History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter XXX
We have seen the banners of Albion displayed, and the pendants of her proud navy waving over the waters of the western world, and threatening terror, servitude, or desolation to resisting millions. We have see through the tragic tale of war, all political connection with Great Britain broken off, the authority of the parent state renounced, and the independence of the American states sealed by the definitive treaty. The mind now willingly draws a veil over the unpleasing part of the drama, and indulges the imagination in future prospects of peace and felicity; when the soldier shall retreat from the field, lay by the sword, and resume the implements of husbandry -- the mechanic return to his former occupation, and the merchant rejoice in the prosperous view of commerce; when trade shall not be restricted by the unjust or partial regulations of foreigners; and when the ports of America shall be thrown open to all the world, and an intercourse kept free, to reap the advantages of commerce extended to all nations.
The young government of this newly established nation had, by the recent articles of peace, a claim to a jurisdiction over a vast territory, reaching from the St. Mary's on the south, to the River St. Croix, the extreme boundary on the east, containing a line of post roads of 1800 miles, exclusive of the northern and western wilds, but partially settled, and whose limits have not yet been explored. Not the Lycian League, nor any of the combinations of Grecian states, encircled such an extent of territory; nor does modern history furnish any example of a confederacy of equal magnitude and respectability with that of the United states of America.
We look back with astonishment when we reflect that it was only in the beginning of the seventeenth century, that the first Europeans landed in Virginia, and that nearly at the same time, a few wandering strangers coasted about the unknown Bay of Massachusetts, until they found a footing in Plymouth. Only a century and a half had elapsed before their numbers an their strength accumulated, until they bade defiance to foreign oppression, and stood ready to meet the power of Britain, with courage and magnanimity scarcely paralleled by the progeny of nations, who had been used to every degree of subordination and obedience.
The most vivid imagination cannot realize the contrast, when it surveys the vast surface of America now enrobed with fruitful fields, and the rich herbage of the pastures, which had been so recently covered with a thick mattress of words; when it beholds the cultivated vista, the orchards and the beautiful garden which have arisen within the limits of the Atlantic states, where the deep embrowned, melancholy forest had from time immemorial sheltered only the wandering savage; where the sweet notes of the feathered race, that follow the track of cultivation, had never chanted their melodious songs; the wild waste had been a haunt only for the hoarse birds of prey, and the prowling quadrupeds that filled the forest.
In a country like America, including a vast variety of soil and climate, producing everything necessary for convenience and pleasure, every man might be lord of his own acquisition. It was a country where the standard of freedom had recently been erected to allure the liberal-minded to her shores, and to receive and to protect the persecuted subjects of arbitrary power, who might there seek an asylum from the chains of servitude to which they had been subjected in any part of the glove. Here it might rationally be expected that beside the natural increase, the emigrations to a land of such fair promise of the blessings of plenty, liberty, and peace, to which multitudes would probably resort, there would be exhibited in a few years, a population almost beyond the calculation of figures.
The extensive tract of territory above described, on the borders of the Atlantic, had, as we have seen, been divided into several distinct governments, under the control of the Crown of Great Britain. These governments were now united in a strong confederacy, absolutely independent of all foreign domination. The several states retained their own legislative powers. They were proud of their individual independence, tenacious of their republican principles, and newly emancipated from the degrading ideas of foreign control, and the sceptered hand of monarchy. With all these distinguished privileges, deeply impressed with the ideas of internal happiness, we shall see they grew jealous of each other and soon after the peace, even of the powers of the several governments erected by themselves. they were eager for the acquisition of wealth, an the possession of the new advantages dawning on their country, from their friendly connections abroad, and their abundant resources at home.
At the same time that these wayward appearances began early to threaten their internal felicity, the inhabitants of America were, in general, sensible that the freedom of the people, the virtue of society, and the stability of their commonwealth could only be preserved by the strictest union; and that the independence of the United States must be secured by an undeviating adherence to the principles that produced the Revolution.
These principles were grounded on the natural equality of man their right of adopting their own modes of government, the dignity of the people, and that sovereignty which cannot be ceded either to representatives or to kings. But, as a certain writer has expressed it, "Powers may be delegated for particular purposes; but the omnipotence of society, if anywhere, is in itself. Princes, senates, or parliaments are not proprietors or masters. They are subject to the people, who form and support that society by an eternal law of nature, which has ever subjected a part to the whole." [See Lessons to a Prince, by an anonymous writer.]
These were opinions congenial to the feelings, and were disseminated by the pens of political writers; of Otis, Dickinson, Quincy, [The characters of Dickenson and Otis are well known, but the early death of Mr. Quincy prevented his name from being conspicuous in the history of American worthies. He was a gentleman of abilities and principles which qualified him to be eminently useful in the great contest to obtain and support the freedom of his country. He had exerted his eloquence and splendid talents for this purpose, until the premature hand of death deprived society of a man whose genius so well qualified him for the investigation of the claims and the defense of the rights of mankind. He died on his return from a voyage to Europe a short time before war was actually commenced between Great Britain and the colonies. The writings of the above-named gentleman, previous to the commencement of the war, are still in the hands of many.] and many others, who with pathos and energy had defended the liberties of America, previous to the commencement of hostilities.
