A People's History
of the American Revolution

Page Smith

[Part 4 of 4]

PART VI (continued)

Patriots and Tories / 9

The year that intervened between Lexington and Concord and Washington's arrival with his army in New York was one in which the American patriots worked hard to put their house in order. This meant, primarily, suppressing - or neutralizing the influence of - the Tories and of the royal governors. [p. 656]

A careful analysis of the patriot and loyalist parties was written by David Ramsay, delegate to the Continental Congress and historian of the Revolution, who had the advantage of living through the events he subsequently described. Ramsay pointed out:

…The governors thereof had long been in the habit of indulging their favourites with extravagant grants of land. This had introduced the distinction of landlord and tenant. There was therefore in New York an aristocratic party, respectable for numbers, wealth and influence, which had much to fear from independence. [pp. 656-657]

Ramsay emphasized that the majority of Tories in the Southern states were found on the frontier. Their grievances against tidewater plantation owners alienated them from the patriot cause. …The Quakers, with a few exceptions, were averse to independence. In Pennsylvania they were numerous, and had power in their hands. Revolutions in government are rarely patronized by any body of men, who foresee that a diminution of their own importance is likely to result form the change. [p. 657]

It is clear enough why the Tories asserted themselves in all the colonies. They never had any doubts about what the outcome of the struggle would be once the mother country overcame her weak and vacillating policy towards the colonies and acted with resolution to bring the demogogues and agitators to book. Then the Tories would be vindicated, their fortunes restored, and their tormenters punished. [p. 659]

The Southern frontier thus became, outside of certain counties in the province of New York, the only region in colonial America that could be properly called a Tory stronghold. [p. 661]

Among the conclusions to be drawn from these facts are these: While the leadership in each colony was important, especially as it affected the promptness with which the people of a particular colony supported their New England cousins, of far greater significance was the fact that the resistance to Britain was a widespread and deep-rooted popular movement.. Indeed, nothing could bear more striking testimony to its "popular" nature - a profound protest of the people against a position of dependence and subordination - than the common forms that the resistance took in every colony. And this despite the many differences among the colonies - differences in religion, in politics, in social structure and stratification, and in historical development. In the words of one historian: "In not a single colony did a royal governor keep his authority: in none was there a loyalist party resisting by the old legal forms the coming of the new. The old Assemblies and Councils quietly disappeared: those governors who had not yet fled remained only on sufferance and were presently to go. And in their places the solid men of the new politics had control of each colony." [p. 663]

Of far more consequence than the retreat or ousting of the colonial governors was the suppression of the Tories. This unpleasant duty, if we may properly call it that, was carried on primarily on the local level by Committees of Safety and Committees of Observation. Here neighbor was pitted against neighbor, friend against friend, and, not infrequently, father against son. [p. 663]

The persecution of the Tories was mitigated by the fact that many patriot leaders had close friends among the Loyalists. Also, since the Tory-patriot split was often a split between the young and the old, there were many instances where fathers remained loyal to the Crown while their sons took up the patriot cause. [p. 665]

It was one thing to nourish bitter feelings toward Tories as a group, Tories in general, Tories as an abstraction of wickedness; it was quite another matter when the Tory was a brother, a son, a dear friend, or a father. One knew them then in all their vulnerability and their humanity as friends and companions, as kin, bound together by many of the most precious acts and associations of our common life. It is this that makes civil war, which in a substantial measure the Revolution was, the bitterest of all conflicts. [p. 666]

Many Americans were neither patriot nor Tory, but found themselves victims of divided loyalties. Some favored resistance to British encroachments on American freedoms but could not stomach the idea of a declaration of American independence. [p. 668]

James Allen … was … brought under guard to Philadelphia to be examined as t his views and actions. Allen reiterated his devotion to the cause of liberty - and his abhorrence of independence. …There was no question by now of where Allen's own feelings lay, and it was equally clear that there was a large element of class feeling in his view of the course that the revolution had taken. "The Province of Pennsylvania," he wrote, "…may be divided into two classes of men, via. Those that plunder and those that are plundered. No justice has been administered, no crimes punished for 9 months. All Power is in the hands of the associators, who are under no subordination to their officers. …To oppress one's countrymen is a love of Liberty. Private friendships are broken off, and the most insignificant now lord it with impunity and without discretion over the most respectable characters." [p. 670]

Common Sense / 10

The entire chapter in unabridged form has been scanned and is available HERE.

Toward Independence: The Virginia Resolves / 11

As the spring of 1776 wore on, Congress inched closer and closer to the final, irrevocable act of rebellion, a declaration of independence. Many were loath to cut off all hope of reconciliation with Britain. But these laggards were given a spur by the daring declarations passed by the Virginia Provincial Congress, the so-called Virginia Resolves. [p. 685]

Most of the delegates shared Adams' view that "there must be a decency, and respect and veneration introduced for persons in authority, of every rank, or we are undone. In a popular government, this is the only way of supporting order, and in our circumstances, as our people have been so long without any government at all, it is more necessary than in any other." It was this kind of problem that the author of Common Sense, with his romantic indictment of all authority and good order, had no inkling of. Hence the "dangerous" consequences of his essay. [p. 686]

There was something very unnatural and odious in a government a thousand leagues off. A whole government of our own choice, managed by persons whom we love, revere, and can confide in, has charms in it, for which mean will fight. …" There were so many sharp disputes and divisions among the colonies just over land and boundaries that the chances of the radical whigs "Lugging us into independence" were, [Virginia delegate Carter Braxton] mistakenly assured his uncle, very slim. [p. 690]

By the end of May, the radicals felt that all their labor, their maneuvers, their patience was about to come to fulfillment. But there were still obstacles and perplexities. Word from Maryland indicated that colony was still obdurate: "They repeat and enforce their former instructions - declare that they have not lost sight of a reconciliation with Great Britain. …" New York also hung back. John Adams tried to reassure himself and a constituent, Benjamin Kent, who had written that a declaration of independence was long overdue. [p. 691]

Under the pressure created by the meeting in the State House yard, the Pennsylvania Assembly at last gave way on the fifth of June and appointed a committee to bring in new instructions for their delegates to Congress. Two days later Richard Henry Lee read a crucial resolution from the Virginia convention, urging Congress to "declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states … and that all political connection between them and the state of Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." [p. 692]

John Adams wrote to his friend William Cushing: "Objects of the most stupendous magnitude and measure in which the lives and liberties of millions yet unborn are intimately interested, are now before us. We are in the midst of a Revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of nations." [p. 693]

All that could be retrieved for the moment was the appointment of a five-man committee to frame a declaration in conformity with the Virginia resolution "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states." The members of the committee were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston, Jefferson to be chairman. …The committee, apparently without discussion, designated Jefferson as the drafter of the statement that was to explain and justify the action of the Americans in declaring independence. [p. 693]

