Page images
PDF
EPUB

they inherited from their forefathers. Presuming that the love of peace, and the ancient national antipathy to France would counterbalance all other ties, they flattered themselves that, by perseverance, an impression favourable to Great Britain might yet be made on the mind of America. They therefore renewed their efforts to open a negotiation with Congress, in a letter of the 11th of July. As they had been informed, in answer to their preceding letter cf the 10th of June, that an explicit acknowledgment of the independence of the United States, or a withdrawing of their fleets and armies, must precede an entrance on the consideration of a treaty of peace, and as neither branch of this alternative had been complied with, it was resolved by Congress that no answer should be given to their reiterated application.

In addition to his public exertions as a commissioner, Governor Johnstone endeavoured to obtain the objects on which he had been sent, by opening a private correspondence with some of the members of Congress, and other Americans of influence. He in particular addressed himself to Henry Laurens, Joseph Reed, and Robert Morris. His letter to Henry Laurens was in these words:

"DEAR SIR,-I beg to transfer to my friend Dr. Ferguson, the private civilities which my friends Mr. Manning and Mr. Oswald request in my behalf. He is a man of the utmost probity and of the highest esteem in the republic of letters.

"If you should follow the example of Britain in the hour of her insolence, and send us back without a hearing, I shall hope, from private friendship, that I may be permitted to see the country, and the worthy characters she has exhibited to the world, upon making the request any way you may point out."

The following answer was immediately written.

"Yorktown, June 14th, 1778. "DEAR SIR,-Yesterday, I was honoured with your favour of the 10th, and thank you for the transmission of those from my dear and worthy friends, Mr. Oswald and Mr. Manning. Had Dr. Ferguson been the bearer of these papers, I should have shown that gentleman every degree of respect and attention that times and circumstances admit of.

"It is, sir, for Great Britain to determine whether her commissioners shall return unheard by the representatives of the United States, or revive a friendship with the citizens at large, and remain among us as long as they please.

"You are undoubtedly acquainted with the only terms upon

which Congress can treat for accomplishing this good end; terms from which, although writing in a private character, I may venture to assert, with great assurance, they will never recede, even admitting the continuance of hostile attempts, and that from the rage of war the good people of these states shall be driven to commence a treaty westward of yonder mountains. And permit me to add, sir, as my humble opinion, the true interest of Great Britain in the present advance of our contest, will be found in confirming our independence.

"Congress in no hour have been haughty; but to suppose that their minds are less firm at present than they were when destitute of all foreign aid, and even without expectation of an alliance; when, upon a day of general public fasting and humiliation in their house of worship, and in the presence of God, they resolved to hold no conference or treaty with any commissioners on the part of Great Britain, unless they shall, as a preliminary thereto, either withdraw their fleets and armies, or in positive and express terms acknowledge the independence of these states,' would be irrational.

"At a proper time, sir, I shall think myself highly honoured by a personal attention, and by contributing to render every part of these states agreeable to you; but until the basis of mutual confidence shall be established, I believe, sir, neither former private friendship, nor any other consideration, can influence Congress to consent, that even Governor Johnstone, a gentleman who has been so deservedly esteemed in America, shall see the country. I have but one voice, and that shall be against it. But let me entreat you, my dear sir, do not hence conclude that I am deficient in affection to my old friends, through whose kindness I have obtained the honour of the present correspondence, or that I am not with very great personal respect and esteem,

"Sir,

"Your most obedient, and most humble servant, HENRY Laurens.

"The honourable George Johnstone, Esq., Philadelphia."

In a letter to Joseph Reed, of April 11th, Governor Johnstone said:

“The man who can be instrumental in bringing us all to act once more in harmony, and to unite together the various powers which this contest has drawn forth, will deserve more from the king and people, from patriotism, from humanity, and all the ten

der ties that are affected by the quarrel and reconciliation, than ever was yet bestowed on human kind.”

On the 16th of June, he wrote to Robert Morris:

"I believe the men who have conducted the affairs of America incapable of being influenced by improper motives; but in all such transactions there is risk. And I think, that whoever ventures should be secured, at the same time, that honour and emolument should naturally follow the fortune of those who have steered the vessel in the storm, and brought her safely to port. I think Washington and the president have a right to every favour that grateful nations can bestow, if they could once more unite our interests, and spare the miseries and devastations of war."

To Joseph Reed, private information was communicated, on the 21st of June, that it had been intended by Governor Johnstone, to offer him, that in case of his exerting his abilities to promote a reunion of the two countries, if consistent with his principles and judgment, ten thousand pounds sterling, and any office in the colonies within his majesty's gift. To which Mr. Reed replied: “I am not worth purchasing: but such as I am, the king of Great Britain is not rich enough to do it."

