FROM 1492 TO 1920
BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE
P F COLLIER & SONS COMPANY, NEW YORK 1920
THE American Congress of 1776, by one great act, made itself a name never to be forgotten in history. Up to the day when the Declaration of Independence was made, it had not been blameless; but its sins, if sins they could be called, were of omission, not commission. It had been only too solicitous of the public welfare, too timid in catching the true, spirit of the hour and acting on it. The position in which the delegates found themselves was a novel one, delicate and difficult. They had no power except moral power, and none could be more ambiguous or dangerous to presume on than that. They must defer to legislatures in the colonies, whose representatives they were, which were inevitably incompetent to see the situation of the country as a whole, but must regard it from the point of view of local interests. Some of the members of the Congress were personally and constitutionally overcautious; many were conservative; not a few were secretly or openly anxious to be reconciled with England at almost any cost; and, most dangerous of all, there were men like Dickinson, of high reputation for patriotism, eloquent, strong-willed, who yet were not truly magnanimous and brave, who had no genuine faith in truth and liberty and the Divine care of things, but who would cringe to tyranny and wrong if it threatened fiercely enough. Dickinson was a man with a fine intellectual appreciation of noble sentiments, and a gift for expressing them; but he was vain, shortsighted and cowardly-though, like most cowards, audacious now and then. He lacked a deep heart and constancy of nature, and never deserved his contemporary or posthumous reputation. With a congress of Dickinsons, we should have been under England's heel as long as she chose to keep us there.
Such being the disabilities, contingent and innate, of the Congress, it is a wonder that they accomplished anything at all; that they accomplished so. much, and finally achieved the immortal "Declaration," is due partly to the unrelenting outrages of the English King and ministry, partly to local circumstances, and partly to the presence among them of men like Franklin, the two Adamses, Gadsden, Jefferson, and of Washington in the field. These men knew what was wanted, and by what measures alone it could be won; they always kept it in view, and never relinquished their efforts to bring it to pass. They were the real representatives of America; they represented that in her which she herself was as yet hardly conscious of; they were true leaders of the people because, they were champions and expositors of the best and loftiest spirit among them. They framed and enforced the adoption of the Declaration-they and the successes in the war which providentially encouraged the colonists to believe that they had not only the right but the power to live their own lives in their own way. Had the reverses in Long Island and elsewhere, which followed the Declaration, taken place before the date of its adoption, it might never have received the support of the Congress.
Of the colonies, Pennsylvania was the most back ward and obstructive in its attitude during the first part of the year 1776; and Franklin resigned his seat in its Legislature because the oath of obedience to the King was required. In the Congress the question of throwing open the ports was long discussed, and it was not until the 6th of April that the resolution was passed. "We have hobbled on under a fatal attachment to Great Britain-I feel a stronger one to my country," said genial George Wythe; and he accused the King himself as the proximate author of the troubles: at which a gasp of misgiving broke from many a breast, for a king was still a king, and the idea of a republic was yet inchoate. But, said Washington, "time and persecution bring wonderful things to pass." Dickinson clamored for terms of accommodation with England; and he would have Congress wail till terms of alliance had been made with France; at which Samuel Adams did not conceal his contempt; the heart of the King, he said, was as Pharaoh's for hardness; and France would not help them unless they could pro re that they were worth helping.
On the 6th of May the King gave his final instructions to the commissioners to the colonies, empowering the two Howes, of the army and of the navy, to grant pardons to such as sued for mercy, and to inflict rigorous punishment on all who did not. The right of Parliament to tax the colonies and to change or revoke their charters must be maintained. Voluntary submission was not expected; an army and navy were making ready which, it was thought, would be adequate to enforce the King's will. Such an army, indeed, could not have been recruited in England; but George, after his rebuff by Catherine of Russia, went with his purse in his hand and English honor beneath his feet to beg assistance from the petty German princes. With Brunswick and Hesse, it was simply a question of money; and they sold nearly a sixth part of their adult male population for English gold. "It is a disgrace," said the parliamentary opposition. "It is a necessity," replied Lord George Germain, shrugging his shoulders. Upward of twenty thousand brutal Hessians and Brunswickers, attracted by promises of unlimited plunder and rapine, embarked for America, and, after long delays, caused by haggling for more blood money, were finally landed on our shores. They were trained soldiers, and were led by able officers; they had the courage which is bred by the custom of war and by discipline; but they were mercenaries, and thereby divested of every higher attribute of human beings. A nation's soldiers are paid for their services; but they can and do feel that they are the defenders and champions of their country; they feel an unselfish devotion for their flag; they are inspired in desperate moments with the gallant enthusiasm of war. But mercenaries are debarred from all such feelings; they care for the country they serve as little as for that which they attack; money, plunder, and the sating of their brutal propensities are all that they seek. For the sake of these they take the lives of their fellow men. But while we abhor them, what are we to say of those who stooped to employ them? What are we to say of a King of England in the Christian Eighteenth Century who employed them against the descendants of Englishmen? We are glad to remember that George and his ministry did not represent England, and that the best men in the country unfalteringly denounced their action. The people as a whole were never with them. The wrongs of America were a potent influence to destroy abuses in England. Yet a nation cannot be wholly acquitted of evil done by its rulers; and the English nation acquiesced for seven years in the war against America. They did not escape the contagion of that monumental selfishness.
