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The Writings of George Washington, &c. By Jared Sparks.
Vols. VI. and VII. Boston: 1835.
Two additional volumes of the copious correspondence of the Father of his country having issued from the press since our last number, we ask the continued attention of our readers to their interesting contents. Nothing can be of more profit to Americans, and especially to the youth of our land, than to recur, and that frequently, to the labours and sentiments of our revolutionary ancestors; and by so doing, to kindle anew that patriotic fire, which the heats of modern party-warfare are so apt to supplant. We have seen, with unmingled satisfaction, the efforts that have been lately made, (and in which the distinguished editor of these volumes has borne so conspicuous a part,) to revive our recollections, and to enlarge our knowledge of the men and the events of those days, which, we trust, the lapse of time will serve, instead of darkening, only the more to hallow and establish in our memories. The lives of some of the actors in the scenes of '76 have engaged several of our native pens; and we await, with pleasing anticipation, the appearance of others announced as in progress. Upon no better or more interesting subject could native talent or industry be employed. Let American works illustrate and record American history. Let American character shine forth upon pages traced by affectionate, though not over-partial hands. Let the spirit which would look with satisfaction and with pride upon native worth and abilities, be fostered and strengthened. There need be no fear of its being pushed to excess. Without nationality, no nation has been eminent. The great dead of ancient Greece were em-balmed in the memories of her sons. The wide world else, was barbarian. The Roman relied with haughty independence upon that fact, which he deemed of first importance-Roman citizenship; and his aim was, to make it appear so in the sight of mankind.
The present work is not one about which to write at all at length. We can do no more than offer an account of it, and some analysis of its contents, for the benefit of such (we hope they will not be many) as will not read the volumes themselves. A running commentary, therefore, accompanied with the extracts that strike us as most entertaining, it is, in accordance with our notices of the previous numbers, our present design to furnish. The sixth and seventh volumes embrace the period of time between the 14th of July, 1778, and the beginning of April, 1781; a space marked with many incidents of a stirring description, and some portending deep danger to our independence, and yet, on the whole, indicative of a happy result to the contest. The actual, active co-operation of our French allies—the brilliant capture of Stony Point; the alarming progress of the British arms in the Southern States—and the base treason of Arnold—with the execution of the unhappy André, all distinguish this epoch. Upon all of these points the labours of the indefatigable editor have shed additional light; and upon some of them, particularly the last, we shall presently dwell for a short time.
Before proceeding, however, to notice incidents of a public nature, we shall present a féw extracts, in further elucidation of Washington's sentiments, and as specimens of his epistolary powers. His letters, however private and confidential, written, too, at distant and different periods of his life, all exhibit the same highminded and honourable views; and prove conclusively, that his entire career,
public and domestic, was altogether of a piece; and that nothing which has been discovered, and we are warranted in saying, that nothing which can be discovered, is capable of marring the simple beauty and symmetry of his pure character. We would include, in this expression of opinion, his sentiments as a man, and his views as a
soldier, a politician, and a statesman. Happy indeed was our republic, in finding for a general, one, who, to a firm conviction of the necessity of strict military discipline, and of promptness and energy in the movements of war, united a conscientious submission to the civil authority on all proper occasions. Happy, in having for a leader, one, who, while fighting for liberty against the encroachments of arbi. trary power, resisted the excesses of rebellion; and happy, again, in having for a statesman, in the very start of our political institutions, one, who was betrayed by no feeling of successful democratic exertion, into the extremes of radicalism; and assisted in giving to our political frame that impress which is its saving principle.
In a letter to a friend in Virginia, after speaking of the state of inaction of the British troops at New York, in August, '78, he says:
“ It is not a little pleasing, nor less wonderful to contemplate, that after two years' manœuvring and undergoing the strangest vicissitudes, that perhaps ever attended any one contest since the creation, both armies are brought back to the very point they set out from, and that the offending party at the beginning is now reduced to the use of the spade and pickaxe for defence. The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations. But it will be time enough for me to turn preacher, when my present appointment ceases; and therefore I shall add no more on the doctrine of Providence; but make a tender of my best respects to your good lady, the secretary, and other friends, and assure you, that, with the most perfect regard, I am, dear Sir, &c."
