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Chapter 36:

Congress offers to negotiate with the king.

May, 1775.

far different was the spirit of the continental con-
Chap. XXXVI.} 1775 May.
gress. The unexpected outbreak of war compelled them to adopt some system of defence; but many of its members still blinded themselves with the hope of reconciliation, and no measure for the vigorous prosecution of hostilities could be carried with unanimity, except after the concession of a second petition to the king.

Washington foresaw the long and bloody contest which must precede the successful vindication of the liberties of America. Before the excursion to Concord he had avowed to his friends ‘his full intention to devote his life and fortune’ to the cause; and he manifested his conviction of the imminence of danger by appearing at the debates in his uniform as an officer. He had read with indignation the taunts uttered in parliament on the courage of his countrymen; he now took a personal pride in the rising of [376] New England, and the precipitate retreat of Percy,

Chap. XXXVI} 1775. May.
which he thought might ‘convince Lord Sandwich that the Americans would fight for their liberties and property.’ ‘Unhappy it is,’ said he, ‘to reflect, that a brother's sword has been sheathed in a brother's breast, and that the once happy and peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched with blood, or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?’ Washington never hesitated in his choice; but he was too modest to demand a deference to his opinion, and too sincerely a friend to peace to suppress any movement that promised its restoration.

The delegates from New England, especially those from Massachusetts, could bring no remedy to the prevailing indecision; for they suffered from insinuations, that they represented a people who were republicans in their principles of government and fanatics in their religion; and they wisely avoided the appearance of importunity or excess in their demands.

As the delegates from South Carolina declined the responsibility of a decision, which would have implied an abandonment of every hope of peace, there could be no efficient opposition to the policy of again seeking the restoration of American liberty through the mediation of the king. This plan had the great advantage over the suggestion of an immediate separation from Britain, that it could be boldly promulgated, and was in harmony with the general wish; for the people of the continent, taken collectively, had not as yet ceased to cling to their old relations with their parent land, and so far from scheming independence, now that independence was become [377] inevitable, they postponed the irrevocable decree and

Chap. XXXVI.} 1775. May.
still longed that the necessity for it might pass by.

In this state of things the man for the occasion was Dickinson, who wanted nothing but energy to secure to him one of the highest places among the statesmen of the world. Deficient in that great element of character which forms the junction between intelligence and action, his theoretic views on the rights of America and the just extent of her claims, coincided with those of the most zealous. Now that the charter of Massachusetts had been impaired, he did not ask merely relief from parliamentary taxation; he required security against the encroachments of parliament on charters and laws. The distinctness with which he spoke, satisfied Samuel Adams himself, who has left on record that the Farmer was a thorough Bostonian.

Moreover, the province of which he was the representative, was the third in rank for numbers, wealth, and importance; its system of government was eminently democratic; its capital city, distinguished by the presence of the congress, was the largest in the land. The honest scruples of the Quakers merited consideration. The proprietary and his numerous and powerful friends, rallied a party which offered all its influence to promote a successful intercession with the king; and the instructions of Pennsylvania to its delegates in congress looked primarily to a continued union with Britain.

It was in vain that the fiery Mifflin, who was likewise a member from Pennsylvania, expressed impatience. Franklin also knew that every method of peaceful entreaty had been exhausted. But though [378] decided in his opinions, and open in expressing them,

Chap. XXXVI.} 1775. May.
he betrayed no desire to rule the intention of congress, wishing rather to leave that body to pursue its own plans, unbiassed by his complaints or persuasions. Yet he never hesitated to support the boldest measures, and to reprove irresoluteness and delay. ‘Make yourselves sheep,’ he would say, ‘and the wolves will eat you.’ And again, ‘God helps them who help themselves;’ and insisting on the absolute necessity of armed resistance, ‘united,’ he said, ‘we are well able to repel force by force.’ Thus ‘he encouraged the revolution,’ yet wishing independence, not as a victory of one party over another, but as the spontaneous action of a united people.

Dickinson, therefore, for the time, exercised an unbounded sway over the deliberations of congress, and had no cause to fear an effective opposition, when he seconded the motion of Jay for one more petition to the king. For a succession of days the state of the colonies continued to be the subject of earnest discussion; but through all the vacillations of hesitancy, the determination to sustain Massachusetts was never for a moment in doubt. This appeared on the twenty-fourth. On that day the chair of the president becoming vacant by the departure of Peyton Randolph for the legislature of Virginia, John Hancock, of Massachusetts, was elected unanimously in his stead, and Harrison, of Virginia, who was classed among the conservative members, conducted him to the chair, saying: ‘We will show Britain how much we value her proscriptions.’ For the proscription or Samuel Adams and Hancock had long been known, though it had not yet been proclaimed. [379]

No progress could be made in authorizing vigor-

Chap XXXVI.} 1775. May.
ous measures of defence, until the long deliberations in the committee of the whole had resulted in a compromise. Then, on Thursday, the twenty-fifth, directions were given to the provincial congress in New York to preserve the communication between the city of New York and the country, by fortifying posts at the upper end of the island, near King's Bridge, and on each side of Hudson river, in the Highlands. A post was also to be taken at or near Lake George.

On that same day, while Howe, Clinton and Burgoyne were entering Boston harbor, Duane, a delegate from New York, moved in the committee of the whole, ‘the opening of a negotiation in order to accommodate the unhappy disputes subsisting between Great Britain and the colonies, and that this be made a part of the petition to the king.’ ‘A negotiation once begun,’ said Golden, on hearing the news, ‘will give the people time to cool and feel the consequence of what they have already done, before the whole colonies become equally desperate.’ The dangerous proposal produced a warm debate, which, at the adjournment, was not concluded.

On the morning of the twenty-sixth, the delegates from New Jersey presented the vote of the assembly of that colony, refusing to consider Lord North's proposition as contained in the resolution of the house of commons, and consigning the subject to the continental congress. The communication was referred to the committee of the whole; which was thus officially in possession of the offer of the minister. The debate of the preceding day was renewed, and the timid party prevailed. The committee rose and [380] submitted their report; upon which it was resolved,

Chap. XXXVI.} 1775. May.
‘that for the purpose of preserving the colonies in safety against every attempt to carry the unconstitutional and oppressive acts into execution by force of arms, these colonies be immediately put into a state of defence; but that with a sincere desire of contributing by all the means, not incompatible with a just regard for the undoubted rights and true interests of these colonies, to the promotion of this most desirable reconciliation, an humble and dutiful petition be presented to his majesty.’

To this extent the vote was unanimous. But the additional motion of Duane was carried against an unyielding opposition, and did not advance the prospect of a peaceful solution. The acts altering the charter and laws of Massachusetts, were among those which the king was determined never to give up; and from the first commencement of the conflict, he declared himself more ready to concede independence to victorious arms, than wound his own sentiment of honor by a voluntary surrender of the measures which he had adopted for the government of a rebellious colony. The motion of Duane had no practical significance, unless it was intended to accept the proposition of Lord North as the basis for an agreement; but the majority would never consent to sacrifice the charter of Massachusetts. The position which they chose was, therefore, weak and untenable. By their wavering they led the people to neglect that steady system of resistance, which nothing but independence could justify or reward, and to wait listlessly for an accommodation; while the king gained a respite, which he employed with singleness of purpose in collecting [381] forces for subduing his revolted subjects. They di-

Chap. XXXVI.} 1775. May.
rected preparations for defence, and yet they wouldnot authorize the several colonies to institute governments of their own. As a consequence, the people were not fully roused to the necessity of immediate and united action; and the officers of the crown, wherever they practised the duplicity of moderation, were able to maintain themselves in authority and continue their intrigues.

All this while, congress had misgivings that all their forbearance would be fruitless. They counselled New York to arm and train its militia, and with vigorous perseverance to embody men for the protection of the inhabitants of that city against the invasion of troops, alleging as a reason that ‘it was very uncertain whether their earnest endeavors to accommodate the unhappy differences between Great Britain and the colonies, by conciliatory measures, would be successful.’

The support of the Canadians was also entreated, for it was recognised that the impending conflict was not a war of protestantism, but of humanity. On the first day of May, the Quebec act went into effect; and on the twenty-ninth, the American congress, by the hand of Jay, addressed the Canadians: ‘We most sincerely condole with you on the arrival of that day, in the course of which the sun could not shine on a single freeman in all your extensive dominions. By the introduction of your present form of government, or rather present form of tyranny, you and your wives and your children are made slaves.’ Appeals were also directed to their pride, their affection for France, their courage, and their regard [382] for the common welfare; but no adequate mo-

Chap. XXXVI.} 1775. May.
tive for rising was set before them. As the congress intended still to petition the king, they could only request some vague co-operation in imploring the attention of their sovereign; a request which at most was only fitted to secure neutrality. The Canadians, as Frenchmen, feared not taxation by parliament, but the haughty dominion of their conquerors; as Catholics they dreaded the exclusive rule of Protestants. A union for independence with a promise of institutions of their own, might have awakened their enthusiasm; but to them the Quebec act was an improvement on their former condition; and they abhorred it less than a fraudulent representative system like that of Ireland. Their sympathy for the insurgents sprung mainly from a recollection of their own sufferings under the twelve years tyranny which had gone by; and could be revived and sustained by nothing less than a total separation from English rule.

The day after the adoption of Jay's address to the Canadians, Willing of Philadelphia, one of those who most struggled to thwart every step towards independence, brought before congress a paper, containing propositions from Lord North, in the handwriting of Grey Cooper, his under secretary of the treasury. As the king had refused to treat with an American congress, the writing had no signature; but its authenticity was not questioned. By an appeal to affection for the king and country, it pressed earnestly the acceptance of the overture contained in the resolution of the house of commons. It was declared that the terms were honorable for Great Britain and safe for the colonies; and that neither [383] king, nor ministry, nor parliament, nor the nation,

Chap. XXXVI.} 1775. May.
would admit of further relaxation; but that ‘a perfectly united ministry would, if necessary, employ the whole force of the kingdom to reduce the rebellious and refractory provinces and colonies.’ The arrogance of the language in which this ultimatum was couched, should have ensured its prompt and unanimous rejection, and have nerved congress to immediate decision. But it was laid on the table of the body, which was bent on a petition to the king, and ‘a negotiation’ with his ministers. The month of May went by, and congress had not so much as given to Massachusetts its advice that that province should institute a government of its own; it authorized no invasion of Canada, and only yielded its assent to the act of Connecticut in garrisoning Ticonderoga and Crown Point. If great measures are to be adopted, the impulse must come from without.

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