevitably be reduced to one or other of these three things: starve, dissolve, or disperse."
Much of this misery was due to the neglect and folly of Congress. It had sadly changed from the brave days of the Declaration of Independence. It was filled now with politicians who cared about their own advancement rather than with patriots who sought their country's good. They refused to see that money, and still more money, was needed to keep a properly equipped army in the field. They harassed Washington with petty interference with his plans. They gave promotion to useless officers against his wishes and better judgment. There was plenty of food in the country, stores of clothing were ready for the army's use, but they lay by the wayside, rotting, because there was no money to pay men to bring it to the army. Washington wore himself out in fruitless efforts to awaken Congress to a sense of its duty. And at length, utterly despairing of any support, weary of seeing his men suffer and dwindle day by day under the miseries of Valley Forge, he wrote out his resignation as Commander-in-Chief of the army. And it needed all the persuasions of his officers to make him tear it up.
It was to this camp of misery at Valley Forge that Baron von Steuben came. And the ragged, hungry, perishing army he drilled. To these men, brave enough, but all unused to discipline, he taught what discipline meant.
At first it was by no means easy. For the Baron knew little English and the men he tried to teach knew not a word of French or German. So misunderstandings were many, and when one day a young American officer named Walker, who knew French, came to von Steuben and offered to act as interpreter he was overjoyed. "Had I seen an angel from heaven," he cried, "I could not have been more glad."
But even then, between his own mistakes and the men's mistakes, the Baron was often driven distracted, and lost his temper. Once, it is said, utterly worn out, he turned the troops over to Walker. "Come, my friend," he cried, "take them; I can curse them no longer."
But in spite of all hindrances and failings, both men and officers learned so much from von Steuben that when the terrible winter was over the army went forth again to fight far more fit to face the foe than before.
Chapter 60 - War on the Sea
Besides being themselves more fit to fight, the Americans now received other help, for France joined with America in her struggle against Britain. And after this the war was not confined to America only. There was war on the sea, now, as well as on land, and whenever the British and the French navies met there was fighting.
The Americans themselves also carried the war on to the sea. At first they had no fleet, but very soon they began to build ships and before long they had a little fleet of six. Of this fleet Esek Hopkins was made commander-in-chief. He was an old salt, for he had been captain of a trading vessel for thirty years. But as a naval commander he was not a success. He had no knowledge of warfare, he was touchy, obstinate, and could not get on with Congress, which he said was a pack of ignorant clerks who knew nothing at all. The fleet under him only made one cruise. Then he was dismissed, and was succeeded by James Nicholson, the son of a Scotsman from Berwick-on-Tweed.
As the war went on other vessels were added to the first six. But the largest was not bigger than a small British cruiser, and in the end they were nearly all taken, or sunk to prevent them being taken. Still before their end they fought many gallant fights, and did some good work for their country.
The first shot of the Revolution on the water was fired by Captain Abraham Whipple when he chased a tender belonging to the British cruiser Rose, and captured her. This was, however, not the first shot the hardy Captain had fired against the British. For in 1772, before the "Boston Tea Party," even, had taken place, he had seized and burned the British revenue schooner, Gasp, in Narragansett Bay.
The commander of the Gasp had been trying to put down smuggling on the coast of Rhode Island. He stopped all vessels, and examined even market boats, to see if they had any smuggled goods. This made the Rhode Island people very angry. They had smuggled as they liked for a hundred years; the British laws against it seemed to them mere tyranny; and they looked upon the commander of the Gasp as little better than a pirate, who was interfering with their lawful trade. So when one day the people learned that the Gasp had gone aground a few miles from Providence, and could not be got off before three o'clock in the morning, they determined to attack her.
Abraham Whipple was chosen as captain for the expedition. He and his men boarded the Gasp, wounded the captain, overpowered the crew, and burned the schooner to the water's edge.
When the British commander-in-chief heard of it he was furious, and he wrote to Whipple.
"Sir," he said, "you, Abraham Whipple, on the 10th of June, 1772, burned his Majesty's ship the Gasp, and I will hang you at the yardarm."
To this Whipple, nothing daunted, replied: "Sir, always catch a man before you hang him."
Whipple was never caught until 1778, when with his ship the Providence he tried to relieve Charleston, in South Carolina, which was at that time besieged by the British. Then he was not hanged, but kept prisoner until the end of the war.
Lambert Wickes, captain of the Reprisal, was another gallant naval officer. When Benjamin Franklin was sent as United States ambassador to France in 1776 he sailed in the Reprisal, which was the first American warship to visit the shores of Europe.
It might be here interesting to note that besides being minister to France, Franklin had to look after naval affairs in a general way. He used his powers with wisdom, and often with great humanity. Among other things he gave all American naval commanders orders that they were not to attack the great discoverer, Captain Cook, no matter in what part of the ocean they might meet him. They were not merely forbidden to attack him, they were even commanded to offer him any aid they could. For it would not beseem Americans, said Franklin, to fight against one who had earned the admiration of the whole world.
The Reprisal did not return home before it had made its presence felt. For, having landed Franklin, Wickes cruised about the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel, capturing many British merchantmen, and taking them to France, where he sold them.
At this time France was still at peace with Britain, and the British Government complained bitterly to the French at this breach of neutrality. They were, therefore, forced to order the American ships to leave France, and Wickes sailed for home.
On the way the Reprisal was chased by a British warship, and Wickes only saved himself from capture by throwing his guns overboard. He thus escaped one danger, however, only to fall into another, and in a storm off the coast of Newfoundland the Reprisal went down, and all on board were lost.
But of all the naval commanders on the American side, the Scotsman, John Paul Jones, was the most famous. He was the son of a gardener, and was born at Arbigland in Kirkcudbrightshire. From a child he had been fond of the sea, and when still only a boy of twelve he began his seafaring life on board a ship trading with Virginia. For some years he led a roving and adventurous life. Then after a time he came to live in America, which, he said himself, "has been my favourite country since the age of thirteen, when I first saw it."
His real name was John Paul. But he took the name of Jones out of gratitude to Mr. Jones, a gentleman of Virginia, who had befriended him when he was poor and in trouble.
When the War of the Revolution broke out Jones was a young man of twenty-seven, and he threw himself heart and soul into the struggle on the side of the Americans. He was the first man to receive a naval commission after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He was, too, the first man to break the American naval flag from the mast. This was not, however, the Stars and Stripes, but a yellow flag with a pine tree and a rattlesnake, and the words, "Tread on me how dares."
