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Greene, Washington, and Cornwallis

2nd half

Return to Chapter 21 part 1 

 The allied armies were now divided, the French taking the left side of the approaches to the city, and the Americans the right. Within a week, trenches had been opened within six hundred yards of the enemy, and the bombardment was kept up night and day. Cornwallis replied stoutly, but he was under no illusions as to the peril of his position. Only in response to the insistence of Clinton and Germain had he, in opposition to his own judgment, undertaken the defense of the place. Portsmouth, further south, would. have offered the advantage of communication with the Carolinas; Yorktown was only tenable on condition of being supported by the fleet, which had been driven away. Clinton had eighteen thousand men in New York; but either he did not realize his rival's danger, or he was indifferent to it. The end came while he was still inactive.

Yorktown was a small village on the north side of the long tongue of land which separates the York River from the James, and which is at this point about eight miles wide. The river banks are high, and the river deep. On the opposite side of the York, about a mile across, was ' Gloucester. The fortifications of Yorktown consisted of earthworks in the shape of redoubts and batteries on the right, with a stockade supporting a high parapet in the rear, and in front a redoubt commanding a marshy ravine. A stockade and batteries defended the extension of the marsh along the center; the left had two small redoubts, in front of which the ground was level with the works, or cut up in narrow gorges. As Cornwallis had written to Clinton, the place was "in no state of defense." But the time for escape had gone by.

Before the siege began, Cornwallis abandoned the outer defenses, and concentrated himself within. French dragoons under De Lauzun, with marines and Virginia militia, hemmed in the force at Gloucester on the other side of the river; and an attempt at a sortie by Tarleton was promptly crushed by De Lauzun, Tarleton himself barely escaping. The allied armies were full of gayety and confidence, but gloom dwelt upon the British. An English frigate of forty-four guns and three transport ships were set on fire by red-hot shot from the French cannon on the 10th of October. On the 11th, a parallel was opened three hundred yards from the lines of the English, and on the fourteenth breaches were made in two redoubts on the right, and Hamilton led a storming party against that on the York River, while De Deux Pouts and De L'Estrade headed the French attack on the other. At a signal, both parties advanced in silence; the American party entirely surrounded the redoubt and captured it and its defenders with a loss to the latter of but eight killed and wounded. The French were delayed in their advance by a stout abattis and palisade; and though they carried the redoubt in less than ten minutes, they lost over a hundred men. The victory was complete, and was celebrated with fraternal rejoicings. "The work is done, and well done," said Washington, who, with Lincoln and Knox, had watched the combined assault, under some risk from bullets, spent or otherwise. The friendly emulation between the French and the American troops was advantageous to the success of both. On the same night, both redoubts were included in the line of the second parallels; and a sortie on the night of October 16th was driven back, after three or four guns had been ineffectually spiked. The next day Cornwallis made up his mind that he must surrender.

Officers from both sides met on the 18th to arrange termsLaurens and De Noaille for the Americans and French, and two of corresponding rank for the English. The same conditions were imposed upon Cornwallis as had been given to Lincoln when he surrendered Charleston. The soldiers were to be prisoners of war, but loyalists must be dealt with by American law: private property should be respected, except plunder and runaway slaves; all public property must be surrendered. Seven thousand two hundred and forty-seven of the best soldiers of the British army, and eight hundred and forty sailors, were included in this capitulation, without counting the three hundred and fifty who had fallen during the siege. Two hundred and forty-four iron and brass cannon were given up. Cornwall is betrayed his boorishness by deputing the delivery of his sword to his subordinate O'Hara, and many of the common soldiers evinced the like temper by trying to break their arms as they stacked them, There was nothing in the conduct of the men or officers of the invading army, either before or during the surrender, which entitled them to the consideration which they nevertheless received. Their inherent brutality was apparent both in war and in. defeat. In apportioning the booty, the Americans received the land forces and stores, while the ships and sailors went to the French. There were nine thousand Americans of the besiegers, and seven thousand French. However selfish may have been the policy of the French Government in helping America, the genuine cordiality and generosity of the troops who did the helping can never be impugned. They were more American than the Americans.

