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the king, stating the grievances of the colonies, and letters to the
people of Great Britain, appealing to their sense of justice.

The precise part acted by each member of congress cannot be
ascertained, as the details of the proceedings were not published ;
but it is certain that Washington was regarded as one of the leading
men in it, and that his opinion on all points was received with the
utmost deference. The celebrated orator, Patrick Henry, was asked
about this time 'whom he thought the greatest man in congress.'
* If you speak of eloquence,' was his reply, ' Mr Rutledge of South
Carolina is by far the greatest orator ; but if you speak of solid
information and sound judgment, Colonel Washington is unquestion-
ably the greatest man on that floor.'

The second congress met on the loth of May 1775. The members
were nearly the same as in the first, only we observe the new name
of Benjamin Franklin as one of the deputies from Pennsylvania.
The petition which the first congress had addressed to King George
had produced no effect ; and the disposition of the British parlia-
ment appeared more hostile than before to the liberties of the
colonists. In these circumstances, the congress assumed a decided
tone. It was unanimously voted ' that the colonies be immediately
put in a state of defence : ' the army then engaged in besieging the
British troops in Boston was adopted by congress as a continental
army ; and on the isth of June, Washington was unanimously chosen
commander-in-chief ; the members of congress pledging themselves
individually to stand by him with their lives and fortunes.


At the time of his appointment as commander-in-chief, Washington
was forty-three years of age. His life, during the next eight years,
is identified with the history of the war between Great Britain and


the American States. We can narrate only the leading particulars
of the history of this important period.

Washington's first care, after being appointed to the command,
was to form and systematise the army, which was miserably weak
and ill provided with the necessaries of war. The task was no easy
one, as he had to contend against the wishes of the soldiers them-
selves, against the mutual jealousies of the officers, and against the
irresolution of congress. Nevertheless, he succeeded to a certain
extent. ' He arranged the army into six brigades of six regiments
each, in such a manner that the troops from the same colony should
be brought together as far as practicable, and act under a com-
mander from that colony. Of the whole he made three grand
divisions, each consisting of two brigades, or twelve regiments. The
great work of creating a regular military system was to be executed
mainly by the commander-in-chief. Congress might approve, sanc-
tion, and aid ; but it was his task to combine, organise, establish,
and sustain. To this end he kept up an unremitted correspondence
with congress during the whole war. His letters were read to the
house in full session, and almost every important resolution respect-
ing the army was adopted on his suggestion or recommendation, and
emanated from his mind. Besides his unceasing intercourse with
congress, he was obliged to correspond with the heads of the pro-
vincial governments, and afterwards with the governors and legis-
latures of the states ; with conventions, committees, and civil

The first year of Washington's command was spent not so much
in actual warfare, as in making these arrangements. At the end
of the year, when the old army was dissolved, the whole number of
the new establishment was nine thousand six hundred and fifty.
More than a thousand of these men were absent on furloughs, which
it had been necessary to grant as a condition of re-enlistment. This
result was peculiarly discouraging. ' Search the volumes of history
through,' said Washington, 'and I much question whether a case
similar to ours is to be found ; namely, to maintain a post against
the flower of the British troops for six months together without
powder, and then to have one army disbanded, and another to be
raised within the same distance of a reinforced enemy.' The
advanced season of the year, however, rendered it impossible for the
British troops to avail themselves of the advantage which these
circumstances gave them.