The fact of independence was the important thing. A "declaration" was almost an afterthought. The drafting of it would provide a little more time to bring reluctant delegates into line. Certainly some formal statement was appropriate, in fact necessary, but it need not be elaborate; a simple listing of the steps by which the colonists had been forced, as they saw it, to declare themselves independent of the mother country would do. [p. 694]

Jefferson was the right man for the job. Adams told him: "Reason first - You are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second - I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third - You can write ten times better than I can." The last reason is the most suspect. Adams wrote very well and knew it. In any event the chore fell to Jefferson, largely by default. [pp. 694-695]

The Declaration of Independence / 12

It is not too much to say that, as the original of the declaration and as the basis of the first ten amendments of the Federal Constitution, the far less well-known Virginia Bill of Rights is one of the most influential documents ever written, entirely worthy of a place beside the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence itself. [p. 696]

The Virginia document had begun with the statement: "That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." [pp. 696-697]

The paragraph was almost pure Locke, taken from his Second Treatise on Government, where the Englishman had sketched out the basis of human society as a contract or compact that man, leaving "a state of nature," had entered into to procure greater security for himself and his possessions. The natural and inherent rights of man Locke had listed as the right of "life, liberty and property." When Locke wrote his Treatise, Englishmen were struggling to establish beyond question that the king could not arbitrarily seize the property of his subjects through taxation or, indeed, by any other means. Taxes could only be levied by a Parliament in which the people were represented - no taxation without representation. The security of property was thus one of the most essential and basic of all rights. [p. 697]

In purely logical terms, or in regard to history or political theory in general, "property" makes much more sense than "happiness." Few people would seriously contend (1) that happiness is a "right" in any real sense, the equivalent of life or property; (2) that it should be "pursued"; or (3) that if pursued, it can be caught. The happiness of the governed may be the proper aim of government, but at best that happiness can only be assured in a negative way, by preventing, or abstaining from, persecution, injustice or any arbitrary acts; by protecting the citizen's life, liberty, and property so that he is free to seek his own happiness if and as he wishes. If a man's life, liberty, and property are respected and to a reasonable degree protected, it may be presumed that he has some expectation of being happy. [p. 698]

Jefferson himself was a great property owner. There were thus entirely valid reasons for preserving "property" as a basic right. Yet it was an inspiration on Jefferson's part to replace it with "pursuit of happiness." Unsatisfactory as the phrase was from a logical or even a philosophical point of view, it was psychologically right, because it embedded in the opening sentences of the declaration that comparatively new and certainly splendid and luminous idea that a life of weary toil - meager, grim, laborious, anxious, and ultimately tragic - was not the only possible destiny of "the people," the great mass of whom had, theoretically, been created "equal." That "equality," aside from answering the purpose of political philosophers, might mean that in the opportunity for happiness there was, or might be, or should be, equality as well. [pp. 698-699]

And that was the most revolutionary part of the Declaration of Independence, which, aside from that one felicitious if misleading phrase, contained few notions that were not political commonplaces in 1776. [p. 699]

All public papers should be as brief and simply stated as possible. Would-be writers of an imperishable document should make it no longer than a schoolboy or schoolgirl of average intelligence can memorize. [p. 699]

Adams liked the draft, felt its force and trenchancy, and had only two or three minor suggestions for improving it. Franklin proposed more changes… [p. 700]

…John Adams … wrote to Samuel Chase that the "great debate" that was to have terminated in a unanimous vote had been, instead, "an idle dispence of time." …He added with characteristic realism. "If you imagine that I expect this declaration will ward off calamities from this country, you are much mistaken. A bloody conflict we are destined to endure. This has been my opinion from the beginning. …If you imagine that I flatter myself with happiness and halcyon days after a separation from Great Britain, you are mistaken again. I do not expect that our new government will be as quiet as I could wish, nor that happy harmony, confidence and affection between the colonies that every good American ought to study, labor and pray for, will come for a long time. But freedom is a counterbalance for poverty, discord and war, and more. It is your hard lot and mine to be called into life at such a time. Yet," he added, "even these times have their pleasures." [p. 702]

The most striking of all the charges leveled against the king by Jefferson was that he had "waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation hither. [p. 704]

The effort to indict George III for the misery of slavery was surely one of the most exaggerated efforts in the history of political rhetoric. Allowing everything possible for the heat and passion of the moment, the charges were nonetheless so manifestly absurd that it is hard to imagine, from this perspective in time, how a rational man could have composed such a turgid and flamboyantly written tirade. [p. 704]

It should not take a trained psychologist to discern in this mistaken indictment the strength of Jefferson's feelings about slavery. What we cannot bear to face ourselves, we are most prone to blame on others. Jefferson's fear and horror are only too clearly manifest in these sentences. Perhaps the whole intolerable burden of slavery could be transferred from the slaveholders of America to the shoulders of the king of England, and thus the paradox of a people claiming their rights as free men while holding other human beings as slaves might be obscured or somehow palliated. [p. 705]

A few of the Northern delegates seemed inclined to swallow it, and Jefferson was certainly not the only Southerner whose deepest feelings were reflected in it; but South Carolina and Georgia, whose prosperity was even more dependent on slavery than their neighboring colonies, Virginia and North Carolina, were adamant. The whole portion was dropped in the name of unanimity and, one would hope, of decency. [p. 705]

Finally, on July 4, having much improved Jefferson's draft, all of the delegates present, except John Dickerson, approved it, and President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson signed it. [p. 706]


Washington in New York / 1

Washington … hurried on ahead of his army and arrived in New York on April 13. He was convinced that the city should be defended against the landing by Howe that he anticipated. …However, Washington well realized that the defense of the city against seaborne attack presented almost insurmountable problems. [pp. 712-713]

Throughout May and into June, the fortifications that had been started were completed and strengthened and new works begun at strategic points on Manhattan. …The construction of such works was striking evidence of the resourcefulness and energy of the Americans and contradicted in the most emphatic way the British charge that they were lazy. [p. 715]

While Washington's army worked on the fortifications of New York, General Howe set out from Halifax on the tenth of June with a fleet of 127 vessels. Sailing on a fast frigate, the Greyhound, he arrived off New York a week before the main body of his fleet. He was as yet uncertain of the strength of the force that he would have under his command for the purpose of seizing and occupying New York City. …He decided wisely to wait for reinforcements from the fleet under the command of his brother, Admiral Lord Richard Howe, which he knew was on the way from England, and, hopefully, from Sir Peter Parker's fleet with Henry Clinton's soldiers, returning from their attack on Charles town. [p. 723]

The Battle of Long Island / 2

Through the summer months of 1776, Washington's army waited suspensefully while the elements of Howe's army assembled and the impending battle drew near. The Americans nervously strengthened their fortifications, looking out uneasily as they did so on one of the most formidable fleets ever gathered. [p. 730]

The total force under Howe's command numbered nearly 32,000 of the best-trained and best-equipped soldiers in the world, supported by dozens of warships and almost 500 transports and supply vessels. [p. 731]