Congress, on the 9th of July, ordered all letters received by members of Congress from any of the British commissioners, or their agents, or from any subject of the king of Great Britain, of a public nature, to be laid before them. The above letters and information being communicated, Congress resolved, “that the same cannot but be considered as direct attempts to corrupt their integrity, and that it is incompatible with the honour of Congress, to hold any manner of correspondence or intercourse with the said George Johnstone, Esquire, especially to negotiate with him upon affairs in which the cause of liberty is interested.”

Their determination, with the reasons thereof, was expressed in the form of a declaration, a copy of which was signed by the president, and sent by a flag to the commissioners at New York. This was answered by Governor Johnstone, by an angry publication, in which he denied, or explained away what had been alleged against him. Lord Carlisle, Sir Henry Clinton, and Mr. Eden denied having any knowledge of the matter charged on Governor John

stone.

The commissioners failing in their attempts to negotiate with Congress, had no resource left but to persuade the inhabitants to adopt a line of conduct, counter to that of their representatives. To this purpose they published a manifesto and proclamation, ad

dressed to Congress, the assemblies, and all others, the free inhabitants of the colonies, in which they observed:

"The policy, as well as the benevolence of Great Britain, have so far checked the extremes of war, when they tended to distress a people still considered as our fellow-subjects, and to desolate a country shortly to become a source of mutual advantage; but when that country professes the unnatural design, not only of estranging herself from us, but of mortgaging herself and her resources to our enemies, the whole contest is changed: and the question is, how far Great Britain may, by every means in her power, destroy, or render useless a connection contrived for her ruin, and for the aggrandizement of France. Under such circumstances, the laws of self-preservation must direct the conduct of Great Britain; and, if the British colonies shall become an accession to France, will direct her to render that accession of as little avail as possible to her enemy."

Congress, upon being informed of the design of the commissioners to circulate these papers, declared that the agents employed to distribute the manifestoes and proclamation of the commissioners were not entitled to protection from a flag. They also recommended to the several states, to secure and keep them in close custody but that they might not appear to hoodwink their constituents, they ordered the manifestoes and proclamation to be printed in the newspapers.

The proposals of the commissioners were not more favourably received by the people than they had been by Congress. In some places the flags containing them were not received, but ordered instantly to depart; in others, they were received and forwarded to Congress, as the only proper tribunal to take cognisance of them. In no one place, not immediately commanded by the British army, was there any attempt to accept, or even to deliberate on the propriety of closing with the offers of Britain.

To deter the British from executing their threats of laying waste the country, Congress, on the 30th of October, published to the world, a resolution and manifestoes, in which they concluded with these words:

❝ We, therefore, the Congress of the United States of America, do solemnly declare and proclaim, that if our enemies presume to execute their threats, or persist in their present career of barbarity, we will take such exemplary vengeance as shall deter others from a like conduct. We appeal to that God who searcheth the hearts of men, for the rectitude of our intentions; and in his holy

presence we declare, that, as we are not moved by any light and hasty suggestions of anger and revenge, so, through every possible change of fortune, we will adhere to this our determination."

This was the last effort of Great Britain, in the way of negotiation, to regain her colonies. It originated in folly and ignorance of the real state of affairs in America. She had begun with wrong measures, and had now got into wrong time. Her concessions, on this occasion, were an implied justification of the resistance of the colonists. By offering to concede all that they at first asked for, she virtually acknowledged herself to have been the aggressor in an unjust war. Nothing could be more favourable to the cementing of the friendship of the new allies, than this unsuccessful negotiation. The states had an opportunity of evincing the sincerity of their engagements, and France, abundant reason to believe, that, by preventing their being conquered, her favourite scheme of lessening the power of Great Britain would be secured beyond the reach of accident.*

The opening of the campaign of 1778 was marked by several expeditions undertaken by the British. Colonel Mawhood made an incursion into Jersey, at the head of twelve hundred men. Governor Livingston was immediately requested to call out the militia, in order to join Colonel Shreeve, whose regiment was detached for the protection of that state. This was found impracticable for want of funds; and Mawhood was unchecked in his course of devastation. He returned to head-quarters at Philadelphia, after his incursion had lasted six or seven days.

Soon after, an expedition was undertaken against General Lacy, who, with a small body of Pennsylvania militia, watched the roads on the north side of the Schuylkill. Colonel Abercrombie, who commanded this expedition, avoided all Lacy's posts of security, and threw a detachment into his rear before he discovered the presence of an enemy. After a short resistance, Lacy escaped with the loss of a few men and all his baggage.. His corps was entirely dispersed, and he was soon after replaced by General Potter.

To cover the country more effectually on the north of the Schuylkill, to form an advance guard for the security of the main army, and to be in readiness to annoy the rear of the enemy, should he evacuate Philadelphia, an event believed to be in contemplation, General Washington (May 18th) detached the Marquis

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »