Imagens das páginas

tinental securities; they wished also to create a revenue to answer the necessities of the republic, and to be subject to the disposal of Congress. The opposite party considered this revenue as dangerous to liberty. They contended that the particular states alone, not the Congress, should have authority to impose taxes or duties. Already, at the recommendation of Congress, twelve states had subjected to a duty of five per cent. all foreign produce or manufactures that should be imported into the United States. One state, however, out of the thirteen, had refused to comply with the wishes of Congress, and this refusal paralysed the action of the twelve others. It was at this epoch that intelligence was received of the signature of the preliminary and eventual articles of peace; the disbanding of the army must be its necessary consequence. The partisans of the tax then became apprehensive that their adversaries, when relieved from the maintenance of the troops, and from the fear which they inspired, would show themselves still more adverse to the creation of a national revenue. They saw not only that the creditors of the state would thus be cut off from all hope, but that the republic itself would be exposed for the future to incessant and inextricable embarrassments, for want of a general authority invested with the power of imposing taxes. They resolved, therefore, to profit of an occasion which would never again present itself, to procure the adoption of a plan whose utility appeared to them incontestable. They were undecided, however, as to the means to be employed in this conjuncture; several contradictory opinions were advanced. The more resolute, not reflecting upon the danger of an irregular appeal to the multitude in affairs of state, were inclined to resort to force, and to make of the army itself the instrument of their designs. At the head of these were Alexander Hamilton, then member of Congress, the treasurer, Robert Morris, with another Morris, his assistant in office. But the more circumspect thought it advisable to pursue a middle course, and to permit the army to threaten but not to act; as if the hand which has excited a popular movement could also appease it at pleasure . In the secret councils that were held upon this affair, the latter opinion prevailed. Colonel Stewart, of the regular troops of Pennsylvania, was sent to camp under pretext of entering upon the exercise of his office of inspector-general. He had instructions to sound the dispositions of Washington, and to endeavor to ascertain how far he would consent to give into the plan agreed upon. It was especially recommended to him to foment the agitation which prevailed in the army, and to persuade it not to disband until it had obtained full assurance that the arrears of pay should be liquidated, together with an indemnification for the supplies which it ought to have had, but which had been withheld up to that time. Whether the commander-in-chief was not disinclined towards this scheme, or that he thought it prudent not to declare himself too ostensibly, colo

nel Stewart believed, or at least made others believe, that Washington approved it entirely. Meanwhile, the members of the opposite party were soon apprised of what was passing, and set themselves to counteract it. Convinced of the importance of obtaining the countenance of Washington, they put forward a certain Harvey, who had manifested an extreme ardor in these discussions. This man wrote to the commander-in-chief, that, under the pretence of wishing to satisfy the public creditors, the most pernicious designs were meditated against the republic; that nothing less was in agitation than a plot to demolish the fabric of freedom, and to introduce tyranny. To these insinuations he joined others relating to Washington personally ; he intimated to him that it was wished to deprive him of his rank, to put down his friends, and, in a word, to destroy the work which they had accomplished with so much glory, and at the expense of so much toil and blood. Washington could not but entertain certain apprehensions. He doubted there were machinations in agitation which portended no good to the state. He circulated the letter of Harvey, that its contents might be known even to the soldiers. He exerted all his authority to prevent an insurrection. The commander-in-chief thus declared himself publicly against a design, which perhaps within his own breast he did not altogether disapprove, though he blamed, and not without reason, the means by which it was to have been carried into execution. The most alarming rumors were propagated on all parts. It was loudly exclaimed that the troops, before they disbanded, ought to obtain justice; that they had a right to claim the fruit of victories which their valor had won ; that the other creditors of the state, and many members of the Congress itself, invoked the interference of the army, prepared to follow the example which they expected from it. Minds became highly inflamed ; assemblages were formed in the camp, and it was openly proposed in them to make law for the Congress. In the midst of this effervescence, circulated anonymous invitations to the officers to convene in general assembly. On the eleventh of March, was passed from hand to hand an address, the author of which did not name himself, but who was known afterwards to be major John Armstrong. This writing, composed with great ingenuity, and with greater passion, was singularly calculated to aggravate the exasperation of the soldiers, and to conduct them to the most desperate resolutions. Blameable in a time of calm, it became really criminal at a moment when all heads were in a state of the most vehement irritation. Among other incendiary passages, it contained the following; “After a pursuit of seven years, the object for which we set out is at length brought within our reach; yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours was active once; it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war. It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace returns again to bless—Whom A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish


your worth, and reward your services a country courting your return to private life, with tears of gratitude, and smiles of admiration, longing to divide with you that independence which your gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved f Is this the case ? or is it rather a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses? Have you not more than once suggested your wishes, and made known your wants to Congress? Wants and wishes which gratitude and policy should have anticipated rather than evaded; and have you not lately, in the meek language of entreating memorials, begged from their justice what you could no longer expect from their favor ; How have you been answered Let the letter of your delegates to Philadelphia reply. “If this, then, be your’ treatment while the swords you wear are necessary for the defence of America, what have you to expect when your voice shall sink, and your strength dissipate by division: When those very swords, the instruments and companions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of military distinction left but your wants, infirmities and scars Can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honor If you can, go—and carry with you the jest of tories and the scorn of whigs—the ridicule, and what is worse, the pity of the world. Go, starve, and be forgotten But if your spirit should revolt at this; if you have sense enough to discover, and spirit enough to oppose tyranny, under whatever garb it may assume ; whether it be the plain coat of republicanism, or the splendid robe of royalty; if you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a cause, between men and principles, awake; attend to your situation, and redress yourselves. If the present moment be lost, every future effort is in vain; and your threats then will be as empty as your entreaties now.’ These words, more worthy of a raving tribune of the people, than of a discreet American, chafed minds already exasperated into a delirium of fury. The general fermentation announced the most sinister events; and war between the civil and military powers appeared inevitable. But Washington, whose constancy no crisis could shake, strong in the love and veneration of the people, contemplated the danger of his country, and instantly formed the generous design of extinguishing the kindling conflagration. He was not ignorant how much better, it is, in such circumstances, to lead misguided minds than to resist them; how much easier it is to obviate intemperate measures than to correct them. He resolved, therefore, to prevent the meeting of the officers. With this view, in his orders

addressed to the officers, he expressed the conviction he felt that their own good sense would secure them from paying any attention to an anonymous invitation; but his own duty, he added, as well as the reputation and true interest of the army, required his disapprobation of such disorderly proceedings. At the same time, he requested the general and field officers, with one officer from each company, and a proper representation from the staff of the army, to assemble in order to deliberate upon the measures to be adopted for obtaining the redress of their grievances. By this conduct, the prudence of which is undeniable, Washington succeeded in impressing the army with a belief that he did not disapprove their remonstrances, and the leaders of the insurrection, in particular, that he secretly favored their designs. By this means he gained time for disposing minds and things in such a manner, that the military committee should take only those resolutions which entered into his plan. The following day, Armstrong circulated a second anonymous paper, in which he congratulated the officers upon the prospect that their measures were about to receive the sanction of public authority; he exhorted them to act with energy in the assembly convoked for the fifteenth of March. In the meantime, Washington exerted the whole weight of his influence to bring the agitations of the moment to a happy termination ; he endeavored to impress on those officers individually who possessed the greatest share of the general confidence, a just sense of what the exigency required ; to some he represented the dangers of the country; to others, the constancy they had hitherto manifested; to all, the glory they had acquired, and the interest they had in transmitting it entire and unsullied to their posterity. He reminded them also of the exhausture of the public treasury, and of the infamy with which they would brand themselves in giving birth to civil war, at the very moment in which the public happiness was about to revive in the midst of peace. On the day appointed by Washington, the convention of officers assembled. The commander-in-chief addressed them a speech, as judicious as it was eloquent, in which he endeavored to destroy the effect of the anonymous papers. He demonstrated all the horror of the alternative proposed by the author, that in case of peace, the army should turn their arms against the state, unless it instantly complied with their demands, and if war continued, that they should abandon its defence by removing into some wild and unsettled country. “My God s” he exclaimed, ‘what can this writer have in view, by recommending such measures 2 Can he be a friend to the army f Can he be a friend to this country Rather is he not an insidious foe ; some emissary, perhaps, from New York, plotting the ruin of both, by sowing the seeds of discord and separation between the civil and military authorities of the continent * * Let me entreat you, gentlemen,” he added, “not to take any measures, which, viewed in the calm light of reason, will lessen the dignity, and sully the glory you have hitherto maintained; let me request you to rely on the plighted faith of your country, and place a full confidence in the purity of the intentions of Congress; that previous to your dissolution as an army, they will cause all your accounts to be fairly liquidated ; and that they will adopt the most effectual measures in their power to render ample justice to you for your faithful and meritorious services. And let me conjure you in the name of our common country, as you value your own sacred honor, as you respect the rights of humanity, and as you regard the military and national honor of America, to express your utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our country; and who wickedly attempts to open the flood-gates of civil discord, and deluge our rising empire in blood. “By thus determining, and thus acting, you will pursue the plain and direct road to the attainment of your wishes; you will defeat the insidious designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open force to secret artifice. You will give one inore distinguished proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of the most complicated sufferings; and you will, by the dignity of your conduct, afford occasion for posterity to say, when speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind; “Had this day been wanting, the world had never seen the last stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of attaining.” When Washington had concluded his discourse, a profound silence ensued in the assembly; soon those who composed it communicated to each other in a low voice, the sentiments with which they were impressed. The authority of such a personage, the weight of his words, the sincere affection which he bore to the army, operated irresistibly upon all minds. The effervescence gave place to a calm. No voice was heard in opposition to that of the chief. The deputies of the army declared unanimously that no circumstances of distress or danger should induce them to sully the glory which they had acquired ; that the army continued to have an unshaken confidence in the justice of Congress and their country; that they entreated the commander-in-chief to recommend to the government the subject of their memorials; and, finally, that they abhorred the infamous propositions contained in the anonymous writing addressed to the officers of the army. Thus Washington, by his prudence and firinness, was instrumental in preserving his country from the new danger that menaced it, at the very moment when its safety seemed to have been established forever. Who knows what might have happened, if civil war had ensanguined the very cradle of this republic f The captain-general kept his word, and was himself the advocate of his officers with the Congress. He obtained of them a decree, cominut

« AnteriorContinuar »