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CHAPTER XVI: The Alliance between France and the United States. The Campaign of 1778. - David Ramsay, The History of the American Revolution, vol. 2 
The History of the American Revolution, Foreword by Lester H. Cohen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1990). Vol. 2.
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The Alliance between France and the United States. The Campaign of 1778.
1778Soon after intelligence of the capture of Burgoyne’s army reached Europe, the court of France concluded at Paris, treaties of alliance and commerce with the United States. The circumstances which led to this great event, deserve to be particularly unfolded. The colonists having taken up arms, uninfluenced by the enemies of Great-Britain, conducted their opposition for several months after they had raised troops, and emitted money, without any reference to foreign powers. They knew it to be the interest of Europe, to promote a separation between Great-Britain and her colonies, but as they began the contest with no other view than to obtain a redress of grievances, they neither wished in the first period of their opposition to involve Great-Britain in a war, nor to procure aid to themselves by paying court to her enemies. The policy of Great-Britain in attempting to deprive the Americans of arms, was the first event which made it necessary for them to seek foreign connexions. At the time she was urging military preparations to compel their submission, she forbad the exportation of arms, and solicited the commercial powers of Europe, to co-operate with her by adopting a similar prohibition. To frustrate the views of Great-Britain Congress, besides recommending the domestic manufacture of the materials for military stores, appointed a secret committee with powers to procure on their account arms and ammunition, and also employed agents in foreign countries for the same purpose. The evident advantage which France might derive from the continuance of the dispute and the countenance which individuals of that country daily gave to the Americans, encouraged Congress to send a political and commercial agent to that kingdom, with instructions to solicit its friendship, and to procure military stores.1778 Silas Deane, being chosen for this purpose, sailed for France early in 1776, and was soon after his arrival at Paris instructed to sound count de Vergennes, the French minister for  foreign affairs, on the subject of the American controversy. As the public mind, for reasons which have been mentioned, closed against Great-Britain, it opened towards other nations.
On the 11th of June 1776, Congress appointed a committee, to prepare a plan of a treaty to be proposed to foreign powers. The discussion of this novel subject engaged their attention till the latter end of September. While Congress was deliberating thereon, Mr. Deane was soliciting a supply of arms, ammunition and soldiers cloathing, for their service. A sufficiency for lading three vessels was soon procured. What agency the government of France had in furnishing these supplies, or whether they were sold or given as presents, are questions which have been often asked, but not satisfactorily answered, for the business was so conducted that the transaction might be made to assume a variety of complexions, as circumstances might render expedient.
It was most evidently the interest of France to encourage the Americans in their opposition to Great Britain, and it was true policy to do this by degrees and in a private manner, lest Great-Britain might take the alarm. Individuals are sometimes influenced by considerations of friendship and generosity, but interest is the pole star by which nations are universally governed. It is certain that Great-Britain was amused with declarations of the most pacific dispositions on the part of France, at the time the Americans were liberally supplied with the means of defence, and it is equally certain, that this was the true line of policy for promoting that dismemberment of the British empire which France had an interest in accomplishing.
Congress knew, that a diminution of the overgrown power of Britain, could not but be desirable to France. Sore with the loss of her possessions on the continent of North-America by the peace of Paris in the year 1763, and also by the capture of many thousands of her sailors in 1755, antecedent to a declaration of war, she must have been something more than human, not to have rejoiced at an opportunity of depressing an antient and formidable  rival.1778 Besides the increasing naval superiority of Great-Britain, her vast resources, not only in her antient dominions, but in colonies growing daily in numbers and wealth, added to the haughtiness of her flag, made her the object both of terror and envy. It was the interest of Congress to apply to the court of France, and it was the interest of France to listen to their application.
Congress having agreed on the plan of the treaty, which they intended to propose to his Most Christian Majesty, proceeded to elect commissioners to solicit its acceptance. Dr. Franklin, Silas Deane and Thomas Jefferson were chosen. The latter declining to serve, Arthur Lee, who was then in London, and had been very serviceable to his country in a variety of ways, was elected in his room. It was resolved, that no member should be at liberty to divulge any thing more of these transactions than “that Congress had taken such steps as they judged necessary for obtaining foreign alliances.” The secret committee were directed to make an effectual lodgement in France of ten thousand pounds sterling, subject to the order of these commissioners. Dr. Franklin, who was employed as agent in the business, and afterwards as minister plenipotentiary at the court of France, was in possession of a greater proportion of foreign fame, than any other native of America. By the dint of superior abilities and with but few advantages in early life, he had attained the highest eminence among men of learning, and in many instances extended the empire of science. His genius was vast and comprehensive, and with equal ease investigate the mysteries of philosophy and the labyrinths of politics. His fame as a philosopher had reached as far as human nature is polished or refined. His philanthropy knew no bounds. The prosperity and happiness of the human race were objects which at all times had attracted his attention. Disgusted with great Britain, and glowing with the most ardent love for the liberties of his oppressed native country, he left London, where he had resided some years in the character of agent for several of the colonies,1778 and early in 1775 returned to Philadelphia,  and immediately afterwards was elected by the legislature of Pennsylvania, to share in the opposition to Great-Britain as a member of Congress.Oct. 27 Shortly after his appointment to solicit the interests of Congress in France, he sailed for that country.Dec. 13 He was no sooner landed than universally carressed. His fame had smoothed the way for his reception in a public character. Doctor Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee, having rendezvoused at Paris,28 soon after opened their business in a private audience with count de Vergennes. The Congress could not have applied to the court of France under more favourable circumstances. The throne was filled by a prince in the flower of his age, and animated with the desire of rendering his reign illustrious. Count de Vergennes was not less remarkable for extensive political knowledge, than for true greatness of mind. He had grown old in the habits of government, and was convinced that conquests are neither the surest nor the shortest way to substantial fame. He knew full well that no success in war, however brilliant, could so effectually promote the security of France, as the emancipation of the colonies of her ancient rival. He had the superior wisdom to discern, that there were no present advantages to be obtained by unequal terms, that would compensate for those lasting benefits which were likely to flow from a kind and generous beginning. Instead of grasping at too much, or taking any advantages of the humble situation of the invaded colonies, he aimed at nothing more than by kind and generous terms to a distressed country, to perpetuate the separation which had already taken place between the component parts of an empire, from the union of which his sovereign had much to fear.
Truly difficult was the line of conduct, which the real interest of the nation required of the ministers of His Most Christian Majesty. An haughty reserve would have discouraged the Americans. An open reception, or even a legal countenance of their deputies might have alarmed the rulers of Great-Britain, and disposed them to a compromise with their colonies, or have brought on an immediate rupture between France and England.1778 A middle  line as preferable to either, was therefore pursued. Whilst the French government prohibited, threatened and even punished the Americans; private persons encouraged, supplied, and supported them. Prudence, as well as policy required, that France should not be over-hasty in openly espousing their cause. She was by no means fit for war. From the state of her navy, and the condition of her foreign trade, she was vulnerable on every side. Her trading people dreaded the thoughts of a war with Great-Britain, as they would thereby be exposed to great losses. These considerations were strengthened from another quarter. The peace of Europe was supposed to be unstable from a prevailing belief, that the speedy death of the elector of Bavaria was an event extremely probable. But the principle reason which induced a delay, was an opinion, that the dispute between the Mother Country and the colonies would be compromised. Within the 13 years immediately preceding, twice had the contested claims of the two countries brought matters to the verge of extremity. Twice had the guardian genius of both interposed, and reunited them in the bonds of love and affection. It was feared by the sagacious ministry of France, that the present rupture would terminate in the same manner. These wise observers of human nature apprehended, that their too early interference would favour a reconciliation, and that the reconciled parties would direct their united force against the French, as the disturbers of their domestic tranquility. It had not yet entered into the hearts of the French nation, that it was possible for the British American colonists, to join with their antient enemies against their late friends.
At this period Congress did not so much expect any direct aid from France, as the indirect relief of a war between that country and Great-Britain. To subserve this design, they resolved, that “their commissioners at the court of France should be furnished with warrants and commissions, and authorised to arm and fit for war in the French ports any number of vessels (not exceeding six) at the expence of the United States, to war upon British property, provided they were satisfied this measure would  not be disagreeable to the court of France.”1778 This resolution was carried into effect, and in the year 1777 marine officers, with American commissions, both sailed out of French ports, and carried prizes of British property into them. They could not procure their condemnation in the courts of France, nor sell them publicly, but they nevertheless found ways and means to turn them into money. The commanders of these vessels were sometimes punished by authority to please the English, but they were oftener caressed from another quarter to please the Americans.
