History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter XXVIII
The discordant sounds of war that had long grated the ears of the children of America were now suspended, and the benign and heavenly voice of harmony soothed their wounded feelings, and they flattered themselves the dread summons to slaughter and death would not again resound on their shores. The independence of America acknowledged by the first powers in Europe, and even Great Britain willing to resheathe the sword on the same honorable terms for the United States, every prospect of tranquility appeared.
These were events for which the statesman had signed in the arduous exertions of the cabinet; for which the hero had bared his breast, and the blood of the citizens had flowed in copious streams on the borders of the Atlantic, from the River St. Mary's to the St. Croix, on the eastern extreme of the American territory. Peace was proclaimed in the American army, by order of the commander in chief, on April 19, 1783. This is just eight years from the memorable day when the first blood was drawn in the contest between the American colonies and the parent state, in the fields of Concord and Lexington.
The operation and consequences of the restoration of peace were now the subject of contemplation. This opened objects of magnitude indeed to a young republic which had rapidly passed through the grades of youth and puberty, and was fast arriving to the age of maturity -- republic consisting of a number of confederated states, which by this time had received many as inhabitants, who were not originally from the stock of England. Some of them, indeed, were from more free governments, but others had fled from the slavery of despotic courts. From their numbers and abilities they had become respectable, and their opinions weighty in the political scale. From these and other circumstances, it might be expected that, in time, the general enthusiasm for a republican system of government in America might languish and new theories be adopted or old ones modified under different names and terms, until the darling system of the inhabitants of the United States might be lost or forgotten in a growing rabidity for monarchy.
Symptoms of this nature already began to appear in the language of some interested and ambitious men, who endeavored to confound ideas and darken opinion by asserting that republicanism was an indefinite term. In social circles they frequently insinuated that no precise meaning could be affixed to a word by which people were often deceived and led to pursue a shadow instead of an object of any real stability. This was indeed, more the language of art than principle, seemed augur the decline of public virtue in a free state.
It required the utmost vigilance to guard against, and counteract designs thus secretly covered. It was not unexpected by the judicious observers of human conduct, that many contingencies might arise to defeat of to render fruitless the efforts that had been made on the practicability of erecting and maintaining a pure, unadulterated, republican government.
Time must unfold the futility of such an expectation, or establish a system on a basis that will lead mankind to rejoice in the success of an experiment that has been too often tried in vain. Those who have been nurtured in the dark regions of despotism, who have witnessed the sale of the peasantry with the glebe they have cultivated from infancy, and who have seen the sire and the son transferred with the stables and the cattle, from master to master, cannot realize the success of a theory that has a tendency to exalt the species and elevate the lower grades of mankind to a condition nearer to an equality with adventitious superiority. It is not wonderful that a people of this description and education should be incredulous of the utility of more free modes of government. They are naturally tenacious of old customs, habits, and their own fortuitous advantages. They are unable to form an idea of general freedom among mankind without distinction of ranks that elevate one class of men to the summit of pride and insolence, and sink another to the lowest grade of servility and debasement.
But Americans born under no feudal tenure, nurtured in the bosom of mediocrity, educated in the schools of freedom; who have never been used to look up to any lord of the roil as having a right by prescription, habit, or hereditary claim to the property of their flocks, their herds, and their pastures, may easily have been supposed to have grown to maturity with very different ideas, and with a disposition to defend their allodial inheritance to the last moment of their lives.
The United States of America, however, had yet many matters of the highest importance to adjust. They had many descriptions of persons to quiet, and many circumstances connected with foreign nations that required diplomatic discussion, particularly with regard to the laws of trade and the regulation of commerce, both at home and abroad, before a stable form of government could either be adopted or organized. The army was not yet disbanded, and a powerful body of loyalists were retarding the completion of some of the articles of the treaty of peace and embarrassing the commander in chief of the British army by their murmurs and discontents.
When Sir Henry Clinton was recalled from the command of the King's forces in America, he was succeeded by Sir Guy Carleton, who was vested with a very extensive commission. He had the direction and government of all military affairs in Canada, New York, and wherever else the Crown of England claimed any stand in the United States.
According to the articles of the definitive treaty, all the posts held by the troops of His Britannic Majesty within the territories of the United States were to be immediately evacuated; and on the certitude of a general accommodation, every British and Hessian soldier was to be drawn off and retire from the continent. But a delay took place which, in some instance, we shall see was fatal to the peace of the United States.
