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Chapter 7:

People without a government.

August—December, 1778.

early in the year George the Third had been
Chap. VII.} 1778.
advised by Lord Amherst to withdraw the troops from Philadelphia, and, in the event of the junction of America with France, to evacuate New York and Rhode Island;1 but the depreciation of the currency, consequent on the helplessness of a people that had no government, revived the hope of subjugating them. The United States closed the campaign of 1778 before autumn, for want of money. Paper bills, emitted by congress on its pledge of the faith of each separate state, supported the war in its earliest
period. Their decline was hastened by the disasters that befell the American armies. Their value was further impaired by the ignoble stratagem of the
British ministers, under whose authority Lord Dunmore and others introduced into the circulation of Virginia and other states a large number of bills, [169] counterfeited for the purpose in England.2 In Octo-
Chap. VII.} 1776.
ber, 1776, congress, which possessed no independent resources and no powers on which credit could be founded, opened loan offices in the several states, and authorized a lottery. In December it issued five million dollars more in continental bills. In January, 1777, when they had sunk to one-half of their pre-
tended value, it denounced every person who would not receive them at par as a public enemy, liable to forfeit whatever he offered for sale; and it requested the state legislatures to declare them a lawful tender. This Massachusetts had enacted a month before; and the example was followed throughout the union.

The states were at the same time invited to cancel their respective quotas of continental bills, and to become creditors of the common treasury for such farther sums as they should think proper to advance. They had irredeemable paper currencies of their own; and, as they were possessed of real powers of government, their bills were less insecure than the continental currency. Congress, therefore, needed the exclusive right of issuing paper money; and to that end it recommended them to call in their bills, and to issue no more. The request was often renewed, but never heeded: so that the notes of each one of the thirteen states continued to compete for circulation with those of the continent. [170] While nature executed its unbending law, congress

Chap. VII.} 1777.
sought to hide the decline of its credit by clamor against the rise of prices, which, in February, 1777, it proposed to remedy by conventions of the northern, of the middle, and of the three southernmost states. That for New England met in the summer at Hartford; but, while the development of the institutions of the country was promoted by showing how readily the people of a group of states could come together by their delegates for a purpose of reform, prices rose and continental bills went down with accelerated speed.

The loan offices exchanged paper money at its par value for United States certificates of debt, bearing interest at six per cent. About a fortnight before Howe took possession of Philadelphia, congress, on a hint from Arthur Lee, resolved to pay the annual interest on the certificates of debt by drawing bills of exchange on their commissioners in Paris for coin. How these bills were to be met at maturity was not clear: they were of a very long date, and, before any of them became due, a dollar in coin was worth six in paper; so that the annual interest payable at Paris on a loan certificate became equal to about thirty-six per cent.

The anxious deliberations of the committee of congress during more than two months at Yorktown produced only a recommendation, adopted in November,

Nov. 22.
that the several states should become creditors of the United States by raising for the continental treasury five millions of dollars, in four quarterly instalments; the first payment to be made on the coming New-Year's day, and the whole to bear six [171] per cent interest until the final adjustment of ac-
Chap. VII.} 1777.
counts, after the confederation should have been ratified. Of thousands of dollars, Massachusetts was rated at eight hundred and twenty; Virginia at eight hundred; Pennsylvania at six hundred and twenty; Connecticut at six hundred; New York, rent and ravaged by the war, at two hundred; Delaware and Georgia, each at sixty. A general wish prevailed to respect the recommendation; but most of the states retained their quotas to reimburse themselves for advances; and, besides, they were all weighed down by very heavy expenses and obligations of their own.

Shadowy hopes of foreign loans rose before congress. In December, 1777, in advance of treaties of commerce and alliance, the American commissioners in France and Spain were instructed to borrow two million pounds sterling, to be repaid in ten years; and in February, 1778, the commissioner for Tus-

1778. Feb.
cany was charged to borrow half as much more. Yet the grand duke of Tuscany would have no relations with the United States; and no power was so ill disposed towards them as Spain.