While private agents on the part of the United States were endeavouring to embroil the two nations, the American commissioners were urging the ministers of His Most Christian Majesty to accept the treaty proposed by Congress. They received assurances of the good wishes of the court of France, but were from time to time informed, that the important transaction required farther consideration, and were enjoined to observe the most profound secrecy. Matters remained in this fluctuating state from December 1776, till December 1777. Private encouragement and public discountenance were alternated, but both varied according to the complexion of news from America. The defeat on Long-Island, the reduction of New-York, and the train of disastrous events in 1776, which have already been mentioned, sunk the credit of the Americans very low and abated much of the national ardor for their support. Their subsequent successes at Trenton and Princeton, effaced these impressions, and rekindled active zeal in their behalf. The capture of Burgoyne fixed these wavering politics. The success of the Americans in the campaign of 1777, placed them on high ground. Their enmity had proved itself formidable to Britain, and their friendship became desirable to France. Having helped themselves, they found it less difficult to obtain help from others. The same interest, which hitherto had directed the court of France to a temporising policy, now required decisive conduct. Previous delay had favoured the dismemberment of the empire, but farther procrastination bid fair to promote, at least such a federal alliance of the  disjointed parts of the British Empire as would be no less hostile to the interests of France than a re-union of its severed parts. The news of the capitulation of Saratoga reached France, very early in December, 1777. The American deputies took that opportunity to press for an acceptance of the treaty, which had been under consideration for the preceding twelve months. The capture of Burgoyne’s army convinced the French, that the opposition of the Americans to Great Britain was not the work of a few men who had got power in their hands, but of the great body of the people, and was like to be finally successful. It was therefore determined to take them by the hand, and publicly to espouse their cause. The commissioners of Congress were informed by Mr. Gerard one of the secretaries of the King’s council of State,
Dec. 16 1777that it was decided to acknowledge the independence of the United States and to make a treaty with them. That in the treaty no advantage would be taken of their situation to obtain terms which, otherwise, it would not be convenient for them to agree to. That his Most Christian Majesty desired the treaty once made should be durable, and their amity to subsist forever, which could not be expected, if each nation did not find an interest in its continuance, as well as in its commencement. It was therefore intended that the terms of the treaty should be such as the new formed states would be willing to agree to if they had been long since established, and in the fulness of strength and power; and such as they should approve of when that time should come. That his most Christian Majesty was fixed in his determination not only to acknowledge, but to support, their independence. That in doing this he might probably soon be engaged in a war, yet he should not expect any compensation from the United States on that account, nor was it pretended that he acted wholly for their sakes, since besides his real good will to them, it was manifestly the interest of France, that the power of England should be diminished, by the separation of the colonies from its government.1778 The only condition he should require and rely on would be, that the United States in no peace to be  made, should give up their independence and return to the obedience of the British government.
At any time previously to the 16th of December, 1777, when Mr. Gerard made the foregoing declaration, it was in the power of the British ministry to have ended the American war, and to have established an alliance with the United States, that would have been of great service to both; but from the same haughtiness which for some time had predominated in their councils, and blinded them to their interests, they neglected to improve the favourable opportunity.
Conformably to the preliminaries proposed by Mr. Gerard, his most Christian Majesty Lewis the 16th, on the 6th of February 1778, entered into treaties of amity and commerce, and of alliance with the United States, on the footing of the most perfect equality and reciprocity. By the latter of these, that illustrious monarch became the guarantee of their sovereignty, independence and commerce.
On a review of the conduct of the French ministry to the Americans, the former appear to have acted uniformly from a wise regard to national interest. Any line of conduct, different from that which they adopted, might have overset the measures which they wished to establish. Had they pretended to act from disinterested principles of generosity to the distressed, the known selfishness of human nature would have contradicted the extravagant pretension. By avowing the real motive of their conduct they furnished such a proof of candor as begat confidence.
The terms of reciprocity on which they contracted with the United States were no less recommended by wise policy than dictated by true magnanimity. As there was nothing exclusive in the treaty, an opening was left for Great Britain to close the war when she pleased, with all the advantages for future commerce that France had stipulated for herself.1778 This judicious measure made the establishment of American independence the common cause of all the commercial powers of Europe, for the question then was, whether the trade of the United States  should by the subversion of their independence be again monopolised by Great Britain, or by the establishment of it, laid open on equal terms to all the world.
In national events the public attention is generally fixed on the movements of armies and fleets. Mankind never fail to do homage to the able general and expert admiral. To this they are justly entitled, but as great a tribute is due to the statesman who, from a more elevated station, determines on measures in which the general safety and welfare of empires are involved. This glory in a particular manner belongs to the Count de Vergennes, who, as his most Christian Majesty’s minister for foreign affairs, conducted the conferences which terminated in these treaties. While the ministers of his Britanic Majesty were pleasing themselves with the flattering idea of permanent peace in Europe, they were not less surprised than provoked by hearing of the alliance, which had taken place between his most Christian Majesty, and the United States. This event though often foretold was disbelieved. The zeal of the British ministry to reduce the colonies to submission, blinded them to danger from every other quarter. Forgetting that interest governs public bodies perhaps more than private persons, they supposed that feebler motives would outweigh its all commanding influence. Intent on carrying into execution the object of their wishes, they fancied that because France and Spain had colonies of their own, they would refrain from aiding or abetting the revolted British colonists, from the fear of establishing a precedent, which at a future day might operate against themselves. Transported with indignation against their late fellow subjects, they were so infatuated with the American war, as to suppose that trifling evils, both distant and uncertain, would induce the court of France to neglect an opportunity of securing great and immediate advantages.
How far this interference of the court of France can be justified by the laws of nations, it is not the province of history to decide. Measures of this kind are not determined by abstract reasoning. The present feelings of a nation, and the probable consequences of loss or gain influence more than the decisions of speculative men.1778 Suffice  it to mention, that the French exculpated themselves from the heavy charges brought against them, by this summary mode of reasoning, “We have found” said they
the late colonies of Great Britain in actual possession of Independence, and in the exercise of the prerogatives of sovereignty. It is not our business to enquire, whether they had, or had not, sufficient reason to withdraw themselves from the government of Great Britain, and to erect an independent one of their own. We are to conduct towards nations, agreeably to the political state in which we find them, without investigating how they acquired it. Observing them to be independent in fact, we were bound to suppose they were so of right, and had the same liberty to make treaties with them as with any other sovereign power.
They also alleged, that Great Britain could not complain of their interference, since she had set them the example only a few years before, in supporting the Corsicans in opposition to the court of France. They had besides many well founded complaints against the British, whose armed vessels had for months past harassed their commerce, on the idea of preventing an illicit trade with the revolted colonies.
