Response to “Observations on the American Revolution”
March 20, 1779
For the PENNSYLVANIA PACKET.
Through the channel of your paper, I take the liberty of remarking on a passage in a pamphlet just come into my hands, entitled, “Observations on the American Revolution, published according to a Resolution of Congress. By their Committee.”
The gentlemen who, principally, if not wholly, conducted this work were Governeur Morriss, Esq; Delegate from the state of New York, and W.H. Drayton, Esq; late Delegate from South Carolina; and of those two Mr. Morriss had the chief share. Consequently, the honours or errors it contain, are claimable by, or chargeable on, the compilers and conductors only.
The work consists of a collection of the principal state papers, which are connected with the rise and progress of the present revolution, and are arranged in the following order:
A part of the proceedings of Congress in 1774. The motion, commonly called Lord North’s conciliatory motion, in February, 1774, and the resolution of Congress thereon. A paper delivered to Congress by a British emissary: Resolutions of Congress respecting the defence of New York. Declaratory reasons of Congress for taking up arms, dated July 6th, 1775. Petition of Congress to the King of England July 8th, 1775. Address to the people of Great-Britain, July 9th, 1775. Resolutions of Congress, for granting commissions to privateers of November 20th, 1775, and March 23rd, 1776. Resolution of Congress recommending the taking up new governments, May 15th, 1776. Declaration of Independence, July 4th, 1776. Conference on Staten-Island with Lord Howe, reported September 7th, by the Committee of Congress appointed on that business. Draught of the bills of the British Parliament, received by Congress at York-Town April the 1st 1778, and the resolution of Congress thereon; April 2d 1778. Address of Congress to the people of America, May 4th, 1778. Collection of letters &c. &c. which passed between Congress and the British Commissioners. The work closes with the Proclamation and Manifesto of the said British Commissioners, dated New York, October 3rd, 1778, and Manifesto to Congress in answer thereto, October 30th, 1778. The greatest part, if not the whole, of those publications, have, at different times, appeared in most of the Newspapers on the continent.
The above making up the substance of the work, the only thing that is new in it is the historical connection by which the several declarations, resolutions, &c. are formed into a continued chain, and in this part there is an evident defect amounting to injustice.
It cannot be supposed that the historical past should be compleat in so short a compass, but that is no reason that it should be unjust in the gross; and as Mr. Morriss and Mr. Drayton are the only persons accountable for the detect I shall here take notice of, to them, only I address these remarks.
The reader, by casting his eye on the arrangement of papers in the order in the which I have placed them, which is the order they stand in in the pamphlet, will see there is a skip (a flying over I may call it) from the conference on Staten Island, September 1776, to the receipt of the British bills at York-Town, April 20th, 1778. I shall give the paragraph entire, (for there is but one), which unites those two events so widely distant in time, and, on the part of the enemy, so different in complexion.
Page 6: “From this moment,” that is, from the conference on Staten-Island, “the war raged with utmost violence, and was prosecuted by the enemy with unabated vigour and barbarity. To recite the numerous instances in which their faith, solemnly pledged, hath been broken, would be tedious and perhaps useless: Victory declared herself for a long time in favour of their superior numbers and superior discipline, and their insolence was equal to their success. Unable to comprehend the whole of the object they had undertaken, and overjoyed at the acquisition of the minuter parts, already the needy, greedy parasites of a voluptuous court had, in imagination, carved out our possessions among them, and wantoned in the prospect of enjoying the fruits of our laborious industry. Every thing, therefore, which looked like conciliation was treated as a concession flowing from feebleness of soul. The spirit of despotism, flushed with hope and inured to guilt, turned a hard, unfeeling eye upon the miseries of human nature, and directed, well pleased, the storm of vengeance on the head of freedom. But that full tide of success which had carried their expectations so high, began to ebb away: The gallant army, commanded by Burgoyne, checked by impediments which nature had thrown in his course, at length submitted, notwithstanding the efforts of their accomplished General, to the determined bravery of their foes. The splendor of our success in that quarter called the attention of Europe to our fortitude and perseverance. The weight and importance of a country which could resist the astonishing efforts made by Great-Britain, were evident to the most careless observation. The acknowledgement of our Independence became therefore an object of serious deliberation. Awakened from their dream of glory to a view of their danger, the Ministry of England determined, if possible, to recover what they had wantonly thrown away.
“On the 21st day of April, 1778, the Congress, then sitting at York-Town, received a letter from the General inclosing a printed paper from Philadelphia to the following effect:
“Draught a bill for declaring the intentions of the Parliament of Great-Britain,” &c. &c. &c.
I have marked the exceptionable parts in italics. The first, which is immaterial to the history, though of some moment to the writer, is a false rhetorical figure for “hard and unfeeling” are not, in any case, properties of the eye, but sentimentally, of the heart. A hard unfeeling-heart; a dear-ear; and a scornful-eye; are epithets expressive of possible qualities in the parts they are applied to: But according to the gentlemen’s derangement of them, he might as well say a scornful ear or a deaf eye. A man must be but little acquainted with feelings, not to know which is their place of residence.
As the sense of the reader would have supplied the above defect in the writer, I should not have gone out of my way to have made the remark, had it been in any other paragraph than that which I have quoted, on account of a more important inattention.
The insolence of the enemy after the engagement on Long Island, and their barbarity after taking Fort Washington, were far greater than their vigor at any one time of that campaign. I speak this from better knowledge than either Mr. Morriss or Mr. Dayton can have, as I was out with the army from the first marching of the associators early in August, and after their return was with General Green at Fort Lee till the evacuation and continued with the army till after their passing the Delaware on the eighth of December. I had began the first number of the Crisis while on retreat at Newark, with a design of publishing it in the Jersies, as it was Gen. Washington’s intentions to have made a stand at Newark, could he have been timely reinforced instead of which, near half the army left him at that place, or soon after, their time being out.
To use a plain phrase, the enemy were then masters of the field, and had it in their power to carry every thing before them. “Flushed with hope and inured to guilt,” and in full expectation of conquest, their confidence betrayed them into carelessness, and enabled General Washington to defeat them by a spirited and judicious improvement of their neglects. And I ask Mr. Morriss and Mr. Dayton, when it was that their, the enemy’s, “full tide of success began to eat away?” Truth will, and history ought to say, that it turned at Trenton, and was additionally impelled by the subsequent, and more masterly, stroke at Princeton. These two actions disabled and laid the enemy dormant for more than six months afterwards; and by throwing a spirit of joy into the continent gave life and vigor to the recruiting service for the next campaign. They were hard bought victories, under every disadvantage of winter and misfortune. But the tide once turned, went on, and conquest of Burgoyne was, properly speaking, the high water mark of our successes.
Why Mr. Morriss and Mr. Dayton have, in utter silence, passed over the affairs of Trenton and Princeton, and taken a flight from Staten Island to Saratoga, I cannot conceive. As historians they have reversed the line of facts, and as writers they have not made the most of their metaphor; for had they given honor where it was justly due, and shewn where the tide began to turn in our favor, it would have enabled them to have shewn its full encrease in the reduction of Burgoyne, where they have only placed its beginning.
The remains of the army, which at that time continued with Gen. Washington, and the citizens of this state and of Jersey, who turned out to repel the torrent which threatened destruction to America, must feel themselves injured by such a partial representation, published under the authority of a Committee of Congress. Their services are done away, as if they had never been; and an omission, amounting to oblivion, stands as a contradiction to the fact. This could not unintentionally happen, as the natural order both of time and circumstances threw the whole in their way, and half a page, judiciously complied, would have united the several links of the chain. I wonder that the metaphor of a tide should not revive in Mr. Drayton an idea of its progress; as he has, I am told, been an Admiral-- of the yellow, I suppose.
But this is not the only injustice in the paragraph I have quoted.
The conquest at Bennington by General Stark, which laid the foundation of Burgoyne’s defeat, is here unjustly buried under a general description of impediments which nature threw in his course.
There is no part in the pamphlet, where half a dozen pages might have been employed to more honour and advantage, than in concisely setting forth the principal circumstances which passed between the conference our Staten Island and the arrival of the draughts of the British bills at York Town; for the want of which, the circumstantial connection is lost, and that which is omitted, as well as that which is told, have an appearance of injustice.
Mr. Morriss and Mr. Drayton have each of them been so exceedingly industrious in supporting Mr. Deane’s impositions that they seem not to have had time to attend any other kind of duty, and as, I believe, Mr. Deane is now looked on by half that House as a dishonest man, and the other half dare not support him, it will become there two gentleman to show on what grounds they have abetted him. The suspicions against Mr. Deane are now too strong to be suffocated, and the evidence too full to be rejected or explained away, and he can but perceive that his character is everyday sinking with the public - That he negotiated a profered present into a purchase, and either stole, or was privy to the stealing the dispatches to cover the imposition, are circumstances which I have no reason to disbelieve.
P.S. As the pamphlet I have referred to is sent to all the states, the Printers in each will do an act of justice to those whole merits in that performance greatly neglected, by inserting this piece in their papers.