Washington, when he accepted the command, had expected to
be able to reside a part of every year at Mount Vernon. As, how-
ever, he found it impossible to do so, it was Mrs Washington's
custom to join him in the camp every winter, returning to Mount
Vernon at the opening of the campaign in spring. But though
absent from his estates, Washington did not neglect his private
affairs. In the midst of his pressing and multifarious business as



commander-in-chief, he kept up a regular correspondence with Mr
Lund Washington, to whom he had committed the management
of his property during his absence. Twice or thrice a month Mr
Lund Washington sent him a detailed account of whatever had
happened, or whatever was going on, at Mount Vernon ; and all
these letters were answered by Washington in the most punctual

In the end of 1775, General Howe, who had been sent out to
supersede General Gage in the command of the British forces, was
fitting out an expedition which was imagined at first to be against
New York, but which was, in reality, destined for North Carolina.
Washington, on his side, was eager for an attack on Boston, but
was overruled by a council of his officers ; and it was agreed to
attempt the occupation of Dorchester Heights. Accordingly, on
the 4th of March 1776, the Americans took possession of the heights ;
and this was followed by the evacuation of Boston by the British on
the 1 7th. On this occasion the thanks of congress were conveyed
to Washington in a letter signed by the president, and a gold medal
was struck in his honour. After leaving Boston, General Howe and
his army hovered about the coast in their fleet, meditating, as it
appeared, an attack on New York. When they did land at Sandy
Hook, on the 28th of June, such was the state of Washington's
army, that he was unprepared to offer any effective resistance ; and
accordingly, after the British had got possession of Long Island, he
was obliged to evacuate New York, and fall back behind the Dela-
ware. The defeat at Long Island made Washington more anxious
than ever for a complete reorganisation of his army. ' I am fully
confirmed,' he wrote to the president of congress, ' in the opinion I
ever entertained, and which I more than once in my letters took the
liberty of mentioning to congress, that no dependence could be put
in a militia or other troops than those enlisted for a longer period
than our regulations heretofore have prescribed. I am persuaded,
and as fully convinced as I am of any one fact that has happened,
that our liberties must of necessity be greatly hazarded, if not entirely
lost, if their defence is left to any but a permanent standing army ;
I mean one to exist during the war.' In consequence of these
representations, congress turned its attention earnestly to the state
of the army : most of Washington's recommendations were adopted ;
and in the month of December he was invested with powers which
made him, in fact, a military dictator.

Meanwhile, the famous declaration of independence had been
passed, by which the name of colonies was abolished for ever, and
the thirteen provinces constituted into the United States of America.
This act was entirely in accordance with the wishes of General
Washington, who, with all the leading men in the colonies, had
long foreseen the impossibility of any reconciliation with the mother-
country. A short time after the declaration of independence was



passed, Lord Howe, the brother of the British general, arrived from
Great Britain as a commissioner from the king, bearing certain
terms from the British government. The terms were such as might
have had some effect if they had been offered sooner ; but now they
came too late.

Lord Howe's mission having proved fruitless, the war was con-
tinued. The campaign of the year 1777 did not open till the month
of June. During the winter, Washington had been employed in
making those preparations which his increased authority now
enabled him to effect. The months of June and July were spent in
insignificant skirmishing between the two armies. The month of
July, however, was signalised by an event of some importance
namely, the arrival from France of the Marquis de Lafa-
yette, with the chivalrous design of fighting on the side of the

In the end of 1777, the American army was twice defeated at
the Brandywine on the nth of September, and at Germantown, in
Pennsylvania, on the 4th of October. The British entered Phil-
adelphia, and Washington retired into winter-quarters at Valley
Forge. The winter was one of severe trial to the patience and
patriotism of Washington. A volume of spurious letters, said to be
his, had been published in London ; and now they were reprinted
at New York by some of his enemies, and widely circulated. But a
more serious trial, and one more likely to produce fatal results, was
a cabal against him formed by several of his own officers, assisted
by a small party in congress. The leaders in this cabal were
General Conway, General Gates, and General Mifflin, and the object
they seemed to have in view was the removal of Washington from
the supreme command. At first they did succeed in making some
impression upon the public mind unfavourable to Washington, but
at length the good sense of the majority of congress prevailed, and
the cabal was crushed.