General Howe decided that Brooklyn Heights on Long Island was the key to the American defensive works around New York. …On the morning of the twenty-second of August, Howe began to debark his troops on Long Island. …By twelve o'clock, fifteen thousand men with their arms and supplies had been landed "without mishap or delay" at Gravesend Bay, south of Brooklyn Heights. [pp. 731-732]

With Howe's attack on Long Island, the Revolution entered an entirely new phase. First of all, it signaled a realization on the part of the British government that the American resistance could only be crushed by a major military campaign. The notion that a few thousand soldiers in Boston and elsewhere could intimidate and overawe the Americans had been abandoned and a campaign planned, the extent and seriousness of which was demonstrated by the forest of ships' masts crowding New York waters. [p. 732]

Where before they had chosen their own ground and fought indifferently or well in situations most favorable to their particular skills and style of life, the Americans must now meet the enemy on his own terms. It was a task so formidable that no one who has not already a zealous partisan of the colonial cause, now the cause of independence, would have given it even the remotest chance of success. [p. 732]

A good account of the battle - and of much of the entire war - is provided by Private Joseph Martin of the Connecticut line. Martin wrote and published his account of the war many years after it was over, but his memory remained fresh and sharp, and his descriptions of the Revolution's battles remain one of the most vigorous and amusing eyewitness records that we possess. [p. 736]

Howe's carefully worked out plan of attack called for a feint against the first line of defense. This feint was to be directed against Stirling's positions on the American right. Meanwhile, Clinton was to move far to the American left, slipping through Jamaica Pass and coming down on the American forward lines from the rear. [p. 738]

Clinton, moving slowly and cautiously and in complete silence, with his scouts well in advance of the main body, reached the causeway at three in the morning. Even the most rudimentary American defensive works would have delayed his progress for hours, but Sullivan, in command of the division on Prospect Hill behind Bedford Pass, had neglected to block the road, and Clinton passed over the bridge without incident. …The pass was occupied along with the heights on either side, and the troops were given time to eat and rest. [p. 738]

The British were now in possession of the high ground along the ridgeline and astride the Jamaica Road. The Battle of Long Island was, for all intents and purposes, decided. A considerable amount of fighting remained, but the Americans, by failing to secure their left flank at its most vulnerable point, had exposed themselves in such a way that only an extraordinary effort could have retrieved the situation. [pp. 738-739]

In conventional terms, it was a serious defeat for Washington. Aside from the large bag of more than a thousand prisoners, the Americans lost more than twice as many in killed and wounded as the British, and they had been driven from the field. But a closer look revealed, paradoxically, some grounds for encouragement. For one thing the Battle of Long Island was a the first large-scale battle of the Revolution. [pp. 742-743]

The Battle of Long Island, however, was a classic set piece, essentially a battle of maneuver between what were, for that day, large armies - 9,000 Americans and 15,000 British and Hessians. In the battle the American soldiers proved that they could preserve their discipline and morale in the most difficult and demanding of military exercises - maneuvers in the field under heavy enemy fire. [p. 743]

There was one ultimate and disastrous failure (which was certainly not of the soldiers' doing), and that was, of course, the inexcusable failure of Sullivan, and to a lesser degree Putnam, to fortify, or at least have heavily patrolled, the Jamaica Road. It was this error that undid everything - the tedious weeks of preparation, the bravery and enterprise of many soldiers and men, the tenacious (one is tempted to say brilliant) defense of the American right by Stirling's brigade. [pp. 743-744]

The Evacuation of Brooklyn / 3

…in war, where at certain echelons (among the noncommissioned officers, for instance) experience is essential, in generals, where one would assume experience is essential, in generals, where one would assume experience would be of the essence, it seems to count for relatively little. Few great generals have failed to display their genius from the first moment they took the field, experience only augmenting their natural gifts. And few, on the other hand, of the merely competent have, through experience, become great. One of the best measures of an efficient army is the speed with which it gets rid of the inefficient or blundering leader - and the infrequency with which it ever gives him a command to begin with. [pp. 745-746]

Washington, at least at this stage of things, was far less concerned with being outmaneuvered than with this army being outfought. He could give the British two-thirds of the American colonies and triumph in the end if he could preserve his army more or less intact. [p. 746]

Washington realized that he had no real alternative to extricating, as best he could, that portion of his army now marooned on Brooklyn Heights. [p. 746]

Washington's overall strategy now was to avoid another major confrontation, choose his own ground, keep open his lines of retreat, school his army (especially his officers) in the painfully learned lessons of war, and, above all, keep his army in existence. It was this last that was to prove the most essential and formidable task. [p. 748]

Historians have criticized Howe for not ordering an immediate attack that, had it been carried out, would perhaps have netted Washington. This assumes first that Howe had complete information about the extent of Washington's withdrawal, rather than initial rumors that had to be confirmed before any sensible action could be planned; and second that he had only to press a button, so to speak, to start an assault by British troops. [p. 750]
It must be kept in mind in all discussions of military engagements that there is, even in the best-trained and best-managed armies, an inevitable gap between the time that a decision is made and an order based on that decision is written and distributed (often by messenger even in the present day of instant communication) and then acted upon. Officers have to be roused from sleep, drink, cards, amours, or whatever their ingenuity may have suggested as a way of escaping the endless boredom of army life even in the field. The men themselves have to be mustered, the missing accounted for, equipment checked, additional ammunition secured. Rations distributed, and a thousand things made ready. Unless troops are already on the alert and prepared to move instantly - unless, in other words, all these things have been attended to in consequence of "preliminary" orders - an interval of some two hours intervenes between the issuing of an order and its being carried out, and this in an experienced and well-trained army. [pp. 750-751]

Kip's Bay / 4

After Washington had brought his army from Brooklyn Heights to Manhattan, he was faced with the problem of what his next move should be. [p. 754]

While Washington was regrouping his forces and making new tactical dispositions, the British pushed ahead energetically, completing the occupation of the western end of Long Island, especially the towns facing Manhattan Island across the East River and those islands … that dot the river and harbor. British ships also ventured up the river as far as Wallabout Bay and Newtown Inlet. [p. 755]

To the Howe brothers it seemed an excellent time to try again to negotiate a peace. …Perhaps sensing that the captured New Hampshire general, John Sullivan, was somewhat overawed by the might of British arms, the Howes decided to employ him as an emissary to Congress. Consequently, he was packed off to Philadelphia. Congress received the defeated Sullivan rather coolly, and after four days of debate over whether to pay any attention to the Howes' advances, it appointed Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge, and John Adams to confer with the Howes at the general's headquarters on Staten Island. They were to go as a committee representing "the free and independent states of America." [p. 756]

By giving the committee such a provenance, Congress hoped to make it impossible for Howe to receive it without thereby appearing to acknowledge officially the independence of America. [p. 756]

Lord Howe met the American at the landing, and there was a ceremonious exchange of courtesies. …Adams could not help but notice that the admiral seemed to have a poor grasp of the real issues in the conflict. [p. 756]