The act of Parliament confiscating our shipping and property was met by Congress by the issue of letters of marque and reprisal to privateers; and the mariners of New England promptly availed themselves of the privilege and profit of aiding the Government by private enterprise in war. Mugford of Marblehead captured a British ship, the Hope, with a cargo of fifteen hundred pounds of gunpowder, which he brought into Boston Harbor. This was a shorter and better way to "accommodations" than Dickinson's; and the time was full of such deeds. Congress, further, divided the country into three military departments; New England, one; the provinces below Potomac another, and the middle region, the third. It could not borrow or tax, but it issued paper money to the amount, in all, of ten million dollars. Then John Adams began to press his plans for organization. He was a -man who a little reminds us of the English Samuel Johnson: a school teacher originally, and with a schoolmaster's way with him always; a big, strong, choleric man, learned and deep thinking, intolerant of all oppression, but of nothing else; eager to have his weight and services recognized, but none the less constant in well-doing though they were ignored; stronger, clearer, and wiser the more the emergency needed brains and virtue,; contagious in energy and conviction; immovable from his purpose, and able to see through the immediate to the final. Since his youth he had meditated upon man and government, and had never lacked courage to accept the truth he saw, and to inculcate it. At this juncture he was a critic and mentor of immeasurable value. At last his. motion to give each and all the colonies the governments they desired was carried; all authority which had been conceded to the crown was now to be bestowed on the people. Laws, not iii p, should govern, he said; and, in form, government should be threefold-an executive, a legislature, and a Judicial branch. The latter should certify and interpret facts; the first should do what the second decreed, with power of veto on their votes. He likewise urged that the legislature be in two branches, one to moderate the other. "If the legislative power is wholly in one assembly and the executive in another or in , a single person, these two powers will oppose and encroach upon each other -until the contest shall end in war, and the whole power, legislative and executive, be usurped by the strongest." Educated by our Constitution, such wisdom seems hackneyed now; but Adams was walking in fields practically untrodden in the spring of 1776. How straight and firm he walked.
Meanwhile Turgot, Malesherbes, and Vergennes had been studying the American situation and recording their views as to the probable outcome of the struggle with England, and the advisability of giving help to the colonists. They were statesmen of eminence and true friends of their own country. Vergennes advocated acting with the Americans, whose ultimate freedom he firmly looked for; the other two were for maintaining peace, though they also foresaw American independence. Louis XVI, who could see little and foresee nothing at all, was finally influenced by the desires or sentiments of the nobility and other powerful bodies in France, and decided to take part against England, though, at first, in a secret manner, by advancing money to the Americans under cover of a trading name. The King of Spain agreed to do the same; both monarchs being moved by purely selfish considerations, having regard on one side to the probability of war with England in any case, and on the other to the value of America as a commercial friend after the Revolution was over. Malesherbes and Turgot, in advising neutrality, had been actuated solely by concern for the maintenance of the French throne and nobility, which they saw were in danger; they loved liberty, but they wished to preserve the state. Had the King and the nobles, who hated republicanism, understood that their support of the American movement against England was hastening the fall of their own system, instead of supporting they would have taken every means to insure America's destruction. In this way shortsighted selfishness and corruption forwarded the cause of human freedom, when pure patriotism and enlightened liberality felt obliged to let it fight for itself. But there were in France men like Lafayette, of ardent hearts but less profound minds, who enlisted in the American cause because they loved it, with no thought of further consequences.
Now that the Declaration of Independence has been for over a hundred years a part of history 'it seems a very obvious thing to have been made. There it stands in black and white in all our school histories, and the children can repeat it by -heart; it is seen to be a dignified and trenchant document, and forms a natural sequel to preceding and prelude to subsequent events. The names of those who signed it, from John Hancock down, are known and honored, and the children are told that it was a bold and patriotic deed for these men to affix their signatures there. The children accept what is told them as a matter of course, and think no more about it. The Signers of the Declaration, like the Pilgrim Fathers, inhabit a sort of prescriptive pantheon, and are hardly regarded as having ever been beings of ordinary flesh and blood, human qualities and frailties, like ourselves. Of course they acted sublimely; where would our histories be if they had not?
When a great poem has been written, a great picture painted, a great symphony composed, they seem to take their place at once among the essential thins which must always have existed. But a time was when the world was destitute of the presence or the expectation of a Shakespeare, a Raphael, a Beethoven. A time was, too, when there was no Fourth of July. And, during the early months of 1776, it was one thing for irresponsible people to talk about cutting loose from Great Britain and setting up for themselves inde pendently; and quite another thing, at that time, for a body of men, with the awful responsibilities of a new and inchoate people's welfare for all future years on their shoulders, and with an English force threatening them from the north, a fleet menacing them from the coast, and an army of thirty thousand disciplined soldiers approaching them from the east, not to speak of uncounted savages awaiting the word to leap upon them with tomahawk and scalping knife from the interior : it was another thing for this particular body of men called a Congress, in some doubt as to the real wishes of many of their constituents, but in no doubt whatever as to the appalling lack of a military establishment for the defense of the country, or as to their personal and individual fate in case the enemy prevailed-to put their names to the final measure which irrevocably pitted their immature and feeble strength against the great Power from which they sprang. Whoever else might escape punishment, in case fate went adversely to their cause, it was certain that they would not. They stood, a fair mark, and could not be overlooked. And though, being brave men, they might not hesitate to risk or sacrifice their lives for their country's sake, yet might they fear that this irrevocable act would involve that country in ruin which else she might have avoided. Why was it not wiser not to make any premature or rash announcements, but simply let things take their course; if all went well, they could define their position at their leisure; if ill, having said little, they would have the less to mend. Could they not intend independence without declaring it? Whose business was it whether they declared it or not? Besides, their wrongs were due to the present King and to his ministers; but they were not immortal; the time must come when England would be ruled by juster men. When that time arrived, was it not probable, to say the least, that the wrongs in question would voluntarily be righted? and then would it not have been well to have forborne to say anything about independence?
