previous next

Chapter 60:

The first act of independence.

February—April, 1776.

on the ninth day of February John Adams re-
Chap. LX.} 1776. Feb.
sumed his seat in congress, with Elbridge Gerry for a colleague, in place of the feeble Cushing, and with instructions from his constituents to establish liberty in America upon a permanent basis. His nature was robust and manly; now he was in the happiest mood of mind for asserting the independence of his country. He had confidence in the ability of New England to drive away their enemy; in Washington, as a brave and prudent commander; in his wife, who cheered him with the fortitude of womanly heroism; in the cause of his country, which seemed so bound up with the welfare of mankind, that Providence could not suffer its defeat; in himself, for his convictions were clear, his will fixed, and his mind prepared to let his little property and his life go, sooner than the rights of his country.

Looking into himself he saw weaknesses enough; but neither meanness, nor dishonesty, nor timidity. [309] His overweening self-esteem was his chief blemish;

Chap. LX.} 1776. Feb.
and if he compared himself with his great fellow laborers, there was some point on which he was superior to any one of them; he had more learning than Washington, or any other American statesman of his age; better knowledge of liberty as founded in law than Samuel Adams; clearer insight into the constructive elements of government than Franklin; more power in debate than Jefferson; more courageous manliness than Dickinson; more force in motion than Jay; so that, by varying and confining his comparisons, he could easily fancy himself the greatest of them all. He was capable of thinking himself the centre of any circle, of which he had been no more than a tangent; his vanity was in such excess that in manhood it sometimes confused his judgment and in age bewildered his memory; but the stain did not reach beyond the surface; it impaired the lustre, not the hardy integrity of his character. He was humane and frank, generous and clement; yet he wanted that spirit of love which reconciles to being outdone. He could not look with complacency on those who excelled him, and regarded another's bearing away the palm as a wrong to himself; he never sat placidly under the shade of a greater reputation than his own, and could try to jostle aside the presumptuous possessor of recognised superiority; but his envy, though it laid open how deeply his self-love was wounded, had hardly a tinge of malignity, and never led him to derelictions for the sake of revenge. He did his fame injustice when, later in life, he represented himself as suffering from persecutions on account of his early zeal for independence; he was no weakling to whine about injured feelings; he [310] went to his task, bright, and cheery, and brave; he
Chap. LX.} 1776. Feb.
was the hammer and not the anvil; and it was for others to fear his prowess and to shrink under his blows. His courage was unflinching in debate and everywhere else; he never knew what fear is; and had he gone into the army as he once longed to do, he would have taken there the virtues of temperance, decision, and intrepidity. To his latest old age his spirit was robust, buoyant, and joyous; he saw ten times as much pleasure as pain in the world; and after his arm quivered and his eye grew dim, he was ready to begin life anew and fight its battle over again.

In his youth he fell among sceptics, read Bolingbroke's works five times through, and accustomed himself to reason freely and think boldly; he esteemed himself a profound metaphysician, but only skimmed the speculations of others; though at first destined to be a minister, he became a rebel to Calvinism, and never had any very fixed religious creed; but for all that he was a stanch man of New England, and his fond partiality to its people, its institutions, its social condition, and its laws, followed him into congress and its committees, and social life, tinctured his judgment, and clinched his prepossessions; but the elements in New England that he loved most, were those which were eminently friendly to universal culture and republican equality. A poor farmer's son, bent on making his way in the world, at twenty years old beginning to earn his own bread, pinched and starved as master of a stingy country school, he formed early habits of order and frugality, and steadily advanced to fortune; but though exact in his accounts, there was nothing niggardly in his thrift, [311] and his modest hospitality was prompt and hearty.