The negotiation with the representatives of Congress had at least the effect of delaying General Howe's pursuit of Washington's demoralized army. …Howe and a succession of British commanders have been too harshly criticized for procrastination, failure to press advantages, and an inability to finish off a beaten and demoralized enemy. In their defense - Howe's and his successors' - it must be said that they were, in a manner of speaking, the victims of their own professionalism. They were trained to fight a particular kind of war, a war in which professional soldiers were deployed like chessmen in elaborate moves and countermoves. Hurried and hasty movements were as inappropriate to the campaigns that made up such wars as they would be in a chess match. [pp. 758-759]

Furthermore, in a conventional European conflict the people of the rival nations were never active participants. They were passive observers or, often, unhappy victims of war. It made little difference to them by which monarch they were ruled, what officials taxed them, or two oppressed them; they were little to choose between one authority and another; all were repressive or indifferent. [p. 759]

Now, however, the people of America were very much involved. The American Revolution was the first "people's movement" of modern times, the first instance in which a substantial number of quite ordinary people had attempted to assert some degree of control over their own lives and fortunes. [p. 759]

Washington wrote Congress [on Septmeber 8], …"On our side, the war should be defensive: it has been called a war of posts; we should on all occasions avoid a general action, and never be drawn into a necessity to put anything to risk. Persuaded that it would be presumptuous to draw out our young troops into open ground against their superiors in numbers and discipline, I have never spared the spade and pickaxe. …I am sensible that a retreating army is encircled with difficulties; that declining an engagement subjects a general to reproach: but when the fate of America may be at stake on the issue, we should protract the war, if possible. That the enemy mean to winter in New York, there can be no doubt; that they can drive us out, is equally clear: nothing seems to remain, but to determine the time of their taking possession." [p. 760]

…Washington, by continually denigrating the quality of his soldiers, took out a kind of disaster insurance. No one was surprised when such poor soldierly material did poorly in battle. When they did well, most of the credit accrued to the general himself for having accomplished so much with so little. This was not dishonestly but rather common prudence. [pp. 760-761]

On the thirteenth of September, four or five British frigates sailed up the East River. These were supplemented the next day by six more men-of-war. …On Sunday, September 15, three British warships sailed up the Hudson, effectively cutting off escape in that quarter. [p. 761]

One does not have to look far for the reason why the American soldiers fled in disorder from their positions. In virtually every engagement they performed well in the face of enemy musket fire and badly in the face of heavy bombardment. The most demoralizing experience for the untrained soldier is heavy artillery fire (or, in modern warfare, aerial bombardment). The comparative remoteness of the enemy, the sense that, safely beyond range of your own weapons, he can strike at your with impunity, and that your only defense is to lie still and pray that a random ball will not destroy you - this is the most severe test of morale. [p. 765]

The British were greeted as liberators by the Tories who had waited anxiously for their coming. [p. 766]

Turnabout: Harlem Heights / 5

During the long afternoon following the debacle at Kip's Bay, scattered groups of Americans from all over Manhattan Island made their way north… The positions on Harlem Heights were the rallying point for the Americans who had fled at Kip's Bay, for Putnam's rear guard, and for every company or detachment that could find its way north. [pp. 768-769]

While Washington's army regrouped on Harlem Heights, a destructive fire broke out in New York to the south. Before the retreat from the city, there had been a warm discussion among the members of Washington's staff centering on whether to burn New York and thus deny it to the British as a headquarters. The official decision had bee not to burn the city. Nevertheless around midnight on September 20, "a most dreadful fire broke out in New York, in three different places in the South, and windward part of the town." The wind spread the flames so rapidly that nothing could be done by the British troops to check the fire's progress until almost a quarter of the city had been burned down. [pp. 772-773]

If Howe was discomforted by the fire in New York, Washington was enduring even graver setbacks. The situation on Harlem Heights deteriorated day by day as soldiers terms of enlistment were up left for home. The Americans had shown that with effective leadership they would fight, but every time there was a lull in the fighting they demonstrated anew that they were restless, impatient, and ill-equipped by temperament for the tedious routines of camp life. [p. 773]

Again it was in the staffwork that Washington suffered most severely. He could give orders, but unless he personally supervised their execution, they would often be changed or ignored. [p. 776]

[General] Knox was convinced that until Congress ordered sufficient incentives for the development of a first-rate officer corps, "it is ten to one" the Americans would be beaten until they were "heartily tired of it." We ought to have academies," he concluded, "in which the whole theory of the art of war shall be taught, and every other encouragement possible given to draw persons into the army that may give a luster to our arms. As the army now stands, it is only a receptacle for ragamuffins." [p. 776]

What Congress must understand was that appeals to patriotism were not sufficient to form an effective army. It was true that men would then "irriteated, and the passions inflamed … fly hastely and cheerfully to Arms; but after the first emotions are over, to expect, among such People, as compose the bulk of the Army, that they are influenced by any other principles than those of Interest, is to look for what never did, and I fear never will happen; the Congress will deceive themselves therefore if they expect it. …" [pp. 776-777]

The same principle applied to the enlisted men. They had been encouraged to think that a reconciliation would be effected and that the war would be over in a short time. They had thus been enlisted for brief periods, they were poorly paid and inadequately clothed and fed, and they were constantly tempted by the easier terms of militia service, so that the Continental Army had to compete continually with the particular states for soldiers. [p. 777]

White Plains / 6

Washington had shown his amazing resourcefulness in getting his army safely across the East River from Brooklyn, and then again in taking the advantageous high ground of Harlem to fortify. But the British, moving not fast but inexorably, would not let him rest. Soon he was to have once more to extricate his army from a potential trap and once more to improvise a line of defense, testing again his own stamina and that of his army. [p. 779]

An army cannot fight unless it is equipped properly and, even more important, placed, by one means or another, on the field of battle. It is here that logistics becomes as important as the fighting qualities and the leadership of the soldiers and officers themselves. Logistics is the domain of staff officers and their subordinates, the most complete professionals in any army. [p. 781]

The bulk of Washington's army was safely out of Manhattan; but it was by no means in first-class fighting trim. The men were woefully short of even the simplest comforts of the field - blankets, tents, and warm clothes - and were perpetually hungry. [p. 784]

While Washington improvised his defenses at White Plains, Howe established his army two miles beyond New Rochelle. There Howe waited for General Von Heister and his Hessians to join up; and then, in command of a splendid army, he advanced, step by cautious step, until … he came within a mile of the village of White Plains… [p. 785]

The defensive positions that Washington chose at White Plains were well selected. …The defense was still being perfected when the British approached. [p. 786]

…Washington moved his army some five miles to the north to an imminence called North Castle Heights and prepared for Howe's renewed attack. Reconnoitering the new position, Howe decided that it was virtually impregnable, and after lingering near White Plains for several days, he encamped his army at Dobbs Ferry on the east bank of the Hudson. Here British ships, having broken the blockade of the Hudson at Fort Washington, could supply his troops. Once more Washington had fought well against a determined and well-planned British attack, and had survived. [p. 789]