The marquis de la Fayette, whose letters to France had a considerable share in reconciling the nation to patronise the United States, was among the first in the American army who received the welcome tidings of the treaty. In a transport of joy, mingled with an effusion of tears, he embraced general Washington exclaiming “The king my master has acknowledged your Independence, and entered into an alliance with you for its establishment.” The heart-felt joy, which spread from breast to breast, exceeded description. The several brigades assembled by order of the commander in chief. Their chaplains offered up public thanks to Almighty God, and delivered discourses suitable to the occasion. A feu de joie was fired, and on a proper signal being given, the air resounded with “Long live the king of France,” poured forth from the breast of every private in the army.1778 The Americans, having in their own strength for three years weathered the storms of war, fancied the port of peace to be in full  view. Replete with the sanguine hopes of vigorous youth, they presumed that Britain, whose northern army had been reduced by their sole exertions, would not continue the unequal contest with the combined force of France and America. Overvaluing their own importance, and undervaluing the resources of their adversaries, they were tempted to indulge a dangerous confidence. That they might not be lulled into carelessness, Congress made an animated address to them, in which, after reviewing the leading features of the war, they informed them “They must yet expect a severe conflict; that though foreign alliances secured their independence, they could not secure their country from devastation.”March 13 The alliance between France and America had not been concluded three days, before it was known to the British ministry, and in less than five weeks more, it was officially communicated to the court of London in a rescript, delivered by the French ambassador, to lord Weymouth. In this new situation of affairs, there were some in Great Britain who advocated the measure of peace with America, on the footing of Independence: But the point of honor, which had before precipitated the nation into the war, predominated over the voice of prudence and interest. The king and parliament of Great Britain resolved to punish the French nation for treating with their subjects, which they termed “An unprovoked aggression on the honor of the crown, and essential interests of the kingdom.” And at the same time a vain hope was indulged, that the alliance between France and the United States, which was supposed to have originated in passion, might be dissolved. The national prejudices against the French, had been so instilled into the minds of Englishmen, and of their American descendants, that it was supposed practicable, by negotiations and concessions, to detatch the United States from their new alliance, and re-unite them to the parent state.Feb. 17 Eleven days after the treaty between France and America had been concluded, the British minister introduced into the house of commons a project for conciliation, founded on the idea of obtaining a re-union of the new States with Great Britain.1778 This consisted of two bills, with the following  titles, “A bill for declaring the intention of Great Britain, concerning the exercise of the right of imposing taxes within his Majesty’s colonies, provinces and plantations, in North America,” and a bill to “enable his Majesty to appoint commissioners with sufficient powers, to treat, consult and agree, upon the means of quieting the disorders now subsisting in certain of the colonies, plantations and provinces of North America.” These bills were hurried through both houses of Parliament, and before they passed into acts, were copied and sent across the Atlantic, to lord and general Howe. On their arrival in America, they were sent by a flag to Congress at Yorktown.April 21 When they were received, Congress was uninformed of the treaty which their commissioners had lately concluded at Paris. For upwards of a year, they had not received one line of information from them on any subject whatever. One packet had in that time been received, but all the letters therein were taken out before it was put on board the vessel which brought it from France, and blank paper put in their stead. A committee of Congress was appointed to examine these bills, and report on them. Their report was brought in the day following, and was unanimously adopted. By this they rejected the proposals of Great Britain. The vigorous and firm language in which Congress expressed their rejection of these offers, considered in connection with the circumstance of their being wholly ignorant of the late treaty with France, exhibits the glowing serenity of fortitude. While the royal commissioners were industriously circulating these bills in a partial and secret manner, as if they suspected an intention of concealing them from the common people, Congress trusting to the good sense of their constituents, ordered them to be forthwith printed for the public information. Having directed the affairs of their country with an honest reference to its welfare, they had nothing to fear from the people knowing and judging for themselves. They submitted the whole to the public. Their act, after some general remarks on the bill, concluded as follows,
1778 From all which it appears evident to your committee, that the said bills are intended to operate upon the hopes and fears of the good people of these states, so as to create divisions among them, and a defection from the common cause, now, by the blessing of Divine Providence, drawing near to a favourable issue. That they are the sequel of that insidious plan, which, from the days of the stamp-act, down to the present time, hath involved this country in contention and bloodshed. And that, as in other cases so in this, although circumstances may force them at times to recede from their unjustifiable claims, there can be no doubt but they will, as heretofore, upon the first favourable occasion, again display that lust of domination, which hath rent in twain the mighty empire of Britain.
Upon the whole matter, the committee beg leave to report it as their opinion, that as the Americans united in this arduous contest upon principles of common interest, for the defence of common rights and privileges, which union hath been cemented by common calamities, and by mutual good offices and affection, so the great cause for which they contend, and in which all mankind are interested, must derive its success from the continuance of that union. Wherefore any man or body of men, who should presume to make any separate or partial convention or agreement with commissioners under the crown of Great-Britain, or any of them, ought to be considered and treated as open and avowed enemies of these United States.
And further, your committee beg leave to report it as their opinion, that these United States cannot, with propriety, hold any conference with any commissioners on the part of Great-Britain, unless they shall, as a preliminary thereto, either withdraw their fleets and armies, or else, in positive and express terms, acknowledge the independence of the said states.
And in as much as it appears to be the design of the enemies of these states to lull them into a fatal security—to the end that they may act with a becoming weight and importance, it is the opinion of your committee, that the several states be called upon to use the most strenuous exertions 1778 to have their respective quotas of continental troops in the field as soon as possible, and that all the militia of the said states be held in readiness, to act as occasion may require.
The conciliatory bills were speedily followed by royal commissioners, deputed to solicit their reception. Gov. Johnstone, Lord Carlisle and Mr. Eden, appointed on this business attempted to open a negotiation on the subject.June 9 They requested General Washington, to furnish a passport for their secretary Dr. Ferguson, with a letter from them to Congress, but this was refused, and the refusal was unanimously approved by congress. They then forwarded in the usual channel of communication, a letter addressed “to his Excellency Henry Laurens, the president, and the other members of congress,” in which they communicated a copy of their commission and of the acts of Parliament on which it was founded, and offered to concur in every satisfactory and just arrangement towards the following among other purposes.
To consent to a cessation of hostilities, both by sea and land.
To restore free intercourse, to revive mutual affection, and renew the common benefits of naturalization, through the several parts of this empire.
To extend every freedom to trade that our respective interests can require.
To agree that no military forces shall be kept up in the different states of North-America, without the consent of the general congress or particular assemblies.
To concur in measures calculated to discharge the debts of America, and to raise the credit and value of the paper circulation.
To perpetuate our union by a reciprocal deputation of an agent or agents from the different states, who shall have the privilege of a seat and voice in the parliament of Great-Britain; or, if sent from Britain, in that case to have a seat and voice in the assemblies of the different states to which they may be deputed respectively, in order to attend the several interests of those by whom they are deputed.
1778 In short, to establish the power of the respective legislatures in each particular state, to settle its revenue, in civil and military establishment, and to exercise a perfect freedom of legislation and internal government, so that the British states throughout North-America, acting with us in peace and war under one common sovereign, may have the irrevocable enjoyment of every privilege, that is short of a total separation of interests, or consistent with that union of force, on which the safety of our common religion and liberty depends.
A decided negative having been already given, previous to the arrival of the British commissioners, to the overtures contained in the conciliatory bills, and intelligence of the treaty with France having in the mean time arrived, there was no ground left for farther deliberation.Jun. 17 President Laurens therefore, by order of Congress, returned the following answer.
I have received the letter from your excellencies of the 9th instant, with the enclosures, and laid them before Congress. Nothing but an earnest desire to spare the farther effusion of human blood could have induced them to read a paper, containing expressions so disrespectful to his most Christian Majesty, the good and great ally of these states; or to consider propositions so derogatory to the honour of an independent nation.
The acts of the British parliament, the commission from your sovereign, and your letter, suppose the people of these states to be subjects of the crown of Great-Britain, and are founded on the idea of dependence, which is utterly inadmissible.
I am further directed to inform your excellencies, that Congress are inclined to peace, notwithstanding the unjust claims from which this war originated, and the savage manner in which it hath been conducted. They will, therefore, be ready to enter upon the consideration of a treaty of peace and commerce, not inconsistent with treaties already subsisting, when the King of Great-Britain shall demonstrate a sincere disposition for that purpose. The only solid proof of this disposition will be, an explicit acknowledgment of the independence of these states, or the withdrawing his fleets and armies.
1778 Though Congress could not, consistently with national honor, enter on a discussion of the terms proposed by the British commissioners, yet some individuals of their body ably proved the propriety of rejecting them. Among these Gouverneur Morris, and W. H. Drayton, with great force of argument and poignancy of wit, justified the decisive measures adopted by their countrymen.
As the British plan for conciliation was wholly founded on the idea of the States returning to their allegiance, it was no sooner known than rejected. In addition to the sacred ties of plighted faith and national engagements, the leaders in Congress and the legislative assemblies of America, had tasted the sweets of power and were in full possession of its blessings, with a fair prospect of retaining them without any foreign control. The war having originated on the part of Great-Britain from a lust of power, had in its progress compelled the Americans in self defence to assume and exercise its highest prerogatives. The passions of human nature which induced the former to claim power, operated no less forcibly with the latter, against the relinquishment of it. After the colonies had declared themselves independent states, had repeatedly pledged their honor to abide by that declaration[,] had under the smiles of heaven maintained it for three campaigns without foreign aid, after the greatest monarch in Europe, had entered into a treaty with them, and guarantied their independence: After all this to expect popular leaders in the enjoyment of power voluntarily to retire from the helm of government to the languid indifference of private life, and while they violated national faith, at the same time to depress their country from the rank of sovereign states to that of dependent provinces, was not more repugnant to universal experience, than to, the governing principles of the human heart. The high spirited ardor of citizens in the youthful vigor of honor and dignity, did not so much as enquire whether greater political happiness might be expected from closing with the proposals of Great-Britain, or by adhering to their new allies. Honor forbad any balancing on the subject, nor were its dictates disobeyed. Though peace was desirable and the offers of Great  Britain so liberal, that if proposed in due time, they would have been acceptable, yet for the Americans, after they had declared themselves independent, and at their own solicitation obtained the aid of France, to desert their new allies, and leave them exposed to British resentment incurred on their account, would have argued a total want of honor and gratitude. The folly of Great Britain in expecting such conduct from virtuous freemen, could only be exceeded by the baseness of America, had her citizens realised that expectation.
