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prepared for this emergency; while a few repelled as now hopeless the idea of holding America under any kind of dependence. It was carried, however, by majorities, in the Commons, of two hundred and sixty-three to one hundred and thirteen; in the Lords, of sixty-eight to twenty-five. The message for calling out the militia was sanctioned without a division.*
Eleven days after the treaty between France and America had been concluded, 17th February, the British minister introduced into the house a project for conciliation, founded on the idea of obtaining a re-union of the new States with Great Britain. This consisted of two bills with the following titles: "A bill for declaring the intention of Great Britain, concerning the exercise of the right of imposing taxes within his majesty's colonies, provinces, and plantations in North America :" and a bill "to enable his majesty to appoint commissioners with sufficient power, to treat, consult, and agree upon the means of quelling the disorders now subsisting in certain of the colonies, plantations, and provinces of North America." These bills were hurried through both houses of Parliament, and before they passed into acts, were copied and sent across the Atlantic, to Lord and General Howe. On their arrival in America, they were sent by a flag to Congress at Yorktown. When they were received, 21st of April, Congress was uninformed of the treaty which their commissioners had lately concluded at Paris. For upwards of a year they had not received one line of information from them on any subject whatever. One packet had in that time been received; but all the letters therein were taken out before it was put on board the vessel which brought it from France, and blank papers put in their stead. A committee of Congress was appointed to examine these bills, and report on them. Their report was brought in the day following, and was unanimously adopted. By it they rejected the proposals of Great Britain.
The vigorous and firm language in which Congress expressed their rejection of these offers, considered in connection with the circumstance of their being wholly ignorant of the late treaty with France, exhibits the glowing serenity of fortitude. While the royal commissioners were industriously circulating these bills in a partial and secret manner, as if they suspected an intention of concealing them from the common people, Congress, trusting to the good sense of their constituents, ordered them to be forthwith printed for the public information. Having directed the affairs of
their country with an honest reference to its welfare, they had nothing to fear from the people knowing and judging for themselves. They submitted the whole to the public. Their report, after some general remarks on the bill, concluded as follows: "From all which it appears evident to your committee, that the said bills are intended to operate upon the hopes and fears of the good people of these states, so as to create divisions among them, and a defection from the common cause, now, by the blessing of divine Providence, drawing near to a favourable issue: that they are the sequel of that insidious plan which, from the days of the stamp-act down to the present time, hath involved this country in contention and bloodshed: and that, as in other cases, so in this, although circumstances, may force them at times to recede from their unjustifiable claims, there can be no doubt they will, as heretofore, upon the first favourable occasion, again display that lust of domination, which hath rent in twain the mighty empire of Britain. Upon the whole matter, the committee beg leave to report it as their opinion, that as the Americans united in this arduous contest upon principles of common interest, for the defence of common rights and privileges, which union hath been cemented by common calamities, and by mutual good offices and affection, so the great cause for which they contend, and in which all mankind are interested, must derive its success from the continuance of that union. Wherefore, any man, or body of men, who should presume to make any separate or partial convention or agreement with commissioners under the crown of Great Britain, or any of them, ought to be considered and treated as avowed enemies of these United States.
"And further, your committee beg leave to report it as their opinion, that these United States cannot, with propriety, hold any conference with any commissioners on the part of Great Britain, unless they shall, as a preliminary thereto, either withdraw their fleets and armies, or else, in positive and express terms, acknowledge the independence of the said states.
“And inasmuch as it appears to be the design of the enemies of these states to lull them into a fatal security; to the end that they may act with a becoming weight and importance, it is the opinion of your committee that the several states be called upon to use the most strenuous exertions to have their respective quotas of continental troops in the field as soon as possible, and that all the militia of the said states be held in readiness to act as occasion may require."
The conciliatory bills were speedily followed by royal commis
sioners, deputed to solicit their reception. Governor Johnstone, Lord Carlisle, and Mr. Eden, appointed on this business, attempted to open a negotiation on the subject. They requested General Washington, on the 9th of June, to furnish a passport for their secretary, Dr. Ferguson, with a letter from them to Congress; but this was refused, and the refusal was unanimously approved by Congress. They then forwarded in the usual channel of communication a letter addressed, "To his excellency, Henry Laurens, the president, and other the members of Congress," in which they communicated a copy of their commission, and of the acts of parliament on which it was founded; and they offered to concur in every satisfactory and just arrangement towards the following among other purposes:
"To consent to a cessation of hostilities both by sea and land; "To restore free intercourse; to revive mutual affection; and renew the common benefits of naturalization, through the several parts of this empire;
"To extend every freedom to trade that our respective interests can require;
"To agree that no military forces shall be kept up in the different states of North America without the consent of the general Congress, or particular assemblies;
"To concur in measures calculated to discharge the debts of America, and to raise the credit and value of the paper circulation. "To perpetuate our union by a reciprocal deputation of an agent or agents from the different states, who shall have the privilege of a seat and voice in the parliament of Great Britain; or, if sent from Britain, in that case to have a seat and voice in the assemblies of the different states to which they may be deputed respectively, in order to attend the several interests of those by whom they are deputed;
"In short, to establish the power of the respective legislatures in each particular state; to settle its revenue, its civil and military establishments; and to exercise a perfect freedom of legislation and internal government, so that the British states throughout North America, acting with us in peace and war under one common sovereign, may have the irrevocable enjoyment of every privilege that is short of a total separation of interests, or consistent with that union of force, on which the safety of our common religion and liberty depend."