On learning of the surrender, Congress went to church to thank God, and Philadelphia blazed with illuminations. -Honors were showered upon Washington and the other leaders, French and English. Lafayette was loved in America and "venerated" in France. Franklin wrote to Washington that this success brightened "the glory that must accompany your name to the latest posterity." In England, the news came like the voice of doom to Lord North, drove Germain from the Cabinet, rejoiced Fox and the Opposition in general, and elicited from the bewildered fool.on the throne the declaration that "no difficulties can get me to consent to the getting of peace at the expense of a separation from America." It was presently to be revealed to this poor creature that the time had gone by when either English or Americans would wait for his consent. Public opinion in England was all for peace, and it only remained to consider the terms which the allies were willing to accept.

But the discussions of cabinets and diplomats are even more long-drawn than the operations of war; and though all the persons concerned in the negotiations now to be undertaken desired peace, many months must pass before they could agree on the details of the pacific object. Robert Livingstone sent word to Franklin that peace must include the right to the fisheries and the Mississippi boundary, which coincided with Franklin's views; Congress was of the same mind, but found it inexpedient to say so authoritatively just at present. Meanwhile John Adams in the Netherlands had by his determined front and indefatigable persistency brought about the acknowledgment by that power of the separate existence of America as an independent nation. Spain, in terror over the danger to her power, and hating America, would do nothing; but, as Franklin remarked, she had been four years debating what to do: "Give her forty, and meantime let us go about our own business." The House of Commons finally voted against the continuance of the war, and Lord North announced the retirement of himself and of the worst Ministry that had ever misrepresented Great Britain; and much to the grief of the King, he was compelled to accept Lord Rockingham as North's
successor. Lord Shelburne and Franklin made mutual friendly advances looking toward the conclusion of a peace, and the former appointed Oswald, a man of in telligence and liberality, to communicate his ideas to the American statesmen. But Fox, a member of the new Cabinet, was anxious to pick a quarrel with Shalburne, and dispatched a young friend of his own, Grenville, to Paris, to negotiate a peace with America apart from France. This Franklin of course declined to do; but he educated Grenville by conversing with him, and showing him the true position of America. Rockingham dying on the 1st of July, 1732, Shelburne became First Lord of the Treasury. He accepted the post on the understanding with the King that peace with independent America was to be consented to. He was one of the most sensible and liberal, men in England, and his influence was wholly favorable to America. Fog lost a great opportunity, and seriously injured the cause of reform in England, by selfishly and short sightedly opposing him. Burke, also, was violently hostile to Shelburne, whose ministry, he declared, would be "'fifty times worse than North's; his accursed principles were to be found in Macchiavelli, and but for want of understanding he would be a Catiline or a Borgia." Shelburne contented himself with remarking that "nothing was further from his intention than to renew the war with America"; and to Oswald in Paris he wrote: "We have adopted Dr. Franklin's idea of the method to come to a general pacification by treating separately with each party. I beg him to believe that I can have no idea or design of acting toward him and his associates but in the most open, liberal, and honorable manner." Franklin, suspecting that Shelburne, for the very reason of his honesty and open-mindedness, might not remain Minister long, lost no time in entering upon details with Oswald. In going over the articles of peace, he explained to him that Congress could not and would not grant reinstatement to loyal ists, and that the claim of British merchants for debts incurred before the war might be set off against the systematic and wholesale destruction of American private property by the English armies. Shelburne accepted these conditions.