These offers of conciliation in a great measure originated in an opinion that the Congress was supported by a faction, and that the great body of the people was hostile to independence, and well disposed to re-unite with Great Britain. The latter of these assertions was true, till a certain period of the contest, but that period was elapsed. With their new situation, new opinions and attachments had taken place. The political revolution of the government was less extraordinary than that of the stile and manner of thinking in the United States. The independent American citizens saw with other eyes, and heard with other ears, than when they were in the condition of British subjects. That narrowness of sentiment, which prevailed in England towards France, no longer existed among the Americans. The British commissioners unapprised of this real change in the public mind, expected to keep a hold on the citizens of the United States, by that illiberality which they inherited from their forefathers. Presuming that the love of peace, and the ancient national antipathy to France, would counterbalance all other ties, they flattered themselves that by perseverance an impression favourable to Great Britain might yet be made on the mind of America. They therefore renewed their efforts to open a negociation with Congress, in a letter of the 11th of July. As they had been informed in answer to their preceding letter of the 10th of June, that an explicit acknowledgment of the independence of the United States, or a withdrawing of their fleets and armies must precede an entrance on the consideration of a treaty of peace, and as neither branch of this alternative had been  complied with,1778 it was resolved by Congress that no answer should be given to their reiterated application.
In addition to his public exertions as a commissioner, Governor Johnstone endeavoured to obtain the objects on which he had been sent by opening a private correspondence with some of the members of Congress, and other Americans of influence. He in particular addressed himself by letter to Henry Laurens, Joseph Reed, and Robert Morris. His letter to Henry Laurens, was in these words.
I beg to transfer to my friend Dr. Ferguson, the private civilities which my friends Mr. Manning, and Mr. Oswald, request in my behalf. He is a man of the utmost probity and of the highest esteem, in the republic of letters.
If you should follow the example of Britain, in the hour of her insolence and send us back without a hearing, I shall hope from private friendship, that I may be permitted to see the country, and the worthy characters she has exhibited to the world, upon making the request in any way you may point out.
The following answer was immediately written.
York Town, June 14th, 1778.
Yesterday I was honoured with your favour of the 10th, and thank you for the transmission of those from my dear and worthy friends, Mr. Oswald, and Mr. Manning. Had Dr. Ferguson been the bearer of these papers, I should have shewn that gentleman every degree of respect and attention, that times and circumstances admit of.
It is sir, for Great Britain to determine, whether, her commissioners shall return unheard by the representatives of the United States, or revive a friendship with the citizens at large, and remain among us as long as they please.
1778You are undoubtedly acquainted with the only terms upon which Congress can treat for accomplishing this good end, terms from which, although writing in a private  character, I may venture to assert with great assurance, they never will recede, even admitting the continuance of hostile attempts, and that from the rage of war, the good people of these States, shall be driven to commence a treaty west-ward of yonder mountains. And permit me to add, Sir, as my humble opinion the true interest of Great Britain, in the present advance of our contest, will be found in confirming our independence.
Congress in no hour have been haughty, but to suppose that their minds are less firm in the present than they were, when, destitute of all foreign aid, even without expectation of an alliance—when, upon a day of general public fasting and humiliation in their house of worship, and in presence of God, they resolved “to hold no conference or treaty with any commissioners on the part of Great-Britain unless they shall, as a preliminary thereto, either withdraw their fleets and armies, or in positive and express terms acknowledge the independence of these States,” would be irrational.
At a proper time, Sir, I shall think myself highly honoured by a personal attention paid by contributing to render every part of these states agreeable to you; but until the basis of mutual confidence shall be established, I believe sir, neither former private friendship, nor any other consideration, can influence Congress to consent that even Governor Johnstone, a gentleman who has been so deservedly esteemed in America shall see the country. I have but one voice, and that shall be against it. But let me intreat you my dear sir, do not hence conclude that I am deficient in affection to my old friends, through whose kindness I have obtained the honor of the present correspondence, or that I am not with very great personal respect and esteem,
Your most obedient,
And most humble servant,
The Honorable Geo. Johnstone, Esq.
1776 In a letter to Joseph Reed of April the 11th, governor Johnstone said,
The man who can be instrumental in bringing us all to act once more in harmony, and to unite together the various powers which this contest has drawn forth, will deserve more from the king and people, from patriotism, humanity, and all the tender ties that are affected by the quarrel and reconciliation, than ever was yet bestowed on human kind.
On the 16th of June he wrote to Robert Morris,
I believe the men who have conducted the affairs of America incapable of being influenced by improper motives, but in all such transactions there is risk, and I think, that whoever ventures should be secured, at the same time that honor and emolument should naturally follow the fortune of those, who have steered the vessel in the storm, and brought her safely to port.June 21 I think Washington and the President have a right to every favour, that grateful nations can bestow, if they could once more unite our interest, and spare the miseries and devastations of war.
To Joseph Reed, private information was communicated, that it had been intended by gov. Johnstone, to offer him, that in case of his exerting his abilities to promote a re-union of the two countries, if consistent with his principles and judgment, ten thousand pounds sterling, and any office in the colonies in his Majesty’s gift. To which Mr. Reed replied, “I am not worth purchasing, but such as I am, the king of Great Britain is not rich enough to do it.”July 9 Congress ordered all letters, received by members of Congress from any of the British commissioners, or their agents, or from any subject of the king of Great Britain, of a public nature, to be laid before them. The above letters and information being communicated, Congress resolved “That the same cannot but be considered, as direct attempts to corrupt their integrity, and that it is incompatible with the honor of Congress, to hold any manner of correspondence or intercourse with the said George Johnstone Esquire, especially to negociate with him upon affairs in which the cause of liberty is interested.”1778 Their determination, with the reasons thereof, were expressed  in the form of a declaration, a copy of which was signed by the President, and sent by a flag to the commissioners at New-York. This was answered by governor Johnstone, by an angry publication, in which he denied or explained away, what had been alleged against him. Lord Carlisle, Sir Henry Clinton and Mr. Eden, denied their having any knowledge of the matter charged on governor Johnstone.
The commissioners failing in their attempts to negociate with Congress had no resource left, but to persuade the inhabitants to adopt a line of conduct, counter to that of their representatives. To this purpose they published a manifesto and proclamation, addressed to Congress, the assemblies, and all others the free inhabitants of the colonies, in which they observed,
The policy, as well as the benevolence of Great-Britain, have thus far checked the extremes of war, when they tended to distress a people still considered as our fellow-subjects, and to desolate a country shortly to become a source of mutual advantage: But when that country professes the unnatural design not only of estranging herself from us, but of mortgaging herself and her resources to our enemies, the whole contest is changed; and the question is, how far Great-Britain may, by every means in her power, destroy or render useless a connection contrived for her ruin, and for the aggrandizement of France. Under such circumstances the laws of self-preservation must direct the conduct of Great-Britain; and if the British colonies are to become an accession to France, will direct her to render that accession of as little avail as possible to her enemy.
Congress upon being informed of the design of the commissioners to circulate these papers declared, that the agents employed to distribute the manifestoes and proclamation of the commissioners, were not entitled to protection from a flag. They also recommended to the several states to secure and keep them in close custody, but that they might not appear to hood-wink their constituents, they ordered the manifestoes and proclamation to be printed in the news-papers.1778 The proposals of the commissioners were not more favourably received by the people  than they had been by Congress. In some places the flags containing them were not received, but ordered instantly to depart, in others they were received, and forwarded to Congress, as the only proper tribunal to take cognizance of them. In no one place, not immediately commanded by the British army, was there any attempt to accept, or even to deliberate, on the propriety of closing with the offers of Britain.
To deter the British from executing their threats of laying waste the country, Congress published to the world a resolution and manifesto in which they concludedOctober 30 with these words.
