The War of Independence Part 4

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The events of the last twelve months had gone further than anything before toward awakening a sentiment of union among the people of the colonies. It was still a feeble sentiment, but it was strong enough to make them all feel that Boston was suffering in the common cause. The system of corresponding committees now ripened into the Continental Congress, which held its first meeting at Philadelphia in September, 1774. Among the delegates were Samuel and John Adams, Robert Livingston, John Rutledge, John d.i.c.kinson, Samuel Chase, Edmund Pendleton, Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, and George Washington. Their action was cautious and conservative. They confined themselves for the present to trying the effect of a candid statement of grievances, and drew up a Declaration of Rights and other papers, which were p.r.o.nounced by Lord Chatham unsurpa.s.sed for ability in any age or country. In Parliament, however, the king’s friends were becoming all-powerful, and the only effect produced by these papers was to goad them toward further attempts at coercion. Ma.s.sachusetts was declared to be in a state of rebellion, as in truth she was.

[Sidenote: The Suffolk Resolves, Sept. 1774.]

While Samuel Adams was at Philadelphia, the lead in Boston was taken by his friend Dr. Warren. In a county convention held at Milton in September, Dr. Warren drew up a series of resolves which fairly set on foot the Revolution. They declared that the Regulating Act was null and void, and that a king who violates the chartered rights of his subjects forfeits their allegiance; they directed the collectors of taxes to refuse to pay the money collected to Gage’s treasurer; and they threatened retaliation in case Gage should venture to arrest any one for political reasons. These bold resolves were adopted by the convention and sanctioned by the Continental Congress. Next month the people of Ma.s.sachusetts formed a provisional government, and began organizing a militia and collecting military stores at Concord and other inland towns.

[Sidenote: Battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775.]

General Gage’s position at this time was a trying one for a man of his temperament. In an unguarded moment he had a.s.sured the king that four regiments ought to be enough to bring Ma.s.sachusetts into an att.i.tude of penitence. Now Ma.s.sachusetts was in an att.i.tude of rebellion, and he realized that he had not troops enough to command the situation. People in England were blaming him for not doing something, and late in the winter he received a positive order to arrest Samuel Adams and his friend John Hanc.o.c.k, then at the head of the new provisional government of Ma.s.sachusetts, and send them to England to be tried for high treason.

On the 18th of April, 1775, these gentlemen were staying at a friend’s house in Lexington; and Gage that evening sent out a force of 800 men to seize the military stores acc.u.mulated at Concord, with instructions to stop on the way at Lexington and arrest Adams and Hanc.o.c.k. But Dr.

Warren divined the purpose of the movement, and his messenger, Paul Revere, succeeded in forewarning the people, so that by the time the troops arrived at Lexington the birds were flown. The soldiers fired into a company of militia on Lexington common and slew eight or ten of their number; but by the time they reached Concord the country was fairly aroused and armed yeomanry were coming upon the scene by hundreds. In a sharp skirmish the British were defeated and, without having accomplished any of the objects of their expedition, began their retreat toward Boston, hotly pursued by the farmers who fired from behind walls and trees after the Indian fashion. A reinforcement of 1200 men at Lexington saved the routed troops from destruction, but the numbers of their a.s.sailants grew so rapidly that even this larger force barely succeeded in escaping capture. At sunset the British reached Charlestown after a march which was a series of skirmishes, leaving nearly 300 of their number killed or wounded along the road. By that time yeomanry from twenty-three townships had joined in the pursuit. The alarm spread like wildfire through New England, and fresh bands of militia arrived every hour. Within three days Israel Putnam and Benedict Arnold had come from Connecticut and John Stark from New Hampshire, a cordon of 16,000 men was drawn around Boston, and the siege of that town was begun.

[Sidenote: Capture of Ticonderoga, May 10, 1775.]

[Sidenote: Washington appointed to command the army, June 15, 1775.]

[Sidenote: Charles Lee.]

The belligerent feeling in New England had now grown so strong as to show itself in an act of offensive warfare. On the 10th of May, just three weeks after Lexington, the fortresses at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, controlling the line of communication between New York and Canada, were surprised and captured by men from the Green Mountains and Connecticut valley under Ethan Allen and Seth Warner. The Congress, which met on that same day at Philadelphia, showed some reluctance in sanctioning an act so purely offensive; but in its choice of a president the spirit of defiance toward Great Britain was plainly shown. John Hanc.o.c.k, whom the British commander-in-chief was under stringent orders to arrest and send over to England to be tried for treason, was chosen to that eminent position on the 24th of May. This showed that the preponderance of sentiment in the country was in favour of supporting the New England colonies in the armed struggle into which they had drifted. This was still further shown two days later, when Congress in the name of the “United Colonies of America” a.s.sumed the direction of the rustic army of New England men engaged in the siege of Boston. As Congress was absolutely penniless and had no power to lay taxes, it proceeded to borrow 6000 for the purchase of gunpowder. It called for ten companies of riflemen from Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, to reinforce what was henceforth known as the Continental army; and on the 15th of June it appointed George Washington commander-in-chief. The choice of Washington was partly due to the general confidence in his ability and in his lofty character. In the French War he had won a military reputation higher than that of any other American, and he was already commander-in-chief of the forces of Virginia. But the choice was also partly due to sound political reasons. The Ma.s.sachusetts leaders, especially Samuel Adams and his cousin John, were distrusted by some people as extremists and fire-eaters. They wished to bring about a declaration of independence, for they believed it to be the only possible cure for the evils of the time. The leaders in other colonies, upon which the hand of the British government had not borne so heavily, had not yet advanced quite so far as this. Most of them believed that the king could be brought to terms; they did not realize that he would never give way because it was politically as much a life and death struggle for him as for them. Washington was not yet clearly in favour of independence, nor was Jefferson, who a twelvemonth hence was to be engaged in writing the Declaration. It is doubtful if any of the leading men as yet agreed with the Adamses, except Dr. Franklin, who had just returned from England after his ten years’ stay there, and knew very well how little hope was to be placed in conciliatory measures. The Adamses, therefore, like wise statesmen, were always on their guard lest circ.u.mstances should drive Ma.s.sachusetts in the path of rebellion faster than the sister colonies were likely to keep pace with her. This was what the king above all things wished, and by the same token it was what they especially dreaded and sought to avoid. To appoint George Washington to the chief command was to go a long way toward irrevocably committing Virginia to the same cause with Ma.s.sachusetts, and John Adams was foremost in urging the appointment. Its excellence was obvious to every one, and we hear of only two persons that were dissatisfied. One of these was John Hanc.o.c.k, who coveted military distinction and was vain enough to think himself fit for almost any position. The other was Charles Lee, a British officer who had served in America in the French War and afterward wandered about Europe as a soldier of fortune. He had returned to America in 1773 in the hope of playing a leading part here.

He set himself up as an authority on military questions, and pretended to be a zealous lover of liberty. He was really an unprincipled charlatan for whom, the kindest thing that can be said is that perhaps he was slightly insane. He had hoped to be appointed to the chief command, and was disgusted when he found himself placed second among the four major-generals. The first major-general was Artemas Ward of Ma.s.sachusetts; the third was Philip Schuyler of New York; the fourth was Israel Putnam of Connecticut. Eight brigadier-generals were appointed, among whom we may here mention Richard Montgomery of New York, William Heath of Ma.s.sachusetts, John Sullivan of New Hampshire, and Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island. The adjutant-general, Horatio Gates, was an Englishman who had served in the French War, and since then had lived in Virginia.

[Sidenote: Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775.]

While Congress was appointing officers and making regulations for the Continental army, reinforcements for the British had landed in Boston, making their army 10,000 strong. The new troops were commanded by General William Howe, a Whig who disapproved of the king’s policy. With him came Sir Henry Clinton and John Burgoyne, who were more in sympathy with the king. Howe and Burgoyne were members of Parliament. On the arrival of these reinforcements Gage prepared to occupy the heights in Charlestown known as Breed’s and Bunker’s hills. These heights commanded Boston, so that hostile batteries placed there would make it necessary for the British to evacuate the town. On the night of June 16, the Americans antic.i.p.ated Gage in seizing the heights, and began erecting fortifications on Breed’s Hill. It was an exposed position for the American force, which might easily have been cut off and captured if the British had gone around by sea and occupied Charlestown Neck in the rear. The British preferred to storm the American works. In two desperate a.s.saults, on the afternoon of the 17th, they were repulsed with the loss of one-third of their number; and the third a.s.sault succeeded only because the Americans were not supplied with powder. By driving the Americans back to Winter Hill, the British won an important victory and kept their hold upon Boston. The moral effect of the battle, however, was in favour of the Americans, for it clearly indicated that under proper circ.u.mstances they might exhibit a power of resistance which the British would find it impossible to overcome. It was with George III. as with Pyrrhus: he could not afford to win many victories at such cost, for his supply of soldiers for America was limited, and his only hope of success lay in inflicting heavy blows. In winning Bunker Hill his troops were only holding their own; the siege of Boston was not raised for a moment.

The practical effect upon the British army was to keep it quiet for several months. General Howe, who presently superseded Gage, was a brave and well-trained soldier, but slothful in temperament. His way was to strike a blow, and then wait to see what would come of it, hoping no doubt that political affairs might soon take such a turn as to make it unnecessary to go on with this fratricidal war. This was fortunate for the Americans, for when Washington took command of the army at Cambridge on the 3d of July, he saw that little or nothing could be done with that army until it should be far better organized, disciplined, and equipped, and in such work he found enough to occupy him for several months.

[Sidenote: Last pet.i.tion to the king; and its answer.]

[Ill.u.s.tration: Invasion of Canada by Montgomery and Arnold.]

Meanwhile Congress, at the instance of John d.i.c.kinson of Pennsylvania and John Jay of New York, decided to try the effect of one more candid statement of affairs, in the form of a pet.i.tion to the king. This paper reached London on the 14th of August, but the king refused to receive it, although it was signed by the delegates as separate individuals and not as members of an unauthorized or revolutionary body. His only answer was a proclamation dated August 23, in which he called for volunteers to aid in putting down the rebellion in America. At the same time he opened negotiations with the landgrave of Hesse-Ca.s.sel, the duke of Brunswick, and other petty German princes, and succeeded in hiring 20,000 troops to be sent to fight against his American subjects. When the news of this reached America it produced a profound effect. Perhaps nothing done in that year went so far toward destroying the lingering sentiment of loyalty.

[Sidenote: Americans invade Canada, Aug., 1775–June, 1776.]

In the spring Congress had hesitated about encouraging offensive operations. In the course of the summer it was ascertained that the governor of Canada, Sir Guy Carleton, was planning an invasion of northern New York and hoping to obtain the cooperation of the Six Nations and the Tories of the Mohawk valley. Congress accordingly decided to forestall him by invading Canada. Two lines of invasion were adopted. Montgomery descended Lake Champlain with 2000 men, and after a campaign of two months captured Montreal on the 12th of November. At the same time Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan set out from Cambridge with 1200 men, and made their way through the wilderness of Maine, up the valley of the Kennebec and down that of the Chaudiere, coming out upon the St. Lawrence opposite Quebec on the 13th of November. This long march through the primeval forest and over rugged and trackless mountains was one of the most remarkable exploits of the war. It cost the lives of 200 men, but besides this the rear-guard gave out and went back to Cambridge, so that when Arnold reached Quebec he had only 700 men, too few for an attack upon the town. After Montgomery joined him, it was decided to carry the works by storm, but in the unsuccessful a.s.sault on December 31, Montgomery was killed, Arnold disabled, and Morgan taken prisoner. During the winter Carleton was reinforced until he was able to recapture Montreal. The Americans were gradually driven back, and by June, 1776, had retreated to Crown Point. Carleton then resumed his preparations for invading New York.

[Sidenote: Washington takes Boston, March 17, 1776.]

While the northern campaign was progressing thus unfavourably, the British were at length driven from Boston. Howe had unaccountably neglected to occupy Dorchester heights, which commanded the town; and Washington, after waiting till a sufficient number of heavy guns could be collected, advanced on the night of March 4 and occupied them with 2000 men. His position was secure. The British had no alternative but to carry it by storm or retire from Boston. Not caring to repeat the experiment of Bunker Hill, they embarked on the 17th of March and sailed to Halifax, where they busied themselves in preparations for an expedition against New York. Late in April Washington transferred his headquarters to New York, where he was able to muster about 8000 men for its defence. Thus the line of the Hudson river was now threatened with attack at both its upper and lower ends.

[Sidenote: Lord Dunmore in Virginia.]

This change in the seat of war marks the change that had come over the political situation. It was no longer merely a rebellious Ma.s.sachusetts that must be subdued; it was a continental Union that must be broken up.

During the winter and spring the sentiment in favour of a declaration of independence had rapidly grown in strength. In November, 1775, Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, sought to intimidate the revolutionary party by a proclamation offering freedom to such slaves as would enlist under the king’s banner. This aroused the country against Dunmore, and in December he was driven from Norfolk and took refuge in a ship of war. On New Year’s Day he bombarded the town and laid it in ashes from one end to the other. This violence rapidly made converts to the revolutionary party, and further lessons were learned from the experience of their neighbours in North Carolina.

[Sidenote: North Carolina and Virginia.]

That colony was the scene of fierce contests between Whigs and Tories.

As early as May 31, 1775, the patriots of Mecklenburg county had adopted resolutions pointing toward independence and forwarded them to their delegates in Congress, who deemed it impolitic, however, to lay them before that body. Josiah Martin, royal governor of North Carolina, was obliged to flee on board ship in July. He busied himself with plans for the complete subjugation of the southern colonies, and corresponded with the government in London, as well as with his Tory friends ash.o.r.e.

In pursuance of these plans Sir Henry Clinton, with 2000 men, was detached in January, 1776, from the army in Boston, and sent to the North Carolina coast; a fleet under Sir Peter Parker was sent from Ireland to meet him; and a force of 1600 Tories was gathered to a.s.sist him as soon as he should arrive. But the scheme utterly failed. The fleet was buffeted by adverse winds and did not arrive; the Tories were totally defeated on February 27 in a sharp fight at Moore’s Creek; and Clinton, thus deprived of his allies, deemed it most prudent for a while to keep his troops on shipboard. On the 12th of April the patriots of North Carolina instructed their delegates in Congress to concur with other delegates in a declaration of independence. On the 14th of May Virginia went further, and instructed her delegates to propose such a declaration. South Carolina, Georgia, and Rhode Island expressed a willingness to concur in any measures which Congress might think best calculated to promote the general welfare. In the course of May town-meetings throughout Ma.s.sachusetts expressed opinions unanimously in favour of independence.

Ma.s.sachusetts had already, as long ago as July, 1775, framed a new government in which the king was not recognized; and her example had been followed by New Hampshire in January, 1776, and by South Carolina in March. Now on the 15th of May Congress adopted a resolution advising all the other colonies to form new governments, because the king had “withdrawn his protection” from the American people, and all governments deriving their powers from him were accordingly set aside as of no account. This resolution was almost equivalent to a declaration of independence, and it was adopted only after hot debate and earnest opposition from the middle colonies.

[Sidenote: Richard Henry Lee’s motion in Congress.]

On the 7th of June, in accordance with the instructions of May 14 from Virginia, Richard Henry Lee submitted to Congress the following resolutions:–

“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved;

“That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign alliances;

“That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective colonies for their consideration and approbation.”

This motion of Virginia, in which Independence and Union went hand in hand, was at once seconded by Ma.s.sachusetts, as represented by John Adams. It was opposed by John d.i.c.kinson and James Wilson of Pennsylvania, and by Robert Livingston of New York, on the ground that the people of the middle colonies were not yet ready to sever the connection with the mother country. As the result of the discussion it was decided to wait three weeks, in the hope of hearing from all those colonies which had not yet declared themselves.

The messages from those colonies came promptly enough. As for Connecticut and New Hampshire, there could be no doubt; and their declarations for independence, on the 14th and 15th of June respectively, were simply dilatory expressions of their sentiments. They were late, only because Connecticut had no need to form a new government at all, while New Hampshire had formed one as long ago as January. Their support of the proposed declaration of independence was already secured, and it was only in the formal announcement of it that they were somewhat belated. But with the middle colonies it was different. There the parties were more evenly balanced, and it was not until the last moment that the decision was clearly p.r.o.nounced. This was not because they were less patriotic than the other colonies, but because their direct grievances were fewer, and up to this moment they had hoped that the quarrel was one which a change of ministry in Great Britain might adjust. In the earlier stages of the quarrel they had been ready enough to join hands with Ma.s.sachusetts and Virginia. It was only on this irrevocable decision as to independence that they were slow to act.

[Sidenote: The middle colonies.]

But in the course of the month of June their responses to the invitation of Congress came in,–from Delaware on the 14th, from New Jersey on the 22d, from Pennsylvania on the 24th, from Maryland on the 28th. This action of the middle colonies was avowedly based on the ground that, in any event, united action was the thing most to be desired; so that, whatever their individual preferences might be, they were ready to subordinate them to the interests of the whole country. The broad and n.o.ble spirit of patriotism shown in their resolves is worthy of no less credit than the bold action of the colonies which, under the stimulus of direct aggression, first threw down the gauntlet to George III.

On the 1st of July, when Lee’s motion was taken up in Congress, all the colonies had been heard from except New York. The circ.u.mstances of this central colony were peculiar. We have already seen that the Tory party was especially strong in New York. Besides this, her position was more exposed to attack on all sides than that of any other state. As the military centre of the Union, her territory was sure to be the scene of the most desperate fighting. She was already threatened with invasion from Canada. As a frontier state she was exposed to the incursions of the terrible Iroquois, and as a sea-board state she was open to the attack of the British fleet. At that time, moreover, the population of New York numbered only about 170,000, and she ranked seventh among the thirteen colonies. The military problem was therefore much harder for New York than for Ma.s.sachusetts or Virginia. Her risks were greater than those of any other colony. For these reasons the Whig party in New York found itself seriously hampered in its movements, and the 1st of July arrived before their delegates in Congress had been instructed how to vote on the question of independence.

[Sidenote: Difficulties in New York.]

Richard Henry Lee had been suddenly called home to Virginia by the illness of his wife, and so the task of defending his motion fell upon John Adams who had seconded it. His speech on that occasion was so able that Thomas Jefferson afterward spoke of him as “the Colossus of that debate.” As Congress sat with closed doors and no report was made of the speech, we have no definite knowledge of its arguments. Fifty years afterwards, shortly after John Adams’s death, Daniel Webster wrote an imaginary speech containing what in substance he _might_ have said. The argument in opposition was made by John d.i.c.kinson, who thought that before the Americans finally committed themselves to a deadly struggle with Great Britain, they ought to establish some stronger government than the Continental Congress, and ought also to secure a promise of help from some such country as France. This advice was cautious, but it was not sound and practical. War had already begun, and if we had waited to agree upon some permanent kind of government before committing all the colonies to a formal defiance of Great Britain, there was great danger that the enemy might succeed in breaking up the Union before it was really formed. Besides, it is not likely that France would ever have decided to go to war in our behalf until we had shown that we were able to defend ourselves. It was now a time when the boldest advice was the safest.

[Sidenote: The Declaration of Independence, July 1 to 4, 1776.]

During this debate on the 1st of July Congress was sitting as a committee of the whole, and at the close of the day a preliminary vote was taken. Like all the votes in the Continental Congress, it was taken by colonies. The majority of votes in each delegation determined the vote of that colony. Each colony had one vote, and two-thirds of the whole number, or nine colonies against four, were necessary for a decision. On this occasion the New York delegates did not vote at all, because they had no instructions. One delegate from Delaware voted yea and another nay; the third delegate, Caesar Rodney, had been down in the lower counties of his little state, arguing against the loyalists. A special messenger had been sent to hurry him back, but he had not yet arrived, and so the vote of Delaware was divided and lost. Pennsylvania declared in the negative by four votes against three. South Carolina also declared in the negative. The other nine colonies all voted in the affirmative, and so the resolution received just votes enough to carry it. A very little more opposition would have defeated it, and would probably have postponed the declaration for several weeks.

The next day Congress took the formal vote upon the resolution. Mr.

Rodney had now arrived, so that the vote of Delaware was given in the affirmative. John d.i.c.kinson and Robert Morris stayed away, so that Pennsylvania was now secured for the affirmative by three votes against two. Though d.i.c.kinson and Morris were so slow to believe it necessary or prudent to declare independence, they were firm supporters of the declaration after it was made. Without Morris, indeed, it is hard to see how the Revolution could have succeeded. He was the great financier of his time, and his efforts in raising money for the support of our hard-pressed armies were wonderful.

When the turn of the South Carolina delegates came they changed their votes in order that the declaration might go forth to the world as the unanimous act of the American people. The question was thus settled on the 2d of July, and the next thing was to decide upon the form of the declaration, which Jefferson, who was weak in debate but strong with the pen, had already drafted. The work was completed on the 4th of July, when Jefferson’s draft was adopted and published to the world. Five days afterward the state of New York declared her approval of these proceedings. The Rubicon was crossed, and the thirteen English colonies had become the United States of America.



[Sidenote: Lord Cornwallis.]

While these things were going on at Philadelphia, the coast of South Carolina, as well as the harbour of New York, was threatened by the British fleet. When the delegates from South Carolina gave their votes on the question of independence, they did not know but the revolutionary government in Charleston might already have been taken captive or scattered in flight. After a stormy voyage Sir Peter Parker’s squadron at length arrived off Cape Fear early in May, and joined Sir Henry Clinton. Along with Sir Peter came an officer worthy of especial mention. Charles, Earl Cornwallis, was then thirty-eight years old. He had long served with distinction in the British army, and had lately reached the grade of lieutenant-general. In politics he was a New Whig, and had on several occasions signified his disapproval of the king’s policy toward America. As a commander his promptness and vigour contrasted strongly with the slothfulness of General Howe. Cornwallis was the ablest of the British generals engaged in the Revolutionary War, and among the public men of his time there were few, if any, more high-minded, disinterested, faithful, and pure. After the war was over, he won great fame as governor-general of India from 1786 to 1794. He was afterward raised to the rank of marquis and appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland. In 1805 he was sent out again to govern India, and died there.

[Sidenote: Battle of Fort Moultrie, June 28, 1776.]

The War of Independence Part 3

If you are looking for The War of Independence Part 3 you are coming to the right place.
The War of Independence is a Webnovel created by John Fiske.
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Seats for these rotten boroughs, as they were called, were simply bought and sold. Political life in England was exceedingly corrupt; some of the best statesmen indulged in wholesale bribery as if it were the most innocent thing in the world. The country was really governed by a few great families, some of whose members sat in the House of Lords and others in the House of Commons. Their measures were often n.o.ble and patriotic in the highest degree, but when bribery and corruption seemed necessary for carrying them, such means were employed without scruple.

