Page images

36. Thomas

ment for independence,

January 10,



Nothing could be more inconsistent than the conduct of the colonists during the entire year 1775: hurling defiance at Great Britain and protesting loyalty to George III; besieging the royal governor in Boston with troops, and the royal ear in Britain with petitions. On the same day (June 25, 1775) George Washington passed through the city of New York on his way to take command of the continental troops at Cambridge, and William Tryon, King George's governor, landed at the Battery. The militia of New York, with apparently equal enthusiasm, served as escort through the city, first to the rebel general, then to the royal governor. The first clear call to the American colonies to abandon this equivocal position and declare independence of Great Britain without reservations, apologies, or regrets, was Thomas Paine's Common Sense," "a

pamphlet," says Conway,1 "whose effect has never been paralleled in literary history." After discussing the origin and design of government in general, and of Great Britain's hereditary monarchy in particular, Paine comes to the American situation.

1 M. D. Conway, Writings of Thomas Paine, Vol. I, p. 67 n. There had been speculation before as to the probable eventual separation of the colonies from England (see No. 30, pp. 112 ff.) and general prophecies, like that of Turgot's, that colonies were like fruits, which would drop from the tree when ripe. Also thwarted royal governors or irate councilors had been quick to accuse the colonists of striving for " independency." But unless the real feelings of the leading men in America were disguised or hidden, John Adams must have been looking back on events through the coloring medium of the Revolution when he wrote in 1807 that "the necessity of [American independence] some time or other, was always familiar to gentlemen of reflection in all parts of America" (Works, ed. C. F. Adams, Vol. IX, p. 561). In November, 1775, Congress recommended to New Hampshire the establishment of an independent government only "during the continuance of the present dispute between Great Britain and the colonies" (Journals of the Continental Congress, ed. W. C. Ford, Vol. III, p. 319).

Volumes have been written on the subject of the struggle between England and America. Men of all ranks have embarked in the controversy, from different motives and with various designs but all have been ineffectual, and the period of debate is closed. Arms as the last resort decide the contest; the appeal was the choice of the King, and the Continent has accepted the challenge.

The Sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. "Tis not the affair of a City, a County, a Province, or a Kingdom; but of a Continent - of at least one eighth part of the habitable Globe. 'Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected even to the end of time, by the proceedings now. Now is the seed-time of Continental union, faith and honour. The least fracture now would be like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak; the wound would enlarge with the tree, and posterity read it in full-grown characters.

[ocr errors]

By referring the matter from argument to arms, a new era for politics is struck a new method of thinking hath arisen. All plans, proposals, &c. prior to the nineteenth of April, i.e. to the commencement of hostilities, are like the almanacks of the last year; which, tho' proper then, are superceded and useless now....

I have heard it asserted by some, that as America has flourished under her former connection with Great-Britain, the same connection is necessary towards her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. Nothing can be more fallacious than this kind of argument. We may as well assert that because a child has thrived upon milk, that it is never to have meat. . . . I answer roundly that America would have flourished as much, and probably more, had no European power taken any notice of her. The commerce by which she hath enriched herself are the necessaries of life, and will always have a market while eating is the custom of Europe.

But she has protected us, say some. That she hath engrossed us is true, and defended the Continent at our expence as well as her own, is admitted; and she would have defended Turkey from the same motive, viz., for the sake of trade and dominion.

[ocr errors]

Alas! we have been long led away by ancient prejudices, and made large sacrifices to superstition. We have boasted the protection of Great Britain, without considering, that her motive was interest not attachment; and that she did not protect us from our enemies on our account, but from her enemies on her own account, from those who had no quarrel with us on any other account, and who will always be our enemies on the same account. Let Britain waive her pretensions to the Continent L [America], or the Continent throw off the dependance, and we should be at peace with France and Spain, were they at war with Britain. . . . France and Spain never were, nor perhaps ever will be, our enemies as Americans, but only as our being the subjects of Great Britain.1 . . .

I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation to show a single advantage that this continent can reap by being connected with Great Britain. I repeat the challenge; not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for, buy them where we will.

But the injuries and disadvantages which we sustain by that connection are without number; and our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves, instruct us to renounce the alliance. ... Europe is too thickly planted with kingdoms to be long at peace, and whenever a war breaks out between England and any foreign power, the trade of America goes to ruin, because of her connection with Great Britain.... Everything that is right or reasonable pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, 'TIS TIME TO PART.... For as Milton wisely expresses, never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep."

[ocr errors]

As to government matters, 'tis not in the power of Great Britain to do this continent justice: the business of it will soon be too weighty and intricate to be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience, by a power so distant from us, and so very ignorant of us; for if they cannot conquer us, they cannot

1 Here is the germ of the American doctrine of the undesirability of entangling foreign alliances, as developed in Washington's Farewell Address of 1796 and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

govern us. To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a petition, waiting four or five months for an answer, which, when obtained, requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years be looked on as folly and childishness. There was a time when it was proper, and there is a proper time for it to cease. . . .

To talk of friendship with those in whom our reason forbids us to have faith, and our affections, wounded through a thousand pores, instruct us to detest, is madness and folly. Every day wears out the little remains of kindred between us and them; and can there be any reason to hope, that as the relationship expires, the affection will encrease, or that we shall agree better when we have ten times more and greater concerns to quarrel over than ever?

Ye that tell us of harmony and reconciliation, can ye restore to us the time that is past? . . . The last cord now is broken, the people of England are presenting addresses against us. There are injuries which nature cannot forgive: she would cease to be nature if she did. . . . The social compact would dissolve, and justice be extirpated from the earth, or have only a casual existence were we callous to the touches of affection. . .

O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the Globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind!


[ocr errors]



'Comparatively few people of the present generation," 37. The says Mr. Charlemagne Tower, Jr., in his work on The alliance Marquis de Lafayette in the American Revolution " (p. iv), [118] are aware of the inestimable benefits which the French nation conferred upon our forefathers during the American Revolution, at a time when America was without credit abroad and when our cause aroused no other national

sympathy in the world than that of our faithful ally. France had her grievances against Great Britain as well as we, it is true.... But for us Americans the essential facts to be remembered in connection with the alliance are that we went of our own accord to ask France for help1 and that we received it of her." In the summer of 1777 the young Marquis de Lafayette came to America, fortified by a letter of introduction to Congress from Franklin and Deane, to offer his services to the patriot cause. July 31, 1777, Congress passed the following resolution :


Whereas the Marquis de Lafayette, out of his great zeal to the cause of liberty, in which the United States are engaged, has left his family and connections, and at his own expence come over to offer his services to the United States without pension or particular allowance, and is anxious to risque his life in our cause Resolved that his service be accepted, and that in consideration of his zeal, illustrious family and connections he have rank and commission of Major General in the Army of the United States.

[ocr errors]

Lafayette replied in the following letter, the original of which is in the Archives of the State Department at Washington: 2


the 13 august 1777

I beg that you will receive yourself and present to Congress my thanks for the Commission of Major General in the Army of the United States of America which I have been honor'd with in their name the feelings of my heart, long before it be-· came my duty, engaged me in the love of the American cause.

1 See the facsimile of Franklin's letter to the French minister Vergennes, asking for an alliance — our first diplomatic correspondence in Muzzey, An American History, p. 119.

Mr. Charlemagne Tower, Jr., has published a facsimile of this quaint letter in "The Marquis de Lafayette in the American Revolų tion," p. 184.

« PreviousContinue »