Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

sitions of Congress. These had been ample. Eight millions of dollars had been called for, to be paid in four equal quarterly instalments, for the service of the year 1782. * In a confidential letter to the Secretary of War, Washington observed, “ I cannot help fearing the result of reducing the army, where I see such a number of men, goaded by a thou.. sand stings of reflection on the past, and of anticipation on the future, about to be turned into the world, soured by penury, and what they call the ingratitude of the public; involved in debts without one farthing of money to carry. them home, after having spent the flower of their days, and many of them their patrimonies, in establishing the freedom and independence of their country, and having suffered every thing which human nature is capable of enduring on this side of death. I repeat it, when I reflect on these irritable circumstances, I cannot avoid apprehending that a train of evils will follow, of a very serious and distressing nature.

"I wish not to heighten the shades of the picture so far: as the real life would justify me in doing, or I would give anecdotes of patriotism and distress, which has scarcely ever been paralleled, never surpassed in the history of mankind. But you may rely upon it; the patience and long sufferance of this army are almost exhausted, and there never was so great a spirit of discontent as at this instant. While in the field, it may be kept from breaking out into

outrage ; but when we retire into winter quarters, unless the storm be previously dissipated, I cannot be at ease respecting the consequences. It is high time for a . peace.

These apprehensions were well founded. To watch the discontents of his troops, the American chief continued in camp after they had retired into winter quarters, though there was no prospect of any military operation which might require his presence. Soon after their retirement, the officers presented à petition to Congress respecting their

pay, and deputed a committee of their body to solicit their interests while under consideration.*

Nothing had been decided on the claims of the army, when intelligence, in March, 1783, arrived, that preliminary and eventual articles of peace between the United States

acts of

* See the appendix for this petition.

and Great Britain had been signed on the 30th of the preeeding November, in which the independence of the United States was amply recognized. In the general joy excited by this event, the army partook ; but one unpleasant idea mingled itself with their exultations. They suspected that as justice had not been done to them while their services were indispensable, they would be less likely to obtain it when they ceased to be necessary.

Their fears on this account were increased by a letter which about the same time was received from their committee in Philadelphia, announcing that the objects which they had solicited from Congress had not yet been obtained. Smarting as they were under past sufferings, and present wants, their exas. peration become violent and almost universal. While they were brooding over their gloomy prospects, and provoked at the apparent neglect with which they had been treated, an anonymous paper was circulated, proposing a meeting of the General and Field Officers on the next day. The avowed object of this meeting was to consider the late letier from their committee with Congress, and what mea. surcs sho..!!!

Showru ve acopted to obtain that redress of grievan. ces which they seemed to have solicited in vain. On the same day the following address was privately circu. lated.

" TO THE OFFICERS OF THE ARMY.

« GENTLEMEN, "A fellow soldier, whose interests and affections bind bim strongly to you; whose past sufferings hàve been as great, and whose future fortune may be as desperate as yours, would beg leave to address you. Age has its claims, and rank is not without its pretensions to advise ; but though unsupported by both, he flatters himself that the plain language of sincerity and experience, will neither be unheard nor unregarded. Like many of you, he loved private life, and left it with regret. He left it, determined to retire from the field with the necessity that called him to it, and not ti'l tien; not till the enemies of his country, the slaves of power, and the hirelings of injustice, were compelled to abandon their schemes, and acknowledge Ame

rica as terrible in arms as she had been humble in remonstance. With this object in view, he has long shared in your toils, and mingled in your dangers; he has felt the cold hand of poverty without a murmur, and has seen the insolence of wealth without a sigh. But, too much under the direction of his wishes, and sometimes weak enough to mistake desire for opinion, he has, till lately, very lately, believed in the justice of his country. He hoped, that as the clouds of adversity scattered, and as the sunshine of peace and better fortune broke in upon us, the coldness and severity of government would relax, and that, more than justice, that gratitude would blaze forth upon those hands which had upheld her in the darkest stages of her passage, from impending servitude to acknowledged independence. But faith has its limits, as well as temper ; and there are points beyond which neither can be stretched, without sinking into cowardice or plunging into credulity. This, my friends, I conceive to be your situation. Hurried to the

very verge of both, another step would ruin you forever. To be tame and unprovoked when injuries press hard upon you, is more than weakness.;. but to look up for kinder usage, without one manly effort of your own, would fix your character, and show the world how richly you deserve those chairs you broke. To guard against this evil, let us take a review of the ground upon which we now stand, and from thence carry our thoughts forward for a moment, into the unexplored field of expedient.