Chap. LX.} 1776. Feb.
He loved homage, and it made him blind; to those who flattered him he gave his confidence freely, and often unwisely; and while he watched the general movement of affairs with comprehensive sagacity, he was never a calm observer of individual men. He was of the choleric temperament: though his frame was compact and large, yet from physical organization he was singularly sensitive; could break out into uncontrollable rage, and with all his acquisitions, never learned to rule his own spirit; but his anger did not so much drive him to do wrong, as to do right ungraciously. No man was less fitted to gain his end by arts of indirection; he knew not how to intrigue, was indiscreetly talkative, and almost thought aloud; whenever he sought to win an uncertain person to his support, his ways of courtship were uncouth, so that he made few friends except by his weight of character, ability, public spirit, and integrity, was unapt as the leader of a party, and never appeared so well as when he acted from himself.

Hating intolerance in all its forms, an impassioned lover of civil liberty, as the glory of man and the best evidence and the best result of civilization, he, of all men in congress, was incomparable as a dogmatist; essentially right-minded; loving to teach with authority; pressing onward unsparingly with his argument; impatient of contradiction; unequalled as a positive champion of the right. He was the Martin Luther of the American revolution, borne on to utter his convictions fearlessly by an impulse which forbade his acting otherwise. He was now too much in [312] earnest, and too much elevated by the greatness of

Chap LX.} 1776. Feb.
his work, to think of himself; too anxiously desiring aid, to disparage those who gave it. In the fervor of his activity, his faults disappeared. His intellect and public spirit, all the noblest parts of his nature, were called into the fullest exercise, and strained to the uttermost of their healthful power. Combining more than any other, farness of sight and fixedness of belief with courage and power of utterance, he was looked up to as the ablest debater in congress. Preserving some of the habits of the lawyer, he was redundant in words and cumulative in argument; but his warmth and sincerity kept him from the affectations of a pedant or a rhetorician. Forbearance was no longer in season; the irrepressible talent of persevering, peremptory assertion was wanted; the more he was borne along by his own vehement impulses the better; now his country, humanity, the age, the hour, demanded that the right should be spoken out, his high excitement had not the air of passion, but appeared, as it was, the clear perception of the sublimity of his task. When, in the life of a statesman, were six months of more importance to the race, than these six months in the career of John Adams?

On resuming his seat, he found a change in the delegation of South Carolina. That province had sent to Philadelphia a vessel not larger than a pilot boat, for Gadsden, who held the highest rank in their army: at the risk of capture, the patriot embarked in January; fought his way through the ice in the Delaware, and against headwinds at sea; escaped the British cruisers only by running the small craft in [313] which he sailed upon the sands of North Carolina,

Chap. LX.} 1776. Feb.
and continuing his journey through Georgetown to Charleston by land, encouraged all who came round him on the way to demand independence. To aid in forming a new government, the elder Rutledge had preceded him, leaving the delegation from their colony to suffer from the absence of its strongest will and its clearest mind. Chase of Maryland kept always in zeal and decision far ahead of the moderate among his friends; but that province had, for the time, like Pennsylvania, yielded to proprietary influences; and its convention looked with distrust upon John Adams as biassed in favor of revolution by the office of chief justice of Massachusetts, to which he had unexpectedly been chosen. Yet while the members of congress stammered in their utterance, they listened with disgust to Wilson, when, on the thirteenth of February, he presented a very long, ill written draught of an address to their constituents, in which they were made to disclaim the idea of renouncing their allegiance; and its author, perceiving that the majority relished neither its style nor its doctrine, thought fit to allow it to subside without a vote.

On the sixteenth the great measure of enfranchising American commerce was seriously considered. ‘Open your ports,’ said a member; ‘your trade will then become of so much consequence that foreigners will protect you.’ ‘In war,’ argued Wilson, ‘trade should be carried on with greater vigor than ever, after the manner of the United Provinces in their struggle against Spain. The merchants themselves must judge of the risks. Our vessels and our seamen are all abroad; and unless we open our ports, will [314] not return.’ Sherman wished first to secure a pro-

Chap. LX} 1776. Feb.
tective treaty with a foreign power. Harrison said more explicitly: “We have hobbled on under a fatal attachment to Great Britain; I felt that attachment as much as any man, but I feel a stronger one to my country.” Wythe now took the lead. In him a vigorous intellect was obedient to duty; a learned and able lawyer, he also cultivated poetry and letters; not rich, he was above want; in his habits he was as abincrease his store; in his habits of life he was as abstemious as an ascetic; his manners had the frolic mirthfulness of innocence. Genial and loving, overflowing with charity and benevolence, he blended the gentleness of human kindness with sincerity in his conduct, and indomitable firmness in his convictions of right. From 1774 his views coincided with those of Jefferson, and his dovelike sweetness of temper, his transparent artlessness, his simplicity of character, his legal erudition and acuteness, added persuasion to his words, as he drew attention to the real point at issue: ‘It is too true our ships may be taken unless we provide a remedy; but we may authorize vessels to arm, and we may give letters of marque and reprisal. We may also invite foreign powers to make treaties of commerce with us; but before this measure is adopted, it is to be considered in what character we shall treat? As subjects of Great Britain? As rebels? No: we must declare our selves a free people.’ With this explanation he moved a resolution, ‘That the colonies have a right to contract alliances with foreign powers.’ ‘This is independence,’ said an objector. The question whether the resolution should be considered, was decided in the affirmative by seven colonies [315] against five; but nothing more was determined. The
Chap. LX.} 1776. Feb.
debate on opening the ports was then continued; but seven weeks of hesitation preceded its decision.

On the day of this discussion the assembly of Pennsylvania formed a quorum. It required of Joseph Reed, who had been chosen a member in the place of Mifflin, the oath of allegiance to King George; in a few days, the more wary Franklin, who thus far had not taken his seat in so loyal a body, sent in his resignation, under a plea of age, and was succeeded by Rittenhouse.

On the nineteenth, Smith, the provost of the college in Philadelphia, delivered before congress, the Pennsylvania assembly, and other invited bodies, a eulogy on Montgomery; when, two days later, William Livingston moved a vote of thanks to the speaker, with a request that he would print his oration, earnest objections were raised, ‘because he had declared the sentiments of the congress to be in favor of continuing in a state of dependence.’ Livingston was sustained by Duane, Wilson, and Willing; was opposed by Chase, John Adams, Wythe, Edward Rutledge, Wolcott, and Sherman; and at last the motion was withdrawn.

Yet there still prevailed a disinclination to grapple with the ever recurring question which required immediate solution. The system of short enlistments appeared to Washington so fraught with danger, that, unasked by congress and even against their resolves, he forced his advice upon them; and on the twenty second they took into consideration his importunate protest against the policy of raising a new army for each campaign. The system, of which the hazard was [316] incalculable, had precipitated the fate of Montgom-

Chap. LX} 1776. Feb.
ery, had exposed his own position to imminent peril. Successive bodies of raw recruits could not form a well disciplined army, or perform the service of veterans; their losses were always great while becoming inured to the camp; it was their nature to waste arms, ammunition, camp utensils, and barracks; discipline would be relaxed for the sake of inducing a second enlistment; the expense of calling in militia men, of whom at every relief two must be paid for the service of one, was enormous. The trouble and perplexity of disbanding one army and raising another at the same instant, and in the presence of an enemy were, as he knew, ‘such as it is scarcely in the power of words to describe, and such as no man who had experienced them once would ever undergo again.’ He therefore proposed that a large bounty should be offered and soldiers enlisted for the war.