It is remarkable that, with the exception of Dickinson, no prominent member of the Congress seems to have adopted this policy of pusillanimity-of running with the hare and holding with the hounds-of whipping the devil round the stump-of eating the cake and having it too-of stooping to cowardice and calling it patriotic statesmanship. It is fortunate, on the other hand, that there were so many delegates who bore in mind the history of liberty and felt the sacredness of her cause. They thought not of base expediency; but they thought that God had made them guardians of human freedom, not for themselves alone, but for the time to come; it was their duty to vindicate it in its height and purity, without regard to their own welfare, or even, as John Adams said, to the bloodshed and devastation in which their country might be involved. It were better that all should perish than that this high trust should be betrayed.
As to the need of a definite declaration of independence, it was well stated by Hawley of Connecticut in May. "There will be no abiding union without a declaration of independence and a course of conduct on that plan," said he. `'My hand and heart are full of it: Will a government stand on recommendations? It is idle to suppose so. Nay, without a real continental government, people will, by and by, sooner than you may be aware of, call for their old constitutions as they did in England after Cromwell's death. For God's sake let there be a full revolution, or all has been done in vain. Independence and a well-planned continental government will save us." Yes, the idea of independence was no new thing; it had been talked of all overthe country for months; but what was needed was a central and authoritative formulation of it, which would bind the country once and for all; otherwise each colony or individual might be tempted to slip out on his own account, and America, just as she had been on tie point of taking her immortal place, might suddenly crumble to pieces before God and man, an idol of faithless clay.
To the great colony of Virginia-first of the colonies chronologically, and not in that respect alone-belongs the high honor of having led the advance toward the union and emancipation of the nation. On the 6th of May the burgesses met, dissolved themselves as under the royal charter, and convened, a hundred and thirty strong, to take counsel as representatives of the people. They were a magnificent body of men; tall and vigorous of body, almost all of them destined to pass the allotted span of human life; many of them wealthy owners of great estates; men of noble manners and lofty thoughts; descendants of cavaliers, of Huguenots, of Scotch Presbyterians, of Cromwellians, of Germans: inhabitants of a province which had always been loyal to England, which bad accepted 1688, and the house of Hanover; but who, finding themselves in the dilemma of being forced either to accept constitutional rights as an alms or erecting a free popular government for themselves, hesitated not at all. They were freeholders, not irresponsible enthusiasts; the most concrete and solid interests must be put in jeopardy if not sacrificed, if they would do right; but they were firmly and dignifiedly unanimous. Pendleton, one of the most conservative members, was voted to the chair; abject submission or total separation was the alternative presented; and on May 15 they declared the united colonies to be free and independent States, absolved from all allegiance to the King.
When that resolution had been adopted the flag of England, which till then had floated over their hall of meeting at Williamsburg, was hauled down, never to be raised again; and the bells of joy rang out all over the dominion.
On May 27 the committee appointed for the purpose, of which Patrick Henry, Cary, Madison, and Mason were members, submitted the draft of a declaration of rights and a scheme of government. The design had been, not to construct a plausible patchwork of excerpts and adaptations of previous forms of constitutions, but to create freely and radically an ideal form of a state, following the lines of nature, truth and law. The result achieved was the model framework of a republic. We shall find its leading features reproduced in the Constitution of the United States; it is worth noting here that the principle of slavery was denounced, and further importation of negroes forbidden: and that Madison, a youth in whose frail body burned the fires of genius and liberty, carried an amendment substituting religious equality for "toleration"
The measures were then adopted, and copies ordered to be distributed to the legislatures of the other colonies.
Pennsylvania was rent between the supporters of the Proprietors-the religious and wealthy classes-and the people: the latter assembled, four thousand strong, declared the existing Assembly incapacitated to represent the colony or to reform the Government, and registered their wish for union and independence. The Assembly, encouraged by Dickinson, tried to ignore the movement, and two political parties were developed, the aristocratic and the popular, which maintained their strife for many years. Meanwhile the Assembly was forced to adjourn, and never again met. Dickinson had succeeded in rendering the adhesion of Pennsylvania to the patriotic movement undignified and inharmonious, but he had been impotent to prevent it. When, on the 7th of June, the Virginia declarations were considered in Congress, Dickinson pledged himself to vote against independence. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, on the same day, with John Adams seconding, proposed that the colonies be declared free and independent; the majority of colonies were on the affirmative side, but to secure unanimity it was agreed to postpone the vote for three weeks. Meanwhile a committee was set to drafting a constitution in accordance with the resolution, and of this committee Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were members. Another committee, to devise a form of confederation, was named by the President of the Congress, John Hancock, and included Samuel Adams and Dickinson. In following days, the subjects were considered of commercial treaties with foreign powers, of the formation (at Washington's instance) of a Board of War; and of laws as to treason. On the 14th of June Connecticut instructed its delegates to vote for independence. Delaware, at the same time, dismissed its proprietor, and left the question of independence open. New Hampshire spoke unequivocally for independence on June 15: New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania came more or less cordially into line. New England was emphatic throughout; but New York, with her large commercial interests, and but one seaport, which was threatened with an overwhelming hostile force, as were also her northern borders, might have been expected to hesitate and chop logic. Washington's army was quite inadequate to her defense; and Tryon, the expelled Governor, fomented a plot to blow up the magazine and capture or kill Washington. In the face of these discouragements, the New York Congress had to pass on the Virginia declarations. Jay moved to ask the freeholders to empower their deputies to vote on the question; and on June 24 the committee unanimously concurred in a profession of willingness to support a resolution of independence.