[Sidenote: George III. and his political schemes.]

When George III. came to the throne in 1760, the great families which had thus governed England for half a century belonged to the party known as Old Whigs. Under their rule the power of the crown had been reduced to insignificance, and the modern system of cabinet government by a responsible ministry had begun to grow up. The Tory families during this period had been very unpopular, because of their sympathy with the Stuart pretenders who had twice attempted to seize the crown and given the country a brief taste of civil war. By 1760 the Tories saw that the cause of the Stuarts was hopeless, and so they were inclined to transfer their affections to the new king. George III. was a young man of narrow intelligence and poor education, but he entertained very strong opinions as to the importance of his kingly office. He meant to make himself a real king, like the king of France or the king of Spain. He was determined to break down the power of the Old Whigs and the system of cabinet government, and as the Old Whigs had been growing unpopular, it seemed quite possible, with the aid of the Tories, to accomplish this.

George was quite decorous in behaviour, and, although subject to fits of insanity which became more troublesome in his later years, he had a fairly good head for business. Industrious as a beaver and obstinate as a mule, he was an adept in political trickery. In the corrupt use of patronage he showed himself able to beat the Old Whigs at their own game, and with the aid of the Tories he might well believe himself capable of reviving for his own benefit the lost power of the crown.

[Sidenote: The “New Whigs” and parliamentary reform.]

Beside these two parties a third had been for some time growing up which was in some essential points opposed to both of them. This third party was that of the New Whigs. They wished to reform the representation in Parliament in such wise as to disfranchise the rotten boroughs and give representatives to great towns like Leeds and Manchester. They held that it was contrary to the principles of English liberty that the inhabitants of such great towns should be obliged to pay taxes in pursuance of laws which they had no share in making. The leader of the New Whigs was the greatest Englishman of the eighteenth century, the elder William Pitt, now about to pa.s.s into the House of Lords as Earl of Chatham. Their leader next in importance, William Petty, Earl of Shelburne, was in 1765 a young man of eight-and-twenty, and afterward came to be known as one of the most learned and sagacious statesmen of his time. These men were the forerunners of the great liberal leaders of the nineteenth century, such men as Russell and Cobden and Gladstone.

Their first decisive and overwhelming victory was the pa.s.sage of Lord John Russell’s Reform Bill in 1832, but the agitation for reform was begun by William Pitt in 1745, and his famous son came very near winning the victory on that question in 1782.

Now this question of parliamentary reform was intimately related to the question of taxing the American colonies. From some points of view they might be considered one and the same question. At a meeting of Presbyterian ministers in Philadelphia, it was pertinently asked, “Have two men chosen to represent a poor English borough that has sold its votes to the highest bidder any pretence to say that they represent Virginia or Pennsylvania? And have four hundred such fellows a right to take our liberties?” In Parliament, on the other hand, as well as at London dinner tables, and in newspapers and pamphlets, it was repeatedly urged that the Americans need not make so much fuss about being taxed without being represented, for in that respect they were no worse off than the people of Sheffield or Birmingham. To this James Otis replied, “Don’t talk to us any more about those towns, for we are tired of such a flimsy argument. If they are not represented, they ought to be;” and by the New Whigs this retort was greeted with applause.

The opinions and aims of the three different parties were reflected in the long debate over the repeal of the Stamp Act. The Tories wanted to have the act continued and enforced, and such was the wish of the king.

Both sections of Whigs were in favour of repeal, but for very different reasons. Pitt and the New Whigs, being advocates of parliamentary reform, came out flatly in support of the principle that there should be no taxation without representation. Edmund Burke and the Old Whigs, being opposed to parliamentary reform and in favour of keeping things just as they were, could not adopt such an argument; and accordingly they based their condemnation of the Stamp Act upon grounds of pure expediency. They argued that it was not worth while, for the sake of a little increase of revenue, to irritate three million people and run the risk of getting drawn into a situation from which there would be no escape except in either retreating or fighting. There was much practical wisdom in this Old Whig argument, and it was the one which prevailed when Parliament repealed the Stamp Act and expressly stated that it did so only on grounds of expediency.

[Sidenote: Why George III. was ready to pick a quarrel with the Americans.]

There was one person, however, who was far from satisfied with this result, and that was George III. He was opposed to parliamentary reform for much the same reason that the Old Whigs were opposed to it, because he felt that it threatened him with political ruin. The Old Whigs needed the rotten boroughs in order to maintain their own control over Parliament and the country. The king needed them because he felt himself able to wrest them from the Old Whigs by intrigue and corruption, and thus hoped to build up his own power. He believed, with good reason, that the suppression of the rotten boroughs and the granting of fair and equal representation would soon put a stronger curb upon the crown than ever. Accordingly there were no men whom he dreaded and wished to put down so much as the New Whigs; and he felt that in the repeal of the Stamp Act, no matter on what ground, they had come altogether too near winning a victory. He felt that this outrageous doctrine that people must not be taxed except by their representatives needed to be sternly rebuked, and thus he found himself in the right sort of temper for picking a fresh quarrel with the Americans.

[Sidenote: Charles Townshend and his revenue acts, 1767.]

[Sidenote: Lord North.]

An occasion soon presented itself. One of the king’s devices for breaking down the system of cabinet government was to select his ministers from different parties, so that they might be unable to work harmoniously together. Owing to the peculiar divisions of parties in Parliament he was for some years able to carry out this policy, and while his cabinets were thus weak and divided, he was able to use his control of patronage with telling effect. In July, 1766, he got rid of Lord Rockingham and his Old Whigs, and formed a new ministry made up from all parties. It contained Pitt, who had now, as Earl of Chatham, gone into the House of Lords, and at the same time Charles Townshend, as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Townshend, a brilliant young man, without any political principles worth mentioning, was the most conspicuous among a group of wire-pullers who were coming to be known as “the king’s friends.” Serious illness soon kept Chatham at home, and left Townshend all-powerful in the cabinet, because he was bold and utterly unscrupulous and had the king to back him. His audacity knew no limits, and he made up his mind that the time had come for gathering all the disputed American questions, as far as possible, into one bundle, and disposing of them once for all. So in May, 1767, he brought forward in Parliament a series of acts for raising and applying a revenue in America. The colonists, he said, had objected to a direct tax, but they had often submitted to port duties, and could not reasonably refuse to do so again. Duties were accordingly to be laid on gla.s.s, paper, lead, and painter’s colours; on wine, oil, and fruits, if carried directly to America from Spain and Portugal; and especially on tea. A board of commissioners was to be established at Boston, to superintend the collection of revenue throughout the colonies, and writs of a.s.sistance were to be expressly legalized. The salaries of these commissioners were to be paid out of the revenue thus collected. Governors, judges, and crown-attorneys were to be made independent of the colonial legislatures by having their salaries paid by the crown out of this same fund. A small army was also to be kept up; and if after providing for these various expenses, any surplus remained, it could be used by the crown in giving pensions to Americans and thus be made to serve as a corruption-fund. These measures were adopted on the 29th of June, and as if to refute anybody who might be inclined to think that rashness could no further go, Townshend accompanied them with a special act directed against the New York legislature, which had refused to obey an order concerning the quartering of troops. By way of punishment, Townshend now suspended the legislature. A few weeks after carrying these measures Townshend died of a fever, and his place was taken by Lord North, eldest son of the Earl of Guilford. North was thirty-five years of age. He was amiable and witty, and an excellent debater, but without force of will.

He let the king rule him, and was at the same time able to show a strong hand in the House of Commons, so that the king soon came to regard him as a real treasure. Soon after North’s appointment, Lord Chatham and other friends of America in the cabinet resigned their places and were succeeded by friends of the king. From 1768 to 1782 George III. was to all intents and purposes his own prime minister, and contrived to keep a majority in Parliament. During those fourteen years the American question was uppermost, and his policy was at all hazards to force the colonists to abandon their position that taxation must go hand in hand with representation.

[Sidenote: What the Townshend acts really meant.]

This purpose was already apparent in Charles Townshend’s acts. They were not at all like previous acts imposing port duties to which the Americans had submitted. British historians sometimes speak of the American Revolution as an affair which grew out of a mere dispute about money; and even among Americans, in ordinary conversation and sometimes in current literature, the unwillingness of our forefathers to pay a tax of threepence a pound on tea is mentioned without due reference to the attendant circ.u.mstances which made them refuse to pay such a tax. We cannot hope to understand the fierce wrath by which they were animated unless we bear in mind not only the simple fact of the tax, but also the spirit in which it was levied and the purpose for which the revenue was to be used. The Act threatening the ruin of New England commerce was still on the statute-book, and commissioners, armed with odious search-warrants for enforcing this and other tyrannical laws, were on their way to America. For more than half a century the people had jealously guarded against the abuse of power by the royal governors by making them dependent upon the legislatures for their salaries. Now they were all at once to be made independent, so that they might even dismiss the legislatures, and if need be call for troops to help them.

The judges, moreover, with their power over men’s lives and property, were no longer to be responsible to the people. If these changes were to be effected, it would be nothing less than a revolution by which the Americans would be deprived of their liberty. And, to crown all, the money by which this revolution was to be brought about was to be contributed in the shape of port duties by the Americans themselves! To expect our forefathers to submit to such legislation as this was about as sensible as it would have been to expect them to obey an order to buy halters and hang themselves.

When the news of the Townshend acts reached Ma.s.sachusetts, the a.s.sembly at its next session took a decided stand. Besides a pet.i.tion to the king and letters to several leading British statesmen, it issued a circular letter addressed to the other twelve colonies, asking for their friendly advice and cooperation with reference to the Townshend measures. These papers were written by Samuel Adams. The circular letter was really an invitation to the other colonies to concert measures of resistance if it should be found necessary. It enraged the king, and presently an order came across the ocean to Francis Bernard, royal governor of Ma.s.sachusetts, to demand of the a.s.sembly that it rescind its circular letter, under penalty of instant dissolution. Otis exclaimed that Great Britain had better rescind the Townshend acts if she did not wish to lose her colonies. The a.s.sembly decided, by a vote of 92 to 17, that it would not rescind. This flat defiance was everywhere applauded. The a.s.semblies of the other colonies were ordered to take no notice of the Ma.s.sachusetts circular, but the order was generally disobeyed, and in several cases the governors turned the a.s.semblies out of doors. The atmosphere of America now became alive with politics; more meetings were held, more speeches made, and more pamphlets printed, than ever before.

[Sidenote: The quarrel was not between England and America, but between George III. and the principles which the Americans maintained.]

