Page images

in great part owing to their system of short enlistments. During the last twelve months Washington had addressed to Congress the most urgent and most repeated representations against that system, but had found their theoretical jealousy of a standing army stronger than his warnings or their own experience. There was also, as a leading patriot complains, a disinclination in the gentlemen at Philadelphia to part with the smallest particle of their power.* It was not till the loss of New York was close impending that a better policy prevailed. Then, though not without strenuous opposition, it was resolved to form the army anew into eighty-eight battalions, to be enlisted as soon as possible , and to serve during the war. A certain number of battalions was assigned to each State as its quota; each State to appoint the officers as high as Colonels. To encourage enlistments a bounty of twenty dollars and one hundred acres of land was offered to each non-commissioned officer and soldier. But no sooner had these Resolves been passed than the Congress, by an error not uncommon in all popular assemblies, relaxed in their attention to the subject, as though a vote were sufficient for its own fulfilment. It became necessary for Washington to remind them gravely, that "there is a material difference between voting "battalions and raising men." ** Moreover the nomination of officers by the several States gave rise to another train of evils. A few weeks later Washington unbosoms himself as follows to his brother: — "All the year I have been pressing "Congress to delay no time in engaging men upon such "terms as would insure success, telling them that the longer "it was delayed the more difficult it would prove. But the "measure was not commenced till it was too late to be "effected; and then in such a manner as to bid adieu to "every hope of getting an army from which any services "are to be expected; the different States, without regard

♦Letter of Benjamin Harrison to Washington, July 21. 1775, as printed in the American Archives.

To the President of Congress, October 4. 1776.


"to the qualifications of an officer, quarrelling about the "appointments, and nominating such as are not fit to be "shoe-blacks, from the local attachments of this or that "Member of the Assembly. I am wearied almost to death "with the retrograde motion of things." *

This unprosperous state of their affairs inclined the Congress more and more to the quest of foreign aid. With that view they resolved at this period to appoint three commissioners, or secret envoys, at the Court of France. Dr. Franklin, notwithstanding his great age, was unanimously chosen. When the choice was first announced to him, he answered modestly, "I am old, and good for nothing; but, "as the drapers say of their fag-ends of cloth, you may have "me for what you please." Yet the appointment of any such mission at all was against his own judgment. Only a few months afterwards we find him write as follows: — "I "have never yet changed the opinion I gave in Congress, "that a virgin State should preserve the virgin character, "and not go about suitoring for alliances, but wait with de"cent dignity for the applications of others. I was over"ruled, perhaps for the best." ** While Franklin was thus embarked in a new sphere, Silas Deane was continued at the post which ho already filled. It would seem, however, that this gentleman was by no means most valued where he was best known, since his own State of Connecticut was the only one out of the thirteen that refused to vote for him.*** Jefferson had been designed as the third Commissioner, but on his declining the appointment it devolved upon Arthur Lee. The latter, though for some years past he had practised as a barrister in London, was a native of Virginia, and a brother of Richard Henry Lee. Towards the first of November Dr. Franklin set forth on his voyage, not without some apprehensions of being captured by the English; but landed safe in Quiberon Bay, and before the close of the year had arrived at Paris.

* Writings, vol. iv. p. 184. ** Works, vol. Till. p. 209.

*** Gordon's History Amer. Rev., vol. ii. p. 372.

Another subject which at this period greatly engaged the time and thoughts of Congress, was the framing Articles of Confederation. It was a requisite and yet by no means an easy task to define precisely which powers, as of national concern, should belong to the central body, and which, as of local administration, to the several States. These Articles, as decided after keen debates, were signed and made known at Philadelphia on the 4th of October, but did not become law by the ratification or accession of all the States until nearly three years afterwards. In the meanwhile there was no provision for Central Executive Government beyond the majority of Congress and the Standing Committees which the Congress was in the habit of appointing. But such Standing Committees were, in truth, only specious names. This has been clearly explained by a statesman who was himself at the head of three of them; a statesman among the most adroit and able of his day — Mr. Grouverneur Morris. "You must not imagine J" said he to a friend, "that the members of these Committees took any "charge or burthen of the affairs." For, as Mr. Morris proceeds to show, it was the object of his friends, while1 preserving the democratical form, to assume the monarchical substance, of business. It was the Chairman who received and answered all letters or other applications, who took every step which he deemed essential, who prepared reports, and who issued orders. As for the Committee, the Chairman merely from time to time led them into a private chamber, where, for form's sake, he communicated to them his past proceedings and required their approbation, which was given as a matter of course. *