« After a pursuit of seven long years, the object for which we set out is at length brought within our reach! Yes, my friends, that suffering courage of yours« was active once ; it has conducted the United States of America through a doubtful and a bloody war! It has placed her in the chair of independency, and peace returns again to bless --whom? A country willing to redress your wrongs, cherish your worth, and reward your services; a country courting your return to private life, with tears of gratitude, and smiles of admiration ; longing to divide with you that independency which your gallantry has given, and those riches which your wounds have preserved ? Is this the case ? or is it rather, a country that tramples upon your rights, disdains your cries, and insults your distresses? Have you not, more than once suggested your wishes, and made known your wants to Congress? Wants and wishes which gratitude and policy should have anticipated, rather than evaded. And have not lately, in the meek language of entreating memorial, begged from their justice, what you would no longer expect from their favor ? How have you been answered ? Let the letter which you are called to consider tomorrow, make reply.

“ If this, then, be your treatment, while the swords you wear are necessary for the defence of America, what have you to expect from peace, when your voice shall sink, and your strength dissipate by division ?

“ When these very swords, the instruments and compa. nions of your glory, shall be taken from your sides, and no remaining mark of military distinction left, but your wants, infirmities and scars! can you then consent to be the only sufferers by this revolution, and retiring from the field, grow old in poverty, wretchedness and contempt? Can you consent to wade through the vile mire of dependency, and owe the miserable remnant of that life to charity, which has hitherto been spent in honour ? If you can, go; and carry with you the jest of tories, and the scorn of whigs; the ridicule, and, what is worse, the pity of the world! Go, starve, and be forgotten ! But if your spirit should revolt at this; if you have sense enough to discover, and spirit enough to oppose tyranny, under whatever garb it may assume ; wether it be the plain coat of republicanism, or the splendid robe of royalty ; if you have yet learned to discriminate between a people and a cause, between men and principles; awake! attend to your situation, and redress yourselves. If the present moment be lost, every future effort is in vain ; and your threats then will be as empty as your entreaties now. I would advise you, therefore, to come to some final opinion, upon what you can bear, and

will suffer. If your determination be in any proporlion to your wrongs, carry your appeal from the justice to the fears of government; change the milk and water style of your last memorial ; assume a bolder tone; decent, but lively, spirited and determined ; and suspect the man who would advise to more moderation and longer forbearance. Let two or three men, who can feel as well as write, be appointed to draw up your last remonstrance ; for I would no longer give it the suing, soft, unsuccessful epithet of memorial. Let it be represented, in language that will neither dishonour you by its rudeness, nor betray you by its fears, what has been promised by Congress, and what has been performed; how long and how patiently you have suffered; how little you have asked, and how much of that little has been denied. Tell them that though you were the first, and would wish to be the last, to encounter danger ; though despair itself can never drive you into dishonour; it inay drive you from the field ; that the wound often irritated, and never healed, may at length become incurable ; and that the slightest mark of indignity from Congress now, must operate like the grave, and part you for ever; that in any political event, the army has its alternative. If peace, that nothing shall separate you from your arms but death; if war, that courting the auspices and inviting the directions of your illustrious leader, you will retire to some unsettled country, smile in your turn, and " mock when their fear cometh on.” But let it represent also, that should they comply with the request of your late memorial, it would make you more happy, and them more respectable; that while the war should continue, you would follow their standard into the field ; and when it came to an end, you would withdraw into the shade of private life, and give the world another subject of wonder and applauše ; an army victorious over its enemies, victorious over itself.

what you

[ANONYMOUS.]

This artful address sound in almost every bosom such congenial sentiments, as prepared the way for its favourable reception. It operated like a torch on combustible materials. The passions of the army quickly caught the flame it was well calculated to excite. Every appearance threatened that the proposed convention of the officers would produce an explosion which might tarnish the reputation of the army, disturb the peace of the country, and, under certain circumstances, mosi probably terminate in the sube version of the recent liberties of the new formed states.

Accustomed, as Washington had been, to einergencies of great delicacy and difficulty, yet none had occured, which called more pressingly than the present for the utmost ex. crtion of all his powers. He knew well that it was much easier to avoid intemperate ineasures than to recede from them after they had been adopted. He therefore considera

« ForrigeFortsett »