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missioners appointed to the courts of Vienna, Spain, Prussia, and Tuscany, were respectively instructed to assure them that the independence of the United States would be maintained at all hazards; and the Commissioners to France and Spain were directed to promise a declaration of war against the Portuguese Monarch, provided such an event would be agreeable to their Catholic and Christian Majesties.
The refusal of the enemy to abide by the terms of the cartel, which had been settled by Generals Washington and Howe for the exchange of prisoners, in the case of General Lee, their cruelties to the prisoners in general, and the enormities which they every where committed against the persons and properties of innocent individuals, in Jersey and New York, have already been spoken of. They not only exasperated the Congress to enter into resolutions of retaliation, but they had a result much more beneficial to the cause of the United States. The people were roused to acts of revenge, and the foraging parties of the enemy were made to feel the consequences of their licentious outrages. With regard to General Lee, the enemy affected to consider him as a deserter from his Britannick Majesty's service, and therefore not entitled to the common privilege of being treated as a prisoner of war. Under this pretence, they refused to receive six Hessian field officers which Washington offered in exchange for him, and made it the plea of confining and guarding him with the utmost severity. This however was only the ostensible motive for retaining Lee; the real one was, his eminent character as a soldier; and the idea that his advice and services were essential to the successful prosecution of their cause by the Americans. They hoped, that this early loss of al
most the only officer of military experience in the Republican army, would tend to create dismay and confusion, and weaken the confidence of the people in their efficient protection. That this reasoning was in some measure correct, is proved by the steps which Congress took to procure the enlargement of General Lee; but the spirit of independence was too strong in the minds of the most virtuous portion of the United States, the middle class of people, to be subdued by one or two reverses of fortune, and the officers of talents too numerous to render the loss of any single individual irreparable.
The Resolution of Congress directed General Washington, in the event of General Howe's refusing to place General Lee upon the footing of a prisoner of war, to confine Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, and five Hessian field officers, who were prisoners, and to inflict upon their persons precisely the same treatment which General Lee should receive. This was a novel and dangerous experiment; and more peculiarly hazardous because of the vast disproportion between the English and American prisoners. Retaliation under any circumstances seldom leads to good-indeed we know not how it can be called retaliation, when the punishment due to the perpetrator of the crime is inflicted upon a third party entirely innocent. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell and the Hessian officers had no agency whatever in the treatment received by General Lee; as it concerned them, therefore, the resolution of Congress was an act of unprovoked cruelty, which involved in its consequences the safety of more than three hundred officers. It was unjustifiable, because they ought to have expected that the enemy would at least be influenced by the same spirit that actuated
them; and that instead of producing the release of General Lee, the confinement of the officers mentioned would have been followed perhaps by the execution of Lee, and certainly by cruelty to all the other prisoners. If General Howe, by whose immediate orders Lee was treated as a state criminal rather than as a prisoner, had fallen into the hands of the Americans, there would have been some show of justice in subjecting him to similar treatment; but even in that case it could not be strictly considered as justifiable retaliation, because General Howe no doubt acted by the express commands of his government. We have purposely passed over many cruelties practised by the British upon the American prisoners; but the instances already adduced are sufficient to show the sort of feeling which prompted their conduct; and it may be readily conceived that this feeling would have been doubly inflamed by any attempt on the part of Washington to retaliate. The resolution of Congress therefore was as impolitick as it was unjust.
In the treatment of prisoners, as well as in the enormities committed against the persons and properties of individuals who took no part in the war, those who were called tories were the principal advisers and perpetrators; and against these, the American troops, continentals and militia, lost no opportunity of taking ample vengeance. To such extent indeed did they carry the practice of plundering, that Washington found it necessary to prohibit it by general order, in which it is said: "After this order any officer found plundering the inhabitants under pretence of their being tories, may expect to be punished in the severest manner." Such is the miserable degradation to which the state of civil war reduces human nature. Con
gress, after having passed several resolutions, among which were, one declaring that Washington should not be bound by a majority of voices in a council of war contrary to his own judgment, and another referring to the consideration of the several states the plan for regulating the prices of labour and of goods, adjourned on the 27th of February, to meet again at Philadelphia.
In the mean time Washington continued his head quarters at Morristown, awaiting the movements of General Howe. And though the brilliant achievements of his little band at Trenton and Princeton, had in some measure brightened the gloom which overspread our affairs during the months of November and December, still there seemed to be no disposition in the people to join his standard. His whole force for several months seldom exceeded fifteen hundred men, and there were times when he could not have mustered four hundred, of all descriptions, fit for duty. In this situation had General Howe detached the same force against the Commander in Chief which he sent against General M'Dougall at Peekskill, and which ended only in the destruction of a quantity of stores,. he would have given a blow to the American cause, from which it could not soon have recovered. But here, as in many other instances, the ignorance of General Howe, or his failure to profit by the means of intelligence within his power, saved the Republican army, and justified their reliance on the interposition of Providence in their favour. So slow was the operation of the recruiting service in adding to the strength of Washington, that on the 15th of March he had not one thousand men; and so little were the officers, upon whom the duty of enlisting men devolved, influenc
ed by principles of patriotism, or even common honesty, that they made no scruple of embezzling the money entrusted to them for that purpose, and of making false returns of desertions. Even for the troops that were raised, it was found impossible to procure arms, until the fortunate arrival of the vessels from France, supplied them with upwards of twenty thousand stand. In the midst of these difficulties, there seemed to be some danger of a serious altercation between Congress and General Schuyler, in consequence of the dismission of Doctor Stringer from the direction of the medical department of the Northern Army. The resolution which Congress passed upon this subject on the 15th of March will be regarded, at the present day, as a singular compound of dignity and condescension. "Resolved," say they, "That as Congress proceeded to the dismission of Doctor Stringer, upon reasons satisfactory to themselves, General Schuyler ought to have known it to be his duty to have acquiesced therein-That the suggestion in General Schuyler's letter to Congress, that it was a compliment due to him to have been advised of the reasons of Dr. Stringer's dismission, is highly derogatory to the honour of Congress; and that the President be desired to acquaint General Schuyler, that it is expected his letters for the future, be written in a style more suitable to the dignity of the representative body of these free and independent States, and to his own character as their officer. Resolved, that it is altogether improper and inconsistent with the dignity of this Congress, to interfere in disputes subsisting among the officers of the army, which ought to be settled, unless they can. be otherwise accommodated, in a court martial, agreeably to the rules of the army; and that the expressions