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"increase of pay? And how is it possible to advance "their pay when flour is selling at different places from, "five to fifteeen pounds per hundred weight, hay from "ten to thirty pounds, and beef and other essentials in "this proportion?" The depreciation still proceeding, Washington, a few months afterwards, declares that "a "waggon-load of money will now scarcely purchase a "waggon-load of provisions!" *
At the outset of this evil the Congress had shown but little foresight; in dealing with it now they showed as little skill. They had recourse to embargoes and confiscations, commercial restrictions of various kinds, and legislative limits upon prices; their measures, of course, aggravating the depreciation which they hoped to cure. They put forth, however, a public Address, declaring once more in the most solemn terms, that their faith was pledged for the ultimate redemption of their bills. Any idea or question to the contrary they treated with disdain: — " It is with great regret and reluctance," say they, "that we can prevail upon ourselves to take the least "notice of a question which involves in it a doubt so injurious to the honour and dignity of America. ... A "bankrupt faithless .Republic would be a novelty in the "political world. . . . Let it never be said, that America "had no sooner become independent than she became insolvent! "f These sentiments, so truly noble, so well deserving our highest admiration did they stand alone, preceded, we may observe, the public and final declaration of insolvency by not quite two years.
In the principal officer of Congress there had been a change some months before. Henry Laurens was succeeded as President by John Jay of New York. It was
* Letters to Gouverneur Morris, October 4. 1778; and to the President of Congress, April 23. 1779.
f Address from the Congress to their Constituents, September 13. 1779. Gordon's History, voL iii. p. 322. "On August 28. 1781," says Dr. Gordon in another place (vol. iv. p. 143.), " the Congress "ordered the Board of War to make a sale of certain cannon "and stores in Rhode Island for specie only. This may be con"sidered as a declarative act on their part against the further cir"culation of a paper currency. It has indeed ceased by common "consent."
a mere transitory appointment, since the decision of the majority was not, it seems, that Mr. Jay, or any one else, was the fittest man, but only that some Member from the great State of New York should now be chosen.*
The new President was certainly both active and able, and several others such appear in the ranks of Congress; yet, looking to them as a whole, and confining the remark to this period, it is impossible not to be greatly struck at their ill-conduct and incapacity. On that point, although it would not be difficult to accumulate evidence from several of their warmest partisans, the testimony of that great and good man who commanded their armies may suffice. In the winter Washington had gone to concert his measures with them at Philadelphia, and he writes from thence as follows :— " If I were to be called upon to draw a picture "of the times and of men from what I have seen, heard, "and in part know, I should in one word say, that idle"ness, dissipation, and extravagance seem to have laid "fast hold of them ; — that speculation, peculation, and "an insatiable thirst for riches seem to have got the better "of every other consideration, and of almost every order "of men ; — that party disputes and personal quarrels are "the great business of the day ; — whilst the momentous "concerns of an empire, a great and accumulating debt, "ruined finances, depreciated money, and want of credit, "which in its consequence is the want of every thing, are "but secondary considerations, and postponed from day "to day, and from week to week, as if our affairs wore "the most promising aspect. . . . Our money is now "sinking fifty per cent, a day in this city; and I shall not "be surprised if in the course of a few months a total stop "is put to the currency of it; and yet an assembly, a "concert, a dinner, or supper, that will cost three or four "hundred pounds, will not only take men off from acting "in this business, but even from thinking of it; while a
* "Mr. Laurens resigned yesterday. A great majority of "Congress immediately determined that one of the New York "delegates should succeed him. We held up General Schuyler, "which seemed to be very agreeable. On account of his absence, "Mr. Jay was prevailed on to take the chair." Letter from Mr. Uuane, a member of Congress to Governor Clinton, Dec. 10. 1778, a* (jublished in a note by Mr. Sparks.