To the American people congress wrote in May:

‘The reasons that your money hath depreciated are, because no taxes have been imposed to carry on the war;’ but they did not as yet venture to ask power to levy taxes. On obtaining the king of France for their ally, they authorized drafts on their commissioners in Paris for thirty-one and a half millions of livres, at five livres to the dollar, in payment of loanoffice certificates, leaving Franklin and his colleagues to meet the bills of exchange as they could. Of continental bills, five millions of dollars were issued in [172] May, as many more in June, and as many more in
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July. In August congress devoted two days in the week to the consideration of its finances, but with no better result than to order five millions of dollars in paper in the first week of September, and ten millions more in the last. Certificates of the loan offices were also used in great amounts in payment of debts to the separate states, especially to Pennsylvania.

The legalized use of paper money spread its neverfailing blight. Trade became a game of hazard. Unscrupulous debtors discharged contracts of long standing in bills, worth perhaps but a twentieth of their nominal value. The unwary ran in debt, while cunning creditors waited for payment till the continental bills should cease to be a legal tender.

The name of Richard Price was dear to every lover of political freedom. He derived his theory of morals from eternal and immutable principles, and his essay on ‘liberty,’ which was read in Great Britain, America, and through a translation in Germany, founded the rights of man on the reality of truth and justice. He had devised a scheme for the payment of the British debt. Congress, on the sixth of October, in-

Oct. 6.
vited him to become their fellow-citizen, and to regulate their finances. The invitation was declined by their illustrious friend; but he gave the assurance, that he ‘looked upon the United States as now the hope, and soon to become the refuge, of mankind.’

From this time, congress saw no resource but in such ‘very considerable loans or subsidies in Europe’ as could be expected only from an ally; and, before the end of October, they instructed Franklin ‘to assure his most Christian majesty, they hoped protection [173] from his power and magnanimity.’ There

Chap. VII.} 1778.
were those in congress who would not place their country under ‘protection;’ but the word was retained by eight states against Rhode Island and Maryland. Samuel Adams and Lovell, of Massachusetts, voted for it, but were balanced by Gerry and Holten; Sherman, of Connecticut, opposed it, but his vote was neutralized by that of Ellsworth. The people of the United States, in proportion to their numbers, were more opulent than the people of France; but they had no means of organizing their resources. The
pride that would not consent to an efficient union, was willing to ask protection from Louis the Sixteenth.

The country was also looking to the United Provinces for aid; and in December Laurens retired from

the office of president of congress, in the expectation of being appointed to negotiate a loan in the Netherlands. Till money could be borrowed, paper was the only resource; and the wants of November and December required an emission of rather more than twenty millions. The debt of the United States, in currency and in certificates, was estimated at one hundred and forty millions. The continental bills already exceeded one hundred and six millions of dollars, and had fallen in value to twenty for one in silver; yet congress maintained ‘the certainty of their redemption,’ and resolved—Samuel Adams and six others dissenting—‘that any contrary report was false, and derogatory to its honor.’ To make good the promise, the states were invited to withdraw six millions of paper dollars annually for eighteen years, beginning with the year 1780. The measure was [174] carried by Pennsylvania and the states north of it,
Chap. VII.} 1778.
against the southern states; but other opinions ruled before the arrival of the year in which the absorption of the currency was to begin.

The expenses of the year 1778, so far as they were defrayed by congress, amounted to sixty-two and a sixth millions in paper money, beside more than eighty-four thousand dollars in specie. Towards the expenses of the coming year, nothing further was done than to invite the states to contribute fifteen millions in paper, equal in specie to seven hundred thousand dollars; but as the payments depended on the good — will of each separate state, very little of this moderate assessment reached the national treasury, and there was no resource but in new emissions of notes and loan certificates.