Jones became famous at once for his deeds of skill and daring, for it was his sole ambition, he said, "to fight a battle under the new flag, which will teach the world that the American flag means something afloat, and must be respected at sea." But he never liked the yellow flag. It was more fit for a pirate ship, he thought, than to be the ensign of a great nation, and he it was who first sailed under the Stars and Stripes, which he hoisted on his little ship, the Ranger. This was only a vessel of three hundred tons. In it in November, 1777, he crossed the Atlantic, harried the coasts of England and Scotland, and then made his way to France.
From France Jones set out again with a little fleet of four ships. His flagship he called Bonhomme Richard, as a compliment both to France and Franklin. Franklin being the author of "Poor Richard's Almanac," for which Bonhomme Richard was the French translation.
The Bonhomme Richard was the largest vessel of the American navy, but it was only a worn-out old East India merchantman, turned into a man-of-war by having portholes for guns cut in the sides. And, although, Jones did not know it at the time, the guns themselves had all been condemned as unsafe before they were sent on board. The other ships of the squadron were also traders fitted up with guns in the same way, but were all much smaller than the Bonhomme.
With this raffish little fleet Paul Jones set out to do great deeds. His bold plan was to attack Liverpool, the great centre of shipping, but that had to be given up, for he found it impossible to keep his little squadron together. Sometimes he would only have one other ship with him, sometimes he would be quite alone. So he cruised about the North Sea, doing a great deal of damage to British shipping, catching merchantmen, and sending them to France as prizes.
At length one afternoon in September, when he had only the Pallas with him, he sighted a whole fleet of merchantmen off the coast of England and at once gave chase. The merchantmen were being convoyed by two British men-of-war, the Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough, and they at once got between Jones and his prey. Then the merchantmen made off as fast as they could, and the men-of-war came on. Presently the captain of the Serapis hailed the Bonhomme Richard.
"What ship are you?" he shouted.
"I can't hear what you say," replied Jones, who wanted to get nearer.
That made the British captain suspicious. Nearer and nearer the two vessels drew on to each other.
"Hah," he said, "it is probably Paul Jones. If so there is hot work ahead."
Again the Serapis sent a hail.
"What ship is that? Answer immediately, or I shall be obliged to fire into you."
Paul Jones answered this time - with a broadside - and a terrible battle began. The carnage was awful. The decks were soon cumbered with dead and dying. The two ships were so near that the muzzles of the guns almost touched each other. Both were soon riddled with shot, and leaking so that the pumps could hardly keep pace with rising water. Still the men fought on.
Jones was everywhere, firing guns himself, encouraging his men, cheering them with his voice and his example. "The commodore had but to look at a man to make him brave," said a Frenchman, who was there. "Such was the power of one heart that knew no fear."
The sun went down over the green fields of England, and the great red harvest moon came up. Still through the calm moonlit night the guns thundered, and a heavy cloud of smoke hung over the sea. Two of the rotten old guns on the Bonhomme Richard had burst at the first charge, killing and wounding the gunners; others were soon utterly useless. For a minute not one could be fired, and the Captain of the Serapis thought that the Americans were beaten.
"Have you struck?" he shouted, through the smoke of the battle.
"No," cried Jones, "I haven't begun to fight yet."
The next instant the roar and rattle of the musketry crashed forth again. Both ships were now on fire, and a great hole smashed in the side of the Bonhomme.
"For God's sake, strike, Captain," said one of his officers.
Jones looked at him silently for a minute. The he answered: "No," he cried, "I will sink. I will never strike."
The ships were now side by side, and Jones gave orders to lash the Bonhomme Richard to the Serapis. He seized a rope himself and helped to do it. The carpenter beside him, finding the lines tangled rapped out a sailor's oath.
But Jones was calm as if nothing was happening.
"Don't swear, Mr. Stacy," he said. "We may soon all be in eternity. Let us do our duty."
Lashed together now the two ships swung on the waves in a death grapple. The guns on the Bonhomme Richard were nearly all silenced. But a sailor climbed out on to the yards, and began to throw hand grenades into the Serapis. He threw one right into the hold, where it fell upon a heap of cartridges and exploded, killing about twenty men. That ended the battle. With his ship sinking and aflame, and the dead lying thick about him, the British captain struck his flag, and the Americans boarded the Serapis and took possession.
In silence and bitterness of heart Captain Pearson bowed and handed his sword to Jones. But Jones had only admiration for his gallant foe. He longed to say something to comfort him, but he looked so sad and dignified that he knew not what to say. At length he spoke.
"Captain Pearson," he said "you have fought like a hero. You have worn this sword to your credit, and to the honour of your service. I hope your King will reward you suitably."
But Captain Pearson could not answer, his heart was still too sore. Without a word he bowed again and turned away.
While this terrible fight had been going on the Pallas had engaged the Countess of Scarborough, and captured her, and now appeared, not much worse for the fight. But the Bonhomme Richard was an utter wreck, and was sinking fast. So as quickly as possible, the sailors, utterly weary as they were with fighting, began to move the wounded to the Serapis. The crew of the British ship, too, worked with a will, doing their best to save the enemies of the night before. At length all were safely carried aboard the Serapis, and only the dead were left on the gallant old Bonhomme Richard.
"To them," says Jones, in his journal, "I gave the good old ship for their coffin, and in it they found a sublime sepulchre. And the last mortal eyes ever saw of the Bonhomme Richard was the defiant waving of her unconquered and unstricken flag as she went down."
So this strange sea-duel was over. The victorious ship went down, and the victorious captain sailed away in his prize. But the Serapis, too, was little more than a wreck. Her main mast was shot away. Her other masts and spars were badly damaged, and could carry but little sail, and it seemed doubtful if she would ever reach port. But, after a perilous journey, the coasts of Holland were sighted, and the Serapis was duly anchored in the Texel.
With deeds like these the little American navy realised Jones' desire. But beyond that they did little to bring the war to an end. Far more was done by the privateers, which were fitted out by the hundred. They scoured the seas like greyhounds, attacking British merchantmen on every trade route, capturing and sinking as many as three hundred in one year. This kind of warfare paid so well, indeed that farming was almost given up in many states, the farmers having all gone off to make their fortunes by capturing British merchantmen.