On these principles, a due respect must ever be paid to the general will; to the right in the people to dispose of their own moneys by a representative voice; and to liberty of conscience without religious tests. On these principles, frequent elections, and rotations of office were generally thought necessary, without precluding the indispensable subordination an obedience due to rulers of their own choice. From the principles, manners, habits, and education of the Americans, they expected from their rules, economy in expenditure (both public and private), simplicity of manners, pure morals, and undeviating probity. These they considered as the emanations of virtue, grounded on a sense of duty, an a veneration for the Supreme Governor of the universe, to whom the dictates of nature teach all mankind to pay homage, and whom they had been taught to worship according to revelation and the divine precepts of the Gospel. Their ancestors had rejected and fled from the impositions and restrictions of men vested either with princely or priestly authority. They equally claimed the exercise of private judgment and the rights of conscience, unfettered by religious establishments in favor of particular denominations.
They expected a simplification of law; early defined distinctions between executive, legislative, and judiciary powers; the right of trial by jury, and a sacred regard to personal liberty and the protection of private property, were opinions embraced by all who had any just ideas of government, law, equity, or morals.
These were the rights of men, the privileges of Englishmen, and the claim of Americans. These were the principles of the Saxon ancestry of the British Empire, and of all the free nations of Europe, previous to the corrupt systems introduced by intriguing and ambitious individuals.
These were the opinions of Ludlow and Sydney, of Milton and Harrington. These were principles defended by the pen of the learned, enlightened, and renowned Locke; and even Judge Blackstone, in his excellent commentaries on the laws of England, has observed "that trial by jury and the liberties of the people went out together." Indeed, most of the learned and virtuous writers that have adorned the pages of literature from generation to generation, in an island celebrated for the erudite and comprehensive genius of its inhabitants, have enforced these rational and liberal opinions.
These were the principles which the ancestors of the inhabitants of the United States brought with them from the polished shores of Europe, to the dark wilds of America. These opinions were deeply infixed in the bosoms of their posterity, and nurtured with zeal, until necessity obliged them to announce the Declaration of Independence of the United States. We have seen that the instrument which announced the final separation of the American colonies from Great Britain was drawn by the elegant and energetic pen of Jefferson, with that correct judgment, precision, and dignity, which have ever marked his character.
The Declaration of Independence, which has done so much honor to the then existing Congress, to the inhabitants of the United States, and to the genius and heart of the gentleman who drew it, in the belief, and under the awe of the Divine Providence, ought to be frequently read by the rising youth of the American states, as a palladium of which they should never lose sight, so long as they wish to continue a free and independent people.
This celebrated paper, which will be admired in the annals of every historian, begins with an assertion that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, which nature and nature's God entitle them to claim; and, after appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of their intentions, it concludes in the name of the good people of the colonies, by their representatives assembled in Congress, they publish and declare that they are and of right ought to be Free and Independent States. In the name of the people, the fountain of all just authority, relying on the protection of Divine Providence, they mutually pledged themselves to maintain these rights, with their lives, fortunes, and honor.
These principles the Sons of Columbia had supported by argument, defended by the sword, and have now secured by negotiation, as far as the pledges of national faith and honor will bind society to a strict adherence to equity. This, however, is seldom longer than it appears to be the interest of nations, or designing individuals of influence and power. Virtue, in the sublimest sense, operates only on the minds of a chosen few. In their breasts, it will ever find its own reward.
In all ages, mankind are governed less by reason and justice than by interest and passion. The caprice of a day, or the impulse of a moment will blow them about as with a whirlwind, and bear them down the current of folly, until awakened by their misery. By these, they are often led to breaches of the most solemn engagements, the consequences of which may involve whole nations in wretchedness. It is devoutly to be hoped that the conduct of America will never stand on record as a striking example of the truth of this observation. She has fought for her liberties. She has purchased them by the most costly sacrifices. We have seen her embark in the enterprise with a spirit that gained her the applause of mankind. The United States have procured their own emancipation from foreign thralldom, by the sacrifice of their heroes and their friends. They are now ushered on to the temple of peace, who holds out her wanted and beckons them to make the wisest improvement of the advantages they had acquired by their patience, perseverance, and valor.
They had now only to close the scenes of war by a quiet dispersion of their own armies, and to witness the last act of hostile parade, the decampment of the battalions of Britain, and the retirement of the potent fleets that had long infested their coasts. This was to have been done at an earlier day. It was expected that on the ratification of the definitive treaty, there would have been an immediate evacuation of all the posts which had been held by the British within the limits of the United States.
The seventh article of the treaty expressly stipulated that "His Britannic Majesty shall, with all convenient speed and without causing any destruction or carrying away any negroes or other property of the American inhabitants, withdraw all his armies, garrisons, and fleets from the said United States, and from every post, place, and harbor within the same; leaving in all fortifications the American artillery that may be therein; and shall also order and cause all archive, records, deed, and papers belonging to any of the said states, or their citizens, which in the course of the war may have fallen into the hands of his officers, to be forthwith restored and delivered to the proper states and persons to whom they belong."