Private reports from American refugees, seeking the favor of the king of England, persuaded Germain that the cause of the United States would share the wreck of their finances: but he knew not how to conciliate provinces that were weary of war, nor to measure the tenacity of the passive resistance of a determined people; and systematically sought by sanguinary measures to punish and subdue. The refugees, emboldened by the powerlessness of congress, and embittered by its advice to the several states to confiscate their property, thronged the antechamber of the minister and fired his vengeful passions by their own. In New York there sprung up a double set of counsellors. Clinton repressed the confidence of the secretary of state by faithful reports of the inadequacy of his forces: on the other hand, William Franklin, late governor of New Jersey, [175] aiming at the power and emoluments to be derived

Chap. VII.} 1778.
from an appointment as the head of a separate organization of loyalists, proposed as no difficult task to reduce and retain one of the middle provinces, by hanging or exiling all its rebels, and confiscating their estates to the benefit of the friends to government. Wiser partisans of Great Britain reprobated ‘the desire of continuing the war for the sake of war,’ and foretold that, should ‘the mode of devastation be adopted, the friends of government must bid adieu to all hopes of ever again living in America.’

While it was no longer possible for the Americans to keep up their army by enlistments, the British gained numerous recruits from immigrants. In Philadelphia Howe had formed a regiment of Roman Catholics. With still better success Clinton courted the Irish. They had fled from the prosecutions of inexorable landlords to a country which offered them freeholds. By flattering their nationality and their sense of the importance attached to their numbers, Clinton allured them to a combination directly averse to their own interests, and raised for Lord Rawdon a large regiment in which officers and men were exclusively Irish. Among them were nearly five hundred deserters from the American army.

Yet the British general lagged far behind the requirements of Germain, who counted upon ten thousand provincial levies, and wished ‘that the war should be carried on in a manner better calculated to make the people feel their distresses.’ The king believed in the ‘hourly declension of the rebellion,’ and that ‘the colonies must soon sue to the mother [176] country for pardon.’ But Clinton well understood

Chap. VII.} 1778.
the power of the insurgents and the insufficiency of his own resources; and, obeying peremptory instructions, before the end of the year he most reluctantly detached three thousand men for the conquest of Georgia, and ten regiments for service in the West Indies. His supplies of meat and bread, for which he depended on Europe, were precarious. His military chest was empty; and the inhabitants of New York, mindful of the hour when the city would be given up, were unwilling to lend him their specie. ‘I do not complain,’ so he wrote in December to
the secretary of state; ‘but, my lord, do not let any thing be expected of one circumstanced as I am.’

The people of America, notwithstanding their want of efficient government, set no narrow bounds to their aspirations. From Boston d'estaing, in the name of his king, had summoned the Canadians to throw off British rule; Lafayette, in December, exhorted ‘his children, the savages of Canada,’ to look upon the English as their enemies. Thus encouraged, congress, without consulting a single military man, formed a plan for the ‘emancipation of Canada,’ in co-operation with an army from France. One American detachment from Pittsburgh was to capture Detroit; another from Wyoming, Niagara; a third from the Mohawk river to seize Oswego; a fourth from New England, by way of the St. Francis, to enter Montreal; a fifth, to guard the approaches from Quebec: while to France was assigned the office of reducing Quebec and Halifax. Lafayette would willingly have used his influence at Versailles in favor of the enterprise: but Washington showed how far the [177] part reserved for the United States went beyond their

Chap. VII.} 1778.
resources; and, in deference to his advice, the speculative scheme was laid aside.

The spirit of independence none the less grew in strength. Almost all parts of the country were free from the ravages of war; and the inhabitants had been left to plough and plant, to sow and reap, their fields without fear. On the plantations of Virginia labor was undisturbed, and its abundant products were heaped up for exportation along the banks of her navigable waters. In all New England, seedtime and harvest did not fail; and the unmolested ports of Massachusetts grew opulent by commerce. Samuel Adams, uttering the popular sentiment, wrote from Philadelphia: ‘I hope we shall secure to the United States Canada, Nova Scotia, Florida too, and the fishery, by our arms or by treaty. We shall never be on a solid footing, till Great Britain cedes to us, or we wrest from her, what nature designs we should have.’

