« ZurückWeiter »
esquire,” which the general refused to receive, CHAP. VII. as “it did not acknowledge the public character 1776. with which he was invested by congress, and in no other character could he have any intercourse with his lordship.” This dignified proceeding was highly approved by congress, in a particular resolution which also directed, “that no letter or message be received on any occasion whatever from the enemy, by the commander in chief, or others, the commanders of the American army, but such as shall be directed to them in the characters they res. pectively sustain.”
As there was some difficulty in recognising either the civil or military character conferred on individuals by the existing powers in America, and yet it was desirable, either for the purpose of effecting a pacification, or of dividing still more the Americans, if a pacification should be impracticable, to open negotiations, and hold out the semblance of restoring peace, the commissioners cast about for means to evade this preliminary obstacle to any discussion of the terms they were authorized to propose; and, at length, colonel Patterson, adjutant July 20. general of the British army, was sent on shore by general Howe, with a letter directed to “George Washington, &c. &c. &c.” He was introduced to the general, whom he addressed by the title of “excellency ;” and, after the usual compliments, entered on business bý
CHAP. VII. saying, that general Howe much regretted the 1776. difficulties which had arisen respecting the
address of the letters ; that the mode adopted was deemed consistent with propriety, and was founded on precedent in cases of ambassadors, and plenipotentiaries, where disputes or diffi. culties about rank had arisen: that general Washington might recollect he had, last summer, addressed a letter to “the honour. able William Howe,” that lord, and general Howe, did not mean to derogate from his rank, or the respect due to him; and that they held his person and character in the highest esteem, but that the direction, with the addition of &c. &c. &c. implied every thing which ought to follow. Colonel Patterson then produced a letter which he said was the same that had been sent, and which he laid on the table.
The general declined receiving it, and said, that a letter directed to a person in a public character, should have some description or indication of that character, otherwise it would be considered as a mere private letter. It was true the etceteras implied every thing, and they also implied any thing. That the letter to general Howe, alluded to, was an answer to one received from him under a like address; which, having been taken by the officer on duty, he did not think proper to return; and therefore answered in the same mode of address; and that he should absolutely
decline any letter relating to his public station, CHAP. VII. directed to him as a private person.
1776. Colonel Patterson then said, that general Howe would not urge his delicacy further, and repeated his assertions that no failure of respect was intended.
Some conversation then passed relative to the treatment of prisoners, after which, colonel Patterson said, that the goodness and benevo. lence of the king had induced him to appoint lord Howe, and general Howe, his commis. sioners to accommodate the unhappy dispute at present subsisting: that they had great powers, and would derive much pleasure from effecting the accommodation; and that he wished this visit to be considered as making the first advance towards so desirable an object.
General Washington replied, that he was not vested with any powers on this subject, by those from whom he derived his authority; but he would observe that, so far as he could judge from what had as yet transpired, lord Howe and general Howe were only empowered to grant pardons : ....that those who had committed no fault, wanted no pardon ; and that the Americans were only defending what they deemed their indubitable rights. This, colonel Patterson said, would open a very wide field for argument: and after expressing his fears that an adherence to forms might obstruct busi
CHAP. VII. ness of the greatest moment and concern, he 1776. took his leave.
The substance of this conversation was communicated to congress, and was ordered by that body to be published.
In the mean time, general Washington was extremely desirous of making some impression on the enemy before their whole force should be collected. He conceived it to be very practicable to cross over in the night from the mouth of Thompson's creek, a little below Elizabeth town on the Jersey shore, to Staten island, and cut off some detached posts of the enemy near the blazing star, within a peninsula formed by two creeks, which could not easily be re-enforced. This plan was to be executed by general Mercer, who commanded the flying camp, and who assisted in forming it; but the weather, on the night fixed on for its execution, was so very tempestuous, as to make it impossible to cross the sound in such
boats as had been provided. August. The re-enforcements to the British army,
about four hundred and fifty of whom had been captured by the American cruizers, were now arriving daily from Europe, and general Howe had also been joined by the troops from the southward. His strength was not accurately known, but was estimated, in the total, at about twenty four thousand men. The last division of the Germans had not yet reached
him, but they were not expected soon, and he CHAP. VII. thought himself strong enough to open the 1776. campaign without them.
To this army, alike formidable for its numbers and the abundant supply of military stores of every sort, with which it was furnished; aided in its operations by a numerous fleet; general Washington had, from the time it was first expected, incessantly pressed congress to oppose a force, permanent in its own nature; capable, from its structure, of receiving military discipline; and competent, in point of numbers, to the defence of the country. It has been already observed, that these remonstrances had not produced all the effect to which they were entitled.
Without doubt, the difficulties embarrassing congress were of a nature not to be immediately or entirely removed by human efforts. Hosti. lities had commenced at a time, when neither arms, ammunition, nor military stores of any kind, sufficient to serve a' moderate army a single campaign, were in the country. The government was in possession of no revenue, and those resources from which revenue might be expected to flow, were dried up by the almost total annihilation of their commerce. They could only rely on paper emissions unsupported by solid funds, the value of which could only be kept up by heavy taxes which they had not the power to impose, and the im.