After a trying winter, during which all Washington's promptitude
and skill were required to prevent his troops from breaking out into
mutiny, owing to the want of supplies, the war was resumed in the
spring of 1778. Upon the whole, the issue of this campaign was
favourable to the Americans. The British were obliged to evacuate
Philadelphia, and retreat towards the coast ; and although the
battle of Monmouth was a drawn one, its results to the Americans
were nearly as good as a victory. But the event of the year 1778,
which caused the most universal joy in America, was the conclusion
of a treaty between the United States and France, by which the
French king recognised the independence of the states. This treaty
was concluded in May ; and in July following, a French fleet, con-
sisting of twelve ships-of-the-line and four frigates, arrived on the
American coast, to assist the States against the British. The rest
of the year was spent rather in mutual menaces than in actual


warfare, and in December the army v/ent into winter-quarters on
the west of the Hudson. During the winter, a scheme was pro-
jected in congress for invading Canada ; but in consequence of
Washington's representations and remonstrances, it was thrown

The year 1 779 was marked by few events of consequence, although
the general tenor of the war was in favour of the Americans. The
only two circumstances which need be noticed are the expedition
against certain Indian tribes which had gone over to the side of the
British, and the storming of Stony Point on the I5th of July. In
both these enterprises the Americans were successful. In the
want of more interesting particulars connected with this period of
Washington's life, we shall imitate his biographer's example, and
introduce the following letter which he wrote to his friend Dr
Cochrane, inviting him to dinner. It will give an idea of Washing-
ton's mode of life in the camp, and of his manner when he meant to
be playful. The date is i6th August 1779.

'DEAR DOCTOR I have asked Mrs Cochrane and Mrs Livingstone
to dine with me to-morrow ; but am I not in honour bound to
apprise them of their fare ? As I hate deception, even where the
imagination only is concerned, I will. It is needless to premise that
my table is large enough to hold the ladies. Of this they had ocular
proof yesterday. To say how it is usually covered, is rather more
essential ; and this shall be the purport of my letter.

' Since our arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, some-
times a shoulder of bacon, to grace the head of the table ; a piece of
roast beef adorns the foot ; and a dish of beans or greens, almost
imperceptible, decorates the centre. When the cook has a mind to
cut a figure, which I presume will be the case to-morrow, we have
two beefsteak-pies, or dishes of crabs, in addition, one on each side
of the centre dish, dividing the space, and reducing the distance
between dish and dish to about six feet, which, without them, would
be nearly twelve feet apart. Of late he has had the surprising
sagacity to discover that apples will make pies ; and it is a question
whether, in the violence of his efforts, we do not get one of apples
instead of having both of beefsteaks. If the ladies can put up with
such entertainment, and will submit to partake of it on plates, once
tin, but now iron (not become so by the labour of scouring), I shall
be happy to see them ; and am, dear doctor, yours.'

In April 1780, Lafayette returned from a visit to France, bringing
intelligence that the French government had fitted out an armament,
both of sea and land forces, to assist the Americans, and that its
arrival might shortly be expected. Accordingly, on the loth of July,
the French fleet arrived at Rhode Island. It consisted of eight
ships-of-the-line and two frigates, commanded by the Chevalier de


