« PreviousContinue »
"complaints have been preferred against officers for "cowardice in the late action on Bunker's Hill. Though "there were several strong circumstances and a very "general opinion against them, none have been con"demned, except a Captain Callender of the artillery, "who was immediately cashiered. I have been sorry to "find it an uncontradicted fact that the principal failure "of duty that day was in the officers, though many of them "distinguished themselves by their gallant behaviour. "The soldiers generally showed great spirit and reso"lution."*
Even before the hostilities at Lexington the more fiery spirits in America had openly relinquished all idea of reconciliation with the mother country. So early as the 23d of March, Patrick Henry, addressing the Convention of Virginia, had in a celebrated speech exclaimed: "As "to peace, Sir, there is no longer any room for hope. If "we wish to be free—we must fight! I repeat it, Sir, "we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of "Hosts is all that is left us!"f But such was not the feeling of many other of the delegates, even after Lexington, when they met in Congress. With a higher sense of duty they determined to leave open the door for a reconciliation,— to forbear as long as possible from any step of aggression or attack—and to confine themselves (perhaps with rather a wide interpretation) to measures of self-defence. Only a few days after Congress had assembled, their temper on this subject had been tried. Of the expected reinforcements from England, some it was thought were destined for New York; and the delegates of that Colony by order of their constituents had applied for advice how to conduct themselves on this occasion. The Congress agreed to recommend that if the troops arrived they should be permitted to remain in the barracks so long as they behaved peaceably and quietly, but that they should not be suffered to erect fortifications
* Letter, July 21. 1775, American Archives, vol. ii. p. 1705. This passage is altogether omitted in Mr. Sparks's compilation. Some remarks upon the manner in which that gentleman has thought himself at liberty to deal with the original MSS. will be found in the Appendix to the present volume.—Another note in that Appendix, refers to the many conflicting American authorities on the battle of Bunker's Hill. (1853.)
f Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, p. 122.
or to cut off the town from the country, and that if they should commit hostilities or invade private property, the inhabitants should defend themselves and their property and repel force by force; that meanwhile the warlike stores should be removed by the Colonists ; that places of retreat in case of necessity should be provided for the women and children of New York; and that a sufficient number of men should be embodied and kept in constant readiness for protecting the inhabitants against insult or injury.
Still more marked was the feeling of the Congress when there came the news how without their sanction or knowledge the volunteers from New England had seized the forts on Lake Champlain. Unwilling to censure what was now irrevocable, the Congress agreed to accept the inadequate excuses offered on the part of these volunteers, and voted, not perhaps in perfect good faith —" Whereas there is indubitable evidence that a design "is formed by the British Ministry of making a cruel "invasion from the province of Quebec upon these "Colonies for the purpose of destroying our lives and "liberties—". They also gave orders for removing to a place of security the cannon and the military stores which had been captured in Ticonderoga. But at the same time they resolved: "That an exact inventory be taken "of all such cannon and stores, in order that they may "be safely returned, when the restoration of the former "harmony between Great Britain and her Colonies, so "ardently wished for by the latter, shall render it prudent "and consistent with the overruling law of self-preserva"tion." And on the 1st of June they passed this further Resolution: "That as this Congress has nothing more in "view than the defence of these Colonies, no expedition "or incursion ought to be undertaken or made by any "Colony or body of Colonists, against or into Canada."