We, therefore, the Congress of the United States of America, do solemnly declare and proclaim, that if our enemies presume to execute their threats, or persist in their present career of barbarity, we will take such exemplary vengeance as shall deter others from a like conduct. We appeal to that God who searcheth the hearts of men, for the rectitude of our intentions; and in his holy presence we declare, that as we are not moved by any light and hasty suggestions of anger and revenge, so through every possible change of fortune we will adhere to this our determination.
This was the last effort of Great Britain, in the way of negotiation, to regain her colonies. It originated in folly, and ignorance of the real state of affairs in America. She had begun with wrong measures, and had now got into wrong time. Her concessions, on this occasion, were an implied justification of the resistance of the colonists. By offering to concede all that they at first asked for, she virtually acknowledged herself to have been the aggressor in an unjust war. Nothing could be more favourable to the cementing of the friendship of the new allies, than this unsuccessful negociation. The states had an opportunity of evincing the sincerity of their engagements, and France abundant reason to believe that by preventing their being conquered, her favourite scheme of lessening the power of Great Britain, would be secured beyond the reach of accident.
1778 After the termination of the campaign of 1777, the British army retired to winter quarters in Philadelphia, and the American army to Valley-Forge. The former enjoyed all the conveniences which an opulent city afforded, while the latter not half cloathed, and more than once on the point of starving, were enduring the severity of a cold winter in a hutted camp. It was well for them that the British made no attempt to disturb them, while in this destitute condition.
The winter and spring passed away without any more remarkable events in either army, than a few successful excursions of parties from Philadelphia to the neighbouring country, for the purpose of bringing in supplies, or destroying property. In one of these, a party of the British proceeded to Bordenton, and there burned four store-houses full of useful commodities. Before they returned to Philadelphia, they burned two frigates, nine ships, six privateer sloops, twenty three brigs, with a number of sloops and schooners.
Soon after, an excursion from Newport was made by 500 British and Hessians, under the command of lieut. col. Campbell.May 25 These having landed in the night, marched next morning in two bodies, the one for Warren, the other for the head of Kickemuet river. They destroyed about 70 flat bottomed boats, and burned a quantity of pitch, tar and plank. They also set fire to the meeting house at Warren, and seven dwelling houses. At Bristol they burned the church and 22 houses. Several other houses were plundered, and women were stripped of their shoe-buckles, gold rings and handkerchiefs.
A French squadron, consisting of 12 ships of the line and 4 frigates, commanded by count D’Estaing, sailed from Toulon for America, in about two months after the treatyApr. 13 had been agreed upon between the United States and the king of France.July 9 After a passage of 87 days, the count arrived at the entrance of the Delaware.1778 From an apprehension of something of this kind, and from the prospect of greater security, it was resolved in Great Britain, forthwith to evacuate Philadelphia and to concentrate  the royal force in the city and harbour of New-York. The commissioners brought out the orders for this movement, but knew nothing of the matter. It had an unfriendly influence on their proposed negotiations, but it was indispensibly necessary; for if the French fleet had blocked up the Delaware, and the Americans besieged Philadelphia, the escape of the British from either, would have been scarcely possible.
Jun. 18The royal army passed over the Delaware into New-Jersey. Gen. Washington, having penetrated into their design of evacuating Philadelphia, had previously detatched Gen. Maxwell’s brigade, to cooperate with the Jersey militia, in obstructing their progress, till time would be given for his army to overtake them. The British were incumbered with an enormous baggage, which, together with the impediments thrown in their way, greatly retarded their march. The American army having, in pursuit of the British, crossed the Delaware, six hundred men were immediately detatched under col. Morgan, to reinforce Gen. Maxwell. Washington halted his troops, when they had marched to the vicinity of Princeton.Jun. 24 The general officers in the American army, being asked by the commander in chief, “Will it be adviseable to hazard a general action?” answered in the negative, but recommended a detatchment of 1500 men, to be immediately sent, to act as occasion might serve, on the enemy’s left flank and rear. This was immediately forwarded under General Scott. When Sir Henry Clinton had advanced to Allen-Town, he determined instead of keeping the direct course towards Staten-Island, to draw towards the sea coast and to push on towards Sandy-Hook. Gen. Washington on receiving intelligence that Sir Henry was proceeding in that direction towards Monmouth court-house, dispatched 1000 men under Gen. Wayne, and sent the Marquis de la Fayette to take command of the whole advanced corps, with orders to seize the first fair opportunity of attacking the enemy’s rear. Gen. Lee who having been lately exchanged had joined the army, was offered this command, but he declined it, as he was in principle against  hazarding an attack.1778 The whole army followed at a proper distance, for supporting the advanced corps, and reached Cranberry the next morning. Sir Henry Clinton sensible of the approach of the Americans, placed his grenadiers, light-infantry and chaseurs in his rear, and his baggage in his front. Gen. Washington increased his advanced corps with two brigades, and sent Gen. Lee, who now wished for the command, to take charge of the whole, and followed with the main army to give it support. On the next morning orders were sent to Lee, to move on and attack, unless there should be powerful reasons to the contrary. When Washington had marched about five miles to support the advanced corps, he found the whole of it retreating by Lee’s orders, and without having made any opposition of consequence. Washington rode up to Lee and proposed certain questions to him which implied censure. Lee answered with warmth and unsuitable language. The commander in chief ordered Col. Stewart’s and Lieut. Col. Ramsay’s battalions, to form on a piece of ground, which he judged suitable for giving a check to the advancing enemy. Lee was then asked if he would command on that ground, to which he consented, and was ordered to take proper measures for checking the enemy, to which he replied, “your orders shall be obeyed, and I will not be the first to leave the field.” Washington then rode to the main army, which was formed with the utmost expedition. A warm cannonade immediately commenced, between the British and American artillery, and a heavy firing between the advanced troops of the British army, and the two battalions which Gen. Washington had halted. These stood their ground, till they were intermixed with a part of the British army. Lieut. Col. Ramsay the commander of one of them, was wounded and taken prisoner. Gen. Lee continued till the last on the field of battle, and brought off the rear of the retreating troops.
The check the British received, gave time to make a disposition of the left wing, and second line of the American army in the wood and on the eminence to which Lee was retreating. On this, some cannon were placed  by lord Sterling, who commanded the left wing, which, with the co-operation of some parties of infantry, effectually stopped the advance of the British in that quarter. Gen. Greene took a very advantageous position, on the right of lord Sterling. The British attempted to turn the left flank of the Americans, but were repulsed. They also made a movement to the right, with as little success, for Greene with artillery disappointed their design. Wayne advanced with a body of troops, and kept up so severe and well directed a fire, that the British were soon compelled to give way. They retired and took the position, which Lee had before occupied. Washington resolved to attack them, and ordered Gen. Poor to move round upon their right, and Gen. Woodford to their left; but they could not get within reach, before it was dark. These remained on the ground, which they had been directed to occupy during the night, with an intention of attacking early next morning, and the main body lay on their arms in the field to be ready for supporting them. Gen. Washington reposed himself in his cloak, under a tree, in hopes of renewing the action the next day. But these hopes were frustrated: The British troops marched away in the night, in such silence, that Gen. Poor, though he lay very near them, knew nothing of their departure. They left behind them, four officers and about forty privates, all so badly wounded, that they could not be removed. Their other wounded were carried off.Jun. 30 The British pursued their march without further interruption, and soon reached the neighbourhood of Sandy-Hook, without the loss of either their covering party or baggage. The American general declined all farther pursuit of the royal army, and soon after drew off his troops to the borders of the North river. The loss of the Americans, in killed and wounded, was about 250. The loss of the royal army, inclusive of prisoners, was about 350. Lt. col. Monckton, one of the British slain, on account of his singular merit, was universally lamented. Col. Bonner of Pennsylvania, and major Dickenson of Virginia, officers highly esteemed by their country, fell in this engagement.1778 The emotions of the mind, added to fatigue in a very hot  day, brought on such a fatal suppression of the vital powers, that some of the Americans, and 59 of the British, were found dead on the field of battle, without any marks of violence upon their bodies.
It is probable, that Washington intended to take no farther notice of Lee’s conduct in the day of action, but the latter could not brook the expressions used by the former at their first meeting, and wrote him two passionate letters. This occasioned his being arrested, and brought to trial. The charges exhibited against him were—
1st. For disobedience of orders, in not attacking the enemy on the 28th of June, agreeable to repeated instructions.
