Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Washington and his Comrades in Arms A Chronicle of the War of Independence by George Wrong

Part 1 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Scanned by Dianne Bean.



Volume 12 in the Chronicles of America Series. Abraham Lincoln Edition.


The author is aware of a certain audacity in undertaking, himself
a Briton, to appear in a company of American writers on American
history and above all to write on the subject of Washington. If
excuse is needed it is to be found in the special interest of the
career of Washington to a citizen of the British Commonwealth of
Nations at the present time and in the urgency with which the
editor and publishers declared that such an interpretation would
not be unwelcome to Americans and pressed upon the author a task
for which he doubted his own qualifications. To the editor he
owes thanks for wise criticism. He is also indebted to Mr.
Worthington Chauncey Ford, of the Massachusetts Historical
Society, a great authority on Washington, who has kindly read the
proofs and given helpful comments. Needless to say the author
alone is responsible for opinions in the book.

University of Toronto,
June 16, 1920.
















Moving among the members of the second Continental Congress,
which met at Philadelphia in May, 1775, was one, and but one,
military figure. George Washington alone attended the sittings in
uniform. This colonel from Virginia, now in his forty-fourth
year, was a great landholder, an owner of slaves, an Anglican
churchman, an aristocrat, everything that stands in contrast with
the type of a revolutionary radical. Yet from the first he had
been an outspoken and uncompromising champion of the, colonial
cause. When the tax was imposed on tea he had abolished the use
of tea in his own household and when war was imminent he had
talked of recruiting a thousand men at his own expense and
marching to Boston. His steady wearing of the uniform seemed,
indeed, to show that he regarded the issue as hardly less
military than political.

The clash at Lexington, on the 19th of April, had made vivid the
reality of war. Passions ran high. For years there had been
tension, long disputes about buying British stamps to put on
American legal papers, about duties on glass and paint and paper
and, above all, tea. Boston had shown turbulent defiance, and to
hold Boston down British soldiers had been quartered on the
inhabitants in the proportion of one soldier for five of the
populace, a great and annoying burden. And now British soldiers
had killed Americans who stood barring their way on Lexington
Green. Even calm Benjamin Franklin spoke later of the hands of
British ministers as "red, wet, and dropping with blood."
Americans never forgot the fresh graves made on that day. There
were, it is true, more British than American graves, but the
British were regarded as the aggressors. If the rest of the
colonies were to join in the struggle, they must have a common
leader. Who should he be?

In June, while the Continental Congress faced this question at
Philadelphia, events at Boston made the need of a leader more
urgent. Boston was besieged by American volunteers under the
command of General Artemas Ward. The siege had lasted for two
months, each side watching the other at long range. General Gage,
the British Commander, had the sea open to him and a finely
tempered army upon which he could rely. The opposite was true of
his opponents. They were a motley host rather than an army. They
had few guns and almost no powder. Idle waiting since the fight
at Lexington made untrained troops restless and anxious to go
home. Nothing holds an army together like real war, and shrewd
officers knew that they must give the men some hard task to keep
up their fighting spirit. It was rumored that Gage was preparing
an aggressive movement from Boston, which might mean pillage and
massacre in the surrounding country, and it was decided to draw
in closer to Boston to give Gage a diversion and prove the mettle
of the patriot army. So, on the evening of June 16, 1775, there
was a stir of preparation in the American camp at Cambridge, and
late at night the men fell in near Harvard College.

Across the Charles River north from Boston, on a peninsula, lay
the village of Charlestown, and rising behind it was Breed's
Hill, about seventy-four feet high, extending northeastward to
the higher elevation of Bunker Hill. The peninsula could be
reached from Cambridge only by a narrow neck of land easily swept
by British floating batteries lying off the shore. In the dark
the American force of twelve hundred men under Colonel Prescott
marched to this neck of land and then advanced half a mile
southward to Breed's Hill. Prescott was an old campaigner of the
Seven Years' War; he had six cannon, and his troops were
commanded by experienced officers. Israel Putnam was skillful in
irregular frontier fighting, and Nathanael Greene, destined to
prove himself the best man in the American army next to
Washington himself, could furnish sage military counsel derived
from much thought and reading.

Thus it happened that on the morning of the 17th of June General
Gage in Boston awoke to a surprise. He had refused to believe
that he was shut up in Boston. It suited his convenience to stay
there until a plan of campaign should be evolved by his superiors
in London, but he was certain that when he liked he could, with
his disciplined battalions, brush away the besieging army. Now he
saw the American force on Breed's Hill throwing up a defiant and
menacing redoubt and entrenchments. Gage did not hesitate. The
bold aggressors must be driven away at once. He detailed for the
enterprise William Howe, the officer destined soon to be his
successor in the command at Boston. Howe was a brave and
experienced soldier. He had been a friend of Wolfe and had led
the party of twenty-four men who had first climbed the cliff at
Quebec on the great day when Wolfe fell victorious. He was the
younger brother of that beloved Lord Howe who had fallen at
Ticonderoga and to whose memory Massachusetts had reared a
monument in Westminster Abbey. Gage gave him in all some
twenty-five hundred men, and, at about two in the afternoon, this
force was landed at Charlestown.

The little town was soon aflame and the smoke helped to conceal
Howe's movements. The day was boiling hot and the soldiers
carried heavy packs with food for three days, for they intended
to camp on Bunker Hill. Straight up Breed's Hill they marched
wading through long grass sometimes to their knees and throwing
down the fences on the hillside. The British knew that raw troops
were likely to scatter their fire on a foe still out of range and
they counted on a rapid bayonet charge against men helpless with
empty rifles. This expectation was disappointed. The Americans
had in front of them a barricade and Israel Putnam was there,
threatening dire things to any one who should fire before he
could see the whites of the eyes of the advancing soldiery. As
the British came on there was a terrific discharge of musketry at
twenty yards, repeated again and again as they either halted or
drew back.

The slaughter was terrible. British officers hardened in war
declared long afterward that they had never seen carnage like
that of this fight. The American riflemen had been told to aim
especially at the British officers, easily known by their
uniforms, and one rifleman is said to have shot twenty officers
before he was himself killed. Lord Rawdon, who played a
considerable part in the war and was later, as Marquis of
Hastings, Viceroy of India, used to tell of his terror as he
fought in the British line. Suddenly a soldier was shot dead by
his side, and, when he saw the man quiet at his feet, he said,
"Is Death nothing but this?" and henceforth had no fear. When the
first attack by the British was checked they retired; but, with
dogged resolve, they re-formed and again charged up the hill,
only a second time to be repulsed. The third time they were more
cautious. They began to work round to the weaker defenses of the
American left, where were no redoubts and entrenchments like
those on the right. By this time British ships were throwing
shells among the Americans. Charlestown was burning. The great
column of black smoke, the incessant roar of cannon, and the
dreadful scenes of carnage had affected the defenders. They
wavered; and on the third British charge, having exhausted their
ammunition, they fled from the hill in confusion back to the
narrow neck of land half a mile away, swept now by a British
floating battery. General Burgoyne wrote that, in the third
attack, the discipline and courage of the British private
soldiers also broke down and that when the redoubt was carried
the officers of some corps were almost alone. The British stood
victorious at Bunker Hill. It was, however, a costly victory.
More than a thousand men, nearly half of the attacking force, had
fallen, with an undue proportion of officers.

Philadelphia, far away, did not know what was happening when,
two days before the battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental
Congress settled the question of a leader for a national army. On
the 15th of June John Adams of Massachusetts rose and moved that
the Congress should adopt as its own the army before Boston and
that it should name Washington as Commander-in-Chief. Adams had
deeply pondered the problem. He was certain that New England
would remain united and decided in the struggle, but he was not
so sure of the other colonies. To have a leader from beyond New
England would make for continental unity. Virginia, next to
Massachusetts, had stood in the forefront of the movement, and
Virginia was fortunate in having in the Congress one whose fame
as a soldier ran through all the colonies. There was something to
be said for choosing a commander from the colony which began the
struggle and Adams knew that his colleague from Massachusetts,
John Hancock, a man of wealth and importance, desired the post.
He was conspicuous enough to be President of the Congress. Adams
says that when he made his motion, naming a Virginian, he saw in
Hancock's face "mortification and resentment." He saw, too, that
Washington hurriedly left the room when his name was mentioned.

There could be no doubt as to what the Congress would do.
Unquestionably Washington was the fittest man for the post.
Twenty years earlier he had seen important service in the war
with France. His position and character commanded universal
aspect. The Congress adopted unanimously the motion of Adams and
it only remained to be seen Whether Washington would accept. On
the next day he came to the sitting with his mind made up. The
members, he said, would bear witness to his declaration that he
thought himself unfit for the task. Since, however, they called
him, he would try to do his duty. He would take the command but
he would accept no pay beyond his expenses. Thus it was that
Washington became a great national figure. The man who had long
worn the King's uniform was now his deadliest enemy; and it is
probably true that after this step nothing could have restored
the old relations and reunited the British Empire. The broken
vessel could not be made whole.

Washington spent only a few days in getting ready to take over
his new command. On the 21st of June, four days after Bunker
Hill, he set out from Philadelphia. The colonies were in truth
very remote from each other. The journey to Boston was tedious.
In the previous year John Adams had traveled in the other
direction to the Congress at Philadelphia and, in his journal, he
notes, as if he were traveling in foreign lands, the strange
manners and customs of the other colonies. The journey, so
momentous to Adams, was not new to Washington. Some twenty years
earlier the young Virginian officer had traveled as far as Boston
in the service of King George II. Now he was leader in the war
against King George III. In New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut
he was received impressively. In the warm summer weather the
roads were good enough but many of the rivers were not bridged
and could be crossed only by ferries or at fords. It took nearly
a fortnight to reach Boston.

Washington had ridden only twenty miles on his long journey when
the news reached him of the fight at Bunker Hill. The question
which he asked anxiously shows what was in his mind: "Did the
militia fight?" When the answer was "Yes," he said with relief,
"The liberties of the country are safe." He reached Cambridge on
the 2d of July and on the following day was the chief figure in a
striking ceremony. In the presence of a vast crowd and of the
motley army of volunteers, which was now to be called the
American army, Washington assumed the command. He sat on
horseback under an elm tree and an observer noted that his
appearance was "truly noble and majestic." This was milder praise
than that given a little later by a London paper which said:
"There is not a king in Europe but would look like a valet de
chambre by his side." New England having seen him was henceforth
wholly on his side. His traditions were not those of the
Puritans, of the Ephraims and the Abijahs of the volunteer army,
men whose Old Testament names tell something of the rigor of the
Puritan view of life. Washington, a sharer in the free and often
careless hospitality of his native Virginia, had a different
outlook. In his personal discipline, however, he was not less
Puritan than the strictest of New Englanders. The coming years
were to show that a great leader had taken his fitting place.