The Struggle for Fort Washington / 7

Washington and the major portion of his army were secure in their earthwork-defended high ground north of White Plains. But he had left a portion of his army behind on Manhattan, the garrison of Fort Washington. …It commanded, or was intended to command, the lower Hudson. The fort proper was the center of extensive American positions that included four other strongpoints. To abandon it without a fight would be to concede to the British the control of the Hudson. [p. 790]

Greene … recaptured Fort Independence, scarcely a mile north of Fort Washington, which had been abandoned, as part of the retreat to White Plains. …Washington gave Greene authority to decide whether to fight or evacuate. …Anticipating that Howe might move into New Jersey, [Greene] made careful calculations as to the best lines of defense that Washington would find there. …However, Greene persisted in thinking that Fort Washington gave an advantage to the Americans. [pp. 790-791]

Leaving the final decision on the defense of the fort to Greene, Washington began to move his army across the Hudson at Peekskill. …Washington established his own headquarters at Hackensack, some nine miles from Fort Lee, and waited to see what action the British might take against Fort Washington. [pp. 791-792]

The attack on the fort was planned and carried out with boldness and imagination. While the Hessians were attacking the fort from the North, Lord Percy began what was at first intended as a feint against the old positions at Harlem Heights, still held by an American regiment… British Generals Mathews and Cornwallis landed their units from transports in the Harlem River. This force met heavy fire from Americans on Laurel Hill but nevertheless advanced, driving the Americans back on the Fort Washington redoubts. …How now ordered Colonel Sterling to land a half mile to the south of the fort with two more battalions. …The British were now able to converge on Fort Washington from three directions. [pp. 794-795]

The final act of the drama came suddenly. General Magaw, hoping that he might escape across the river that night with the greater part of his force, asked for a five-hour parley. The British consented to no more than half an hour. Magaw thereupon surrendered the fort and its defenders to the British. The bag consisted of almost three thousand soldiers and officers, 161 cannon, 400,000 cartridges, and of course the weapons of the soldiers themselves. …The losses for the Americans were staggering, although the killed and wounded amounted to no more than 130. [p. 795]

If the Americans had been officered well enough for the men to be able, without retreating, to sustain casualties in proportion to their numbers, the British and Hessians might well have suffered too heavily to persist in their attack. [p. 795]

Washington's vacillation about the defense of Fort Washington was undoubtedly related to the fact that Howe had on numerous occasions, most lately indeed at White Plains, shown a marked reluctance to attack strong defensive positions. [p. 796]

One of the most destructive consequences of the loss of Fort Washington was the erosion of confidence in Washington's leadership. Even Washington's closest and heretofore more loyal officers had misgivings about his competence. [p. 796]

Washington, reporting the disaster to Congress, noted, "The loss of such a number of officers and men, many of whom have been trained with more than common attention, will I fear be severely felt. But when that of the arms and accoutrements is added, much more so, and must be a farther incentive to procure as considerable a supply as possible for the new troops, as soon as it can be done." The loss of the fort was of little consequence; the loss of the men and equipment was a staggering blow to the American cause. [p. 797]

The New York Tories … were both irritating and pathetic. They formed a closed company who fed each other's fantasies. Living in relative comfort and surrounded by the reassuring power and splendor of the British army of occupation, they persisted in the assurance that they would be vindicated. [p. 800]

Every new Tory who appeared to swell the little group of exiles found a ready audience for his tales of patriot impotence, for his assurances that the great body of Americans were sick of the war and sick of their leaders and only waiting for the right moment to rise up and declare their loyalty to king and Parliament. [p. 800]

Howe Invades New Jersey / 8

Sir William Howe, encouraged by the capture of Fort Washington, pushed ahead with his plans t invade New Jersey. He was assured that the region swarmed with Tories who would flock to his support. Washington's army was there, and just possibly Howe might be able to catch Washington's force, engage it in a major battle, and defeat it. [p. 802]

There were … thirteen colonies, now states, each a potential center of resistance and each able, if necessary, to give aid to its neighbors. …Howe was, in effect, conceding that the Revolution could not be suppressed simply by defeating Washington's army. It was plain, in any case, that Washington was determined to avoid the kind of large-scale engagement that Howe sought that might result in the capture or destruction of Washington's army. Howe and Washington might play cat and mouse forever. As long as Washington could fall back and in doing so draw on fresh supplies of manpower, no conclusion, Howe realized, could be reached. [p. 803]

Washington was convinced by Cornwallis's activity that the British intended to push on and take the key city of Philadelphia at once. But there was little that Washington could do. His small army shrank continuously, neither General Lee nor General Heath showed up with his reinforcements, and the troops Washington did have were in dreadful shape. [p. 804]

One of the most unusual soldiers in the army that made its way by one narrow escape after another across New Jersey was Thomas Paine of the Pennsylvania Flying Camp. Paine's Common Sense had crystallized American feeling against British authority in the symbolic person of the king and in favor of independence as no single other essay or address had. Now, serving as a volunteer assistant aide-de-camp to General Greene, Paine wrote the first of his "crisis papers," which was printed in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 19 and distributed to the soldiers in Washington's command. The essay opened with words that were like a bugle call. "These are the times that try men's souls," Paine wrote. "The Summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and women. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict the more glorious the triumph; what we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly. …Heaven knows how to put a proper price on its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated. …I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still, is, that Gold Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war by every decent method which wisdom could invent." Paine also had a word for George III, who, Paine said, had no more right to look to Heaven for support of his cause than "a common murdered, a highwayman or a house-breaker." [pp. 804-805]

After tracing the painful story of the retreat from Fort Lee, in which he had participated, Paine, doubtless aware that some members of Congress were beginning to question Washington's leadership, ended his essay with warm praise of the general. "There is a natural firmness in some minds which cannot be unlocked by trifles, but which, when unlocked discovers a cabinet of fortitude; and I reckon it among those kind of public blessings which we do not immediately see, that God hath blessed [Washington] with uninterrupted health, and given him a mind that can even flourish upon care." [p. 805]

…it still seemed that nothing could stop the progress of the British toward Philadelphia. That at least was the conclusion of Congress, and that body departed with almost indecent haste for Baltimore. [p. 806]

Washington's frame of mind is indicated by a letter to his brother Lund, which, after describing the condition of the army, ends: "A large part of the Jerseys have given every proof of disaffection that they can do, and this part of Pennsylvania are equally inimical. In short, your imagination can scarce extend to a situation more distressing than mine. Our only dependence is now upon the speedy enlistment of a new army. If this fails, I think the game will be pretty well up, as from disaffection and want of spirit and fortitude, the inhabitants, instead of resistance, are offering submission and taking protection from Gen. Howe in Jersey." [p. 806]

As soon as Washington learned that Howe had returned to New York and that the British and Hessians had gone into winter quarters, he began to make plans for an attack upon one of the British encampments. [p. 807]