On the 1st of July fifty members of the Continental Congress met; a letter from Washington stated that to oppose the thirty thousand veterans coming against him from England, he had seven thousand seven hundred men, eight hundred unarmed, half of the whole without bayonets, and fourteen hundred with firelocks which were unserviceable. After some other business; Congress went into committee of the whole to consider the order of the day-the "resolution respecting independency." Richard Henry Lee being absent, it devolved upon John Adams to make the address. He had no speech prepared, and no oficial record was kept of what he said; but no man was so competent to treat the subject from a full and resolved mind, and no one, probably, could have presented the arguments in favor of independence with more fire, clearness, and cogency. "And now," said he, "is the time for us to decide!" He spoke to a fit audience: among them were some of the greatest men the country had produced. Their faces showed their appreciation of the crisis which had arrived; no more momentous one had ever been presented for judgment. It is likely that when Adams sat down the event was already determined; but the debate was still to come. Of all the speeches delivered on this first day only that of Dickinson remains as it was delivered, because he had carefully committed it to paper beforehand, seeking less to serve his country than by disingenuous and time-serving arguments to vindicate himself. A study of the address makes it impossible to believe that ii was designed to serve any honest or worthy purpose; the earmarks of treason, however cunningly disguised, are upon it. Afterward, when Dickinson had learned that the sentiment of the country was against him, he admitted that he had been "mistaken" It was a mistake which kept his name from being numbered with those which subscribe the noblest, bravest and most important document in our annals.
Dickinson lived to be President of Pennsylvania, and founder of Dickinson College; but he might have been one of the signers of the Declaration-and he was not.
At the end of the day's debate the vote of the colonies appeared to be nine against three in favor of the resolution; South Carolina and Pennsylvania being against it, and Delaware divided. On the 2d of July the final determination was made. New York, though known to be in favor of the measure, was not yet present by her delegates; Pennsylvania and South Carolina swung into line; and, every colony concurring, it was resolved 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."
It was, then, on the 2d of July that the great matter was, in principle, decided; but it was necessary to embody the reasons for the step in suitable language for the instruction of foreign nations and as a record for the people.
This work was intrusted to Jefferson, as being a representative of the colony whose proposals had been the first cause of the resolution. The commission must also be regarded as a tribute to Jefferson's personal character and disposition: he was, to a larger extent than any other, an incarnation of the political spirit of his time, living the life of the nation rather than his own. He was wealthy, learned, temperate, self-controlled, serene, of athletic habits but delicate constitution, in belief tending to philosophic free thought. His mind was clean, intrepid, penetrating, and synthetic; he envied no man, and shirked no labor. Men of his general make are usually lacking, in heart; but it was here that Jefferson emerged superior; his heart balanced his intellect, so that he was faithful, trustworthy, and consistent; and, as was finely observed of him, "the glow of one warm thought was worth more to him than money." Obviously no man could be better qualified to write the Declaration; he needed no memoranda or books of reference, but wrote, it out of the clear contents of his own mind, in which whatever was germane to the subject had been long since digested and set in order. It is a composition noteworthy on account of its literary character; the tone and spirit of its expressions, as well as the importance of that which is expressed, render it worthy of record. It consists of three parts: the preamble; the indictment of George III and of Parliament; and the conclusion. Among the archives of our State it lies today, in its writer's small, round, clear handwriting, with the interlineations, amendments, and corrections every word weighed, and each one weighty.
DECLARATION BY THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN CONGRESS ASSEMBLED WHEN, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to in stitute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the form to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having, in direct object, the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
-Here follows that tremendous and yet perfectly just indictment of the Third George: in which many a king since then has seen written the final doom of his and all other royal dynasties. His interference, with legislation is first cited: how he forbade enactment of good and necessary laws, would permit others only in exchange for surrender of popular rights, harassed legislators into compliance by ignoble devices, unwarrantably dissolved legislatures, by refusing to pass naturalization laws prevented colonization, hindered administration of justice and corrupted judges, erected offices to enable his creatures to prey upon the people, arbitrarily kept standing armies amid the community in times of peace and made the civil subordinate to the military power, and conspired with Parliament to subject the colonists to illicit legislation.
