History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter XVI
From the unavoidable inactivity of the Americans in some parts of the continent and the misfortunes that had attended their arms in others, in the summer of 1779, Sir Henry Clinton was left without any impediment to prosecute a well concerted expedition to the southern colonies. The opulence of the planters there, the want of discipline in their militia, the distance and difficulty of reinforcing them, and the sickly state of the inhabitants, promised an easy conquest and a rich harvest to the invaders.
The summer and autumn passed off; and it was late in the month of December, before General Clinton embarked. He had a strong body of troops and a forcible squadron commanded by Admiral Arbuthnot, who accompanied him; but they proceeded heavily on their way; and it was not until the ensuing spring was far advanced that the Admiral passed the bar and made himself master of the harbor of Charleston.
The Americans flattered themselves for some time that they should be able to make an effectual resistance to the passage of the British fleet up the Cooper River. (This passes on one side, and the Ashley runs on the other of the town of Charleston.) But they soon abandoned every ground to the potent English, except the town of Charleston, which they determined to defend to the last extremity.
Governor Rutledge was vested by the legislature with very extraordinary powers, which he was obliged to exercise in their full altitude. This gentleman had acted on all occasions with spirit and judgment becoming his character, both as a soldier and a magistrate. He immediately called out the militia; and published a proclamation, directing all the inhabitants who claimed any property in the town to repair immediately to the American standard on pain of confiscation. Though couched in strong and severe terms, this proclamation had little effect. The manifest reluctance of some to oppose the power of Britain, the dread that others felt of so potent an adversary, the ill success of the American arms in Georgia, the surprise of the cavalry and other parties that were coming to their relief, the arrival of British reinforcements, and the rapid advance they made to conquest, appalled the inhabitants, and obliged the citizens soon to abandon all hopes of even saving their town.
The first summons of surrender, on April 16, was rejected by the American commander, though it announced the dreadful consequences of a cannonade and storm, which would soon be the unhappy fate of Charleston, "should the place, in fallacious security, or the commander, in wanton indifference to the fate of the inhabitants delay a surrender." General Lincoln replied that he had received a joint summons of General Clinton and Admiral Arbuthnot; that "60 days had passed since it had been known that their intentions against the town of Charleston were hostile; in which time had been afforded to abandon it; but that duty and inclination pointed to him the propriety of defending it to the last extremity."
After this decided answer, the most vigorous operations ensued on both sides, but with great advantage in favor of the British, until May 8, when Sir Henry Clinton again called on the American commander to prevent the farther effusion of blood by an immediate surrender. He warned him that "if he refused this last summons, the should throw on him the charge of whatever vindictive severity an exasperated soldiery might inflict on the unhappy people; that he should wait his answer until 8 o'clock, an hour beyond which, resistance would be temerity."
General Lincoln summoned a council on this occasion, who were unanimously of opinion that articles of capitulation should be proposed. [This general view of the siege and surrender of Charleston is principally collected from General Lincoln's defense and apology in a letter to General Washington, which the author was favored with the perusal of in manuscript by General Lincoln.] The terms offered were several of them rejected. Others were mutilated. And all relaxation or qualification being refused by the British commander, it was as unanimously agreed that hostilities should again recommence on the ensuing day. Accordingly, an incessant fire was kept up from the 9th to the 11th, when an address from the principal inhabitants of the town and a number of the country militia expressed their satisfaction in the terms already offered by General Clinton. At the same time, the lieutenant governor and council requested that negotiations might be renewed and that they might not be subjected to the horrors of a city taken by storm.
The militia of the town had thrown away their arms. The troops on the lines were worn down with fatigue, and their provisions exhausted. Thus closely invested on every side, a disaffected, factious party within, no hopes of succor from without an all possibility of retreat cut off, General Lincoln again offered terms of surrender, little variant from Clinton's proposals. They were acceded to, and signed May 12.
Though the conditions were not the most favorable to the inhabitants, or honorary to the soldier, yet perhaps they were as lenient as could be expected from an enemy confident of success, and as honorable as could be hoped, in the desperate situation to which the Americans were reduced. The continental troops were to retain their baggage, but to remain prisoners of war until exchanged. Seven general officers were among the prisoners. The inhabitants of all conditions were to be considered as prisoners on parole; but they soon experienced the severities usually felt by a conquered city. All who were capable of bearing arms were enrolled in the British service; and the whole state laid under heavy contributions.
The loss of Charleston, the great number of the captured, and the shipping that fell in its defense was a severe blow to America. Much censure was cast on General Lincoln for neglecting a timely retreat, and for attempting the defense of the town against such superior force, both by sea and land. But it must be acknowledged he did all that could be expected from an officer of courage to save the capital and the state; or from a man of humanity to make the best possible terms for the inhabitants. He afterwards justified the measure by a full detail of the invasion, and the motives for his conduct to the satisfaction of the commander in chief and of his country.
General Lincoln certainly had great merit, in many respects; yet it may be observed, few officers have been equally fortunate in keeping up the eclat of character, who have so frequently failed in enterprise. For, however unjust it may be, yet military fame more generally depends on successful events than on bold design or judicious system. Victory had seldom followed in the rear of any of his exploits; yet from his known bravery and patriotism, from his acknowledged integrity and honor, he escaped the censure frequently attached to unfortunate heroes, and which might have fallen heavily on a general of more doubtful character.
Before Sir Henry Clinton left Charleston, some new and severe regulations took place that could not well be justified either by the letter of the spirit of the capitulation. All persons in the city were forbidden the exercise of their commercial pursuits, excepting such as were decided friends of the British government. Confiscation and death were threatened by proclamation to any who should be found in arms, unless in support of royal authority. All capable of bearing arms enrolled for British service. Such as had families were permitted to continue near them and defend the state against their American brethren. Those who had none were required to serve six months out of twelve in any part of the southern states.
Many inhabitants of the principal towns and indeed a great part of the state of South Carolina, despairing of any effectual resistance and unwilling to abandon their connections and their property laid down their arms and submitted either as prisoners of war, or subject to the King of Great Britain. And even congratulatory addresses were fabricated and signed by great numbers of respectable characters in Charleston and offered to the British commanders on the success of their arms. Thus from motives of interest or fear, many who had appeared to be actuated by higher principles stooped to the servile homage of the sycophant, and flattered the victors on the conquest of their country; an acquisition that reduced their countrymen to beggary and themselves to slavery.
Soon after these arrangements, Sir Henry Clinton vainly flattering himself that he had entirely subdued one wealthy colony at the extremity of the continent, and that everything was in a hopeful train for other brilliant strokes of military prowess, left the command of the southern department to Lord Cornwallis and repaired himself to New York. His Lordship immediately detached a strong body under the command of Lord Rawdon to march, to subjugate, and guard the frontiers, while he turned his own attention to the commercial regulations and the civil government of the newly conquered province. But he soon found the aid of auxiliaries, impelled by fear or stimulated by the hope of present advantage is not to be depended on and that voluntary compacts are the only social ties considered among mankind as binding on the conscience.
On the first opportunity, many persons exchanged their paroles for certificates of their being good subjects and immediately returned to the country or to the neighboring state, and stimulated their friends to resistance. A remarkable instance of this nature was exhibited in the conduct of Colonel Lisle, a brave American officer; who, after an exchange of the parole, decamped from the British standard, and carried off with him a whole battalion to the aid of Colonel Sumpter, and other spirited officers, who were in motion on the borders of both the Carolinas.
The new regulations and the hard conditions enjoined on them by the conqueror were highly resented by many of the principal inhabitants of Charles ton. Their dissatisfaction as so apparent that they soon fell under the suspicion and displeasure of the commander. Some allegations were brought against them, though far from being sufficiently founded. They were charged with treasonable practices and designs against government; arrested in their beds, sent on board prison ships, confined and treated with great rigor, and in a short time sent off to St. Augustine. Among this number was Lieutenant Governor Gadsden, a gentleman early distinguished for his patriotism, his firmness, his republican principles, and his uniform exertions to emancipate his country from the shackles of British government.
Nothing appeared to justify the severities exercised toward these gentlemen; nor was there any reason to believe they had forfeited their honor. The rigorous policy of a conquering foe was all that was offered in vindication of this step. But it is certain the Carolinians in general evinced the difficulty of holding men by political fetters, while the mind revolts at the authority that has no claim but what arises from the laws of conquest.
Lord Rawdon was extremely active on the frontiers. No exertion was wanting on the part of this valiant officer to bring the whole country to a united submission to royal authority; and a diversion was made in the Chesapeake, under the command of General Leslie in favor of the operations in the Carolinas. Yet within two months after the surrender of Charleston, opposition to British government again resumed a stable appearance.
Marches, counter-marches, surprise, pillage, and massacre had for some months pervaded the frontiers; and whichever party gained the advantage, the inhabitants were equally wretched. But a particular detail of the miseries of the southern states through this period would be more painful than entertaining to the reader, and is a task from which every writer of humanity would wish to be excused. Imagination may easily paint the distresses when surveying on the one side a proud and potent army flushed with recent success and irritated by opposition from an enemy they despised both as Americans and as rebels. Their spirit of revenge continually whetted by a body of refugees who followed them, embittered beyond description against their countrymen, and who were joined by a banditti who had no country, but the spot that yielded a temporary harvest to their rapacious hands: rapine and devastation had no check.
On the other side, little less severity could be expected from a brave and highspirited people not softened by the highest refinements of civilization, warmed by the impulse of retaliation, driven almost to despair and under every painful apprehension for their lies, their property, their liberty and their country. These were joined by the soldiers of fortune and the fierce borderers who had not yet been taught to yield quietly either to military or civil subordination. The most striking outrages were everywhere committed. But no partisan distinguished himself more on either side than a Colonel Tarleton, who made himself a character in the ravage of the Carolinas, equally conspicuous for bravery and barbarity; and had the effrontery afterwards in England to boast in the presence of a lady of respectability that he had killed more men and ravished more women than an man in America. [This was so highly resented by the lady, who had before been his friend, that by her influence, she defeated his hopes as a candidate for a member of Parliament.]
But not the loss of their capital, the ravage of their country, the proscription of some of the principal inhabitants, and the total ruin of some of the wealthiest families could subdue the spirit of independence and the aversion to British government that had taken deep root in the bosoms of most of the inhabitants of the southern states.
Sumpter, Morgan, Marion, Lee, Caswell, Rutherford, and other brave officers, continually counteracted the intrigues of the loyalists; and attacked, harassed, and frequently defeated the British parties that were detached to the various parts of the country to enforce submission. Nor did the repulse in Georgia, the loss of Charleston, nor the armament sent to the Chesapeake by Sir Henry Clinton in favor of Cornwallis's movements, in the smallest degree check the vigorous efforts of these spirited leaders, by whose assistance a new face to the affairs of their country was soon restored.
France had this year given new proof of her zeal in favor of American independence. The Count de Rochambeau arrived on July 11 at Newport, with 6000 land forces, under cover of a respectable squadron commanded by the Admiral de Tiernay. They brought the promise and the expectation of farther and immediate support, both by land and sea. Some ineffectual movements were made on both sides, in consequence of these expectations; and on the arrival of Admiral Graves at New York, with six sail of the line and some transports, a feint was made by Sir Henry Clinton, with the assistance of those fresh reinforcements immediately to attack the French at Rhode Island. This plan was diverted by General Washington's preparation to embrace the favorable opportunity to strike a decided blow by the reduction of New York.
All the states east of the Delaware discovered their readiness by all possible exertions to cooperate in the deluge; but amid all the preparation and sanguine hope of the Americans, an account was received, equally mortifying to the United States and to their allies already in America, that Admiral de Guichen had sailed from the West Indies directly for France, instead of repairing with all his forces as was expected to aid the united operations of Washington and Rochambeau. The Admiral de Tiernay died soon after at Newport. It was thought by many that his brave officer fell a sacrifice to chagrin and disappointment.
After the failure of these brilliant hopes, little more was done through the summer in the middle and eastern department, except by skirmishing parties which served only to keep up the hope of conquest on the side of Britain, while it preserved alive some military ardor in the American army. But so uncertain are the events of war that the anticipation of success, the pride of victory, or the anguish of disappointment, alternately play on the passions of men, until the convulsion gives place to tranquility and peace or to the still solemnity of melancholy, robbed of all its joys.
General Washington found himself at this time unable to do much more than to guard against the uncertain inroads of a powerful fleet and a hostile army. It could not be congenial to the feelings of the military character, endowed with a spirit of enterprise, to be placed in a situation merely defensive, while too many circumstances forbade any concentrated plan that promised any decision of the important object for which the United States were struggling.
While thus situated, the British troops were frequently detached from New York and Staten Island to make inroads and by surprise to distress and destroy the settlements in the Jerseys. The most important of their movements was about June 25, when General Knyphausen with about 5000 regular troops, aided by some new levies, advanced upon the right wing of the American army, commanded by Major General Greene. Their progress was slow until they arrived at Springfield, where they were checked by a party of the Americans.
They had yet done little mischief on their march, but at Springfield they burnt most of the houses in the town, and retired from thence to Elizabethtown. After some time, they advanced from Elizabethtown with the whole of their infantry, a large body of cavalry, and 15 or 20 pieces of artillery. Their march was then rapid and compact. They moved in two columns, one on the main road leading to Springfield, the other on the Vauxhall road. Major Lee with the horse and pickets opposed the right column, and Colonel Dayton with his regiment the left; and both gave as much opposition as could have been expected from so small a force.
General Greene observed in a letter to Congress that the American troops were so extended to guard the different roads leading to the several passes over the mountains that he had scarcely time to collect them at Springfield and make the necessary dispositions, previous to the appearance of the enemy before the town; when a cannonade commenced between their advance and the American artillery, posted for the defense of the bridge.
Every prudent measure was taken by General Greene to confront and repel the invaders, protect the inhabitants and secure the retreat of his own parties when danger appeared from superior numbers. The Generals Maxwell and Dickenson, the Colonels Shrieve, Ogden, and others, at the head of their regiments, exhibited the highest specimens of American bravery; but the enemy continued to press on in great force. Their left column began an attack on Colonel Angell, who was posted to secure a bridge in front of the town. "The action was severe and lasted about 40 minutes; when superior numbers overcame obstinate bravery" and forced the American troops to retire over the second bridge.
After various military maneuvers, skirmishes and retreats, General Greene took post on a ridge of hills from whence he detached parties to prevent the burning so the enemy, who spread conflagration wherever it was in their power, and retreated towards Elizabethtown. This detachment from the British army finished their marauding excursion and recrossed to Staten Island July 23.
The outrage of innocence in instances too numerous to be recorded, of the wanton barbarity of the soldiers of the King of England, as they patrolled the defenseless villages of America, was evinced nowhere more remarkably than in the burnings and massacres that marked the footsteps of the British troops, was they from time to time ravaged the state of New Jersey.
In their late excursion, they had trod their deleterious path through a part of the country called Connecticut Farms. It is needless to particularize many instances of their wanton rage, and unprovoked devastation, in and near Elizabethtown. The places dedicated to public worship did not escape their fury. These they destroyed more from licentious folly than any religious frenzy or bigotry, to which their nation had at times been liable. Yet through the barbarous transactions of this summer, nothing excited more general resentment and compassion than the murder of the amiable and virtuous wife of a Presbyterian clergyman, attended with too many circumstances of grief on the one side and barbarism on the other, to pass over in silence.
This lady was sitting in her own house, with her little domestic circle around her, and her infant in her arms; unapprehensive of danger, shrouded by the consciousness of her own innocence and virtue; when a British barbarian pointed his musket into the window of her room, and instantly shot her through the lungs. A hole was dug, the body thrown in, and the house of this excellent lady set on fire, and consumed with all the property it contained.
Mr. Caldwell, her affectionate husband, was absent. Nothing had ever been alleged against his character, even by his enemies, but his zeal for the rights and his attachment to his native country. For this he had been persecuted, and for this he was robbed of all that he held dear in life, by the bloody hands of men, in whose benevolence and politeness he had had much confidence, until the fated day when this mistaken opinion led him to leave his beloved family, fearless of danger and certain of their security from their innocence, virtue, and unoffending amiability.
Mr. Caldwell afterwards published the proofs of this cruel affair, attested on oath before magistrates, by sundry persons who were in the house with Mrs. Caldwell and saw her fall back and expire, immediately after the report of the gun. "This was," as observed Mr. Caldwell, "a violation of every tender feeling; without provocation, deliberately committed in open day; nor was it ever frowned on by the commander." The catastrophe of this unhappy family was completed within two years by the murder of Mr. Caldwell himself by some ruffian hands.
His conscious integrity of heart had never suffered him to apprehend any personal danger, and the melancholy that pervaded all on the tragical death of his lady, who was distinguished for the excellence and respectability of her character, wrought up the resentment of that part of the country to so high a pitch that the most timid were aroused to deeds of desperate heroism. They were ready to swear like Hannibal against the Romans, and to bind their sons to the oath of everlasting enmity to the name of Britain.
But we shall see too many circumstances of similar barbarity and ferocious cruelty to leave curiosity ungratified or to suffer the tear of pity to dry on the sympathetic cheek as we follow the route of the British army. Agitation and anxiety pervaded the eastern states, while rapine and slaughter were spread over the middle colonies. Hope was suspended in every mind; and expectation seemed to hang on the consequences of the strong effort made to subdue the southern provinces.
The present year was replete with the most active and important scenes, both in Europe and America. We leave the latter to wait the operation of events and turn our eyes toward Great Britain, whose situation was not less perplexed and embarrassed than that of the United States. The sources of concern which pervaded the patriotic part of the nation were innumerable. A remarkable combination of powers against the British nation was unusually alarming. Spain had now declared war and acted with decision; and many new and great events among other nations threatened both the maritime and internal state of Great Britain, with checks to their pride and power which they had not before experienced.
The despot of Russia, with haughty superiority, appeared at this time, umpire of the Armed Neutrality, set on foot by herself. [Before this period, the wealth and inhabitants of the Turkish empire had been diminished and the power of the Sublime Porte so far crippled by the ambitious projects of Catherine that they were unable to lend much assistance to any of their distressed neighbors. For some time after the remarkable partition of Poland, the hero of Prussia, the Germanic body, and the northern powers breathed in a kind of truce, as if paralyzed by the recollection of recent slaughter and devastation rather than in the benign prospect of a permanent peace.] The novelty of this measure excited much observation, attention, and expectation, both in Europe and America. Some writers have robbed the Empress of the honor of originating this humane project, which was thought to be leveled at the imperious sway and the insolent aggression of the British flag, which had long been vexatious to all the nations.
This measure has been attributed to a stroke of policy concerted by Count Panin, in order to defeat the design of Sir James Harris, minister from Great Britain, who had been making every effort in favor of his court to engage the Empress to fit out a naval armament against Spain. Prince Potemkin, the Empress's favorite, was fond of the measure of assisting the court of Spain. But the determined opposition of the Count Panin, against the interference of the Court of Russia in the war between Great Britain and the House of Bourbon, in conjunction with the American colonies, was such that the design was not only defeated, but the Court of Petersburg took the lead in a declaration to the belligerent powers, for settling the principles of navigation and trade; and the armament in preparation for other purposes, as sent out to support the armed neutrality. [See History of the Armed Neutrality by a German nobleman. A more recent work has attributed the origin of this benevolent system to the policy of the Count de Vergennes and has asserted that it was a plan of his won to counteract the operations of the British Court against France, by this check to the power of their navy. But from the character of the Count de Vergennes, as drawn by an American minister, his abilities were not equal to the comprehensive system. He observed that "notwithstanding the gazettes of Europe had been filled with pompous panegyrics of this minister and sublime ideas of his power and credit as well as his abilities, it was but mere puff and bubble: and that notwithstanding his long experience in courts, he was by no means a great minister; that he had neither the extensive knowledge, nor the foresight, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue, nor the temper of a great man."
But such was the commanding genius of Catherine, and her predominant passion for the extension of her fame that those who have studied her character will not deny her the capacity, nor the honor of originating this humane and novel system. She was a woman in whom were united the most splendid talents, a magnificent taste, an unconquerable mind, the most beneficent virtues, and the most detestable crimes. But whoever was the prime mover of a system so benevolent, the idea was the greatest that ever entered into the head of a prince, since the days of Henry IV of France. [Everyone acquainted with the history of France will recollect the benevolent design formed by Henry IV and his sagacious minister, the Duke of Sully, to put an end to the waste of human life by war, by a combination, great, extensive, and more humane than generally falls under the contemplation of princes. Hi design to settle the contests of nations by amicable treaty was defeated by the hand of the assassin, which deprived him of life.] The design was glorious, as it might in time be so far improved as to put a period to a great part of the distress brought on the trade of nations by the ambition, interest, and proud usurpation of some maritime powers.
The empress forwarded an explicit declaration of the design and the nature of the combination to the several European courts. By this extraordinary treaty, all neutral ships were to be freely navigated from port to port on the coasts of nations at war, and the effects belonging to the subject of any sovereign were to be safe in all neutral vessels, except contraband merchandise. Thus the seas were to be left in the situation designed by God and nature, that all mankind might reap the benefits of a free and open intercourse with each other.
Several other article, humane, just, and favorable to trade, were stipulated. Their security was guaranteed by a powerful fleet, directed by a despotic female; while the neighboring sovereigns, awed by her prowess, strength, and stern authority, aided her measures.
Though this was a very unpleasant proposition to the Court of Great Britain, it was acceded to with alacrity by the northern powers, and by most of the other courts of Europe. Thus Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal united with the potent court of Petersburg to guard and protect the trade of nations, while war raged among so many of them.
This capital measure was equally pleasing to France, Spain, and America; but to Great Britain it was a grievance of magnitude; and what greatly enhanced their mortification, it had originated with a sovereign whom they considered as a friend and an ally; one to whom they looked forward as a powerful assistant, if the exigencies of war should oblige them to seek the further aid of foreigners. But as a writer observed, "the solitary Court of London was obliged to suppress her indignation." Neither her resentment, chagrin, or address could prevent a measure which Great Britain considered as particularly injurious to herself.
The British minister expostulated warmly with the Court of Petersburg on the constant attention and regard hitherto shown on every occasion to the flag and commerce of Russia by Great Britain. He declared there was a continuance of the same disposition and conduct in his court, and reminded the Empress of the reciprocal ties of friendship, and the commercial interests by which the two nations were mutually bound.
The confederacy too formidable for opposition in their present situation, an equivocal, rather than an explicit reply to the declaration of the Empress, was sent by the Court of Great Britain to the British envoy resident at Petersburg, dated April 23, 1778.
While this indecisive mode of conduct was observed by the Court of Great Britain, the other European powers had not only readily agreed to the proposition for an armed neutrality, but appeared generally predisposed to a friendly intercourse with America, if not unequivocally to support her claim to independence.
A general state of danger from foreign combinations seemed to threaten the Empire of Great Britain with a convulsion in almost all its parts; at the same time, discontent and dissatisfaction, particularly in Ireland, seemed to be on the point of rising to an alarming height, and fast approaching to a crisis.
It was observed by one of their own writers that "it was not to be expected that a country dependent on Great Britain and much limited in the use of its natural advantages should not be affected by the causes and consequences of the American war. The sagacious in that kingdom could not avoid perceiving in the present combination of circumstances an advantage which was to be now improved or given up forever."
There now appeared a remarkable revolution in the temper of the people of Ireland that discovered strong symptoms of their weariness of their subordinate and depressed situation. These were doubtless quickened and brought into action, by the struggle of the Americans for independence. Early in the opposition of the united colonies to parliamentary measures, Congress had forwarded a friendly address to the inhabitants of Ireland. In this they had observed that "the ministry had for ten years endeavored by fraud and violence to deprive them of rights which they had for many years enjoyed"; that "at the conclusion of the last war, the genius of England and the spirit of wisdom, as if offended at the ungrateful treatment of their sons, withdrew from the British councils, and left that nation a prey to a race of ministers, with whom ancient English honesty and benevolence disdained to dwell. From that period, jealousy, discontent, oppression, and discord have raged among all His Majesty's subjects, and filled every part of his dominions with distress and complaint."
In this address to the inhabitants of Ireland, the American delegates had recapitulated their several grievances, which had driven them to opposition and a suspension of all commerce with Great Britain, Ireland, and the English West India islands. After observing that they hoped from this peaceable mode of opposition to obtain relief, they made a friendly apology to the Irish for including them in this restriction, assuring them "that it was with the utmost reluctance we could prevail upon ourselves to cease our commercial connections with your island. Your parliament had done us no wrong. You had ever been friendly to the rights of mankind; and we acknowledge with pleasure and with gratitude that your nation has produced patriots who have nobly distinguished themselves in the cause of humanity and America.
"On the other hand, we were not ignorant that the labors and manufactures of Ireland, like those of the silk worm, were of little moment to herself, but served only to give luxury to those who neither toil nor spin. We perceived that if we continued our commerce with you, our agreement not to import from Britain would be fruitless; and were therefore compelled to adopt a measure to which nothing but absolute necessity could have reconciled us. It gave us, however, some consolation to reflect that should it occasion much distress, the fertile regions of America would afford you a safe asylum from poverty and in time from oppression also; an asylum in which many thousands of your countrymen have found hospitality, peace, and affluence, and become united to us by all the ties of consanguinity, mutual interest, and affection." [See Note 8 at the end of this chapter.]
"We offer our most grateful acknowledgments for the friendly disposition you have always shown towards us. We know that you are not without your grievances. We sympathize with you in your distress; and are pleased to find that the design of subjugating us has persuaded administration to dispense to Ireland some vagrant rays of ministerial sunshine. Even the tender mercies of government have long been cruel towards you. In the rich pastures of Ireland, many hungry parricides have fed and grown strong to labor in its destruction. We hope the patient abiding of the meek may not always be forgotten; and God grant that the iniquitous schemes of extirpating liberty from the British Empire may be soon defeated!
"But we should be wanting to ourselves; we should be perfidious to posterity; we should be unworthy that ancestry from which we derive our descent, should we submit with folded arms to military butchery and depredation, to gratify the lordly ambition or sate the avarice of a British ministry. In defense of our persons and properties, under actual violation, we have taken up arms. When that violation shall be removed and hostilities cease on the part of the aggressors, they shall cease on our part also. For the achievement of this happy event, we confide in the good offices of our fellow subjects beyond the Atlantic. Of their friendly disposition we do not yet despond, aware, as they must be, that they have nothing more to expect from the same common enemy than the humble favor of being last devoured."
This energetic address to the Irish may be seen in almost every public record of the transactions of Congress in 1775. This, with other addresses of the same determined body of men, to the inhabitants of England, of Canada, of the United States, comprise an epitome of the grievances complained of by Americans, of the existing opinions, and the cause of the colonies taking arms against the parent state.
The similarity of sufferings which the Irish had long felt, oppressions which had often driven them to the point of despair, a project of successful resistance by the colonies to the overbearing measures of the British Crown and Parliament awakened in them a dawn of hope that relief might result from union and concert among themselves, sufficient to check the present and to prevent still greater burdens from the usurpations of power often exercised against them, without equity or humanity.
The rising ferment in the Irish nation was justly alarming to the Court of Britain. This, with the weight of foreign combinations which pressed on them, awakened apprehensions in the highest degree, in the minds of the sober and judicious, who had the welfare of the nation at heart. In addition to their concern from these causes, their differences of opinion with regard to their own internal affairs, on almost every subject, increased. This disunion of sentiment appeared in the vast number of petitions laid on the table of the House of Commons from the most respectable counties; not less than 40 at once. These brought on much debate and altercation that promised much reform and produced little.
The enormous influence of the Crown, the abuse of contracts, the corruption in all departments were discussed, and the American war again reprobated. The waste of human life, and the treasures of the nation were pathetically lamented in the course of parliamentary debate; and this absurd and fruitless war criminated in strong language.
The strength of party was tried to its utmost on a variety of subjects. The increasing and dangerous influence of the Crown was particularly dwelt upon. On this, a member of the House [Sir Thomas Pitt] observed that nothing more strongly evinced its existence than the minister's keeping his place "after so many years of loss, misfortune, and calamity, as had already marked the fatal course of his administration." He asked "whether that noble lord had not lost America? whether he had not squandered many millions of the public money and wasted rivers of blood of the subjects of Great Britain? And yet, though the whole country, with one voice, cried out against him, and execrated his American war, the noble lord still held his place. Could this possibly be ascribed to any other cause than to the overgrown influence of the Crown, along with that daring exertion of it which sets the voice and the interests of other people at naught?"
He observed that the present minister by his measures "had sunk and degraded the honor of Great Britain. The name of an Englishman was now no longer a matter to be proud of. The time had been when it was the envy of all the world. It had been the introduction to universal respect. But the noble lord had contrived to sink it almost beneath contempt. He had rendered his countrymen, and their country, despicable in the eyes of every other person."
This session of Parliament continued desultory, angry, agitated, and inconclusive, until towards the close, when all eyes were opened to immediate danger by the distracted and incoherent conduct of Lord George Gordon, at the head of the London Associators, who had combined expressly to defend the Protestant religion. They had taken the alarm from a motion made by Sir George Saville, deemed too favorable to the Roman Catholic religion, though received with universal applause in the House of Commons.
It is observable that the pretext of religion had often rent in sunder the bands of union, and interrupted the peace of the English nation, from the conquest to the present day. Nor had persecution ever been pushed with a more severe hand in any part of the world, than among these islanders, all of whom professed themselves Christians, though divided by a variety of denominations. The popish religion had been particularly inhibited from the days of the Stuarts; but a many of the nobility still adhered to the Catholic faith, a degree of liberality and toleration was indulged, and religious distinctions, if not annihilated, had generally lain dormant among a people highly improved in politeness and erudition. Yet the same spirit of bigotry was concealed in the bosoms of many, which wanted only the contact of a torch to emblazon into the flames of persecuting fury.
This the present moment presented; and no animosities of this nature had for many years arisen to such a height of riot, confusion, tumult, and danger as raged in the city of London in consequence of an act recently passed entitled "an act for relieving His Majesty's subjects professing the popish religion from certain penalties and disabilities imposed on them by an act made in the 11th and 12th years of the reign of King William III." The zealous opposition in Scotland to any relaxation of the penal laws against the Papists, seems to have originate the Protestant association in England.
Though not immediately connected with American affairs, it may not be improper before we conclude this chapter to notice that no heat of opposition among the insurgents of the colonies, as they were termed, ever arose to such an atrocious height as the mobs in London is the face of the Parliament of England and under the eye of their sovereign.
The restless and turbulent spirit and conduct of Lord George Gordon gave rise to the notorious outrages committed in and about London in the month of June 1778. Enthusiastically bitter against the indulgence of the Roman Catholic religion, he carried his designs and temper so far as to spread the same intolerant spirit through a large body of his adherents. 50,000 or 60,000 persons assembled in St. George's Fields under the appellation of the Protestant Associators, distinguished by blue cockades in their hats, a badge which they endeavored to affix to many well-meaning persons whom they compelled to move in their train. The passions of the made multitude inflamed by various artifices, they paraded the city for several days and set fire to many elegant buildings, among which Lord Mansfield's house, furniture, library, and many valuable manuscripts were destroyed.
Lord George Saville's house in Leicester Fields fell under the resentment and fury of the rioters, professedly for his preparing and bringing a bill into Parliament in favor of the Catholics. The bishop of Lincoln and several other dignified clergymen felt the effects of their ruffian and licentious hands. They were insulted, abused, and treated with the utmost rudeness and indignity. In short, plunder, rapine, anarchy, murder, and conflagration spread in every quarter of the city. The prisoners were released and the jails set on fire. Newgate, King's Bench, the Fleet Prison, and other public buildings destroyed. Neither the civil authority, the remonstrances of the moderate, nor the terror of the military were able to quell the rioters or disperse the rabble under four or five days that the city blazed in so many different and conspicuous parts, as to threaten the conflagration of that noble capital.
As soon as a degree of quiet was restored by a dispersion of the inflamed multitude, Lord George Gordon was taken into custody and committed to the Tower. After six or seven months confinement, he was tried. But as there appeared a derangement of his intellectual faculties, bordering on insanity, he was acquitted and set at liberty.
It is no singular circumstance that a zeal for religion or rather a particular mode of worship should disgrace the Christian system by the wild fanaticism of its real or pretended votaries. It has been observed that this was the pretext for the licentious conduct of the London Associators. Their cry was religion. Forgetful among the most ferocious deeds of cruelty that the religion they ostensibly pretended to defend was interwoven with the most rational morality and the most fervent piety.
The same illiberal spirit of superstition and bigotry has been the pretext for establishing inquisitions, for Smithfield firs, for massacres, wars, and rivers of human blood poured out on the earth, which groans beneath the complicated crimes of man. Thus, mistaken ideas of religion have often led the multitude to deeds of cruelty and madness, enkindled the fury of the assassin to murder the monarch amid his guards or the hapless maid in her devotional closet. The ignorant, the artful, or the illiberal children of men have often brought forward the sacred name of religion to sanction the grossest absurdities, to justify the most cruel persecutions, and to violate every principles of reason and virtue in the human mind.
It is a melancholy truth that the Christian world too generally forgets that the mild spirit of the gospel dictates candor and forgiveness towards those who are dissentient in opinion. The example of the good Samaritan was recorded to impress the cultivation of the benevolent affections towards all mankind, without restriction to neighbor or to country. And the sword of Peter was ordered into its scabbard by the founder of that code of rational and just sentiment, productive of order and peace in the present stage of weakness and error.
The mild virtues of charity and brotherly kindness are the distinguishing characteristics of this benign religion. Yet it is not less humiliating than wonderful when we calmly reflect that mankind have seemed to delight in the destruction of their fellow beings, from the earliest records of time to the present struggles of America, to maintain their rights at the point of the sword, against a nation long inured to the carnage of their own species.
This has been evinced not only in the oppression of Great Britain over their own colonies and the civil convulsions on their own island, but from the havoc made by their enormous naval armaments, which have crimsoned the ocean with human blood, carried death to their antipodes and desolation around the globe.
To the universal regret of the most benevolent part of mankind, they have witnessed that the nabobs of India have been reduced to slavery and the innocent inhabitants of the eastern world involved in famine, poverty, and every species of misery, notwithstanding the immense resources of the most luxuriant and fertile country on earth, by the innovating, ambitious and insolent spirit of a nation, assuming the jurisdiction of the seas and aiming at universal domination.
The black catalogue of cruelties permitted by the English government and executed by their myrmidons in the east, against the innocent natives of India, will leave a stain on the character of the British nation until the memory of their deeds shall be blotted from every historic page. Nor was the system of conquest there relaxed in the smallest degree. While the Ganges and the Indus were reddened with the blood and covered with the slaughtered bodies of men, their armies in the west were endeavoring to reduce their former colonies to the same state of slavery and misery with the inhabitants of that distant region.
The attempted extermination of many of the primitive inhabitants, and the waste of human life through all Industan and other parts of the eastern world, by the destroying sword of Britain are recollections too shocking for the humane and benevolent mind to dwell on. Too melancholy a picture is exhibited when the eye of compassion is turned towards that ill-fated country. It must in tears behold the zemidars and the nabobs in chains, their princes and princesses in every age immersed in poverty, stripped of their connections, captured by the English and dying in despair without the cold solace of pity from their foes. All the ancient, well-informed, and ingenious inhabitant of that rich, populous, and favored spot of creation, involved in one common ruin, exhibit the most striking and affecting view of the cruelties of man and the vicissitudes of human affairs that modern history presents.
These last observations indeed may not appear to be connected with the design of the present work. Nor have the cruelties which have been exhibited in the East Indies by the arms of Great Britain arisen from a spirit of religious intolerance. It may, however, be observed, when the mind has for a moment left the more sublunary pursuits of man, an adverted to the sacred theme of religion, that nothing can be a more insurmountable bar to the propagation of truth, either in the east, the west, or in the dark regions of African or Asiatic slavery, than the cruelties perpetrated by men who profess a system of ethics more sublime than that of Zoroaster, morals more refined than taught by Socrates, and a religion pure and simple, inculcating the most benign dispositions, forbidding all injuries to the weakest of its fellow beings. Observations on the moral conduct of man, on religious opinion or persecutions and the motives by which mankind are actuated in their various pursuits will not be censured when occasionally introduced. They are more congenial to the taste, inclination, and sex of the writer than a detail of the rough and terrific scenes of war. Nor will a serious or philosophic mind be displeased with such an interlude, which may serve as a temporary resting post to the weary traveler who has trodden over the field of carnage, until the soul is sickened by a view of the absurdity and cruelty of his own species.
These reflections may justify a short digression that only means to hint at the happy consequences that might result if a nation which extends its power and carries its arms to the extremities of the globe would transmit with them that mildness of manners, that justice, humanity, and rectitude of character that would draw the inhabitants of the darker regions of the world from their idolatry and superstition. Thus nations who had long been immersed in errors might be led to embrace a religion admirably adapted to the promotion of the happiness of mankind on earth, and to prepare a rational agent for some higher stage of existence when the drama on this tragic theater is finished.
The cruel oppressions long suffered by the Kingdom of Ireland from the haughty superiority of British power, induced the wretched inhabitants to avail themselves of this invitation, and to resort by thousands to America after the peace took place between Great Britain and the United States. After this, the confusions and distractions in Ireland arose to such a height as rendered a residence there too insupportable for description. The miserable inhabitants who escape the sword, the burnings, and the massacre of the English, had flattered themselves that if they could retreat from their native country, they should received a welcome reception to an asylum to which they had formerly been invited by the congressional body who directed the affairs of America. There they justly thought their industry might have been cherished, their lives and properties be secure, and their residence rendered quiet; but a check was put to emigration for a time by an alien law enacted by Congress in the year 1798.
This was very contrary to the policy and to the principles expressed by Governor Trumbull of Connecticut to Baron R.J. Van de Capellen, "Seigneur du Pol, Membre des Nobles de la Provence D'Overyssel, etc." dated Lebanon, August 31, 1779.
He observes that "the climate, the soil, the productions of a continent extending from the 30th to the 45th degree of latitude, and in longitude an unknown width, are various beyond description, and the objects of trade consequently unbounded. There is scarce a manufacture, whether in the useful or ornamental part of life of which you will not here find the materials, collected as it were in an immense magazine. In every requisite for naval armaments we abound, our forests yielding prodigious quantities of timber and spars; our mountains, vast mines of iron, copper, and lead; and our fields producing ample crops of flax and hemp. Provisions of all kinds are raised in much greater quantities than are necessary for our own consumption; and our wheat, our rye, our cattle, and our pork, yield to none in the world for quality.
"The price of cultivated lands is by no means extravagant; and of uncultivated, trifling; 12,000 acres, situated most advantageously for future business, selling for 300 guineas English, i.e., little more than 6 pence sterling the acre. Our interests and our laws teach us to receive strangers form every quarter of the globe with open arms. The poor, the unfortunate, the oppressed form every country will here find a ready asylum; and by uniting their interests with ours, enjoy in common with us all the blessings of liberty and plenty. Neither difference of nation, of language, of manners, or of religion will lessen the cordiality of their reception, among a people whose religion teaches them to regard all mankind as their brethren."