Parliament performed with some natural awkwardness the task of framing the bill empowering the King to treat for peace with the "thirteen colonies," whose independence it acknowledged by implication, but not explicitly. In forwarding the commission to Oswald, Shelburne wrote:-"I have never made a secret of the deep concern I feel in the separation of countries united by blood, by principles, habits, and every tie short of territorial proximity. But I have long since given it up, decidedly though reluctantly; and the same motives which made me, perliaps, the last to give up all hope of reunion make me most anxious, if it is given up, that it shall be done so as to avoid all future risk of enmity and lay the foundation of a new connection, better adapted to the temper and interest of both countries." The diplomacy of a hundred years has added nothing to the soundness and equity of these views.

There was perfect understanding between Shelburne and Franklin, and had the negotiations been left to them, the desired result would soon have followed. Unfortunately, Jay had been sent over as a colleague of Franklin, and his narrow and carping brain could hot comprehend the true exigencies of the situation. Knowing that the coming assembling of Parliament would overthrow Shelburne, and with it the prospect of success in the negotiations, he began to institute senseless objections calculated to spoil all that Franklin's wise care had attained, and to inflict additional loss. and distress upon his country. He demanded that, before anything else was done, the King should declare America independent by proclamation. He caviled at the letter and ignored the spirit. In all respects he acted like an ill-conditioned schoolboy with a grudge which he fancied he could work off, and from which he hoped to gain some personal distinction. He made Shelburne the object of vulgar suspicions, misquoted history in support of his foolish contentions, and, but for the patience and watchfulness of Franklin, would probably have plunged the two countries into war once more.

The war, indeed, was still lingering along, though no actions of importance were to occur. Washington had gone back to the Hudson; Greene had been joined by Wayne in the South; Rochambeau was in Virginia. The French fleet returned to the West Indies, where De Grasse was to meet defeat at the hands of Rodney. Partisan warfare of a petty but most barbarous kind was waged by bands of tories and British in the Southern States. It is useless to repeat the revolting details of these wanton murders, outrages, and robberies. When Shelburne came to power, they ceased; prisoners were well treated, and brutalities were discouraged. Wayne drove the British in Georgia from one post to another until he had them shut up in Savannah, which was also evacuated in July, 1782, and the remains of the British force took refuge in Charleston. In South Carolina the Assembly, under Rutledge as Governor, passed a law of banishment against belligerent loyalists; though the noble Gadsden, who had suffered cruel wrongs. from the enemy, counseled his countrymen to forget and forgive. The last man killed in the war of the Revolution was a Maryland officer named Wilmot, in a skirmish at James Island, about the end of 1782.

In civil affairs, Robert Morris attempted to solve financial problems by the foundation of a national bank, in imitation of the Bank of England. The bank was incorporated in January, 1782, though its legality under the Constitution was in some doubt. It was not trusted by the people at large, but did a profitable business in the region round Philadelphia. Morris was a believer in strong central power, and advocated its establishment. He likewise proposed a scheme for paying the interest on the public debt. But he was more energetic than judicious, and his plans resulted in no solution of the difficulties.

One of the odd episodes of this anomalous period was the proposal of a foreign-born officer, Nicola, to Washington that he should become King of America. To his letter Washington replied:-"No occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing in the army as you have expressed; and I must view with abhorrence and reprehend with severity. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself or anyone else, a sentiment of the like nature." Washington was not a graceful writer; but he showed in this letter that it is possible for a public man, even when not endowed with literary genius, to decline a proposed appointment in such a manner as to leave no doubt whatever of his meaning.