As for Paul Jones he never had a chance again of showing his great prowess. When the war was over he entered the service of Russia, and became an admiral. He died in Paris in 1792, but for a long time it was not known where he was buried. His grave was discovered in 1905, and his body was brought to America by a squadron of the navy which was sent to France for the purpose, and reburied at Annapolis with the honour due to a hero.
Chapter 61 - The Battle of Monmouth - The Story of Captain Molly
While the Americans were learning endurance in the hard school of Valley Forge the British were having a gay time in Philadelphia. The grave old Quaker town rang with song and laughter as never before. Balls and parties, theatricals and races, followed each other in a constant round of gaiety. And amid this light-hearted jollity Howe seemed to forget all about the war.
Had he chosen he could easily have attacked Valley Forge, and crushed Washington's perishing army out of existence. Or if he grudged to lose men in an attack, he might have surrounded the Americans, and starved them into submission. But he did neither. He was too comfortable in his winter quarters, and had no wish to go out in the snow to fight battles.
Those in power in England had long been dissatisfied with Howe's way of conducting the war. Time and again he had seemed to lose his chance of crushing the rebellion and now this idle and gay winter in Philadelphia seemed the last straw. Such bitter things indeed were said of him that he resigned his commission, and went home, and the supreme command was given to General Clinton.
Now that France had joined with America, Britain was in a very different position than before. She could no longer afford to send out large armies such as Howe had been given to subdue the colonies. For she had to keep troops at home to protect Great Britain from invasion.
She had to send ships and men all over the word, to repel the attacks of the French on her scattered colonies and possessions. Clinton therefore was left with only an army of about ten thousand. And with this force he was expected to conquer the country which Howe had been unable to conquer with thirty thousand.
Clinton knew that his task was a hard one. He saw that the taking of Philadelphia had been a mistake, and that from a military point of view it was worthless. So he decided at once to abandon Philadelphia, and take his army back to New York. And on the morning of the 18th of June the British marched out. A few days later Congress returned, and the city settled back to its quiet old life once more.
It was no easy task for Clinton to cross New Jersey in grilling summer weather, with a small force, an enormous baggage train, and Washington hanging threateningly about is path, harassing him at every step. That he did accomplish it brought him no little renown as a soldier.
For some time, following the advice of his officers, Washington did not make a general attack on the British. But near the town of Monmouth he saw his chance, and determined to give battle.
General Lee had by this time been exchanged, and was now again with Washington's army as second in command, and for this battle Washington gave him command of an advance party of six thousand men. With him were Anthony Wayne and Lafayette.
On the morning of the battle Lee's division was in a very good position. It seemed as if the British might be surrounded with ease, but when Wayne and Lafayette were about to attack Lee stopped them.
"You do not know British soldiers," he said to Lafayette. "We are certain to be driven back. We must be cautious."
"That may be so, General," replied Lafayette, "but British soldiers have been beaten, and may be so again. At any rate, I should like to try."
But for answer, Lee ordered his men to retreat.
At this Lafayette was both angry and astonished, and he hurriedly sent a message to Washington, telling him that his presence was urgently needed.
The soldiers did not in the least know from what they were retreating, and they soon fell into disorder. Then suddenly Washington appeared among them. He was white to the lips with wrath.
"I desire to know, " he said, in a terrible voice, turning to Lee, "I desire to know, sir, what is the reason—whence arises this disorder and confusion?"
Lee trembled before the awful anger of his chief. He tried to make excuses. Then Washington's fury knew no bounds. He poured forth a torrent of wrath upon Lee till, as one of his officers who heard him said, "the very leaves shook on the trees." Then halting the retreating troops, he formed them for battle once more. Later in the day meeting Lee he sent him to the rear.
Soon the battle was raging fiercely. Some of the hottest fighting took place round the American artillery, which was commanded by General Knox. The guns were doing deadly work, yet moving about coolly amidst the din and smoke of battle, there might be seen a saucy young Irish girl, with a mop of red hair, a freckled face, and flashing eyes. She was the wife of one of the gunners, and so devoted was she to her husband that she followed him even to battle, helping him constantly with his gun. His comrades looked upon her almost as one of the regiment, and called her Captain Molly, and she wore an artilleryman's coat over her short red skirt, so that she might look like a soldier.
Captain Molly was returning from a spring nearby with a bucket full of water, when her husband, who was just about to fire, was killed by a shot from the enemy. The officer in command, having no one to take his place, ordered the gun to be removed.
Molly saw her husband fall, heard the command given, and she dropped her bucket and sprang to the gun.
"Bedad no," she cried. "I'll fire the gun myself, and avenge my man's death."
It was not the first time that Molly had fired a gun. She was with her husband at Fort Clinton, when it was taken by the British. As the enemy scaled the walls the Americans retreated. Her husband dropped his lighted match and fled with the rest. But Captain Molly was in no such haste. She picked up the match, fired the gun, and then ran after the others. Hers was the last gun fired on the American side that day.
Now all the long day of Monmouth she kept her gun in action, firing so skillfully and bravely, that all around were filled with admiration, and news of her deeds was carried through the army. Even Washington heard of them.
Next day he ordered her to be brought to him, and there and then he made her a sergeant, and recommended her for an officer's pension for life. But now that her husband was dead Molly's heart was no longer with the army. Soon after the battle of Monmouth she left it, and a few years later she died.
All through the long summer day of pitiless heat the battle raged. Again and again the British charged. Again and again they were thrown back, and at length were driven across a ravine. Here Washington would have followed, but the sun went down, and darkness put an end to the fight.
Washington, however, was determined to renew the battle next day, and that night the army slept on the field. He himself slept under a tree, sharing a cloak with Lafayette. But the battle was never renewed, for during the night Clinton marched quietly away. When day dawned he was already too far off to pursue, and at length he got safely into New York.
This was the last great battle to be fought in the northern states, and a few weeks later Washington took up his quarters on White Plains. There for nearly three years he stayed, guarding the great waterway of the Hudson, and preventing the British from making any further advance in the north.
Chapter 62 - The Story of a Great Crime
For his strange conduct at the battle of Monmouth General Lee was court-martialled, and deprived of his command for one year. Before the year was out, however, he quarreled with Congress, and was expelled from the army altogether. So his soldiering days were done, and he retired to his farm in Virginia. He was still looked upon as a patriot, even if an incompetent soldier. But many years after his death some letters that he had written to Howe were found. These proved him to have been a traitor to the American cause. For in them he gave the British commander advice as to how the Americans cold best be conquered.