"great part of the officers of our army, from absolute ne"cessity, are quitting the service. ... I have no resent"ments, nor do I mean to point at particular characters. "This I can declare upon my honour, for I have every "attention paid to me by Congress that I can possibly "expect. . . . But such is the picture, which from my "soul I believe to be a true one; and I confess to you "that I feel more real distress, on account of the present "appearances of things, than I have done at any one time "since the commencement of the dispute."* In Washington's opinions these defects were produced in no slight degree by the erroneous policy at this time of the several States. Their system was, it seems, to retain their best men for their local offices or local Assemblies, while as to the central body, they either left their deputations vacant, or filled them with inferior persons. In those days, far unlike our own, the Congress resembled a Committee, or a Junta, much rather than a chamber for debate. The speeches, it is said, were all in the style of private conversation. There were never more than forty members present, often no more than twenty. These small numbers, however, by no means insured harmony, nor precluded violent and unseemly quarrels, rumours of which were not slow in passing the Atlantic. "For God's "sake," — thus wrote La Fayette from France, —" For "God's sake prevent the Congress from disputing loudly "together. Nothing so much hurts the interest and re"putation of America." f Thus the object of concealment, unless, perhaps, for private purposes, was most imperfectly attained, although in name, at least, the deliberations of Congress at this time were secret. Historically, even the Journal which they kept gives little light as to their true proceedings. An American gentleman, who has studied that document with care, laments that it is " painfully meagre, the object being apparently "to record as little as possible." %
The rival legislature of the mother-country met again
* Letter to Benjamin Harrison, December 30. 1778. Writings, vol. vi. p. 151.
f Letter of La Fayette to Washington, June 12. 1779.
this year on the 25th of November. Vehement debates immediately arose, and the spirits of the Opposition were revived by a division which at this time appeared among the Ministry. Lord Gower and Lord Weymouth, disapproving the continued warfare with America, and desiring coalition with some members of the other party, resigned their offices. "I feel," said Lord Gower, " the "greatest gratitude for the many marks of Royal good"ness which I have received, but I cannot think it the "duty of a faithful servant to endeavour to preserve a "system which must end in ruin to His Majesty and to "the country." In his stead the Presidency of the Council was bestowed upon Lord Bathurst, and the Seal of Secretary upon Lord Hillsborough. A second Secretary of State was also at this time appointed, — Lord Stormont, lately ambassador at Paris, in place of Lord Suffolk, who had died some months before.
The secession of Lord Gower especially was felt by the Government as a heavy loss. Lord North, in a letter to the King, declares that he has done his utmost to dissuade his Noble colleague from his purpose. But the Prime Minister adds the following remarkable works : — " In "the argument Lord North had certainly one disadvan"tage, which is that he holds in his heart, and has held "for three years past, the same opinion with Lord "Gower!"*
Thus gloomily for England—with a formidable league against us on either side of the Atlantic — Scotland deeply stirred by the No Popery cry — Ireland ready to burst into flame — discord and contention more rife than ever in our councils and at the heart of the nation's strength—commenced, certainly not amidst congratulations, the New Year, 1780.
* To the King, circa October, 1779. Appendix.
VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY.
Expeditions in pursuit of treasure, or of conquest, under the lofty titles of Galleons or Armadas, have sometimes too much engrossed the attention of historians. Not less deserving of commemoration, and far more entitled to respect, are voyages undertaken for the enlightenment of savage nations or the extension of scientific knowledge.
For voyages like these, the long reign of George the Third is most deservedly renowned. They had been a favourite object with His Majesty ever since his accession to the Crown, and were only delayed until the conclusion of general peace. Next year after that peace were sent forth, on a cruise of discovery, towards the Magellanic Strait, two ships, under Commodore Byron — the same whose adventures as a midshipman, whose duties as an Admiral, have already been commemorated in these pages.* His instructions, bearing date the 17th of June, 1764, commence as follows : — " Whereas nothing can "redound more to the honour of this nation as a maritime "power, to the dignity of the Crown of Great Britain, "and to the advancement of the trade and navigation "thereof, than to make discoveries of countries hitherto "unknown —."
The main scope for such discoveries in the reign, and by the wish, of George the Third, was that vast ocean which, dividing Asia from America, extends from pole to pole. It was on the 25th of September, 1513, that this Ocean was first beheld by European eyes. On that day Vasco Nunez, of Balboa, advancing with a party of Spaniards through the isthmus of Darien, and apprised
* Look back to p. 39. of the third, and to p. 272. of the present volume.