WASHINGTON AND HIS COMRADES IN ARMS,
A CHRONICLE OF THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
Volume 12 in the Chronicles of America Series. Abraham Lincoln Edition.
By George M. Wrong
The author is aware of a certain audacity in undertaking, himself a Briton, to appear in a company of American writers on American history and above all to write on the subject of Washington. If excuse is needed it is to be found in the special interest of the career of Washington to a citizen of the British Commonwealth of Nations at the present time and in the urgency with which the editor and publishers declared that such an interpretation would not be unwelcome to Americans and pressed upon the author a task for which he doubted his own qualifications. To the editor he owes thanks for wise criticism. He is also indebted to Mr. Worthington Chauncey Ford, of the Massachusetts Historical Society, a great authority on Washington, who has kindly read the proofs and given helpful comments. Needless to say the author alone is responsible for opinions in the book.
University of Toronto, June 16, 1920.
I. THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF
II. BOSTON AND QUEBEC
IV. THE LOSS OF NEW YORK
V. THE LOSS OF PHILADELPHIA
VI. THE FIRST GREAT BRITISH DISASTER
VII. WASHINGTON AND HIS COMRADES AT VALLEY FORGE
VIII. THE ALLIANCE WITH FRANCE AND ITS RESULTS
IX. THE WAR IN THE SOUTH
X. FRANCE TO THE RESCUE
WASHINGTON AND HIS COMRADES IN ARMS
CHAPTER I. THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF
Moving among the members of the second Continental Congress, which met at Philadelphia in May, 1775, was one, and but one, military figure. George Washington alone attended the sittings in uniform. This colonel from Virginia, now in his forty-fourth year, was a great landholder, an owner of slaves, an Anglican churchman, an aristocrat, everything that stands in contrast with the type of a revolutionary radical. Yet from the first he had been an outspoken and uncompromising champion of the colonial cause. When the tax was imposed on tea he had abolished the use of tea in his own household and when war was imminent he had talked of recruiting a thousand men at his own expense and marching to Boston. His steady wearing of the uniform seemed, indeed, to show that he regarded the issue as hardly less military than political.
The clash at Lexington, on the 19th of April, had made vivid the reality of war. Passions ran high. For years there had been tension, long disputes about buying British stamps to put on American legal papers, about duties on glass and paint and paper and, above all, tea. Boston had shown turbulent defiance, and to hold Boston down British soldiers had been quartered on the inhabitants in the proportion of one soldier for five of the populace, a great and annoying burden. And now British soldiers had killed Americans who stood barring their way on Lexington Green. Even calm Benjamin Franklin spoke later of the hands of British ministers as "red, wet, and dropping with blood." Americans never forgot the fresh graves made on that day. There were, it is true, more British than American graves, but the British were regarded as the aggressors. If the rest of the colonies were to join in the struggle, they must have a common leader. Who should he be?
In June, while the Continental Congress faced this question at Philadelphia, events at Boston made the need of a leader more urgent. Boston was besieged by American volunteers under the command of General Artemas Ward. The siege had lasted for two months, each side watching the other at long range. General Gage, the British Commander, had the sea open to him and a finely tempered army upon which he could rely. The opposite was true of his opponents. They were a motley host rather than an army. They had few guns and almost no powder. Idle waiting since the fight at Lexington made untrained troops restless and anxious to go home. Nothing holds an army together like real war, and shrewd officers knew that they must give the men some hard task to keep up their fighting spirit. It was rumored that Gage was preparing an aggressive movement from Boston, which might mean pillage and massacre in the surrounding country, and it was decided to draw in closer to Boston to give Gage a diversion and prove the mettle of the patriot army. So, on the evening of June 16, 1775, there was a stir of preparation in the American camp at Cambridge, and late at night the men fell in near Harvard College.
Across the Charles River north from Boston, on a peninsula, lay the village of Charlestown, and rising behind it was Breed's Hill, about seventy-four feet high, extending northeastward to the higher elevation of Bunker Hill. The peninsula could be reached from Cambridge only by a narrow neck of land easily swept by British floating batteries lying off the shore. In the dark the American force of twelve hundred men under Colonel Prescott marched to this neck of land and then advanced half a mile southward to Breed's Hill. Prescott was an old campaigner of the Seven Years' War; he had six cannon, and his troops were commanded by experienced officers. Israel Putnam was skillful in irregular frontier fighting, and Nathanael Greene, destined to prove himself the best man in the American army next to Washington himself, could furnish sage military counsel derived from much thought and reading.
Thus it happened that on the morning of the 17th of June General Gage in Boston awoke to a surprise. He had refused to believe that he was shut up in Boston. It suited his convenience to stay there until a plan of campaign should be evolved by his superiors in London, but he was certain that when he liked he could, with his disciplined battalions, brush away the besieging army. Now he saw the American force on Breed's Hill throwing up a defiant and menacing redoubt and entrenchments. Gage did not hesitate. The bold aggressors must be driven away at once. He detailed for the enterprise William Howe, the officer destined soon to be his successor in the command at Boston. Howe was a brave and experienced soldier. He had been a friend of Wolfe and had led the party of twenty-four men who had first climbed the cliff at Quebec on the great day when Wolfe fell victorious. He was the younger brother of that beloved Lord Howe who had fallen at Ticonderoga and to whose memory Massachusetts had reared a monument in Westminster Abbey. Gage gave him in all some twenty-five hundred men, and, at about two in the afternoon, this force was landed at Charlestown.
The little town was soon aflame and the smoke helped to conceal Howe's movements. The day was boiling hot and the soldiers carried heavy packs with food for three days, for they intended to camp on Bunker Hill. Straight up Breed's Hill they marched wading through long grass sometimes to their knees and throwing down the fences on the hillside. The British knew that raw troops were likely to scatter their fire on a foe still out of range and they counted on a rapid bayonet charge against men helpless with empty rifles. This expectation was disappointed. The Americans had in front of them a barricade and Israel Putnam was there, threatening dire things to any one who should fire before he could see the whites of the eyes of the advancing soldiery. As the British came on there was a terrific discharge of musketry at twenty yards, repeated again and again as they either halted or drew back.
The slaughter was terrible. British officers hardened in war declared long afterward that they had never seen carnage like that of this fight. The American riflemen had been told to aim especially at the British officers, easily known by their uniforms, and one rifleman is said to have shot twenty officers before he was himself killed. Lord Rawdon, who played a considerable part in the war and was later, as Marquis of Hastings, Viceroy of India, used to tell of his terror as he fought in the British line. Suddenly a soldier was shot dead by his side, and, when he saw the man quiet at his feet, he said, "Is Death nothing but this?" and henceforth had no fear. When the first attack by the British was checked they retired; but, with dogged resolve, they re-formed and again charged up the hill, only a second time to be repulsed. The third time they were more cautious. They began to work round to the weaker defenses of the American left, where were no redoubts and entrenchments like those on the right. By this time British ships were throwing shells among the Americans. Charlestown was burning. The great column of black smoke, the incessant roar of cannon, and the dreadful scenes of carnage had affected the defenders. They wavered; and on the third British charge, having exhausted their ammunition, they fled from the hill in confusion back to the narrow neck of land half a mile away, swept now by a British floating battery. General Burgoyne wrote that, in the third attack, the discipline and courage of the British private soldiers also broke down and that when the redoubt was carried the officers of some corps were almost alone. The British stood victorious at Bunker Hill. It was, however, a costly victory. More than a thousand men, nearly half of the attacking force, had fallen, with an undue proportion of officers.
Philadelphia, far away, did not know what was happening when, two days before the battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental Congress settled the question of a leader for a national army. On the 15th of June John Adams of Massachusetts rose and moved that the Congress should adopt as its own the army before Boston and that it should name Washington as Commander-in-Chief. Adams had deeply pondered the problem. He was certain that New England would remain united and decided in the struggle, but he was not so sure of the other colonies. To have a leader from beyond New England would make for continental unity. Virginia, next to Massachusetts, had stood in the forefront of the movement, and Virginia was fortunate in having in the Congress one whose fame as a soldier ran through all the colonies. There was something to be said for choosing a commander from the colony which began the struggle and Adams knew that his colleague from Massachusetts, John Hancock, a man of wealth and importance, desired the post. He was conspicuous enough to be President of the Congress. Adams says that when he made his motion, naming a Virginian, he saw in Hancock's face "mortification and resentment." He saw, too, that Washington hurriedly left the room when his name was mentioned.
There could be no doubt as to what the Congress would do. Unquestionably Washington was the fittest man for the post. Twenty years earlier he had seen important service in the war with France. His position and character commanded universal aspect. The Congress adopted unanimously the motion of Adams and it only remained to be seen Whether Washington would accept. On the next day he came to the sitting with his mind made up. The members, he said, would bear witness to his declaration that he thought himself unfit for the task. Since, however, they called him, he would try to do his duty. He would take the command but he would accept no pay beyond his expenses. Thus it was that Washington became a great national figure. The man who had long worn the King's uniform was now his deadliest enemy; and it is probably true that after this step nothing could have restored the old relations and reunited the British Empire. The broken vessel could not be made whole.
Washington spent only a few days in getting ready to take over his new command. On the 21st of June, four days after Bunker Hill, he set out from Philadelphia. The colonies were in truth very remote from each other. The journey to Boston was tedious. In the previous year John Adams had traveled in the other direction to the Congress at Philadelphia and, in his journal, he notes, as if he were traveling in foreign lands, the strange manners and customs of the other colonies. The journey, so momentous to Adams, was not new to Washington. Some twenty years earlier the young Virginian officer had traveled as far as Boston in the service of King George II. Now he was leader in the war against King George III. In New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut he was received impressively. In the warm summer weather the roads were good enough but many of the rivers were not bridged and could be crossed only by ferries or at fords. It took nearly a fortnight to reach Boston.
Washington had ridden only twenty miles on his long journey when the news reached him of the fight at Bunker Hill. The question which he asked anxiously shows what was in his mind: "Did the militia fight?" When the answer was "Yes," he said with relief, "The liberties of the country are safe." He reached Cambridge on the 2d of July and on the following day was the chief figure in a striking ceremony. In the presence of a vast crowd and of the motley army of volunteers, which was now to be called the American army, Washington assumed the command. He sat on horseback under an elm tree and an observer noted that his appearance was "truly noble and majestic." This was milder praise than that given a little later by a London paper which said: "There is not a king in Europe but would look like a valet de chambre by his side." New England having seen him was henceforth wholly on his side. His traditions were not those of the Puritans, of the Ephraims and the Abijahs of the volunteer army, men whose Old Testament names tell something of the rigor of the Puritan view of life. Washington, a sharer in the free and often careless hospitality of his native Virginia, had a different outlook. In his personal discipline, however, he was not less Puritan than the strictest of New Englanders. The coming years were to show that a great leader had taken his fitting place.
Washington, born in 1732, had been trained in self-reliance, for he had been fatherless from childhood. At the age of sixteen he was working at the profession, largely self-taught, of a surveyor of land. At the age of twenty-seven he married Martha Custis, a rich widow with children, though her marriage with Washington was childless. His estate on the Potomac River, three hundred miles from the open sea, recently named Mount Vernon, had been in the family for nearly a hundred years. There were twenty-five hundred acres at Mount Vernon with ten miles of frontage on the tidal river. The Virginia planters were a landowning gentry; when Washington died he had more than sixty thousand acres. The growing of tobacco, the one vital industry of the Virginia of the time, with its half million people, was connected with the ownership of land. On their great estates the planters lived remote, with a mail perhaps every fortnight. There were no large towns, no great factories. Nearly half of the population consisted of negro slaves. It is one of the ironies of history that the chief leader in a war marked by a passion for liberty was a member of a society in which, as another of its members, Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, said, there was on the one hand the most insulting despotism and on the other the most degrading submission. The Virginian landowners were more absolute masters than the proudest lords of medieval England. These feudal lords had serfs on their land. The serfs were attached to the soil and were sold to a new master with the soil. They were not, however, property, without human rights. On the other hand, the slaves of the Virginian master were property like his horses. They could not even call wife and children their own, for these might be sold at will. It arouses a strange emotion now when we find Washington offering to exchange a negro for hogsheads of molasses and rum and writing that the man would bring a good price, "if kept clean and trim'd up a little when offered for sale."
In early life Washington had had very little of formal education. He knew no language but English. When he became world famous and his friend La Fayette urged him to visit France he refused because he would seem uncouth if unable to speak the French tongue. Like another great soldier, the Duke of Wellington, he was always careful about his dress. There was in him a silent pride which would brook nothing derogatory to his dignity. No one could be more methodical. He kept his accounts rigorously, entering even the cost of repairing a hairpin for a ward. He was a keen farmer, and it is amusing to find him recording in his careful journal that there are 844,800 seeds of "New River Grass" to the pound Troy and so determining how many should be sown to the acre. Not many youths would write out as did Washington, apparently from French sources, and read and reread elaborate "Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation." In the fashion of the age of Chesterfield they portray the perfect gentleman. He is always to remember the presence of others and not to move, read, or speak without considering what may be due to them. In the true spirit of the time he is to learn to defer to persons of superior quality. Tactless laughter at his own wit, jests that have a sting of idle gossip, are to be avoided. Reproof is to be given not in anger but in a sweet and mild temper. The rules descend even to manners at table and are a revelation of care in self-discipline. We might imagine Oliver Cromwell drawing up such rules, but not Napoleon or Wellington.
The class to which Washington belonged prided itself on good birth and good breeding. We picture him as austere, but, like Oliver Cromwell, whom in some respects he resembles, he was very human in his personal relations. He liked a glass of wine. He was fond of dancing and he went to the theater, even on Sunday. He was, too, something of a lady's man; "He can be downright impudent sometimes," wrote a Southern lady, "such impudence, Fanny, as you and I like." In old age he loved to have the young and gay about him. He could break into furious oaths and no one was a better master of what we may call honorable guile in dealing with wily savages, in circulating falsehoods that would deceive the enemy in time of war, or in pursuing a business advantage. He played cards for money and carefully entered loss and gain in his accounts. He loved horseracing and horses, and nothing pleased him more than to talk of that noble animal. He kept hounds and until his burden of cares became too great was an eager devotee of hunting. His shooting was of a type more heroic than that of an English squire spending a day on a moor with guests and gamekeepers and returning to comfort in the evening. Washington went off on expeditions into the forest lasting many days and shared the life in the woods of rough men, sleeping often in the open air. "Happy," he wrote, "is he who gets the berth nearest the fire." He could spend a happy day in admiring the trees and the richness of the land on a neighbor's estate. Always his thoughts were turning to the soil. There was poetry in him. It was said of Napoleon that the one approach to poetry in all his writings is the phrase: "The spring is at last appearing and the leaves are beginning to sprout." Washington, on the other hand, brooded over the mysteries of life. He pictured to himself the serenity of a calm old age and always dared to look death squarely in the face. He was sensitive to human passion and he felt the wonder of nature in all her ways, her bounteous response in growth to the skill of man, the delight of improving the earth in contrast with the vain glory gained by ravaging it in war. His most striking characteristics were energy and decision united often with strong likes and dislikes. His clever secretary, Alexander Hamilton, found, as he said, that his chief was not remarkable for good temper and resigned his post because of an impatient rebuke. When a young man serving in the army of Virginia, Washington had many a tussle with the obstinate Scottish Governor, Dinwiddie, who thought his vehemence unmannerly and ungrateful. Gilbert Stuart, who painted several of his portraits, said that his features showed strong passions and that, had he not learned self-restraint, his temper would have been savage. This discipline he acquired. The task was not easy, but in time he was able to say with truth, "I have no resentments," and his self-control became so perfect as to be almost uncanny.
The assumption that Washington fought against an England grown decadent is not justified. To admit this would be to make his task seem lighter than it really was. No doubt many of the rich aristocracy spent idle days of pleasure-seeking with the comfortable conviction that they could discharge their duties to society by merely existing, since their luxury made work and the more they indulged themselves the more happy and profitable employment would their many dependents enjoy. The eighteenth century was, however, a wonderful epoch in England. Agriculture became a new thing under the leadership of great landowners like Lord Townshend and Coke of Norfolk. Already was abroad in society a divine discontent at existing abuses. It brought Warren Hastings to trial on the charge of plundering India. It attacked slavery, the cruelty of the criminal law, which sent children to execution for the theft of a few pennies, the brutality of the prisons, the torpid indifference of the church to the needs of the masses. New inventions were beginning the age of machinery. The reform of Parliament, votes for the toiling masses, and a thousand other improvements were being urged. It was a vigorous, rich, and arrogant England which Washington confronted.
It is sometimes said of Washington that he was an English country gentleman. A gentleman he was, but with an experience and training quite unlike that of a gentleman in England. The young heir to an English estate might or might not go to a university. He could, like the young Charles James Fox, become a scholar, but like Fox, who knew some of the virtues and all the supposed gentlemanly vices, he might dissipate his energies in hunting, gambling, and cockfighting. He would almost certainly make the grand tour of Europe, and, if he had little Latin and less Greek, he was pretty certain to have some familiarity with Paris and a smattering of French. The eighteenth century was a period of magnificent living in England. The great landowner, then, as now, the magnate of his neighborhood, was likely to rear, if he did not inherit, one of those vast palaces which are today burdens so costly to the heirs of their builders. At the beginning of the century the nation to honor Marlborough for his victories could think of nothing better than to give him half a million pounds to build a palace. Even with the colossal wealth produced by modern industry we should be staggered at a residence costing millions of dollars. Yet the Duke of Devonshire rivaled at Chatsworth, and Lord Leicester at Holkham, Marlborough's building at Blenheim, and many other costly palaces were erected during the following half century. Their owners sometimes built in order to surpass a neighbor in grandeur, and to this day great estates are encumbered by the debts thus incurred in vain show. The heir to such a property was reared in a pomp and luxury undreamed of by the frugal young planter of Virginia. Of working for a livelihood, in the sense in which Washington knew it, the young Englishman of great estate would never dream.
The Atlantic is a broad sea and even in our own day, when instant messages flash across it and man himself can fly from shore to shore in less than a score of hours, it is not easy for those on one strand to understand the thought of those on the other. Every community evolves its own spirit not easily to be apprehended by the onlooker. The state of society in America was vitally different from that in England. The plain living of Virginia was in sharp contrast with the magnificence and ease of England. It is true that we hear of plate and elaborate furniture, of servants in livery, and much drinking of Port and Madeira, among the Virginians: They had good horses. Driving, as often they did, with six in a carriage, they seemed to keep up regal style. Spaces were wide in a country where one great landowner, Lord Fairfax, held no less than five million acres. Houses lay isolated and remote and a gentleman dining out would sometimes drive his elaborate equipage from twenty to fifty miles. There was a tradition of lavish hospitality, of gallant men and fair women, and sometimes of hard and riotous living. Many of the houses were, however, in a state of decay, with leaking roofs, battered doors and windows and shabby furniture. To own land in Virginia did not mean to live in luxurious ease. Land brought in truth no very large income. It was easier to break new land than to fertilize that long in use. An acre yielded only eight or ten bushels of wheat. In England the land was more fruitful. One who was only a tenant on the estate of Coke of Norfolk died worth 150,000 pounds, and Coke himself had the income of a prince. When Washington died he was reputed one of the richest men in America and yet his estate was hardly equal to that of Coke's tenant.
Washington was a good farmer, inventive and enterprising, but he had difficulties which ruined many of his neighbors. Today much of his infertile estate of Mount Vernon would hardly grow enough to pay the taxes. When Washington desired a gardener, or a bricklayer, or a carpenter, he usually had to buy him in the form of a convict, or of a negro slave, or of a white man indentured for a term of years. Such labor required eternal vigilance. The negro, himself property, had no respect for it in others. He stole when he could and worked only when the eyes of a master were upon him. If left in charge of plants or of stock he was likely to let them perish for lack of water. Washington's losses of cattle, horses, and sheep from this cause were enormous. The neglected cattle gave so little milk that at one time Washington, with a hundred cows, had to buy his butter. Negroes feigned sickness for weeks at a time. A visitor noted that Washington spoke to his slaves with a stern harshness. No doubt it was necessary. The management of this intractable material brought training in command. If Washington could make negroes efficient and farming pay in Virginia, he need hardly be afraid to meet any other type of difficulty.
From the first he was satisfied that the colonies had before them a difficult struggle. Many still refused to believe that there was really a state of war. Lexington and Bunker Hill might be regarded as unfortunate accidents to be explained away in an era of good feeling when each side should acknowledge the merits of the other and apologize for its own faults. Washington had few illusions of this kind. He took the issue in a serious and even bitter spirit. He knew nothing of the Englishman at home for he had never set foot outside of the colonies except to visit Barbados with an invalid half-brother. Even then he noted that the "gentleman inhabitants" whose "hospitality and genteel behaviour" he admired were discontented with the tone of the officials sent out from England. From early life Washington had seen much of British officers in America. Some of them had been men of high birth and station who treated the young colonial officer with due courtesy. When, however, he had served on the staff of the unfortunate General Braddock in the calamitous campaign of 1755, he had been offended by the tone of that leader. Probably it was in these days that Washington first brooded over the contrasts between the Englishman and the Virginian. With obstinate complacency Braddock had disregarded Washington's counsels of prudence. He showed arrogant confidence in his veteran troops and contempt for the amateur soldiers of whom Washington was one. In a wild country where rapid movement was the condition of success Braddock would halt, as Washington said, "to level every mole hill and to erect bridges over every brook." His transport was poor and Washington, a lover of horses, chafed at what he called "vile management" of the horses by the British soldier. When anything went wrong Braddock blamed, not the ineffective work of his own men, but the supineness of Virginia. "He looks upon the country," Washington wrote in wrath, "I believe, as void of honour and honesty." The hour of trial came in the fight of July, 1755, when Braddock was defeated and killed on the march to the Ohio. Washington told his mother that in the fight the Virginian troops stood their ground and were nearly all killed but the boasted regulars "were struck with such a panic that they behaved with more cowardice than it is possible to conceive." In the anger and resentment of this comment is found the spirit which made Washington a champion of the colonial cause from the first hour of disagreement.
That was a fatal day in March, 1765, when the British Parliament voted that it was just and necessary that a revenue be raised in America. Washington was uncompromising. After the tax on tea he derided "our lordly masters in Great Britain." No man, he said, should scruple for a moment to take up arms against the threatened tyranny. He and his neighbors of Fairfax County, Virginia, took the trouble to tell the world by formal resolution on July 18, 1774, that they were descended not from a conquered but from a conquering people, that they claimed full equality with the people of Great Britain, and like them would make their own laws and impose their own taxes. They were not democrats; they had no theories of equality; but as "gentlemen and men of fortune" they would show to others the right path in the crisis which had arisen. In this resolution spoke the proud spirit of Washington; and, as he brooded over what was happening, anger fortified his pride. Of the Tories in Boston, some of them highly educated men, who with sorrow were walking in what was to them the hard path of duty, Washington could say later that "there never existed a more miserable set of beings than these wretched creatures."
The age of Washington was one of bitter vehemence in political thought. In England the good Whig was taught that to deny Whig doctrine was blasphemy, that there was no truth or honesty on the other side, and that no one should trust a Tory; and usually the good Whig was true to the teaching he had received. In America there had hitherto been no national politics. Issues had been local and passions thus confined exploded all the more fiercely. Franklin spoke of George III as drinking long draughts of American blood and of the British people as so depraved and barbarous as to be the wickedest nation upon earth, inspired by bloody and insatiable malice and wickedness. To Washington George III was a tyrant, his ministers were scoundrels, and the British people were lost to every sense of virtue. The evil of it is that, for a posterity which listened to no other comment on the issues of the Revolution, such utterances, instead of being understood as passing expressions of party bitterness, were taken as the calm judgments of men held in reverence and awe. Posterity has agreed that there is nothing to be said for the coercing of the colonies so resolutely pressed by George III and his ministers. Posterity can also, however, understand that the struggle was not between undiluted virtue on the one side and undiluted vice on the other. Some eighty years after the American Revolution the Republic created by the Revolution endured the horrors of civil war rather than accept its own disruption. In 1776 even the most liberal Englishmen felt a similar passion for the continued unity of the British Empire. Time has reconciled all schools of thought to the unity lost in the case of the Empire and to the unity preserved in the case of the Republic, but on the losing side in each case good men fought with deep conviction.
CHAPTER II. BOSTON AND QUEBEC
Washington was not a professional soldier, though he had seen the realities of war and had moved in military society. Perhaps it was an advantage that he had not received the rigid training of a regular, for he faced conditions which required an elastic mind. The force besieging Boston consisted at first chiefly of New England militia, with companies of minute-men, so called because of their supposed readiness to fight at a minute's notice. Washington had been told that he should find 20,000 men under his command; he found, in fact, a nominal army of 17,000, with probably not more than 14,000 effective, and the number tended to decline as the men went away to their homes after the first vivid interest gave way to the humdrum of military life.