The British troops still occupied New York, though by treaty it was to have been relinquished on the declaration of peace. It is true, however, that General Carleton had usually conducted with great politeness both toward Congress and the commander in chief of the armies of the United States; but he was himself embarrassed between his duty and his honor.
The reasons for staying longer at New York than was stipulated by treaty, were not grounded on mere plausible pretense. The principal argument offered by hi for a non-compliance with orders and delaying the expectations of the Americans was the obligation he thought Great Britain under, to protect the loyalists. At the same time, his own mind was impressed with the necessity and justice of aid and support to a body of hapless men, "who ought when administration no longer needed the assistance of disaffected Americans and refugees."
Whether wholly influenced by compassion towards the loyalists, or whether stimulated by political reasons in the cabinet of his court, General Carleton did not appear to show any extraordinary degree of moderation in consequence of the delay. Several months after the proclamation for peace, General Carleton wrote the president [See General Carleton's letter to Mr. Boudinot, then president.] of the Congress of the United States that he wished to accelerate his orders to evacuate New York; and that "he should lose no time as far as depended on him, to fulfill His Majesty's commands, but that the difficulty of assigning the precise period for this event is of late greatly increased."
He complained in this letter that the violence of the Americans, which broke out soon after the cessation of hostilities, increased the number of their countrymen who looked to him for escape from threatened destruction; and that these terrors had of late been so considerably augmented that almost all within the line conceived the safety both of their property and their lives, depended on being removed by him, which rendered it impossible to say when the evacuation could be completed. He said, "whether they had just grounds to assert that there was either no government within the limits of the American territory, for common protection, or that it secretly favored the committees, in the sovereignty they assume and are exercising, he should not pretend to determine."
He observed that "as the public papers furnished repeated proofs, not only a disregard to the articles of peace, but contained barbarous menaces from committees formed in various cities and districts and even at Philadelphia, the very place which the Congress had chosen for their residence; that he should show an indifference to the feeling of humanity, as well as to the honor and interest of the nation, whom he served, to leave any of the loyalists, that are desirous to quit the country, a prey to the violence they conceive they have so much cause to apprehend."
He intimated that Congress might learn from his letter how much depended upon themselves and the subordinate legislatures to facilitate the service he was commanded to perform; that they might abate the fears and lessen the number of the emigrants. But should these fears continue and compel such multitudes to remove, he should hold himself acquitted from every delay in fulfilling his orders, and the consequences which may result therefrom. He also added that "it made no small part of his concern that the Congress had thought proper to suspend to so late an hour recommendations stipulated by the treaty and in the punctual performance of which, the King and his ministers had expressed such entire confidence."
This letter was considered by Congress, the officers of the army, and the people in general as evasive, if not affrontive; and taught them the necessity of standing on their guard, and holding their arms in their hands, until the removal of all hostile appearances, the entire evacuation of New York, and until the fleets of His Britannic Majesty were withdrawn from the American seas.
The loyalists were still very numerous in the city, though some of them had dispersed themselves in despair to seek an asylum without much dependence on government. Their situation was indeed truly deplorable. They had everything to fear if the British troops withdrew and left them to the clemency of their countrymen now elated by success, and more hardened against the feelings of humanity, by the cruel scenes of war they had witnessed.
The conduct of the American refugees had been such from the commencement of hostilities that they could not but be conscious, as expressed by a celebrated American patriot, [Governor Livingston.] that "they were responsible for all the additional blood that had been spilt by the addition of their weight in the scale of the enemy." He observed "they were sensible they could never regain the confidence of their late fellow subjects, whose very looks must confound and abash men who in defiance of nature and education have not only, by a reversed ambition, chosen bondage before freedom, but waged an infernal war against their nearest connections, for not making the like abhorred election."
Everyone will readily conceive that these people at this time were really in a distressed situation. Their own ideas of the improbability of harmony and quiet, even if permitted to return to the bosom of their country, comported with the above observations. These were strongly expressed in a memorial to the British Secretary of State, forwarded by them soon after the definitive treaty.
In this memorial, they observe "that the personal animosities that arose from civil dissensions had been heightened by the blood that had been shed, to such a degree that the two parties could never be reconciled. They, therefore, prayed, that they might have an assignment of lands, and assistance from the Crown to make settlements for themselves and families."