Washington, born in 1732, had been trained in self-reliance, for
he had been fatherless from childhood. At the age of sixteen he
was working at the profession, largely self-taught, of a surveyor
of land. At the age of twenty-seven he married Martha Custis, a
rich widow with children, though her marriage with Washington was
childless. His estate on the Potomac River, three hundred miles
from the open sea, recently named Mount Vernon, had been in the
family for nearly a hundred years. There were twenty-five hundred
acres at Mount Vernon with ten miles of frontage on the tidal
river. The Virginia planters were a landowning gentry; when
Washington died he had more than sixty thousand acres. The
growing of tobacco, the one vital industry of the Virginia of the
time, with its half million people, was connected with the
ownership of land. On their great estates the planters lived
remote, with a mail perhaps every fortnight. There were no large
towns, no great factories. Nearly half of the population
consisted of negro slaves. It is one of the ironies of history
that the chief leader in a war marked by a passion for liberty
was a member of a society in which, as another of its members,
Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, said,
there was on the one hand the most insulting despotism and on the
other the most degrading submission. The Virginian landowners
were more absolute masters than the proudest lords of medieval
England. These feudal lords had serfs on their land. The serfs
were attached to the soil and were sold to a new master with the
soil. They were not, however, property, without human rights. On
the other hand, the slaves of the Virginian master were property
like his horses. They could not even call wife and children their
own, for these might be sold at will. It arouses a strange
emotion now when we find Washington offering to exchange a negro
for hogsheads of molasses and rum and writing that the man would
bring a good price, "if kept clean and trim'd up a little when
offered for sale."

In early life Washington had had very little of formal education.
He knew no language but English. When he became world famous and
his friend La Fayette urged him to visit France he refused
because he would seem uncouth if unable to speak the French
tongue. Like another great soldier, the Duke of Wellington, he
was always careful about his dress. There was in him a silent
pride which would brook nothing derogatory to his dignity. No one
could be more methodical. He kept his accounts rigorously,
entering even the cost of repairing a hairpin for a ward. He was
a keen farmer, and it is amusing to find him recording in his
careful journal that there are 844,800 seeds of "New River Grass"
to the pound Troy and so determining how many should be sown to
the acre. Not many youths would write out as did Washington,
apparently from French sources, and read and reread elaborate
"Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and
Conversation." In the fashion of the age of Chesterfield they
portray the perfect gentleman. He is always to remember the
presence of others and not to move, read, or speak without
considering what may be due to them. In the true spirit of the
time he is to learn to defer to persons of superior quality.
Tactless laughter at his own wit, jests that have a sting of idle
gossip, are to be avoided. Reproof is to be given not in anger
but in a sweet and mild temper. The rules descend even to manners
at table and are a revelation of care in self-discipline. We
might imagine Oliver Cromwell drawing up such rules, but not
Napoleon or Wellington.

The class to which Washington belonged prided itself on good
birth and good breeding. We picture him as austere, but, like
Oliver Cromwell, whom in some respects he resembles, he was very
human in his personal relations. He liked a glass of wine. He was
fond of dancing and he went to the theater, even on Sunday. He
was, too, something of a lady's man; "He can be downright
impudent sometimes," wrote a Southern lady, "such impudence,
Fanny, as you and I like." In old age he loved to have the young
and gay about him. He could break into furious oaths and no one
was a better master of what we may call honorable guile in
dealing with wily savages, in circulating falsehoods that would
deceive the enemy in time of war, or in pursuing a business
advantage. He played cards for money and carefully entered loss
and gain in his accounts. He loved horseracing and horses, and
nothing pleased him more than to talk of that noble animal. He
kept hounds and until his burden of cares became too great was an
eager devotee of hunting. His shooting was of a type more heroic
than that of an English squire spending a day on a moor with
guests and gamekeepers and returning to comfort in the evening.
Washington went off on expeditions into the forest lasting many
days and shared the life in the woods of rough men, sleeping
often in the open air. "Happy," he wrote, "is he who gets the
berth nearest the fire." He could spend a happy day in admiring
the trees and the richness of the land on a neighbor's estate.
Always his thoughts were turning to the soil. There was poetry
in him. It was said of Napoleon that the one approach to poetry
in all his writings is the phrase: "The spring is at last
appearing and the leaves are beginning to sprout." Washington, on
the other hand, brooded over the mysteries of life. He pictured
to himself the serenity of a calm old age and always dared to
look death squarely in the face. He was sensitive to human
passion and he felt the wonder of nature in all her ways, her
bounteous response in growth to the skill of man, the delight of
improving the earth in contrast with the vain glory gained by
ravaging it in war. His most striking characteristics were energy
and decision united often with strong likes and dislikes. His
clever secretary, Alexander Hamilton, found, as he said, that his
chief was not remarkable for good temper and resigned his post
because of an impatient rebuke. When a young man serving in the
army of Virginia, Washington had many a tussle with the obstinate
Scottish Governor, Dinwiddie, who thought his vehemence
unmannerly and ungrateful. Gilbert Stuart, who painted several of
his portraits, said that his features showed strong passions and
that, had he not learned self-restraint, his temper would have
been savage. This discipline he acquired. The task was not easy,
but in time he was able to say with truth, "I have no
resentments," and his self-control became so perfect as to be
almost uncanny.

The assumption that Washington fought against an England grown
decadent is not justified. To admit this would be to make his
task seem lighter than it really was. No doubt many of the rich
aristocracy spent idle days of pleasure-seeking with the
comfortable conviction that they could discharge their duties to
society by merely existing, since their luxury made work and the
more they indulged themselves the more happy and profitable
employment would their many dependents enjoy. The eighteenth
century was, however, a wonderful epoch in England. Agriculture
became a new thing under the leadership of great landowners like
Lord Townshend and Coke of Norfolk. Already was abroad in society
a divine discontent at existing abuses. It brought Warren
Hastings to trial on the charge of plundering India. It attacked
slavery, the cruelty of the criminal law, which sent children to
execution for the theft of a few pennies, the brutality of the
prisons, the torpid indifference of the church to the needs of
the masses. New inventions were beginning the age of machinery.
The reform of Parliament, votes for the toiling masses, and a
thousand other improvements were being urged. It was a vigorous,
rich, and arrogant England which Washington confronted.

It is sometimes said of Washington that he was an English country
gentleman. A gentleman he was, but with an experience and
training quite unlike that of a gentleman in England. The young
heir to an English estate might or might not go to a university.
He could, like the young Charles James Fox, become a scholar, but
like Fox, who knew some of the virtues and all the supposed
gentlemanly vices, he might dissipate his energies in hunting,
gambling, and cockfighting. He would almost certainly make the
grand tour of Europe, and, if he had little Latin and less Greek,
he was pretty certain to have some familiarity with Paris and a
smattering of French. The eighteenth century was a period of
magnificent living in England. The great landowner, then, as now,
the magnate of his neighborhood, was likely to rear, if he did
not inherit, one of those vast palaces which are today burdens so
costly to the heirs of their builders. At the beginning of the
century the nation to honor Marlborough for his victories could
think of nothing better than to give him half a million pounds
to build a palace. Even with the colossal wealth produced by
modern industry we should be staggered at a residence costing
millions of dollars. Yet the Duke of Devonshire rivaled at
Chatsworth, and Lord Leicester at Holkham, Marlborough's building
at Blenheim, and many other costly palaces were erected during
the following half century. Their owners sometimes built in order
to surpass a neighbor in grandeur, and to this day great estates
are encumbered by the debts thus incurred in vain show. The heir
to such a property was reared in a pomp and luxury undreamed of
by the frugal young planter of Virginia. Of working for a
livelihood, in the sense in which Washington knew it, the young
Englishman of great estate would never dream.

The Atlantic is a broad sea and even in our own day, when instant
messages flash across it and man himself can fly from shore to
shore in less than a score of hours, it is not easy for those on
one strand to understand the thought of those on the other. Every
community evolves its own spirit not easily to be apprehended by
the onlooker. The state of society in America was vitally
different from that in England. The plain living of Virginia was
in sharp contrast with the magnificence and ease of England. It
is true that we hear of plate and elaborate furniture, of
servants in livery, and much drinking of Port and Madeira, among
the Virginians: They had good horses. Driving, as often they did,
with six in a carriage, they seemed to keep up regal style.
Spaces were wide in a country where one great landowner, Lord
Fairfax, held no less than five million acres. Houses lay
isolated and remote and a gentleman dining out would sometimes
drive his elaborate equipage from twenty to fifty miles. There
was a tradition of lavish hospitality, of gallant men and fair
women, and sometimes of hard and riotous living. Many of the
houses were, however, in a state of decay, with leaking roofs,
battered doors and windows and shabby furniture. To own land in
Virginia did not mean to live in luxurious ease. Land brought in
truth no very large income. It was easier to break new land than
to fertilize that long in use. An acre yielded only eight or ten
bushels of wheat. In England the land was more fruitful. One who
was only a tenant on the estate of Coke of Norfolk died worth
150,000 pounds, and Coke himself had the income of a prince. When
Washington died he was reputed one of the richest men in America
and yet his estate was hardly equal to that of Coke's tenant.

Washington was a good farmer, inventive and enterprising, but he
had difficulties which ruined many of his neighbors. Today much
of his infertile estate of Mount Vernon would hardly grow enough
to pay the taxes. When Washington desired a gardener, or a
bricklayer, or a carpenter, he usually had to buy him in the form
of a convict, or of a negro slave, or of a white man indentured
for a term of years. Such labor required eternal vigilance. The
negro, himself property, had no respect for it in others. He
stole when he could and worked only when the eyes of a master
were upon him. If left in charge of plants or of stock he was
likely to let them perish for lack of water. Washington's losses
of cattle, horses, and sheep from this cause were enormous. The
neglected cattle gave so little milk that at one time Washington,
with a hundred cows, had to buy his butter. Negroes feigned
sickness for weeks at a time. A visitor noted that Washington
spoke to his slaves with a stern harshness. No doubt it was
necessary. The management of this intractable material brought
training in command. If Washington could make negroes efficient
and farming pay in Virginia, he need hardly be afraid to meet any
other type of difficulty.

From the first he was satisfied that the colonies had before them
a difficult struggle. Many still refused to believe that there
was really a state of war. Lexington and Bunker Hill might be
regarded as unfortunate accidents to be explained away in an era
of good feeling when each side should acknowledge the merits of
the other and apologize for its own faults. Washington had few
illusions of this kind. He took the issue in a serious and even
bitter spirit. He knew nothing of the Englishman at home for he
had never set foot outside of the colonies except to visit
Barbados with an invalid half-brother. Even then he noted that
the "gentleman inhabitants" whose "hospitality and genteel
behaviour" he admired were discontented with the tone of the
officials sent out from England. From early life Washington had
seen much of British officers in America. Some of them had been
men of high birth and station who treated the young colonial
officer with due courtesy. When, however, he had served on the
staff of the unfortunate General Braddock in the calamitous
campaign of 1755, he had been offended by the tone of that
leader. Probably it was in these days that Washington first
brooded over the contrasts between the Englishman and the
Virginian. With obstinate complacency Braddock had disregarded
Washington's counsels of prudence. He showed arrogant confidence
in his veteran troops and contempt for the amateur soldiers of
whom Washington was one. In a wild country where rapid movement
was the condition of success Braddock would halt, as Washington
said, "to level every mole hill and to erect bridges over every
brook." His transport was poor and Washington, a lover of horses,
chafed at what he called "vile management" of the horses by the
British soldier. When anything went wrong Braddock blamed, not
the ineffective work of his own men, but the supineness of
Virginia. "He looks upon the country," Washington wrote in wrath,
"I believe, as void of honour and honesty." The hour of trial
came in the fight of July, 1755, when Braddock was defeated and
killed on the march to the Ohio. Washington told his mother that
in the fight the Virginian troops stood their ground and were
nearly all killed but the boasted regulars "were struck with such
a panic that they behaved with more cowardice than it is possible
to conceive." In the anger and resentment of this comment is
found the spirit which made Washington a champion of the colonial
cause from the first hour of disagreement.