General Carleton had assigned his reasons for delay relative to the evacuation of New York, in his correspondence with the president of Congress and General Washington. Some satisfactory arrangements were, however, soon after made, relative to the loyalists, the exchange of prisoners, and several other points, for which the reader is referred to the Journals of Congress. When this was done, a detachment from the American army, under the command of General Knox, was directed to enter New York, in order to prevent any irregularities, confusion, or insult among the citizens on the important movement now about to take place.
On November 25, 1783, all the British, Hessian, and other foreign troops in the pay of His Britannic Majesty were drawn off from the city of New York. General Carleton embarked the same day; and Admiral Digby sailed for England with the remainder of the British fleet that had for many years invaded the sea coasts of America. Thus the shores of the Atlantic states that had so long been alarmed by the terrific thunders of the British navy, and ravage by hostile squadrons, were let in repose. In consequence of this much desired event, a general joy pervaded the borders, from Georgia to the extreme boundaries of the New England states.
No sufficient apology was, however, yet made for the detention of the western posts. They were long retained; and this breach of faith was afterwards attended with very important consequences. Under various frivolous pretenses of non-compliance on the part of the United States, with some articles stipulated in the definitive treaty of peace, a long line of posts in the western territory were not relinquished.
We have seen the seventh article of the treaty, that the King of England was to have immediately withdrawn not only his fleets and armies from the sea coasts, but that all the garrisons, forts, and places of arms within the United States should at the same time have been evacuated. But the British interest and trade with the natives of the wilderness in the extensive territories from the Mississippi to the Allegheny Mountains on the River Ohio could not easily be relinquished by their government. The forest of Michillimackinak and Detroit, the posts on Lake Erie, Niagara, Oswego, and several others were held by British officers and troops, and a jurisdiction long exercised over all the country in the vicinity, under the direction of Colonel Simcoe, afterwards governor of Upper Canada.
The disposition of this man toward the United Sates was no less cruel and savage than that of the fierce uncultivated natives beyond the lakes. This we have seen him display when a marauding partisan in the Jerseys, Virginia, and other places. He was now left at full liberty to indulge this disposition among savages whose ferocity and cruelty seemed to be perfectly congenial to the feelings of his own heart, when, while in command there, he instigated the fierce and blood-thirsty warriors to make incursions on the frontier settlements.
The hostile character of Governor Simcoe, the licentiousness and barbarity of the borderers, both European and American, united with the interests of Britain and the weakness of an infant government in America, some time after the present period, produced a horrid India war, in which, assisted by British soldiers in disguise, many brave officers of the old army and some of the flower of the American youth perished in the wilderness.
Those subsequent circumstances in American story, which have been cursorily mentioned above, suggest the reflection that it might have been happy for the United States, and happier for the individual "who weeps alone its lot of woe," if, instead of extending their views over the boundless desert, a Chinese wall had been stretched long the Appalachian ridges, that might have kept the nations within the boundaries of nature. This would have prevented the incalculable loss of life and property and have checked the lust of territory, wealth, and that ambition which has poured out streams of innocent blood on the forlorn mountains. The lives of our young heroes were too rich a price for the purchase of the acres of the savages, even could the nations be extinguished who certainly have a prior right to the inheritance. This is a theme on which some future historians may more copiously descant.
The acquisition and possession of territory seems to be a passion inwoven in the bosom of man. We see it from the peasant who owns but a single acre, to the prince who commands kingdoms, and wishes to extend his domains over half the globe. This is thought necessary at some times to distance troublesome neighbors, at others to preserve their own independence. But if the spring of action is traced, it may generally be found in the inordinate thirst for the possession of power and wealth.
A writer of celebrity has observed, "The enlargement of territory by conquest is not only no a just object of war, but, in the greater part of the instances in which it is attempted, not even desirable. It is certainly not desirable where it adds nothing to the numbers, the enjoyments, or the security of the conquerors. What, commonly, is gained to a nation by the annexing of new dependencies or the subjugation of other countries to its dominions but a wider frontier to defend, more interfering claims to vindicate, more quarrels, more enemies, more rebellions to encounter, a greater force to keep up by sea and land, more services to provide for, and more establishments to pay? Were it true that the grandeur of the prince is magnified by those exploits, the glory which is purchased and the ambition which is gratified by the distress of one country, without adding to the happiness of another, which at the same time enslaves the new and impoverishes the ancient part of the empire, by whatever names it may be known or flattered, ought to be an object of universal execration." [Paley's Moral Philosophy.]
These are the reflections of a philosopher. Princes and statesmen view things in a very different light. The expense of either treasure or blood, the waste of human life, the anguish of the afflicted bosom, or the tears wrong from the eye of sorrow have little weight in the scale of ambition, whose object is the extension of territory and power of the utmost of their limits, however contrary to the laws of nature and benevolence.
Perhaps neither reason nor policy could justify the American government in offensive war on the natives of the interior of the western territory; but the detention of the posts on the borders by the British obliged them, after peace took place, to make some military defense against the incursions of the savages on the frontiers, the consequences of which will be seen hereafter.
We have already observed that New York was relinquished and the British forces withdrawn from the Atlantic states only, and the further adjustment relative to the outposts left to the decision of a future day. [The defense made by the British for the breach of treaty in the detention of the western posts may be seen at large in a correspondence since published between Mr. Jefferson, The American Secretary of State, and Mr. Hammond, the British plenipotentiary to the United States; on which a British writer observed to his countrymen, 'Your diplomatists have shrunk before the reasonings of Jefferson."]
Immediately after the British armament was withdrawn from New York, all hostile arrangements disappeared, and the clarion of war ceased to grate the ear of humanity; and notwithstanding the obstacles that had arisen, and the dangers feared from the face of general discontent among the officers and soldiers, the American army was disbanded with far less difficulty than was apprehended. The commander in chief, and many of the officers, conducted the business of conciliation and obedience, after the late mutiny and insurrection, with the most consummate judgment and prudence; and the whole American army was dismissed in partial detachments, without tumult or disorder.
The merits of the commander in chief of the united armies of America have been duly noticed through the preceding pages of this work, in their order of time; and ample justice has been done to the integrity and valor, to the moderation and humanity, of this distinguished character. The virtues and talents which he really possessed have been appreciated in a measure consistent with a sacred regard to truth. Imputed genius and luster of abilities ascribed beyond the common ratio of human capacity and perfection were the result of his commanding good fortune, which attached to his person and character the partiality of all ranks and classes of men.
An exclusive claim to the summit of human excellent had been yielded as a kind of prescriptive right to this worthy and justly venerated citizen, from action, from gratitude, and from the real services rendered his country, under existing circumstances that had never before and perhaps never will again take place. His remarkable retention of popular favor and goodwill carried him through a long and perilous war without a change in public opinion or the loss of confidence in the commander first appointed by the Congress of America to meet the veterans of Britain and other European powers on hostile ground.
Thus, the renowned WASHINGTON, without arrogating any undue power to himself, which success and popularity offered, and which might have swayed many more designing and interested men to have gratified their own ambition at the expense of the liberties of America, finished his career of military glory with decided magnanimity, unimpeached integrity, and the most judicious steps to promote the tranquility of his country. He had previously published a circular letter to each governor of the individual states. This as an elegant address, replete with useful observations and excellent advice to the inhabitants of the United States, in their social, civil and military capacities. Nor did he neglect on all occasions, after the approach of peace, to inculcate on the soldiery and to impress on the minds of the people the necessity of union, subordination, economy, and justice, in the punctual discharge of all contracts, both public and private.
In full possession of the confidence of the people, the applause of his country, the love of the army, the esteem of foreigners, and the warm friendship and respect of the Gallican nation, whose armies and treasures had aided him to glory and victory, General Washington disbanded the troops without noise, inconvenience, or any apparent murmur at his measures. By order of the commander in chief, the peace was celebrated at New York on December 1, 1783, with high demonstrations of satisfaction and joy; an on the 23rd of the same month, General Washington resigned his commission to Congress, and, after acting so conspicuous a part on the theater of war, retired from public scenes and public men, with a philosophic dignity honorary to himself and to human nature.
Before the separation of the army, the general took a very affectionate leave of his brave and faithful soldiers, and of each of the officers singly. His farewell to his brave associates through the perilous scenes of danger and was attended with singular circumstances of affection and attachment. His address to the army was warm, energetic, and impressive. While the sensibility of the commander in chief appeared in his countenance, it was reciprocated in the faces of both officers and soldiers; and in the course of this solemn adieu, the big tear stole down the cheeks of men of courage and hardihood, long inured to scenes of slaughter and distress, which too generally deaden the best feelings of the human heart. [General Washington's farewell orders to the army of the United States may be seen in Note 5, at the end of this chapter.]
Congress was then sitting at Annapolis, where they received the resignation of the magnanimous and disinterested commander of the army of the United States with the same emotions of veneration and affection that had agitated the breast of the soldier. He had refused all pecuniary compensation for his services, except what was sufficient for his necessary expenditures, and laid his accounts before Congress. He then hastened with all possible celerity to his peaceful mansion in the state of Virginia. There his return was hailed by the joyous acclamations of his friend, his neighbors, his servants, and the crown of his domestic felicity, his amiable partner. Mrs. Washington had long signed for the return of her hero, whom she adored as the savior of her counted and loved as the husband of her fond affection. In this lady's character was blended that sweetness of manners that at once engaged the partiality of the stranger, soothed the sorrows of the afflicted, and relieved the anguish of poverty, even in the manner of extending her charitable hand to the sufferer.
Thus possessed of all the virtues that adorn her sex, Mrs. Washington now contemplated the completion of her happiness; and observed afterwards, in a letter to the author, that she little thought when the war was finished that any circumstance could possibly happen to call the general into public life again; that she anticipated that from that moment they should have grown old together, in solitude and tranquility. This, my dear madam, as the first and fondest wish of my heart." [Mrs. Washington's letter to Mrs. Warren, 1789.]