Some of these illicit acts are then instanced: such as protecting the troops quartered in the colonies from punishment for their murders and other misdeeds; forbidding free colonial trade, imposing taxes without consent, preventing trial by jury, transporting citizens over seas for trial for pretended offenses, taking away charters and altering fundamental forms of government, and usurping all legislative powers. Furthermore the King is charged with abdicating his kingship by levying war against his subjects, hiring mercenaries to assist him with circumstances of barbarous cruelty, constraining captives to bear arms against their country, exciting slave insurrections and Indian massacres, and, when humbly petitioned for redress, answering only by renewed injuries. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act that may define a tyrant is declared to be unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
-Nor have we been wanting (continues the arraignment) in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them, from time to time, of attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them, by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They, too, have been deaf to the voice of justice and consanguinity. We must therefore acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.
We, therefore, the representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GENERAL CONGRESS assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that, as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace,' contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, and with a firm reliance on the protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
There is probably no political document in the world, so important in its subject as this, which so fully satisfies expectation. Adequately to announce to mankind the birth of a new nation, and to enumerate the causes which led up to it, might seem an almost hopeless enterprise. It was so easy to be prolix, to swerve from the point; to be too defiant, or too plaintive; to discuss topics of transient or local significance. But the Declaration has the extraordinary merit of being so truly personal as to be universal; it covers the case of America so justly that it enables the reader to forget America in Man. Barring the specified indictment of King George, here is a plea which vindicates every community of human beings which has suffered oppression and aspires to liberty. We can add to and spare from it nothing. It blazes the path, once for all, of all who would pass from the shadow of tyranny to the light of freedom; and therefore its particular historical interest fades in the light of its sublime catholic worth. Withal, how simple is it, how spontaneous! What masculine composure is combined with what sincerity! It depends upon no concocted arguments or shrewd apologies, but deals with nothing less august than primal truth and eternal justice. Its tranquil reasonableness forbids the charge of wanton innovation, and its announcement of equal human rights exposes the monstrosity of despotic pretensions. It did not seek for a republic, but a republic grew from it, because no other political form was found consonant with principles derived from nature and equity.
As originally drafted, the Declaration contained a passage referring to slavery, which was expunged because thought to be not entirely just as regarded the King, nor considerate of the honest sentiments of many slaveholders. The passage is more rhetorically emphatic than any other and is in so far out of keeping with the rest; but apart from this, one regrets its omission. Its retention might have influenced the stamina of the "peculiar institution" in after. years. After denouncing the action of the King in enforcing the slave trade in spite of the resistance of the colonies, the attempt to create a servile insurrection is referred to in these vigorous terms: "He is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another." Such a passage would make the fortune of any ordinary composition; yet it is undoubtedly inferior in thought-though not in expression-to the rest of our Declaration. It is a heavy blow, masterfully delivered; but it does not, like the rest, champion the whole world in all times and environments.
The people, in America, bad now taken the place of the King; the war had ceased to be civil and become foreign; in other respects there was no essential change; there was not, as later in France, a nobility to be done away with, or any tendency to overthrow social order. Things went on to all outward appearance much as before; only, now, all were free and happy instead of being bond and miserable. The States, independent of England, were interdependent on one another, while reserving the control each of its internal domestic affairs. To the world, they were the United States; to themselves, States united. Whether the States or the union was the stronger was the question of the next century. For the present the only concern was selfdefense.
The transformation into a foreign nation of what had been a collection of English colonies caused a great falling off in the popular support of America in England. One may vindicate the cause of one member of his family against another; but when it comes to outsiders, the sentiment of patriotism overpowers that of abstract justice. There still were, and there continued to be, men who commended the course of the new nation; others, believing that independence must sooner or later arrive, thought that the present was as good a time for it as any other. But in the majority, the sullen Anglo-Saxon fighting spirit was aroused; whoever was against England must go down, right or wrong. But this change of heart did not lessen the technical difficulties of conquering the colonies, whose vast geographical extent, no less than their warlike spirit and difficult tactics, offered a problem that might have puzzled the ablest general. There were no Marlboroughs, Wellingtons, or Nelsons in England then. Admiral Lord Howe arrived off New York just after the Declaration had been promulgated; he was honest and well-disposed, heartily desired to effect reconciliation, and declared that he would conclude a peace "within ten days." But neither his diplomatic proffers, nor the fact that two of his warships passed the New York batteries and cut off Washington from Albany, had any effect on Congress. "You appear to have no power but to grant pardons," remarked Washington; "but we have committed no fault, and need no pardon." "Posterity will condemn to infamy those who advised this war," said Franklin; "and even success will not save from some degree of dishonor those who voluntarily engage in it. I believe that when you find conciliation impossible on any terms given you to propose, you will relinquish so odious a command." With Congress, Howe's instructions precluded him from having direct dealings; but as a testimony of their attitude, they ordered the Declaration engrossed on parchment, and all the members of Congress signed it on the 2d of August. This benefit, at least, Lord Howe was instrumental in conferring upon America. In short, diplomacy was out of court for the present.
In France, Vergennes, who was now the leading statesman there, presented a memorandum to the King, Louis XVI, in which war was strongly urged against England. "Now is the time to be avenged for the past and secured for the future. Our interests and America's cannot conflict; commerce forms a durable chain between us; special circumstances prevent England from gaining help from European continental nations. Should we choose peace, the expense of maintaining our possessions will be as great as that of war, with none of its contingent advantages." Louis accepted these arguments; but Grimaldi, minister of the Spanish King Charles III, though he hated England not less than did France, yet feared most of all the power of an independent America. He would not consent to open espousal of the American cause. Neither, indeed, did France intend overt action at that time; but the stupidity of the American agent, Deane, in confiding in Bancroft, an American living in England, caused the French plans for secret assistance to be revealed to the English ministry by Bancroft's treachery, and consequent delay in rendering them effective.