That was a fatal day in March, 1765, when the British Parliament
voted that it was just and necessary that a revenue be raised in
America. Washington was uncompromising. After the tax on tea he
derided "our lordly masters in Great Britain." No man, he said,
should scruple for a moment to take up arms against the
threatened tyranny. He and his neighbors of Fairfax County,
Virginia, took the trouble to tell the world by formal resolution
on July 18, 1774, that they were descended not from a conquered
but from a conquering people, that they claimed full equality
with the people of Great Britain, and like them would make their
own laws and impose their own taxes. They were not democrats;
they had no theories of equality; but as "gentlemen and men of
fortune" they would show to others the right path in the crisis
which had arisen. In this resolution spoke the proud spirit of
Washington; and, as he brooded over what was happening, anger
fortified his pride. Of the Tories in Boston, some of them highly
educated men, who with sorrow were walking in what was to them
the hard path of duty, Washington could say later that "there
never existed a more miserable set of beings than these wretched

The age of Washington was one of bitter vehemence in political
thought. In England the good Whig was taught that to deny Whig
doctrine was blasphemy, that there was no truth or honesty on the
other side, and that no one should trust a Tory; and usually the
good Whig was true to the teaching he had received. In America
there had hitherto been no national politics. Issues had been
local and passions thus confined exploded all the more fiercely.
Franklin spoke of George III as drinking long draughts of
American blood and of the British people as so depraved and
barbarous as to be the wickedest nation upon earth, inspired by
bloody and insatiable malice and wickedness. To Washington George
III was a tyrant, his ministers were scoundrels, and the British
people were lost to every sense of virtue. The evil of it is
that, for a posterity which listened to no other comment on the
issues of the Revolution, such utterances, instead of being
understood as passing expressions of party bitterness, were taken
as the calm judgments of men held in reverence and awe. Posterity
has agreed that there is nothing to be said for the coercing of
the colonies so resolutely pressed by George III and his
ministers. Posterity can also, however, understand that the
struggle was not between undiluted virtue on the one side and
undiluted vice on the other. Some eighty years after the American
Revolution the Republic created by the Revolution endured the
horrors of civil war rather than accept its own disruption. In
1776 even the most liberal Englishmen felt a similar passion for
the continued unity of the British Empire. Time has reconciled
all schools of thought to the unity lost in the case of the
Empire and to the unity preserved in the case of the Republic,
but on the losing side in each case good men fought with deep


Washington was not a professional soldier, though he had seen the
realities of war and had moved in military society. Perhaps it
was an advantage that he had not received the rigid training of a
regular, for he faced conditions which required an elastic mind.
The force besieging Boston consisted at first chiefly of New
England militia, with companies of minute-men, so called because
of their supposed readiness to fight at a minute's notice.
Washington had been told that he should find 20,000 men under his
command; he found, in fact, a nominal army of 17,000, with
probably not more than 14,000 effective, and the number tended to
decline as the men went away to their homes after the first vivid
interest gave way to the humdrum of military life.

The extensive camp before Boston, as Washington now saw it,
expressed the varied character of his strange command. Cambridge,
the seat of Harvard College, was still only a village with a few
large houses and park-like grounds set among fields of grain, now
trodden down by the soldiers. Here was placed in haphazard style
the motley housing of a military camp. The occupants had followed
their own taste in building. One could see structures covered
with turf, looking like lumps of mother earth, tents made of sail
cloth, huts of bare boards, huts of brick and stone, some having
doors and windows of wattled basketwork. There were not enough
huts to house the army nor camp-kettles for cooking. Blankets
were so few that many of the men were without covering at night.
In the warm summer weather this did not much matter but bleak
autumn and harsh winter would bring bitter privation. The sick in
particular suffered severely, for the hospitals were badly

A deep conviction inspired many of the volunteers. They regarded
as brutal tyranny the tax on tea, considered in England as a mild
expedient for raising needed revenue for defense in the colonies.
The men of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, meeting in September,
1774, had declared in high-flown terms that the proposed tax came
from a parricide who held a dagger at their bosoms and that those
who resisted him would earn praises to eternity. From nearly
every colony came similar utterances, and flaming resentment at
injustice filled the volunteer army. Many a soldier would not
touch a cup of tea because tea had been the ruin of his country.
Some wore pinned to their hats or coats the words "Liberty or
Death" and talked of resisting tyranny until "time shall be no
more." It was a dark day for the motherland when so many of her
sons believed that she was the enemy of liberty. The iron of this
conviction entered into the soul of the American nation; at
Gettysburg, nearly a century later, Abraham Lincoln, in a noble
utterance which touched the heart of humanity, could appeal to
the days of the Revolution, when "our fathers brought forth on
this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty." The colonists
believed that they were fighting for something of import to all
mankind, and the nation which they created believes it still.

An age of war furnishes, however, occasion for the exercise of
baser impulses. The New Englander was a trader by instinct. An
army had come suddenly together and there was golden promise of
contracts for supplies at fat profits. The leader from Virginia,
untutored in such things, was astounded at the greedy scramble.
Before the year 1775 ended Washington wrote to his friend Lee
that he prayed God he might never again have to witness such lack
of public spirit, such jobbing and self-seeking, such "fertility
in all the low arts," as now he found at Cambridge. He declared
that if he could have foreseen all this nothing would have
induced him to take the command. Later, the young La Fayette, who
had left behind him in France wealth and luxury in order to fight
a hard fight in America, was shocked at the slackness and
indifference among the supposed patriots for whose cause he was
making sacrifices so heavy. In the backward parts of the colonies
the population was densely ignorant and had little grasp of the
deeper meaning of the patriot cause.

The army was, as Washington himself said, "a mixed multitude."
There was every variety of dress. Old uniforms, treasured from
the days of the last French wars, had been dug out. A military
coat or a cocked hat was the only semblance of uniform possessed
by some of the officers. Rank was often indicated by ribbons of
different colors tied on the arm. Lads from the farms had come in
their usual dress; a good many of these were hunters from the
frontier wearing the buckskin of the deer they had slain.
Sometimes there was clothing of grimmer material. Later in the
war in American officer recorded that his men had skinned two
dead Indians "from their hips down, for bootlegs, one pair for
the Major, the other for myself." The volunteers varied greatly
in age. There were bearded veterans of sixty and a sprinkling of
lads of sixteen. An observer laughed at the boys and the "great
great grandfathers" who marched side by side in the army before
Boston. Occasionally a black face was seen in the ranks. One of
Washington's tasks was to reduce the disparity of years and
especially to secure men who could shoot. In the first enthusiasm
of 1775 so many men volunteered in Virginia that a selection was
made on the basis of accuracy in shooting. The men fired at a
range of one hundred and fifty yards at an outline of a man's
nose in chalk on a board. Each man had a single shot and the
first men shot the nose entirely away.

Undoubtedly there was the finest material among the men lounging
about their quarters at Cambridge in fashion so unmilitary. In
physique they were larger than the British soldier, a result due
to abundant food and free life in the open air from childhood.
Most of the men supplied their own uniform and rifles and much
barter went on in the hours after drill. The men made and sold
shoes, clothes, and even arms. They were accustomed to farm life
and good at digging and throwing up entrenchments. The colonial
mode of waging war was, however, not that of Europe. To the
regular soldier of the time even earth entrenchments seemed a
sign of cowardice. The brave man would come out on the open to
face his foe. Earl Percy, who rescued the harassed British on the
day of Lexington, had the poorest possible opinion of those on
what he called the rebel side. To him they were intriguing
rascals, hypocrites, cowards, with sinister designs to ruin the
Empire. But he was forced to admit that they fought well and
faced death willingly.

In time Washington gathered about him a fine body of officers,
brave, steady, and efficient. On the great issue they, like
himself, had unchanging conviction, and they and he saved the
revolution. But a good many of his difficulties were due to bad
officers. He had himself the reverence for gentility, the belief
in an ordered grading of society, characteristic of his class in
that age. In Virginia the relation of master and servant was well
understood and the tone of authority was readily accepted. In New
England conceptions of equality were more advanced. The extent to
which the people would brook the despotism of military command
was uncertain. From the first some of the volunteers had elected
their officers. The result was that intriguing demagogues were
sometimes chosen. The Massachusetts troops, wrote a Connecticut
captain, not free, perhaps, from local jealousy, were "commanded
by a most despicable set of officers." At Bunker Hill officers of
this type shirked the fight and their men, left without leaders,
joined in the panicky retreat of that day. Other officers sent
away soldiers to work on their farms while at the same time they
drew for them public pay. At a later time Washington wrote to a
friend wise counsel about the choice of officers. "Take none but
gentlemen; let no local attachment influence you; do not suffer
your good nature to say Yes when you ought to say No. Remember
that it is a public, not a private cause." What he desired was
the gentleman's chivalry of refinement, sense of honor, dignity
of character, and freedom from mere self-seeking. The prime
qualities of a good officer, as he often said, were authority and
decision. It is probably true of democracies that they prefer and
will follow the man who will take with them a strong tone. Little
men, however, cannot see this and think to gain support by shifty
changes of opinion to please the multitude. What authority and
decision could be expected from an officer of the peasant type,
elected by his own men? How could he dominate men whose short
term of service was expiring and who had to be coaxed to renew
it? Some elected officers had to promise to pool their pay with
that of their men. In one company an officer fulfilled the double
position of captain and barber. In time, however, the authority
of military rank came to be respected throughout the whole army.
An amusing contrast with earlier conditions is found in 1779 when
a captain was tried by a brigade court-martial and dismissed from
the service for intimate association with the wagon-maker of the

The first thing to do at Cambridge was to get rid of the
inefficient and the corrupt. Washington had never any belief in a
militia army. From his earliest days as a soldier he had favored
conscription, even in free Virginia. He had then found quite
ineffective the "whooping, holloing gentlemen soldiers" of the
volunteer force of the colony among whom "every individual has
his own crude notion of things and must undertake to direct. If
his advice is neglected he thinks himself slighted, abused, and
injured and, to redress his wrongs, will depart for his home."
Washington found at Cambridge too many officers. Then as later in
the American army there were swarms of colonels. The officers
from Massachusetts, conscious that they had seen the first
fighting in the great cause, expected special consideration from
a stranger serving on their own soil. Soon they had a rude
awakening. Washington broke a Massachusetts colonel and two
captains because they had proved cowards at Bunker Hill, two more
captains for fraud in drawing pay and provisions for men who did
not exist, and still another for absence from his post when he
was needed. He put in jail a colonel, a major, and three or four
other officers. "New lords, new laws," wrote in his diary Mr.
Emerson, the chaplain: "the Generals Washington and Lee are upon
the lines every day... great distinction is made between officers
and soldiers."

The term of all the volunteers in Washington's any expired by the
end of 1775, so that he had to create a new army during the siege
of Boston. He spoke scornfully of an enemy so little enterprising
as to remain supine during the process. But probably the British
were wise to avoid a venture inland and to remain in touch with
their fleet. Washington made them uneasy when he drove away the
cattle from the neighborhood. Soon beef was selling in Boston for
as much as eighteen pence a pound. Food might reach Boston in
ships but supplies even by sea were insecure, for the Americans
soon had privateers manned by seamen familiar with New England
waters and happy in expected gains from prize money. The British
were anxious about the elementary problem of food. They might
have made Washington more uncomfortable by forays and alarms.
Only reluctantly, however, did Howe, who took over the command on
October 10, 1775, admit to himself that this was a real war. He
still hoped for settlement without further bloodshed. Washington
was glad to learn that the British were laying in supplies of
coal for the winter. It meant that they intended to stay in
Boston, where, more than in any other place, he could make
trouble for them.

Washington had more on his mind than the creation of an army and
the siege of Boston. He had also to decide the strategy of the
war. On the long American sea front Boston alone remained in
British hands. New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and other ports
farther south were all, for the time, on the side of the
Revolution. Boston was not a good naval base for the British,
since it commanded no great waterway leading inland. The
sprawling colonies, from the rock-bound coast of New England to
the swamps and forests of Georgia, were strong in their
incoherent vastness. There were a thousand miles of seacoast.
Only rarely were considerable settlements to be found more than a
hundred miles distant from salt water. An army marching to the
interior would have increasing difficulties from transport and
supplies. Wherever water routes could be used the naval power of
the British gave them an advantage. One such route was the
Hudson, less a river than a navigable arm of the sea, leading to
the heart of the colony of New York, its upper waters almost
touching Lake George and Lake Champlain, which in turn led to the
St. Lawrence in Canada and thence to the sea. Canada was held by
the British; and it was clear that, if they should take the city
of New York, they might command the whole line from the mouth of
the Hudson to the St. Lawrence, and so cut off New England from
the other colonies and overcome a divided enemy. To foil this
policy Washington planned to hold New York and to capture Canada.
With Canada in line the union of the colonies would be indeed
continental, and, if the British were driven from Boston, they
would have no secure foothold in North America.

The danger from Canada had always been a source of anxiety to the
English colonies. The French had made Canada a base for attempts
to drive the English from North America. During many decades war
had raged along the Canadian frontier. With the cession of Canada
to Britain in 1763 this danger had vanished. The old habit
endured, however, of fear of Canada. When, in 1774, the British
Parliament passed the bill for the government of Canada known as
the Quebec Act, there was violent clamor. The measure was assumed
to be a calculated threat against colonial liberty. The Quebec
Act continued in Canada the French civil law and the ancient
privileges of the Roman Catholic Church. It guaranteed order in
the wild western region north of the Ohio, taken recently from
France, by placing it under the authority long exercised there of
the Governor of Quebec. Only a vivid imagination would conceive
that to allow to the French in Canada their old loved customs and
laws involved designs against the freedom under English law in
the other colonies, or that to let the Canadians retain in
respect to religion what they had always possessed meant a
sinister plot against the Protestantism of the English colonies.
Yet Alexander Hamilton, perhaps the greatest mind in the American
Revolution, had frantic suspicions. French laws in Canada
involved, he said, the extension of French despotism in the
English colonies. The privileges continued to the Roman Catholic
Church in Canada would be followed in due course by the
Inquisition, the burning of heretics at the stake in Boston and
New York, and the bringing from Europe of Roman Catholic settlers
who would prove tools for the destruction of religious liberty.
Military rule at Quebec meant, sooner or later, despotism
everywhere in America. We may smile now at the youthful
Hamilton's picture of "dark designs" and "deceitful wiles" on the
part of that fierce Protestant George III to establish Roman
Catholic despotism, but the colonies regarded the danger as
serious. The quick remedy would be simply to take Canada, as
Washington now planned.

To this end something had been done before Washington assumed the
command. The British Fort Ticonderoga, on the neck of land
separating Lake Champlain from Lake George, commanded the route
from New York to Canada. The fight at Lexington in April had been
quickly followed by aggressive action against this British
stronghold. No news of Lexington had reached the fort when early
in May Colonel Ethan Allen, with Benedict Arnold serving as a
volunteer in his force of eighty-three men, arrived in friendly
guise. The fort was held by only forty-eight British; with the
menace from France at last ended they felt secure; discipline was
slack, for there was nothing to do. The incompetent commander
testified that he lent Allen twenty men for some rough work on
the lake. By evening Allen had them all drunk and then it was
easy, without firing a shot, to capture the fort with a rush. The
door to Canada was open. Great stores of ammunition and a hundred
and twenty guns, which in due course were used against the
British at Boston, fell into American hands.

About Canada Washington was ill-informed. He thought of the
Canadians as if they were Virginians or New Yorkers. They had
been recently conquered by Britain; their new king was a tyrant;
they would desire liberty and would welcome an American army. So
reasoned Washington, but without knowledge. The Canadians were a
conquered people, but they had found the British king no tyrant
and they had experienced the paradox of being freer under the
conqueror than they had been under their own sovereign. The last
days of French rule in Canada were disgraced by corruption and
tyranny almost unbelievable. The Canadian peasant had been
cruelly robbed and he had conceived for his French rulers a
dislike which appears still in his attitude towards the
motherland of France. For his new British master he had assuredly
no love, but he was no longer dragged off to war and his property
was not plundered. He was free, too, to speak his mind. During
the first twenty years after the British conquest of Canada the
Canadian French matured indeed an assertive liberty not even
dreamed of during the previous century and a half of French rule.

The British tyranny which Washington pictured in Canada was thus
not very real. He underestimated, too, the antagonism between the
Roman Catholics of Canada and the Protestants of the English
colonies. The Congress at Philadelphia in denouncing the Quebec
Act had accused the Catholic Church of bigotry, persecution,
murder, and rebellion. This was no very tactful appeal for
sympathy to the sons of that France which was still the eldest
daughter of the Church and it was hardly helped by a maladroit
turn suggesting that "low-minded infirmities" should not permit
such differences to block union in the sacred cause of liberty.
Washington believed that two battalions of Canadians might be
recruited to fight the British, and that the French Acadians of
Nova Scotia, a people so remote that most of them hardly knew
what the war was about, were tingling with sympathy for the
American cause. In truth the Canadian was not prepared to fight
on either side. What the priest and the landowner could do to
make him fight for Britain was done, but, for all that, Sir Guy
Carleton, the Governor of Canada, found recruiting impossible.

Washington believed that the war would be won by the side which
held Canada. He saw that from Canada would be determined the
attitude of the savages dwelling in the wild spaces of the
interior; he saw, too, that Quebec as a military base in British
hands would be a source of grave danger. The easy capture of Fort
Ticonderoga led him to underrate difficulties. If Ticonderoga why
not Quebec? Nova Scotia might be occupied later, the Acadians
helping. Thus it happened that, soon after taking over the
command, Washington was busy with a plan for the conquest of
Canada. Two forces were to advance into that country; one by way
of Lake Champlain under General Schuyler and the other through
the forests of Maine under Benedict Arnold.

Schuyler was obliged through illness to give up his command, and
it was an odd fortune of war that put General Richard Montgomery
at the head of the expedition going by way of Lake Champlain.
Montgomery had served with Wolfe at the taking of Louisbourg and
had been an officer in the proud British army which had received
the surrender of Canada in 1760. Not without searching of heart
had Montgomery turned against his former sovereign. He was living
in America when war broke out; he had married into an American
family of position; and he had come to the view that vital
liberty was challenged by the King. Now he did his work well, in
spite of very bad material in his army. His New Englanders were,
he said, "every man a general and not one of them a soldier."
They feigned sickness, though, as far as he had learned, there
was "not a man dead of any distemper." No better were the men
from New York, "the sweepings of the streets" with morals
"infamous." Of the officers, too, Montgomery had a poor opinion.
Like Washington he declared that it was necessary to get
gentlemen, men of education and integrity, as officers, or
disaster would follow. Nevertheless St. Johns, a British post on
the Richelieu, about thirty miles across country from Montreal,
fell to Montgomery on the 3d of November, after a siege of six
weeks; and British regulars under Major Preston, a brave and
competent officer, yielded to a crude volunteer army with whole
regiments lacking uniforms. Montreal could make no defense. On
the 12th of November Montgomery entered Montreal and was in
control of the St. Lawrence almost to the cliffs of Quebec.
Canada seemed indeed an easy conquest.

The adventurous Benedict Arnold went on an expedition more
hazardous. He had persuaded Washington of the impossible, that he
could advance through the wilderness from the seacoast of Maine
and take Quebec by surprise. News travels even by forest
pathways. Arnold made a wonderful effort. Chill autumn was upon
him when, on the 25th of September, with about a thousand picked
men, he began to advance up the Kennebec River and over the
height of land to the upper waters of the Chaudiere, which
discharges into the St. Lawrence opposite Quebec. There were
heavy rains. Sometimes the men had to wade breast high in
dragging heavy and leaking boats over the difficult places. A
good many men died of starvation. Others deserted and turned
back. The indomitable Arnold pressed on, however, and on the 9th
of November, a few days before Montgomery occupied Montreal, he
stood with some six hundred worn and shivering men on the strand
of the St. Lawrence opposite Quebec. He had not surprised the
city and it looked grim and inaccessible as he surveyed it across
the great river. In the autumn gales it was not easy to carry
over his little army in small boats. But this he accomplished and
then waited for Montgomery to join him.

By the 3d of December Montgomery was with Arnold before Quebec.
They had hardly more than a thousand effective troops, together
with a few hundred Canadians, upon whom no reliance could be
placed. Carleton, commanding at Quebec, sat tight and would hold
no communication with despised "rebels." "They all pretend to be
gentlemen," said an astonished British officer in Quebec, when he
heard that among the American officers now captured by the
British there were a former blacksmith, a butcher, a shoemaker,
and an innkeeper. Montgomery was stung to violent threats by
Carleton's contempt, but never could he draw from Carleton a
reply. At last Montgomery tried, in the dark of early morning of
New Year's Day, 1776, to carry Quebec by storm. He was to lead an
attack on the Lower Town from the west side, while Arnold was to
enter from the opposite side. When they met in the center they
were to storm the citadel on the heights above. They counted on
the help of the French inhabitants, from whom Carleton said
bitterly enough that he had nothing to fear in prosperity and
nothing to hope for in adversity. Arnold pressed his part of the
attack with vigor and penetrated to the streets of the Lower Town
where he fell wounded. Captain Daniel Morgan, who took over the
command, was made prisoner.

Montgomery's fate was more tragic. In spite of protests from his
officers, he led in person the attack from the west side of the
fortress. The advance was along a narrow road under the towering
cliffs of a great precipice. The attack was expected by the
British and the guard at the barrier was ordered to hold its fire
until the enemy was near. Suddenly there was a roar of cannon and
the assailants not swept down fled in panic. With the morning
light the dead head of Montgomery was found protruding from the
snow. He was mourned by Washington and with reason. He had
talents and character which might have made him one of the chief
leaders of the revolutionary army. Elsewhere, too, was he
mourned. His father, an Irish landowner, had been a member of the
British Parliament, and he himself was a Whig, known to Fox and
Burke. When news of his death reached England eulogies upon him
came from the Whig benches in Parliament which could not have
been stronger had he died fighting for the King.

While the outlook in Canada grew steadily darker, the American
cause prospered before Boston. There Howe was not at ease. If it
was really to be war, which he still doubted, it would be well to
seek some other base. Washington helped Howe to take action.
Dorchester Heights commanded Boston as critically from the south
as did Bunker Hill from the north. By the end of February
Washington had British cannon, brought with heavy labor from
Ticonderoga, and then he lost no time. On the morning of March 5,
1776, Howe awoke to find that, under cover of a heavy
bombardment, American troops had occupied Dorchester Heights and
that if he would dislodge them he must make another attack
similar to that at Bunker Hill. The alternative of stiff fighting
was the evacuation of Boston. Howe, though dilatory, was a good
fighting soldier. His defects as a general in America sprang in
part from his belief that the war was unjust and that delay might
bring counsels making for peace and save bloodshed. His first
decision was to attack, but a furious gale thwarted his purpose,
and he then prepared for the inevitable step.

Washington divined Howe's purpose and there was a tacit agreement
that the retiring army should not be molested. Howe destroyed
munitions of war which he could not take away but he left intact
the powerful defenses of Boston, defenses reared at the cost of
Britain. Many of the better class of the inhabitants, British in
their sympathies, were now face to face with bitter sorrow and
sacrifice. Passions were so aroused that a hard fate awaited them
should they remain in Boston and they decided to leave with the
British army. Travel by land was blocked; they could go only by
sea. When the time came to depart, laden carriages, trucks, and
wheelbarrows crowded to the quays through the narrow streets and
a sad procession of exiles went out from their homes. A profane
critic said that they moved "as if the very devil was after
them." No doubt many of them would have been arrogant and
merciless to "rebels" had theirs been the triumph. But the day
was above all a day of sorrow. Edward Winslow, a strong leader
among them, tells of his tears "at leaving our once happy town of
Boston." The ships, a forest of masts, set sail and, crowded with
soldiers and refugees, headed straight out to sea for Halifax.
Abigail, wife of John Adams, a clever woman, watched the
departure of the fleet with gladness in her heart. She thought
that never before had been seen in America so many ships bearing
so many people. Washington's army marched joyously into Boston.
Joyous it might well be since, for the moment, powerful Britain
was not secure in a single foot of territory in the former
colonies. If Quebec should fall the continent would be almost

Quebec did not fall. All through the winter the Americans held on
before the place. They shivered from cold. They suffered from the
dread disease smallpox. They had difficulty in getting food. The
Canadians were insistent on having good money for what they
offered and since good money was not always in the treasury the
invading army sometimes used violence. Then the Canadians became
more reserved and chilling than ever. In hope of mending matters
Congress sent a commission to Montreal in the spring of 1776. Its
chairman was Benjamin Franklin and, with him, were two leading
Roman Catholics, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a great landowner
of Maryland, and his brother John, a priest, afterwards
Archbishop of Baltimore. It was not easy to represent as the
liberator of the Catholic Canadians the Congress which had
denounced in scathing terms the concessions in the Quebec Act to
the Catholic Church. Franklin was a master of conciliation, but
before he achieved anything a dramatic event happened. On the 6th
of May, British ships arrived at Quebec. The inhabitants rushed
to the ramparts. Cries of joy passed from street to street and
they reached the little American army, now under General Thomas,
encamped on the Plains of Abraham. Panic seized the small force
which had held on so long. On the ships were ten thousand fresh
British troops. The one thing for the Americans to do was to get
away; and they fled, leaving behind guns, supplies, even clothing
and private papers. Five days later Franklin, at Montreal, was
dismayed by the distressing news of disaster.

Congress sent six regiments to reinforce the army which had fled
from Quebec. It was a desperate venture. Washington's orders were
that the Americans should fight the new British army as near
Quebec as possible. The decisive struggle took place on the 8th
of June. An American force under the command of General Thompson
attacked Three Rivers, a town on the St. Lawrence, half way
between Quebec and Montreal. They were repulsed and the general
was taken prisoner. The wonder is indeed that the army was not
annihilated. Then followed a disastrous retreat. Short of
supplies, ravaged by smallpox, and in bad weather, the invaders
tried to make their way back to Lake Champlain. They evacuated
Montreal. It is hard enough in the day of success to hold
together an untrained army. In the day of defeat such a force is
apt to become a mere rabble. Some of the American regiments
preserved discipline. Others fell into complete disorder as, weak
and discouraged, they retired to Lake Champlain. Many soldiers
perished of disease. "I did not look into a hut or a tent," says
an observer, "in which I did not find a dead or dying man." Those
who had huts were fortunate. The fate of some was to die without
medical care and without cover. By the end of June what was left.
of the force had reached Crown Point on Lake Champlain.

Benedict Arnold, who had been wounded at Quebec, was now at Crown
Point. Competent critics of the war have held that what Arnold
now did saved the Revolution. In another scene, before the summer
ended, the British had taken New York and made themselves masters
of the lower Hudson. Had they reached in the same season the
upper Hudson by way of Lake Champlain they would have struck
blows doubly staggering. This Arnold saw, and his object was to
delay, if he could not defeat, the British advance. There was no
road through the dense forest by the shores of Lake Champlain and
Lake George to the upper Hudson. The British must go down the
lake in boats. This General Carleton had foreseen and he had
urged that with the fleet sent to Quebec should be sent from
England, in sections, boats which could be quickly carried past
the rapids of the Richelieu River and launched on Lake Champlain.
They had not come and the only thing for Carleton to do was to
build a flotilla which could carry an army up the lake and attack
Crown Point. The thing was done but skilled workmen were few and
not until the 6th of October were the little ships afloat on Lake
Champlain. Arnold, too, spent the summer in building boats to
meet the attack and it was a strange turn in warfare which now
made him commander in a naval fight. There was a brisk struggle
on Lake Champlain. Carleton had a score or so of vessels; Arnold
not so many. But he delayed Carleton. When he was beaten on the
water he burned the ships not captured and took to the land. When
he could no longer hold Crown Point he burned that place and
retreated to Ticonderoga.

By this time it was late autumn. The British were far from their
base and the Americans were retreating into a friendly country.
There is little doubt that Carleton could have taken Fort
Ticonderoga. It fell quite easily less than a year later. Some of
his officers urged him to press on and do it. But the leaves had
already fallen, the bleak winter was near, and Carleton pictured
to himself an army buried deeply in an enemy country and
separated from its base by many scores of miles of lake and
forest. He withdrew to Canada and left Lake Champlain to the


Well-meaning people in England found it difficult to understand
the intensity of feeling in America. Britain had piled up a huge
debt in driving France from America. Landowners were paying in
taxes no less than twenty per cent of their incomes from land.
The people who had chiefly benefited by the humiliation of France
were the colonists, now freed from hostile menace and secure for
extension over a whole continent. Why should not they pay some
share of the cost of their own security? Certain facts tended to
make Englishmen indignant with the Americans. Every effort had
failed to get them to pay willingly for their defense. Before the
Stamp Act had become law in 1765 the colonies were given a whole
year to devise the raising of money in any way which they liked
better. The burden of what was asked would be light. Why should
not they agree to bear it? Why this talk, repeated by the Whigs
in the British Parliament, of brutal tyranny, oppression, hired
minions imposing slavery, and so on. Where were the oppressed?
Could any one point to a single person who before war broke out
had known British tyranny? What suffering could any one point to
as the result of the tax on tea? The people of England paid a tax
on tea four times heavier than that paid in America. Was not the
British Parliament supreme over the whole Empire? Did not the
colonies themselves admit that it had the right to control their
trade overseas? And if men shirk their duty should they not come
under some law of compulsion?

It was thus that many a plain man reasoned in England. The plain
man in America had his own opposing point of view. Debts and
taxes in England were not his concern. He remembered the recent
war as vividly as did the Englishman, and, if the English paid
its cost in gold, he had paid his share in blood and tears. Who
made up the armies led by the British generals in America? More
than half the total number who served in America came from the
colonies, the colonies which had barely a third of the population
of Great Britain. True, Britain paid the bill in money but why
not? She was rich with a vast accumulated capital. The war,
partly in America, had given her the key to the wealth of India.
Look at the magnificence, the pomp of servants, plate and
pictures, the parks and gardens, of hundreds of English country
houses, and compare this opulence with the simple mode of life,
simplicity imposed by necessity, of a country gentleman like
George Washington of Virginia, reputed to be the richest man in
America. Thousands of tenants in England, owning no acre of land,
were making a larger income than was possible in America to any
owner of broad acres. It was true that America had gained from
the late war. The foreign enemy had been struck down. But had he
not been struck down too for England? Had there not been far more
dread in England of invasion by France and had not the colonies
by helping to ruin France freed England as much as England had
freed them? If now the colonies were asked to pay a share of the
bill for the British army that was a matter for discussion. They
had never before done it and they must not be told that they had
to meet the demand within a year or be compelled to pay. Was it
not to impose tyranny and slavery to tell a people that their
property would be taken by force if they did not choose to give
it? What free man would not rather die than yield on such a

The familiar workings of modern democracy have taught us that a
great political issue must be discussed in broad terms of high
praise or severe blame. The contestants will exaggerate both the
virtue of the side they espouse and the malignity of the opposing
side; nice discrimination is not possible. It was inevitable that
the dispute with the colonies should arouse angry vehemence on
both sides. The passionate speech of Patrick Henry in Virginia,
in 1763, which made him famous, and was the forerunner of his
later appeal, "Give me Liberty or give me Death, " related to so
prosaic a question as the right of disallowance by England of an
act passed by a colonial legislature, a right exercised long and
often before that time and to this day a part of the
constitutional machinery of the British Empire. Few men have
lived more serenely poised than Washington, yet, as we have seen,
he hated the British with an implacable hatred. He was a humane
man. In earlier years, Indian raids on the farmers of Virginia
had stirred him to "deadly sorrow," and later, during his retreat
from New York, he was moved by the cries of the weak and infirm.
Yet the same man felt no touch of pity for the Loyalists of the
Revolution. To him they were detestable parricides, vile
traitors, with no right to live. When we find this note in
Washington, in America, we hardly wonder that the high Tory,
Samuel Johnson, in England, should write that the proposed
taxation was no tyranny, that it had not been imposed earlier
because "we do not put a calf into the plough; we wait till he is
an ox," and that the Americans were "a race of convicts, and
ought to be thankful for anything which we allow them short of
hanging." Tyranny and treason are both ugly things. Washington
believed that he was fighting the one, Johnson that he was
fighting the other, and neither side would admit the charge
against itself.

Such are the passions aroused by civil strife. We need not now,
when they are, or ought to be, dead, spend any time in deploring
them. It suffices to explain them and the events to which they
led. There was one and really only one final issue. Were the
American colonies free to govern themselves as they liked or
might their government in the last analysis be regulated by Great
Britain? The truth is that the colonies had reached a condition
in which they regarded themselves as British states with their
own parliaments, exercising complete jurisdiction in their own
affairs. They intended to use their own judgment and they were as
restless under attempted control from England as England would
have been under control from America. We can indeed always
understand the point of view of Washington if we reverse the
position and imagine what an Englishman would have thought of a
claim by America to tax him.

An ancient and proud society is reluctant to change. After a long
and successful war England was prosperous. To her now came
riches from India and the ends of the earth. In society there was
such lavish expenditure that Horace Walpole declared an income of
twenty thousand pounds a year was barely enough. England had an
aristocracy the proudest in the world, for it had not only rank
but wealth. The English people were certain of the invincible
superiority of their nation. Every Englishman was taught, as
Disraeli said of a later period, to believe that he occupied a
position better than any one else of his own degree in any other
country in the world. The merchant in England was believed to
surpass all others in wealth and integrity, the manufacturer to
have no rivals in skill, the British sailor to stand in a class
by himself, the British officer to express the last word in
chivalry. It followed, of course, that the motherland was
superior to her children overseas. The colonies had no
aristocracy, no great landowners living in stately palaces. They
had almost no manufactures. They had no imposing state system
with places and pensions from which the fortunate might reap a
harvest of ten or even twenty thousand pounds a year. They had no
ancient universities thronged by gilded youth who, if noble,
might secure degrees without the trying ceremony of an
examination. They had no Established Church with the ancient
glories of its cathedrals. In all America there was not even a
bishop. In spite of these contrasts the English Whigs insisted
upon the political equality with themselves of the American
colonists. The Tory squire, however, shared Samuel Johnson's view
that colonists were either traders or farmers and that colonial
shopkeeping society was vulgar and contemptible.

George III was ill-fitted by nature to deal with the crisis. The
King was not wholly without natural parts, for his own firm will
had achieved what earlier kings had tried and failed to do; he
had mastered Parliament, made it his obedient tool and himself
for a time a despot. He had some admirable virtues. He was a
family man, the father of fifteen children. He liked quiet
amusements and had wholesome tastes. If industry and belief in
his own aims could of themselves make a man great we might
reverence George. He wrote once to Lord North: "I have no object
but to be of use: if that is ensured I am completely happy." The
King was always busy. Ceaseless industry does not, however,
include every virtue, or the author of all evil would rank high
in goodness. Wisdom must be the pilot of good intentions. George
was not wise. He was ill-educated. He had never traveled. He had
no power to see the point of view of others.

As if nature had not sufficiently handicapped George for a high
part, fate placed him on the throne at the immature age of
twenty-two. Henceforth the boy was master, not pupil. Great
nobles and obsequious prelates did him reverence. Ignorant and
obstinate, the young King was determined not only to reign but to
rule, in spite of the new doctrine that Parliament, not the King,
carried on the affairs of government through the leader of the
majority in the House of Commons, already known as the Prime
Minister. George could not really change what was the last
expression of political forces in England. The rule of Parliament
had come to stay. Through it and it alone could the realm be
governed. This power, however, though it could not be destroyed,
might be controlled. Parliament, while retaining all its
privileges, might yet carry out the wishes of the sovereign. The
King might be his own Prime Minister. The thing could be done if
the King's friends held a majority of the seats and would do what
their master directed. It was a dark day for England when a king
found that he could play off one faction against another, buy a
majority in Parliament, and retain it either by paying with
guineas or with posts and dignities which the bought Parliament
left in his gift. This corruption it was which ruined the first
British Empire.

We need not doubt that George thought it his right and also his
duty to coerce America, or rather, as he said, the clamorous
minority which was trying to force rebellion. He showed no lack
of sincerity. On October 26, 1775, while Washington was besieging
Boston, he opened Parliament with a speech which at any rate made
the issue clear enough. Britain would not give up colonies which
she had founded with severe toil and nursed with great kindness.
Her army and her navy, both now increased in size, would make her
power respected. She would not, however, deal harshly with her
erring children. Royal mercy would be shown to those who admitted
their error and they need not come to England to secure it.
Persons in America would be authorized to grant pardons and
furnish the guarantees which would proceed from the royal

Such was the magnanimity of George III. Washington's rage at the
tone of the speech is almost amusing in its vehemence. He, with a
mind conscious of rectitude and sacrifice in a great cause, to
ask pardon for his course! He to bend the knee to this tyrant
overseas! Washington himself was not highly gifted with
imagination. He never realized the strength of the forces in
England arrayed on his own side and attributed to the English, as
a whole, sinister and malignant designs always condemned by the
great mass of the English people. They, no less than the
Americans, were the victims of a turn in politics which, for a
brief period, and for only a brief period, left power in the
hands of a corrupt Parliament and a corrupting king.

Ministers were not all corrupt or place-hunters. One of them, the
Earl of Dartmouth, was a saint in spirit. Lord North, the king's
chief minister, was not corrupt. He disliked his office and
wished to leave it. In truth no sweeping simplicity of
condemnation will include all the ministers of George III except
on this one point that they allowed to dictate their policy a
narrow-minded and ignorant king. It was their right to furnish a
policy and to exercise the powers of government, appoint to
office, spend the public revenues. Instead they let the King say
that the opinions of his ministers had no avail with him. If we
ask why, the answer is that there was a mixture of motives. North
stayed in office because the King appealed to his loyalty, a plea
hard to resist under an ancient monarchy. Others stayed from love
of power or for what they could get. In that golden age of
patronage it was possible for a man to hold a plurality of
offices which would bring to himself many thousands of pounds a
year, and also to secure the reversion of offices and pensions to
his children. Horace Walpole spent a long life in luxurious ease
because of offices with high pay and few duties secured in the
distant days of his father's political power. Contracts to supply
the army and the navy went to friends of the government,
sometimes with disastrous results, since the contractor often
knew nothing of the business he undertook. When, in 1777, the
Admiralty boasted that thirty-five ships of war were ready to put
to sea it was found that there were in fact only six. The system
nearly ruined the navy. It actually happened that planks of a
man-of-war fell out through rot and that she sank. Often ropes
and spars could not be had when most needed. When a public loan
was floated the King's friends and they alone were given the
shares at a price which enabled them to make large profits on the
stock market.

The system could endure only as long as the King's friends had a
majority in the House of Commons. Elections must be looked after.
The King must have those on whom he could always depend. He
controlled offices and pensions. With these things he bought
members and he had to keep them bought by repeating the benefits.
If the holder of a public office was thought to be dying the King
was already naming to his Prime Minister the person to whom the
office must go when death should occur. He insisted that many
posts previously granted for life should now be given during his
pleasure so that he might dismiss the holders at will. He watched
the words and the votes in Parliament of public men and woe to
those in his power if they displeased him. When he knew that Fox,
his great antagonist, would be absent from Parliament he pressed
through measures which Fox would have opposed. It was not until
George III was King that the buying and selling of boroughs
became common. The King bought votes in the boroughs by paying
high prices for trifles. He even went over the lists of voters
and had names of servants of the government inserted if this
seemed needed to make a majority secure. One of the most
unedifying scenes in English history is that of George making a
purchase in a shop at Windsor and because of this patronage
asking for the shopkeeper's support in a local election. The King
was saving and penurious in his habits that he might have the
more money to buy votes. When he had no money left he would go to
Parliament and ask for a special grant for his needs and the
bought members could not refuse the money for their buying.

The people of England knew that Parliament was corrupt. But how
to end the system? The press was not free. Some of it the
government bought and the rest it tried to intimidate though
often happily in vain. Only fragments of the debates in
Parliament were published. Not until 1779 did the House of
Commons admit the public to its galleries. No great political
meetings were allowed until just before the American war and in
any case the masses had no votes. The great landowners had in
their control a majority of the constituencies. There were scores
of pocket boroughs in which their nominees were as certain of
election as peers were of their seats in the House of Lords. The
disease of England was deep-seated. A wise king could do much,
but while George III survived--and his reign lasted sixty
years--there was no hope of a wise king. A strong minister could
impose his will on the King. But only time and circumstance could
evolve a strong minister. Time and circumstance at length
produced the younger Pitt. But it needed the tragedy of two long
wars--those against the colonies and revolutionary France--before
the nation finally threw off the system which permitted the
personal rule of George III and caused the disruption of the
Empire. It may thus be said with some truth that George
Washington was instrumental in the salvation of England.

The ministers of George III loved the sports, the rivalries, the
ease, the remoteness of their rural magnificence. Perverse
fashion kept them in London even in April and May for "the
season," just when in the country nature was most alluring.
Otherwise they were off to their estates whenever they could get
away from town. The American Revolution was not remotely affected
by this habit. With ministers long absent in the country
important questions were postponed or forgotten. The crisis which
in the end brought France into the war was partly due to the
carelessness of a minister hurrying away to the country. Lord
George Germain, who directed military operations in America,
dictated a letter which would have caused General Howe to move
northward from New York to meet General Burgoyne advancing from
Canada. Germain went off to the country without waiting to sign
the letter; it was mislaid among other papers; Howe was without
needed instructions; and the disaster followed of Burgoyne's
surrender. Fox pointed out, that, at a time when there was a
danger that a foreign army might land in England, not one of the
King's ministers was less than fifty miles from London. They were
in their parks and gardens, or hunting or fishing. Nor did they
stay away for a few days only. The absence was for weeks or even

It is to the credit of Whig leaders in England, landowners and
aristocrats as they were, that they supported with passion the
American cause. In America, where the forces of the Revolution
were in control, the Loyalist who dared to be bold for his
opinions was likely to be tarred and feathered and to lose his
property. There was an embittered intolerance. In England,
however, it was an open question in society whether to be for or
against the American cause. The Duke of Richmond, a great
grandson of Charles II, said in the House of Lords that under no
code should the fighting Americans be considered traitors. What
they did was "perfectly justifiable in every possible political
and moral sense." All the world knows that Chatham and Burke and
Fox urged the conciliation of America and hundreds took the same
stand. Burke said of General Conway, a man of position, that when
he secured a majority in the House of Commons against the Stamp
Act his face shone as the face of an angel. Since the bishops
almost to a man voted with the King, Conway attacked them as in
this untrue to their high office. Sir George Savile, whose
benevolence, supported by great wealth, made him widely respected
and loved, said that the Americans were right in appealing to
arms. Coke of Norfolk was a landed magnate who lived in regal
style. His seat of Holkham was one of those great new palaces
which the age reared at such elaborate cost. It was full of
beautiful things--the art of Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and
Van Dyke, rare manuscripts, books, and tapestries. So magnificent
was Coke that a legend long ran that his horses were shod with
gold and that the wheels of his chariots were of solid silver. In
the country he drove six horses. In town only the King did this.
Coke despised George III, chiefly on account of his American
policy, and to avoid the reproach of rivaling the King's estate,
he took joy in driving past the palace in London with a donkey as
his sixth animal and in flicking his whip at the King. When he
was offered a peerage by the King he denounced with fiery wrath
the minister through whom it was offered as attempting to bribe
him. Coke declared that if one of the King's ministers held up a
hat in the House of Commons and said that it was a green bag the
majority of the members would solemnly vote that it was a green
bag. The bribery which brought this blind obedience of Toryism
filled Coke with fury. In youth he had been taught never to trust
a Tory and he could say "I never have and, by God, I never will."
One of his children asked their mother whether Tories were born
wicked or after birth became wicked. The uncompromising answer
was: "They are born wicked and they grow up worse."