The experiment of this intermixture and reunion of heterogeneous characters had not yet been tried; but from the temper of the people throughout the continent, there did not appear to be any great probability that the recommendation of Congress to the legislative bodies would disarm the resentment or eradicate the painful ideas that the presence of American refugees would revive. The minds of many had suffered too much in their persons or connections from such as they thought ought to have assisted in the struggle for the independence of their country to be healed in a moment.
It is beyond a doubt that there was little conciliatory feeling on either side. So far from it, the vanquished in New York were threatened with severe vengeance by one party, while the other poured out the most bitter expressions of resentment against the Congress and the people of America, now rejoicing in the success of their own arms. This temper was far from justifiable. It was neither acting as wise politicians or real Christians; but it was the natural ebullition of injured and provoked human nature which too seldom pays the strictest regard to national faith, honor, or moral precept, when passion has been wrought up beyond a certain degree of forbearance.
It is matter of wonder that the whole class of loyalists, though disarmed of power, were so imprudent as not to discover any disposition to harmonize with or a wish to conciliate the affections of their former friends and associates. They expressed their rancor on the all occasions, and when assured that the definitive treaty was actually signed, they broke out into the most violent paroxysms of rage and disappointment. Epithets of the most indecent and vindictive nature often fell from their lips, and increased the general disgust planted in the bosoms of their countrymen from their first defection from the American cause.
The recent outrages that had been committed, sanctioned by orders from the Associated Board of Loyalists, as they styled themselves, had given reason to apprehend that a spirit of revenge would be excited, that might preclude all lenity and forbearance in the minds of those citizens who had been pillaged, insulted, and abused. It was justly apprehended that the unhoused mourners for father, brothers, or beloved sons betrayed into the hands of pitiless enemies by this description of persons, could not readily forgive.
In order to check this rancorous spirit, or rather to lessen the influence of such an invidious temper, and present the fatal effects that might on both sides arise from its indulgence, General Carleton, soon after his arrival at New York, had directed the dissolution of the society and forbidden any more meetings as an associated body, under any name of form. But he considered the situation of this class, more particularly those who had been active members of the Board of Associated Loyalists, as too hazardous to desert at the present moment. It has been observed that he thought it his indispensable duty to reside in the city and to retain the British troops for a time, for the protection of all the unhappy people under the description of Tories or loyalists. He therefore waited until some arrangements and proper provisions could be made for their subsistence.
Notwithstanding the British negotiators had been obliged to leave them in a very indeterminate situation, or recede from the negotiations for peace, great attention had been paid to this description of persons in the debates of the British Parliament. Sir Adam Ferguson had suggested, some time before the peace, in the course of debate, that they ought to be divided into three classes: "first, those who had early taken arms in the cause of Britain; secondly, those who had fled to England with their families; lastly, those who had continued at home and did not act or style themselves loyalists until the King's troops called them out to express their opinions by personally acting against the Americans." He said that "a discrimination ought to be made and that they should be rewarded according to their merits and sufferings."
This discrimination was attended with difficulty; but everyone though that government was under obligations to each of these classes that could not be winked out of sight; but they all had claims of consideration and compensation, for their efforts to support the measures of Parliament, if not for any essential services rendered to the Crown.
Many noblemen were zealous that suitable provision should be made for the American loyalists of all descriptions, and no one appeared more interested in their favor than Lord Shelburne. In consequence of this, some arrangements were made for their establishment, and an apportionment of lands assigned them in the province of Nova Scotia. They were there assisted by the British government to erect a town which was incorporated by the name of Shelburne, and patronized by His Lordship. But it was a sterile spot, and many of them took better ground for themselves at New Brunswick, St. John's, and other parts of Nova Scotia, Canada, and within the limits of any part of the American territory yet claimed by Great Britain.
The officers of the provincial corps were allowed half pay for life, but notwithstanding any partial compensations made to the loyalists by the British government, their situation in every view was truly pitiable. Many of them had been long separated from their families and tenderest connections. They had flattered themselves with the hope of returning in very different circumstances at the conclusion of a war which they had expected would much sooner have terminated and have terminated in a manner equal to their sanguine ideas of the irresistible arm of Britain.
The most exalted opinion of the strength and power of that nation, a reverential attachment to the Monarch, and the fond influence of old habits of government and obedience to parliamentary regulations, had all cooperated with their ideas of the complete subjugation of the American colonies. They naturally calculated that they should then be stored to their former residences, and become the favorite subjects of royal patronage. They had reason to expect that their unshaken loyalty and uniform exertions to facilitate the designs of the Court of St. James, justly deserved a higher tribute of gratitude from the Crown than they had received. Their banishment to an iron shore, with a cold recommendation to the sate legislatures to permit them to revisit those friends that might yet have survived the hand of time and misfortune; and to make an effort to recover their scattered property that had frequently shifted hands, as is usual in the confusion of revolutionary struggles, could not be viewed by them as very high marks of consideration.
Yet many of them submitted afterwards to their condition, with a spirit of enterprise and resolution, an endeavored to establish their new settlements on a respectable footing. But their embarrassments in a situation so new, the soil unprolific, the climate frigid, and the natural propensity of the human mind to sigh after a return to its natal spot, to finish the career of present existence, all cooperated to defeat their success Shelburne, the pride of their hopes was in a few years nearly depopulated and many expensive and elegant buildings left without an inhabitant.
As we shall not again have any further occasion to recur to the subject of the loyalists, a few observations, the result of their subsequent conduct, may be here introduced with propriety, though it is rather an anticipation.
Those who fixed themselves on the more fertile borders of the Bay of Fundy and St. John's River, succeeded better than those at Shelburne; but though a few of them felt themselves greatly obligated to the justice or the generosity of the British government, they continued their fealty and attachment to the Crown of England, with the same zeal and fervor which formerly glowed in the bosoms of the inhabitants of all the American colonies.
The planting a new settlement is an unpleasant task to those who have been used to softer habits, from the industry, fatigue, and self-denial necessary to promote its success. Nor does the laborious exercise of felling trees and erecting log huts for themselves yield much satisfaction to those of a rougher class, but in the anticipation of better prospects in future. The hand of time, which generally ameliorates the miseries of man or reconciles the mind to its misfortunes, was not sufficiently lenient to make happy these once voluntary emigrants either in Canada, Nova Scotia, or even in England. Impatient under the sentence of exile from their native land, some of them returned to America as aliens, and availed themselves of the benefit of the Act of Naturalization, afterwards passed by the American government, in favor of those who wished to become citizens of the Untied States. But under the influence of their old prejudices in favor of monarchy, and their minds lowered down by habit, to succumb to the doctrine of passive obedience, some of them were restless and uneasy in the society of men who had recently suffered so much to procure liberty and independence to themselves and posterity. They fomented divisions, disseminated party opinions, ridiculed the principles of the revolution, and vilified many of the first characters who had exerted themselves to secure the liberties of their country. These, combined with other circumstances that took place, seemed to throw a temporary veil over the republican system.
All those who returned to the bosom of their country after the peace, ought not to be implicated as inheriting such vindictive dispositions. Whenever the loyalists are mentioned in a collective body, it is but just to make a reservation of some exceptions in favor of such as fled, from the terrors awakened in their bosoms by the convulsive sounds of war. These only wished to return to their native soil, enjoy a quiet residence in the land which gave them birth. Persons of this description were to be found in every state in the union, after they were permitted by treaty to return. These were objects of commiseration rather than blame. They had lost their property, their friends, and their felicity, from a mistaken apprehension of the power of the hostile arm that had been stretched out for the invasion of America, before their emigration.
Whatever testimony truth may required from an historian, when investigating the motives of action in public bodies or scrutinizing individual character, the proneness of man to err should always admonish him that it is an indispensable duty "to be candid where he 'can'."
It is to be lamented, when political opinion is the only bond of attachment, when merit, however conspicuous is not acknowledged, but by the party in which it is enlisted, the web of prejudice is then so thickly interwoven that no ray of brotherly kindness can penetrate, and that charity which covers a multitude of sins is totally annihilated.
Though the anticipation in the preceding short chapter may not exactly accord with the rules of historic writing, no other apology is necessary than that the awakened curiosity of the reader, as well as his compassion, will naturally excite a wish to trace the destiny of a body of men, who had set their faces against the liberties mankind and the exertions of their countrymen. This class had hazarded their own fortune and liberty, which were staked against the independence of America, and the freedom of future generations.
This cursory review of the situation of those unhappy emigrants, the treatment which they received from the British government, their destination and compensation in consequence of their attachment to the Monarch of England, will doubtless permitted, though not in due order of time, as it was the natural result of a survey of their character, their condition, their fate at the close of the war, and their subsequent department.