At that period then the Members of Congress continued to profess, and many of them no doubt continued to feel, a sense of loyal duty to the Crown. For several months ensuing they avoided (and none more carefully than Washington) to mention the troops from England as the Royal, and called them only the Ministerial, army. On the 8th of July they signed f> Petition "to the King's "Most Excellent Majesty," declaring themselves his dutiful subjects, and praying that His Royal magnanimity and benevolence might be interposed to direct some mode by which the united applications of his faithful Colonists might be improved into a happy and permanent reconciliation. "Notwithstanding our sufferings," they added, "our breasts retain too tender a regard for the kingdom "from which we derive our origin, to request such a re"conciliation as might in any manner be inconsistent "with her dignity or her welfare."—This appeal, which if unsuccessful they resolved should be their last, they determined to lay before their Sovereign by the most solemn means in their power, by the hands of Mr. Richard Penn, one of the Proprietaries of the province in which they were assembled, in conjunction with the agents for the Colonies in England. Mr. Penn accordingly sailed homewards on this important mission; a mission which then and afterwards was commemorated in America by an expressive phrase—" the Olive-branch." From the kindly and respectful but vague and general words of this Petition it is not easy to discover what terms at that juncture the Congress might wish to propose or to accept. There is no doubt that they considered as indispensable the total repeal of the late obnoxious Statutes. There is no doubt also that they desired a solemn and final compact in recognition of their rights, —a compact which might be to America what Magna Charta had been to England. As to the conditions of such a compact there is reason to believe that they intended to offer an alternative. Either they would submit as heretofore to an absolute restriction of their trade for the benefit of the mother country, but in that case they would stipulate that no further aid or contribution of any kind should ever be required from them. Or else they would agree to raise through their own Assemblies their share of revenue for the support of the whole empire, but according to a certain rate, so that the Colonies should not be taxed one farthing without a security that Great Britain must at the same time tax herself in a still heavier proportion. In that case, however, the Americans would expect to be relieved of all restraints on their trade and navigation, and be empowered to regulate such matters without regard to any interests besides their own.* On these terms, or on terms resembling these, there is reason to believe that even then—even after Lexington and Bunker's Hill,—the progress of civil war might have been arrested, and the integrity of the empire might have been maintained.
The Petition to the King of July 1775 was drawn up by John Dickinson and adopted mainly through his influence. I do not call in question the perfect sincerity and honour of the great majority of those who signed it. But as to one at least, Dr. Franklin, whose name appears beneath it, I may observe that its expressions of " tender "regard" towards the mother country stand forth in striking contrast with some other expressions in his private correspondence. Almost on the very day that Franklin subscribed this Petition to the King he wrote as follows to a former friend in London. "Mr. Strahan: "You are a Member of Parliament and one of that ma"jority which has doomed my country to destruction. "You have begun to burn our towns and murder our "people. Look upon your hands, they are stained with "the blood of your relations! You and I were long "friends; you are now my enemy, and I am Yours, "Benjamin Franklin." t
The Petition to the King was by no means the only document which the Congress at this period prepared. There was an Address to the people of Great Britain. There was another Address to the People of Ireland. There was a Declaration ordered to be read aloud to their assembled troops and public bodies, and setting forth in uncompromising language the causes of their taking up arms. At this very time their spirits were sustained by the accession of Georgia; an accession which had been much desired and long delayed, and which enabled them to speak henceforward in the name of the Thirteen United Colonies. The same shrewd observer whose dia- * See the American Archives, especially two letters dated June 20. 1775 (vol. ii. p. 1033.).
f July 5. 1775; Franklin's Works, vol. viii. p. 155. I can by no means concur with his last American editor in thinking of this production that "in truth it was meant to be nothing more than a "pleasantry!"
tribe to Mr. Strahan I have so lately cited bears in another letter a striking testimony to the earnestness and determination which he beheld around him. "Great frugality "and great industry are now become fashionable here. "Gentlemen who used to entertain with two or three "courses pride themselves now in treating with simple "beef and pudding. Thus we shall be better able to pay "our voluntary taxes for the support of our troops."*
The troops to which Franklin here refers were indeed in such a state as to require all the aid that zeal could prompt or that money could supply. On reaching the head quarters at Cambridge, Washington had expected to find an army of twenty thousand men ; he found no more than sixteen thousand on the rolls; and of them only fourteen thousand fit for duty. Even these he was obliged to describe as "a mixed multitude of people under "very little order or government." The men had no uniforms, but continued to wear the common working dresses in which they had come; a deficiency which was afterwards in some degree remedied by a supply from Congress often thousand hunting shirts, at the General's suggestion. "I know nothing, " says he, "in a speculative view more "trivial, yet nothing which, if put in practice, would "have a happier tendency to unite the men and abolish "their provincial distinctions." f The want of money was most severely felt. On the 21st of September Washington reports the military chest totally exhausted and the Paymaster without one single dollar in hand. For lack of commissaries the supplies of provisions were both insufficient and ill-distributed. Entrenching tools were wanted and likewise engineers. It was also found by Washington that the late action at Bunker's Hill inspired with much higher spirits those who declaimed upon it at a distance, and who by unanswerable arguments proved it an undoubted victory, than those who had closely viewed or themselves partaken in it. With a heavy heart, though with a resolute courage, Washington while making known his wants to Congress could not
* Dr. Franklin to Dr. Priestley, Philadelphia, July 7. 1775. f Letters to his brother, July 27. and to the President of Congress, July 10. 1775.