2dly. For misbehaviour before the enemy, on the same day, by making an unnecessary, disorderly and shameful retreat.
3dly, For disrespect to the commander in chief in two letters.
After a tedious hearing before a court-martial of which lord Sterling was president, Lee was found guilty and sentenced to be suspended from any command in the armies of the United States, for the term of one year, but the second charge was softened by the court martial who in their award only found him guilty of misbehaviour before the enemy, by making an unnecessary and in some few instances a disorderly retreat. Many were displeased with this sentence. They argued
that by the tenor of Lee’s orders, it was submitted to his discretion, whether to attack or not, and also, that the time and manner were to be determined by his own judgment. That at one time he intended to attack, but altered his opinion on apparently good grounds. That the propriety of an attack considering the superiority of the British cavalry, and the openness of the ground was very questionable. That though it might have distressed the enemy’s rear in the first instance; it would probably have brought on a general action, before the advanced corps could have been supported by the main body, which was some miles in the rear.
If said they “Lee’s judgment was against attacking the enemy, he could not be guilty of disobeying an order for that purpose, which was suspended on the condition of his own approbation of the measure.”1778 They also agreed  that a suspension from command, was not a sufficient punishment for his crimes, if really guilty. They therefore inferred a presumption of his innocence from the lenient sentence of his judges. Though there was a diversity of opinions relative to the first and second charges, all were agreed in pronouncing him guilty of disrespect to the commander in chief. The Americans had formerly idolised Gen. Lee, but some of them now went to the opposite extreme, and pronounced him treacherous or deficient in courage, though there was no foundation for either of these suspicions. His temper was violent, and his impatience of subordination had led him often to quarrel with those whom he was bound to respect and obey; but his courage and fidelity could not be questioned.
Soon after the battle of Monmouth, the American army took post at the White-Plains, a few miles beyond Kingsbridge and the British though only a few miles distant, did not molest them. They remained in this position from an early day in July, till a late one in the autumn, and then the Americans retired to Middle-Brook in Jersey, where they built themselves huts in the same manner as they had done at Valley-Forge.
Immediately on the departure of the British from Philadelphia, Congress, after an absence of nine months, returned to the former seat of their deliberations.Aug. 6 Soon after their return, they were called upon, to give a public audience to a Minister Plenipotentiary from the court of France. The person appointed to this office, was M. Gerard, the same who had been employed in the negotiations, antecedent to the treaty. The arrival and reception of a minister from France, made a strong impression on the minds of the Americans. They felt the weight and importance, to which they were risen among nations. That the same spot, which in less than a century, had been the residence of savages, should become the theatre on which, the representatives of a new, free and civilised nation, gave a public audience to a minister Plenipotentiary, from one of the oldest and most powerful kingdoms of Europe, afforded ample materials for philosophic contemplation.1778 That in less than three years  from the day, on which an answer was refused by Great Britain to the united supplications of the colonists, praying for peace, liberty and safety, they should, as an independent people, be honored with the residence of a minister from the court of France, exceeded the expectation of the most sanguine Americans. The patriots of the new world revolved in their minds these transactions, with heart-felt satisfaction, while the devout were led to admire that Providence, which had, in so short a space, stationed the United States among the powers of the earth, and clothed them in robes of Sovereignty.
The British had but barely completed the removal of their fleet and army, from the Delaware and Philadelphia to the harbour and city of New-York, when they received intelligence, that a French fleet was on the coast of America. This was commanded by count D’Estaing, and consisted of twelve ships of the line and three frigates. Among the former, one carried 90 guns, another 8o and six 74 guns each. Their first object was the surprise of lord Howe’s fleet in the Delaware, but they arrived too late. In naval history, there are few more narrow escapes than that of the British fleet, on this occasion. It consisted only of six 64 gun ships, three of 5o, and two of 40, with some frigates and sloops. Most of these had been long on service and were in a bad condition. Their force, when compared with that of the French fleet, was so greatly inferior, that had the latter reached the mouth of the Delaware, in 75 days from its leaving Toulon, their capture, in the ordinary course of events, would have been inevitable. This stroke was providentially prevented, by the various hinderances which retarded D’Estaing in his voyage to the term of 87 days, in the last eleven of which, lord Howe’s fleet, not only quitted the Delaware, but reached the harbour of New-York. D’Estaing, disappointed in his first scheme, pursued and appeared off Sandy-Hook.July 11 American pilots of the first abilities, provided for the purpose, went on board his fleet. Among them were persons, whose circumstances placed them above the ordinary rank of pilots.
1778 The sight of the French fleet raised all the active passions of their adversaries. Transported with indignation against the French for interfering in what they called a domestic quarrel, the British displayed a spirit of zeal and barvery which could not be exceeded. A thousand volunteers were dispatched from their transports to man their fleet. The masters and mates of the merchantmen and traders at New-York, took their stations at the guns with the common sailors. Others put to sea in light vessels, to watch the motions of their enemies. The officers and privates of the British army, contended with so much eagerness to serve on board the men of war as marines, that it became necessary to decide the point of honor by lot.
The French fleet came to anchor, and continued without the Hook for eleven days. During this time the British had the mortification of seeing the blockade of their fleet, and the capture of about 20 vessels under English colours. On the 22nd, the French fleet appeared under weigh. It was an anxious moment to the British. They supposed that Count D’Estaing would force his way into the harbour, and that an engagement would be the consequence. Every thing with them was at stake. Nothing less than destruction or victory would have ended the contest. If the first had been their lot, the vast fleet of transports and victuallers and the army must have fallen. The pilots on board the French fleet, declared it to be impossible to carry the large ships thereof over the bar, on account of their draught of water. D’Estaing on that account and by the advice of Gen. Washington, left the Hook and sailed for Newport.July 22 By his departure the British had a second escape for had he remained at the Hook but a few days longer, the fleet of admiral Byron must have fallen into his hands. That officer had been sent out to relieve lord Howe who had solicited to be recalled, and the fleet under his command had been sent to reinforce that which had been previously on the coast of America. Admiral Byron’s squadron had met with bad weather, and was separated in different storms.1778 It now arrived, scattered, broken, sickly,  dismasted or otherwise damaged. Within 8 days after the departure of the French fleet, the Renown, the Raisonable, the Centurion, and the Cornwall, arrived singly at Sandy-Hook.
The next attempt of Count D’Estaing was against Rhode-Island, of which the British had been in possession since December, 1776. A combined attack against it was projected, and it was agreed that Gen. Sullivan should command the American land forces. Such was the eagerness of the people to co-operate with their new allies, and so confident were they of success, that some thousands of volunteers engaged in the service. The militia of Massachusetts was under the command of Gen. Hancock. The royal troops on the island, having been lately reinforced, were about 6000. Sullivan’s force was about 10,000. Lord Howe followed Count D’Estaing, and came within sight of Rhode-Island, the day after the French fleet entered the harbour of New-Port. The British fleet exceeded the French in point of number, but was inferior with respect to effective force and weight of metal. On the appearance of lord Howe, the French admiral put out to sea with his whole fleet, to engage him. While the two commanders were exerting their naval skill to gain respectively the advantages of position, a strong gale of wind came on which afterwards increased to a tempest, and greatly damaged the ships on both sides. In this conflict of the elements, two capital French ships were dismasted. The Languedoc of 90 guns, D’Estaing’s own ship, after losing all her masts and her rudder, was attacked by the Renown of 50 guns, commanded by Capt Dawson. The same evening the Preston of 50 guns, fell in with the Tonnant of 8o guns with only her mainmast standing, and attacked her with spirit, but night put an end to the engagement. Six sail of the French squadron came up in the night, which saved the disabled ships from any farther attack. There was no ship or vessel lost on either side. The British suffered less in the storm than their adversaries, yet enough to make it necessary for them to return to New-York, for the purpose of refitting.1778 The French fleet came to anchor, on  the 20th, near to Rhode-Island, but sailed on the 22d, to Boston. Before they sailed, Gen. Greene and the Marquis de la Fayette went on board the Languedoc, to consult on measures proper to be pursued. They urged D’Estaing to return with his fleet into the harbour, but his principal officers were opposed to the measure, and protested against it. He had been instructed to go to Boston, if his fleet met with any misfortune. His officers insisted on his ceasing to prosecute the expedition against Rhode-Island, that he might conform to the orders of their common superiors. Upon the return of Gen. Greene and the Marquis de la Fayette, and their reporting the determination of Count D’Estaing, a protest was drawn up and sent to him, which was signed by John Sullivan, Nathaniel Greene, John Hancock, I. Glover, Ezekiel Cornel, William Whipple, John Tyler, Solomon Lovell, Jon. Fitconnell. In this they protested against the Count’s taking the fleet to Boston, as derogatory to the honor of France, contrary to the intention of his most Christian Majesty, and the interest of his nation, and destructive in the highest degree to the welfare of the United States, and highly injurious to the alliance formed between the two nations. Had D’Estaing prosecuted his original plan within the harbour, either before or immediately after the pursuit of lord Howe, the reduction of the British post on Rhode-Island would have been probable, but his departure in the first instance to engage the British fleet, and in the second from Rhode-Island to Boston, frustrated the whole plan. Perhaps Count D’Estaing, hoped by something brilliant to efface the impressions made by his late failure at New-York. Or he might have thought it imprudent to stake his whole fleet, within an harbour possessed by his enemies.
