Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

“ To secure these rights governments are instituted, which derive their just power from the consent of the governed. Where a government becomes destructive of these ends, the people have a right to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government which may conduce to their safety and happiness. Prudence indeed dictates that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But where a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism,* and when a government pays no attention to their most earnest petitions and well-grounded remonstrances, it becomes their duty to throw it off, and to provide new guards for their future security. We, therefore, the assembled representatives of the United States of America, appealing to the supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that they are and of right ought to be free and independent states, and that all allegiance and connection with the British crown is hereby totally dissolved. And for support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."

From that time to the present day, this American Declaration (like similar principles, measures, and declarations) has been contemplated and judged from wholly opposite points of view. The uncompromising adherents of the doctrine of divine rights and blind obedience, as well as the advocates of the right of every rebellion, solve with perfect ease all questions concerning political and social relations; for without ever closely inquiring into their origin, contents, the occasion that produced them, their management and success, they clap them upon the same last, and measure them with the same yard-stick. This seemingly absolute and infallible wisdom necessarily tends almost always to error and folly; and all that is characteristic and life-like is destroyed, in order to enthrone in its stead the spectre of arbitrary rules as the only dispenser of happiness. This caput mortuum of soi-disant profound historical views, treats the thirty tyrants, the decemvirs and triumvirs, Gessler and Tell, Alba and William of Orania, Charles I. and Cromwell, James II. William III. and Louis XVI., Washington and Robespierre, the most stupid and impudent rebellion and the noblest stand against oppression, in precisely the same manner, and seeks to exalt a few barren ideas above genuine enthusiasm and profound knowledge. Without entering upon a closer examination and refutation of this one-sided system than is here admissible, we return after these few hints to our historical narration, the course of which affords a sufficient illustration of these principles.

* The Declaration speaks most strongly against the king, because America yielded no recognition whatever to the right and might of Parliament.

CHAPTER V.

FROM THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE (1776) TO THE BREAKING

OUT OF THE WAR BETWEEN ENGLAND AND FRANCE (1778).

Necessity of the War-Washington-Capture of Burgoyne-France and America

War between France and England.

A RIGHTEOUS indignation at wrongs endured, and a noble enthusiasm in the cause of liberty and one's native land are, as a general rule, the most important conditions to success in great warlike undertakings; but that these will not suffice without patience, obedience, and habits of discipline, was experienced by the Americans after a large body of English troops under Lord Howe had landed upon their coasts. Before comniencing hostilities, he issued demands for submission and promises of pardon; but in this the Americans saw only an artifice for sowing disunion among themselves, and they even printed and distributed these English proclamations, in order that the people might be convinced that where rights ought to have been acknowledged and confirmed, all they were offered was-pardon!

The Americans, however, were obliged every where to retire before the English army, which was well commanded and inured to war; they thus lost New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and the whole country as far as the Delaware ; while in consequence of this misfortune, all order vanished from their ranks, many returned home at the expiration of their stipulated term of service, and whole hosts of inhabitants hastened over to the royal army to seek peace and protection. Congress alone remained active and firm in this most trying juncture of the American war of freedom, and delivered to General Washington, with provident sagacity and noble confidence, the supreme command of the army. He was empowered at his discretion to raise and disband troops, to inflict punishment, levy contributions, award compensations, &c. That such a man as Washington was to be found, and that his worth was duly appreciated, were circumstances highly fortunate and highly meritorious. Without his personal influence and exertions, the American revolution could never have succeeded so admirably; in fact none can succeed where the excited masses are destitute of wise and virtuous leaders.

George Washington was born in Virginia, in the county of Westmoreland, on the 22d of February, 1732, sound and strong in body, cultivated in mind by industry but still more by his way of life, and distinguished as a leader in the war of 1756 to 1763. He had an intellect powerful but not dazzling. Even in the present day in America, happily for the country, merely brilliant qualities are by no means over-estimated, as is so often the case in France; and rectitude, character, and virtue are never regarded as superfluous, unimportant accompaniments. Few men who have earned for themselves a celebrated name in the history of the world exhibit such a harmony, such a concordant symmetry of all the qualities calculated to render himself and others happy, as Washington; and it has been very appropriately observed, that, like the master-pieces of ancient art, he must be the more admired in the aggregate, the more closely he is examined in detail. His soul was elevated above party-spirit, prejudice, selfinterest, and paltry aims; he acted according to the impulses of a noble heart and a sound understanding, strengthened by impartial observation. By calmly considering things in all their relations and from every point of view, he became master of them, and was able, even in situations of the greatest perplexity, to choose with certainty that which was best. To the greatest firmness he united the mildness and patience equally necessary in the then state of affairs; to prudence and foresight he joined boldness at the right moment; and the power entrusted to him he never abused by the slightest infraction of the laws.