Thus his strange conduct at the battle of Monmouth was explained. He had always given his voice against attacking the British on their way to New York. And doubtless he thought that if Washington had been defeated, he could have proved that it was because his advice had not been followed. If in consequence Washington's command had been taken from him, he would have been made commander-in-chief and cold have easily arranged terms of peace with the British.
But his plans miscarried. He lived to see American victorious, but died before peace was signed.
Lee was a traitor. But he had never been a real American. He had taken the American side merely for his own glory, and had never done anything for it worthy of record. But now a true American, one who had fought brilliantly and gallantly for this country, turned traitor, and blackened his fair name, blotting out his brave deeds for all time.
When the Americans took possession of Philadelphia again Benedict Arnold was still too crippled by his wound to be able for active service. So the command of Philadelphia was given to him.
There he soon got into trouble. He began to live extravagantly, and grew short of money. He quarreled with the state government, and with Congress, was accused of inviting loyalists to his house, of getting money by dishonest acts, and of being in many ways untrue to his duty. He also married a beautiful young loyalist lady, and that was another offence.
Arnold was arrogant and sensitive. He grew restive under all these accusations, and demanded an enquiry. His demand was granted, and a court-martial, although acquitting him of everything except imprudence, sentenced him to be reprimanded by the Commander-in-chief.
Washington loved his high-spirited, gallant officer, and his reprimand was so gentle and kind that it seemed more like praise than blame. But even Washington's gracious words chafed Arnold's proud spirit. He was hurt and angry. He had deserved well of his country, and he was reprimanded. He had fought gallantly, and had been passed over for others. He had been twice wounded in his country's service, and he was rewarded by jealousy, caviling, and a court-martial.
Soon these feelings of bitterness turned to thoughts of treachery, when exactly is not known. But turn they did, and Arnold began in secret to write letters to General Clinton, the British commander-in-chief.
In the summer of 1780, his wound still making him unfit for active service, Arnold was given command of the fortress of West Point, which guarded the approaches to the Hudson Valley. This fortress he agreed to betray into the hands of the enemy, and thus give them command of that valley for which Burgoyne had made such a gallant and hopeless fight. For a long time Arnold carried on a secret correspondence with Major Andr, a British officer, and at length a meeting between them was arranged. One September night Arnold waited until all was still and dark in the fort. Then stealthily he crept forth and reached in safety a clump of trees on the bank of the Hudson just beyond the American lines. Here he lay waiting.
Soon through the darkness the British warship, the Vulture, crept up the river. Presently Arnold heard the soft splash of oars, and in a few minutes Major Andr stepped ashore.
For hours the two conspirators talked until at length all details of the plot were settled. But day had dawned before Arnold returned to West Point, and Andr set out to regain the Vulture, with plans of the fort, and all other particulars hidden in his boots. By this time, however, the batteries on shore had begun to fire upon the ship, and Andr, finding it impossible to get on board, decided to go back to New York by land.
It was a dangerous journey, but for a little while he crept on unseen. Then suddenly his way was barred by three Americans, and he found himself a prisoner.
"Have you any letters?" asked his captors.
"No," he answered.
They were not satisfied with his answer, and began to search him. But finding nothing they were just about to let him go when one of them said, "I'm not satisfied, boys. His boots must come off."
Andr made every kind of excuse to prevent them taking off his boots. They were hard to pull off, he said, and it would take a long time. He was already late, so he begged them not to hinder him more. But the more unwilling he was to take off his boots, the more determined were his captors that they should come off.
So they forced him to sit down, his boots were pulled off, and the papers discovered.
Only one of the three Americans could read. He seized the papers and glanced hastily over them.
"By heaven," he cried, "he is a spy!"
It was in vain that Andr now begged to be set free. First he tried persuasion, and when that failed he tried bribery. But his captors would not listen, and marched him off to headquarters.
Arnold was just about to sit down to breakfast, with some other officers as his guests, Washington being expected every minute to join them, when a letter was handed to him, telling him that a spy had been captured. It was an awful moment for Arnold. If Andr was captured then all too surely his own treachery was known. He could not stay to face the disgrace. But he made no sign. He calmly folded the letter, and put it in his pocket. Then saying that he had been suddenly called to the fort, he begged his guests to excuse him, and went out, and mounting the horse of the messenger who had brought the letter, he sped away, never staying his flight until he was safe aboard the Vulture.
Very soon after Arnold had escaped Washington arrived. And when the traitorous papers which had been found in Andr's possession were placed in his hands he was overcome with grief.
"Arnold is a traitor, and has fled to the British," he said. "Whom can we trust now?"
As he spoke the tears ran down his cheeks, bitter tears rung from his noble soul at the thought of this "one more devil's-triumph and sorrow for angels."
The chief sinner had escaped. But he had left his fellow conspirator to pay his debt. For a spy could expect no mercy. Andr was young, brave, and gay. He had such winning ways with him that even his captors came to love him, and they grieved that such a gay young life must be brought to a sudden and dreadful end. His many friends did their best to save him. But their efforts were all in vain. Nothing could alter the fact that he was a spy caught in the act, and the punishment was death.
So one morning Andr was led out to die. He begged to shot as a soldier, and not hanged like a felon. But even that was denied him. Calm and brave to the end he met his death.
When Arnold's treachery was known a cry of rage rang through the country. Yet in spite of his foul deed people could not quite forget how nobly he had fought. "Hang him," they cried, "but cut off the leg that was wounded at Saratoga first!"
Arnold, however, was beyond their vengeance, safe in the British lines. There he at once received a commission, and turned his sword against his own country.
Thus a brave man cast his valour in the dust, and made his name a scorn and a by-word. But who shall say that the men who belittled his deeds, and followed him with jealousy and carping, were wholly blameless?
Chapter 63 - A Turning Point in the World's History
After nearly four years' fighting the British had utterly failed to subdue the rebel colonies. They had lost one whole army, had poured out treasures of blood and money, and all they had in return was New York and the coast town of Newport. Besides this they were at war with half Europe. For in 1779 Spain declared war against Britain, more indeed from anger against the British than from any love of the Americans. The following year Holland also declared war against Britain, who thus found herself surrounded by foes.
Still, in spite of all, the British stuck doggedly to their task of conquering the Americans. But as Pitt had told them again and again, it was an impossible task. At length, having failed to make any impression in the north they decided to change the seat of war and attack the weaker colonies in the south.