The most interesting developments of the next few weeks were the discussions in Congress over a plan of confederation submitted by Dickinson. The plan was a feeble one, bound to collapse of itself ; the debate upon it went so far as to reveal serious difficulties, and then Congress abandoned the subject for the time being, and the States went on with the war without any real government at all, by a system of mutual voluntary concessions, but still at a great disadvantage. The colonies had so long been sufferers from the centralization of power in the English King and Parliament, that they had acquired a sort of hereditary or instinctive dread of centralizing power even is their own Congress; and jealousy of any measure looking in that direction was general. Should taxes be collected according to population? Should Congress vote according to States or population? Should slaves be counted in making these estimates? No one knew exactly how these questions should be answered. 'Only white inhabitants should be counted," Chase thought, "for negroes were no more members of the State than cattle." "To exempt slaves from taxation would encourage slave keeping: slaves increase profits for the southern States, while they lay increased burdens of defense on the northern, and prevent freemen from cultivating a country," said Wilson. "Freemen neither, can nor will do negroes' work," replied Lynch of South Carolina; "slaves are our property: why should they be taxed more than sheep?" "Sheep will never make insurrections," rejoined Franklin, with a smile. Hooper of North Carolina denied that slaves enriched a country, and wished them done away with. Finally, the motion to count only white inhabitants was negatived by a vote in which the States north of Mason and Dixon's line divided against those south of it. But no generally acceptable rule for apportioning taxation could be framed.
As regarded the method of voting, the small States Delaware and Rhode Island-wished each State to have one vote. Chase wanted votes on money to be by inhabitants. Franklin went further: he wished all voting to be on that principle. "A confederation on the principle of allowing a small State an equal vote without bearing an equal burden cannot last long." `Every colony is a distinct person," said Witherspoon; "if an equal vote be refused, the smaller States will be vassals of the larger." John Adams said, "We represent the people; in some States they are many, in others few; the vote should be proportioned to numbers. The confederacy is to form us, like parcels of metal, into one common mass. We shall no longer retain our separate individuality, but become a single individual as to all questions submitted to the confederacy; therefore all those reasons which prove the justice and expediency of a proportional representation in other assemblies hold good here. An equal vote will endanger the larger States, while they, from their difference of products, of interest, and of manners, can never combine for the oppression of the smaller." Rush added, "To vote by States would keep up colonial distinctions: voting by the number of free inhabitants would induce colonies to discourage slavery: the larger colonies are so situated as to render fear of their combining visionary." Hopkins of Rhode Island objected that Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts contained more than half the people of the country; "it cannot be expected that nine colonies will give way to four." Finally Jefferson suggested the compromise, the principle of which was afterward to appear in our Constitution: "Any proposition may be negatived by a majority of the people, or by a majority of the colonies." Thus was the shadow of coming events cast before. Washington, meanwhile, spoke the sense of the country when he said, "Divisions among ourselves assist our enemies; the provinces are united to oppose the common enemy, and all distinctions are sunk in the name of an American."
With abort ten thousand men, more than half of them raw troops, Washington was to defend posts extending fifteen miles. Only one regiment was fully equipped, and discipline was conspicuous by its absence. "We shall never do well until we get a regular army," said Adams, head of the war board. "Meanwhile we shall waste more money than would be necessary for this purpose in temporary calls upon the militia." Congress trusted Gates more than his superior, Washington, and countenanced him in his evacuation of Crown Point, which Washington deprecated. If discordant counsels could breed failure, the outlook was bad.
But Washington, backed by the spirit that animated the people, was able to accomplish more than might have been thought possible. In response to an urgent summons to arms, some seven thousand farmers from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware left their crops uncut and thronged to the seat of war in New York City and Brooklyn. They were not an army, but they were men ready to fight, and a few of them, such as the Marylanders and the Pennsylvanians, had some discipline. Some seven or eight thousand men were stationed on the Brooklyn side; the rest remained in New York. Washington divided his time between both places. Congress enjoined him "not to yield an inch of ground," being apparently under the impression that he had four times as large a force as he really possessed; he sent word that he would harass the enemy to the best of his power; but he saw that to maintain his position was impossible.
The attack was conducted by the two Howes, the General and the Admiral, and was carefully planned. They had about twenty-four thousand men, English and Hessians, and a large fleet of men-of-war. The latter were to be sent up New York Bay to bombard New York, and take the Americans in Brooklyn in the right flank; the Hessians, with some British regiments, were to advance upon the American positions in the center; Clinton, with a large force, was to march along the Jamaica road on the American left flank, and gain their rear. Only one detail of this plan miscarried. the fleet was prevented from reaching its position by a strong north wind, which sprang up just as it war advancing. It was a fortunate wind for the Americans as it enabled Washington to bring the remainder o his army safe off, after the defeat of the 27th of August.