But General Washington had yet much to do on the theater of public action; much for his own fame, and much for the extrication of his country from difficulties apprehended by some, but not yet realized. America has fought for the boon of liberty. She has successfully and honorably obtained it. She has now a rank among the nations. It was now the duty of the wise and patriotic characters who had by inconceivable labor and exertion obtained the prize, to guard on every side that it might not be sported away by the folly of the people or the intrigue or deception of their rulers. They had to watch at all points that her dignity was not endangered, nor her independence renounced by too servilely copying either the fashionable vices or the political errors of those countries where the inhabitants are become unfit for any character but that of master and slave.
Thus, after the dissolution of the American army, the withdrawing of the French troops, the retirement of General Washington, and the retreat of the fleets and armies of the King of Great Britain, a solemnity and stillness appeared, which was like the general pause of nature before the concussion of an earthquake. The state of men's mind seemed for a short time to palsied by the retrospect of dangers encountered to break off the fetters and the hazards surmounted to sweep away the claims and cut the leading strings in which they had been held by the crown of Britain.
But though the connection was now dissolved, and the Gordian Knot of union between Great Britain and America cut in sunder; though the independence of the United States was, by the treaty, clearly established on the broad basis of liberty; yet the Americans felt themselves in such a state of infancy that as a child just learning to walk, they were afraid of their own movements. Their debts were unpaid, their governments unsettled, and the people out of breath by their long struggle for the freedom and independence of their country. They were become poor from the loss of trade, the neglect of their usual occupations, and the drains from every quarter for the support of a long and expensive war.
From the versatility of human affairs and the encroaching spirit of man, it was yet uncertain when and how the states would be tranquilized, and the union consolidated, under wise, energetic, and free modes of government; or whether such, if established, would be administered agreeable to laws founded on the beautiful theory of republicanism, depictured in the closets of philosophers and idolized in the imagination of most of the inhabitants of America.
It is indeed true that from a general attention to early education, the people of the United States were better informed in many branches of literature than the common classes of men in most other countries. Yet many of them had but a superficial knowledge of mankind. They were ignorant of the intrigues of courts, and though convinced of the necessity of government, did not fully understand its nature or origin. They had generally supposed that there was little to do but shake off the yoke of foreign domination and annihilate the name of king.
They were not generally sensible that most established modes of strong government are usually the consequences of fraud or violence against the systems of democratic theorists. They were not sensible that from age to age the people are flattered, deceived, or threatened until the hoodwinked multitude set their own seals to a renunciation of their privileges, and with their own hands rivet the chains of servitude on their posterity. They were totally fearless of the intrigues or the ambition of their own countrymen, which might in time render fruitless the expense of their blood and their treasures. These they had freely lavished to secure their equality of condition, their easy modes of subsistence, and their exemption from public burdens beyond the necessary demands for the support of a free and equal government. But it was not long before they were awakened to new energies by convulsions both at home and abroad.
New created exigencies or more splendid modes of government that might hereafter be adopted had not yet come within the reach of their calculations. Of these, few had yet formed any adequate ideas, and fewer indeed were sensible that though the name of liberty delights the ear, and tickles the fond pride of man, it is a jewel much oftener the plaything of his imagination than a possession of real stability. It maybe acquired today in all the triumph of independent feelings, but perhaps tomorrow the world may be convinced that mankind know not how to make a proper use of the prize, generally bartered in a short time, as a useless bauble, to the first officious master that will take the burden from the mind, by laying another on the shoulders of ten-fold weight.
This is the usual course of human conduct, however painful the reflection may be to the patriot in retirement and to the philosopher absorbed in theoretic disquisitions on human liberty, or the portion of natural and political freedom to which man has a claim. The game of deception is played over and over to mislead the judgment of men, and work on their enthusiasm, until by their own consent, hereditary crowns and distinctions are fixed and some scion of royal descent is entailed on them forever. Thus by habit they are ready to believe that mankind in general are incapable of the enjoyment of that liberty which nature seems to prescribe and that the mass of the people have not the capacity nor the right to choose their own masters.
The generous an disinterested of all nations must, however, wish to see the American Republic fixed on such a stable basis as to become the admiration of the world. Future generations will then look back with gratitude on the era which wafted their ancestors from the European shores. They will never forget the energetic struggles of their father to secure the natural rights of men. These are improved in society and strengthened by civil compacts. These have been established in the United States by a race of independent spirits who have freed their posterity from the feudal vassalage of hereditary lords. It is to be hoped that the grim shades of despotic kings will never hover in the clouds of the American hemisphere to bedizen the heads of the sons of Columbia, by imaginary ideas of the splendid beams of royalty.
Let it never be said of such a favored nation as America had been, as was observed by an ancient historian, on the rise, the glory, and the fall of the republic of Athens, that "the inconstancy of the people was the most striking characteristic of its history." We have, with the historian who depictured the Athenian character, viewed with equal astonishment the valor of our soldiers and the penetration of the statesmen of America. We wish for the duration of her virtue. We sigh at every appearance of decline; and perhaps, from a dread of deviations, we may be suspicious of their approach when none are designed.