Fernay, and having on board five thousand troops, commanded by
the Count de Rochambeau. A conference was immediately held
between Washington and Rochambeau, and a plan of co-operation
agreed upon. Nothing of consequence, however, was done during
the remainder of the year the only incident of note being the cap-
ture and execution of the unfortunate Major Andre*. It may be
proper, for the sake of most of our readers, to give a brief account of
this melancholy transaction. One of the commanders of the American
army under Washington was General Arnold, who had distinguished
himself greatly by his courage and his military talents during the
war, and who was at this time invested with the command of West
Point and other forts in the highlands. A vain and extravagant
man, he had contracted debts far beyond his means of payment ;
and to extricate himself from these embarrassments, he had fallen
upon the desperate resource of treachery. Eighteen months before
the period we are now arrived at, he had commenced a treasonable
correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton, the British general, com-
municating intelligence respecting the plans and movements of the
American army. The correspondence was at first anonymous ; but
at length Arnold threw off his disguise, and Sir Henry Clinton, per-
ceiving the advantage to be derived from the treason, employed
Major Andre", a young, brave, and accomplished British officer, to
carry on the communication with Arnold. For some time letters
passed between Arnold and Andre", under the assumed names of
Gustavus and John Anderson, and written in such a manner as to
be unintelligible to any party not in the secret. When, however,
Arnold was invested with the command of West Point, he made
proposals for delivering the fort up to the enemy, and it became
necessary that Andre* should have a personal interview with him,
to make the final arrangements. An interview was accordingly
arranged. The British sloop-of-war Vulture, with Andre" on board,
ascended the Hudson to within a few miles of King's Ferry : Andrd
went on shore in the night-time, and met Arnold, who had come
thither on purpose. Not being able to finish their business that
night, Arnold persuaded Andre", contrary to his intention, to go
within the American lines, and lie concealed during the day at the
house of a person of the name of Smith. Leaving him here, Arnold
returned in the morning to West Point. In the evening, Andre"
having exchanged his regimentals for an ordinary dress, and been
provided with a written pass from Arnold, left Smith's house, crossed
the river, and took the direction of New York, not being able, as he
wished, to return to the Vulture. Next day he was stopped on the
road by three militiamen, who searched him, and found papers con-
cealed in his boots. They immediately conveyed him to the nearest
American post, the commander of which, on examining the papers
found on Andrews person, perceived them to be in Arnold's hand-
writing. Stupidly enough, he wrote to Arnold, telling him of the


capture of a person calling himself John Anderson, and carrying
very strange papers ; and the consequence was, that Arnold had
time to escape to the British camp. Meanwhile, intelligence of the
affair had been conveyed to Washington. The unfortunate Andre"
himself wrote to Washington, telling his real name and rank, and
explaining the manner in which he had been brought within the
American lines. ' Against my stipulation,' he says, ' my intention,
and without my knowledge beforehand, I was conducted within one
of your posts. Your excellency may conceive my sensation on this
occasion, and will imagine how much more I must have been affected
by the refusal to reconduct me back next night as I had been
brought. Thus become a prisoner, I had to concert my escape. I
quitted my uniform, and was passed another way in the night, with-
out the American posts, to neutral ground, and informed I was
beyond all armed parties, and left to press for New York. I was
taken at Tarrytown by some volunteers. Thus was I betrayed
(being adjutant-general of the British army) into the vile condition
of an enemy in disguise within your posts.'

Andre" having been conveyed to the head-quarters of the army at
Tappan, a board of officers was summoned by Washington to con-
sider his case. The conclusion they came to was, that Andre" ought
to be regarded as a spy, and, according to the law and usage of
nations, to suffer death. Washington approved of this decision.
Great exertions were made by General Clinton, and by many others,
to procure a remission of the sentence in a case so peculiar ; but all
considerations of private or personal feeling were overcome by the
sense of public duty ; and harsh as the death of Major Andre" might
appear, Washington felt himself bound not to interfere. The only
possible way in which Andre" could have been saved, was one which
General Clinton could not, consistently with the honour of his
country, adopt namely, the surrender of the traitor Arnold. Mean-
while, the young and unfortunate officer met his fate nobly. On the
ist of October, the day before his death, he wrote as follows to
Washington :

'SIR Buoyed above the terror of death by the conscious-
ness of a life devoted to honourable pursuits, and stained with no
action that can give me remorse, I trust that the request I make
to your excellency at this serious period, and which is to soften my
last moments, will not be rejected. Sympathy towards a soldier
will surely induce your excellency and a military tribunal to adapt
the mode of my death to the feelings of a man of honour. Let me
hope, sir, that if aught in my character impresses you with esteem
towards me, if aught in my misfortunes marks me as the victim of
policy, and not of resentment, I shall experience the operation of
these feelings in your breast, by being informed that I am not to die
on a gibbet.'


Even this request could not be complied with, and next day
Major Andre* was hanged as a spy. Andre was a young man
of amiable manners and disposition, and his fate was univer-
sally lamented both in America and England ; and in reading the
history of his ignominious death, one is inclined to feel that his life
might, with no stretch of humanity or justice, have been spared.
It seems at least clear that Andrd was seduced into the position
of a spy, and was animated by no dishonourable intention. At the
time of his melancholy death, his mother and three sisters were alive
in England. Provision was very properly made for them, in testi-
mony of public sympathy with them, and public admiration for the
brave and manly conduct of their lost relative ; and after the con-
clusion of the war, Major Andrews ashes were disinterred, brought to
England, and buried in Westminster Abbey.

The years 1781 and 1782 passed away like those which preceded
them, no decisive battles being fought or great victories obtained on
either side, but the general tenor of events, both in America and
Europe, being favourable to the cause of American independence.
The latter year, however, was marked by a very singular incident in
the life of Washington. During the whole war, the sluggishness and
timidity of congress, and its dilatory method of passing measures the
most essential to the public good, had been the subject of great
complaint in the army, and at length the feeling of discontent gave
rise to sentiments of an anti-republican nature. Judging from the
specimen of republican government which they had in the proceed-
ings of congress, the soldiers and officers began to think that affairs
would never be well managed, until some one man of ability were
placed at the head of the government, if not with the title of king, at
least with some other corresponding title. So strong had this con-
viction become in the army, that at length a number of the officers
met, and deputed a veteran colonel to express their sentiments to
Washington himself. A long and skilfully written letter was pre-
pared, in which, after describing the wretched condition of the
country, and especially of the army, the writer adds this important
paragraph : ' This must have shewn to all, and to military men in
particular, the weakness of republics, and the exertions the army
have been able to make by being placed under a proper head.
Therefore, I have little doubt that when the benefits of a mixed
government are pointed out and duly considered, such will be readily
adopted. In this case it will, I believe, be uncontroverted, that the
same abilities which have led us through difficulties apparently
insurmountable by human power to victory and glory, those qualities
that have merited and obtained the universal esteem and veneration
of an army, would be most likely to conduct and direct us in the
smoother paths of peace. Some people have so confounded the
ideas of tyranny and monarchy as to find it very difficult to separate
them. It may therefore be requisite to give the head of such a


constitution as I propose some title apparently more moderate ; but
if all other things were once adjusted, I believe strong arguments
might be produced for admitting the title of king, which I conceive
would be attended with some material advantages.'

This was an important moment in the history of the United
States. It has been remarked, that there are two classes of persons
who play an important part in revolutions lawyers and military
men. The lawyers usually make themselves conspicuous during the
revolution ; but the military men at last obtain the ascendency, and
restore society to order. It was by the power of the army that
Cromwell and Napoleon were placed in the supreme civil command,
and, in the present case, it was from the army that the proposal
originated to make Washington king. Washington, however,,
declined the proposal, not, probably, from any mere scruple about
injuring his fair name with posterity by appearing ambitious, but
simply because, in the circumstances of the United States at that
time, he may have seen that his accepting the offer would be attended
not by good, but by ruinous consequences. The following is the
answer which he returned to the letter containing the proposal :

'NEWBURG, Z2d May 1782.

' SIR With a mixture of great surprise and astonishment, I have
read with attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal.
Be assured, sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me
more painful sensations than your information of there being such
ideas existing in the army as you have expressed, and which I must
view with abhorrence and reprehend with severity. For the present,
the communication of them will rest in my own bosom, unless some
further agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary.

' I am much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could
have given encouragement to such an address, which to me seems

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 31 of 58)