The extensive camp before Boston, as Washington now saw it, expressed the varied character of his strange command. Cambridge, the seat of Harvard College, was still only a village with a few large houses and park-like grounds set among fields of grain, now trodden down by the soldiers. Here was placed in haphazard style the motley housing of a military camp. The occupants had followed their own taste in building. One could see structures covered with turf, looking like lumps of mother earth, tents made of sail cloth, huts of bare boards, huts of brick and stone, some having doors and windows of wattled basketwork. There were not enough huts to house the army nor camp-kettles for cooking. Blankets were so few that many of the men were without covering at night. In the warm summer weather this did not much matter but bleak autumn and harsh winter would bring bitter privation. The sick in particular suffered severely, for the hospitals were badly equipped.
A deep conviction inspired many of the volunteers. They regarded as brutal tyranny the tax on tea, considered in England as a mild expedient for raising needed revenue for defense in the colonies. The men of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, meeting in September, 1774, had declared in high-flown terms that the proposed tax came from a parricide who held a dagger at their bosoms and that those who resisted him would earn praises to eternity. From nearly every colony came similar utterances, and flaming resentment at injustice filled the volunteer army. Many a soldier would not touch a cup of tea because tea had been the ruin of his country. Some wore pinned to their hats or coats the words "Liberty or Death" and talked of resisting tyranny until "time shall be no more." It was a dark day for the motherland when so many of her sons believed that she was the enemy of liberty. The iron of this conviction entered into the soul of the American nation; at Gettysburg, nearly a century later, Abraham Lincoln, in a noble utterance which touched the heart of humanity, could appeal to the days of the Revolution, when "our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty." The colonists believed that they were fighting for something of import to all mankind, and the nation which they created believes it still.
An age of war furnishes, however, occasion for the exercise of baser impulses. The New Englander was a trader by instinct. An army had come suddenly together and there was golden promise of contracts for supplies at fat profits. The leader from Virginia, untutored in such things, was astounded at the greedy scramble. Before the year 1775 ended Washington wrote to his friend Lee that he prayed God he might never again have to witness such lack of public spirit, such jobbing and self-seeking, such "fertility in all the low arts," as now he found at Cambridge. He declared that if he could have foreseen all this nothing would have induced him to take the command. Later, the young La Fayette, who had left behind him in France wealth and luxury in order to fight a hard fight in America, was shocked at the slackness and indifference among the supposed patriots for whose cause he was making sacrifices so heavy. In the backward parts of the colonies the population was densely ignorant and had little grasp of the deeper meaning of the patriot cause.
The army was, as Washington himself said, "a mixed multitude." There was every variety of dress. Old uniforms, treasured from the days of the last French wars, had been dug out. A military coat or a cocked hat was the only semblance of uniform possessed by some of the officers. Rank was often indicated by ribbons of different colors tied on the arm. Lads from the farms had come in their usual dress; a good many of these were hunters from the frontier wearing the buckskin of the deer they had slain. Sometimes there was clothing of grimmer material. Later in the war in American officer recorded that his men had skinned two dead Indians "from their hips down, for bootlegs, one pair for the Major, the other for myself." The volunteers varied greatly in age. There were bearded veterans of sixty and a sprinkling of lads of sixteen. An observer laughed at the boys and the "great great grandfathers" who marched side by side in the army before Boston. Occasionally a black face was seen in the ranks. One of Washington's tasks was to reduce the disparity of years and especially to secure men who could shoot. In the first enthusiasm of 1775 so many men volunteered in Virginia that a selection was made on the basis of accuracy in shooting. The men fired at a range of one hundred and fifty yards at an outline of a man's nose in chalk on a board. Each man had a single shot and the first men shot the nose entirely away.
Undoubtedly there was the finest material among the men lounging about their quarters at Cambridge in fashion so unmilitary. In physique they were larger than the British soldier, a result due to abundant food and free life in the open air from childhood. Most of the men supplied their own uniform and rifles and much barter went on in the hours after drill. The men made and sold shoes, clothes, and even arms. They were accustomed to farm life and good at digging and throwing up entrenchments. The colonial mode of waging war was, however, not that of Europe. To the regular soldier of the time even earth entrenchments seemed a sign of cowardice. The brave man would come out on the open to face his foe. Earl Percy, who rescued the harassed British on the day of Lexington, had the poorest possible opinion of those on what he called the rebel side. To him they were intriguing rascals, hypocrites, cowards, with sinister designs to ruin the Empire. But he was forced to admit that they fought well and faced death willingly.
In time Washington gathered about him a fine body of officers, brave, steady, and efficient. On the great issue they, like himself, had unchanging conviction, and they and he saved the revolution. But a good many of his difficulties were due to bad officers. He had himself the reverence for gentility, the belief in an ordered grading of society, characteristic of his class in that age. In Virginia the relation of master and servant was well understood and the tone of authority was readily accepted. In New England conceptions of equality were more advanced. The extent to which the people would brook the despotism of military command was uncertain. From the first some of the volunteers had elected their officers. The result was that intriguing demagogues were sometimes chosen. The Massachusetts troops, wrote a Connecticut captain, not free, perhaps, from local jealousy, were "commanded by a most despicable set of officers." At Bunker Hill officers of this type shirked the fight and their men, left without leaders, joined in the panicky retreat of that day. Other officers sent away soldiers to work on their farms while at the same time they drew for them public pay. At a later time Washington wrote to a friend wise counsel about the choice of officers. "Take none but gentlemen; let no local attachment influence you; do not suffer your good nature to say Yes when you ought to say No. Remember that it is a public, not a private cause." What he desired was the gentleman's chivalry of refinement, sense of honor, dignity of character, and freedom from mere self-seeking. The prime qualities of a good officer, as he often said, were authority and decision. It is probably true of democracies that they prefer and will follow the man who will take with them a strong tone. Little men, however, cannot see this and think to gain support by shifty changes of opinion to please the multitude. What authority and decision could be expected from an officer of the peasant type, elected by his own men? How could he dominate men whose short term of service was expiring and who had to be coaxed to renew it? Some elected officers had to promise to pool their pay with that of their men. In one company an officer fulfilled the double position of captain and barber. In time, however, the authority of military rank came to be respected throughout the whole army. An amusing contrast with earlier conditions is found in 1779 when a captain was tried by a brigade court-martial and dismissed from the service for intimate association with the wagon-maker of the brigade.
The first thing to do at Cambridge was to get rid of the inefficient and the corrupt. Washington had never any belief in a militia army. From his earliest days as a soldier he had favored conscription, even in free Virginia. He had then found quite ineffective the "whooping, holloing gentlemen soldiers" of the volunteer force of the colony among whom "every individual has his own crude notion of things and must undertake to direct. If his advice is neglected he thinks himself slighted, abused, and injured and, to redress his wrongs, will depart for his home." Washington found at Cambridge too many officers. Then as later in the American army there were swarms of colonels. The officers from Massachusetts, conscious that they had seen the first fighting in the great cause, expected special consideration from a stranger serving on their own soil. Soon they had a rude awakening. Washington broke a Massachusetts colonel and two captains because they had proved cowards at Bunker Hill, two more captains for fraud in drawing pay and provisions for men who did not exist, and still another for absence from his post when he was needed. He put in jail a colonel, a major, and three or four other officers. "New lords, new laws," wrote in his diary Mr. Emerson, the chaplain: "the Generals Washington and Lee are upon the lines every day... great distinction is made between officers and soldiers."
The term of all the volunteers in Washington's any expired by the end of 1775, so that he had to create a new army during the siege of Boston. He spoke scornfully of an enemy so little enterprising as to remain supine during the process. But probably the British were wise to avoid a venture inland and to remain in touch with their fleet. Washington made them uneasy when he drove away the cattle from the neighborhood. Soon beef was selling in Boston for as much as eighteen pence a pound. Food might reach Boston in ships but supplies even by sea were insecure, for the Americans soon had privateers manned by seamen familiar with New England waters and happy in expected gains from prize money. The British were anxious about the elementary problem of food. They might have made Washington more uncomfortable by forays and alarms. Only reluctantly, however, did Howe, who took over the command on October 10, 1775, admit to himself that this was a real war. He still hoped for settlement without further bloodshed. Washington was glad to learn that the British were laying in supplies of coal for the winter. It meant that they intended to stay in Boston, where, more than in any other place, he could make trouble for them.
Washington had more on his mind than the creation of an army and the siege of Boston. He had also to decide the strategy of the war. On the long American sea front Boston alone remained in British hands. New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and other ports farther south were all, for the time, on the side of the Revolution. Boston was not a good naval base for the British, since it commanded no great waterway leading inland. The sprawling colonies, from the rock-bound coast of New England to the swamps and forests of Georgia, were strong in their incoherent vastness. There were a thousand miles of seacoast. Only rarely were considerable settlements to be found more than a hundred miles distant from salt water. An army marching to the interior would have increasing difficulties from transport and supplies. Wherever water routes could be used the naval power of the British gave them an advantage. One such route was the Hudson, less a river than a navigable arm of the sea, leading to the heart of the colony of New York, its upper waters almost touching Lake George and Lake Champlain, which in turn led to the St. Lawrence in Canada and thence to the sea. Canada was held by the British; and it was clear that, if they should take the city of New York, they might command the whole line from the mouth of the Hudson to the St. Lawrence, and so cut off New England from the other colonies and overcome a divided enemy. To foil this policy Washington planned to hold New York and to capture Canada. With Canada in line the union of the colonies would be indeed continental, and, if the British were driven from Boston, they would have no secure foothold in North America.
The danger from Canada had always been a source of anxiety to the English colonies. The French had made Canada a base for attempts to drive the English from North America. During many decades war had raged along the Canadian frontier. With the cession of Canada to Britain in 1763 this danger had vanished. The old habit endured, however, of fear of Canada. When, in 1774, the British Parliament passed the bill for the government of Canada known as the Quebec Act, there was violent clamor. The measure was assumed to be a calculated threat against colonial liberty. The Quebec Act continued in Canada the French civil law and the ancient privileges of the Roman Catholic Church. It guaranteed order in the wild western region north of the Ohio, taken recently from France, by placing it under the authority long exercised there of the Governor of Quebec. Only a vivid imagination would conceive that to allow to the French in Canada their old loved customs and laws involved designs against the freedom under English law in the other colonies, or that to let the Canadians retain in respect to religion what they had always possessed meant a sinister plot against the Protestantism of the English colonies. Yet Alexander Hamilton, perhaps the greatest mind in the American Revolution, had frantic suspicions. French laws in Canada involved, he said, the extension of French despotism in the English colonies. The privileges continued to the Roman Catholic Church in Canada would be followed in due course by the Inquisition, the burning of heretics at the stake in Boston and New York, and the bringing from Europe of Roman Catholic settlers who would prove tools for the destruction of religious liberty. Military rule at Quebec meant, sooner or later, despotism everywhere in America. We may smile now at the youthful Hamilton's picture of "dark designs" and "deceitful wiles" on the part of that fierce Protestant George III to establish Roman Catholic despotism, but the colonies regarded the danger as serious. The quick remedy would be simply to take Canada, as Washington now planned.
To this end something had been done before Washington assumed the command. The British Fort Ticonderoga, on the neck of land separating Lake Champlain from Lake George, commanded the route from New York to Canada. The fight at Lexington in April had been quickly followed by aggressive action against this British stronghold. No news of Lexington had reached the fort when early in May Colonel Ethan Allen, with Benedict Arnold serving as a volunteer in his force of eighty-three men, arrived in friendly guise. The fort was held by only forty-eight British; with the menace from France at last ended they felt secure; discipline was slack, for there was nothing to do. The incompetent commander testified that he lent Allen twenty men for some rough work on the lake. By evening Allen had them all drunk and then it was easy, without firing a shot, to capture the fort with a rush. The door to Canada was open. Great stores of ammunition and a hundred and twenty guns, which in due course were used against the British at Boston, fell into American hands.
About Canada Washington was ill-informed. He thought of the Canadians as if they were Virginians or New Yorkers. They had been recently conquered by Britain; their new king was a tyrant; they would desire liberty and would welcome an American army. So reasoned Washington, but without knowledge. The Canadians were a conquered people, but they had found the British king no tyrant and they had experienced the paradox of being freer under the conqueror than they had been under their own sovereign. The last days of French rule in Canada were disgraced by corruption and tyranny almost unbelievable. The Canadian peasant had been cruelly robbed and he had conceived for his French rulers a dislike which appears still in his attitude towards the motherland of France. For his new British master he had assuredly no love, but he was no longer dragged off to war and his property was not plundered. He was free, too, to speak his mind. During the first twenty years after the British conquest of Canada the Canadian French matured indeed an assertive liberty not even dreamed of during the previous century and a half of French rule.
The British tyranny which Washington pictured in Canada was thus not very real. He underestimated, too, the antagonism between the Roman Catholics of Canada and the Protestants of the English colonies. The Congress at Philadelphia in denouncing the Quebec Act had accused the Catholic Church of bigotry, persecution, murder, and rebellion. This was no very tactful appeal for sympathy to the sons of that France which was still the eldest daughter of the Church and it was hardly helped by a maladroit turn suggesting that "low-minded infirmities" should not permit such differences to block union in the sacred cause of liberty. Washington believed that two battalions of Canadians might be recruited to fight the British, and that the French Acadians of Nova Scotia, a people so remote that most of them hardly knew what the war was about, were tingling with sympathy for the American cause. In truth the Canadian was not prepared to fight on either side. What the priest and the landowner could do to make him fight for Britain was done, but, for all that, Sir Guy Carleton, the Governor of Canada, found recruiting impossible.
Washington believed that the war would be won by the side which held Canada. He saw that from Canada would be determined the attitude of the savages dwelling in the wild spaces of the interior; he saw, too, that Quebec as a military base in British hands would be a source of grave danger. The easy capture of Fort Ticonderoga led him to underrate difficulties. If Ticonderoga why not Quebec? Nova Scotia might be occupied later, the Acadians helping. Thus it happened that, soon after taking over the command, Washington was busy with a plan for the conquest of Canada. Two forces were to advance into that country; one by way of Lake Champlain under General Schuyler and the other through the forests of Maine under Benedict Arnold.
Schuyler was obliged through illness to give up his command, and it was an odd fortune of war that put General Richard Montgomery at the head of the expedition going by way of Lake Champlain. Montgomery had served with Wolfe at the taking of Louisbourg and had been an officer in the proud British army which had received the surrender of Canada in 1760. Not without searching of heart had Montgomery turned against his former sovereign. He was living in America when war broke out; he had married into an American family of position; and he had come to the view that vital liberty was challenged by the King. Now he did his work well, in spite of very bad material in his army. His New Englanders were, he said, "every man a general and not one of them a soldier." They feigned sickness, though, as far as he had learned, there was "not a man dead of any distemper." No better were the men from New York, "the sweepings of the streets" with morals "infamous." Of the officers, too, Montgomery had a poor opinion. Like Washington he declared that it was necessary to get gentlemen, men of education and integrity, as officers, or disaster would follow. Nevertheless St. Johns, a British post on the Richelieu, about thirty miles across country from Montreal, fell to Montgomery on the 3d of November, after a siege of six weeks; and British regulars under Major Preston, a brave and competent officer, yielded to a crude volunteer army with whole regiments lacking uniforms. Montreal could make no defense. On the 12th of November Montgomery entered Montreal and was in control of the St. Lawrence almost to the cliffs of Quebec. Canada seemed indeed an easy conquest.
The adventurous Benedict Arnold went on an expedition more hazardous. He had persuaded Washington of the impossible, that he could advance through the wilderness from the seacoast of Maine and take Quebec by surprise. News travels even by forest pathways. Arnold made a wonderful effort. Chill autumn was upon him when, on the 25th of September, with about a thousand picked men, he began to advance up the Kennebec River and over the height of land to the upper waters of the Chaudiere, which discharges into the St. Lawrence opposite Quebec. There were heavy rains. Sometimes the men had to wade breast high in dragging heavy and leaking boats over the difficult places. A good many men died of starvation. Others deserted and turned back. The indomitable Arnold pressed on, however, and on the 9th of November, a few days before Montgomery occupied Montreal, he stood with some six hundred worn and shivering men on the strand of the St. Lawrence opposite Quebec. He had not surprised the city and it looked grim and inaccessible as he surveyed it across the great river. In the autumn gales it was not easy to carry over his little army in small boats. But this he accomplished and then waited for Montgomery to join him.
By the 3d of December Montgomery was with Arnold before Quebec. They had hardly more than a thousand effective troops, together with a few hundred Canadians, upon whom no reliance could be placed. Carleton, commanding at Quebec, sat tight and would hold no communication with despised "rebels." "They all pretend to be gentlemen," said an astonished British officer in Quebec, when he heard that among the American officers now captured by the British there were a former blacksmith, a butcher, a shoemaker, and an innkeeper. Montgomery was stung to violent threats by Carleton's contempt, but never could he draw from Carleton a reply. At last Montgomery tried, in the dark of early morning of New Year's Day, 1776, to carry Quebec by storm. He was to lead an attack on the Lower Town from the west side, while Arnold was to enter from the opposite side. When they met in the center they were to storm the citadel on the heights above. They counted on the help of the French inhabitants, from whom Carleton said bitterly enough that he had nothing to fear in prosperity and nothing to hope for in adversity. Arnold pressed his part of the attack with vigor and penetrated to the streets of the Lower Town where he fell wounded. Captain Daniel Morgan, who took over the command, was made prisoner.
Montgomery's fate was more tragic. In spite of protests from his officers, he led in person the attack from the west side of the fortress. The advance was along a narrow road under the towering cliffs of a great precipice. The attack was expected by the British and the guard at the barrier was ordered to hold its fire until the enemy was near. Suddenly there was a roar of cannon and the assailants not swept down fled in panic. With the morning light the dead head of Montgomery was found protruding from the snow. He was mourned by Washington and with reason. He had talents and character which might have made him one of the chief leaders of the revolutionary army. Elsewhere, too, was he mourned. His father, an Irish landowner, had been a member of the British Parliament, and he himself was a Whig, known to Fox and Burke. When news of his death reached England eulogies upon him came from the Whig benches in Parliament which could not have been stronger had he died fighting for the King.
While the outlook in Canada grew steadily darker, the American cause prospered before Boston. There Howe was not at ease. If it was really to be war, which he still doubted, it would be well to seek some other base. Washington helped Howe to take action. Dorchester Heights commanded Boston as critically from the south as did Bunker Hill from the north. By the end of February Washington had British cannon, brought with heavy labor from Ticonderoga, and then he lost no time. On the morning of March 5, 1776, Howe awoke to find that, under cover of a heavy bombardment, American troops had occupied Dorchester Heights and that if he would dislodge them he must make another attack similar to that at Bunker Hill. The alternative of stiff fighting was the evacuation of Boston. Howe, though dilatory, was a good fighting soldier. His defects as a general in America sprang in part from his belief that the war was unjust and that delay might bring counsels making for peace and save bloodshed. His first decision was to attack, but a furious gale thwarted his purpose, and he then prepared for the inevitable step.
Washington divined Howe's purpose and there was a tacit agreement that the retiring army should not be molested. Howe destroyed munitions of war which he could not take away but he left intact the powerful defenses of Boston, defenses reared at the cost of Britain. Many of the better class of the inhabitants, British in their sympathies, were now face to face with bitter sorrow and sacrifice. Passions were so aroused that a hard fate awaited them should they remain in Boston and they decided to leave with the British army. Travel by land was blocked; they could go only by sea. When the time came to depart, laden carriages, trucks, and wheelbarrows crowded to the quays through the narrow streets and a sad procession of exiles went out from their homes. A profane critic said that they moved "as if the very devil was after them." No doubt many of them would have been arrogant and merciless to "rebels" had theirs been the triumph. But the day was above all a day of sorrow. Edward Winslow, a strong leader among them, tells of his tears "at leaving our once happy town of Boston." The ships, a forest of masts, set sail and, crowded with soldiers and refugees, headed straight out to sea for Halifax. Abigail, wife of John Adams, a clever woman, watched the departure of the fleet with gladness in her heart. She thought that never before had been seen in America so many ships bearing so many people. Washington's army marched joyously into Boston. Joyous it might well be since, for the moment, powerful Britain was not secure in a single foot of territory in the former colonies. If Quebec should fall the continent would be almost conquered.
Quebec did not fall. All through the winter the Americans held on before the place. They shivered from cold. They suffered from the dread disease smallpox. They had difficulty in getting food. The Canadians were insistent on having good money for what they offered and since good money was not always in the treasury the invading army sometimes used violence. Then the Canadians became more reserved and chilling than ever. In hope of mending matters Congress sent a commission to Montreal in the spring of 1776. Its chairman was Benjamin Franklin and, with him, were two leading Roman Catholics, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a great landowner of Maryland, and his brother John, a priest, afterwards Archbishop of Baltimore. It was not easy to represent as the liberator of the Catholic Canadians the Congress which had denounced in scathing terms the concessions in the Quebec Act to the Catholic Church. Franklin was a master of conciliation, but before he achieved anything a dramatic event happened. On the 6th of May, British ships arrived at Quebec. The inhabitants rushed to the ramparts. Cries of joy passed from street to street and they reached the little American army, now under General Thomas, encamped on the Plains of Abraham. Panic seized the small force which had held on so long. On the ships were ten thousand fresh British troops. The one thing for the Americans to do was to get away; and they fled, leaving behind guns, supplies, even clothing and private papers. Five days later Franklin, at Montreal, was dismayed by the distressing news of disaster.
Congress sent six regiments to reinforce the army which had fled from Quebec. It was a desperate venture. Washington's orders were that the Americans should fight the new British army as near Quebec as possible. The decisive struggle took place on the 8th of June. An American force under the command of General Thompson attacked Three Rivers, a town on the St. Lawrence, half way between Quebec and Montreal. They were repulsed and the general was taken prisoner. The wonder is indeed that the army was not annihilated. Then followed a disastrous retreat. Short of supplies, ravaged by smallpox, and in bad weather, the invaders tried to make their way back to Lake Champlain. They evacuated Montreal. It is hard enough in the day of success to hold together an untrained army. In the day of defeat such a force is apt to become a mere rabble. Some of the American regiments preserved discipline. Others fell into complete disorder as, weak and discouraged, they retired to Lake Champlain. Many soldiers perished of disease. "I did not look into a hut or a tent," says an observer, "in which I did not find a dead or dying man." Those who had huts were fortunate. The fate of some was to die without medical care and without cover. By the end of June what was left of the force had reached Crown Point on Lake Champlain.
Benedict Arnold, who had been wounded at Quebec, was now at Crown Point. Competent critics of the war have held that what Arnold now did saved the Revolution. In another scene, before the summer ended, the British had taken New York and made themselves masters of the lower Hudson. Had they reached in the same season the upper Hudson by way of Lake Champlain they would have struck blows doubly staggering. This Arnold saw, and his object was to delay, if he could not defeat, the British advance. There was no road through the dense forest by the shores of Lake Champlain and Lake George to the upper Hudson. The British must go down the lake in boats. This General Carleton had foreseen and he had urged that with the fleet sent to Quebec should be sent from England, in sections, boats which could be quickly carried past the rapids of the Richelieu River and launched on Lake Champlain. They had not come and the only thing for Carleton to do was to build a flotilla which could carry an army up the lake and attack Crown Point. The thing was done but skilled workmen were few and not until the 6th of October were the little ships afloat on Lake Champlain. Arnold, too, spent the summer in building boats to meet the attack and it was a strange turn in warfare which now made him commander in a naval fight. There was a brisk struggle on Lake Champlain. Carleton had a score or so of vessels; Arnold not so many. But he delayed Carleton. When he was beaten on the water he burned the ships not captured and took to the land. When he could no longer hold Crown Point he burned that place and retreated to Ticonderoga.
By this time it was late autumn. The British were far from their base and the Americans were retreating into a friendly country. There is little doubt that Carleton could have taken Fort Ticonderoga. It fell quite easily less than a year later. Some of his officers urged him to press on and do it. But the leaves had already fallen, the bleak winter was near, and Carleton pictured to himself an army buried deeply in an enemy country and separated from its base by many scores of miles of lake and forest. He withdrew to Canada and left Lake Champlain to the Americans.
CHAPTER III. INDEPENDENCE
Well-meaning people in England found it difficult to understand the intensity of feeling in America. Britain had piled up a huge debt in driving France from America. Landowners were paying in taxes no less than twenty per cent of their incomes from land. The people who had chiefly benefited by the humiliation of France were the colonists, now freed from hostile menace and secure for extension over a whole continent. Why should not they pay some share of the cost of their own security? Certain facts tended to make Englishmen indignant with the Americans. Every effort had failed to get them to pay willingly for their defense. Before the Stamp Act had become law in 1765 the colonies were given a whole year to devise the raising of money in any way which they liked better. The burden of what was asked would be light. Why should not they agree to bear it? Why this talk, repeated by the Whigs in the British Parliament, of brutal tyranny, oppression, hired minions imposing slavery, and so on. Where were the oppressed? Could any one point to a single person who before war broke out had known British tyranny? What suffering could any one point to as the result of the tax on tea? The people of England paid a tax on tea four times heavier than that paid in America. Was not the British Parliament supreme over the whole Empire? Did not the colonies themselves admit that it had the right to control their trade overseas? And if men shirk their duty should they not come under some law of compulsion?
It was thus that many a plain man reasoned in England. The plain man in America had his own opposing point of view. Debts and taxes in England were not his concern. He remembered the recent war as vividly as did the Englishman, and, if the English paid its cost in gold, he had paid his share in blood and tears. Who made up the armies led by the British generals in America? More than half the total number who served in America came from the colonies, the colonies which had barely a third of the population of Great Britain. True, Britain paid the bill in money but why not? She was rich with a vast accumulated capital. The war, partly in America, had given her the key to the wealth of India. Look at the magnificence, the pomp of servants, plate and pictures, the parks and gardens, of hundreds of English country houses, and compare this opulence with the simple mode of life, simplicity imposed by necessity, of a country gentleman like George Washington of Virginia, reputed to be the richest man in America. Thousands of tenants in England, owning no acre of land, were making a larger income than was possible in America to any owner of broad acres. It was true that America had gained from the late war. The foreign enemy had been struck down. But had he not been struck down too for England? Had there not been far more dread in England of invasion by France and had not the colonies by helping to ruin France freed England as much as England had freed them? If now the colonies were asked to pay a share of the bill for the British army that was a matter for discussion. They had never before done it and they must not be told that they had to meet the demand within a year or be compelled to pay. Was it not to impose tyranny and slavery to tell a people that their property would be taken by force if they did not choose to give it? What free man would not rather die than yield on such a point?
The familiar workings of modern democracy have taught us that a great political issue must be discussed in broad terms of high praise or severe blame. The contestants will exaggerate both the virtue of the side they espouse and the malignity of the opposing side; nice discrimination is not possible. It was inevitable that the dispute with the colonies should arouse angry vehemence on both sides. The passionate speech of Patrick Henry in Virginia, in 1763, which made him famous, and was the forerunner of his later appeal, "Give me Liberty or give me Death," related to so prosaic a question as the right of disallowance by England of an act passed by a colonial legislature, a right exercised long and often before that time and to this day a part of the constitutional machinery of the British Empire. Few men have lived more serenely poised than Washington, yet, as we have seen, he hated the British with an implacable hatred. He was a humane man. In earlier years, Indian raids on the farmers of Virginia had stirred him to "deadly sorrow," and later, during his retreat from New York, he was moved by the cries of the weak and infirm. Yet the same man felt no touch of pity for the Loyalists of the Revolution. To him they were detestable parricides, vile traitors, with no right to live. When we find this note in Washington, in America, we hardly wonder that the high Tory, Samuel Johnson, in England, should write that the proposed taxation was no tyranny, that it had not been imposed earlier because "we do not put a calf into the plough; we wait till he is an ox," and that the Americans were "a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything which we allow them short of hanging." Tyranny and treason are both ugly things. Washington believed that he was fighting the one, Johnson that he was fighting the other, and neither side would admit the charge against itself.
Such are the passions aroused by civil strife. We need not now, when they are, or ought to be, dead, spend any time in deploring them. It suffices to explain them and the events to which they led. There was one and really only one final issue. Were the American colonies free to govern themselves as they liked or might their government in the last analysis be regulated by Great Britain? The truth is that the colonies had reached a condition in which they regarded themselves as British states with their own parliaments, exercising complete jurisdiction in their own affairs. They intended to use their own judgment and they were as restless under attempted control from England as England would have been under control from America. We can indeed always understand the point of view of Washington if we reverse the position and imagine what an Englishman would have thought of a claim by America to tax him.
An ancient and proud society is reluctant to change. After a long and successful war England was prosperous. To her now came riches from India and the ends of the earth. In society there was such lavish expenditure that Horace Walpole declared an income of twenty thousand pounds a year was barely enough. England had an aristocracy the proudest in the world, for it had not only rank but wealth. The English people were certain of the invincible superiority of their nation. Every Englishman was taught, as Disraeli said of a later period, to believe that he occupied a position better than any one else of his own degree in any other country in the world. The merchant in England was believed to surpass all others in wealth and integrity, the manufacturer to have no rivals in skill, the British sailor to stand in a class by himself, the British officer to express the last word in chivalry. It followed, of course, that the motherland was superior to her children overseas. The colonies had no aristocracy, no great landowners living in stately palaces. They had almost no manufactures. They had no imposing state system with places and pensions from which the fortunate might reap a harvest of ten or even twenty thousand pounds a year. They had no ancient universities thronged by gilded youth who, if noble, might secure degrees without the trying ceremony of an examination. They had no Established Church with the ancient glories of its cathedrals. In all America there was not even a bishop. In spite of these contrasts the English Whigs insisted upon the political equality with themselves of the American colonists. The Tory squire, however, shared Samuel Johnson's view that colonists were either traders or farmers and that colonial shopkeeping society was vulgar and contemptible.
George III was ill-fitted by nature to deal with the crisis. The King was not wholly without natural parts, for his own firm will had achieved what earlier kings had tried and failed to do; he had mastered Parliament, made it his obedient tool and himself for a time a despot. He had some admirable virtues. He was a family man, the father of fifteen children. He liked quiet amusements and had wholesome tastes. If industry and belief in his own aims could of themselves make a man great we might reverence George. He wrote once to Lord North: "I have no object but to be of use: if that is ensured I am completely happy." The King was always busy. Ceaseless industry does not, however, include every virtue, or the author of all evil would rank high in goodness. Wisdom must be the pilot of good intentions. George was not wise. He was ill-educated. He had never traveled. He had no power to see the point of view of others.
As if nature had not sufficiently handicapped George for a high part, fate placed him on the throne at the immature age of twenty-two. Henceforth the boy was master, not pupil. Great nobles and obsequious prelates did him reverence. Ignorant and obstinate, the young King was determined not only to reign but to rule, in spite of the new doctrine that Parliament, not the King, carried on the affairs of government through the leader of the majority in the House of Commons, already known as the Prime Minister. George could not really change what was the last expression of political forces in England. The rule of Parliament had come to stay. Through it and it alone could the realm be governed. This power, however, though it could not be destroyed, might be controlled. Parliament, while retaining all its privileges, might yet carry out the wishes of the sovereign. The King might be his own Prime Minister. The thing could be done if the King's friends held a majority of the seats and would do what their master directed. It was a dark day for England when a king found that he could play off one faction against another, buy a majority in Parliament, and retain it either by paying with guineas or with posts and dignities which the bought Parliament left in his gift. This corruption it was which ruined the first British Empire.
We need not doubt that George thought it his right and also his duty to coerce America, or rather, as he said, the clamorous minority which was trying to force rebellion. He showed no lack of sincerity. On October 26, 1775, while Washington was besieging Boston, he opened Parliament with a speech which at any rate made the issue clear enough. Britain would not give up colonies which she had founded with severe toil and nursed with great kindness. Her army and her navy, both now increased in size, would make her power respected. She would not, however, deal harshly with her erring children. Royal mercy would be shown to those who admitted their error and they need not come to England to secure it. Persons in America would be authorized to grant pardons and furnish the guarantees which would proceed from the royal clemency.
Such was the magnanimity of George III. Washington's rage at the tone of the speech is almost amusing in its vehemence. He, with a mind conscious of rectitude and sacrifice in a great cause, to ask pardon for his course! He to bend the knee to this tyrant overseas! Washington himself was not highly gifted with imagination. He never realized the strength of the forces in England arrayed on his own side and attributed to the English, as a whole, sinister and malignant designs always condemned by the great mass of the English people. They, no less than the Americans, were the victims of a turn in politics which, for a brief period, and for only a brief period, left power in the hands of a corrupt Parliament and a corrupting king.
Ministers were not all corrupt or place-hunters. One of them, the Earl of Dartmouth, was a saint in spirit. Lord North, the king's chief minister, was not corrupt. He disliked his office and wished to leave it. In truth no sweeping simplicity of condemnation will include all the ministers of George III except on this one point that they allowed to dictate their policy a narrow-minded and ignorant king. It was their right to furnish a policy and to exercise the powers of government, appoint to office, spend the public revenues. Instead they let the King say that the opinions of his ministers had no avail with him. If we ask why, the answer is that there was a mixture of motives. North stayed in office because the King appealed to his loyalty, a plea hard to resist under an ancient monarchy. Others stayed from love of power or for what they could get. In that golden age of patronage it was possible for a man to hold a plurality of offices which would bring to himself many thousands of pounds a year, and also to secure the reversion of offices and pensions to his children. Horace Walpole spent a long life in luxurious ease because of offices with high pay and few duties secured in the distant days of his father's political power. Contracts to supply the army and the navy went to friends of the government, sometimes with disastrous results, since the contractor often knew nothing of the business he undertook. When, in 1777, the Admiralty boasted that thirty-five ships of war were ready to put to sea it was found that there were in fact only six. The system nearly ruined the navy. It actually happened that planks of a man-of-war fell out through rot and that she sank. Often ropes and spars could not be had when most needed. When a public loan was floated the King's friends and they alone were given the shares at a price which enabled them to make large profits on the stock market.
The system could endure only as long as the King's friends had a majority in the House of Commons. Elections must be looked after. The King must have those on whom he could always depend. He controlled offices and pensions. With these things he bought members and he had to keep them bought by repeating the benefits. If the holder of a public office was thought to be dying the King was already naming to his Prime Minister the person to whom the office must go when death should occur. He insisted that many posts previously granted for life should now be given during his pleasure so that he might dismiss the holders at will. He watched the words and the votes in Parliament of public men and woe to those in his power if they displeased him. When he knew that Fox, his great antagonist, would be absent from Parliament he pressed through measures which Fox would have opposed. It was not until George III was King that the buying and selling of boroughs became common. The King bought votes in the boroughs by paying high prices for trifles. He even went over the lists of voters and had names of servants of the government inserted if this seemed needed to make a majority secure. One of the most unedifying scenes in English history is that of George making a purchase in a shop at Windsor and because of this patronage asking for the shopkeeper's support in a local election. The King was saving and penurious in his habits that he might have the more money to buy votes. When he had no money left he would go to Parliament and ask for a special grant for his needs and the bought members could not refuse the money for their buying.
The people of England knew that Parliament was corrupt. But how to end the system? The press was not free. Some of it the government bought and the rest it tried to intimidate though often happily in vain. Only fragments of the debates in Parliament were published. Not until 1779 did the House of Commons admit the public to its galleries. No great political meetings were allowed until just before the American war and in any case the masses had no votes. The great landowners had in their control a majority of the constituencies. There were scores of pocket boroughs in which their nominees were as certain of election as peers were of their seats in the House of Lords. The disease of England was deep-seated. A wise king could do much, but while George III survived—and his reign lasted sixty years—there was no hope of a wise king. A strong minister could impose his will on the King. But only time and circumstance could evolve a strong minister. Time and circumstance at length produced the younger Pitt. But it needed the tragedy of two long wars—those against the colonies and revolutionary France—before the nation finally threw off the system which permitted the personal rule of George III and caused the disruption of the Empire. It may thus be said with some truth that George Washington was instrumental in the salvation of England.
The ministers of George III loved the sports, the rivalries, the ease, the remoteness of their rural magnificence. Perverse fashion kept them in London even in April and May for "the season," just when in the country nature was most alluring. Otherwise they were off to their estates whenever they could get away from town. The American Revolution was not remotely affected by this habit. With ministers long absent in the country important questions were postponed or forgotten. The crisis which in the end brought France into the war was partly due to the carelessness of a minister hurrying away to the country. Lord George Germain, who directed military operations in America, dictated a letter which would have caused General Howe to move northward from New York to meet General Burgoyne advancing from Canada. Germain went off to the country without waiting to sign the letter; it was mislaid among other papers; Howe was without needed instructions; and the disaster followed of Burgoyne's surrender. Fox pointed out, that, at a time when there was a danger that a foreign army might land in England, not one of the King's ministers was less than fifty miles from London. They were in their parks and gardens, or hunting or fishing. Nor did they stay away for a few days only. The absence was for weeks or even months.
It is to the credit of Whig leaders in England, landowners and aristocrats as they were, that they supported with passion the American cause. In America, where the forces of the Revolution were in control, the Loyalist who dared to be bold for his opinions was likely to be tarred and feathered and to lose his property. There was an embittered intolerance. In England, however, it was an open question in society whether to be for or against the American cause. The Duke of Richmond, a great grandson of Charles II, said in the House of Lords that under no code should the fighting Americans be considered traitors. What they did was "perfectly justifiable in every possible political and moral sense." All the world knows that Chatham and Burke and Fox urged the conciliation of America and hundreds took the same stand. Burke said of General Conway, a man of position, that when he secured a majority in the House of Commons against the Stamp Act his face shone as the face of an angel. Since the bishops almost to a man voted with the King, Conway attacked them as in this untrue to their high office. Sir George Savile, whose benevolence, supported by great wealth, made him widely respected and loved, said that the Americans were right in appealing to arms. Coke of Norfolk was a landed magnate who lived in regal style. His seat of Holkham was one of those great new palaces which the age reared at such elaborate cost. It was full of beautiful things—the art of Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and Van Dyke, rare manuscripts, books, and tapestries. So magnificent was Coke that a legend long ran that his horses were shod with gold and that the wheels of his chariots were of solid silver. In the country he drove six horses. In town only the King did this. Coke despised George III, chiefly on account of his American policy, and to avoid the reproach of rivaling the King's estate, he took joy in driving past the palace in London with a donkey as his sixth animal and in flicking his whip at the King. When he was offered a peerage by the King he denounced with fiery wrath the minister through whom it was offered as attempting to bribe him. Coke declared that if one of the King's ministers held up a hat in the House of Commons and said that it was a green bag the majority of the members would solemnly vote that it was a green bag. The bribery which brought this blind obedience of Toryism filled Coke with fury. In youth he had been taught never to trust a Tory and he could say "I never have and, by God, I never will." One of his children asked their mother whether Tories were born wicked or after birth became wicked. The uncompromising answer was: "They are born wicked and they grow up worse."
There is, of course, in much of this something of the malignance of party. In an age when one reverend theologian, Toplady, called another theologian, John Wesley, "a low and puny tadpole in Divinity" we must expect harsh epithets. But behind this bitterness lay a deep conviction of the righteousness of the American cause. At a great banquet at Holkham, Coke omitted the toast of the King; but every night during the American war he drank the health of Washington as the greatest man on earth. The war, he said, was the King's war, ministers were his tools, the press was bought. He denounced later the King's reception of the traitor Arnold. When the King's degenerate son, who became George IV, after some special misconduct, wrote to propose his annual visit to Holkham, Coke replied, "Holkham is open to strangers on Tuesdays." It was an independent and irate England which spoke in Coke. Those who paid taxes, he said, should control those who governed. America was not getting fair play. Both Coke and Fox, and no doubt many others, wore waistcoats of blue and buff because these were the colors of the uniforms of Washington's army.
Washington and Coke exchanged messages and they would have been congenial companions; for Coke, like Washington, was above all a farmer and tried to improve agriculture. Never for a moment, he said, had time hung heavy on his hands in the country. He began on his estate the culture of the potato, and for some time the best he could hear of it from his stolid tenantry was that it would not poison the pigs. Coke would have fought the levy of a penny of unjust taxation and he understood Washington. The American gentleman and the English gentleman had a common outlook.
Now had come, however, the hour for political separation. By reluctant but inevitable steps America made up its mind to declare for independence. At first continued loyalty to the King was urged on the plea that he was in the hands of evil-minded ministers, inspired by diabolical rage, or in those of an "infernal villain" such as the soldier, General Gage, a second Pharaoh; though it must be admitted that even then the King was "the tyrant of Great Britain." After Bunker Hill spasmodic declarations of independence were made here and there by local bodies. When Congress organized an army, invaded Canada, and besieged Boston, it was hard to protest loyalty to a King whose forces were those of an enemy. Moreover independence would, in the eyes at least of foreign governments, give the colonies the rights of belligerents and enable them to claim for their fighting forces the treatment due to a regular army and the exchange of prisoners with the British. They could, too, make alliances with other nations. Some clamored for independence for a reason more sinister—that they might punish those who held to the King and seize their property. There were thirteen colonies in arms and each of them had to form some kind of government which would work without a king as part of its mechanism. One by one such governments were formed. King George, as we have seen, helped the colonies to make up their minds. They were in no mood to be called erring children who must implore undeserved mercy and not force a loving parent to take unwilling vengeance. "Our plantations" and "our subjects in the colonies" would simply not learn obedience. If George III would not reply to their petitions until they laid down their arms, they could manage to get on without a king. If England, as Horace Walpole admitted, would not take them seriously and speakers in Parliament called them obscure ruffians and cowards, so much the worse for England.