Here for a time they were more successful. Georgia was overrun, then South Carolina, and Charleston, which had made such a brave defence at the beginning of the war, surrendered to the British, with all its stores of food and ammunition.
Things were going badly for the patriots in the south, and Gates, who was still looked upon as a hero, because Burgoyne had surrendered to him, was sent to take command. Now he had a chance to prove of what stuff he was made. He proved it by being utterly defeated at the battle of Camden.
This defeat was a bitter blow. Never since before the battle of Trenton had the patriot cause seemed so much in danger. But the dark days passed, and once more the Americans began to win instead of lose battles. South Carolina was re-conquered, and Cornwallis, who was commander-in-chief of the British army in the south, retired into Virginia, and occupied Yorktown.
Just at this time Washington learned that a French fleet was sailing for Chesapeake Bay, and he determined to make a grand French-American attack on the British in the south. He made his plans very secretly, and leaving General Heath with four thousand men to guard the Hudson, he marched southwards, moving with such quickness that he had reached the Delaware before Clinton in New York knew what he was about. His army now consisted of two thousand Americans, and four thousand French, and this was the only time throughout the war that French and Americans marched together.
On the 6th of October the siege of Yorktown began. It was soon seen that its defenses were of no use against the seventy heavy siege guns of the allied army, and the surrender of Cornwallis was only a matter of time - for he was caught in a trap, just as Burgoyne had been. He could not escape to the south, for Lafayette barred the way to the Carolinas. He could not escape by sea, for the French and British fleets had fought a battle at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay, in which the British ships had been so badly damaged that they were obliged to sail to New York to refit. He could not escape to the north or the east, for Washington's army shut him in.
Still for a few days the British made a gallant stand. But their ammunition was running short, their defenses were crumbling to bits, and on the 19th of October, almost four years to a day after Burgoyne's surrender to Gates, Cornwallis surrendered to Washington.
Two days later the British soldiers marched out with flags furled, while the bands played a tune called "The World Turned Upside Down." To them indeed the world must have seemed turned upside down, for the all-conquering British had been conquered at last, and that by a nation of farmers unskilled in war. Yet they may have found some comfort in the thought that after all they had been beaten by their equals, by men of their own race.
On either side there was the same grit and endurance, the same love of fair play. But added to that the Americans had fought for a great cause. Their hearts were in it, as the hearts of the British had never been. This was their great advantage. This nerved their arm.
For two years after this Clinton still held New York, but there was no more fighting between the regular armies, and the surrender of Cornwallis may be said to have ended the war. When Lord North heard the news he was distracted with grief. He dashed wildly up and down the room, waving his arms and crying over and over again, "O God, it is all over, it is all over."
As for King George, he would not admit that it was all over, and he swore he would rather give up his crown than acknowledge the States to be free. But at length he, too, had to give way, and the treaty of peace was signed in Paris in November, 1782. This Peace, however, was only a first step, for Europe was still at war, and it was difficult to settle matters. But in September of the following year the real peace was signed, and the United States were acknowledged to be free. By this treaty Florida was given back to Spain, the Mississippi was made the western boundary, and the Great Lakes the northern boundary of the United States.
Thus a new great power came into being, and as an English historian has said, "the world had reached one of the turning points of its history."
Part VII STORIES OF THE UNITED STATES UNDER THE CONSTITUTION
Chapter 64 - Washington First In War, First In Peace
After the peace was signed in September, 1783, all the British soldiers left America, and Washington felt that his work was done. So he resolved to give up his post as commander-in-chief, and go back to his pleasant Virginian home.
He was glad at the thought of going back to the home he loved, yet sad at the thought of saying farewell to his officers. For eight years they had worked for him faithfully, together they had faced dark days, together they had been through deep waters. And now that victory was won, Washington's heart was filled with love and gratitude.
It was at Faunces's Tavern in New York that Washington met his officers for the last time. When he came into the long, low room where they were all gathered, he was so moved that he could not speak. Silently he went to the table and filled a glass with wine. Raising it, he turned to the men who stood as silently about him, and with an effort, commanding his voice he spoke.
"With a heart full of love and gratitude," he said, "I now take leave of you, most devoutly wishing that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honourable."
Then having drunk to the toast he set the glass down.
"I cannot come to each of you to take my leave," he said brokenly, "but shall be obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand."
The General who was nearest to Washington then turned to him and silently grasped his hand.
With tears in his eyes, Washington put his arms about him and kissed him. And thus one after the other his officers silently said good-bye, no one of them trusting himself to speak.
Then still in silence, they followed him to the boat which was to carry him on the first part of his way to Annapolis where Congress was assembled, and where he was to lay down his sword.
His journey was like a royal progress. In every town and village through which he passed the people gathered to cheer and bless him. So he reached Annapolis. There before Congress he resigned his commission. Then with a sigh of relief, a simple citizen once more, he mounted his horse and rode homewards.
But now the colonies which had wrung themselves free from the rule of Britain were not altogether happy. They called themselves the United States, but there was little union. Before the Revolution there had been much jealousy between the various states. For a time, indeed, in the heat of the struggle, they had forgotten these differences. But now that the struggle was over, and peace had come, these jealousies appeared again. Each state had its own government, its own taxes, its own money. So there was great confusion. But no state wanted to give up any of its privileges, and it seemed hopeless to institute one Central Government, for each state thought only of itself, and each one was afraid of giving Congress too much power lest it should usurp the power of the state government.
The states quarreled with each other about their boundaries, some of them made absurd claims to vast territory on the strength of their royal charters, quite forgetting that these charters were now done away with. There were riots everywhere, indeed, never was the State in such danger of shipwreck as now at its very beginning.
Washington from his quiet retreat at first watched the struggle anxiously, but not despairingly. "Everything will come right, at last," he said. "My only fear is that we shall lose a little reputation first."
As time went on, however, he grew more anxious. "I think we have opposed Great Britain," he said, "and have arrived at the present state of peace and independency, to very little purpose, if we cannot conquer our own prejudices."
But Washington had no real need to fear. The men who had fought for their freedom proved themselves worthy of it, and in May, 1787, a meeting of all the states was called at Philadelphia.
Of this Convention, as it was called, Washington was chosen President. It was no easy post, nor was the business for which the members of the Convention were called together a simple business. They had, indeed, a very great task to perform, the task of forming a new constitution or mode of government, which all states would accept. It was not easy to please every one, and also do thoroughly good work. So for four months the Convention sat, discussing this and that, listening now to one side, now to another, weighing, judging and deciding.
But at length the thing was done. In the same hall where the Declaration of Independence had been signed the Constitution had been framed. Then the delegates went home and a copy of the Constitution was sent to each state.
It had been agreed that nine states must accept the Constitution before it could become law. The question now was whether nine would accept it or not. Many hesitated a long time. For it seemed to them that this new Constitution which was going to unite all the states into one was going also to give far too much power into the hands of a few people. It would be a case of tyranny over again, many feared. And, having suffered so much to free themselves from one tyranny, they were not ready to place themselves under a second.
But others at once saw the need of a strong central government and accepted the new Constitution whole-heartedly and almost at once. Delaware had the honour of coming first early in December, 1787, but before the month was gone two more states, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, followed the good example. A week or so later came Georgia and then Connecticut. After a good deal of hesitation Massachusetts also came into line; then Maryland and South Carolina.
Only one more state was now needed to make the union safe. Would that one state come in, the friends of union asked themselves, and they worked their hardest to make people think as they did.
At length their efforts were rewarded and New Hampshire made the ninth, and just four days later the great State of Virginia also came in. New York soon followed and only North Carolina and Rhode Island remained out of the Union. But in time they, too, came in, Rhode Island last of all, and not for fully a year after the first President had been chosen, and the government organised.
The new government required that there should be a Congress to look after the affairs of the nation, with two houses, something after the fashion of the British Parliament. It also required that there should be a President at the head of everything.
There was little doubt as to who should fill that place. George Washington, the man who had led the army to victory, was the man chosen to be first President of the United States.
Other people were indeed voted for, but Washington had more than twice as many votes as John Adams, who came next to him. The others were simply nowhere. So Washington was made President and Adams vice-president.
But Washington had no wish to be President. He was too old, he said (he was only fifty-seven) and besides he was not even a statesman but a soldier. The people, however, would not listen to him. "We cannot do without you," they said. "There is no use framing a new government if the best man is to be left out of it."
So to the entreaties of his friends Washington yielded. But it was with a heavy heart, for he greatly doubted his own powers.
"In confidence I tell you," he wrote to an old friend, "that my movement to the chair of government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution."
But whatever he felt, his journey to New York was not like that of a criminal, but rather like that of a king. From far and near the people crowded to see him pass. They raised triumphal arches, they scattered flowers at his feet, they sang chants and hymns in his honour. From first to last it was one long triumph. When he reached New York bells rang and cannon boomed, the streets were gay with flags, and crowded with people, and as he passed along cheer upon cheer thundered and echoed over the city.
Next day, the 30th of April, 1789, Washington took his place as President of the United States.
At nine o'clock in the morning the churches were thronged with people praying for the welfare of their President. By twelve these same people were all crowding to the Federal Hall eager to be present at the great ceremony. Soon the space in front of the hall was one closely packed mass of people; every window and balcony was crowded also, and people were even to be seen on the roofs.
A little after noon Washington reached the hall, and as he stepped out on to the balcony a cheer of welcome burst from the gathered thousands. Again and again they cheered, again and again Washington bowed in acknowledgement. He was greatly touched; tears stood in his eyes, and at length utterly overcome he sat down.
Suddenly a deep hush fell upon the swaying crowd and after a slight pause Washington rose again. Then in the grave silence the voice of Robert R. Livingston, the Chancellor of New York, could clearly be heard.
"Do you," he asked, "solemnly swear that you will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of your ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?"
With his hand upon the Bible which the Secretary of the Senate held beside him Washington replied.
"I do solemnly swear," he said, "that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Then bowing his head he kissed the Bible help before him. "So help me God," he murmured.
The Chancellor then stepped forward and in a ringing voice he shouted, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States."
A great answering shout went up from the people, the flag was broken to the breeze, and cannon boomed forth a salute to the first President of the United States.
Again and again Washington bowed his thanks to the cheering people. Then, shaken with emotion, the shouts still sounding in his ears, he turned away and entered the hall to read his address.
Thus the Story of the United States under the Constitution was begun.
Washington was a thorough aristocrat and now that he had been chosen head of the State he felt that he must surround himself with a certain amount of ceremony. Now he no longer walked or rode abroad, but drove about in a fine coach drawn by six white horses. He no longer went to see people, but they came to him on certain days and at appointed times. When he held receptions he dressed himself splendidly in black velvet with silk stockings. He wore a jeweled sword at his side and buckles both at the knee and on his shoes. Instead of shaking hands with people he merely bowed.
All this ceremony and state came easily to Washington. Even as a simple Virginian gentleman he had been used to a certain amount of it. For in those days plain gentleman folk were much more ceremonious than they are today. Besides, kings always surrounded themselves with a great deal of state, and it seemed to Washington that a ruler must do so to keep up the high dignity of his office.
The first President's post was no easy one. The whole machinery of government had to be invented and set going, and first and foremost the money matters had to be set straight.
They were in a great muddle. The war had cost a great deal, so the new government began in debt and nearly every separate state was also in debt. But a clever man named Alexander Hamilton took hold of the money matters and soon put them right.
Among other things he said that the government must take over the war debts of all the states. At once the states made an outcry. "If we allow the government to pay our debts," they said, "we become slaves to the government. If we give up control of our own money matters the government will have too much power over us. We put too much power in the hands of a few." Then they talked of tyranny.
You see many of the people of the United States rightly or wrongly had come to look upon any government as certain to be tyrannous. However, Hamilton got his way in the end. The money matters of the nation were settled satisfactorily, and the separate states bound more securely together.
And now another state joined the union, that of Vermont. Vermont, as you can see if you look on the map, lies between New Hampshire and New York, and there had been bitter disputes between the two over the land which both claimed. In 1765, however, King George III had decided that the land belonged to New York, and must be under the rule of that colony. The people, however, rebelled. And when in 1777 the Governor of New York threatened to drive them all into the Green Mountains if they did not yield peaceably they raised an army of volunteers to whom they gave the name of Green Mountain Boys. They took this name from the word Vermont which meant Green Mountain.
The Green Mountain Boys fought the New York Governor and declared Vermont a separate colony. Now these old quarrels were forgotten. New York no longer claimed the land, and Vermont joined the Union as the fourteenth state.