Long Island, lying northeast and southwest, termi hates at its southwestern extremity in a rounded pro jection of low land, about six miles east and west, and ten miles north and south; it is now occupied by the borough of Brooklyn, the city proper being on the northern part, south and east of Manhattan Island On the east of the peninsula is Jamaica Bay, on the west the Narrows and New York Bay; on the south the Atlantic. An elevated ridge divides the lower part of Long Island, and ends in small but steep hills over
looking the flat lands on the south, and rounding in the present area of Brooklyn City with the Heights facing East River. It was upon this high region that the American force was stationed; but there were gaps in the line, and the right flank could not be adequately protected. General Greene had been taken violently ill a few days before, and his command devolved upon Sullivan, who was incompetent. General Putnam was in command of all the forces, but his heedlessness in not defending his left was the occasion of the chief disaster of the day.
The British army, landing on the shore of Gravesend Bay on August 26, began its advance before dawn the next morning. It was opposed by Sullivan's force at Flatbush Pass, and by Stirling further south and east along the ridge, he having been ordered by Putnam to advance to this position, upon news that the pickets on the coast road had been driven in. He had two regiments from Delaware and Maryland, the latter composed of Baltimore freeholders; and was supported by Parsons, a lawyer suddenly made brigadier, with two hundred and fifty men from Connecticut. In their rear was Gowanus Creek, with a marsh on each side of it, only to be crossed by a narrow bridge and cause way; on their right Howe's ships, and on their left they were out of touch with the rest of the army. Putnam could not have placed them in a worse predicament. Advancing upon them were Grant and Cornwallis, with four times their force.
Clinton, starting early, got through Jamaica Pass on the east of Sullivan's position, followed by Howe. Before nine o'clock they had got in Sullivan's rear, as their cannon informed him. Before he could make any disposition, he was charged in front by the Hessians under De Heister. Four thousand men were defeated before they had a chance to fight; "Save yourselves!" was the only order Sullivan gave them, and he was among the first to obey it. Many of his men were slain fighting desperately; a few broke through the enemy and reached the inner lines; seven hundred were taken prisoners. Sullivan was captured, biding in a corn patch, by three Hessians. Meanwhile, Stirling was unconscious of what had happened, and had troubles of his own.
In the first place, Parsons, the Connecticut lawyer brigadier, perceiving that he was in some danger, deserted his men and hid in the swamp, whence he sneaked into camp the next day. :host of his men were captured; one of them, a captain, upon surrendering his sword to the British officer, was by him promptly run through the body. Stirling with his Marylanders and Delawares held his position for four hours; then, seeing the bulk of the British army advancing upon them, he ordered a retreat, which was conducted in an orderly manner, carrying with them twenty marines who had been taken prisoners. But Cornwallis was threatening the bridge; if he were not held in check, the whole force was lost. Stirling detached five companies of Marylanders, put himself at their head, and sending the rest of his command across the bridge, defended it with his handful against the British. In ten minutes almost all of them were killed or captured, fighting with great gallantry; nine only escaped. But those ten minutes had sufficed for the purpose, and the main body of the troops got safe over. It was the only redeeming exploit of the clay.
The complete annihilation of the American army in Brooklyn could now have been accomplished by an attack in force on the redoubt in Brooklyn. But Howe had bad experience of the way Americans fought behind intrenchments at Bunker Hill; and would not give the order to advance. The place should be taken by regular approaches; and he set his men to digging. That Washington could escape was a possibility that did not enter his mind.
Whether he could escape depended upon three things: that the English fleet remained wind-bound below; 'that be could get boats to cross the river with; and that he could keep his plans secret till the moment of putting them in execution. The north wind continued, bringing a cold rain, which greatly discomfited the troops, though it contributed to their preservation. Washington sent word to Icing's Bridge and to New York for every kind of boat that could be used for transport. Only a very few officers were advised of his intentions; all that day and evening he continued to make the rounds of the fortifications, as if he intended to defend them. Before dawn on the 30th a thick fog rose over Brooklyn, shrouding the movements of the army in an impenetrable veil. Washington directed General Mifflin to remain behind with a covering party in the redoubt, while the rest of the force embarked and got away. Mifflin's men could hear the British in their trenches; but the British did not hear the noise of an army evacuating its position and getting aboard hundreds of transports. In the midst of the proceedings, some one brought Mifflin an order which he understood to mean that he was to relinquish his position and march to the ferry; arrived there, he met Washington, who wished to know why he had disobeyed instructions? "I had your orders to march," replied Mifflin, indignantly. "Some mistake," Washington answered; "go back, or the enemy may prevent us." When one has succeeded in getting safe out of a very perilous position, it is not pleasant to be ordered to resume it; even veteran troops might hesitate. But Mifflin's Marylanders and Pennsylvanians said not a word, but promptly and orderly obeyed their commands, and were soon in possession of the works which they fondly imagined they had left forever. By good fortune, though they had been gone an hour, their absence had not been observed. Not until after all the other regiments had embarked did they again leave the redoubt; Washington himself was the last man of the army to enter a boat. Notice had been given to the British some hours before the Americans reached New York that they were retreating; but no action had been taken until the whole army, with their stores and guns, had safely landed in New York. Then Montresor and a few men crawled into the works and found them empty. "The best-effected retreat I ever read or heard of," said Greene, afterward; but it must be admitted that chance had contributed not a little to the favorable result. On the other hand, it belongs to a true soldier to know when to take chances, and to have the courage, as Washington did, to take them. Had Washington been in Howe's place, he would have taken the chances of carrying the redoubt, and thereby of destroying the enemy's army.
Many of the Long Island farmers and other inhabitants, either from fear or conviction, had deserted the American cause on the arrival of the British army, and had furnished aid and comfort to the enemy. They formed a marked exception to the rest of the farming population throughout the States during the war; and never showed the possession of any traits of courage or patriotism. Some of the seafaring inhabitants in the northeast of the island, however, subsequently did something to redeem the good name of their fellows. But Washington was now called upon to illustrate his highest qualities of magnanimity. It is easy and common for a soldier to be brave; it is no unusual merit in him to be ambitious of military glory, and to plan and execute operations which evince daring and enterprise. But it was for Washington, at this juncture, to give an example of firmness, forbearance, and devotion to the purest passion of patriotism under reverses and humiliations. Congress and the country looked to him for some brilliant exploit; but he knew that he must avoid a general engagement; must protract the war by retreats, petty skirmishes, and maneuvers which had for their object the harassing and delaying of the enemy. His army, wretchedly small to begin with, was being decimated by wholesale departures of the troops for their homes; the men were neither disciplined nor under control; they had, for the most part, never grasped the idea that they owed any obedience to their officers beyond what they might choose voluntarily to yield., Washington's appeals and expositions to Congress met with either scant attention or none at all; sometimes their orders contravened his. He could not command respect without performing some sensational act;'and yet he knew that no such act would be reconcilable with the true interests of the country. No more painful dilemma was possible for a soldier; for duty's sake he must seem to his countrymen derelict in duty. He must even submit to be defied by his subordinate officers, as when Gates resented criticism of his abandonment of Crown Point; or as when, afterward, the council of war voted down his recommendation to retreat from New York. Although he was Commander in Chief in name, Congress would not allow him to be so in fact. How many men would have thrown up their commissions under such discouragements, and left an unappreciative and obstinate country to its fate? No such idea was ever entertained by Washington. He was never lax or sullen; by his own calm, indomitable spirit he tried to cheer the spirits of others; when he could not carry out his purposes, he adopted the course next most promising. Such behavior implies not only greatness, but goodness; not heroism only, but Christian heroism. It is giving everything a man has-life, energy, heart, soul, and brain-for nothing -except the secret knowledge of having done one's best. Nothing in human conduct is more difficult or more rare.
As August advanced, and the British uncoiled them selves along the East and North rivers, and leisurely displayed their teeth like a boa constrictor preparing to swallow its prey, the council of war reversed its decision, and agreed to withdraw to the upper part of the island. During the retreat a disgraceful episode occurred at Kip's Bay, in the region of the present Thirty-fourth Street. The British had landed under cover of a heavy fire from the ships of the fleet in the East River. Washington, who was constantly riding to the various posts to see that matters were being properly conducted, found a large detachment which had been assigned to guard this line running in a headlong panic before a party of about eighty of the enemy. Comprised in this detachment were the brigades of Parsons, who had hidden in Gowanus swamp, and of Fellowes. Unless the line were held, Putnam, in the lower part of the island, with four thousand men, was in danger of destruction. Washington rode in front of the men and strove to halt and turn them; but in vain; and at last he found himself alone, within a few rods of the enemy. To such humiliation was the General of the army subjected. The neat day, in general orders, he announced that death would in future be the penalty of cowardice. Putnam's force fortunately escaped by the western road along North River. But the delay in the enemy's march which enabled him to do so was due to Mrs. Mary Lindley Murray at whose house on Murray Hill Howe and his officers accepted an invitation to lunch. She entertained them so well with her good cheer and her conversation, that two hours had gone by before they knew it; and so had Putnam. That night the British line extended from Hell Gate to Bloomingdale, while the Americans, with a loss in killed, wounded, and missing of about two hundred and seventy, lay down tired and gloomy, unprotected by tents or blankets, on Harlem Heights. A cold rain fell all night, driven by a northeast gale.
Something must be done to restore the confidence of the troops in their officers and themselves. On the morning of the nest day, the 16th of August, Washington sent afire brig down North River and set fire to a British warship anchored there; and at the same time his line, extending from Fort Washington, near King's Bridge, to Harlem, engaged the advance of the enemy under Leslie. Washington directed the American Clinton to attack in front, while Knowlton and Leitch set out to turn the right flank. Clinton's attack was so vigorous that the enemy was driven back; Leitch and Knowlton attacked too soon, but threw Leslie into confusion, and he would have been annihilated but for the arrival of new troops in force. The loss of the British was heavy; of the Americans few were killed, but among them were Knowlton and Leitch, both of them brave and valuable officers, whom the army could ill afford to spare. The skirmish, nevertheless, revived the morale of the men, and taught them once more that the British were not invincible.
The execution as a spy of Nathan Hale saddened the last days of the disastrous month of August. He had undertaken to pass the enemy's lines on Long Island in disguise, to ascertain at what point they were preparing to attack. Having got his information, he was returning, when he was detected and brought before Howe, to whom he told his name, rank, and purpose. Howe ordered him hanged next morning, the 22d. The jailer to whom he was given in charge during his last night on earth treated him with gross cruelty and insult. It is to this fact, and to the steady courage with which he met his death, that the loving honors bestowed on his memory by a later age are due. He was a scholarly youth, just past twenty-one, a graduate of Yale, and newly betrothed. It meant something for a man like this to be able to say, firmly and boldly, as he stood with the noose around his neck on that misty August morning, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." He would gladly have died in battle as well. The country which breeds such men cannot be conquered.