Hamilton had been appointed New York Revenue Collector at the instance of Robert Morris, chiefly in order that he might influence the Legislature of that State to support the financial views of Congress. In consequence of his suggestions, his father-in-law, Schuyler, caused a committee to report "that the radical source of most of the public embarrassments was the want of sufficient power in Congress to effectuate the ready and perfect cooperation of the States: that the powers of government ought without loss of time to be extended; that the general Government ought to have power to provide revenue for itself: that the foregoing important ends can never be attained by deliberations of the States separately; but that it is essential to the common welfare that there should be a conference of the whole on the subject; and that it would be advisable to propose to Congress to recommend, and to each State to adopt, the measure of assembling a general convention of the States, especially authorized to revise and amend the confederation, reserving a right to the respective legislatures to ratify their determinations." In pursuance of this recommendation, Hamilton was elected member of Congress from New York. The sentiment for union was felt throughout the States, and there was a fair prospect of the success of meas. ures undertaken to secure it. Congress adopted in the summer of 1781 the device of the eagle and stars with the olive branch and the thunderbolts as the national emblem, and the motto, E Pluribus Unum. If for no other reason, union was imperative for the sake of revenue reform. The budget for 1783 was figured as at least nine millions, and Rhode Island, which paid a larger proportion of its quota than any of the other States, paid but one-sixth of the amount due; while several Southern States paid nothing whatever.

Spain was delaying peace by the absurdity of her requirements; she wanted both banks of the Mississippi, and all west of it. Vergennes wished the United States to remain manageably weak; he wanted the Canada boundary to fall as far south as possible, and that England should possess the country between the Alleghenies and the great river. England herself, on the other hand, was avowedly prepared to go any reason. able lengths to secure peace with America and all other nations, even agreeing to a modi-concession to Jay's stipulations; but Jay insisted on the letter of his demand, and thereby prevented the concession of other more important provisions of the treaty. Jay had been a warm advocate of the triple alliance of America, France, and Spain; but on discovering the true hostile attitude of Spain, he became unreasonably suspicious of all propositions. Without authorization from America or consultation with Franklin, he intimated to Shelburne that if England would oppose the Spanish demands as to the Mississippi, England should have equal rights to its navigation. The delays of which he was the cause gave time for the complaints of refugees and creditors of the States to become troublesome; and the King was declaring that "if ruin should attend the measures that may be adopted, I may not long survive them."

At this point Adams came from his success in the Netherlands to join the peace commission in Paris. Ire approved of paying the debts incurred before the war, though they had already been offset by British confiscations of the property owed, and by British destruction of the estates which should enable money to be earned. He also favored the rehabilitation of refugees; but here Franklin interposed, calling attention to the intestine disturbances which such a course must produce. The commissioners on both sides were anxious to conclude the treaty before the meeting of Parliament, whose discussions might upset everything. Mutual concessions were agreed to, on the whole in favor of the Americans. Slavery was recognized, but free negroes were regarded as citizens. Subject to the terms of peace between Great Britain and France, the treaty of peace between the United States of America and Great Britain was signed by Franklin, Adams, and Jay for the former, and by Oswald, Fitzherbert and Strachey for the latter, on the 30th of November, 1782. It had been imperiled. by the ignorance or indiscretions of Jay and Adams, and saved by the wisdom and foresight of Franklin; on the whole, it was a worthy document, and honorable to both England and America. The principles upon which it was based were of at least as much value to the future of England, as a great colonizing power, as they were to the immediate prosperity of America. The principle of taxation of colonies by Parliament was extirpated; the way was opened for the abolition of trade monopolies. England had never gained a victory which more benefited her than did her defeat by America. As for America, she had, by her successful resistance to the despotism of an English political clique, conquered for herself the whole world. She had developed and disseminated her ideas, and made possible the liberty of mankind. Her occupation of the Western Continent, and her consequent enormous prosperity, were but a question of time. Those who best knew the spirit of the American people were those who looked for the speediest realization of these results.

The views of Europe as to the terms of peace were various. The King of France was piqued to hear that it had been signed; he had never digested the idea that America could be a separate entity. Vergennes declared that the English had bought rather than made it; "their concessions exceed anything I had thought possible." George was plunged in inconsolable woe. Few persons thought that America would long hold together, in spite of the good terms she had secured. Meanwhile negotiations for the general European peace went on. Spain wanted Gibraltar, but England would not even consider the return of that famous rock, and Spain had once more to accommodate herself to the chronic attitude, characteristic of her in these latter ages, of claiming everything without having the power to hold anything. France obtained the concession of her very moderate demands. The utmost cordiality prevailed between her and England, now that the fisticuffing was over; and aspirations were pronounced that "the name of war be forgotten forever." Nations, especially those which are governed by kings, are very much like children.

