Page images
PDF
EPUB

Relative Condition and Prospect of the Americans before the Capture of Burgoyne. Effect of that Event

The surrender of Burgoyne was an event of infinite importance to the struggling republicans. Hitherto the preponderance of success had been on the side of the English, and only a few partial victories had been won by the Americans. The defeat on Long Island had eclipsed the glory of the siege of Boston; the capture of Fort Washington and its garrison had overmatched the brilliant defense of Charleston; the defeat at Brandywine had balanced the victory at Trenton; White Plains and Princeton were in fair juxtaposition in the account current; and at the very time when the hostile armies at the north were fighting for the mastery, Washington was suffering defeats in Pennsylvania, and Forts Clinton, Montgomery, and Constitution were passing into the hands of the royal forces. Congress had fled from Philadelphia to York, and its sittings were in the midst of loyalists, ready to attack or betray. Its treasury was nearly exhausted; its credit utterly so. Its bills to the amount of forty millions of dollars were scattered over the country. Its frequent issues were inadequate to the demands of the commissariat, and distrust was rapidly depreciating their value in the public mind. Loyalists rejoiced ; the middlemen were in a dilemma; the patriots trembled. Thick clouds of doubt and dismay were gathering in every part of the political horizon, and the acclamations which had followed the Declaration of Independence, the year before, died away like mere whispers upon the wind.

All eyes were turned anxiously to the army of the north, and upon that strong arm of Congress, wielded, for the time, by Gates, the hopes of the patriots leaned. How eagerly they listened to every breath of rumor from Saratoga' How enraptured were they when the cry of victory fell upon their ears' All over the land a shout of triumph went up, and from the furrows, and workshops, and marts of commerce; from the pulpit, from provincial halls of legislation, from partisan camps, and from the shattered ranks of the chief at White Marsh, it was echoed and re-echoed. Toryism, which had begun to lift high its head, retreated behind the defense of inaction; the bills of Congress rose twenty per cent. in value; capital came forth from its hiding-places; the militia readily obeyed the summons to the camp, and the great patriot heart of America beat strongly with pulsations of hope. Amid the joy of the moment, Gates was apotheosized in the hearts of his countrymen, and they

MEDAL struck IN HoNor of GENERAL GATEs AND HIs ARMY.

* The engraving exhibits a view of both sides of the medal, drawn the size of the original. On one side is a bust of General Gates, with the Latin inscription. “Horatio Gates Duct STRENuo CoMITIA AMERICANA;” literal English, Horatio Gates, brave leader of the American forces. On the other side, or reverse, Burgoyne is represented in the attitude of delivering up his sword; and in the background, on either side of them, are seen the two armies of England and America, the former laying down their arms. At the top is the Latin inscription, “Salus Regionum Septentitional;” literal English, Safety of the northern region or department. Below is the inscription, “HostE AD SARAtogum IN DEdition, accepto pie xvn. Oct., MoccLxxvii.;” English, Enemy at Saratoga surrendered October 17th, 1777.

[graphic]

Wilkinson before Congress. Gold Medal awarded to Gates. Proceedings of the British Parliament. Speech of Chatham.