Trenton / 9

While the British and Hessians luxuriated in cozy winter quarters, Washington's army, camped in the open on the western bank of the Delaware River, kept warm and fed as best it could. Despite the desperately ragged shape of his suffering troops, Washington plotted one of the most daring strikes against the enemy of this - or any - war. [p. 811]

Congress had fled from Philadelphia to Baltimore at the near approach of British troops, but before its departure it had passed a very useful act: " Resolved: that until Congress shall otherwise order, General Washington be possessed of full power to order and direct all things relative to the department and to the operations of the war." In short, Congress gave Washington dictatorial powers. Washington replied to the Congress, assuring the members that he would not misuse his new powers. "Instead of thinking myself freed from all civil obligations, I shall constantly bear in mind that, as the sword was the last resort for the preservation of our liberty, so it ought to be the first thing laid aside when those liberties are finally established. …I shall instantly set about making the most necessary reforms of the army." [p. 811]

Howe was a victim of the accuracy of his intelligence sources. Every report confirmed the picture of an army depleted in numbers, wretchedly clothed and equipped, near the end of its period of enlistment, and powerless to take any aggressive action. If Howe had had no intelligence at all, he might have been better off. Then, as a well-trained soldier, he would have insisted on those precautions - ceaseless patrolling, round-the-clock guard duty, and so forth - that any army must take when on campaign against a resolute and resourceful enemy. [p. 813]

The men, poorly clothed and in consequence half-frozen, started out on the twenty-fifth in a violent storm. [p. 815]

Each phase of the attack had its own hardships that core cruelly on the soldiers. First there was the long wait, hour after tedious hour, while the army assembled at the point of embarkation and the boats were brought down the river. …The crossing was the most difficult phase of the attack. [p. 816]

It is a formidable task at best to move even a well-trained and well-staffed army at night under such wealth conditions over unfamiliar terrain. …It was not remarkable that the army found itself three hours late; what was remarkable was that under the worst possible conditions Washington had managed to get it across the river and, having passed that formidable barrier, was able to march on to Trenton. What made the achievement all the more remarkable was that it had to be conducted as silently as possible with a minimum of light. [p. 818]

The attack on Trenton reminds us of several important facts. Perhaps the most important was simply Washington's physical stamina. Where any ordinary man would have long come to the end of his rope both emotionally and physically, Washington was still completely in command of himself and of his army. In terms of endurance, it was one of the most remarkable performances by a general in all military history. [p. 824]

By an act of his will, [Washington] drove a pathetic remnant of an army through the most desperate venture of the war and on to the most dazzling victory. By doing so, he saved his army, or what was left of it; he discomfited his domestic enemies, or at least those who had lost confidence in him and wished to see him replaced by General Lee; and thus undoubtedly he saved himself and, in saving himself, saved the army of which he had become, increasingly, the embodiment. [p. 824]

One thing more should be kept in mind. The Battle of Trenton was, pre-eminently, an artillery action. Without the artillery, which at every juncture performed crucial service, it is extremely doubtful that the Americans could have overwhelmed the Hessians. Indeed, there is every reason to believe otherwise. [p. 825]

The results of Trenton were, in truth, incalculable. The battle was like a stone dropped in a pond, waves spreading out farther and farther. [p. 826] A most important consequence of the victory was that a substantial portion of the soldiers who intended to return home when their enlistments ended on the first of the new year were persuaded to re-enlist, while hundreds of others who had been reluctant to join a lost cause now were proud to go with a winner. [p. 826]

In Britain, Lord Germain declared, "All our hopes were blasted by the unhappy affair at Trenton"' and Burke, writing an account of the battle for the Annual Register, noted, "It has excited not less astonishment in the British and auxiliary quarters than it has done joy in those of the Americans. The Hessians will be no longer terrible and the spirits of the Americans will rise amazingly." [p. 827]

Princeton / 10

Washington had little time to savor his victory at Trenton. There was every reason to believe that General Cornwallis would be pressed by his commander, General Howe, to strike some decisive blow that might counteract the effect of Trenton on popular opinion. [p. 828]

Washington … had determined to recross the Delaware and carry the warfare to the enemy while he still had the semblance of an army to command. …On December 30, Washington once again crossed the Delaware and occupied Trenton. [pp. 829-830]

Hearing that Washington had re-established himself at Trenton, Cornwallis set out by way of Princeton to drive him back over the Delaware or, more to be hoped, to pin Washington's army against the river and destroy it. …It was in fact almost dark when Cornwallis finally pushed back the American advance guard and reached Trenton, but he nonetheless sent skirmishers along the river to test the American defenses and search out possible fords. [p. 830]

Washington's dilemma was how to avoid a battle with a superior adversary without at the same time undertaking another of those extended retreats that were so demoralizing to his men and so disheartening to patriots in general. …The solution was as ingenious as the assault on Trenton. It seemed clear that Cornwallis, fired by the desire to avenge the Trenton fiasco, was busy collecting his resources for an all-out attack. Washington's scheme was to slip away from Cornwallis's army during the night and, by a forced march, make an attack on Cornwallis's base of supplies at New Brunswick. [p. 831]

By dawn, Washington's army had reached Stony Brook, a few miles southeast of Princeton. Here he re-formed his columns and detached General Hugh Mercer with instructions to destroy the bridges across the stream, thereby delaying pursuit by Cornwallis when he discovered that the fox had escaped his trap, while at the same time protecting the left flank of the main army, moving on to New Brunswick, against any foray from the British forces that remained in Princeton. [p. 832]

Washington had no time to tally his gains and losses. …Word came that Cornwallis and his troops were rushing up from Trenton… Not only had Cornwallis's hope of a pleasant interlude in England been destroyed, he had been made a fool of in the bargain… …Washington consulted with his general officers about the plan to attack New Brunswick. They were strongly of the opinion that further offensive action was quite beyond the physical resources of the men. The army would do well enough to escape its pursuers, hot on the trail. Reluctantly Washington concurred. New Brunswick, with its store of supplies and seventy thousand pounds in British army pay chests, would be a splendid prize, but one's luck could only be pushed so far. [p. 834]

The British had launched their campaign in New Jersey partly because the area was supposed to be crawling with Tories who would help the British cause. This mass of Tories did not appear. In fact, the people of New Jersey had been thoroughly alienated by the pillaging of the British and Hessian troops. The Hessians had the reputation for being the most thorough and the most ruthless of requisitioners, seizing whatever they wished and destroying much out of a spirit of simple wantonness. [pp. 835-836]

The soldiers simply took from anyone they encountered whatever they wished, the hats off their heads, the coats off their backs, their horses, sheep, and hogs, and burned what they could not carry off. [p. 836]

Washington's recrossing of the Delaware, his challenge to Cornwallis and his skillful evasion of the British general - culminating in the success at Princeton - were part and parcel of his seizure of Trenton on the morning of December 26. He had, by two brilliant maneuvers, changed the entire complexion of the war. It was his supreme moment as a general. Frederick the Great of Prussia declared, "The achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of 10 days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements." [p. 837]