Although it is impossible that an American can ever again perform such services for his country as were then rendered hy Washington, his noble, blameless, and spotless image will remain a model and a rallying-point to all, to encourage the good and to deter the bad. How petty do the common race of martial heroes appear in comparison with Washington! how insignificant especially Lord North, who, while internally wavering, strove after an appearance of decision, feebly pursued measures of violence, and awakened hatred without instilling fear!

The formation of a new and more effective American army was promoted by the insubordination and plundering propensities of many of the English and German soldiery; for as soon as the inhabitants perceived that submission could not ensure their safety, they rushed to arms; and country people who had thought but little of the right of taxation, or at least had not interested themselves in the matter, felt the wrongs which the plundering soldiery inflicted on them. Bold attacks were made by Washington on portions of the British army at Trenton and Princeton; in which he came off victorious, and raised the sunken courage of the Americans to such a pitch, that they encountered greater dangers with intrepidity.

On the 11th of September, 1777, Washington was defeated at the river Brandywine by a superior English force; on the 26th of September, the victors occupied Philadelphia ; and on the 14th of September, General Burgoyne reached Saratoga with a strong army, on his march from Canada. The great and judicious plan of uniting the northern and southern portions of the English army, of completely hemming in New England, and of then reducing the less zealous colonies to subjection, seemed to have already succeeded; and there was scarcely an Englishman at that moment who doubted a speedy and happy termination to the war.

But as the danger became more imminent, the activity and resolution of the Americans also increased ; and while Washington watched the southern divisions of the English, they kept collecting in greater numbers to oppose Burgoyne's progress. The latter found the ways nowhere open; and while he was anxiously awaiting the arrival of his countrymen from the south, they lost time in useless maraudings, and at length turned back when they had already traversed the greater part of the way.

In the meantime Burgoyne's army became more closely surrounded, his retreat was blocked up, his stock of provisions exhausted, and there remained no hope of winning a battle against his far more numerous and well posted enemies. Burgoyne was thus compelled, on the 16th of October, 1777, to surrender, at Saratoga, him. self and his army to General Gates ;* on condition that all should be allowed a free retreat to England, and promising that they would not again serve against America during the war. The Americans took 5,790 prisoners, 35 pieces of cannon, 4,687 muskets, and many other munitions of war, which were of great use to them.

This great and unlooked for event decided, if not the fate of America, at least the views of the European powers, especially France, concerning the revolt of the colonies. With respect to this, it has been said time and again," the cabinet of Versailles displayed profound policy and unwonted skill. Nay, it can be affirmed that the French government has never, and on no important occasion, exhibited so much sagacity and firmness.”+

* Gates was for a while opposed to and even exalted above Washington by a party. The former, however, was presumptuous, irresolute, and altogether of a mean disposition.—Life of Hamilton, i. 124, 127.

† Marten, Causes Célèbres, i. 498.

What we are to think of these praises, is shown in the printed correspondence of the American envoys and the unprinted correspondence of the English ambassador at Paris, Lord Stormont.* It deserves to be communicated in this place some. what at length, since it gives very instructive disclosures respecta ing the views of the English, the Americans, and the French.

On the 7th of September, 1774, Lord Stormont writes from Paris : "I will not trouble you with the particulars of the reasonings of our philosophers, wits, and coffee-house politicians here; who all, without exception, are zealous Americans, and affect to regard them as a brave people, fighting for their natural rights, and struggling to wrest them from the hands of haughty and passionate masters. Their favorite argument is, that since the Americans are not represented in our Parliament, they ought not to render obedience to our laws. This argument they turn about on all sides, and amuse themselves with empty, vague, and general theories, the usual cloak under which men of parts conceal their ignorance. They speak in a way that must surprise every body who is not as well acquainted with this country as your lordship, who knows with what self-conceit the French talk of what they know least about, and how they make up in petulance what they lack in knowledge. Then too there are people here of quite a different stamp, who indeed grant, in general terms, that our right is very clear; but who think, or pretend to think, that it would be better for us to lay it aside and assent to the claims of the Americans, unfounded as they are, rather than bring on an open quarrel in which we must be the losers at last. These say, that by virtue of the natural and inevitable course of human affairs, in the extraordinary increase of the population, power, and trade of North America, a time must arrive when the struggle for independence in all our colonies must become general. Impelled by this spirit and conscious of their own superior power, they would cast off all dependence on the mother-country, and form an immense kingdom of their own. This event, it is said, no human prudence can avert; and by the greatest wisdom that which cannot be healed can only be hidden or postponed for a season at the most.”

At that time the French ministers said nothing at all respecting American affairs, and even a year later (20th September, 1775) Lord Stormont writes: “The whole tenor of the speeches of M. de Vergennes (and he spoke on this occasion often and decidedly) convinces me that the French will grant no aid to the American rebels with the consent of the government." Yet M. de Vergennes had already, on the 7th of August, 1775, written the following to Count de Guines, to be communicated to the Ameri

• Raumer's Beiträge, v. 209–264.

« AnteriorContinuar »