generously overlooked the indignity offered by him to the commander-in-chief when he refused, in the haughty pride of his heart in that hour of victory, to report, as in duty bound, his success to the national council through him. Congress, too, overjoyed at the result, forgot its own dignity, and allowed Colonel Wilkinson," the messenger of the glad tidings, to stand upon their floor and proclaim, “The whole British army have laid down their arms at Saratoga; our own, full of vigor and courage, expect your orders; it is for your wisdom to decide where the country may still have need of their services.” Congress voted thanks to General Gates and his army, and decreed that he should be presented with a medal of gold, to be struck expressly in commemoration of so glorious a victory. This victory was also of infinite importance to the republicans on account of its effects beyond the Atlantic. The highest hopes of the British nation, and the most sanguine expectations of the king and his ministers, rested on the success of this campaign. It had been a favorite object with the administration, and the people were confidently assured that, with the undoubted success of Burgoyne, the turbulent spirit of rebellion would be quelled, and the insurgents would be forced to return to their allegiance. Parliament was in session when the intelligence of Burgoyne's defeat reached England; December 3, and when the mournful tidings were communicated to that body, it instantly 1777. aroused all the fire of opposing parties.” The opposition opened anew their eloquent batteries upon the ministers. For several days misfortune had been suspected. The last arrival from America brought tidings of gloom. The Earl of Chatham, with far-reaching comprehension, and thorough knowledge of American affairs, had denounced the mode of warfare and the material used against the Americans. He refused to vote for the laudatory address to the king. Leaning upon his crutch, he poured forth his vigorous denunciations against the course of the ministers like a mountain torrent. “This, my lords,” he said, “is a perilous and tremendous moment' It is no time for adulation. The smoothness of flattery can not now avail—can not save us in this rugged and awful crisis. It is now necessary to instruct the throne in the language of truth. . . . . . . . . You can not, I venture to say it, you can not conquer America. What is your present situation there 2 We do not know the worst, but we know that in three campaigns we have suffered much and gained nothing, and perhaps at this moment the northern army (Burgoyne's) may be a total loss. . . . . . . . . You may swell every expense, and every effort, still more extravagantly ; pile and accumulate every assistance you can buy or borrow; traffic and barter with every little pitiful German prince that sells and sends his subjects to the shambles of a foreign power; your efforts are forever vain and impotent; doubly so from this mercenary aid on which you rely, for it irritates to an incurable resentment the minds of your enemies. To overrun with the mercenary sons of rapine and plunder, devoting them and their possessions to the rapacity of hireling cruelty'. If I were an American, as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I never would lay down my arms—never, never, never !” The Earl of Coventry, Earl Temple Chatham's brother-in-law, and the Duke of Richmond, all spoke in coincidence with Chatham. Lord Suffolk, one of the Secretaries of State, undertook the defense of ministers for the employment of Indians, and concluded by saying, “It is perfectly justifiable to use all the means that God and nature have put into our hands.” This sentiment brought Chatham upon the floor. “That God and nature put into our hands!” he reiterated, with bitter scorn. “I know not what idea that lord may entertain of God and nature, but I know that such abominable principles are equally abhorrent to religion and humanity. What' attribute the sacred sanction of God and nature to the massacres of the Indian scalping-knife, to the cannibal and savage, torturing, murdering, roasting, and eating—literally, my lords, eating—the mangled victims of his barbarous battles. . . . . . . . . These abominable principles, and this most abominable avowal of them, demand most decisive indignation. I call upon that right reverend bench (pointing to the bishops), those holy ministers of the Gospel and pious pastors of the Church—I conjure them to join in the holy work, and to vindicate the religion of their God.” In the Lower House, Burke, Fox, and Barré were equally severe upon the ministers; and on the 3d of December, when the news of Burgoyne's defeat reached London, the latter arose in his place in the Commons, and, with a severe and solemn countenance, asked Lord George Germain, the Secretary of War, what news he had received by his last expresses from Quebec, and to say, upon his word of honor, what had become of Burgoyne and his brave army. The haughty secretary was irritated by the cool irony of the question, but he was obliged to unbend and to confess that the unhappy intelligence had reached him, but added it was not yet authenticated." Lord North, the premier, with his usual adroitness, admitted that misfortune had befallen the British arms, but denied that troops were by foreign aid, any blame could be imputed placed the prowess of the to ministers themselves, and United States in the most proposed an adjournment of favorable light upon the December, Parliament on the Continent. Our urgent so1777. 11th (which was licitations for aid, hitherto carried) until the 20th of but little noticed except by January.” It was a France, were now listened clever trick of the to with respect, and the premier to escape the cas- American commissioners at tigations which he knew Paris, Dr. Franklin, Silas the opposition would inflict _- Deane,” and Arthur Lee," while the nation was smart- | -- - ------' occupied a commanding poing under the goadings of sition among the diplomamortified pride. tists of Europe. France, The victory over Bur- 222. 92. Spain, the States Gengoyne, unassisted as our - eral of Holland, the Prince of Orange, and even Catharine of Russia and Pope Clement XIV. (Ganganelli), all

" James Wilkinson was born in Maryland about 1757, and, by education, was prepared for the practice of medicine. He repaired to Cambridge as a volunteer in 1775. He was captain of a company in a regiment that went to Canada in 1776. He was appointed deputy adjutant general by Gates, and, after the surrender of Burgoyne, Congress made him a brigadier general by brevet. At the conclusion of the war he settled in Kentucky, but entered the army in 1806, and had the command on the Mississippi. He commanded on the northern frontier during our last war with Great Britain. At the age of 56 he married a young lady of 26. He died of diarrhea, in Mexico, December 28th, 1825, aged 68 years.

* Pitkin, i., 399.

* Parliamentary Debates.

The Opposition in the House of Commons. Policy of Lord North. Exalted Position of the American Commissioners at Paris.

1778.

• History of the Reign of George III., i., 326.

* Pitkin, i., 397. Annual Register, 1778, p. 74.