In the following year another state was added to the Union. This was the State of Kentucky. It was, like several other states, an offshoot of Virginia, and carved out of the territory which Virginia claimed by right of her old charter which gave her all the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Among the early settlers of Kentucky was a famous hunter named Daniel Boone. He was a gentle, kindly man who loved the forest and the loneliness of the wilderness. All the lore of the forest was his, he knew the haunts and habits of every living thing that moved within the woods. He could imitate the gobble of the turkey, or the chatter of a squirrel, and follow a trail better than any Indian. It was with no idea of helping to found a state, but rather from a wish to get far from the haunts of his fellowmen that he moved away into the beautiful wilds of Kentucky.
In those days Kentucky was not inhabited by any tribe of Indians, but it was their hunting ground, and they were very angry when they saw white men come to settle there and spoil their hunting. So Boone had many fierce fights with Indians, and was more than once taken prisoner by them.
Many other settlers followed Boone, and after the Revolution many Virginians moved to Kentucky. These people soon became clamorous for separation from Virginia, and at last in 1792 Kentucky was received into the Union as a separate state.
And now the question of a suitable capital for the United States began to be thought of. The first Congress had met at New York, but it only remained there a short time. Then the seat of government was moved to Philadelphia. Philadelphia, however, was not considered a good place. So it was decided to build a new capital. The Northern States wanted it in the north, the Southern States wanted it in the south, but finally it was agreed upon to have it on the Potomac River almost in the middle, Virginia and Maryland offering the territory. Splendid plans were made, and the building was begun, but for the next ten years Philadelphia still remained the seat of government.
So four busy years went past, and the time of Washington's presidency drew to an end. He rejoiced to think that after his hard work for his country he could now go back to his peaceful home at Mount Vernon, and be at rest. But his friends would not let him go. The government of the United States was not yet firmly on its feet. Only he could make it firm, they said. The people loved him, and would be guided by him when they would not follow any one else, therefore he must stay.
At length Washington yielded to the entreaties of his friends and allowed himself to be elected President a second time.
And now there arose difficulties between the United States and their old friends, the French. For, while the Americans had been hammering away at their Constitution, and making a new nation out of raw material, the French had risen against the tyranny of their king, and had declared France a Republic. And when many of the European countries joined together to fight France, and force them to take back their king, the French people looked to the sister Republic across the Atlantic for help. They had helped the Americans in their struggle, surely now the Americans would help them. But the French went too far. They seemed to lose all sense of right and wrong, they put hundreds of people to death without cause and drowned France in blood.
So, many people who had wished them well at the beginning, turned from them, and although many people in America were ready to fight for the French, Washington determined to keep peace. He was not ungrateful to the French for their help in the American Revolution. But he felt that their wild orgy of blood was wrong, and he saw too, that America was too young a nation to plunge again into war. So he proclaimed the United States to be neutral, that is, that they would take part on neither side in the European War.
When the French heard that America refused to help them, they were greatly hurt. But worse was yet to follow, for Washington, besides refusing to fight for the French, made a treaty with the British, with whom the French were at war.
The War of Independence had left some bitterness between the old country and the new. And as time went on that bitterness increased rather than lessened. The United States felt that Britain hardly treated them with the respect due to an independent nation, and indeed some of Britain's actions were fairly high handed.
During the war a great many Negroes had been carried off into Canada, and Britain would not pay for them. The boundaries between the United States and Canada were still in dispute. Britain made no effort to settle them, but kept possession of such forts as Oswego, Detroit, Niagara, and others. Then, because they were at war with France, the British interfered with, and almost ruined, American trade with the French West Indies. And lastly, what seemed to Americans the worst insult of all, they claimed the right of search. That is, they claimed the right of searching neutral vessels for British seamen and of taking them by force to serve in the British navy. In those early days it was difficult to distinguish an Englishmen from an American by his speech, and thus Americans were often seized and made to serve in the British navy. There were other grievances, but these were chief.
Taken altogether they made the Americans so angry that Washington feared another war, for which he knew the nation was not ready. He decided therefore to make a bid for peace, and sent John Jay to London to arrange matters between the two countries.
Jay did not find British statesmen in any yielding mood, and so the treaty which he arranged, and which goes by his name, was not altogether favourable to the Americans. There was, for instance, nothing in the treaty about paying for the slaves, nor about the right of search. But seeing that he could get no better terms Jay accepted those offered him. Undoubtedly America asked more than Britain could well give. Equally undoubtedly Britain gave less than America had a right to expect.
Washington was not satisfied with the treaty, but he felt that Jay had done his best. He felt, too, that it was either the treaty or war. So rather than have war he signed it.
When, however, the terms of it became known a cry of rage rang through the country. Those who had supported it were hooted at and stoned in the streets, John Jay was burned in effigy, the treaty itself was publicly burned. Even Washington, beloved as he was, did not escape. Taunts and insults were flung at him. He was called a tyrant and a traitor, but in spite of all the opposition Washington stood firm. He held to the treaty, and peace with the old country was kept.
The storm was bitter while it lasted, but at length it died down and the men who had flung insults at Washington saw in time that he had been right. He had kept peace; and as a young nation America stood in need of peace more than anything else.
Washington's second term of office now came to an end. He was utterly weary of public life, and he resolutely refused to stand for President again. It was nearly forty years, now, since he had first begun to work for his country. He felt that his work was done, and all he wanted now was to spend his last days quietly in his beloved home, Mount Vernon.
This time Washington had his way and laid down his office. Then, as second President, the people chose John Adams, who had already been Vice-President.
Chapter 65 - Adams - How He Kept Peace with France
The crowd which gathered to see John Adams take the oath was almost as great as that which had gathered when Washington had first been made President.
But it was upon the old and not upon the new President that all eyes were turned. And when the ceremony was over the people seemed still loath to part from their beloved President, and a great crowd followed him in silence to his home. At the door, before entering, he turned, and with tears running down his cheeks he signed a last farewell to his people. So for a long silent moment he stood upon the doorstep, then he entered the house, and as the door closed upon him a great sob broke from the crowd.
Thus the people took a last farewell of their great and beloved leader.
Almost as soon as John Adams became President in 1797 he found himself plunged into trouble with France. For the Jay Treaty had made the French people very angry. They refused to receive Charles C. Pinckney, who was sent as ambassador, and he had to flee to Holland for refuge. The Americans were very angry at this treatment of their minister and talked of war. But Adams was anxious to keep peace. So he sent two more ambassadors to France and with them Pinckney returned also.