It is a more agreeable anticipation to every humane mind to contemplate the glory, the happiness, the freedom, and peace which may for ages to come pervade this new-born nation, emancipated by the uncommon vigor, valor, fortitude, and patriotism of her soldiers and statesmen. They seemed to have been remarkably directed by the finger of Divine Providence, and led on from step to step beyond their own expectations, to exhibit to the view of distant nations, millions freed from the bondage of a foreign yoke, by that sprit of freedom, virtue, and perseverance, which they had generally displayed from their first emigrations to the wilderness to the present day.
Let us here pause a few moments and survey the vast continent of America, where the reflecting mind retrospects and realizes the beautiful description of the wide wilderness before it became a fruitful field; before "the rivers were open in high places and fountains in the midst of the valleys;" when He who created them pronounced, "I will plant the cedar, the myrtle, and the oil tree. I will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine and the box tree together; that all may see and know and consider and understand together that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it." [Isaiah chapter 41.]
Let the striking contrast, since the forest has been made to blossom as the rose, be viewed in such an impressive light as to operate on the mind of every son and daughter of America and lead to the uniform practice of public an private virtue.
From the education, the habits, and the general law of kindness which has been nurtured among the children of those pious worthies who first left the pleasant and prolific shores of Europe, and took up their residence in the bosom of a wilderness, to secure the peaceful enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, it may reasonably be expected that such a unanimity may long be preserved among their posterity as to prevent the fatal havoc which dissension and war have brought on most nations found in the records of time.
The mind now rejoices to return from the scenes of war in which it has been immersed and feels itself sufficiently collected to take and abstracted view of the condition of human nature. Here we might, before we leave the local circumstances of America, survey the contrasts exhibited in their conduct by a world of beings who boast their rationality. We might indulge some moments of reflection and calm contemplation on the infinite variety of combinations in the powers of the human mind as well as the contrarieties that make up the character of man. But amid the various images which present, in viewing the complex state of man, we will only add in this place a few observations on their hostile dispositions toward each other.
It must appear among the wonders of Divine Providence that a creature endowed with reasons should, through all ages and generations, be permitted the wanton destruction of his own species. The barbarous butchery of his fellow mortals exhibits man an absurd and ferocious, instead of a rational and humane being. May it not be among the proofs of some general lapse from the original law of rectitude that no age or nation since the death of Abel has been exempt from the havoc of war? Pride, avarice, injustice, and ambition have set every political wheel in motion to hurry out of existence one half the species by the hands of the other.
The folly of mankind in making war on each other is strongly delineated on the conclusion of almost every hostile dispute; and perhaps this folly was never more clearly exhibited than in that between Great Britain and her former colonies. Each circumstance will in future be weighted, when the world will judge of the great balance of advantage to the one country or the other, on the termination of the struggle.
A full detail of the sufferings of the English nation, in consequence of the absurd war on their colonies, may be left to more voluminous writers; while we only observe that Great Britain lost an extensive territory containing millions of subjects, the fruits of whose genius and industry she might have reaped for ages, had she not been avaricious of a revenue by methods which neither the much boasted constitution of Englishmen or the laws of prudence or equity could justify... She lost the extensive commerce of a country growing in arts and population to an astounding degree... She lost the friendship of thousands and created the alienation of millions that may last forever... She lost a nursery for seamen that had replenished her navy from the first settlement of America... She lost, by the best British calculations, 100,000 of her best soldiers, either by sickness or the sword, and a proportionate number of most gallant officer... [See British Encyclopedia, published 1792.] She sunk an immensity of her treasures for the support of her armies an navies for the execution of the chimerical project of subduing the colonies by arms, which by justice, protection, friendship, and a reciprocity of kind officers would have been hers for ages.
And what has she gained by the contest? Surely not an increase of honor or reputation. Corroborative evidence of these truths may be drawn from the testimony of British writers. A very sensible man [See View of the Reign of George the Third.] of this class has observed that "Thus ended the most unfortunate war in which England has ever been engaged; a war commenced in the very wantonness of pride and folly, which had for its object to deprive America of the rights for which our ancestors have contended; a war the professed object of which was to levy a tax that would not have paid the collectors; a war conducted with the same weakness and incapacity on the part of the British ministry, with which it was commenced; which might in the early stages of the dispute have been avoided by the smallest concession; and which might have been terminated with honor but for the incorrigible obstinacy and unparalleled folly of the worst administration that ever disgraced the country. This deplorable war has ended in the dismemberment of a considerable part of the British Empire, cost the nation more money than the ever-memorable campaigns of Marlborough, and the still more glorious war of Lord Chatham; more indeed than all the wars in Which Great Britain has been engaged since the Revolution to the peace of Aix la Chapelle."