After his ships had suffered both from battle and the storm, the letter of his instructions—the importunity of his officers, and his anxiety to have his ships speedily refitted, might have weighed with him to sail directly for Boston. Whatever were the reasons which induced his adoption of that measure, the Americans were greatly dissatisfied.1778 They complained that they had incurred  great expence and danger, under the prospect of the most effective co-operation—that depending thereon, they had risqued their lives on an island, where without naval protection, they were exposed to particular danger. That in this situation, they were first deserted, and afterwards totally abandoned, at a time, when by persevering in the original plan, they had well grounded hopes of speedy success. Under these apprehensions, the discontented militia went home in such crowds, that the regular army which remained, was in danger of being cut off from a retreat. In these embarrassing circumstances, General Sullivan extricated himself with judgment and ability.August He began to send off his heavy artillery and baggage on the 26th, and retreated from his lines on the night of the 28th. It had been that day resolved in a council of war, to remove to the north end of the island—fortify their camp, secure a communication with the main, and hold the ground till it could be known whether the French fleet would return to their assistance. The Marquis de la Fayette by desire of his associates set off for Boston, to request the speedy return of the French fleet. To this Count D’Estaing would not consent, but he made a spirited offer to lead the troops under his command, and co-operate with the American land forces against Rhode-Island.
Sullivan retreated with great order, but he had not been five hours at the north end of the island, when his troops were fired upon by the British, who had pursued them on discovering their retreat. The pursuit was made by two parties and on two roads, to one was opposed Col. Henry B. Livingston, to the other John Laurens, aid de camp to Gen. Washington, and each of them had a command of light troops. In the first instance, these light troops were compelled by superior numbers to give way, but they kept up a retreating fire. On being reinforced they gave their pursuers a check, and at length repulsed them. By degrees the action became in some respects general, and near 1200 Americans were engaged. The loss on each side was between two and three hundred.
1778 Lord Howe’s fleet with Sir Henry Clinton and about 4000 troops on board, being seen off the coast, General Sullivan concluded immediately to evacuate Rhode-Island. As the centries of both armies were within 400 yards of each other, the greatest caution was necessary. To cover the design of retreating, the shew of resistence and continuance on the island was kept up.Aug. 30 The retreat was made in the night, and mostly completed by twelve o’clock. Towards the last of it the Marquis de la Fayette returned from Boston. He had rode thither from Rhode-Island, a distance of near 70 miles in 7 hours, and returned in six and a half. Anxious to partake in the engagement, his mortification was not little at being out of the way on the day before. He was in time to bring off the picquets, and other parties that covered the retreat of the American army. This he did in excellent order. Not a man was left behind, nor was the smallest article lost.
The bravery and good conduct which John Laurens displayed on this occasion, were excelled by his republican magnanimity, in declining a military commission which was conferred on him, by the representatives of his country. Congress resolved, that he should be presented with a continental commission, of Lieut. Colonel, in testimony of the sense which they entertained of his patriotic and spirited services, and of his brave conduct in several actions, particularly in that of Rhode-Island on the 29th of August.
On the next day he wrote to Congress a letter, expressing
his gratitude for the unexpected honor which they were pleased to confer on him, and of the satisfaction it would have afforded him, could he have accepted it without injuring the rights of the officers in the line of the army, and doing an evident injustice to his colleagues, in the family of the commander in chief. That having been a spectator of the convulsions occasioned in the army by disputes of rank, he held the tranquillity of it too dear, to be instrumental in disturbing it, and therefore intreated Congress to suppress their resolve, ordering him the commission of Lieut. Colonel, and to accept his sincere thanks for the intended honor.
1778 With the abortive expedition to Rhode-Island, there was an end to the plans, which were in this first campaign projected by the allies of Congress, for a co-operation. The Americans had been intoxicated with hopes of the most decisive advantages, but in every instance they were disappointed. Lord Howe with an inferiority of force, not only preserved his own fleet, but counteracted and defeated all the views and attempts of Count D’Estaing. The French fleet gained no direct advantages for the Americans, yet their arrival was of great service to their cause. Besides deranging the plans of the British, it carried conviction to their minds, that his most Christian Majesty was seriously disposed to support them. The good will of their new allies was manifested to the Americans, and though it had failed in producing the effects expected from it, the failure was charged to winds, weather, and unavoidable incidents. Some censured Count D’Estaing, but while they attempted to console themselves, by throwing blame on him, they felt and acknowledged their obligation to the French nation, and were encouraged to persevere in the war, from the hope that better fortune would attend their future co-operation.
Sir Henry Clinton finding that the Americans had left Rhode-Island, returned to New-York, but directed Gen. Grey to proceed to Bedford and the neighbourhood, where several American privateers resorted.Sept. 5 On reaching the place of their destination the General’s party landed, and in a few hours destroyed about 70 sail of shipping, besides a number of small craft. They also burnt magazines, wharfs, stores, warehouses, vessels on the stocks, and a considerable number of dwelling houses. The buildings burned in Bedford, were estimated to be worth £20,000 sterling. The other articles destroyed were worth much more. The royal troops proceeded to Martha’s vineyard. There they destroyed a few vessels, and made a requisition of the militia arms, the public money, 300 oxen and 2000 sheep, which was complied with.
1778A similar expedition under the command of Capt. Ferguson, was about the same time undertaken against Little  Egg-Harbour, at which place the Americans had a number of privateers and prizes, and also some salt-works. Several of the vessels got off but all that were found were destroyed.Oct. 5 Previous to the embarkation of the British from Egg-Harbour for New-York, Capt. Ferguson with 250 men, surprised and put to death about fifty of a party of the Americans, who were posted in the vicinity. The attack being made in the night, little or no quarter was given.
The loss sustained by the British in these several excursions was trifling, but the advantage was considerable, from the supplies they procured, and the check which was given to the American privateers.
One of the most disastrous events, which occurred at this period of the campaign, was the surprise and massacre of an American regiment of light dragoons, commanded by Lieut. Col. Baylor. While employed in a detatched situation, to intercept and watch a British foraging party, they took up their lodging in a barn near Taapan. The officer, who commanded the party which surprised them, was Major Gen. Grey. He acquired the name of the “No flint General” from his common practice of ordering the men, under his command to take the flints out of their muskets, that they might be confined to the use of their bayonets. A party of militia, which had been stationed on the road, by which the British advanced, quitted their post, without giving any notice to Col. Baylor. This disorderly conduct was the occasion of the disaster which followed. Grey’s men proceeded with such silence and address, that they cut off a serjeant’s patrol without noise, and surrounded old Taapan without being discovered. They then rushed in upon Baylor’s regiment, while they were in a profound sleep. Incapable of defence or resistance, cut off from every prospect of selling their lives dear, the surprised dragoons sued for quarters. Unmoved by their supplications, their adversaries applied the bayonet and continued its repeated thrusts, while objects could be found, in which any signs of life appeared. A few escaped, and others, after having received from five to eleven bayonet wounds in the trunk of  the body, were restored, in a course of time, to perfect health. Baylor himself was wounded, but not dangerously: He lost, in killed, wounded and taken, 67 privates out of 104. About 40 were made prisoners. These were indebted, for their lives, to the humanity of one of Grey’s captains, who gave quarters to the whole fourth troop, though contrary to the orders of his superior officers. The circumstance of the attack being made in the night, when neither order nor discipline can be observed, may apologise in some degree, with men of a certain description, for this bloody scene. It cannot be maintained, that the laws of war require that quarters should be given in similar assaults, but the lovers of mankind must ever contend, that the laws of humanity are of superior obligation to those of war. The truly brave will spare when resistance ceases, and in every case where it can be done with safety. The perpetrators of such actions may justly be denominated the enemies of refined society. As far as their example avails, it tends to arrest the growing humanity of modern times, and to revive the barbarism of Gothic ages. On these principles, the massacre of Col. Baylor’s regiment was the subject of much complaint. The particulars of it were ascertained, by the oaths of sundry credible witnesses, taken before Gov. Livingston of Jersey, and the whole was submitted to the judgment of the public.
1778In the summer of this year, an expedition was undertaken against East-Florida. This was resolved upon, with the double view of protecting the State of Georgia from depredation, and of causing a diversion. Gen. Robert Howe, who conducted it, had under his command about 2000 men, a few hundred of which were continental troops, and the remainder militia of the States of South-Carolina and Georgia. They proceeded as far as St. Mary’s river, and without any opposition of consequence. At this place, the British had erected a fort, which, in compliment to Tonyn, governor of the province, was called by his name. On the approach of Gen. Howe, they destroyed this fort, and after some slight skirmishing, retreated towards St. Augustine. The season was more fatal  to the Americans than any opposition they experienced from their enemies. Sickness and death raged to such a degree that an immediate retreat became necessary; but before this was effected, they lost nearly one fourth of their whole number.
The royal commissioners having failed in their attempts to induce the Americans to resume the character of British subjects, and the successive plans of co-operation between the new allies, having also failed, a solemn pause ensued. It would seem as if the commissioners indulged a hope, that the citizens of the United States, on finding a disappointment of their expectation from the French, would reconsider and accept the offers of Great-Britain. Full time was given, both for the circulation of their manifesto, and for observing its effects on the public mind, but no overtures were made to them from any quarter. The year was drawing near to a close, before any interesting expedition was undertaken. With this new aera, a new system was introduced. Hitherto the conquest of the states had been attempted by proceeding from north to south: But that order was henceforth inverted, and the southern states became the principal theatre, on which the British conducted their offensive operations. Georgia being one of the weakest states in the union, and at the same time abounding in provisions, was marked out as the first object of renewed warfare.1778 Nov. 27 Lieut. Colonel Campbell, an officer of known courage and ability embarked from New-York, for Savannah, with a force of about 2000 men, under the convoy of some ships of war commanded by commodore Hyde Parker. To make more sure of success in the enterprise, Major Gen. Prevost who commanded the royal forces in East-Florida, was directed to advance with them into the southern extremity of Georgia. The fleet that sailed from New-York, in about three weeks effected a landing near the mouth of the river Savannah.Dec. 23 From the landing place a narrow causeway of six hundred yards in length, with a ditch on each side, led through a swamp. A body of the British light infantry moved forward along this causeway. On their advance they received a heavy fire from a small  party under Capt. Smith, posted for the purpose of impeding their passage. Capt. Cameron was killed, but the British made their way good, and compelled Capt. Smith to retreat. General Howe, the American officer to whom the defence of Georgia was committed, took his station on the main road, and posted his little army, consisting of about 600 continentals and a few hundred militia between the landing-place and the town of Savannah, with the river on his left and a morass in front. This disposition announced great difficulties to be overcome, before the Americans could be dislodged. While Col. Campbell was making the necessary arrangements for this purpose, he received intelligence from a negro, of a private path through the swamp, on the right of the Americans, which lay in such a situation that, the British troops might march through it unobserved. Sir James Baird, with the light infantry, was directed to avail himself of this path, in order to turn the right wing of the Americans and attack their rear. As soon as it was supposed that Sir James Baird had cleared his passage, the British in front of the Americans, were directed to advance and engage. Howe, finding himself attacked in the rear as well as in the front, ordered an immediate retreat. The British pursued with great execution: Their victory was complete. Upwards of 100 of the Americans were killed. Thirty eight officers, 415 privates, 48 pieces of cannon, 23 mortars, the fort with its ammunition and stores, the shipping in the river, a large quantity of provisions with the capital of Georgia, were all, in the space of a few hours in the possession of the conquerors. The broken remains of the American army retreated up the river Savannah for several miles, and then took shelter by crossing into South-Carolina. Agreeably to instructions, Gen. Prevost had marched from East-Florida, about the same time that the embarkation took place from New-York. After encountering many difficulties, the king’s troops from St. Augustine reached the inhabited parts of Georgia, and there heard the welcome tidings of the arrival and success of Col. Campbell. Savannah having fallen, the fort at Sunbury surrendered.1778 Gen. Prevost marched to Savannah, and took the command of the combined  forces from New-York and St. Augustine. Previous to his arrival, a proclamation had been issued, to encourage the inhabitants to come in and submit to the conquerors, with promises of protection, on condition that with their arms they would support royal government.
Lieut. Col. Campbell acted with great policy, in securing the submission of the inhabitants. He did more in a short time, and with comparatively a few men, towards the re-establishment of the British interest, than all the general officers who had preceded him. He not only extirpated military opposition, but subverted for some time every trace of republican government, and paved the way for the re-establishment of a royal legislature. Georgia soon after the reduction of its capital exhibited a singular spectacle. It was the only state of the union, in which after the declaration of independence, a legislative body was convened under the authority of the crown of Great Britain. The moderation and prudence of Lieut. Col. Campbell were more successful in reconciling the minds of the citizens to their former constitution, than, the severe measures which had been generally adopted by other British commanders.
The errors of the first years of the war forced on Congress some useful reforms, in the year 1778. The insufficiency of the provision, made for the support of the officiers of their army, had induced the resignation of between two and three hundred of them, to the great injury of the service. From a conviction of the justice and policy of making commissions valuable, and from respect to the warm, but disinterested recommendations of Gen. Washington, Congress resolved “That half-pay should be allowed to their officers, for the term of seven years,April, 1778 after the expiration of their service.” This was, afterwards, extended to the end of their lives. And finally, that was commuted for full pay, for five years. Resignations were afterwards rare, and the States reaped the benefit of experienced officers continuing in service, till the war was ended.
A system of more regular discipline was introduced into the American army, by the industry, abilities and judicious  regulations of Baron de Steuben a most excellent disciplinarian, who had served under the king of Prussia. A very important reform took place in the medical department, by appointing different officers, to discharge the directing and purveying business of the military hospitals, which had been before united in the same hands. Dr. Rush was principally instrumental, in effecting this beneficial alteration. Some regulations, which had been adopted for limiting the prices of commodities, being found not only impracticable, but injurious, were abolished.
A few detached events, which could not be introduced without interrupting the narrative of the great events of the campaign, shall close this chapter.
Feb. 19Cap. James Willing, in the service of the United States, arrived, with a few men from Fort-Pitt, at the Natches, a British settlement in West-Florida. He sent out parties, who, without any resistance, made the inhabitants prisoners. Articles of agreement were entered into, between them and Capt. Willing, by which they promised to observe a neutrality in the present contest, and in return it was engaged, that their property should be unmolested.
Mar. 7The Randolph, an American frigate of 36 guns and 305 men, commanded by Capt. Biddle, having sailed on a cruise from Charleston, fell in with the Yarmouth of 64 guns, and engaged her in the night. In about a quarter of an hour, the Randolph blew up. Four men only were saved, upon a piece of her wreck. These had subsisted for four days on nothing but rain water, which they sucked from a piece of blanket. On the 5th day, Cap. Vincent of the Yarmouth, though in chase of a ship, on discovering them, suspended the chase and took them on board. Capt. Biddle, who perished on board the Randolph, was universally lamented. He was in the prime of life, and had excited high expectations of future usefulness to his country, as a bold and skillful naval officer.
Oct. 29 1778Major Talbot took the British schooner Pigot, of 8 twelve pounders, as she lay on the eastern side of Rhode-Island.  The Major, with a number of troops on board a small vessel, made directly for the Pigot in the night, and sustaining the fire of her marines, reserved his own till he had run his jibb-boom through her fore-shrouds. He then fired some cannon, and threw in a volley of musquetry, loaded with bullets and buck-shot, and immediately boarded her. The captain made a gallant resistance, but he was not seconded by his crew. Major Talbot soon gained undisturbed possession, and carried off his prize in safety. Congress, as a reward of his merit, presented him with the commission of Lieutenant Colonel.