The obvious wisdom of the advice and the solemnity with which it was enforced, arrested attention; and Samuel Adams proposed to take up the question of lengthening the time of enlistments, which had originally been limited from the hope of a speedy reconciliation. Some members would not yet admit the thought of a protracted war; some rested hope on Rockingham and Chatham; some wished first to ascertain the powers of the coming commissioners; some wished to wait for an explicit declaration from France; from the revolution of 1688 opposition to a standing army had been the watchword of liberty; the New England colonies had from their beginning been defended by their own militia; in the last French war, troops had been called out only for the season. ‘Enlistment [317] for a long period,’ said Sherman, ‘is a state

Chap. LX.} 1776. Feb.
of slavery; a rotation of service in arms is favorable to liberty.’ ‘I am in favor of the proposition to raise men for the war,’ said John Adams; ‘but not to depend upon it, as men must be averse to it, and the war may last ten years.’ Congress was not in a mood to adopt decisive measures; and the touching entreaties of the general were passed by unheeded. England was sending over veteran armies; and they were to be met by soldiers engaged only for a year.

The debate branched off into a discussion on the pay of officers, respecting which the frugal statesmen of the north differed from those of the south; John Adams thought the democratic tendency in New England less dangerous than the aristocratic tendency elsewhere; and Harrison seemed to insinuate that the war was a New England war. But it was becoming

plain that danger hung over every part of the country; on the twenty seventh, the five middle colonies from New York to Maryland were therefore constituted one military department, the four, south of the Potomac, another; and on the first of March, six new generals of brigade were appointed. In the selection for Virginia there was difficulty: Patrick Henry had been the first colonel in her army; but the committee of safety did not favor his military ambition, and the prevailing opinion recalled him to civil life; in the judgment of Washington, ‘Mercer would have supplied the place well;’ but he was a native of Scotland; so the choice fell upon Andrew Lewis, whose courage Washington did not question, but who still suffered from ‘the odium thrown upon his conduct at Kanawha,’ where he had lingered in his camp, while the officers [318] and men, whom he sent forth, with fearless gallantry
Chap. LX.} 1776. Mar.
and a terrible loss of life, shed over Virginia a lustre that reached to Tennessee and Kentucky. Congress soon repented of its election; and in less than a year forced Lewis to resign, by promoting an officer of very little merit over his head.

To meet the expenses of the war, four millions of dollars in bills were ordered to be struck; which, with six millions already issued, would form a paper currency of ten millions. A few days later a committee of seven, including Duane and Robert Morris, was appointed on the ways and means of raising the supplies for the year, over and above the emission of bills of credit; but they never so much as made a report. Another committee was appointed, continued, and enlarged, and their labors were equally fruitless. Congress had neither credit to borrow nor power to tax.

An officious and unauthorized suggestion from Lord Drummond to send a deputation to England in quest of ‘liberal terms founded in equity and candor,’ could claim no notice; the want of supplies, which was so urgent that two thousand men in Washington's army were destitute of arms and unable to procure them, led to an appeal in a different direction; and Silas Deane,—a graduate of Yale College, at one time a schoolmaster, afterwards a trader; reputed in congress to be well versed in commercial affairs; superficial, yet able to write and speak readily and plausibly; wanting deliberate forecast, accurate information, solidity of judgment, secrecy, and integrity;—finding himself left out of the delegation from Connecticut, whose confidence he never possessed, [319] solicited and received from the committee of

Chap. LX.} 1776. Mar.
secret correspondence an appointment as commercial commissioner and agent to France. That country, the committee instructed him to say, ‘is pitched upon for the first application, from an opinion that if we should, as there is appearance we shall, come to a total separation with Great Britain, France would be the power whose friendship it would be fittest for us to obtain and cultivate.’ The announcement was coupled with a request for clothing and arms for twenty five thousand men, a hundred fieldpieces, and a suitable quantity of ammunition.

This was the act of a committee; congress was itself about to send commissioners to Canada, and their instructions, reported by John Adams, Wythe, and Sherman, contained this clause: ‘You are to declare, that it is our inclination that the people of Canada may set up such a form of government as will be most likely in their judgment to produce their happiness.’ This invitation to the Canadians to form a government without any limitation of time, was, for three or four hours, resisted by Jay and others, on the ground that it ‘was an independency;’ but the words were adopted, and they foreshadowed a similar decision for each one of the United Colonies.