In England the dignified and manly course of the Americans was generally greeted with applause by Whigs of whatever sort, except those who had come into the somewhat widening circle of “the king’s friends.” The Old Whigs,–Burke, Fox, Conway, Savile, Lord John Cavendish, and the Duke of Richmond; and the New Whigs,–Chatham, Shelburne, Camden, Dunning, Barre, and Beckford; steadily defended the Americans throughout the whole of the Revolutionary crisis, and the weight of the best intelligence in the country was certainly on their side. Could they have acted as a united body, could Burke and Fox have joined forces in harmony with Chatham and Shelburne, they might have thwarted the king and prevented the rupture with America. But George III. profited by the hopeless division between these two Whig parties; and as the quarrel with America grew fiercer, he succeeded in arraying the national pride to some extent upon his side and against the Whigs. This made him feel stronger and stimulated his zeal against the Americans. He felt that if he could first crush Whig principles in America, he could then turn and crush them in England. In this he was correct, except that he miscalculated the strength of the Americans. It was the defeat of his schemes in America that ensured their defeat in England. It is quite wrong and misleading, therefore, to remember the Revolutionary War as a struggle between the British people and the American people. It was a struggle between two hostile principles, each of which was represented in both countries. In winning the good fight, our forefathers won a victory for England as well as for America. What was crushed was George III. and the kind of despotism which he wished to fasten upon America in order that he might fasten it upon England. If the memory of George III.

deserves to be execrated, it is especially because he succeeded in giving to his own selfish struggle for power the appearance of a struggle between the people of England and the people of America; and in so doing, he sowed seeds of enmity and distrust between two glorious nations that, for their own sakes and for the welfare of mankind, ought never for one moment to be allowed to forget their brotherhood. Time, however, is rapidly repairing the damage which George III.’s policy wrought, and it need in nowise disturb our narrative. In this brief sketch we must omit hundreds of interesting details; but, if we would look at things from the right point of view, we must bear in mind that every act of George III., from 1768 onward, which brought on and carried on the Revolutionary War, was done in spite of the earnest protest of many of the best people in England; and that the king’s wrong-headed policy prevailed only because he was able, through corrupt methods, to command a parliament which did not really represent the people. Had the principles in support of which Lord Chatham joined hands with Samuel Adams for one moment prevailed, the king’s schemes would have collapsed like a soap-bubble.

As it was, in 1768 the king succeeded, in spite of strong opposition, in carrying his point. He saw that the American colonies were disposed to resist the Townshend acts, and that in this defiant att.i.tude Ma.s.sachusetts was the ringleader. The Ma.s.sachusetts circular pointed toward united action on the part of the colonies. Above all things it was desirable to prevent any such union, and accordingly the king decided to make his attack upon Ma.s.sachusetts, while dealing more kindly with the other colonies. Thus he hoped Ma.s.sachusetts might be isolated and humbled, and in this belief he proceeded faster and more rashly than if he had supposed himself to be dealing with a united America. In order to catch Samuel Adams and James Otis, and get them sent over to England for trial, he attempted to revive an old statute of Henry VIII. about treason committed abroad; and in order to enforce the revenue laws in spite of all opposition, he ordered troops to be sent to Boston.

[Sidenote: Troops sent to Boston.]

This was a very harsh measure, and some excuse was needed to justify it before Parliament. It was urged that Boston was a disorderly town, and the sacking of Hutchinson’s house could be cited in support of this view. Then in June, 1768, there was a slight conflict between townspeople and revenue officers, in which no one was hurt, but which led to a great town-meeting in the Old South Meeting-House, and gave Governor Bernard an opportunity for saying that he was intimidated and hindered in the execution of the laws. The king’s real purpose, however, in sending troops was not so much to keep the peace as to enforce the Townshend acts, and so the people of Boston understood it. Except for these odious and tyrannical laws, there was nothing that threatened disturbance in Boston. The arrival of British troops at Long Wharf, in the autumn of 1768, simply increased the danger of disturbance, and in a certain sense it may be said to have been the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Very few people realized this at the time, but Samuel Adams now made up his mind that the only way in which the American colonies could preserve their liberties was to unite in some sort of federation and declare themselves independent of Great Britain. It was with regret that he had come to this conclusion, and he was very slow in proclaiming it, but after 1768 he kept it distinctly before his mind. He saw clearly the end toward which public opinion was gradually drifting, and because of his great influence over the Boston town-meeting and the Ma.s.sachusetts a.s.sembly, this clearness of purpose made him for the next seven years the most formidable of the king’s antagonists in America.

The people of Boston were all the more indignant at the arrival of troops in their town because the king in his hurry to send them had even disregarded the act of Parliament which provided for such cases.

According to that act the soldiers ought to have been lodged in Castle William on one of the little islands in the harbour. Even according to British-made law they had no business to be quartered in Boston so long as there was room for them, in the Castle. During the next seventeen months the people made several formal protests against their presence in town, and asked for their removal. But these protests were all fruitless until innocent blood had been shed. The soldiers generally behaved no worse than rough troopers on such occasions are apt to do, and the townspeople for the most part preserved decorum, but quarrels now and then occurred, and after a while became frequent. In September, 1769, James Otis was brutally a.s.saulted at the British Coffee House by one of the commissioners of customs aided and abetted by two or three army officers. His health was already feeble and in this affray he was struck on the head with a sword and so badly injured that he afterward became insane. After this the feeling of the people toward the soldiers was more bitter than ever. In February, 1770, there was much disturbance.

Toward the end of the month an informer named Richardson fired from his window into a crowd and killed a little boy about eleven years of age, named Christopher Snyder. The funeral of this poor boy, the first victim of the Revolution, was attended on Monday, the 26th, by a great procession of citizens, including those foremost in wealth and influence.

[Sidenote: The “Boston Ma.s.sacre.”]

The rest of that week was full of collisions which on Friday almost amounted to a riot and led the governor’s council to consider seriously whether the troops ought not to be removed. But before they had settled the question the crisis came on Monday evening, March 5, in an affray before the Custom House on King street, when seven of Captain Preston’s company fired into the crowd, killing five men and wounding several others. Two of the victims were innocent bystanders. Two were sailors from ships lying in the harbour, and they, together with the remaining victim, a ropemaker, had been actively engaged in the affray. One of the sailors, a mulatto or half-breed Indian of gigantic stature, named Crispus Attucks, had been especially conspicuous. The slaughter of these five men secured in a moment what so many months of decorous protest had failed to accomplish. Much more serious bloodshed was imminent when Lieutenant-governor Hutchinson arrived upon the scene and promptly arrested the offending soldiers. The next day there was an immense meeting at the Old South, and Samuel Adams, at the head of a committee, came into the council chamber at the Town House, and in the name of three thousand freemen sternly commanded Hutchinson to remove the soldiers from the town. Before sunset they had all been withdrawn to the Castle. When the news reached the ears of Parliament there was some talk of reinstating them in the town, but Colonel Barre cut short the discussion with the pithy question, “if the officers agreed in removing the soldiers to Castle William, what minister will dare to send them back to Boston?”

[Sidenote: Lord North, as prime minister removes all duties except on tea, 1770.]

Thus the so-called “Boston Ma.s.sacre” wrought for the king a rebuff which he felt perhaps even more keenly than the repeal of the Stamp Act. Not only had his troops been peremptorily turned out of Boston, but his policy had for the moment weakened in its hold upon Parliament. In the summer of 1769 the a.s.sembly of Virginia adopted a very important series of resolutions condemning the policy of Great Britain and recommending united action on the part of the colonies in defence of their liberties.

The governor then dissolved the a.s.sembly, whereupon its members met in convention at the Raleigh tavern and adopted a set of resolves prepared by Washington, strictly forbidding importations from England until the Townshend acts should be repealed. These resolves were generally adopted by the colonies, and presently the merchants of London, finding their trade falling off, pet.i.tioned Parliament to reconsider its policy. In January, 1770, Lord North became prime minister. In April all the duties were taken off, except the duty on tea, which the king insisted upon retaining, in order to avoid surrendering the principle at issue. The effect of even this partial concession was to weaken the spirit of opposition in America, and to create a division among the colonies. In July the merchants of New York refused to adhere any longer to the non-importation agreement except with regard to tea, and they began sending orders to England for various sorts of merchandise. Rhode Island and New Hampshire also broke the agreement. This aroused general indignation, and ships from the three delinquent colonies were driven from such ports as Boston and Charleston.

[Sidenote: Want of union.]

Union among the colonies was indeed only skin deep. The only thing which kept it alive was British aggression. Almost every colony had some bone of contention with its neighbours. At this moment New York and New Hampshire were wrangling over the possession of the Green Mountains, and guerrilla warfare was going on between Connecticut and Pennsylvania in the valley of Wyoming. It was hard to secure concerted action about anything. For two years after the withdrawal of troops from Boston there was a good deal of disturbance in different parts of the country; quarrels between governors and their a.s.semblies were kept up with increasing bitterness; in North Carolina there was an insurrection against the governor which was suppressed only after a b.l.o.o.d.y battle near the Cape Fear river; in Rhode Island the revenue schooner Gaspee was seized and burned, and when an order came from the ministry requiring the offenders to be sent to England for trial, the chief-justice of Rhode Island, Stephen Hopkins, refused to obey the order. But amid all these disturbances there appeared nothing like concerted action on the part of the colonies. In June, 1772, Hutchinson said that the union of the colonies seemed to be broken, and he hoped it would not be renewed, for he believed it meant separation from the mother-country, and that he regarded as the worst of calamities.



[Sidenote: Salaries of the judges.]

The surest way to renew and cement the union was to show that the ministry had not relaxed in its determination to enforce the principle of the Townshend acts. This was made clear in August, 1772, when it was ordered that in Ma.s.sachusetts the judges should henceforth be paid by the crown. Popular excitement rose to fever heat, and the judges were threatened with impeachment should they dare accept a penny from the royal treasury. The turmoil was increased next year by the discovery in London of the package of letters which were made to support the unjust charge against Hutchinson and some of his friends that they had instigated and aided the most extreme measures of the ministry.

[Sidenote: Committees of Correspondence.]

In the autumn of 1772 Hutchinson refused to call an extra session of the a.s.sembly to consider what should be done about the judges. Samuel Adams then devised a scheme by which the towns of Ma.s.sachusetts could consult with each other and agree upon some common course of action in case of emergencies. For this purpose each town was to appoint a standing committee, and as a great part of their work was necessarily done by letter they were called “committees of correspondence.” This was the step that fairly organized the Revolution. It was by far the most important of all the steps that preceded the Declaration of Independence. The committees did their work with great efficiency and the governor had no means of stopping it. They were like an invisible legislature that was always in session and could never be dissolved; and when the old government fell they were able to administer affairs until a new government could be set up. In the spring of 1773 Virginia carried this work of organization a long step further, when Dabney Carr suggested and carried a motion calling for committees of correspondence between the several colonies. From this point it was a comparatively short step to a permanent Continental Congress.

It happened that these preparations were made just in time to meet the final act of aggression which brought on the Revolutionary War. The Americans had thus far successfully resisted the Townshend acts and secured the repeal of all the duties except on tea. As for tea they had plenty, but not from England; they smuggled it from Holland in spite of custom-houses and search-warrants. Clearly unless the Americans could be made to buy tea from England and pay the duty on it, the king must own himself defeated.

[Sidenote: Tea ships sent by the king, as a challenge.]

Since it appeared that they could not be forced into doing this, it remained to be seen if they could be tricked into doing it. A truly ingenious scheme was devised. Tea sent by the East India Company to America had formerly paid a duty in some British port on the way. This duty was now taken off, so that the price of the tea for America might be lowered. The company’s tea thus became so cheap that the American merchant could buy a pound of it and pay the threepence duty beside for less than it cost him to smuggle a pound of tea from Holland. It was supposed that the Americans would of course buy the tea which they could get most cheaply, and would thus be beguiled into submission to that principle of taxation which they had hitherto resisted. Ships laden with tea were accordingly sent in the autumn of 1773 to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston; and consignees were appointed to receive the tea in each of these towns.

Under the guise of a commercial operation, this was purely a political trick. It was an insulting challenge to the American people, and merited the reception which they gave it. They would have shown themselves unworthy of their rich political heritage had they given it any other.