* Silas Deane was a native of Groton, Connecticut. He graduated at Yale College, 1758, and was a member of the first Congress, 1774. He was sent to France in June, 1776, as political and commercial agent for the United Colonies, and in the autumn of that year was associated with Franklin and Lee as eommissioner. He seems to have been unfit, in a great degree, for the station he held, and his defective judgment and extravagant promises greatly embarrassed Congress. He was recalled at the close of 1777, and John Adams appointed in his place. He published a defense of his character in 1778, and charged Thomas Paine and others connected with public affairs with using their official influence for purposes of private gain. This was the charge made against himself, and he never fully wiped out all suspicion. He went to England toward the close of 1784, and died in extreme poverty at Deal, 1789.

* Dr. Lee was born in Virginia in 1740—a brother to the celebrated Richard Henry Lee. He was edueated at Edinburgh, and, on returning to America, practiced medicine at Williamsburgh about five years. He went to London in 1766, and studied law in the Temple. He kept his brother and other patriots of the Revolution fully informed of all political matters of importance abroad, and particularly the movements of the British ministry. He wrote a great deal, and stood high as an essayist and political pamphleteer. He was colonial agent for Virginia in 1775. In 1776 he was associated with Franklin and Deane, as minister at the court of Versailles. He and John Adams were recalled in 1779. On returning to the United States, he was appointed to offices of trust. He died of pleurisy, December 14th, 1782, aged nearly 42.

[graphic]

Our relative Position to the Governments of Europe. Policy of Vergennes. Beaumarchais's Commercial Operations.

of whom feared and hated England because of her increasing potency in arms, commerce, diplomacy, and the Protestant faith, thought kindly of us and spoke kindly to us. We were loved because England was hated; we were respected because we could injure England by dividing her realm and impairing her growing strength beyond the seas. There was a perfect reciprocity of service; and when peace was ordained by treaty, and our independence was established, the balance-sheet showed nothing against us, so far as the governments of continental Europe were concerned. In the autumn of 1776, Franklin and Lee were appointed, jointly with Deane, resident commissioners at the court of Versailles, to negotiate a treaty of amity and commerce with the French king. They opened negotiations early in December with the Count De Vergennes, the premier of Louis XVI. He was distinguished for sound wisdom, extensive political knowledge, remarkable sagacity, and true greatness of mind. He foresaw that generous dealings with the insurgent colonists at the outset would be the surest means of perpetuating the rebellion until a total separation from the parent state would be accomplished—an event eagerly coveted by the French government. France hated England cordially, and feared her power. She had no special love for the Anglo-American colonies, but she was ready to aid them in reducing, by disunion, the puissance of the British empire. To widen the breach was the chief aim of Vergennes. A haughty reserve, he knew, would discourage the Americans, while an open reception, or even countenance, of their deputies might alarm the rulers of Great Britain, and dispose them to a compromise with the colonies, or bring on an immediate rupture between France and England. A middle line was, therefore, pursued by him." While the French government was thus vacillating during the first three quarters of 1777, secret aid was given to the republicans, and great quantities of arms and ammunition were sent to this country, by an agent of the French government, toward the close of the year, ostensibly through the channel of commercial operations.” But when the capture of

November.

" Ramsay, ii., 62, 63. * In the summer of 1776, Arthur Lee, agent of the Secret Committee of Congress, made an arrangement by which the French king provided money and arms secretly for the Americans. An agent named Beaumarchais was sent to London to confer with Lee, and it was arranged that two hundred thousand Louis d'ors, in arms, ammunition, and specie, should be sent to the Americans, but in a manner to make it appear as a commercial transaction. Mr. Lee assumed the name of Mary Johnson, and Beaumarchais that of Roderique, Hortales, & Co. Lee, fearing discovery if he should send a written notice to Congress of the arrangement, communicated the fact verbally through Captain Thomas Story, who had been upon the continent in the service of the Secret Committee. Yet, after all the arrangements were made, there was hesitation, and it was not until the autumn of 1777 that the articles were sent to the Americans. They were shipped on board Le Henreur, in the fictitious name of Hortales, by the way of Cape François, and arrived at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on the 1st of November of that year. The brave and efficient Baron Steuben was a passenger in that ship. This arrangement, under the disguise of a mercantile operation, subsequently produced a great deal of trouble, a more minute account of which will be hereafter given. Beaumarchais was one of the most active business men of his time, and became quite distinguished in the literary and political world by his “Marriage of Figaro,” and his connection with the French Revolution in 1793. Börne, in one of his charming Letters from Paris, after describing his visit to the house where Beaumarchais had lived, where “they now sell kitchen salt,” thus speaks of him: “By his bold and fortunate commercial undertakings, he had become one of the richest men in France. In the war of American liberty, he furnished, through an understanding with the French government, supplies of arms to the insurgents. As in all such undertakings, there were captures, shipwrecks, payments deferred or refused, yet Beaumarchais, by his dexterity, succeeded in extricating himself with personal advantage from all these difficulties. “Yet this same Beaumarchais showed himself, in the (French) revolution, as inexperienced as a child and as timid as a German closet-scholar. He contracted to furnish weapons to the revolutionary government, and not only lost his money, but was near losing his head into the bargain. Formerly he had to deal with the ministers of an absolute monarchy. The doors of great men's cabinets open and close softly and easily to him who knows how to oil the locks and hinges. Afterward Beaumarchais had to do with honest, in other words with dangerous people; he had not learned to make the distinction, and accordingly he was ruined.” He died in 1799, in his 70th vear, and his death, his friends suppose, was voluntary.

Unmasking of the French King. Independence of the United States acknowledged by France. Letter of Louis XVI.

Burgoyne and his army (intelligence of which arrived at Paris by express on the 4th of December) reached Versailles, and the ultimate success of the Americans was hardly problematical, Louis cast off all disguise, and informed the American commissioners, through M. Gerard, one of his Secretaries of State, that the treaty of alliance and commerce, already negotiated, would be ratified, and “that it was decided to acknowledge the independence of the United States.” He wrote to his uncle, Charles IV. of Spain, urging his co-operation; for, according to the family compact of the Bourbons, made in 1761, the King of Spain was to be consulted before such a treaty could be ratified." Charles refused to cooperate, but Louis persevered, and in February, 1778, he acknowledged the independence of the United States, and entered into treaties of alliance and commerce with them on a footing of perfect equality and reciprocity. War against England was to be made a common cause, and it was agreed that neither contracting party should conclude truce or peace with Great Britain without the formal consent of the other first obtained ; and it was mutually covenanted not to lay down their arms until the independence of the United States should be formally or tacitly assured by the treaty or treaties that should terminate the war.” Thus allied, by treaty, with the ancient and powerful French nation, the Americans felt certain of success.

February 6.

* This letter of Louis was brought to light during the Revolution of 1793. It is a curious document, and illustrates the consummate duplicity practiced by that monarch and his ministers. Disclosing, as it does, the policy which governed the action of the French court, and the reasons which induced the king to accede to the wishes of the Americans, its insertion here will doubtless be acceptable to the reader. It was dated January 8th, 1778.

“The sincere desire,” said Louis, “which I feel of maintaining the true harmony and unity of our system of alliance, which must always have an imposing character for our enemies, induces me to state to your majesty my way of thinking on the present condition of affairs. England, our common and inveterate enemy, has been engaged for three years in a war with her American colonies. We had agreed not to intermeddle with it, and, viewing both sides as English, we made our trade free to the one that found most advantage in commercial intercourse. In this manner America provided herself with arms and ammunition, of which she was destitute; I do not speak of the succors of money and other kinds which we have given her, the whole ostensibly on the score of trade. England has taken umbrage at these succors, and has not concealed from us that she will be revenged sooner or later. She has already, indeed, seized several of our merchant vessels, and refused restitution. We have lost no time on our part. We have fortified our most exposed colonies, and placed our fleets upon a respectable footing, which has continued to aggravate the ill humor of England.

“Such was the posture of affairs in November last. The destruction of the army of Burgoyne and the straitened condition of Howe have lately changed the face of things. America is triumphant and England cast down; but the latter has still a great, unbroken maritime force, and the hope of forming a beneficial alliance with the colonies, the impossibility of their being subdued by arms being now demonstrated. All the English parties agree on this point. Lord North has himself announced in full Parliament a plan of pacification for the first session, and all sides are assiduously employed upon it. Thus it is the same to us whether this minister or any other be in power. From different motives they join against us, and do not forget our bad offices. They will fall upon us in as great strength as if the war had not existed. This being understood, and our grievances against England notorious, I have thought, after taking the advice of my council, and particularly that of M. D’Ossune, and having consulted upon the propositions which the insurgents make, to treat with them, to prevent their reunion with the mother country. I lay before your majesty my views of the subject. I have ordered a memorial to be submitted to you, in which they are presented in more detail. I desire eagerly that they should meet your approbation. Knowing the weight of your probity, your majesty will not doubt the lively and sincere friendship with which I am yours,” &c.— Quoted by Pitkin (i., 399) from Histoire, &c., de la Diplomatic Français, vol. vii.

* Sparks's Life of Franklin, 430, 433.

« PreviousContinue »