Of the men who, thus wielding the Committees as their • instruments, or standing forth in the Congress by themselves, held in their hands the reins of power, many were beyond all question well entitled to respect and confidence from their private characters. All of them did not, however, stand equally clear from imputation. See, for instance, the

* Life of Gouverneur Morris, by Sparks, vol. i. p. 317,




case of Mr. Samuel Adams. Before the passing of the Stamp Act he had been collector of the rates in the town of Boston, and treasurer of the money so collected. Take the sequel, not in the words of a stranger or an enemy, but as stated by a man of the same town, the same party, the same creed — by Dr. William Gordon: "His necessities probably, for he . "appears to be addicted to no extravagance, urged him to "supply himself time after time from the cash in hand. The "town had several meetings upon the business; at length, "by the exertion of his friends, a majority was obtained for "the relinquishment of the demand upon him."* Mr. Samuel Adams appears also to be glanced at in an anonymous handbill which, at the commencement of 1775, was circulated through the town of Boston; it contains the expression: "Our leaders are desperate bankrupts." ** Whatever degree of truth there might or might not be in these charges against Samuel Adams, it is certain that they did not prevent him from attaining considerable influence in Congress. Jefferson says of him, that he had a greater share than any other member in advising and directing the conduct of the Northern War.*** On several occasions at least, he appears to have borne no good will to Washington, whose character was so far unlike his own; and both his name and influence may be traced in those secret cabals, which , at one time especially, were formed in Congress against that most eminent man.

In tracing the measures of Congress at this juncture, it is to be observed that while most of the Members were warm and zealous in prosecution of the war, there was not wanting a minority inclined to absolute and unconditional submission. So much danger would have been incurred by a manifestation of such views, that we cannot expect to find

* Hist. Amer. Rev., vol. i. p. 348. On this charge, see a note in my Appendix. In another passage of Gordon's History (p. 288.), the personal appearance of Mr. Samuel Adams is described — "with his venerable grey "locks and hands trembling under a nervous complaint."

. ** See the American Archives. vol- i. p. 1216.

"* Letter to Mr. Wells, May 12. 1819.

them in any manner clearly or explicitly avowed. But that such a party did exist at Philadelphia, and that in numbers it was considerable, is recorded by most unimpeachable authority; by the Adjutant-General of the American army, himself a Philadelphian, and connected with the chief houses of that city.* Few things, indeed, are more remarkable than the lingering attachment to kingly government which may be traced in these insurgent Colonies. So strong was this feeling that, even when every hope was relinquished of returning to the sway of King George, there were some persons who in their stead turned their thoughts to the Pretender — to the Prince Charles of "The Forty "five." Some letters to invite him over, and to assure him of allegiance, were addressed to him from Boston at the very commencement of the contest.** Thus, also, Mr. Washington Irving was assured by Sir Walter Scott, that among the Stuart Papers which Sir Walter had examined at Carlton House, he had found a Memorial to Prince Charles from some adherents in America, dated 1778, and proposing to set up his standard in the back settlements.*** These men were not, and could not be, aware of the broken health and degraded habits into which their hero had fallen. They did not, they could not, know the details of his domestic life at Florence. But such was still their reverence for Royalty that they desired to cling to it even where it might be only the shadow of a shade.

All this time the several States were busily employed in new-modelling their own Constitutions. To that course they had been invited by a Resolution of the Congress so early as

* To Mrs. Reed, October 11. 1776. Colonel Reed subjoins; "This letter, "my dearest love, is written only for your own eye."

"L'Abbe' Fabroni, Recteur de l'Universite* dePise, m'a assure* avoir "vn au commencement de la guerre d'Amerique des lettres des Americains "de Boston au Pretendant pour l'engager a aller se mettre a leur tete." (Dutens, Memoires d'un Voyageur, vol. iii. p. 30.)

*** Visit to Abbotsford, by Washington Irving, p. 48. This Memorial has now disappeared from its place in the collection, as I learn from MrGlover, her Majesty's librarian, who, at my request, in April, 1850, had the kindness to make search among the Stuart Papers of the year 1778, as then preserved in Windsor Castle.

« PreviousContinue »