On the other hand, it may be proper here to take a survey of the United States and to view them on every ground. They have struggled with astonishing success for the rights of mankind and have emancipated themselves from the shackles of foreign power. America has indeed obtained incalculable advantages by the Revolution; but in the innumerable list of evils attendant on a state of war, she, as well as Great Britain, has lost her thousands of brave soldiers, veteran officers, hardy seamen, and meritorious citizens, that perished in the field or in captivity, in prison ships, and in the wilderness, since the beginning of the conflict. She has lost an immense property by the conflagration of her cities and the waste of wealth by various other means. She has in a great measure lost her simplicity of manners, and those ideas of mediocrity which are generally the parent of content. The Americans are already in too many instances hankering after the sudden accumulation of wealth and the proud distinctions of fortune and title. They have too far lost that general sense of moral obligation, formerly felt by all classes in America. The people have not indeed generally lost their veneration for religion, but it is to be regretted that in the unlicensed liberality of opinion there have been some instances where the fundamental principles of truth have been obscured. This may in some measure have arisen from their late connections with other nations; and this circumstance may account for the readiness of many to engraft foreign follies and crimes with their own weak propensities to imitation, and to adopt their errors and fierce ambition, instead of making themselves a national character, marked with moderation, justice, benignity, and all the mild virtues of humanity.
But when the seeds of revolution are planted, and the shoots have expanded, the various causes which contribute to their growth and to the introduction of a change of manners are too many to recount. The effervescence of party rage sets open the flood gates of animosity, and renders it impossible to calculate with any degree of accuracy on subsequent events. Not the most perspicacious human eye can foresee, amid the imperious spirit of disunion and the annihilation of former habits and connections, the benefits that may result from the exertions of virtue or the evils that may arise from problematic characters which come forward, the new-born offspring of confusion, and assume merit from the novelty of their projects and the inscrutability of their designs. These are like hot-bed plants, started from extraneous causes. Prematurely forced into existence, they are incapable of living but in the sunshine of meridian day. Such characters often hurry to irretrievable mischief before time has ripened the systems of men of more principle and judgment.
Thus, after the conclusion of peace and the acknowledgment of the independence of the United States by Great Britain, the situation of America appeared similar to that of a young heir, who had prematurely become possessed of a rich inheritance, while his inexperience and his new-felt independence had intoxicated him so far as to render him incapable of weighing the intrinsic value of his estate, and had left him without discretion or judgment to improve it to the best advantage of his family.
The inhabitants of the United States had much to experiment in the new rank they had taken, and the untrodden ground which they were now to explore, replete with difficulties not yet digested or apprehended by the most sagacious statesmen. They had obtained their independence by a long and perilous struggle against a powerful nation. We now view them just emancipated from a foreign yoke, the blessings of peace restored on honorable terms, with the liberty of forming their own governments, enacting their own laws, choosing their own magistrates, and adopting manners the most favorable to freedom and happiness. Yet it is possible that their virtue is not sufficiently steadfast to avail themselves of those superior advantages.
The restless nature of man is forever kindling a fire and collecting fuel to keep the flame alive that consumes one half the globe without the smallest advantage to the other, either in a moral or in a political view. Men profit little by the observations, the sufferings, or the opinions of others. It is with nations as with individuals. They must try their own projects and frequently learn wisdom only by their own mistakes. It is undoubtedly true that all mankind learn more from experience than from intuitive wisdom. Their foolish passions too generally predominate over their virtues. Thus civil liberty, political and private happiness are frequently bartered away for the gratification of vanity, or the aggrandizement of a few individuals who have art enough to fascinate the undistinguishing multitude.
If the conduct of the United States should stand on record as a striking example of the truth of this observation, it must be remembered that this is not a trait peculiar to the character of America. It is the story of man. Past ages bear testimony to its authenticity, and future events will convince the unbelieving.
It is an unpleasing part of history when "corruption begins to prevail, when degeneracy marks the manners of the people, and weakens the sinews of the state." If this should ever become the deplorable situation of the United states, let some unborn historian in a far distant day detail the lapse and hold up the contrast between a simple, virtuous, and free people, and a degenerate, servile race of beings, corrupted by wealth, effeminated by luxury, impoverished by licentiousness, and become the automatons of intoxicated ambition.
General Washington's farewell orders to the army of the United States.
"Rocky Hill, near Princeton, November 2, 1783.
"The United States in Congress assembled, after giving the most honorable testimony to the merits of the federal armies and presenting them with the thanks of their country for their long, eminent, and faithful services, having thought proper, by their proclamation, bearing the date October 18 last, to discharge such parts of the troops as were engaged for the war, and to permit the officers on furlough to retired from service, from and after tomorrow, which proclamation having been communicated in the public papers, for the information and government of all concerned; it only remains for the commander in chief to address himself once more, an that for the last time, to the armies of the United States, (however widely dispersed individuals who composed them may be) and to bid them an affectionate, a long farewell.
"But before the commander in chief takes his final leave of those he holds most dear, he wishes to indulge himself a few moments in calling to mind a slight review of the past; he will then take the liberty of exploring with his military friends their future prospects; of advising the general conduct which in his opinion ought to be pursued; and he will conclude the address by expressing the obligations he feels himself under for the spirited and able assistance he has experienced from them in the performance of an arduous office.
"A contemplation of the complete attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expedited) of the object for which we contended, against so formidable a power, cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the armies of the United States through almost every possible suffering and discouragement, for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.
"It is not the meaning, nor within the compass of this address, to detail the hardships peculiarly incident to our service, or to describe the distresses which in several instances have resulted from the extremes of hunger and nakedness, combined with the rigors of an inclement season; nor is it necessary to dwell on the dark side of our past affairs. Every American officer and soldier must now console himself for any unpleasant circumstances which may have occurred, by a recollection of the uncommon scenes in which he has been called to act no inglorious part, and the astonishing events of which he has been a witness; events which have seldom, if ever before, taken place on the stage of human action, nor can they possibly ever happen again. For who has before seen a disciplined army formed at once from such raw materials? Who that was not a witness could imagine that the most violent local prejudices would cease so soon, and that men who came from the different parts of the continent, strongly disposed by the habits of education to despise and quarrel with each other, would immediately become but one patriotic band of brothers? Or who that was not on the spot can trace the steps by which such a wonderful revolution has been effected and such a glorious period put to all our warlike toils?
"It is universally acknowledged that the enlarged prospects of happiness opened by the confirmation of our independence and sovereignty almost exceed the power of description; and shall not the brave men who have contributed so essentially to these inestimable acquisitions, retiring victorious from the field of war to the field of agriculture, participate in all the blessings which have been obtained? In such a republic, who will exclude them from the rights of citizens, and the fruits of their labors? In such a country so happily circumstanced, the pursuits of commerce and the cultivation of the oil will unfold to industry the certain road to competence. To those hardy soldiers who are actuated by the spirit of adventure, the fisheries will afford ample and profitable employment; and the extensive fertile regions of the west will yield a most happy asylum to those, who, fond of domestic enjoyment, are seeking for personal independence. Nor is it possible to conceive that anyone of the United States will prefer a national bankruptcy and the dissolution of the union to a compliance with the requisitions of Congress and the payment of its just debts, so that the officers and soldiers may expect considerable assistance in recommencing their civil occupations, from the sums due to them from the public, which must and will most inevitably be paid.
"In order to effect this desirable purpose, and to remove the prejudices which may have taken possession of the mind of any of the good people of the States, it is earnestly recommended to all the troops that, with strong attachments to the union, they should carry with them into civil society the most conciliatory dispositions; and that they should prove themselves not less virtuous and useful as citizens than they have been persevering an victorious as soldiers. What though there should be some envious individuals, who are unwilling to pay the debt the public has contracted, or to yield the tribute due to merit; yet let such unworthy treatment produce no invective, or an instance of intemperate conduct; let it be remembered that the unbiased voice of the free citizens of the United States has promised the just rewards and given the merited applause. Let it be known and remembered that the reputation of the federal armies is established beyond the reach of malevolence; and let a consciousness of their achievements and fame still excite the men who composed them to honorable actions, under the persuasion that the private virtues of economy, prudence, and industry will not be less amiable in civil life than the more splendid qualities of valor, perseverance, and enterprise were in the field; everyone may rest assured that much, very much of the future happiness of the officers and men will depend on the wise and manly conduct which shall be adopted by them, when they are mingled with the great body of the community. And although the general has so frequently given it as his opinion, in the most public and explicit manner, that unless the principles of the federal government were properly supported, and the power of the union increased, the honor, dignity, and justice of the nation would be lost forever; yet he cannot help repeating on this occasion, so interesting a sentiment, and leaving it as his last injunction to every officer and every soldier who may view the subject tin the same serious point of light, to add his best endeavors to those of his worthy fellow citizens towards effecting those great and valuable purposes on which our very existence as a nation so materially depends.
"The commander in chief conceives little is now wanting to enable the soldier to change the military character into that of a citizen, but that steady and decent tenor of behavior which has generally distinguished not only the army under his immediate command, but the different detachments and separate armies, through the course of the war. From their good sense and prudence, he anticipated the happiest consequences; and while he congratulates them on the glorious occasion, which renders their services in the field no longer necessary, he wishes to express the strong obligation he feels himself under for the assistance he has received from every class and in every instance. He presents his thanks, in the most serious and affectionate manner, to the general officers, as well for their counsel on many interesting occasions, as for their ardor in promoting the success of the plans he had adopted; to the commandants of regiments and corps and to the officers, for their zeal and attention in carrying his orders promptly into execution; to the staff, for their alacrity and exactness in performing the duties of their several departments; and to the non-commissioned officers and private soldiers, for their extraordinary patience in suffering, as well as their invincible fortitude in action. To various branches of the army, the general takes this last and solemn opportunity of professing his inviolable attachment and friendship. He wishes more than bare professions were in his power, that he was really able to be useful to them all in future life. He flatters himself, however, they will do him the justice to believe that whatever could with propriety be attempted by him has been done. And, being now on leave in a short time of the military character, and to bid a final adieu to the armies he has so long had the honor to command, he can only again offer in their behalf his recommendations to their grateful country, and his prayers to the God of armies. May ample justice be done them here, and may the choicest of Heaven's favors, both her and hereafter, attend those who, under the divine auspices, have secured innumerable blessings for others! With these wishes, and this benediction, the commander in chief is about to retire from service; the curtain of separation will soon be drawn, and the military scene to him will be closed forever.
"Edward Hand, Adjutant General."