In the debate upon the restoration of intercourse with America, which ensued upon the assembling of Parliament, Fox, though asked to enter the Shelburne Cabinet, refused, and allied himself with North and Germain in the opposition. Shelburne, in the course of a speech in the debate, formulated the best spirit in England at that day. "Monopolies, some way or other,- are ever justly punished. They forbid rivalry, and rivalry is the very essence of well-being in trade. All Europe appears enlightened and eager to throw off the vile shackles of oppressive, ignorant, unmanly monopoly. It is always unwise; but, if there is any nation who ought to be the first to reject monopoly, it is the English. Situated as we are between the Old World and the New, and between southern and northern Europe, all that we ought to covet is equality and free trade. Let every market be open; let us meet our rivals fairly and ask no more; telling the Americans that we desire to live with them in communion of benefits and in the sincerity of friendship."

In spite of Shelburne's intelligent honesty, aided by the remarkable eloquence of the younger Pitt, then twenty-four year old, the vote was against the Ministry, and Shelburne resigned. The iniquitous coalition of North and Fox resulted, after delay and dissensions, in the acceptance of office by the Duke of Portland, as a figurehead, with Fox handling the reins, and North in a subordinate position. Such a combination contained the seeds of dissolution within itself. To add to its ill omens, the King was now as frantically hostile to North as he had before been devoted to him And Fox had lost his influence with the country when he abandoned his principles. What is of consequence to our history is that Fox proposed to leave the old Navigation Acts in full force, while America should be allowed to establish no acts of her own; but should continue to pay duties in British ports on her own produce, and receive British produce and manufactures duty free in her own ports: A proclamation in council restricted trade between the States and the British West Indies to British-built ships owned and navigated by British subjects. By doing this, England gave up the use of ships built in America, which had heretofore furnished most of the vessels of her carrying trade; and forbade natural trade between near neighbors. But for America, though ostensibly a disadvantage, it was ultimately a benefit, in prompting her to create an efficient Government. "Everything conducive to union and constitutional energy should be cultivated," said Jay. "The British Ministry will find us like a globe-not to be overset. They wish to be the only carriers between their islands and other countries; and though they are apprised of our right to regulate our trade as we please, yet they flatter' themselves that the different States possess too little national or continental spirit ever to agree to any national system. I think they will find themselves mistaken." The mistake was widespread. Dean Tucker said that "the mutual antipathies and clashing interests of the Americans indicate that they will have no center of union and no common interest; they will never be united into one compact empire under any species of government whatever." Lord Sheffield thought that the American States need not be feared by England as a nation. "The confederation does not enable Congress to form more than general treaties; when treaties become necessary they must be formed with the States separately." And it became a matter of regret to England that she had made any treaty with the States as a whole. But Vergennes supported the American commissioners, and the final treaty of peace was signed on the 3d of September, 1783.

One after another the European states welcomed the new nation to their comity; Sweden being the first to suggest a treaty, which was concluded on the basis of "the most favored nation." Frederick of Prussia was skeptical as to the possibility of the endurance of a continental republic; but he desired to exchange the benefits of friendship with the States. Joseph of Belgium also made overtures, but the relations between the two countries did not develop, owing to the timidity of the Belgium merchants in allowing extended credits, and to the closing of the Scheldt. Denmark's approaches were hampered by questions of violations of neutrality during the war. Russia was too much occupied in the East,to allow of present negotiations; but the two nations were friendly. Holland made cordial advances, and favorable treaties were concluded with her. Spain was suspicious and malicious, but resigned herself as best she might to the unwelcome propinquity of her possessions to the republic. France quietly watched the progress of constitutional principles in the States, without feeling either faith or desire that they should succeed; though individuals like Lafayette were solicitous that a strong government should be established.

The rejoicings which the news of the peace had caused in America were overshadowed by the state of the army. A committee from them, consisting of General Macdougall and others, had addressed Congress in January, 1783, setting forth their grievances. "Shadows have been offered to us," they said, "while the substance has been gleaned by others. The citizens murmur at the greatness of their taxes, and no part reaches the army. The uneasiness of the soldiers at the want of pay is great and dangerous. We entreat that Congress, to convince the army and the world that the independence of America shall not be placed on the ruin of any particular class of her citizens, will point out a mode of immediate redress." Never was a demand more just. The superintendent of finance declared he had no money in hand, and that other demands were equally pressing. Macdougall affirmed, on the other hand, that "the army was verging to that state which makes wise men mad." Madison presented a resolution for a general revenuer "the idea," he said, "of erecting our national independence on the ruins of national faith and honor must be horrid to every mind." It had been noticed that the members of legislatures always paid themselves in full before adjourning, and voted the salaries of the civil lists, while the army was as regularly left unpaid. After much acrimonious debate, Congress agreed, on the 12th of February, to raise a general revenue; but this was not equivalent to money in hand. "With the exception of miracles," wrote Gouverneur Morris, "there is no probability that the States will ever make such grants unless the army be united and determined in the pursuit of it." "If the Constitution is so defective," said General Knox, "why don't you great men call the people together and tell them so?" Congress remained seemingly paralyzed. In March, an anonymous communication, of which Gates was the author, was circulated among the army officers. After recapitulating their injuries, it went on, "If you have sense enough to discover and spirit to oppose tyranny, whatever garb it may assume, awake to your situation. If the present moment be lost, your threats hereafter will be as empty as your entreaties now. Appeal from the justice to the fears of government; and suspect the man"-meaning Washington-"who would advise to longer forbearance."

A copy of this able incitement to mutiny reached Washington on the morning of the day on which the meeting to consider if was to be held. In general orders he disapproved the irregular call, and appointed a meeting five days later, "to devise what measures ought to be adopted to attain the just and important object in view." This frightened Gates; and during the interval Washington prepared his course. When the officers met, on the 15th of March, Gates took the chair; but of a sudden it was discovered that the Commander in Chief was present. There was dead silence until he rose, with an apology to his "brother ofcers," to speak. He remarked that the circular could have proceeded from none' but a British emissary. He reminded them that his constant presence amidst them in the field, as the companion and witness of their distresses, should prove his sympathy with their interests. But he pointed out that any forcible measures on their part to get redress at once must put off satisfaction. They must rely on the faith and purity of intention of Congress, though its action might be unavoidably delayed. "Let me entreat you, gentlemen, not to take measures which, in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity and sully the glory which you have hitherto maintained. Let me conjure you in the name of our common country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the military and national character of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the man who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire with blood. You will thus give one more proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings; and you will afford occasion for posterity to say: `Had this day been want
ing, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of ttaining." He then took up a letter from a member of Congress to read to them; but after the first few lines, fumbled in his pocket for his spectacles, which he said, in apology, he had so lately purchased that this was the first time he had worn them in public: "I have grown gray in your service," he added. with grave simplicity, "and now find myself growing blind." After reading the letter, which promised that the army should be justly dealt with, he bowed, and left the room.

Perhaps no single episode in our history is more impressive and touching than this. No comment, however eloquent, can add anything to its homely grandeur and pathos. It was the last time that Washington led his faithful troops to victory-the victory over themselves. They passed a resolution expressing their unshaken trust in the justice of Congress, and their abhorrence and disdain of the infamous circular; and adjourned. Such an army was worthy to free America and be led by Washington.