In New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston ma.s.s-meetings of the people voted that the consignees should be ordered to resign their offices, and they did so. At Philadelphia the tea-ship was met and sent back to England before it had come within the jurisdiction of the custom-house.

At Charleston the tea was landed, and as there was no one to receive it or pay the duty, it was thrown into a damp cellar and left there to spoil.

[Sidenote: How the challenge was received; the “Boston Tea Party,”

Dec. 16, 1773.]

In Boston things took a different turn. The stubborn courage of Governor Hutchinson prevented the consignees, two of whom were his own sons, from resigning; the ships arrived and were anch.o.r.ed under guard of a committee of citizens; if they were not unloaded within twenty days, the custom-house officers were empowered by law to seize them and unload them by force; and having once come within the jurisdiction of the custom-house, they could not go out to sea without a clearance from the collector or a pa.s.s from the governor. The situation was a difficult one, but it was most n.o.bly met by the men of Ma.s.sachusetts. The excitement was intense, but the proceedings were characterized from first to last by perfect quiet and decorum. In an earnest and solemn, almost prayerful spirit, the advice of all the towns in the commonwealth was sought, and the response was unanimous that the tea must on no account whatever be landed. Similar expressions of opinion came from other colonies, and the action of Ma.s.sachusetts was awaited with breathless interest. Many town-meetings were held in Boston, and the owner of the ships was ordered to take them away without unloading; but the collector contrived to fritter away the time until the nineteenth day, and then refused a clearance. On the next day, the 16th of December, 1773, seven thousand people were a.s.sembled in town-meeting in and around the Old South Meeting-House, while the owner of the ships was sent out to the governor’s house at Milton to ask for a pa.s.s. It was nightfall when he returned without it, and there was then but one thing to be done. By sunrise next morning the revenue officers would board the ships and unload their cargoes, the consignees would go to the custom-house and pay the duty, and the king’s scheme would have been crowned with success. The only way to prevent this was to rip open the tea-chests and spill their contents into the sea, and this was done, according to a preconcerted plan and without the slightest uproar or disorder, by a small party of men disguised as Indians. Among them were some of the best of the townsfolk, and the chief manager of the proceedings was Samuel Adams. The destruction of the tea has often been spoken of, especially by British historians, as a “riot,” but nothing could have been less like a riot. It was really the deliberate action of the commonwealth of Ma.s.sachusetts, and the only fitting reply to the king’s insulting trick. It was hailed with delight throughout the thirteen colonies, and there is nothing in our whole history of which an educated American should feel more proud.

[Sidenote: The Retaliatory Acts, April, 1774.]

The effect upon the king and his friends was maddening, and events were quickly brought to a crisis. In spite of earnest opposition retaliatory acts were pa.s.sed through Parliament in April, 1774. One of these was the Port Bill, for shutting up the port of Boston and stopping its trade until the people should be starved and frightened into paying for the tea that had been thrown overboard. Another was the Regulating Act, by which the charter of Ma.s.sachusetts was annulled, its free government swept away, and a military governor appointed with despotic power like Andros. These acts were to go into operation on the 1st of June, and on that day Governor Hutchinson sailed for England, in the vain hope of persuading the king to adopt a milder policy. It was not long before his property was confiscated, like that of other Tories, and after six years of exile he died in London. The new governor, Thomas Gage, who had long been commander of the military forces in America, was a mild and pleasant man without much strength of character. His presence was endured but his authority was not recognized in Ma.s.sachusetts. Troops were now quartered again in Boston, but they could not prevent the people from treating the Regulating Act with open contempt. Courts organized under that act were prevented from sitting, and councillors were compelled to resign their places. The king’s authority was everywhere quietly but doggedly defied. At the same time the stoppage of business in Boston was the cause of much distress which all the colonies sought to relieve by voluntary contributions of food and other needed articles.

[Sidenote: Continental Congress meets, Sept. 1774.]

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This was because the Continental Congress had no power to enforce its decrees. It could only _ask_ for troops and it could only _ask_ for money. It found just the same difficulty in getting anything that the British ministry and the royal governors used to find,–the very same difficulty that led Grenville to devise the Stamp Act. Everything had to be talked over in thirteen different legislatures, one state would wait to see what another was going to do, and meanwhile Washington was expected to fight battles before his army was fit to take the field.

Something was gained, no doubt, by Congress furnishing the money. But as Congress could not tax anybody, it had no means of raising a revenue, except to beg, borrow, or issue its promissory notes, the so-called Continental paper currency.

[Sidenote: The British plan for conquering New York in 1777.]

While Congress was trying to raise an adequate army, the British ministry laid its plans for the summer campaign. The conquest of the state of New York must be completed at all hazards; and to this end a threefold system of movements was devised:–

_First_, the army in Canada was to advance upon Ticonderoga, capture it, and descend the Hudson as far as Albany. This work was now entrusted to General Burgoyne.

_Secondly_, in order to make sure of efficient support from the Six Nations and the Tories of the frontier, a small force under Colonel Barry St. Leger was to go up the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario, land at Oswego, and march down the Mohawk valley to reinforce Burgoyne on the Hudson.

_Thirdly_, after leaving a sufficient force to hold the city of New York, the main army, under Sir William Howe, was to ascend the Hudson, capture the forts in the Highlands, and keep on to Albany, so as to effect a junction with Burgoyne and St. Leger.

It was thought that such an imposing display of military force would make the Tory party supreme in New York, put an end to all resistance there, and effectually cut the United States in two. Then if the southern states on the one hand and the New England states on the other did not hasten to submit, they might afterward be attacked separately and subdued.

In this plan the ministry made the fatal mistake of underrating the strength of the feeling which, from one end of the United States to the other, was setting itself every day more and more decidedly against the Tories and in favour of independence. This feeling grew as fast as the anti-slavery feeling grew among the northern people during our Civil War. In 1861 President Lincoln thought it necessary to rebuke his generals who were too forward in setting free the slaves of persons engaged in rebellion against the United States. In 1862 he announced his purpose to emanc.i.p.ate all such slaves; and then it took less than three years to put an end to slavery forever. It was just so with the sentiment in favour of separation from Great Britain. In July, 1775, Thomas Jefferson expressly declared that the Americans had not raised armies with any intention of declaring their independence of the mother-country. In July, 1776, the Declaration of Independence, written by Jefferson, was proclaimed to the world, though the consent of the middle colonies and of South Carolina seemed somewhat reluctant. By the summer of 1777 the Tories were almost everywhere in a hopeless minority.

Every day of warfare, showing Great Britain more and more clearly as an enemy to be got rid of, diminished their strength; so that, even in New York and South Carolina, where they were strongest, it would not do for the British ministry to count too much upon any support they might give.

It was natural enough that King George and his ministers should fail to understand all this, but their mistake was their ruin. If they had understood that Burgoyne’s march from Lake Champlain to the Hudson river was to be a march through a country thoroughly hostile, perhaps they would not have been so ready to send him on such a dangerous expedition.

It would have been much easier and safer to have sent his army by sea to New York, to reinforce Sir William Howe. Threatening movements might have been made by some of the Canada forces against Ticonderoga, so as to keep Schuyler busy in that quarter; and then the army at New York, thus increased to nearly 40,000 men, might have had a fair chance of overwhelming Washington by sheer weight of numbers. Such a plan might have failed, but it is not likely that it would have led to the surrender of the British army. And if they could have disposed of Washington, the British might have succeeded. It was more necessary for them to get rid of him than to march up and down the valley of the Hudson. But it was not strange that they did not see this as we do. It is always easy enough to be wise after things have happened.

Even as it was, if their plan had really been followed, they might have succeeded. If Howe’s army had gone up to meet Burgoyne, the history of the year 1777 would have been very different from what it was. We shall presently see why it did not do so. Let us now recount the fortunes of Burgoyne and St. Leger.

[Sidenote: Burgoyne takes Ticonderoga, July 5, 1777.]

Burgoyne came up Lake Champlain in June, and easily won Ticonderoga, because the Americans had failed to secure a neighbouring position which commanded the fortress. Burgoyne took Ticonderoga from Mount Defiance, just as the Americans would have taken Boston from Bunker Hill, if they had been able to stay there, just as they afterward did take it from Dorchester Heights, and just as Howe took New York after he had won Brooklyn Heights. When you have secured a position from which you can kill the enemy twice as fast as he can kill you, he must of course retire from the situation; and the sooner he goes, the better chance he has of living to fight another day. The same principle worked in all these cases, and it worked with General Howe at Harlem Heights and at White Plains.

[Sidenote: Schuyler and Gates.]

When it was known that Burgoyne had taken Ticonderoga, there was dreadful dismay in America and keen disappointment among those Whigs in England whose declared sympathies were with us. George III. was beside himself with glee, and thought that the Americans were finally defeated and disposed of. But they were all mistaken. The garrison of Ticonderoga had taken the alarm and retreated, so that Burgoyne captured only an empty fortress. He left 1000 men in charge of it, and then pressed on into the wilderness between Lake Champlain and the upper waters of the Hudson river. His real danger was now beginning to show itself, and every day it could be seen more distinctly. He was plunging into a forest, far away from all possible support from behind, and as he went on he found that there were not Tories enough in that part of the country to be of any use to him. As Burgoyne advanced, General Schuyler prudently retreated, and used up the enemy’s time by breaking down bridges and putting every possible obstacle in his way. Schuyler was a rare man, thoroughly disinterested and full of sound sense; but he had many political enemies who were trying to pull him down. A large part of his army was made up of New England men, who hated him partly for the mere reason that he was a New Yorker, and partly because as such he had taken part in the long quarrel between New York and New Hampshire over the possession of the Green Mountains. The disaffection toward Schuyler was fomented by General Horatio Gates, who had for some time held command under him, but was now in Philadelphia currying favour with the delegates in Congress, especially with those from New England, in the hope of getting himself appointed to the command of the northern army in Schuyler’s place. Gates was an extremely weak man, but so vain that he really believed himself equal to the highest command that Congress could be persuaded to give him. On the battle-field he seems to have been wanting even in personal courage, as he certainly was in power to handle his troops; but in society he was quite a lion. He had a smooth courteous manner and a plausible tongue which paid little heed to the difference between truth and falsehood. His lies were not very ingenious, and so they were often detected and pointed out. But while many people were disgusted by his selfishness and trickery, there were always some who insisted that he was a great genius. History can point to a good many men like General Gates. Such men sometimes shine for a while, but sooner or later they always come to be recognized as humbugs.

[Ill.u.s.tration: BURGOYNE’S CAMPAIGN.]

[Sidenote: Battle of Hubbardton, July 7, 1777.]

While Gates was intriguing, Schuyler was doing all in his power to impede the enemy’s progress. It was on the night of July 5 that the garrison of Ticonderoga, under General St. Clair, had abandoned the fortress and retreated southward. On the 7th a battle was fought at Hubbardton between St. Clair’s rear, under Seth Warner, and a portion of the British army under Fraser and Riedesel. Warner was defeated, but only after such an obstinate resistance as to check the pursuit, so that by the 12th St. Clair was able to bring his retreating troops in safety to Fort Edward, where they were united with Schuyler’s army. Schuyler managed his obstructions so well that Burgoyne’s utmost efforts were required to push into the wilderness at the rate of one mile per day; and meanwhile Schuyler was collecting a force of militia in the Green Mountains, under General Lincoln, to threaten Burgoyne in the rear and cut off his communications with Lake Champlain.