Congress had received the act of parliament prohibiting all trade with the thirteen colonies, and confiscating their ships and effects as if they were the ships and effects of open enemies. The first instinct was to retaliate; and on the sixteenth of March a committee of the whole considered the propriety of authorizing the inhabitants of the colonies to fit out privateers. Again it appeared that there [320] were those who still listened to the hope of relief

Chap. LX.} 1776. Mar.
through Rockingham, or of redress through the royal commissioners, though the act of parliament conferred on them no power but to pardon. On the other hand, Franklin wished that the measure should be preceded by a declaration of war, as of one independent nation against another. The question was resumed on the eighteenth; and after an able debate, privateers were authorized to cruise against ships and their cargoes belonging to any inhabitant, not of Ireland or the West Indies, but of Great Britain, by the vote of all New England, New York, Virginia, and North Carolina, against Pennsylvania and Maryland. The other colonies were not sufficiently represented to give their voices.

On the nineteenth, Wythe, with Jay and Wilson, was appointed to prepare a preamble to the resolutions. Wythe found himself in a minority in the committee; and when, on the twenty second, he presented their report, he moved an amendment, charging the king himself with their grievances, inasmuch as he had ‘rejected their petitions with scorn and contempt.’ This was new ground: hitherto congress had disclaimed the authority of parliament, not allegiance to the crown. Jay, Wilson, and Johnson opposed the amendment, as effectually severing the king from the thirteen colonies forever; it was supported by Richard Henry Lee, who seconded it, by Chase, Sergeant of New Jersey, and Harrison. At the end of four hours Maryland interposed its veto, and thus put off the decision for a day; but on the twenty third the language of Wythe was accepted.

The question of opening the ports, after having [321] been for months the chief subject of deliberation, was

Chap. LX.} 1776. Apr.
discussed through all the next fortnight. One kind of traffic which the European maritime powers still encouraged, was absolutely forbidden, not from political reasons merely, but from a conviction of its unrighteousness and cruelty; and without any limitation as to time, or any reservation of a veto to the respective colonies, it was resolved, ‘that no slaves be imported into any of the thirteen United Colonies.’ The vote was pregnant with momentous consequences. From the activity of the trade in the preceding years, the negro race had been gaining relatively upon the white; and as its power consists in the combined force of its numbers and its intelligence, it might in some part of the continent have endangered the supremacy of the white man; but he was sure to increase more rapidly than the negro, now that the continent was barred against further importations of slaves. The prohibition made moreover a revolution in the state of the black men already in America; from a body of laborers, many of them barbarians, perpetually recruited and increased from barbarous African tribes, they were transformed into an insulated class, living in a state of domesticity, dependent for culture, employment, and support on a superior race; and it was then the prevailing opinion, especially in Virginia, that the total prohibition of the slave trade would, at no very distant day, be followed by universal emancipation.

The first who, as far as appears, suggested that negroes might be emancipated and a ‘public provision be made to transport them to Africa, where they might probably live better than in any other country,’ [322] was Samuel Hopkins, of Rhode Island, a divine, who

Chap. LX.} 1776. Apr.
taught that, ‘through divine interposition, sin is an advantage to the universe;’ a firm believer in the coming of the millennium; a theorist of high ideal conceptions, who held virtue to require more than disinterested love, a love that is willing to make a sacrifice of itself. Writing in a town which had grown rich by the slave trade, he addressed a long and elaborate memorial to the members of the continental congress, ‘entreating them to be the happy instruments of procuring and establishing universal liberty to white and black, to be transmitted down to the latest posterity.’ His elaborate argument in due time had influence with some of them in their respective states, but after diligent search I cannot find that the document met with any notice whatever from the continental congress, which scrupulously reserved to the several colonies the modification of their internal policy. In several of them, especially in Massachusetts, in New Jersey, and in Pennsylvania, opinion was fully formed against slavery, so that on a declaration of independence it would surely be speedily abolished; but the opportunity of calm legislation was waited for.

Letters to members of congress expressed apprehension lest the attempt to raise the slaves against their masters in Virginia should be followed by severity against the negro; but no member of congress of any other colony interposed with his advice or his opinions; and it is the concurrent testimony of all, that the Virginians conducted themselves towards the unfortunate race with moderation and tenderness, and while their wrath at Dunmore swelled with a [323] violence which overwhelmed their internal divisions,

Chap. LX.} 1776. Apr.
and made them well nigh unanimous for independence, it did not turn against the blacks, of whom even the insurgents, when taken captive, were treated with forbearance.

The slave trade having been denied to be a legitimate traffic, and branded as a crime against humanity, at last, on the sixth day of April, the thirteen colonies threw open their commerce to all the world, ‘not subject to the king of Great Britain.’ In this manner the colonial system was swept away forever from the continent, and the flag of every nation invited to its harbors. The vote abolished the British customhouses, and instituted none in their stead. Absolute free trade took the place of hoary restrictions; the products of the world could be imported from any place in any friendly bottom, and the products of American industry in like manner exported, without a tax.

This virtual declaration of independence, made with no limitation of time, brought the conflict between the congress and the proprietary government of Pennsylvania to a crisis, which presaged internal strife and a war of party against party. On the twenty eighth of February, the committee of correspondence of Philadelphia, against the wish of Joseph Reed, their chairman, resolved to call a convention of the people. This was the wisest measure that could have been proposed; and had Dickinson, Morris, and Reed, like Franklin, Clymer, and Mackean, joined heartily in its support, no conflict could have ensued, except between determined royalists and the friends of American liberty. The proprietary interest, [324] by the instinct of self-preservation, repelled the

Chap. LX.} 1776. Apr.
thought of independence, wished for delay, and made no concessions but from fear of being superseded by the people. And how could an assembly of men, who before entering on their office took the vow of allegiance to the king, guide a revolution against his sovereignty, or be fitly entrusted with the privilege of electing delegates to the continental congress? And at a time when all rightful power was held to be derived from the people, was it proper for a government emanating from the king and having a decided royalist at its head, to assume the reform of civil institutions for the people of Pennsylvania?

But the fear of a convention gave the assembly such a start, that the committee of correspondence were persuaded to suspend its call. In the assembly the party of resistance must rely chiefly on Dickinson, Morris, and Reed. But the logical contradiction in the mind of Dickinson, which had manifested itself in the Farmer's Letters, still perplexed his conduct. His narrow breast had no room for the large counsels of true wisdom; and he urged upon every individual and every body of men over whom he had any influence the necessity of making terms of accommodation with Great Britain. In this way he dulled the resentment of the people, and paralyzed the manly impulse of self-sacrificing courage. The royalists shored up his declining importance, and, in their name, Inglis of New York, for a time rector of Trinity church and afterwards bishop of Nova Scotia, one of the bitterest of partisans, publicly burned incense to his ‘native candor, his unbounded benevolence, his acknowledged humanity, his exalted virtue, as the illustrious defender [325] of the constitution against the syren form of

Chap. LX.} 1776. Apr.

Robert Morris, an Englishman by birth and in part by education, was a merchant of vast designs, and was indefatigable in the pursuit of gain; but he brought to the American cause courage and weight of character, ‘a masterly understanding, an open temper, and an honest heart.’ With union, he had ‘no doubt that the colonies could at their pleasure choose between a reconciliation and total independence;’ and he opposed the latter, because he thought its agitation only tended to produce division, of which he dreaded ‘even the appearance;’ but if the liberties of America could not otherwise be secured, he was ready to renounce the connection with Great Britain and fight his way through.

Reed, whose influence was enhanced by his possession of the intimate confidence of Washington, had neither the timidity of Dickinson nor the positiveness of Morris, and he carried into public affairs less passion than either. His heart sent out no tendrils to bind him closely to a party; he willingly left the outline of his opinions indistinct; and was led by his natural temper to desire a compromise between extremes. His wife was an Englishwoman, but she nobly encouraged him by her unaffected attachment to the American cause. His love for his rising and dependent family made him the more anxious to avoid a lee shore, and keep where there was room to tack and change. Elected as the candidate of the ardent patriots, his principles were naturally thought to militate against reconciliation; but in this they were much misunderstood: it was his judgment that [326] the happiness and prosperity of America would best

Chap. LX.} 1776. Apr.
be promoted by dependence. In the hope of sufficient concessions from England, he wished therefore to maintain the constituted proprietary assembly, to prevent the call of a popular convention, and to delay an irrevocable decision.

To check the popular movement, it was necessary to enlarge the representation, raise several battalions, and reverse the instructions to the Pennsylvania delegates. The assembly sat with closed doors, and all its proceedings manifest a good understanding with the proprietary and his friends. A bill for the increase of the popular representation by seventeen new members, of whom four were to be allowed to Philadelphia, was brought in by a committee of which Dickinson and Reed were the principal members; and the ayes and noes on the question of its adoption were ostentatiously put on record, making their omission on all other occasions the more significant. The act received the sanction of the proprietary governor, and the first day of May was appointed for the new elections. The house consented to raise three battalions; but the proposal to extend conditionally the period of enlistment to the end of 1777, was carried by the casting vote of the speaker. For answering the exigencies of the province, eighty five thousand pounds were ordered by the house to be forthwith struck in bills of credit. Then, on the sixth of April, after a long debate, of which there is no report, the house, just before its adjournment, decided by a great majority not to alter the instructions given at its last sitting to the delegates for the province in congress, and they were once more enjoined [327] to dissent from and utterly reject any proposition

Chap. LX.} 1776. Apr.
that might lead to a separation from the mother country, or a change of the proprietary government.

This was the result which Dickinson desired; the support of the assembly of Pennsylvania soothed the irritation that attended his defeats in congress; but Morris was uneasy; ‘Where,’ he asked, ‘where are these commissioners? If they are to come, what is it that detains them? It is time we should be on a certainty.’

Duane of New York, who like Robert Morris was prepared for extreme measures, if the British proposition should prove oppressive or frivolous, like Morris still desired delay. ‘I expect little,’ said he, ‘from the justice, and less from the generosity of administration; but the interest of Great Britain may compel her ministers to offer us reasonable terms; while commissioners are daily looked for, I am unwilling that we should by any irrevocable measure put it out of our power to terminate this destructive war; I wait for the expected propositions with painful anxiety.’

Of this waiting for commissioners Samuel Adams made a scorn. His words were: ‘Is not America already independent? Why not, then, declare it? Because, say some, it will forever shut the door of reconciliation. But Britain will not be reconciled, except upon our abjectly submitting to tyranny, and asking and receiving pardon for resisting it.’ ‘Moderate gentlemen are flattering themselves with the prospect of reconciliation when the commissioners that are talked of shall arrive. But what terms are we to expect from them that will be acceptable to the people of [328] America? Has the king of Great Britain ever yet

Chap. LX.} 1776. Apr.
discovered the least degree of that princely virtue— clemency? It is my opinion that his heart is more obdurate and his disposition towards the people of America is more unrelenting and malignant, than was that of Pharaoh towards the Israelites in Egypt.’ ‘No foreign power can consistently yield comfort to rebels, or enter into any kind of treaty with these colonies, till they declare themselves independent.’ Yet Dickinson and others, among whom were found William Livingston of New Jersey, and the elder Laurens of South Carolina, wished to make no such declaration before an alliance with the king of France.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1776 AD (21)
February (11)
April (8)
March (4)
April 6th (2)
19th (2)
1777 AD (1)
April, 1776 AD (1)
1774 AD (1)
1688 AD (1)
May 1st (1)
March 16th (1)
March 1st (1)
February 28th (1)
February 13th (1)
February 9th (1)
January (1)
27th (1)
22nd (1)
18th (1)
16th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: