« AnteriorContinuar »
state, to Penn and Lee, who had brought the petition of congress addressed to the king, that no answer would be given to it. The partisans of the Americans expressed their indignation without reserve; they censured with new asperity the impolitic obstinacy of the ministers. The latter had defenders who answered ;
. It is time to act; the nation has conceived great hopes; all Europe is in suspense to see what will be the fruit of our tardy resolutions, and the result of our preparations. It is necessary to strike home, and push with vigor this war which Great Britain, with a patience unexampled, has wished to avoid ; but to which insolent and contumacious subjects have defied and provoked her by 100 many outrages.'
This language of the ministerial party acted powerfully upon a nation naturally brave as well as proud ; and the public mind became gradually disposed to war, although there still appeared frequent petitions in favor of peace. About this time, disastrous news was received of the Newfoundland fisheries. The Congress having probibited all transportation of provisions to these banks, the fishermen, to avoid samishing, were compelled to abandon them precipitately, and repair to other shores. But another misfortune more formidable awaited them; the sea swelling all at once, with unusual fury, rose more than thirty feet above its ordinary level. The irruption was so sudden, that all means of safety were of no avail; more than seven hundred fishing barks were overwhelmed, and perished with their crews. Several large ships also foundered with all on board. The devastation was no less terrible upon land ; the progress of the wide inundation was marked with universal destruction.
This fatal event made a serious impression in England ; it was - looked upon as a presage of ill. It seemed as if fortune was every
where irritated against the British empire. Superstition chilled their spirits. They were induced to form discouraging comparisons.
On the part of the colonists, a propitious sky, abundance of provisions, health of troops, success of arms, multitudes crowding to their standards. On the part of the English, on the contrary, an army besieged, mortal diseases, wounds incurable, toil and pain, famine, every species of suffering ; an angry sky, a furious sea, horrible shipwrecks, martial ardor extinct, every thing in rapid declension. The antagonists of government either from ambition or the love of liberty, the merchants from personal interest or zeal for the public good, seized this moment of general discouragement. Petitions against the war arrived from all parts; the cities of London and Bristol were the first to send them. They expatiated upon the blood that was about to be shed, the treasure to be expended, the new enemies to be encountered ; it was represented that the obstinacy of the colonists would render even victory too costly; that the victor and the vanquished would be involved in one common ruin. They
exhorted, they prayed, they conjured the government to renounce hostile resolutions which promised no good, and threatened so many disasters.
But the ministers were not to be shaken .by remonstrances. The animosity of their adversaries was, however, increased by an incident which drew the attention of all; the Earl of Effingham, an officer distinguished for his services, and possessed of an ample fortune, had, upon all occasions, defended with great warmth the cause of the colonists. Not willing to betray his conscience, he offered the king his resignation ; his conduct was greatly applauded ; the cities of London, of Dublin and others, commended and thanked him in public letters. Many other officers followed bis example ; resignations became frequent. Those who from taste give their attention to political matters, will, no doubt, observe upon this occasion, with what facility in England an opinion at variance with that of the government may be openly professed ; since its opponents, instead of exposing themselves to its vengeance, often become the objects of public favor. And upon consideration of the enterprises executed in various times by the British nation, and the energy with which it has sustained long wars against the most formidable powers, it is impossible not to perceive how much they deceive themselves who think that a free government enfeebles nations, and that their force can only be completely developed by despotism.
The declamations of the party in opposition, and the numerous resignations of officers, had caused the affair of enlistments to labor extremely. It was in vain that the officers appointed for this service caused the drums to beat, and the royal standard to be erected in the most populous cities; in vain did they promise bounties and exorbitant pay; scarcely a few individuals came to offer their service; Catholics and Protestants, all manifested an equal reprgnance.
Not but that among the inhabitants of the northern parts of Great Britain, the regiments found wherewith to recruit themselves; but this resource was altogether inadequate to the exigency. The ministers therefore found themselves in the greatest embarrassment; to exiricate themselves from which, they determined to have recourse to foreign aid. With gold, which they had in abundance, they hoped to procure themselves men, of whom they had so much need. ACcordingly, to this end they made overtures to the court of St. Petersburgh, in order to obtain twenty thousand Russians, that were to have been transported to America the following spring. They made great dependence upon these soldiers, who, in the preceding war against the Turks, had acquired a brilliant reputation for bravery and discipline. But their hopes were not realised ; this government would not consent that its soldiers should enter into foreign service, and for a small sum of gold, shed their blood in a quarrel wherein Russia had no sort of interest. The ministers then turned their
views in the direction of the United Provinces. The States-General had in their pay some Scotch battalions; and these the English government demanded in order to employ them in the American war. It was hoped that their ancient alliance, and other common interests, would easily determine the States-General to comply with this demand. But it appeared of such extreme importance to the States, that not presuming to take the decision of it upon themselves, they chose to consult the provincial assemblies. Those of Zeland and of Utrecht gave their consent, Holland and the others refused. John Derk, of Chapelle, spoke with great force against the proposition in the assembly of Overyssel. He said it was too far beneath the dignity of the republic to intermeddle in the quarrels of a foreign nation ; that the forces of Holland were too weak, and her commerce too flourishing, for her to interfere so imprudently in the disputes of others; that if she succoured England against America, other very powerful states, alluding to France, would succour America against England, and that thus the United Provinces would find themselves drawn into a dangerous war. He reminded of the tyranny exercised by the English upon the seas, the forced visit of the Dutch vessels, and the confiscation of their cargoes, under pretext of contraband. He omitted not to paint the cruel character of this war, in which the ferocious Indians were already taken into the English pay. The opinion of the orator prevailed, and there was every motive that it should. The Dutch considered the American cause very similar to that of their ancestors, and it appeared to them intolerable to concur in chastising those who followed their own example. The English party and the French party manifested in this occurrence an astonishing conformity of opinion ; the first, because they feared that violent means would force the Americans at length to throw themselves into the arms of France; the second, because they wished to see humbled the pride and the power of the British nation. It is certain, that at this epoch, the prosperity and opulence of England excited the envy of the universe, and that her haughty behavior filled all hearts with a secret enmity.
But the ministers having despatched numerous agents into Germany, obtained more success with the princes of the Houses of Hesse, of Brunswick, and other petty sovereigns of this country. They acceded to a convention which filled the cabinet of Saint James with alacrity and with hope ; the ministers were overjoyed that German promptitude should, in so pressing a need, have counterbalanced English reluctance.
A double advantage was found in the employment of German troops. They had never darkened their minds with abstruse questions of liberty and public law; and the difference of language was a security against the efforts which the Americans might have made to mislead and seduce them to join their party. This apprehension
caused the ministry great anxiety with respect to the English soldiers, who spoke the same dialect as the Americans, and went to combat men who defended, or appeared to defend, a cause more favorable to the subjects than to the government.
When the news got abroad in England of the treaty of subsidy with the German princes, it would be difficult to describe the fury of the opponents of the ministry. Many even among their own partisans were heard to condemn their conduct with asperity. They said, it was a scandalous thing that the mercenary soldiers of foreign princes should come to interfere in domestic dissentions; that daring and artful ministers might one day take advantage of this fatal example to subvert the established constitution, and to put down all liberty in England itself; that when these soldiers should bave terminated their enterprise in distant regions, different pretexts might be found for conducting them into places less remote, and perhaps even into the lieart of the kingdom ; that this was a state offence, an act of high treason, the having attempted to open the entrance of the British territory to foreign troops without consent of parliament.
It is certain that no resolution of the ministers had ever produced so much disgust, and so alarming a fermentation among the people, as the present. It rendered more violent the fury of some, alienated others, and appeared to all illegal in principle, perilous in its object, and injurious 10 the British name ; inasmuch as it seemed an admission that the English were not in a situation to adjust of themselves this great quarrel. The disapprobation was general, the cause of the war and the obstinacy of aninisters began to be openly conderoned.
In the midst of this effervescence the parliament was convoked. But before entering into a description of the debates which took place in this session, it appears 10 us necessary to relate what were, at this time, the designs of the ministry relative to the American war, Perceiving how odious they were become to the nation for never having consented to hear of any proposition of accord, and for having wanted either the capacity or the will to carry on the war with adequate preparations, they resolved at length to manifest extraordinary vigor and to employ against the Americans a force so formidable as to leave them no hope of resistance.
They could not but perceive how greatly the reputation of the British arms had already suffered; and they saw how important it was to apply a prompt remedy in order to prevent the worst consequences, and especially a war with the European powers. Although they often affected to congratulate themselves upon the good dispositions of these powers, they were nevertheless persuaded that this neutrality could not continue, is the war drew into length, and always to the prejudice of England. I was easy to believe that France bad eyes open upon what passed, and that she waited but for the occasion to show herself.
The English ministers at this epoch, however stinted the measure of their magnanimity and sagacity, were still not so simple as to be deluded by friendly protestations, which are lavished with the more profusion the more they are void of sincerity. It was known that in all the ports of France the most strenuous exertions were employed in equipping ships of war and accumulating naval munitions, and that the government was animated with an ardent desire to repair recent losses, and to restore all the force and the splendor of the French marine ; that the entire nation applauded the views of the court, and demonstrated the utmost promptitude to second them. Besides, it was no longer a mystery that munitions of war were daily expedited from the French ports for America, if not by the orders of the governinent itself, at least with its tacit concurrence. It was observed, not without extreme jealousy, that the French had lately despatched a numerous fleet to the West Indies, and that their land troops so increased in that quarter, that they already had the appearance of an army prepared to take the field. It had been seen with disquietude that French officers were in conference, for the space of many days, with general Washington, at the camp of 'Boston, and that they were afterwards admitted to an audience by the Congress. The past admonished the English ministry of the future. In no time had war broken out in America that the French and British nations had not taken part in it, the one against the other. It was, therefore, natural to think, that such also would be the event this time ; it was even the more probable now that interests were at stake of sar greater moment than had ever before been agitated between the two powers. France manifested in her conduct an admirable address. She would not throw off the mask in these begionings, either because she feared that by engaging prematurely in the desence of the Americans, the English government might be induced to offer them such terms of accommodation as, in reconciling the two parties, would turn their united forces against her; or especially because she was not yet entirely prepared for maritime war. She wished to temporise until her armaments were completed, and until the continuation of reciprocal outrages should have rendered all arrangement impossible. It was also important for her to wait till the Americans, more enlightened with respect to their situation, and encouraged by the success of their arms, should have decided at length to proclaim their independence.
All reconciliation then became impracticable; as well on account of the greater exasperation of minds, and the aggravation of offences, as from the absolute contrariety of the scope towards which the two parties tended.
There would no longer be any question of an accord under certain conditions; the separation must then be total. Such was the thought of the French government relative to the time in which it ought to discover itself. But in order that the Americans might not lose all hope,