A decided negative having been already given, previous to the arrival of the British commissioners, to the overtures contained in
the conciliatory bills, and the intelligence of the treaty with France having in the mean time arrived, there was no ground left for further deliberation. President Laurens, therefore, by order of Congress, on the 17th of June, returned the following answer :
"I have received the letter from your excellencies of the 9th instant with the enclosures, and laid them before Congress. Nothing but an earnest desire to spare the further effusion of blood could have induced them to read a paper containing expressions so disrespectful to his most Christian Majesty, the good and great ally of these states, or to consider propositions so derogatory to the honour of an independent nation.
The acts of the British parliament, the commission from your sovereign, and your letter, suppose the people of these states to be subjects of the crown of Great Britain; and are founded on the idea of dependence, which is utterly inadmissible.
"I am further directed to inform your excellencies that Congress are inclined to peace, notwithstanding the unjust claims from which this war originated, and the savage manner in which it hath been conducted. They will, therefore, be ready to enter on the consideration of a treaty of peace and commerce not inconsistent with treaties already subsisting, when the king of Great Britain shall demonstrate a sincere disposition for that purpose. The only solid proof of this demonstration will be, an explicit acknowledgment of the independence of these states, or the withdrawing his fleets and armies."
Though Congress could not, consistently with national honour, enter on a discussion of the terms proposed by the British commissioners, yet some individuals of their body ably proved the propriety of rejecting them. Among these, Gouverneur Morris and William Henry Drayton, with great force of argument and poignancy of wit, justified the decisive measures adopted by their countrymen.
As the British plan for conciliation was wholly founded on the idea of the states returning to their allegiance, it was no sooner known than rejected. In addition to the sacred ties of plighted faith and national engagements, the leaders in Congress and the legislative assemblies of America had tasted the sweets of power, and were in full possession of its blessings, with a fair prospect of retaining them without any foreign control. The war having originated on the part of Great Britain from a lust of power, had in its progress compelled the Americans in self-defence to assume and exercise its highest prerogatives. The passion of human nature which induced the former to claim power, operated no less forcibly
with the latter, against the relinquishment of it. After the colonies had declared themselves independent states, had repeatedly pledged their honour to abide by that declaration, had by the smiles of Heaven maintained it for three campaigns without foreign aid, after the greatest monarch in Europe had entered into a treaty with them and guarantied their independence; after all this, to expect popular leaders, in the enjoyment of power, voluntarily to retire from the helm of government, to the languid indifference of private life; and while they violated national faith, at the same time to depress their country from the rank of sovereign states to that of dependent provinces, was not more repugnant to universal experience than to the governing principles of the human heart.
The high-spirited ardour of citizens in the youthful vigour of Honour and dignity, did not so much as inquire whether greater political happiness might be expected from closing with the proposals of Great Britain, or by adhering to their new allies. Honour forbade any balancing on the subject; nor were its dictates disobeyed. Though peace was desirable, and the offers of Great Britain so liberal, that if proposed in due time they would have been acceptable; yet for the Americans, after they had declared themselves independent, and at their own solicitation obtained the aid of France, to desert their new allies and to leave them exposed to British resentment, incurred on their account, would have argued a total want of honour and gratitude. The folly of Great Britain in expecting such conduct from virtuous freemen, could only be exceeded by the baseness of America, had her citizens realized that expectation.
These offers of conciliation in a great measure originated in an opinion that the Congress were supported by a faction, and that the great body of the people was hostile to independence, and well disposed to reunite with Great Britain. The latter of these assertions were true till a certain period of the contest; but that period was elapsed. With their new situation, new opinions and attachments had taken place. The political revolution of the government was less extraordinary than that of the style and manner of thinking in the United States. The independent American citizens saw with other eyes and heard with other ears than when they were in the condition of British subjects. That narrowness of sentiment which prevailed in England towards France, no longer existed among the Americans. The British commissioners, unapprized of this real change in the public mind, expected to keep a hold on the citizens of the United States, by that illiberality which