The Continental Congress / 11

While the battles were fought and armies marched and counter-marched, while Washington with one desperate expedient after another kept his ragged army in being, the Congress kept on meeting and doing the absolutely essential task of supply Washington as best it could with money, armament, and supplies. The Congress did not do a very efficient job of it; … In the meanwhile, the Congress kept itself in being month after difficult month, becoming a symbol, second only to the Continental Army, that such a thing as the United States, a free and sovereign nation, existed. [p. 839]
Whatever shreds of authority Congress might have drawn about itself were often denounced as a reckless lust for power. [p. 840]

Philadelphia had a large number of Tories, and even after the avowed Tories were driven out, there remained fellow-traveling Tory sympathizers not bold enough to publicly declare their allegiance to George III. These were men and women who, in their hearts, hoped for an American defeat and a return to the authority of Great Britain. While these lukewarmers, from their very disposition, did not openly oppose Congress or impede the cause, they gave it little or no support unless coerced into doing so, and they created an atmosphere that was debilitating to the patriots. [p. 840]

There was so much logrolling among delegates that Cyrus Griffin, an irascible Virginian, wrote to Jefferson, "Congress exhibit not more than two or three Members actuated by Patriotism. … Congress are at present a Government of Men. It would astonish you to think how all affairs proceed upon the interested Principle: Members prostituting their votes in expectation of mutual assistance upon favorite Points." …With all this carping, the delegates still accomplished much. They provided, however inadequately, for Washington's army, and this primary task was the principal excuse for their existing at all, the mortar that held them together, and their best claim to the gratitude of their countrymen. [p. 842]

Congress also established the rudiments of a foreign service by dispatching a series of amateur diplomats to Europe and directing their activities through the Committee of Secret Correspondence, which functioned rather like a state department. [p. 843]

Perhaps most notably of all, they worked out a procedure of admitting new states to their precarious union on the basis of equality with the original states, the first time in history that an existing government had shown such generosity in enlarging its jurisdiction. …They even hammered out a constitution - the Articles of Confederation - which, while it was not adopted until near the end of the war and was never adequate to the exigencies of the time, nevertheless marked a clear advance in the notion of a confederated government that could draw together thirteen disparate political entities called states. [p. 843]

Viewed in this light, the Congress's accomplishments were remarkable. Out of their own membership, which fluctuated constantly during the war as weary veterans left and were replaced by novices, the members of Congress, in effect, carried on all the functions of a modern government. They made up the legislature, executive, and judicial departments. Among themselves they performed a host of functions if not well at least adequately. [pp. 843-844]

John Dickinson, reconciled to independence, was the principal author of the Articles of Confederation, and his small-state predilections became evident as the attention of the delegates focused on Article Seventeen: "In determining questions, each colony shall have one vote." This was the single most important constitutional issue faced by the delegates. It divided the states into two groups that cut across sectional lines - the large states and the small ones. The large states had accepted earlier the principle of equal representation, but they had done so only under the heaviest pressure, and they were plainly dissatisfied with the bargain. Franklin, from a large state, put the matter most bluntly: "Let the smaller colonies have equal money and men, and then have an equal vote. …If they have an equal vote without bearing equal burdens, a confederation upon such an iniquitous base will never last long." [p. 844]

Adams argued that "reason, justice and equity" never could be counted on, but only self-interest. If thus followed that the interests within Congress "should be the mathematical representative of the interests without doors." The argument that the states were in some way like individuals was "mere sound." It had some validity under the authority of Great Britain and some present reality, but the real question was what America would be "when our bargain shall be made" - when a constitution was adopted. "The confederacy," he insisted, "is to make us one individual only, it is to form us, like separate parcels of metal, into one common mass. We shall not longer retain our separate individuality, but become a single individual," at least in all questions that came before the confederacy. [p. 845]

The debate revealed, besides the division between small-state men and large-state men, a difference in basic philosophy between those delegates who felt that the individual states should retain their essential sovereignty and simply join in a loose union for certain common purposes, and those who felt they were engaged in creating a single nation in which the states would be subordinate. [p. 845]

Each state had its quota of industrious land speculators. Usually their speculations were based upon the claims of their own state to extensive holdings in the west. …Members of Congress and prominent patriots in every state were actively engaged in land speculation. Washington himself was a member of a company established to speculate in Western lands, and so were Franklin, Patrick Henry, and numerous others. These men, good patriots though they were, constituted a lobby, or rather a series of lobbies, each one of which attempted to protect his own particular land venture. [pp. 845-846]

The States Make Constitutions / 12

As the Revolution progressed, virtually all the states drew up their own constitutions. This flurry of constitution-making was one of the most remarkable political episodes in history. It demonstrated as nothing else could the degree of political sophistication that had developed in the American colonies in the years of crisis prior to the outbreak of hostilities. [p. 847]

The writing of these constitutions also produced remarkable results. In them the leading patriot politicians worked out many of the principles of constitutional government that would eventually find their way into the Federal Constitution. [p. 847]

"Nothing is more certain," [John Adams] wrote, "from the history of nations and the nature of man, than that some forms of government are better fitted for being well administered than others." The principal end of government was the happiness of the governed, and "all sober inquiries after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian" agreed that happiness was found only in virtue. Thus that government was best which most effectively stimulated the virtue of its citizens and suppressed their vices. [p. 848]

Adams' concern about the tendency of a single or unicameral legislature to be carried away by emotion or popular prejudice was an article of political faith or virtually all the statesmen of the Revolutionary generation. It reached back to Rome and Greece for its antecedents; to Thucydides, Polybius, Plato and Aristotle. The history of ancient times was understood to demonstrate the dangers of unchecked democracy, the placing all power directly in the hands of a simple majority of the people. In all such cases, it was argued, the majority had, by their emotional reactions, produced a degree of political instability verging on anarchy., In such instances the rights of the minority were ruthlessly trampled on - and this, in turn, had resulted in the rise of a dictator or tyrant whose principal attraction was that he promised to restore order. [p. 849]

Yearly elections, Adams pointed out, would teach politicians "the great political virtues of humility, patience and moderation, without which every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey." [p. 849] Adams was encouraged to hear both that Virginia was well advanced in forming a constitution and that Patrick Henry was actively involved. Adams considered Henry a "masterly … builder," … It was the will of the great body of the people and their leaders in every state "that a more equal liberty than has prevailed in other parts of the earth must be established in America." The "insolent domination" of "a few, a very few, opulent, monopolizing families" would "be brought down nearer to the confines of reason and moderation. …" [pp. 850-851]

In practical fact, George Mason had much more to do with the Virginia constitution than Patrick Henry, which may have been for the best. Henry was viewed with open suspicion by the more conservative planters of the tidewater. To such men as Carter Braxton he was a radical, imbued with the heretical notions of Thomas Paine and much too sympathetic to the "leveling tendencies" of New England. George Mason, however, was widely respected for his levelheaded wisdom, and the Virginia constitutional convention was dominated by men like Mason and Archibald Cary. [p. 851]

The final paragraph of the Virginia constitution states that the delegates to the convention that had framed the document should also choose the governor and privy council and whatever other officers were needed to run the affairs of the state. There was no mention of any process of ratification. The times were too pressing for such niceties; a government was needed whatever its deficiencies or however certain its legitimacy. …The striking fact about the Virginia constitution is that it was widely imitated by the other states. Hastily constructed as it was, it proved an influential model. [pp. 853-854]

… the resistance of South Carolina patriots to independence was virtually ended by the news that Parliament had authorized the confiscation of the property of Americans as rebels. [p. 855]

… the New York constitution was distinguished by the fact that it provided for the direct popular election of the governor and came closer to giving him powers adequate to his office than any other constitution. Both senate and assembly were directly elected, the assembly annually, the senate quadrennially. [p. 856]

The Pennsylvania constitution is a fascinating document. It was the high-water mark of the democratic idealism expressed most typically in Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Despite its awkwardness and impracticality, it had about it a spaciousness of spirit that did credit to its framers. For whatever combination of reasons - and the principal one was undoubtedly that the stubborn resistance of the conservatives to independence had destroyed their power in the state and had removed them from the arena of local politics at least for the moment - Pennsylvania came up with the most original, one might safely say bizarre, constitution of all the thirteen states, as well as (by no means coincidentally) the most democratic one. [p. 857]

The preamble of the Pennsylvania document is a revealing one. …The prefacing "Declaration of Rights" was modeled on that of Virginia, but with several interesting additions. One, out of deference to the Quakers, stated that no man could be forced to bear arms "if he will pay such equivalent." Another stated the right of people to emigrate from one state to another "or to form a new State in vacant countries … whenever they think that thereby they may promote their own happiness." The clause advanced the interests of the land speculators, of which there were a number in Pennsylvania, and joined their interests with those of settlers who might wish to move west. [p. 858]

What is perhaps most astonishing of all is not that the constitutions were framed - obviously something had to be done to provide legitimate governments - but that they survived in a number of instances for fifty years or more and in that time worked reasonably well. Most important of all, the state constitutions were an indispensable preliminary to the formation of the United States Constitution. There is hardly a single idea or article contained in the Federal Constitution that was not first proposed or assayed in a state constitution, with the important exception of the role of the Supreme Court. [p. 861]

Virtually all of the leading figures in the Federal Convention had served their apprenticeships in the constitutional conventions of their own states. They had thought through and fought through principles that, in most cases, they were eager to apply to a national constitution. Indeed, if we were to trace the ideas most warmly espoused by various delegates to the Federal Convention, we would find that these were for the most part ideas that the same men had championed, successfully or unsuccessfully, in their own state conventions. [p. 862]

It has been truly said that the state constitutions, like the Federal Constitution, were the work of a prosperous aristocracy in the south and of an upper-class professional and business elite in the middle states and New England. Most of these men had profound reservations about what they thought of as "democracy" - the direct and unlimited rule of the majority. [p. 862]

Layers of conservative leadership were, in a manner of speaking, stripped away by successive crises until at last the more radical or resolute patriots in each state held the reins of government. At the same time there was an important counterweight to the radicals. In most states the need to preserve unity in the face of the enemy had the effect of disposing the radical leaders to compromise with the moderate and conservative patriots. Such men, powerful, experienced, wealthy, could not simply be tossed aside. Their support was vital to the revolutionary cause. The moderates and conservatives for their part were brought to accept constitutions that, in many instances, were a good deal more radical (or republican) than they would have wished. The pressure of an invading army and their desire to preserve unity in the patriot ranks disposed them to compromise. [p. 863]

England/ 13

Through most of the Revolution, large majorities in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords supported measures aimed at defeating America and bringing the rebellious colonies to heel. Yet it is important to keep in mind that America had, all through the revolutionary crisis, eloquent and courageous English friends who resolutely opposed the measures taken by Parliament against the colonies. [p. 864]

Popular opinion in Britain swung sharply in favor of the war, however, as the year 1776 progressed. English morale, which had sunk so low after the news of the Battle of Bunker Hill, revived with General Howe's successes on Long Island and in New York. [p. 868]

Burke's warnings that Britain was pursuing a hopeless course and could never extract a revenue from America fell on deaf ears, as did his argument that practical considerations rather than philosophical principles should guide British policy. One of the things that troubled Burke most was that dissent was suppressed on the ground that it constituted treason. In the process, traditional principles of British liberty were discredited, and the Tory party, indifferent to ancient rights and freedoms, was so strengthened that hopes of ever overturning it seemed infinitely remote. Just the fact that the Americans presented themselves as champions of British liberties served to discredit those liberties in England. [p. 869]

It was evident to the Whigs that the king more and more was taking the direction of affairs into his own hands. Nothing of importance was done without his orders or his concurrence, and it was rumored that even speeches in Parliament were outlined by him and assigned to Tory orators. This development appeared to the Whigs, not unnaturally, as a frightening accretion of royal power. [p. 870]

The king believed that a firm hand was all that was needed to bring the Americans around. The Indians should be used for their ability to terrorize; any inclination to leniency or mercy should be sternly suppressed. Fear was the only agency that could be counted on to bring the colonists to a more tractable mood. [p. 871]

It might even be argued that the Whigs, by their tenacity and aggressiveness, kept North and his party constantly on the defensive and more preoccupied with exculpating themselves than with seeking a resolution of the American conflict. By this line it could be maintained that ultimately they did a disservice to the American cause and prolonged the war by confusing that issue with party politics in England. But this is a tendentious and precarious argument. It was most important that the genuine moral outrage that the Whigs felt toward the efforts of the government to beat the Americans into submission be openly and eloquently expressed. By doing so, the Whigs kept open both the hope of reconciliation and the possibility of reform in British society itself. [p. 872]

Although the Whigs did not prevent the disastrous policy of the government or manage to terminate the war at any of those half-dozen points at which its futility was plain enough to any sensible man, they nonetheless performed an essential function by constantly enunciating (and thereby keeping alive) the great principles of British constitutional liberty. They did this with courage and resolution, often in the face of heavy pressure from their colleagues and constant imputations concerning their loyalty. I believe that they thereby saved Britain from a social revolution more ferocious and destructive than the French Revolution, because they preserved that faint but persistent hope among the commonalty of England that justice might finally be done them, that principles might ultimately become practice. [p. 872]

No matter how heedless, insensate, materialistic, selfish, unjust, and greedy a society may be, if there can be found in it a few clear and powerful voices that speak out unafraid against its corruptions, the spirit and the hope of reform can persist. The Whigs, unsuccessful as they were, stood as proof to the Americans that their sacrifices were in a great cause; that they were fighting for more than selfish ends; that they had brothers of the same faith in their former homeland. These matters are not quantifiable, they cannot be fed into computers and reduced to columns of statistics, to charts and diagrams; but they are, perhaps for that very reason, the quintessence of the drama of history, as everyone who has felt them vibrate in his own heart knows. [p. 872]

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3