Burgoyne was accordingly marching into a trap, and Schuyler was doing the best that could be done. But on the first of August the intrigue against him triumphed in Congress, and Gates was appointed to supersede him in the command of the northern army. Gates, however, did not arrive upon the scene until the 19th of August, and by that time Burgoyne’s situation was evidently becoming desperate.

On the last day of July Burgoyne reached Fort Edward, which Schuyler had evacuated just before. Schuyler crossed the Hudson river, and continued his retreat to Stillwater, about thirty miles above Albany. It was as far as the American retreat was to go. Burgoyne was already getting short of provisions, and before he could advance much further he needed a fresh supply of horses to drag the cannon and stores. He began to realize, when too late, that he had come far into an enemy’s country.

The hostile feelings of the people were roused to fury by the atrocities committed by the Indians employed in Burgoyne’s army. The British supposed that the savages would prove very useful as scouts and guides, and that by offers of reward and threats of punishment they might be restrained from deeds of violence. They were very unruly, however, and apt to use the tomahawk when they found a chance.

[Sidenote: Jane McCrea.]

The sad death of Miss Jane McCrea has been described in almost as many ways as there have been people to describe it, but no one really knows how it happened. What is really known is that, on the 27th of July, while Miss McCrea was staying with her friend Mrs. McNeil, near Fort Edward, a party of Indians burst into the house and carried off both ladies. They were pursued by some American soldiers, and a few shots were exchanged. In the course of the scrimmage the party got scattered, and Mrs. McNeil was taken alone to the British camp. Next day an Indian came into the camp with Miss McCrea’s scalp, which her friend recognized from its long silky hair. A search was made, and the body of the poor girl was found lying near a spring, pierced with three bullet-wounds.

The Indian’s story, that she was accidentally killed by a volley from the American soldiers, may well enough have been true. It is also known that she was betrothed to David Jones, a lieutenant in Burgoyne’s army, and, as her own home was in New Jersey, her visit to Mrs. McNeil may very likely have been part of a plan for meeting her lover. These facts were soon woven into a story, in which Jenny was said to have been murdered while on her way to her wedding, escorted by a party of Indians whom her imprudent lover had sent to take charge of her.

[Sidenote: Battle of Bennington, Aug. 16, 1777.]

The people of the neighbouring counties, in New York and Ma.s.sachusetts, enraged at the death of Miss McCrea and alarmed for the safety of their own firesides, began rising in arms. St.u.r.dy recruits began marching to join Schuyler at Stillwater and Lincoln at Manchester in the Green Mountains. Meanwhile Burgoyne had made up his mind to attack the village of Bennington, which was Lincoln’s centre of supplies. By seizing these supplies, he could get for himself what he stood sorely in need of, while at the same time the loss would cripple Lincoln and perhaps oblige him to retire from the scene. Accordingly 1000 Germans were sent out, in two detachments under colonels Baum and Breymann, to capture the village. But instead they were captured themselves. Baum was first outmanoeuvred, surrounded, and forced to surrender by John Stark, after a hot fight, in which Baum was mortally wounded. Then Breymann was put to flight and his troops dispersed by Seth Warner. Of the whole German force, 207 were killed or wounded, and at least 700 captured. Not more than 70 got back to the British camp. The American loss in killed and wounded was 56.

This brilliant victory at Bennington had important consequences. It checked Burgoyne’s advance until he could get his supplies, and it decided that Lincoln’s militia could get in his rear and cut off his communications with Ticonderoga. It furthermore inspired the Americans with the exulting hope that Burgoyne’s whole army could be surrounded and forced to surrender.

[Sidenote: St. Leger in the Mohawk valley.]

If, however, the British had been successful in gaining the Mohawk valley and ensuring the supremacy over that region for the Tories, the fate of Burgoyne might have been averted. The Tories in that region, under Sir John Johnson and Colonel John Butler, were really formidable.

As for the Indians of the Iroquois league, they had always been friendly to the English and hostile to the French; but now, when it came to making their choice between two kinds of English–the Americans and the British, they hesitated and differed in opinion. The Mohawks took sides with the British because of the friendship between Joseph Brant and the Johnsons. The Cayugas and Senecas followed on the same side; but the Onondagas, in the centre of the confederacy, remained neutral, and the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, under the influence of Samuel Kirkland and other missionaries, showed active sympathy with the Americans. It turned out, too, that the Whigs were much stronger in the valley than had been supposed.

[Sidenote: Battle of Oriskany, Aug. 6, 1777.]

After St. Leger had landed at Oswego and joined hands with his Tory and Indian allies, his entire force amounted to about 1700 men. The obstacle to his progress toward the Hudson river was Fort Stanwix, which stood where the city of Rome now stands. On the 3d of August St. Leger reached Fort Stanwix and laid siege to it. The place was garrisoned by 600 men under Colonel Peter Gansevoort, and the Whig yeomanry of the neighbourhood, under the heroic General Nicholas Herkimer, were on the way to relieve it, to the number of at least 800.

Herkimer made an excellent plan for surprising St. Leger with an attack in the rear, while the garrison should sally forth and attack him in front. But St. Leger’s Indian scouts were more nimble than Herkimer’s messengers, so that he obtained his information sooner than Gansevoort.

An ambush was skilfully prepared by Brant in a ravine near Oriskany, and there, on the 6th of August, was fought the most desperate and murderous battle of the Revolutionary War. It was a hand to hand fight, in which about 800 men were engaged on each side, and each lost more than one-third of its number. As the Tories and Indians were giving way, their retreat was hastened by the sounds of battle from Fort Stanwix, where the garrison was making its sally and driving back the besiegers.

Herkimer remained in possession of the field at Oriskany, but his plan had been for the moment thwarted, and in the battle he had received a wound from which he died.

[Sidenote: St. Leger’s flight, Aug. 22, 1777.]

Benedict Arnold had lately been sent by Washington to be of such a.s.sistance as he could to Schuyler. Arnold stood high in the confidence of both these generals. He had shown himself one of the ablest officers in the American army, he was especially skilful in getting good work out of raw troops, and he was a great favourite with his men. On hearing of the danger of Fort Stanwix, Schuyler sent him to the rescue, with 1200 men. When he was within twenty miles of that stronghold, he contrived, with the aid of some friendly Oneidas and a Tory captive whose life he spared for the purpose, to send on before him exaggerated reports of the size of his army. The device accomplished far more than he could have expected. The obstinate resistance at Oriskany had discouraged the Tories and angered the Indians. Distrust and dissension were already rife in St. Leger’s camp, when such reports came in as to lead many to believe that Burgoyne had been totally defeated, and that the whole of Schuyler’s army, or a great part of it, was coming up the Mohawk. This news led to riot and panic among the troops, and on August 22 St. Leger took to flight and made his way as best he could to his ships at Oswego, with scarcely the shred of an army left. This catastrophe showed how sadly mistaken the British had been in their reliance upon Tory help.

The battle of Bennington was fought on the 16th of August. Now by the overthrow of St. Leger, six days later, Burgoyne’s situation had become very alarming. It was just in the midst of these events that Gates arrived, on August 19, and took command of the army at Stillwater, which was fast growing in numbers. Militia were flocking in, Arnold’s force was returning, and Daniel Morgan was at hand with 500 Virginian sharpshooters. Unless Burgoyne could win a battle against overwhelming odds, there was only one thing that could save him; and that was the arrival of Howe’s army at Albany, according to the ministry’s programme.

But Burgoyne had not yet heard a word from Howe; and Howe never came.

[Sidenote: Why Howe failed to cooperate with Burgoyne.]

This failure of Howe to cooperate with Burgoyne was no doubt the most fatal military blunder made by the British in the whole course of the war. The failure was of course unintentional on Howe’s part. He meant to extend sufficient support to Burgoyne, but the trouble was that he attempted too much. He had another plan in his mind at the same time, and between the two he ended by accomplishing nothing. While he kept one eye on Albany, he kept the other on Philadelphia. He had not relished being driven back across New Jersey by Washington, and the hope of defeating that general in battle, and then pushing on to the “rebel capital” strongly tempted him. In such thoughts he was encouraged by the advice of the captive General Lee. That unscrupulous busybody felt himself in great danger, for he knew that the British regarded him in the light of a deserter from their army. While his fate was in suspense, he informed the brothers Howe that he had abandoned the American cause, and he offered them his advice and counsel for the summer campaign. This villainy of Lee’s was not known till eighty years afterward, when a paper of his was discovered that revealed it in all its blackness. The Howes were sure to pay some heed to Lee’s opinions, because he was supposed to have acquired a thorough knowledge of American affairs. He advised them to begin by taking Philadelphia, and supported this plan by plausible arguments. Sir William Howe seems to have thought that he could accomplish this early in the summer, and then have his hands free for whatever might be needed on the Hudson river. Accordingly on the 12th of June he started to cross the state of New Jersey with 18,000 men.

[Sidenote: Washington’s masterly campaign in New Jersey, June, 1777.]

But Sir William had reckoned without his host. In a campaign of eighteen days, Washington, with only 8000 men, completely blocked the way for him, and made him give up the game. The popular histories do not have much to say about these eighteen days, because they were not marked by battles. Washington won by his marvellous skill in choosing positions where Howe could not attack him with any chance of success. Howe understood this and did not attack. He could not entice Washington into fighting at a disadvantage, and he could not march on and leave such an enemy behind without sacrificing his own communications. Accordingly on June 30 he gave up his plan and retreated to Staten Island. If there ever was a general who understood the useful art of wasting his adversary’s time, Washington was that general.

Howe now decided to take his army to Philadelphia by sea. He waited a while till the news from the north seemed to show that Burgoyne was carrying everything before him; and then he thought it safe to start.

He left Sir Henry Clinton in command at New York, with 7000 men, telling him to send a small force up the river to help Burgoyne, should there be any need of it, which did not then seem likely. Then he put to sea with his main force of 18,000 men, and went around to the Delaware river, which he reached at the end of July, just as Burgoyne was reaching Fort Edward.

[Sidenote: Howe’s strange movement upon Philadelphia, by way of Chesapeake bay.]

Howe’s next move was very strange. He afterward said that he did not go up the Delaware river, because he found that there were obstructions and forts to be pa.s.sed. But he might have gone up a little way and landed his forces on the Delaware coast at a point where a single march would have brought them to Elkton, at the head of Chesapeake bay, about fifty miles southwest from Philadelphia. Instead of this, he put out to sea again and sailed four hundred miles, to the mouth of Chesapeake bay and up that bay to Elkton, where he landed his men on the 25th of August.

Why he took such a roundabout course cannot be understood, unless he may have attached importance to Lee’s advice that the presence of a British squadron in Chesapeake bay would help to arouse the Tories in Maryland.

The British generals could not seem to make up their minds that America was a hostile country. Small blame to them, brave fellows that they were! They could not make war against America in such a fierce spirit as that in which France would now make war against Germany if she could see her way clear to do so. They were always counting on American sympathy, and this was a will-o’-the-wisp that lured them to destruction.

On landing at Elkton, Howe received orders from London, telling him to ascend the Hudson river and support Burgoyne, in any event. This order had left London in May. It was well for the Americans that the telegraph had not then been invented. Now it was the 25th of August; Burgoyne was in imminent peril; and Howe was three hundred miles away from him!

[Sidenote: Battle of the Brandywine, Sept. 11, 1777.]