There is, of course, in much of this something of the malignance
of party. In an age when one reverend theologian, Toplady, called
another theologian, John Wesley, "a low and puny tadpole in
Divinity" we must expect harsh epithets. But behind this
bitterness lay a deep conviction of the righteousness of the
American cause. At a great banquet at Holkham, Coke omitted the
toast of the King; but every night during the American war he
drank the health of Washington as the greatest man on earth. The
war, he said, was the King's war, ministers were his tools, the
press was bought. He denounced later the King's reception of the
traitor Arnold. When the King's degenerate son, who became George
IV, after some special misconduct, wrote to propose his annual
visit to Holkham, Coke replied, "Holkham is open to strangers on
Tuesdays." It was an independent and irate England which spoke in
Coke. Those who paid taxes, he said, should control those who
governed. America was not getting fair play. Both Coke and Fox,
and no doubt many others, wore waistcoats of blue and buff
because these were the colors of the uniforms of Washington's

Washington and Coke exchanged messages and they would have been
congenial companions; for Coke, like Washington, was above all a
farmer and tried to improve agriculture. Never for a moment, he
said, had time hung heavy on his hands in the country. He began
on his estate the culture of the potato, and for some time the
best he could hear of it from his stolid tenantry was that it
would not poison the pigs. Coke would have fought the levy of a
penny of unjust taxation and he understood Washington. The
American gentleman and the English gentleman had a common

Now had come, however, the hour for political separation. By
reluctant but inevitable steps America made up its mind to
declare for independence. At first continued loyalty to the King
was urged on the plea that he was in the hands of evil-minded
ministers, inspired by diabolical rage, or in those of an
"infernal villain" such as the soldier, General Gage, a second
Pharaoh; though it must be admitted that even then the King was
"the tyrant of Great Britain." After Bunker Hill spasmodic
declarations of independence were made here and there by local
bodies. When Congress organized an army, invaded Canada, and
besieged Boston, it was hard to protest loyalty to a King whose
forces were those of an enemy. Moreover independence would, in
the eyes at least of foreign governments, give the colonies the
rights of belligerents and enable them to claim for their
fighting forces the treatment due to a regular army and the
exchange of prisoners with the British. They could, too, make
alliances with other nations. Some clamored for independence for
a reason more sinister--that they might punish those who held to
the King and seize their property. There were thirteen colonies
in arms and each of them had to form some kind of government
which would work without a king as part of its mechanism. One by
one such governments were formed. King George, as we have seen,
helped the colonies to make up their minds. They were in no mood
to be called erring children who must implore undeserved mercy
and not force a loving parent to take unwilling vengeance. "Our
plantations" and "our subjects in the colonies" would simply not
learn obedience. If George III would not reply to their petitions
until they laid down their arms, they could manage to get on
without a king. If England, as Horace Walpole admitted, would not
take them seriously and speakers in Parliament called them
obscure ruffians and cowards, so much the worse for England.

It was an Englishman, Thomas Paine, who fanned the fire into
unquenchable flames. He had recently been dismissed from a post
in the excise in England and was at this time earning in
Philadelphia a precarious living by his pen. Paine said it was
the interest of America to break the tie with Europe. Was a whole
continent in America to be governed by an island a thousand
leagues away? Of what advantage was it to remain connected with
Great Britain? It was said that a united British Empire could
defy the world, but why should America defy the world?
"Everything that is right or natural pleads for separation."
Interested men, weak men, prejudiced men, moderate men who do not
really know Europe, may urge reconciliation, but nature is
against it. Paine broke loose in that denunciation of kings with
which ever since the world has been familiar. The wretched
Briton, said Paine, is under a king and where there was a king
there was no security for liberty. Kings were crowned ruffians
and George III in particular was a sceptered savage, a royal
brute, and other evil things. He had inflicted on America
injuries not to be forgiven. The blood of the slain, not less
than the true interests of posterity, demanded separation. Paine
called his pamphlet "Common Sense". It was published on January
9, 1776. More than a hundred thousand copies were quickly sold
and it brought decision to many wavering minds.

In the first days of 1776 independence had become a burning
question. New England had made up its mind. Virginia was keen for
separation, keener even than New England. New York and
Pennsylvania long hesitated and Maryland and North Carolina were
very lukewarm. Early in 1776 Washington was advocating
independence and Greene and other army leaders were of the same
mind. Conservative forces delayed the settlement, and at last
Virginia, in this as in so many other things taking the lead,
instructed its delegates to urge a declaration by Congress of
independence. Richard Henry Lee, a member of that honored family
which later produced the ablest soldier of the Civil War, moved
in Congress on June 7, 1776, that "these United Colonies are,
and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States." The
preparation of a formal declaration was referred to a committee
of which John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were members. It is
interesting to note that each of them became President of the
United States and that both died on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth
anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Adams related
long after that he and Jefferson formed the sub-committee to
draft the Declaration and that he urged Jefferson to undertake
the task since "you can write ten times better than I can."
Jefferson accordingly wrote the paper. Adams was delighted "with
its high tone and the flights of Oratory" but he did not approve
of the flaming attack on the King, as a tyrant. "I never
believed," he said, "George to be a tyrant in disposition and in
nature." There was, he thought, too much passion for a grave and
solemn document. He was, however, the principal speaker in its

There is passion in the Declaration from beginning to end, and
not the restrained and chastened passion which we find in the
great utterances of an American statesman of a later day, Abraham
Lincoln. Compared with Lincoln, Jefferson is indeed a mere
amateur in the use of words. Lincoln would not have scattered in
his utterances overwrought phrases about "death, desolation and
tyranny" or talked about pledging "our lives, our fortunes and
our sacred honour." He indulged in no "Flights of Oratory." The
passion in the Declaration is concentrated against the King. We
do not know what were the emotions of George when he read it. We
know that many Englishmen thought that it spoke truth.
Exaggerations there are which make the Declaration less than a
completely candid document. The King is accused of abolishing
English laws in Canada with the intention of "introducing the
same absolute rule into these colonies." What had been done in
Canada was to let the conquered French retain their own
laws--which was not tyranny but magnanimity. Another clause of
the Declaration, as Jefferson first wrote it, made George
responsible for the slave trade in America with all its horrors
and crimes. We may doubt whether that not too enlightened monarch
had even more than vaguely heard of the slave trade. This phase
of the attack upon him was too much for the slave owners of the
South and the slave traders of New England, and the clause was
struck out.

Nearly fourscore and ten years later, Abraham Lincoln, at a
supreme crisis in the nation's life, told in Independence Hall,
Philadelphia, what the Declaration of Independence meant to him.
"I have never," he said, "had a feeling politically which did not
spring from the sentiments in the Declaration of Independence";
and then he spoke of the sacrifices which the founders of the
Republic had made for these principles. He asked, too, what was
the idea which had held together the nation thus founded. It was
not the breaking away from Great Britain. It was the assertion of
human right. We should speak in terms of reverence of a document
which became a classic utterance of political right and which
inspired Lincoln in his fight to end slavery and to make "Liberty
and the pursuit of Happiness" realities for all men. In England
the colonists were often taunted with being "rebels." The answer
was not wanting that ancestors of those who now cried "rebel" had
themselves been rebels a hundred years earlier when their own
liberty was at stake.

There were in Congress men who ventured to say that the
Declaration was a libel on the government of England; men like
John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and John Jay of New York, who
feared that the radical elements were moving too fast.
Radicalism, however, was in the saddle, and on the 2d of July the
"resolution respecting independency " was adopted. On July 4,
1776, Congress debated and finally adopted the formal Declaration
of Independence. The members did not vote individually. The
delegates from each colony cast the vote of the colony. Twelve
colonies voted for the Declaration. New York alone was silent
because its delegates had not been instructed as to their vote,
but New York, too, soon fell into line. It was a momentous
occasion and was understood to be such. The vote seems to have
been reached in the late afternoon. Anxious citizens were waiting
in the streets. There was a bell in the State House, and an old
ringer waited there for the signal. When there was long delay he
is said to have muttered: "They will never do it! they will never
do it!" Then came the word, "Ring! Ring!" It is an odd fact that
the inscription on the bell, placed there long before the days of
the trouble, was from Leviticus: "Proclaim liberty throughout all
the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." The bells of
Philadelphia rang and cannon boomed. As the news spread there
were bonfires and illuminations in all the colonies. On the day
after the Declaration the Virginia Convention struck out "O Lord,
save the King" from the church service. On the l0th of July
Washington, who by this time had moved to New York, paraded the
army and had the Declaration read at the head of each brigade.
That evening the statue of King George in New York was laid in
the dust. It is a comment on the changes in human fortune that
within little more than a year the British had taken
Philadelphia, that the clamorous bell had been hid away for
safety, and that colonial wiseacres were urging the rescinding of
the ill-timed Declaration and the reunion of the British Empire.


Washington's success at Boston had one good effect. It destroyed
Tory influence in that Puritan stronghold. New England was
henceforth of a temper wholly revolutionary; and New England
tradition holds that what its people think today other Americans
think tomorrow. But, in the summer of this year 1776, though no
serious foe was visible at any point in the revolted colonies, a
menace haunted every one of them. The British had gone away by
sea; by sea they would return. On land armies move slowly and
visibly; but on the sea a great force may pass out of sight and
then suddenly reappear at an unexpected point. This is the
haunting terror of sea power. Already the British had destroyed
Falmouth, now Portland, Maine, and Norfolk, the principal town in
Virginia. Washington had no illusions of security. He was anxious
above all for the safety of New York, commanding the vital artery
of the Hudson, which must at all costs be defended. Accordingly,
in April, he took his army to New York and established there his
own headquarters.

Even before Washington moved to New York, three great British
expeditions were nearing America. One of these we have already
seen at Quebec. Another was bound for Charleston, to land there
an army and to make the place a rallying center for the numerous
but harassed Loyalists of the South. The third and largest of
these expeditions was to strike at New York and, by a show of
strength, bring the colonists to reason and reconciliation. If
mildness failed the British intended to capture New York, sail up
the Hudson and cut off New England from the other colonies.

The squadron destined for Charleston carried an army in command
of a fine soldier, Lord Cornwallis, destined later to be the
defeated leader in the last dramatic scene of the war. In May
this fleet reached Wilmington, North Carolina, and took on board
two thousand men under General Sir Henry Clinton, who had been
sent by Howe from Boston in vain to win the Carolinas and who now
assumed military command of the combined forces. Admiral Sir
Peter Parker commanded the fleet, and on the 4th of June he was
off Charleston Harbor. Parker found that in order to cross the
bar he would have to lighten his larger ships. This was done by
the laborious process of removing the guns, which, of course, he
had to replace when the bar was crossed. On the 28th of June,
Parker drew up his ships before Fort Moultrie in the harbor. He
had expected simultaneous aid by land from three thousand
soldiers put ashore from the fleet on a sandbar, but these troops
could give him no help against the fort from which they were cut
off by a channel of deep water. A battle soon proved the British
ships unable to withstand the American fire from Fort Moultrie.
Late in the evening Parker drew off, with two hundred and
twenty-five casualties against an American loss of thirty-seven.
The check was greater than that of Bunker Hill, for there the
British took the ground which they attacked. The British sailors
bore witness to the gallantry of the defense: "We never had such
a drubbing in our lives," one of them testified. Only one of
Parker's ten ships was seaworthy after the fight. It took him
three weeks to refit, and not until the 4th of August did his
defeated ships reach New York.

