Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

CHAP.
LIV.

1783.

cepting a due remuneration, or even the splendid donations which the gratitude of sovereigns or of senates may confer on those who have fought bravely, or served effectually, any person who has devoted his talents to the good of his country, either in civil or military employ, diminishes his claims to respect and honour; but the extraordinary self-denial of the American General, if it cannot be proposed as a model for others, is, in the highest degree, glorious to him. For his long, toilsome, and prosperous exertions, he would accept no pay, but performed them all at his own expense; to such a point of rigid exactness did he carry this principle, that when Mrs. Washington made him a visit at winter-quarters, he would not permit her travelling expenses, or her establishment, to be paid for from the treasury. At the end of the war, he received not, as other officers did, a portion of confiscated lands, or even an honorary donation of plate. His country shewed her proper feeling, by ordering statutes to be erected to his honour, and by conferring his name on the city which was to be the seat of government.

During the uneasiness of the army, and their agitation on the subject of pay, a proposal was made to nominate him king; he sternly and indignantly repelled it. Much may be said of the resistance which would have been made to such an attempt, and the ridicule which would have been cast upon those who, professing republican principles, had only pulled down one King George to set up another; but it is to be considered that, in ancient and modern times, generals commanding devoted and discontented armies, under weak, needy, and disorganized governments, have effected the same, or even greater achievements. To his perseverance, prudence, and judgment, the triumph of the American cause was justly attributed, and his self-denial formed a noble and dignified specimen, rarely paralleled*.

At the moment of retiring from military service,

He refuses to accept the title of King.

Society of
Cincinnati.

The facts on which these observations are founded, are derived from the histories of the time, and from the various biographies, particularly those of Sparks and Marshall.

CHAP.
LIV

1783.

Washington experienced the jealousy of a republican government. His brothers in arms, now about to be separated into different states, or by great distances from each other, projected a society or order, to be called Cincinnati. It was to be composed of officers, of whatever rank or country, who had served by land or by sea in the late war, and their descendants. A fund for benevolent purposes was to be established, and they were to have an annual meeting. The ensign of the order was to be a golden eagle, suspended from the wearer's button-hole by a blue ribband, having on each side an inscription in Latin. The proposal was cordially received in America: General Washington readily consented to be their president; La Fayette, Lauzun, and other officers in Paris, gladly enrolled their names; the French King expressed his approbation, and an early day was fixed for the first meeting in Philadelphia. In any country, but a newly formed republic, this association would have been considered in no light more serious than those which freemasonry, literature, profession, or conviviality drew together in all parts of the civilized world. In America it was otherwise. The press speedily issued its bitterest anathemas. Separation from the general body of the people; an hereditary title; a disposable fund and frequent meetings, were displayed in the most terrific terms. Mr. Ădanus Burke, Chief Justice of South Carolina, first denounced them by a pamphlet, published under the name of Cassius, and having for its motto, “ Blow ye the trumpet in Zion.” Other writers speedily succeeded; the legislative assemblies of various provinces expressed disapprobation, and, although Congress had not yet recorded any opinion by a public vote, the adverse sentiments of numbers were well known. The General now, apprehending the inconveniences which beset this innocent measure, was disposed to recede; but, officers having arrived from France, declaring the satisfaction with which it was received there, he felt some difficulty on that side; but he was speedily relieved: the seeds of revolutionary equality had already taken root in France; the

CHAP.
LIV.

1783.

tract of Cassius was translated by the Comte de Mirabeau, and his friend Chamfort, and being published, with copious additions decrying hereditary nobility, the golden eagle and blue ribband were renounced in Paris, and in America the society assumed a shape perfectly unobtrusive, and insufficient to give alarm to the most susceptible feelings*.

Although the gross sum of their debt appeared trifling, yet the pecuniary embarrassments of the United States presented great difficulties, even in temporary arrangement, and threatened to prove a permanent bar to future prosperity. Their domestic debt was somewhat above thirty-four millions of dollars, or seven millions six hundred thousand pounds sterling. This admitted debt was in great part a reduced allowance or composition for two hundred millions of dollars in paper, which, following the advice of Franklin, had been issued, and in a course of progressive depreciation, until a thousand dollars in paper were deemed equivalent only to one in silver, and at last, notwithstanding all the efforts of government, no person would receive them at any ratet. To France America was indebted, for pecuniary aids, eighteen millions of livresi, which it was agreed to liquidate by instalments, with interest at five per cent. in twelve years. A further sum of five millions of florins, or ten millions of livress, for which the King of France stood jointly engaged with Congress to the States of Holland, was to be paid, with similar interest, in five years. Their remaining foreign debts amounted to about five hundred thousand pounds sterling. The limited authorities of Congress, and the discretionary powers of the several provinces, formed great impediments to the funding of this sum; to a scheme formed by the general legislature,

Debts and embarrass. ments of America.

* For an ample account of these proceedings, see Jefferson's Momoirs, vol. i. p. 417; also, Sparks's Life of Washington, vol. i. p. 431; Marshall's Life of Washington, and the two pamphlets above mentioned ; and for an account of that by Mirabeau and Chamfort, Memoirs of Dr. Franklin, vol. i. p. 365; vol. ii. p. 69; and for the Doctor's own opinion on the subject, p. 46.

† An interesting statement of this matter is in Jefferson's Memoirs, vol. i.

P. 401.

787,500 pounds sterling.
£437,500.

CHAP.
LIV.

1783.

some acceded totally, and some partially; while others withheld their consent from any measure which had a tendency to lodge the purse and the sword in the same hands, and resisted, by force of arms, the agents employed by Congress to collect the levies. In vain were exhortation and pathetic addresses issued, invoking the public justice, and appealing to the honour of the country; the disregard of those motives, when incompatible with private interest, had been so long sanctioned, that such appeals met with little regard; and the impotency of government and dishonesty of the people afforded serious apprehensions of general bankruptcy.

The eagerness of European powers to obtain a pre- Commerce. ference in the boasted commerce of America, added to these evils. An inundation of manufactures, tendered on easy terms of credit, tempted the merchants to adventure in purchases much exceeding their powers of payment. Debts were contracted by some to the full amount of their claims on the American government; while the daily depression of public securities involved the demands of individuals in a general state of confused speculation. Those who were indebted to British merchants on contracts made before the war, were additionally distressed. By the terms of peace, all these debts were to be paid ; money was the only medium, since no hope could exist that a depreciated paper currency would be accepted by the merchant, whom a long and hazardous war had greatly injured by delay and risk. Thus the little specie brought by the French armies, or raised by loans in Europe, rapidly disappeared; while the means of restoring it were suppressed by the new circumstances of America, in consequence of her separation from the mother-country.

Commercial treaties were formed with Sweden, Prussia, and the Emperor of Morocco; but the attempts to negotiate with Great Britain were for some time unsuccessful. The intercourse with the West India Islands, from which, as colonies, they derived large supplies of gold and silver, was of course prohibited by the colonial and navigation system of

[blocks in formation]

CHAP.
LIV.

1783.

Great Britain; their fisheries were

were unproductive, through the want of the same favourable markets, and the discontinuance of British bounties; and their maritime weakness rendered unavailing their liberty of traffic in the Mediterranean, where they could no longer protect themselves against the Algerine corsairs. Thus surrounded by calamity, terror, and poverty, the people viewed with disgust the independence which they had been taught so highly to prize; they held a degraded and precarious rank among the powers of the universe, nor did they emerge from their disgraceful situation, till experience pointed out the necessity of a permanent and general government, sufficiently strong to coerce all the members of the commonwealth, and sufficiently respected to restrain the effusions of visionary theory. Then was Washington again called from his domestic retreat, to guide by his wisdom those councils which owed their authority to his valour* ; and then the government of America assumed stability, and acquired respectt.

The powers of Europe, who had joined, without provocation, in an infamous conspiracy against Great Britain, even in their success had no cause for selfgratulation. They had brought the rival country to the necessity of accepting terms of peace which her own legislature had censured; but their triumph was not attended with correspondent advantages. If the hope of supplanting or rivalling Great Britain in the American trade animated their efforts, their expectations received a severe shock, even in the progress of the contest, when Mr. Laurens expended the money lent by France in the purchase of British manufactures, justifying his conduct, by pleading his duty to buy the best and cheapest commodities. This principle will always regulate the course of trade. A nation free to choose, not fettered by treaties, or restrained by the

In 1789. + Chiefly from Ramsay, vol. ii. chapters xxvi. and xxvii. I have also consulted Stedman, chapter xlvi. and the papers in the Annual Register and the Remembrancer.

See Lord Sheffield's Observations on American Commerce; and also the Commerce of America with Europe, hy Brissot and Claviere, p. 119, English translation.

Powers of
Europe.

« PředchozíPokračovat »