All these movements had been carefully watched by Washington; and as Howe marched toward Philadelphia he found that general blocking the way at the fords of the Brandywine creek. A battle ensued on the 11th of September. It was a well-contested battle. With 11,000 men against 18,000, Washington could hardly have been expected to win a victory. He was driven from the field, but not badly defeated. He kept his army well in hand, and manoeuvred so skilfully that the British were employed for two weeks in getting over the twenty-six miles to Philadelphia.

[Sidenote: Battle of Germantown, Oct. 4, 1777.]

Before Howe had reached that city, Congress had moved away to York in Pennsylvania. When he had taken Philadelphia, he found that he could not stay there without taking the forts on the Delaware river which prevented the British ships from coming up; for by land Washington could cut off his supplies, and he could only be sure of them by water. So Howe detached part of his army to reduce these forts, leaving the rest of it at Germantown, six miles from Philadelphia. On the 4th of October, Washington attacked the force at Germantown in such a position that defeat would have quite destroyed it. The attempt failed at the critical moment because of a dense fog in which one American brigade fired into another and caused a brief panic. The forts on the Delaware were captured after hard fighting, and Washington went into winter quarters at Valley Forge.

The result of the summer’s work was that, because Howe had made several mistakes and Washington had taken the utmost advantage of every one of them, the whole British plan was spoiled. Howe had used up the whole season in getting to Philadelphia, and Washington’s activity had also kept Sir Henry Clinton’s attention so much occupied with what was going on about the Delaware river as to prevent him from sending aid to the northward until it was too late. Sir Henry was once actually obliged to send reinforcements to Howe.

The War of Independence Part 1

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The War of Independence is a Webnovel created by John Fiske.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

The War of Independence.

by John Fiske.


This little book does not contain the substance of the lectures on the American Revolution which I have delivered in so many parts of the United States since 1883. Those lectures, when completed and published, will make quite a detailed narrative; this book is but a sketch. It is hoped that it may prove useful to the higher in schools, as well as to teachers. When I was a boy I should have been glad to get hold of a brief account of the War for Independence that would have suggested answers to some of the questions that used to vex me. Was the conduct of the British government, in driving the Americans into rebellion, merely wanton aggression, or was it not rather a bungling attempt to solve a political problem which really needed to be solved? Why were New Jersey and the Hudson river so important? Why did the British armies make South Carolina their chief objective point after New York? Or how did Cornwallis happen to be at Yorktown when Washington made such a long leap and pounced upon him there? And so on. Such questions the old-fashioned text-books not only did not try to answer, they did not even recognize their existence. As to the large histories, they of course include so many details that it requires maturity of judgment to discriminate between the facts that are cardinal and those that are merely incidental. When I give lectures to schoolboys and schoolgirls, I observe that a reference to causes and effects always seems to heighten the interest of the story. I therefore offer them this little book, not as a rival but as an aid to the ordinary text-book. I am aware that a narrative so condensed must necessarily suffer from the omission of many picturesque and striking details. The world is so made that one often has to lose a little in one direction in order to gain something in another. This book is an experiment. If it seems to answer its purpose, I may follow it with others, treating other portions of American history in similar fashion.

CAMBRIDGE, _February 11, 1889_.


To relate, by way of leading up to this little book, all the previous achievements of its author would–without disrespect to the greater or the less–have somewhat the appearance of putting a very big cart in front of a pony. But no idea could be more mistaken than that which induces people to believe a small book the easiest to write. Easy reading is hard writing; and a thoroughly good small book stands for so much more than the mere process of putting it on paper, that its value is not at all to be judged by its bulk. The offhand word of a man full of knowledge is worth a great deal more than the carefully prepared utterance of a person who having spoken once has nothing more to say. In our introduction to this work, therefore, we propose to reverse the common process of tracing the author’s development upwards, and instead, after stating the mere events of Mr. Fiske’s life, to begin with “The War of Independence” and to follow his work backwards, attempting very briefly to show how each undertaking was built naturally upon something before it, and that the original basis of the structure was uncommonly broad and strong.

John Fiske was born in Hartford, Conn., 30th March, 1842, and spent most of his life, before entering Harvard as a soph.o.m.ore in 1860, with his grandmother’s family in Middletown, Conn. Two years after taking his degree at Harvard, in 1863, he was graduated from the Harvard Law School, but he cared so much more for writing than for the law that his attempt to practice it in Boston was soon abandoned. In 1861 he made his first important contribution to a magazine, and ever since has done much work of the same sort. He has served Harvard College, as University lecturer on philosophy, 1869-71, in 1870 as instructor in history, and from 1872 to 1879 as a.s.sistant librarian. Since resigning from that office he has been for two terms of six years each a member of the board of overseers. In 1881 he began lecturing annually at Washington University, St. Louis, on American history, and in 1884 was made a professor of the inst.i.tution. Since 1871 he has devoted much time to lecturing at large. He has been heard in most of the cities of America, and abroad, in London and Edinburgh. All this time his home has been in Cambridge, Ma.s.s.

So much for the simple outward circ.u.mstances of Mr. Fiske’s life.

Turning to his studies and writings, one finds them reaching out into almost every direction of human thought; and this book, from which our backward course is to be taken, is but a page from the great body of his work. It is especially as a student of philosophy, science, and history that Mr. Fiske is known to the world; and at the present it is particularly as an historian of America that his name is spoken. In no other way more satisfactorily than in tracing the growth of his own nation has he found it possible to study the laws of progress of the human race, and from the first, through all the time of his most active philosophical and scientific work, this study of human progress has been the true interest of his life. With his historical works, then, let us begin.

In 1879 he delivered a course of six lectures on American history, at the Old South Meeting House in Boston. In previous years he had written occasional essays on historical subjects in general, but the impulse towards American history in particular was given by the preparation for these lectures, which were concerned especially with the colonial period. Of his own treatment of an historical subject he is quoted as saying: “I look it up or investigate it, and then write an essay or a lecture on the subject. That serves as a preliminary statement, either of a large subject or of special points. It is a help to me to make a statement of the kind–I mean in the lecture or essay form. In fact it always a.s.sists me to try to state the case. I never publish anything after this first statement, but generally keep it with me for, it may be, some years, and possibly return to it again several times.” Thus it may safely be a.s.sumed that these Old South Lectures and the many others that have followed them have found or will find a permanent place in the series of Mr. Fiske’s historical volumes.

The succession of these books has not been in the order of the periods of which they treat; but from the similarity of their method and the fact that they cover a series of important periods in American history, they go towards making a complete, consecutive history of the country.

The periods which are not yet covered Mr. Fiske proposes to deal with in time. One who has talked with him on the subject of his works reports the following statement as coming from Mr. Fiske’s own lips: “I am now at work on a general history of the United States. When John Richard Green was planning his ‘Short History of the English People,’ and he and I were friends in London, I heard him telling about his scheme. I thought it would be a very nice thing to do something of the same sort for American history. But when I took it up I found myself, instead of carrying it out in that way, dwelling upon special points; and insensibly, without any volition on my part, I suppose, it has been rather taking the shape of separate monographs. But I hope to go on in that way until I cover the ground with these separate books,–that is, to cover as much ground as possible. But, of course, the scheme has become much more extensive than it was when I started.”

Taken in the order of their subjects, the five works already contributed to this series are, “The Discovery of America, with some Account of Ancient America and the Spanish Conquest” (two volumes); “Old Virginia and her Neighbours” (two volumes); “The Beginnings of New England, or the Puritan Theocracy in its Relations to Civil and Religious Liberty;”

“The American Revolution” (two volumes); and “The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789.” Allied with these books, though hardly taking a place in the series, is “Civil Government in the United States, Considered with some Reference to its Origins,” “The War of Independence,” it will thus be seen, is the least ambitious of all these historical works. “A History of the United States for Schools” is addressed to the same audience, and in so far may be considered a companion volume.

What makes Mr. Fiske’s histories just what they are? Another step backward in the stages of his own development will enable us to see, and the sub-t.i.tle, “Viewed from the Standpoint of Universal History,” of one of his earlier books, “American Political Ideas,” will help towards an understanding of his power. It is due to the fact that he brings to his historical work on special subjects the broad philosophic and general view of a man who is much more than a specialist,–the scientific habit of mind which must look for causes when effects are seen, and must point out the relations between them. There could be no better preparation for the writing of history than the apparently alien study of the questions with which the names of Darwin and Spencer are inseparably a.s.sociated.

When Darwin’s “Origin of Species” appeared, Mr. Fiske’s own thought had prepared him to take the place of an ardent apostle of Evolution, and it is held that no man has done more than he in expounding the theory in America. Standing permanently for his work in this field are his books, “Excursions of an Evolutionist” and “Darwinism, and Other Essays.” One of his first important works was “Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy” (1874), and in more recent years “The Destiny of Man” and “The Idea of G.o.d”

speak forth very distinctly, not as interpretations, but as his own contributions to the progress of philosophic thought. One other phase of the use to which Mr. Fiske’s mind has been put should surely be mentioned in any summary of his qualifications for writing histories. He is extremely fond of hearing and telling good stories. His book on “Myths and Myth-makers” (1872) gave early evidence of this fondness, and surely there is the very spirit of the lover of tales in the Dedication of the book, “To my dear Friend, William D. Howells, in remembrance of pleasant autumn evenings spent among were-wolves and trolls and nixies.”

Thus, besides the ability to see a story in all its bearings, Mr. Fiske has the gift of telling it effectively,–a golden power without which all the learning in the world would serve an historian as but so much lead.

But all of these works preceding Mr. Fiske’s historical writings did not come out of nothing. His mental acquirements as a young man and boy were very extraordinary, and give to the last stage of his career at which we shall look–the earliest–perhaps the greatest interest of all. A description of it without a knowledge of what followed would be all too apt to remind readers whose memories go back far enough of the instances, all too common, of men whose early promise is not fulfilled.

_Summa c.u.m laude_ graduates settle down into lives of timid routine that leads to nothing, just as often as the idle dreamers who stay consistently at the foot of their wake up when the vital contact with the world takes place, and do something astonishingly good. These, however, are the exceptions. A development like Mr. Fiske’s follows the lines of nature.

Happily, there were books in the house in which he was brought up. At the age of seven he was reading Rollin, Josephus, and Goldsmith’s Greece. Much of Milton, Pope, and Bunyan, and nearly all of Shakespeare he had read before he was nine; histories of many lands before eleven.

At this age he filled a quarto blank book of sixty pages with a chronological table, written from memory, of events between 1000 B. C.

and 1820 A. D.

All this would seem enough for one boy, but there were the other worlds of languages and science to conquer. It is almost discouraging merely to write down the fact that at thirteen he had read a large part of Livy, Cicero, Ovid, Catullus, and Juvenal, and all of Virgil, Horace, Tacitus, Sall.u.s.t, and Suetonius,–to say nothing of Caesar, at seven. Greek was disposed of in like manner; and then came the modern languages, –German, Spanish,–in which he kept a diary,–French, Italian, and Portuguese. Hebrew and Sanskrit were kept for the years of seventeen and eighteen. In college, Icelandic, Gothic, Danish, Swedish, Dutch, and Roumanian were added, with beginnings in Russian. The uses to which he put these languages were not those to which the weary schoolboy puts his few of learning in foreign tongues, but the true uses of literature,–reading for pleasure and mental stimulus.

It is needless to relate the rapid course of Mr. Fiske’s first studies in science; it is no whit less remarkable than that of his other intellectual enterprises. As mathematics is akin to music, it will be enough to say that when he was fifteen a friend’s piano was left in his grandmother’s house, and, without a master, the boy soon learned its secrets well enough to play such works as Mozart’s Twelfth Ma.s.s. Later in life Mr. Fiske studied the science of music. He has printed many musical criticisms, and has himself composed a ma.s.s and songs.

Few boys can hope to take to college with them, or, for that matter, even away from it, a mind so well equipped as Mr. Fiske’s was when he went to Cambridge. Three years of stimulating university atmosphere, and of indefinitely wide opportunities for reading, left him prepared as few men have been for just the work he has done. He has had the wisdom to see what he could do, and being possessed of the qualities that lead to accomplishment, he has done it; and any reader who understands more than the mere words he reads will be very likely to discover in this small volume, “The War of Independence,” something of the spirit, and some suggestions of the method which, in this sketch, we have endeavored to point out as characteristic of one of the foremost living historians.




Since the year 1875 we have witnessed, in many parts of the United States, public processions, meetings, and speeches in commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of some important event in the course of our struggle for national independence. This series of centennial celebrations, which has been of great value in stimulating American patriotism and awakening throughout the country a keen interest in American history, will naturally come to an end in 1889. The close of President Cleveland’s term of office marks the close of the first century of the government under which we live, which dates from the inauguration of President Washington on the balcony of the Federal building in Wall street, New York, on the 30th of April, 1789. It was on that memorable day that the American Revolution may be said to have been completed. The Declaration of Independence in 1776 detached the American people from the supreme government to which they had hitherto owed allegiance, and it was not until Washington’s inauguration in 1789 that the supreme government to which we owe allegiance to-day was actually put in operation. The period of thirteen years included between these two dates was strictly a revolutionary period, during which it was more or less doubtful where the supreme authority over the United States belonged. First, it took the fighting and the diplomacy of the revolutionary war to decide that this supreme authority belonged in the United States themselves, and not in the government of Great Britain; and then after the war was ended, more than five years of sore distress and anxious discussion had elapsed before the American people succeeded in setting up a new government that was strong enough to make itself obeyed at home and respected abroad.

It is the story of this revolutionary period, ending in 1789, that we have here to relate in its outlines. When we stand upon the crest of a lofty hill and look about in all directions over the landscape, we can often detect relations between distant points which we had not before thought of together. While we tarried in the lowland, we could see blue peaks rising here and there against the sky, and follow babbling brooks. .h.i.ther and thither through the forest. It was more homelike down there than on the hilltop, for in each gnarled tree, in every moss-grown boulder, in every wayside flower, we had a friend that was near to us; but the general bearings of things may well have escaped our notice. In climbing to our lonely vantage-ground, while the familiar scenes fade from sight, there are gradually unfolded to us those connections between crag and meadow and stream that make the life and meaning of the whole. We learn the “lay of the land,” and become, in a humble way, geographers. So in the history of men and nations, while we remain immersed in the study of personal incidents and details, as what such a statesman said or how many men were killed in such a battle, we may quite fail to understand what it was all about, and we shall be sure often to misjudge men’s characters and estimate wrongly the importance of many events. For this reason we cannot clearly see the meaning of the history of our own times. The facts are too near us; we are down among them, like the man who could not see the forest because there were so many trees. But when we look back over a long interval of years, we can survey distant events and personages like points in a vast landscape and begin to discern the meaning of it all. In this way we come to see that history is full of lessons for us. Very few things have happened in past ages with which our present welfare is not in one way or another concerned. Few things have happened in any age more interesting or more important than the American Revolution.



It is always difficult in history to mark the beginning and end of a period. Events keep rushing on and do not pause to be divided into chapters; or, in other words, in the history which really takes place, a new chapter is always beginning long before the old one is ended. The divisions we make when we try to describe it are merely marks that we make for our own convenience. In telling the story of the American Revolution we must stop somewhere, and the inauguration of President Washington is a very proper place. We must also begin somewhere, but it is quite clear that it will not do to begin with the Declaration of Independence in July, 1776, or even with the midnight ride of Paul Revere in April, 1775. For if we ask what caused that “hurry of hoofs in a village street,” and what brought together those five-and-fifty statesmen at Philadelphia, we are not simply led back to the Boston Tea-Party, and still further to the Stamp Act, but we find it necessary to refer to events that happened more than a century before the Revolution can properly be said to have begun. Indeed, if we were going to take a very wide view of the situation, and try to point out its relations to the general history of mankind, we should have to go back many hundreds of years and not only cross the ocean to the England of King Alfred, but keep on still further to the ancient market-places of Rome and Athens, and even to the pyramids of Egypt; and in all this long journey through the ages we should not be merely gratifying an idle curiosity, but at every step of the way could gather sound practical lessons, useful in helping us to vote intelligently at the next election for mayor of the city in which we live or for president of the United States.

[Sidenote: The half-way station in American History]

We are not now, however, about to start on any such long journey. It is a much nearer and narrower view of the American Revolution that we wish to get. There are many points from which we might start, but we must at any rate choose a point several years earlier than the Declaration of Independence. People are very apt to leave out of sight the “good old colony times” and speak of our country as scarcely more than a hundred years old. Sometimes we hear the presidency of George Washington spoken of as part of “early American history;” but we ought not to forget that when Washington was born the commonwealth of Virginia was already one hundred and twenty-five years old. The first governor of Ma.s.sachusetts was born three centuries ago, in 1588, the year of the Spanish Armada.

Suppose we take the period of 282 years between the English settlement of Virginia and the inauguration of President Benjamin Harrison, and divide it in the middle. That gives us the year 1748 as the half-way station in the history of the American people. There were just as many years of continuous American history before 1748 as there have been since that date. That year was famous for the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which put an end to a war between England and France that had lasted five years. That war had been waged in America as well as in Europe, and American troops had played a brilliant part in it. There was now a brief lull, soon to be followed by another and greater war between the two mighty rivals, and it was in the course of this latter war that some of the questions were raised which presently led to the American Revolution. Let us take the occasion of this lull in the storm to look over the American world and see what were the circ.u.mstances likely to lead to the throwing off of the British government by the thirteen colonies, and to their union under a federal government of their own making.

[Sidenote: The four New England colonies.]

In the middle of the eighteenth century there were four New England colonies. Ma.s.sachusetts extended her sway over Maine, and the Green Mountain territory was an uninhabited wilderness, to which New York and New Hampshire alike laid claim. The four commonwealths of New Hampshire, Ma.s.sachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island had all been in existence, under one form or another, for more than a century. The men who were in the prime of life there in 1750 were the great-grandsons and great-great-grandsons of the men who crossed the ocean between 1620 and 1640 and settled New England. Scarcely two men in a hundred were of other than English blood. About one in a hundred could say that his family came from Scotland or the north of Ireland; one in five hundred may have been the grandchild of a Huguenot. Upon religious and political questions these people thought very much alike. Extreme poverty was almost unknown, and there were but few who could not read and write. As a rule every head of a family owned the house in which he lived and the land which supported him. There were no cities; and from Boston, which was a town with 16,000 inhabitants, down to the smallest settlement in the White Mountains, the government was carried on by town-meetings at which, almost any grown-up man could be present and speak and vote.

Except upon the sea-coast nearly all the people lived upon farms; but all along the coast were many who lived by fishing and by building ships, and in the towns dwelt many merchants grown rich by foreign trade. In those days Ma.s.sachusetts was the richest of the thirteen colonies, and had a larger population than any other except Virginia.

Connecticut was then more populous than New York; and when the four New England commonwealths acted together–as was likely to be the case in time of danger–they formed the strongest military power on the American continent.

[Sidenote: Virginia and Maryland]

Among what we now call southern states there were two that in 1750 were more than a hundred years old. These were Virginia and Maryland. The people of these commonwealths, like those of New England, had lived together in America long enough to become distinctively Americans. Both New Englander and Virginian had had time to forget their family relationships with the kindred left behind so long ago in England; though there were many who did not forget it, and in our time scholars have by research recovered many of the links that had been lost from memory. The white people of Virginia were as purely English as those of Connecticut or Ma.s.sachusetts. But society in Virginia was very different from society in New England. The wealth of Virginia consisted chiefly of tobacco, which was raised by negro slaves. People lived far apart from each other on great plantations, usually situated near the navigable streams of which that country has so many. Most of the great planters had easy access to private wharves, where their crops could be loaded on ships and sent directly to England in exchange for all sorts of goods.

Accordingly it was but seldom that towns grew up as centres of trade.

Each plantation was a kind of little world in itself. There were no town-meetings, as the smallest political division was the division into counties; but there were county-meetings quite vigorous with political life. Of the leading county families a great many were descended from able and distinguished Cavaliers or King’s-men who had come over from England during the ascendency of Oliver Cromwell. Skill in the management of public affairs was hereditary in such families, and during our revolutionary period Virginia produced more great leaders than any of the other colonies.

[Sidenote: New York and Delaware]

There were yet two other American commonwealths that in 1750 were more than a hundred years old. These were New York and little Delaware, which for some time was a kind of appendage, first to New York, afterward to Pennsylvania. But there was one important respect in which these two colonies were different alike from New England and from Virginia. Their population was far from being purely English. Delaware had been first settled by Swedes, New York by Dutchmen; and the latter colony had drawn its settlers from almost every part of western and central Europe. A man might travel from Pen.o.bscot bay to the Harlem river without hearing a syllable in any other tongue than English; but in crossing Manhattan island he could listen, if he chose, to more than a dozen languages.

There was almost as much diversity in opinions about religious and political matters as there was in the languages in which they were expressed. New York was an English community in so far as it had been for more than eighty years under an English government, but hardly in any other sense. Accordingly we shall find New York in the revolutionary period less prompt and decided in action than Ma.s.sachusetts and Virginia. In population New York ranked only seventh among the thirteen colonies; but in its geographical position it was the most important of all. It was important commercially because the Mohawk and Hudson rivers formed a direct avenue for the fur-trade from the region of the great lakes to the finest harbour on all the Atlantic coast. In a military sense it was important for two reasons; _first_, because the Mohawk valley was the home of the most powerful confederacy of Indians on the continent, the steady allies of the English and deadly foes of the French; _secondly_, because the centre of the French power was at Montreal and Quebec, and from those points the route by which the English colonies could be most easily invaded was formed by Lake Champlain and the Hudson river. New York was completely interposed between New England and the rest of the English colonies, so that an enemy holding possession of it would virtually cut the Atlantic sea-board in two. For these reasons the political action of New York was of most critical importance.

[Sidenote: The two Carolinas and Georgia; New Jersey and Pennsylvania]

Of the other colonies in 1750, the two Carolinas and New Jersey were rather more than eighty years old, while Pennsylvania had been settled scarcely seventy years. But the growth of these younger colonies had been rapid, especially in the case of Pennsylvania and North Carolina, which in populousness ranked third and fourth among the thirteen. This rapid increase was mainly due to a large immigration from Europe kept up during the first half of the eighteenth century, so that a large proportion of the people had either been born in Europe, or were the children of people born in Europe. In 1750 these colonies had not had time enough to become so intensely American as Virginia and the New England colonies. In Georgia, which had been settled only seventeen years, people had had barely time to get used to this new home on the wild frontier.

The population of these younger colonies was very much mixed. In South Carolina, as in New York, probably less than half were English. In both Carolinas there were a great many Huguenots from France, and immigrants from Germany and Scotland and the north of Ireland were still pouring in. Pennsylvania had many Germans and Irish, and settlers from other parts of Europe, besides its English Quakers. With all this diversity of race there was a great diversity of opinions about political questions, as about other matters.