The military ardour of Lafayette had induced him, rather foolishly it must be confessed, to send a challenge to Lord Carlisle, President of the Board of British Commissioners to negotiate with Congress; and he wrote a letter to Washington, to secure his approval of the step he had taken. The General wrote him in reply, to dissuade him from his purpose :
“ My Dear MARQUIS, “ I have had the pleasure of receiving, by the hands of Monsieur de la Colombe, your favour of the 28th ultimo, accompanied by one of the 24th, which he overtook somewhere on the road. The leave requested in the former, I am as much interested to grant, as to refuse my approbation of the challenge proposed in the latter. The generous spirit of chivalry, exploded by the rest of the world, finds a refuge, my dear friend, in the sensibility of your nation only. But it is in vain to cherish it, unless you can find antagonists to support it; and however well adapted it might have been to the times in which it existed, in our days it is to be feared, that your opponent, sheltering himself behind modern opinions, and under his present public character of commissioner, would turn a virtue of such ancient date into ridicule. Besides, supposing his Lordship accepted your terms, experience has proved, that chance is often as much concerned in deciding these matters as bravery; and always more, than the justice of the cause, I would not therefore have your life by the remotest possibility exposed, when it may be reserved for so many greater occasions. His Excellency, the Admiral, I flatter myself, will be in sentiment with me; and, as soon as he can spare you, will send you to head-quarters, where I anticipate the pleasure of seeing you."
The result of the affair is thus stated by Mr. Sparks—Lord Carlisle very properly declining to meet Lafayette;
“ In an address to Congress by the British commissioners, after Governor John. stone had retired from the commission (Congress having refused to hold any further intercourse with him), they expressed themselves in terms derogatory to France; not very wisely, it must be allowed, considering the relations that then existed be. tween the French and American national councils. The address was signed by all the commissioners, but Lord Carlisle's name appeared at the head, as president of the board. The French officers took offence, and believed the honour of their nation
to be concerned. They thought it an affair of sufficient importance to claim their notice on personal grounds, and that Lord Carlisle ought to be called to account for the free remarks, which he had sanctioned by his signature. This duty appertained to Lafayette, he being the highest amongst them in rank. It seemed to accord, also, with his own feelings, and in one of the letters, to which the above was an answer, he had asked General Washington's opinion. Neither the advice of Washington nor of Count d'Estaing could divert him from his purpose. A challenge was sent; but it was declined by Lord Carlisle, who said, in a civil and good-humoured reply, that he considered himself responsible only to his country and King for his public conduct and language.”
How much sound sense is conveyed in the following passage from another letter!
" In general I esteem it a good maxim, that the best way to preserve the confi
. dence of the people durably is to promote their true interest. There are particular exigencies when this maxim has peculiar force. When any great object is in view, the popular mind is roused into expectation, and prepared to make sacrifices both of ease and property. If those, to whom the people confide the management of their affairs, do not call them to make these sacrifices, and the object is not attained, or they are involved in the reproach of not having contributed as much as they ought to have done towards it, they will be mortified at the disappointment, they will feel the censure, and their resentment will rise against those, who, with suffi
. cient authority, have omitted to do what their interest and their honour required. Extensive powers not exercised as far as was necessary, have, I believe, scarcely ever failed to ruin the possessor. The legislature and the people, in your case, would be very glad to excuse themselves by condemning you. You would be assailed with blame from every quarter, and your enemies would triumph.”
The following we regard as agreeable specimens of easy and familiar corres. pondence. The first extract is from a letter to Lafayette, then in France (September '79). The other is a note addressed to Dr. John Cochran, Surgeon and Physi. cion-General of the Army.