But the French received the three ambassadors with little more courtesy than they had received the one.
They now began to demand all sorts of things from the United States; they demanded, among other things, that the Americans should pay them a large sum of money as a bribe. They demanded a large loan also. If they refused, why, then let the Americans beware. With these demands and threats the ambassadors were obliged to leave France. But they were not going to be bullied. So to the French threats they replied by building ships, raising an army, and buying cannon. Everywhere, too, patriotic songs were written and sung, one of them being, "Hail Columbia," by Joseph Hopkinson.
Once more George Washington was asked to become commander-in-chief in 1798, and with a heavy heart he consented. He did not want to leave his quiet home for the horrors and clamour of the battlefield. Still less did he want to fight against his old friends. But at his country's call he rose.
The French, however, were not really anxious to fight the United States. They merely wanted to get money from them, and when they saw the spirit of the nation, they changed their tune and did everything they could to keep peace between the two countries. But the Americans were now so angry with the French that they were determined to fight them. "War with France!" was everywhere the cry.
John Adams, however, like Washington, was determined if possible to keep peace. So without asking any one's advice he sent another friendly mission to France, and the quarrel was quietly settled. Thus peace was kept, but the people were angry with Adams. They declared that he had all sorts of mean reasons for his action. He was sure he had done right. "When I am dead," he said, "write on my tomb, 'Here lies John Adams, who took upon himself the responsibility of peace with France.'" He felt that he could have no better epitaph.
While Adams was President, in 1796, another state was added to the Union. This was Tennessee, which was an offshoot from North Carolina.
For several years Tennessee passed through troublous times. For a few years, indeed, the state was set up as a separate republic, under the name of Franklin. This name was given to it in honour of Benjamin Franklin, the great statesman. But some of the people wanted it called Frankland or Freeland so it was known by both names.
The inhabitants of Franklin now chose a Governor, instituted a Senate and a House of Commons, and made laws for themselves. But very soon this government collapsed, and after a few more troublous years the state entered the Union under the name of Tennessee.
All this time men had been busy building the new capital and toward the end of 1800 the government was removed there. Washington, the great Father of his Country, had just died and it was determined to call the new city by his name.
But when the government arrived at Washington they found the city little more than a wilderness. Only a part of the Capitol was built, and around it there was nothing but desolation. There were neither streets, nor shops, neither business nor society.
The President's house was set down in the midst of an uncultivated field, and beyond that and the unfinished Capitol there were but a few scattered houses and one hotel. Many people were disgusted with the new capital, and it was given all sorts of names, such as the "Capital of Miserable Huts," "The Wilderness City," or the "Mudhole." Every now and again one or other of the members of Congress would suggest that the capital should be removed elsewhere, but there were always some determined to stay. And at length by slow degrees the city grew into one of the beautiful capitals of the world.
Chapter 66 - Jefferson - How the Territory of the United States was Doubled
Adams was an honest and patriotic man, but he never won the love of the people as Washington had done. And when in 1801 his term of office came to an end he went back to his country home. There he spent the rest of his life as a simple citizen.
Jefferson first President inaugurated in Washington
Thomas Jefferson was the next President - the first to be inaugurated in the new capital. He had been Vice-President with Adams, and was already well known in politics. It was he who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and he was in every way one of the greatest statesmen of his time. He was a lanky, sweet-tempered, sandy coloured man. He wore badly fitting clothes, and hated ceremony of all kinds. He was quite determined not to have any fuss over his inauguration, so dressed as plainly as possible, he rode to the Capitol by himself, tied his horse to the palings and walked into the Senate Chamber alone, just like any ordinary man.
This lack of ceremony he kept up throughout all the time he was President. Indeed he sometimes overdid it and offended people. Once the British Minister was to be presented to him and went dressed in his grandest uniform. But to his disgust he found Jefferson in the very shabbiest of clothes, and slippers down at the heel. So the good gentleman went away feeling that the President of the United States had meant to insult not merely himself but the King he represented.
It was while Jefferson was President in 1803 that Ohio joined the Union as the seventeenth state. For a long time there had been a few squatters on the land. But it was only after the Revolution that it really began to be inhabited by white men.
In 1788 about fifty men led by Rufus Putnam, "the Father of Ohio," settled there. They founded a town and called it Marietta in honour of Maria Antoinette, the French Queen. Others followed, and soon villages were sprinkled all along the north bank of the Ohio River.
Then some years later Moses Cleaveland founded the town of Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie. But all along the banks of the Ohio Indians lived. And they would not let the white men settle on their land without protest. So the new settlers were constantly harassed and in danger of their lives, and many murders were committed.
At length it was decided that this must cease. And as the Indians would listen to no argument General St. Clair with an army of eighteen hundred men marched against them. He did not know the country, and he had no guide. Late one evening in November he encamped in the woods. At dawn the next day he was awakened by the blood-curdling cry of the Indians. The men sprang to arms, but in the night the Indians had completely surrounded them, and the fight was hopeless. For four hours the slaughter lasted; then the white men fled, leaving half their number dead upon the field.
It was one of the worst defeats white men ever suffered at the hands of the Indians. The whole countryside was filled with the horror and the Redmen exulted in their victory. The President tried to reason with them, but they would not listen. The only thing that would satisfy them was that the white men should withdraw beyond the Ohio.
This the white men refused to do, and they sent another large force against the Indians. This time the force was under the command of General Wayne. In a great battle he utterly defeated the Indians. Afterwards he held a grand council with them. And they, knowing themselves defeated, swore peace forevermore with the white men, and acknowledged their right to the land beyond the Ohio.
This was the first great council that the Indians had ever held with the "thirteen fires" of the United States. They kept their treaty faithfully, and not one of the chiefs who swore peace to General Wayne ever again lifted the war hatchet against the Pale-faces.
And now that peace with the Indians was secure, many settlers flocked into the country, and in 1893 Ohio was received into the Union as the seventeenth state.
But the most interesting and important thing which happened during Jefferson's time of office was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. By this a vast territory was added to the United States.
You remember that at the Peace of Paris after the British had conquered Canada, the French gave up to Spain all their claims to the great tract of land beyond the Mississippi called Louisiana. When France gave up that vast territory to Spain she was weak. But now again she was strong - far stronger than Spain - for the great soldier Napoleon Bonaparte had risen to power. He now looked with longing eyes on the lost province of Louisiana, and by a secret treaty he forced the King of Spain to give back Louisiana to France.