For want of a government this boundless hope of a young and resolute people could have no adequate support in organized forces. The army, of which the headquarters were at Middlebrook, was encamped for the winter so as to form a line of observation and defence from the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound, by way of West Point, to the Delaware. For the convenience of forage the four regiments of cavalry were distributed among the states from Connecticut to Virginia. The troops were hutted as at Valley Forge: they suffered extreme distress for want of food; but, through importations from France, they were better clad than ever before. Officers in [178] great numbers were quitting the service from abso-

Chap. VII.} 1778.
lute necessity, and those who remained were sinking into poverty; while the men grew impatient under their privations and want of pay. The next campaign would unavoidably prove an inactive one; so that the discontented would have leisure to discuss their hardships and brood over their wrongs.

And yet the British made no progress in recovering their colonies, and the Americans could not be subdued. An incalculable amount of energy lay in reserve in the states and in their citizens individually. Though congress possessed no effective means of strengthening the regular army, there could always be an appeal to the militia, who were the people in arms. The strength of patriotism, however it might seem to slumber, was ready to break forth in every crisis of danger, as a beam of light ceases to be invisible when it has something to shine upon. The people never lost buoyant self-reliance, nor the readiness to make sacrifices for the public good.

The great defect lay in the absence of all means of coercion. Yet no member of congress brought forward a proposition to create the needed authority. The body representing the nation renounced powers of compulsion, and by choice devolved the chief executive acts upon the separate states. To them it was left to enforce the embargo on the export of provisions; to sanction the seizure of grain and flour for the army at established prices; to furnish their quotas of troops, and in great part to support them; and each, for itself, to collect the general revenue so far as its collection was not voluntary. State governments were dearer to the inhabitants than the general [179] government. The former were excellent; the

Chap. VII.} 1778.
latter was inchoate and incompetent. The former were time-honored and sanctified by the memories and attachments of generations; the latter had no associations with the past, no traditions, no fibres of inherited affection pervading the country. The states had power which they exercised to raise taxes to pledge and keep faith, to establish order, to administer justice through able and upright and learned courts, to protect liberty and property and all that is dear in social life; the chief acts of congress were only recommendations and promises. The states were everywhere represented by civil officers in their employ; congress had no magistrates, no courts, no executive agents of its own. The tendency of the general government was towards utter helplessness; so that not from intention, but from the natural course of political development, the spirit and the habit of separatism grew with every year. In July, 1776, the United States declared themselves to have called a ‘people’ into being; at the end of 1778, congress knew no ‘people of the United States,’ but only ‘inhabitants.’ The name of ‘the United States’ began to give place to that of ‘the confederated States,’ even before the phrase could pretend to historic validity. The attempt to form regiments directly by the United States completely failed; and each state maintained its separate line. There were thirteen distinct sovereignties and thirteen armies, with scarcely a symbol of national unity except in the highest offices.

From the height of his position, Washington was the first keenly to feel and clearly to declare, that [180] efficient power must be infused into the general gov-

Chap. VII.} 1778.
ernment. To the speaker of the house of delegates of Virginia he wrote in December, 1778: ‘If the great whole is mismanaged, the states individually must sink in the general wreck; in effecting so great a revolution, the greatest abilities and the most honest men our American world affords ought to be employed.’ He saw ‘America on the brink of’ destruction; her ‘common interests, if a remedy were not soon to be applied, mouldering and sinking into irretrievable ruin.’ He pleaded for ‘the momentous concerns of an empire,’ for ‘the great business of a nation.’ ‘The states, separately,’ such were his words, ‘are too much engaged in their local concerns.’ And he, who in the beginning of the revolution used to call Virginia his country, from this time never ceased his efforts, by conversation and correspondence, to train the statesmen of America, especially of his beloved native commonwealth, to the work of consolidating the union.

1 George III. to Lord North, 17 March, 1778. Letter 467.

2 Le Lord Dunmore a trouve moyen d'introduire dans la Virginie un grand nombre de billets, que le gouvernement a fait imprimer, sur ceux que le congress a fait distribuer. Comme ce stratageme doit mettre beaucoup de confusion dans les arrangements de finance des colonies, il se flatte qu'il occasionnera une mefiance du peuple, qui, ne pouvant discerner les vrais billets de faux, refusera de les recevoir, et le congres manquant une fois de credit public, trouverait beaucoup de difficulties à le retablir. Maltzan au roi, 2 Avril, 1776.

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