- You are pleased, my dear Marquis, to express an earnest desire of seeing me in France, after the establishment of our independency, and do me the honour to add, that you are not singular in your request. Let me entreat you to be persuaded, that to meet you any where, after the final accomplishment of so glorious an event, would contribute to my happiness; and that to visit a country, to whose generous aid we stand so much indebted, would be an additional pleasure; but remember, my good friend, that I am unacquainted with your language, that I am too far advanced in years to acquire a knowledge of it, and that, to converse through the medium of an interpreter upon common occasions, especially with the ladies, must appear so extremely awkward, insipid, and uncouth, that I can scarcely bear it in idea. I will, therefore, hold myself disengaged for the present; but when I see you in Virginia, we will talk of this matter and fix our plans.
“ The declaration of Spain in favour of France, has given universal joy to every Whig; while the poor Tory droops, like a withering flower under a declining sun. We are anxiously expecting to hear of great and important events on your side of the Atlantic. At present, the imagination is left in the wide field of conjecture. Our eyes one moment are turned to an invasion of England, then of Ireland, Minorca, Gibraltar. In a word, we hope every thing, but know not what to expect, or where to fix. The glorious success
of Count d'Estaing in the West Indies, at the same time that it adds dominion to France, and fresh lustre to her arms, is a source of new and unexpected misfortune to our tender and generous parent, and must serve to convince her of the folly of quitting the substance in pursuit of a shadow; and, as there is no experience equal to that which is bought, I trust she will have a superabundance of this kind of knowledge, and be convinced, as I hope all the world and every tyrant in it will be, that the best and only safe road to honour, glory, and true dignity, is justice.”
TO DR. JOHN COCHRAN, SURGEON AND PHYSICIAN-GENERAL.
“ West Point, 16 August, 1779. “ Dear Doctor, “ I have asked Mrs. Cochran and Mrs. Livingston to dine with me to-morrow; but am I not in honour bound to apprize them of their fare? As I hate deception, even where the imagination only is concerned, I will. It is needless to preinise, that my table is large enough to hold the ladies. Of this they had ocular proof yesterday. To say how it is usually covered, is rather more essential; and this shall be the purport of my letter.
“ Since our arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, sometimes a shoulder of bacon, to grace the head of the table; a piece of roast beef adorns the foot; and a dish of beans, or greens, almost imperceptible, decorates the centre. When the cook has a mind to cut a figure, which I presume will be the case to-morrow, we have two beef-steak pies, or dishes of crabs, in addition, one on each side of the centre dish, dividing the space and reducing the distance between dish and dish to about six feet, which without them would be near twelve feet apart. Of late he has had the surprising sagacity to discover, that apples will make pies; and it is a question, if, in the violence of his efforts, we do not get one of apples, instead having both of beef-steaks. If the ladies can put up with such entertainment, and will submit to partake of it on plates, once tin but now iron (not become so by the labour of scouring), I shall be happy to see them; and am, dear Doctor, yours, &c."
There is a point of considerable interest connected with the history of that day, upon which much additional information is furnished by Mr. Sparks. The British Ministry, at different periods of the contest, opened the campaigns with renewed spirit, and sent over very large reinforcements. This was the case in the year
1779, Every address of the King to Parliament was expected with much impatience in America; and, at that period, it, as well as the speech of the Minister, Lord North, breathed a spirit of vigorous effort. The dogged determination of the English government to persist in the attempted conquest of this country, has been, all along, attributed to the settled hostility and unyielding temper of the Premier. This opinion prevailed universally in the United States, and to a considerable extent in England, and public writers have all asserted it. The contrary has been lately established; and it now appears, that it was George the Third, himself, who insisted upon the lengthened prosecution of the war; and that Lord North not only made frequent and earnest endeavours to bring it to a close, but actually urged a coalition with the very men who had opposed the American war throughout. His plan of conciliation, therefore, when finally brought forward, was in accordance with the real wishes of his heart.
It is we known that Washington was in the constant habit of employing spies, by whose agency he was put in possession, at times, of information of the first importance. Early in the war, he adopted this plan of procuring intelligence of the enemy's movements; and his caution and prudence in the employment of these means, were no less conspicuous, than the patriotic fidelity of some of the agents. The editor says:
“ General Washington always had spies in New York, who were unacquainted with each other, and whose intelligence came through different channels. By comparing their accounts he was commonly well informed of all the enemy's movements, and was able to judge with considerable accuracy what plans they had in contemplation. One individual was occupied in this way nearly the whole war. His letters were full, and the information he communicated was usually correct. He was on terms of intimacy with the British officers, and frequently obtained his intelligence from the highest sources. His letters were sent by way of Long Island, and thence across the Sound to Connecticut. At one period he had an agent in Bergen, through whose hands his letters passed. The principal officers near the
lines were also entrusted with the business of procuring intelligence, and employed spies for that purpose, whose reports were transmitted to the Commander-in-chief. Various devices were practised for concealment. A cipher was used in part, but the most effectual mode was to write with an invisible ink, which could be made to appear only by rubbing over the surface of the paper a chemical fluid, prepared in a particular manner. The spies were supplied with this ink and fluid. A short letter would be written on some trivial subject with common ink, and the remainder of the sheet would be filled with invisible characters. Fictitious names were used for the signatures and superscriptions. With these precautions, the risk of detec. tion was very small, even if the letter was intercepted.”
We find the following passages in his correspondence relating to this matter.
“ Congress will be pleased to accept my thanks for the assistance they offer in the article of specie for secret services, which I shall draw for as occasion may require. With the help of this necessary article, good intelligence might be obtained, were not the channel obstructed by a too cautious policy in the States. To enable our correspondents among the enemy to convey their intelligence, we are often obliged to make use of ambiguous characters as the vehicles, and to permit them to carry on some traffic, both as an encouragement and a cover to their mission. There have been instances of prosecutions in the civil courts against these people ; and, in order to screen them from punishment, we have been under a necessity of discovering their occupation. This has served to deter others from acting in the same capacity, and to increase the dread of detection in our confidential friends."
“ Your letter of yesterday came safe to my hands, and by the dragoon, who was the bearer of it, I send you ten guineas for Č -r. His successor, of whose name I have no desire to be informed, provided his intelligence is good and seasonably transmitted, should endeavour to hit upon some certain mode of conveying his information quickly, for it is of little avail to be told of things after they have become matter of public notoriety and known to every body. This new agent should communicate his signature, and the private marks by which genuine papers are to be distinguished from counterfeits. There is a man on York Island, living near the North River, by the name of G. H., who, I am told, has given signal proofs of his attachment to us, and at the same time stands well with the enemy. If, upon inquiry, this is found to be the case, he will be a fit instrument to convey intelligence to me, while I am on the west side the North River, as he is enterprising and connected with people in Bergen county, who will assist in forming a chain to me, in any manner they shall agree on.
“I do not know whom H. employs; but from H. I obtain intelligence; and his name and business should be kept profoundly secret, otherwise we shall not only lose the benefit derived from it, but may subject him to some unhappy fate."
“ The loss of your papers was certainly a most unlucky accident, and shows how dangerous it is to keep papers of any consequence at an advanced post. I beg you will take care to guard against the like in future. If you will send me a trusty person, I will replace the guineas. I observe yourself and other officers have lost some clothing. Though I have not given an order of the kind before, yet in this particular exigence I am ready to give one on the clothier to those officers, who have been the sufferers, for such articles as are absolutely necessary. You will be pleased to communicate this to Colonel Sheldon, and request him to send the paymaster with a proper return to head-quarters. The person, who is most endangered by the acquisition of your letter, is one H. who lives not far from the Bowery, on the island of New York. I wish you would endeavour to give him the speediest notice of what has happened. My anxiety on his account is great. If he is really the man he has been represented to be, he will in all probability fall a sacrifice.”
One fact in regard to the conduct of the English ministry, in persevering in the war of the Revolution, long after, to every dispassionate mind, the chances of suc