A mighty armada of seven hundred ships had meanwhile sailed into
the Bay of New York. This fleet was commanded by Admiral Lord
Howe and it carried an army of thirty thousand men led by his
younger brother, Sir William Howe, who had commanded at Bunker
Hill. The General was an able and well-informed soldier. He had a
brilliant record of service in the Seven Years' War, with Wolfe
in Canada, then in France itself, and in the West Indies. In
appearance he was tall, dark, and coarse. His face showed him to
be a free user of wine. This may explain some of his faults as a
general. He trusted too much to subordinates; he was leisurely
and rather indolent, yet capable of brilliant and rapid action.
In America his heart was never in his task. He was member of
Parliament for Nottingham and had publicly condemned the quarrel
with America and told his electors that in it he would take no
command. He had not kept his word, but his convictions remained.
It would be to accuse Howe of treason to say that he did not do
his best in America. Lack of conviction, however, affects action.
Howe had no belief that his country was in the right in the war
and this handicapped him as against the passionate conviction of
Washington that all was at stake which made life worth living.

The General's elder brother, Lord Howe, was another Whig who had
no belief that the war was just. He sat in the House of Lords
while his brother sat in the House of Commons. We rather wonder
that the King should have been content to leave in Whig hands his
fortunes in America both by land and sea. At any rate, here were
the Howes more eager to make peace than to make war and commanded
to offer terms of reconciliation. Lord Howe had an unpleasant
face, so dark that he was called "Black Dick"; he was a silent,
awkward man, shy and harsh in manner. In reality, however, he was
kind, liberal in opinion, sober, and beloved by those who knew
him best. His pacific temper towards America was not due to a
dislike of war. He was a fighting sailor. Nearly twenty years
later, on June 1, 1794, when he was in command of a fleet in
touch with the French enemy, the sailors watched him to find any
indication that the expected action would take place. Then the
word went round: "We shall have the fight today; Black Dick has
been smiling." They had it, and Howe won a victory which makes
his name famous in the annals of the sea.

By the middle of July the two brothers were at New York. The
soldier, having waited at Halifax since the evacuation of Boston,
had arrived, and landed his army on Staten Island, on the day
before Congress made the Declaration of Independence, which, as
now we can see, ended finally any chance of reconciliation. The
sailor arrived nine days later. Lord Howe was wont to regret that
he had not arrived a little earlier, since the concessions which
he had to offer might have averted the Declaration of
Independence. In truth, however, he had little to offer. Humor
and imagination are useful gifts in carrying on human affairs,
but George III had neither. He saw no lack of humor in now once
more offering full and free pardon to a repentant Washington and
his comrades, though John Adams was excepted by name* in
repudiating the right to exist of the Congress at Philadelphia,
and in refusing to recognize the military rank of the rebel
general whom it had named: he was to be addressed in civilian
style as "George Washington Esq." The King and his ministers had
no imagination to call up the picture of high-hearted men
fighting for rights which they held dear.

* Trevelyan, "American Revolution", Part II, vol. I (New Ed.,
vol. II), 261.

Lord Howe went so far as to address a letter to "George
Washington Esq. &c. &c.," and Washington agreed to an interview
with the officer who bore it. In imposing uniform and with the
stateliest manner, Washington, who had an instinct for effect,
received the envoy. The awed messenger explained that the symbols
" &c. &c." meant everything, including, of course, military
titles; but Washington only said smilingly that they might mean
anything, including, of course, an insult, and refused to take
the letter. He referred to Congress, a body which Howe could not
recognize, the grave question of the address on an envelope and
Congress agreed that the recognition of his rank was necessary.
There was nothing to do but to go on with the fight.

Washington's army held the city of New York, at the southerly
point of Manhattan Island. The Hudson River, separating the
island from the mainland of New Jersey on the west, is at its
mouth two miles wide. The northern and eastern sides of the
island are washed by the Harlem River, flowing out of the Hudson
about a dozen miles north of the city, and broadening into the
East River, about a mile wide where it separates New York from
Brooklyn Heights, on Long Island. Encamped on Staten Island, on
the south, General Howe could, with the aid of the fleet, land at
any of half a dozen vulnerable points. Howe had the further
advantage of a much larger force. Washington had in all some
twenty thousand men, numbers of them serving for short terms and
therefore for the most part badly drilled. Howe had twenty-five
thousand well-trained soldiers, and he could, in addition, draw
men from the fleet, which would give him in all double the force
of Washington.

In such a situation even the best skill of Washington was likely
only to qualify defeat. He was advised to destroy New York and
retire to positions more tenable. But even if he had so desired,
Congress, his master, would not permit him to burn the city, and
he had to make plans to defend it. Brooklyn Heights so commanded
New York that enemy cannon planted there would make the city
untenable. Accordingly Washington placed half his force on Long
Island to defend Brooklyn Heights and in doing so made the
fundamental error of cutting his army in two and dividing it by
an arm of the sea in presence of overwhelming hostile naval

On the 22d of August Howe ferried fifteen thousand men across the
Narrows to Long Island, in order to attack the position on
Brooklyn Heights from the rear. Before him lay wooded hills
across which led three roads converging at Brooklyn Heights
beyond the hills. On the east a fourth road led round the hills.
In the dark of the night of the 26th of August Howe set his army
in motion on all these roads, in order by daybreak to come to
close quarters with the Americans and drive them back to the
Heights. The movement succeeded perfectly. The British made
terrible use of the bayonet. By the evening of the twenty-seventh
the Americans, who fought well against overwhelming odds, had
lost nearly two thousand men in casualties and prisoners, six
field pieces, and twenty-six heavy guns. The two chief
commanders, Sullivan and Stirling, were among the prisoners, and
what was left of the army had been driven back to Brooklyn
Heights. Howe's critics said that had he pressed the attack
further he could have made certain the capture of the whole
American force on Long Island.

Criticism of what might have been is easy and usually futile. It
might be said of Washington, too, that he should not have kept an
army so far in front of his lines behind Brooklyn Heights facing
a superior enemy, and with, for a part of it, retreat possible
only by a single causeway across a marsh three miles long. When
he realized, on the 28th of August, what Howe had achieved, he
increased the defenders of Brooklyn Heights to ten thousand men,
more than half his army. This was another cardinal error. British
ships were near and but for unfavorable winds might have sailed
up to Brooklyn. Washington hoped and prayed that Howe would try
to carry Brooklyn Heights by assault. Then there would have been
at least slaughter on the scale of Bunker Hill. But Howe had
learned caution. He made no reckless attack, and soon Washington
found that he must move away or face the danger of losing every
man on Long Island.

On the night of the 29th of August there was clear moonlight,
with fog towards daybreak. A British army of twenty-five thousand
men was only some six hundred yards from the American lines. A
few miles from the shore lay at anchor a great British fleet
with, it is to be presumed, its patrols on the alert. Yet, during
that night, ten thousand American troops were marched down to
boats on the strand at Brooklyn and, with all their stores, were
carried across a mile of water to New York. There must have been
the splash of oars and the grating of keels, orders given in
tones above a whisper, the complex sounds of moving bodies of
men. It was all done under the eye of Washington. We can picture
that tall figure moving about on the strand at Brooklyn, which he
was the last to leave. Not a sound disturbed the slumbers of the
British. An army in retreat does not easily defend itself. Boats
from the British fleet might have brought panic to the Americans
in the darkness and the British army should at least have known
that they were gone. By seven in the morning the ten thousand
American soldiers were for the time safe in New York, and we may
suppose that the two Howes were asking eager questions and
wondering how it had all happened.

Washington had shown that he knew when and how to retire. Long
Island was his first battle and he had lost. Now retreat was his
first great tactical achievement. He could not stay in New York
and so sent at once the chief part of the army, withdrawn from
Brooklyn, to the line of the Harlem River at the north end of the
island. He realized that his shore batteries could not keep the
British fleet from sailing up both the East and the Hudson Rivers
and from landing a force on Manhattan Island almost where it
liked. Then the city of New York would be surrounded by a hostile
fleet and a hostile army. The Howes could have performed this
maneuver as soon as they had a favorable wind. There was, we
know, great confusion in New York, and Washington tells us how
his heart was torn by the distress of the inhabitants. The
British gave him plenty of time to make plans, and for a reason.
We have seen that Lord Howe was not only an admiral to make war
but also an envoy to make peace. The British victory on Long
Island might, he thought, make Congress more willing to
negotiate. So now he sent to Philadelphia the captured American
General Sullivan, with the request that some members of Congress
might confer privately on the prospects for peace.

Howe probably did not realize that the Americans had the British
quality of becoming more resolute by temporary reverses. By this
time, too, suspicion of every movement on the part of Great
Britain had become a mania. Every one in Congress seems to have
thought that Howe was planning treachery. John Adams, excepted by
name from British offers of pardon, called Sullivan a "decoy
duck" and, as he confessed, laughed, scolded, and grieved at any
negotiation. The wish to talk privately with members of Congress
was called an insulting way of avoiding recognition of that body.
In spite of this, even the stalwart Adams and the suave Franklin
were willing to be members of a committee which went to meet Lord
Howe. With great sorrow Howe now realized that he had no power to
grant what Congress insisted upon, the recognition of
independence, as a preliminary to negotiation. There was nothing
for it but war.

On the 15th of September the British struck the blow too long
delayed had war been their only interest. New York had to sit
nearly helpless while great men-of-war passed up both the Hudson
and the East River with guns sweeping the shores of Manhattan
Island. At the same time General Howe sent over in boats from
Long Island to the landing at Kip's Bay, near the line of the
present Thirty-fourth Street, an army to cut off the city from
the northern part of the island. Washington marched in person
with two New England regiments to dispute the landing and give
him time for evacuation. To his rage panic seized his men and
they turned and fled, leaving him almost alone not a hundred
yards from the enemy. A stray shot at that moment might have
influenced greatly modern history, for, as events were soon to
show, Washington was the mainstay of the American cause. He too
had to get away and Howe's force landed easily enough. Meanwhile,
on the west shore of the island, there was an animated scene. The
roads were crowded with refugees fleeing northward from New York.
These civilians Howe had no reason to stop, but there marched,
too, out of New York four thousand men, under Israel Putnam, who
got safely away northward. Only leisurely did Howe extend his
line across the island so as to cut off the city. The story, not
more trustworthy than many other legends of war, is that Mrs.
Murray, living in a country house near what now is Murray Hill,
invited the General to luncheon, and that to enjoy this pleasure
he ordered a halt for his whole force. Generals sometimes do
foolish things but it is not easy to call up a picture of Howe,
in the midst of a busy movement of troops, receiving the lady's
invitation, accepting it, and ordering the whole army to halt
while he lingered over the luncheon table. There is no doubt that
his mind was still divided between making war and making peace.
Probably Putnam had already got away his men, and there was no
purpose in stopping the refugees in that flight from New York
which so aroused the pity of Washington. As it was Howe took
sixty-seven guns. By accident, or, it is said, by design of the
Americans themselves, New York soon took fire and one-third of
the little city was burned.

After the fall of New York there followed a complex campaign. The
resourceful Washington was now, during his first days of active
warfare, pitting himself against one of the most experienced of
British generals. Fleet and army were acting together. The aim of
Howe was to get control of the Hudson and to meet half way the
advance from Canada by way of Lake Champlain which Carleton was
leading. On the 12th of October, when autumn winds were already
making the nights cold, Howe moved. He did not attack Washington

Book of the day: