George Washington, Vol. I
Henry Cabot Lodge

Part 4 out of 6

the capital, in the midst of a people of their own race and religion,
and but recently severed from them.

He pointed out the enormous advantages which would accrue to France
from the possession of Canada, such as independent posts, control of
the Indians, and the Newfoundland trade. "France, ... possessed of New
Orleans on our right, Canada on our left, and seconded by the
numerous tribes of Indians in our rear, ... would, it is much to be
apprehended, have it in her power to give law to these States." He
went on to show that France might easily find an excuse for such
conduct, in seeking a surety for her advances of money, and that she
had but little to fear from the contingency of our being driven to
reunite with England. He continued: "Men are very apt to run into
extremes. Hatred to England may carry some into an excess of
confidence in France, especially when motives of gratitude are thrown
into the scale. Men of this description would be unwilling to suppose
France capable of acting so ungenerous a part. I am heartily disposed
to entertain the most favorable sentiments of our new ally, and to
cherish them in others to a reasonable degree. But it is a maxim,
founded on the universal experience of mankind, that no nation is
to be trusted farther than it is bound by its own interest; and no
prudent statesman or politician will venture to depart from it. In our
circumstances we ought to be particularly cautious; for we have not
yet attained sufficient vigor and maturity to recover from the shock
of any false steps into which we may unwarily fall."

We shall have occasion to recall these utterances at a later day, but
at this time they serve to show yet again how broadly and clearly
Washington judged nations and policies. Uppermost in his mind was the
destiny of his own nation, just coming into being, and from that firm
point he watched and reasoned. His words had no effect on Congress,
but as it turned out, the plan failed through adverse influences in
the quarter where Washington least expected them. He believed that
this Canadian plan had been put into Lafayette's mind by the cabinet
of Louis XVI., and he could not imagine that a policy of such obvious
wisdom could be overlooked by French statesmen. In this he was
completely mistaken, for France failed to see what seemed so simple to
the American general, that the opportunity had come to revive her old
American policy and reestablish her colonies under the most favorable
conditions. The ministers of Louis XVI., moreover, did not wish the
colonies to conquer Canada, and the plan of Lafayette and the Congress
received no aid in Paris and came to nothing. But the fruitless
incident exhibits in the strongest light the attitude of Washington as
a purely American statesman, and the comprehensiveness of his mind in
dealing with large affairs.

The French alliance and the coming of the French fleet were of
incalculable advantage to the colonies, but they had one evil effect,
as has already been suggested. To a people weary with unequal
conflict, it was a debilitating influence, and America needed at that
moment more than ever energy and vigor, both in the council and
the field. Yet the general outlook was distinctly better and more
encouraging. Soon after Washington had defeated Clinton at Monmouth,
and had taken a position whence he could watch and check him, he wrote
to his friend General Nelson in Virginia:--

"It is not a little pleasing, nor less wonderful to contemplate, that,
after two years' manoeuvring and undergoing the strangest vicissitudes
that perhaps ever attended any one contest since the creation, both
armies are brought back to the very point they set out from, and that
the offending party at the beginning is now reduced to the spade and
pickaxe for defense. The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in
all this that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and
more than wicked that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his
obligations. But it will be time enough for me to turn preacher when
my present appointment ceases."

He had reason to congratulate himself on the result of his two years'
campaigning, but as the summer wore away and winter came on he found
causes for fresh and deep alarm, despite the good outlook in the
field. The demoralizing effects of civil war were beginning to show
themselves in various directions. The character of Congress, in point
of ability, had declined alarmingly, for the ablest men of the first
Congress, with few exceptions, had departed. Some had gone to the
army, some to the diplomatic service, and many had remained at home,
preferring the honors and offices of the States to those of the
Confederation. Their successors, patriotic and well-meaning though
they were, lacked the energy and force of those who had started the
Revolution, and, as a consequence, Congress had become feeble and
ineffective, easily swayed by influential schemers, and unable to cope
with the difficulties which surrounded them.

Outside the government the popular tone had deteriorated sadly. The
lavish issues of irredeemable paper by the Confederation and the
States had brought their finances to the verge of absolute ruin. The
continental currency had fallen to something like forty to one in
gold, and the decline was hastened by the forged notes put out by the
enemy. The fluctuations of this paper soon bred a spirit of gambling,
and hence came a class of men, both inside and outside of politics,
who sought, more or less corruptly, to make fortunes by army
contracts, and by forestalling the markets. These developments filled
Washington with anxiety, for in the financial troubles he saw ruin
to the army. The unpaid troops bore the injustice done them with
wonderful patience, but it was something that could not last, and
Washington knew the danger. In vain did he remonstrate. It seemed to
be impossible to get anything done, and at last, in the following
spring, the outbreak began. Two New Jersey regiments refused to march
until the assembly made provision for their pay. Washington took high
ground with them, but they stood respectfully firm, and finally had
their way. Not long after came another outbreak in the Connecticut
line, with similar results. These object lessons had some result, and
by foreign loans and the ability of Robert Morris the country was
enabled to stumble along; but it was a frightful and wearing anxiety
to the commander-in-chief.

Washington saw at once that the root of the evil lay in the feebleness
of Congress, and although he could not deal with the finances, he was
able to strive for an improvement in the governing body. Not content
with letters, he left the army and went to Philadelphia, in the winter
of 1779, and there appealed to Congress in person, setting forth the
perils which beset them, and urging action. He wrote also to his
friends everywhere, pointing out the deficiencies of Congress, and
begging them to send better and stronger men. To Benjamin Harrison he
wrote: "It appears to me as clear as ever the sun did in its meridian
brightness, that America never stood in more eminent need of the wise,
patriotic, and spirited exertions of her sons than at this period; ...
the States separately are too much engaged in their local concerns,
and have too many of their ablest men withdrawn from the general
council, for the good of the common weal." He took the same high tone
in all his letters, and there can be seen through it all the desperate
endeavor to make the States and the people understand the dangers
which he realized, but which they either could not or would not

On the other hand, while his anxiety was sharpened to the highest
point by the character of Congress, his sternest wrath was kindled by
the gambling and money-making which had become rampant. To Reed he
wrote in December, 1778: "It gives me sincere pleasure to find that
there is likely to be a coalition of the Whigs in your State, a few
only excepted, and that the assembly is so well disposed to second
your endeavors in bringing those murderers of our cause, the
monopolizers, forestallers, and engrossers, to condign punishment. It
is much to be lamented that each State, long ere this, has not hunted
them down as pests to society and the greatest enemies we have to
the happiness of America. I would to God that some one of the most
atrocious in each State was hung in gibbets upon a gallows five times
as high as the one prepared by Haman. No punishment, in my opinion, is
too great for the man who can build his greatness upon his country's
ruin." He would have hanged them too had he had the power, for he was
always as good as his word.

It is refreshing to read these righteously angry words, still ringing
as sharply as when they were written. They clear away all the
myths--the priggish, the cold, the statuesque, the dull myths--as the
strong gusts of the northwest wind in autumn sweep off the heavy mists
of lingering August. They are the hot words of a warm-blooded man, a
good hater, who loathed meanness and treachery, and who would have
hanged those who battened upon the country's distress. When he went
to Philadelphia, a few weeks later, and saw the state of things with
nearer view, he felt the wretchedness and outrage of such doings more
than ever. He wrote to Harrison: "If I were to be called upon to draw
a picture of the times and of men, from what I have seen, heard, and
in part know, I should in one word say, that idleness, dissipation,
and extravagance seem to have laid fast hold of most of them; that
speculation, peculation, and an insatiable thirst for riches seem to
have got the better of every other consideration, and almost of every
order of men; that party disputes and personal quarrels are the great
business of the day; whilst the momentous concerns of an empire, a
great and accumulating debt, ruined finances, depreciated money, and
want of credit, which, in its consequences, is the want of everything,
are but secondary considerations, and postponed from day to day, from
week to week, as if our affairs wore the most promising aspect."

Other men talked about empire, but he alone grasped the great
conception, and felt it in his soul. To see not only immediate success
imperiled, but the future paltered with by small, mean, and dishonest
men, cut him to the quick. He set himself doggedly to fight it, as he
always fought every enemy, using both speech and pen in all quarters.
Much, no doubt, he ultimately effected, but he was contending with
the usual results of civil war, which are demoralizing always, and
especially so among a young people in a new country. At first,
therefore, all seemed vain. The selfishness, "peculation, and
speculation" seemed to get worse, and the tone of Congress and the
people lower, as he struggled against them. In March, 1779, he wrote
to James Warren of Massachusetts: "Nothing, I am convinced, but
the depreciation of our currency, aided by stock-jobbing and party
dissensions, has fed the hopes of the enemy, and kept the British
arms in America to this day. They do not scruple to declare this
themselves, and add that we shall be our own conquerors. Can not our
common country, America, possess virtue enough to disappoint them? Is
the paltry consideration of a little pelf to individuals to be placed
in competition with the essential rights and liberties of the present
generation, and of millions yet unborn? Shall a few designing men, for
their own aggrandizement, and to gratify their own avarice, overset
the goodly fabric we have been rearing, at the expense of so much
time, blood, and treasure? And shall we at last become the victims
of our own lust of gain? Forbid it, Heaven! Forbid it, all and every
State in the Union, by enacting and enforcing efficacious laws for
checking the growth of these monstrous evils, and restoring matters,
in some degree, to the state they were in at the commencement of the

"Our cause is noble. It is the cause of mankind, and the danger to it
is to be apprehended from ourselves. Shall we slumber and sleep, then,
while we should be punishing those miscreants who have brought these
troubles upon us, and who are aiming to continue us in them; while we
should be striving to fill our battalions, and devising ways and means
to raise the value of the currency, on the credit of which everything
depends?" Again we see the prevailing idea of the future, which
haunted him continually. Evidently, he had some imagination, and
also a power of terse and eloquent expression which we have heard of
before, and shall note again.

Still the appeals seemed to sound in deaf ears. He wrote to George
Mason: "I have seen, without despondency, even for a moment, the hours
which America has styled her gloomy ones; but I have beheld no
day since the commencement of hostilities that I have thought her
liberties in such imminent danger as at present.... Indeed, we are
verging so fast to destruction that I am filled with sensations to
which I have been a stranger till within these three months." To
Gouverneur Morris he said: "If the enemy have it in their power to
press us hard this campaign, I know not what may be the consequence."
He had faced the enemy, the bleak winters, raw soldiers, and all the
difficulties of impecunious government, with a cheerful courage that
never failed. But the spectacle of widespread popular demoralization,
of selfish scrambles for plunder, and of feeble administration at
the centre of government weighed upon him heavily. It was not the
general's business to build up Congress and grapple with finance, but
Washington addressed himself to the new task with his usual persistent
courage. It was slow and painful work. He seemed to make no progress,
and then it was that his spirits sank at the prospect of ruin and
defeat, not coming on the field of battle, but from our own vices and
our own lack of energy and wisdom. Yet his work told in the end, as it
always did. His vast and steadily growing influence made itself felt
even through the dense troubles of the uneasy times. Congress turned
with energy to Europe for fresh loans. Lafayette worked away to get
an army sent over. The two Morrises, stimulated by Washington, flung
themselves into the financial difficulties, and feeble but distinct
efforts toward a more concentrated and better organized administration
of public affairs were made both in the States and the confederation.

But, although Washington's spirits fell, and his anxieties became
wellnigh intolerable in this period of reaction which followed the
French alliance, he made no public show of it, but carried on his own
work with the army and in the field as usual, contending with all the
difficulties, new and old, as calmly and efficiently as ever. After
Clinton slipped away from Monmouth and sought refuge in New York,
Washington took post at convenient points and watched the movements
of the enemy. In this way the summer passed. As always, Washington's
first object was to guard the Hudson, and while he held this vital
point firmly, he waited, ready to strike elsewhere if necessary. It
looked for a time as if the British intended to descend on Boston,
seize the town, and destroy the French fleet, which had gone there
to refit. Such was the opinion of Gates, then commanding in that
department, and as Washington inclined to the same belief, the fear of
this event gave him many anxious moments. He even moved his troops
so as to be in readiness to march eastward at short notice; but he
gradually became convinced that the enemy had no such plan. Much
of his thought, now and always, was given to efforts to divine the
intentions of the British generals. They had so few settled ideas,
and were so tardy and lingering when they had plans, that it is small
wonder that their opponents were sorely puzzled in trying to find out
what their purposes were, when they really had none. The fact was that
Washington saw their military opportunities with the eye of a great
soldier, and so much better than they, that he suffered a good deal of
needless anxiety in devising methods to meet attacks which they had
not the wit to undertake. He had a profound contempt for their policy
of holding towns, and believing that they must see the utter futility
of it, after several years of trial, he constantly expected from them
a well-planned and extensive campaign, which in reality they were
incapable of devising.

The main army, therefore, remained quiet, and when the autumn had
passed went into winter-quarters in well-posted detachments about New
York. In December Clinton made an ineffectual raid, and then all was
peaceful again, and Washington was able to go to Philadelphia and
struggle with Congress, leaving his army more comfortable and secure
than they had been in any previous winter.

In January he informed Congress as to the next campaign. He showed
them the impossibility of undertaking anything on a large scale, and
announced his intention of remaining on the defensive. It was a trying
policy to a man of his temper, but he could do no better, and he knew,
now as always, what others could not yet see, that by simply holding
on and keeping his army in the field he was slowly but surely winning
independence. He tried to get Congress to do something with the navy,
and he planned an expedition, under the command of Sullivan, to
overrun the Indian country and check the barbarous raids of the Tories
and savages on the frontier; and with this he was fain to be content.
In fact, he perceived very clearly the direction in which the war was
tending. He kept up his struggle with Congress for a permanent army,
and with the old persistency pleaded that something should be done for
the officers, and at the same time he tried to keep the States in good
humor when they were grumbling about the amount of protection afforded

But all this wear and tear of heart and brain and temper, while given
chiefly to hold the army together, was not endured with any
notion that he and Clinton were eventually to fight it out in the
neighborhood of New York. Washington felt that that part of the
conflict was over. He now hoped and believed that the moment would
come, when, by uniting his army with the French, he should be able to
strike the decisive blow. Until that time came, however, he knew that
he could do nothing on a great scale, and he felt that meanwhile the
British, abandoning practically the eastern and middle States, would
make one last desperate struggle for victory, and would make it in the
south. Long before any one else, he appreciated this fact, and saw a
peril looming large in that region, where everybody was considering
the British invasion as little more than an exaggerated raid. He
foresaw, too, that we should suffer more there than we had in the
extreme north, because the south was full of Tories and less well

All this, however, did not change his own plans one jot. He believed
that the south must work out its own salvation, as New York and New
England had done with Burgoyne, and he felt sure that in the end it
would be successful. But he would not go south, nor take his army
there. The instinct of a great commander for the vital point in a war
or a battle, is as keen as that of the tiger is said to be for the
jugular vein of its victim. The British might overrun the north or
invade the south, but he would stay where he was, with his grip upon
New York and the Hudson River. The tide of invasion might ebb and flow
in this region or that, but the British were doomed if they could not
divide the eastern colonies from the others. When the appointed hour
came, he was ready to abandon everything and strike the final and
fatal blow; but until then he waited and stood fast with his army,
holding the great river in his grasp. He felt much more anxiety about
the south than he had felt about the north, and expected Congress to
consult him as to a commander, having made up his mind that Greene was
the man to send. But Congress still believed in Gates, who had been
making trouble for Washington all winter; and so Gates was sent,
and Congress in due time got their lesson, and found once more that
Washington understood men better than they did.

In the north the winter was comparatively uneventful. The spring
passed, and in June Clinton came out and took possession of Stony
Point and Verplanck's Point, and began to fortify them. It looked a
little as if Clinton might intend to get control of the Hudson by
slow approaches, fortifying, and then advancing until he reached West
Point. With this in mind, Washington at once determined to check the
British by striking sharply at one of their new posts. Having made
up his mind, he sent for Wayne and asked him if he would storm Stony
Point. Tradition says that Wayne replied, "I will storm hell, if you
will plan it." A true tradition, probably, in keeping with Wayne's
character, and pleasant to us to-day as showing with a vivid gleam of
rough human speech the utter confidence of the army in their leader,
that confidence which only a great soldier can inspire. So Washington
planned, and Wayne stormed, and Stony Point fell. It was a gallant and
brilliant feat of arms, one of the most brilliant of the war. Over
five hundred prisoners were taken, the guns were carried off, and the
works destroyed, leaving the British to begin afresh with a good deal
of increased caution and respect. Not long after, Harry Lee stormed
Paulus Hook with equal success, and the British were checked and
arrested, if they intended any extensive movement. On the frontier,
Sullivan, after some delays, did his work effectively, ravaging the
Indian towns and reducing them to quiet, thus taking away another
annoyance and danger.

In these various ways Clinton's circle of activity was steadily
narrowed, but it may be doubted whether he had any coherent plan.
The principal occupation of the British was to send out marauding
expeditions and cut off outlying parties. Tryon burned and pillaged
in Connecticut, Matthews in Virginia, and others on a smaller scale
elsewhere in New Jersey and New York. The blundering stupidity of this
system of warfare was only equaled by its utter brutality. Houses were
burned, peaceful villages went up in smoke, women and children were
outraged, and soldiers were bayoneted after they had surrendered.
These details of the Revolution are wellnigh forgotten now, but when
the ear is wearied with talk about English generosity and love of fair
play, it is well to turn back and study the exploits of Tryon, and it
is not amiss in the same connection to recall that English budgets
contained a special appropriation for scalping-knives, a delicate
attention to the Tories and Indians who were burning and butchering on
the frontier.

Such methods of warfare Washington despised intellectually, and hated
morally. He saw that every raid only hardened the people against
England, and made her cause more hopeless. The misery caused by these
raids angered him, but he would not retaliate in kind, and Wayne
bayoneted no English soldiers after they laid down their arms at Stony
Point. It was enough for Washington to hold fast to the great objects
he had in view, to check Clinton and circumscribe his movements.
Steadfastly he did this through the summer and winter of 1779, which
proved one of the worst that he had yet endured. Supplies did not
come, the army dwindled, and the miseries of Valley Forge were
renewed. Again was repeated the old and pitiful story of appeals to
Congress and the States, and again the undaunted spirit and strenuous
exertions of Washington saved the army and the Revolution from the
internal ruin which was his worst enemy. When the new year began, he
saw that he was again condemned to a defensive campaign, but this made
little difference now, for what he had foreseen in the spring of 1779
became certainty in the autumn. The active war was transferred to the
south, where the chapter of disasters was beginning, and Clinton had
practically given up everything except New York. The war had taken
on the new phase expected by Washington. Weak as he was, he began to
detach troops, and prepared to deal with the last desperate effort of
England to conquer her revolted colonies from the south.



The spring of 1780 was the beginning of a period of inactivity and
disappointment, of diligent effort and frustrated plans. During the
months which ensued before the march to the south, Washington passed
through a stress of harassing anxiety, which was far worse than
anything he had to undergo at any other time. Plans were formed, only
to fail. Opportunities arose, only to pass by unfulfilled. The network
of hostile conditions bound him hand and foot, and it seemed at times
as if he could never break the bonds that held him, or prevent or hold
back the moral, social, and political dissolution going on about him.
With the aid of France, he meant to strike one decisive blow, and end
the struggle. Every moment was of importance, and yet the days and
weeks and months slipped by, and he could get nothing done. He could
neither gain control of the sea, nor gather sufficient forces of his
own, although delay now meant ruin. He saw the British overrun the
south, and he could not leave the Hudson. He was obliged to sacrifice
the southern States, and yet he could get neither ships nor men to
attack New York. The army was starving and mutinous, and he sought
relief in vain. The finances were ruined, Congress was helpless, the
States seemed stupefied. Treason of the most desperate kind suddenly
reared its head, and threatened the very citadel of the Revolution.
These were the days of the war least familiar to posterity. They
are unmarked in the main by action or fighting, and on this dreary
monotony nothing stands out except the black stain of Arnold's
treason. Yet it was the time of all others when Washington had most to
bear. It was the time of all others when his dogged persistence and
unwavering courage alone seemed to sustain the flickering fortunes of
the war.

In April Washington was pondering ruefully on the condition of affairs
at the south. He saw that the only hope of saving Charleston was in
the defense of the bar; and when that became indefensible, he saw that
the town ought to be abandoned to the enemy, and the army withdrawn to
the country. His military genius showed itself again and again in
his perfectly accurate judgment on distant campaigns. He seemed to
apprehend all the conditions at a glance, and although his wisdom
made him refuse to issue orders when he was not on the ground, those
generals who followed his suggestions, even when a thousand miles
away, were successful, and those who disregarded them were not.
Lincoln, commanding at Charleston, was a brave and loyal man, but he
had neither the foresight nor the courage to withdraw to the country,
and then, hovering on the lines of the enemy, to confine them to the
town. He yielded to the entreaties of the citizens and remained, only
to surrender. Washington had retreated from New York, and after five
years of fighting the British still held it, and had gone no further.
He had refused to risk an assault to redeem Philadelphia, at the
expense of much grumbling and cursing, and had then beaten the enemy
when they hastily retreated thence in the following spring. His
cardinal doctrine was that the Revolution depended upon the existence
of the army, and not on the possession of any particular spot of
ground, and his masterly adherence to this theory brought victory,
slowly but surely. Lincoln's very natural inability to grasp it, and
to withstand popular pressure, cost us for a time the southern States
and a great deal of bloody fighting.

In the midst of this anxiety about the south, and when he foresaw the
coming disasters, Washington was cheered and encouraged by the arrival
of Lafayette, whom he loved, and who brought good tidings of his
zealous work for the United States in Paris. An army and a fleet were
on their way to America, with a promise of more to follow. This was
great news indeed. It is interesting to note how Washington took it,
for we see here with unusual clearness the readiness of grasp and
quickness of thought which have been noted before, but which are
not commonly attributed to him. It has been the fashion to treat
Washington as wise and prudent, but as distinctly slow, and when he
was obliged to concentrate public opinion, either military or civil,
or when doubt overhung his course, he moved with great deliberation.
When he required no concentration of opinion, and had made up his
mind, he could strike with a terribly swift decision, as at Trenton
or Monmouth. So when a new situation presented itself he seized with
wonderful rapidity every phase and possibility opened by changed

The moment he learned from Lafayette that the French succors were
actually on the way, he began to lay out plans in a manner which
showed how he had taken in at the first glance every chance and every
contingency. He wrote that the decisive moment was at hand, and that
the French succors would be fatal if not used successfully now.
Congress must improve their methods of administration, and for this
purpose must appoint a small committee to cooeperate with him. This
step he demanded, and it was taken at once. Fresh from his interview
with Lafayette, he sent out orders to have inquiries made as to
Halifax and its defenses. Possibly a sudden and telling blow might
be struck there, and nothing should be overlooked. He also wrote to
Lafayette to urge upon the French commander an immediate assault on
New York the moment he landed. Yet despite his thought for New York,
he even then began to see the opportunities which were destined to
develop into Yorktown. He had longed to go to the south before, and
had held back only because he felt that the main army and New York
were still the key of the position, and could not be safely abandoned.
Now, while planning the capture of New York, he asked in a letter
whether the enemy was not more exposed at the southward and therefore
a better subject for a combined attack there. Clearness and precision
of plan as to the central point, joined to a perfect readiness to
change suddenly and strike hard and decisively in a totally different
quarter, are sure marks of the great commander. We can find them all
through the correspondence, but here in May, 1780, they come out with
peculiar vividness. They are qualities arising from a wide foresight,
and from a sure and quick perception. They are not the qualities of a
slow or heavy mind.

On June 1 came the news of the surrender of Charleston and the loss of
the army, which was followed by the return of Clinton to New York. The
southern States lay open now to the enemy, and it was a severe trial
to Washington to be unable to go to their rescue; but with the same
dogged adherence to his ruling idea, he concentrated his attention
on the Hudson with renewed vigilance on account of Clinton's return.
Adversity and prosperity alike were unable to divert him from the
control of the great river and the mastery of the middle States until
he saw conclusive victory elsewhere fairly within his grasp. In the
same unswerving way he pushed on the preparations for what he felt to
be the coming of the decisive campaign and the supreme moment of the
war. To all the governors went urgent letters, calling on the States
to fill their lines in the continental army, and to have their militia
in readiness.

In the midst of these anxieties and preparations, the French arrived
at Newport, bringing a well-equipped army of some five thousand men,
and a small fleet. They brought, too, something quite as important,
in the way of genuine good-will and full intention to do all in their
power for their allies. After a moment's hesitation, born of unlucky
memories, the people of Rhode Island gave De Rochambeau a hearty
welcome, and Washington sent him the most cordial greeting. With the
greeting went the polite but earnest request for immediate action,
together with plans for attacking New York; and, at the same time,
another urgent call went out to the States for men, money, and
supplies. The long-looked-for hour had arrived, a fine French army was
in Newport, a French fleet rode in the harbor, and instead of action,
immediate and effective, the great event marked only the beginning of
a period of delays and disappointment, wearing heart and nerve almost
beyond endurance.

First it appeared that the French ships could not get into New York
harbor. Then there was sickness in the French army. Then the British
menaced Newport, and rapid preparations had to be made to meet that
danger. Then it came out that De Rochambeau was ordered to await the
arrival of the second division of the army, with more ships; and after
due waiting, it was discovered that the aforesaid second division,
with their ships, were securely blockaded by the English fleet at
Brest. On our side it was no better; indeed, it was rather worse.
There was lack of arms and powder. The drafts were made with
difficulty, and the new levies came in slowly. Supplies failed
altogether, and on every hand there was nothing but delay, and ever
fresh delay, and in the midst of it all Washington, wrestling with
sloth and incoherence and inefficiency, trampled down one failure and
disappointment only to encounter another, equally important, equally
petty, and equally harassing.

On August 20 he wrote to Congress a long and most able letter, which
set forth forcibly the evil and perilous condition of affairs. After
reading that letter no man could say that there was not need of the
utmost exertion, and for the expenditure of the last ounce of energy.
In it Washington struck especially at the two delusions with which
the people and their representatives were lulling themselves into
security, and by which they were led to relax their efforts. One was
the belief that England was breaking down; the other, that the arrival
of the French was synonymous with the victorious close of the war.
Washington demonstrated that England still commanded the sea, and that
as long as she did so there was a great advantage on her side. She
was stronger, on the whole, this year than the year before, and her
financial resources were still ample. There was no use in looking for
victory in the weakness of the enemy, and on the other hand, to rely
wholly on France was contemptible as well as foolish. After stating
plainly that the army was on the verge of dissolution, he said: "To me
it will appear miraculous if our affairs can maintain themselves much
longer in their present train. If either the temper or the resources
of the country will not admit of an alteration, we may expect soon
to be reduced to the humiliating condition of seeing the cause of
America, in America, upheld by foreign arms. The generosity of our
allies has a claim to all our confidence and all our gratitude, but
it is neither for the honor of America, nor for the interest of the
common cause, to leave the work entirely to them."

It must have been bitter to Washington above all men, with his high
dignity and keen sense of national honor, to write such words as
these, or make such an argument to any of his countrymen. But it was a
work which the time demanded, and he did it without flinching. Having
thus laid bare the weak places, he proceeded to rehearse once more,
with a weariness we can easily fancy, the old, old lesson as to
organization, a permanent army, and a better system of administration.
This letter neither scolded, nor bewailed, nor desponded, but it told
the truth with great force and vigor. Of course it had but slight
results, comparatively speaking; still it did something, and the final
success of the Revolution is due to the series of strong truth-telling
letters, of which this is an example, as much as to any one thing done
by Washington. There was need of some one, not only to fight battles
and lead armies, but to drive Congress into some sort of harmony, spur
the careless and indifferent to action, arouse the States, and kill
various fatal delusions, and in Washington the robust teller of
unwelcome truths was found.

Still, even the results actually obtained by such letters came but
slowly, and Washington felt that he must strike at all hazards.
Through Lafayette he tried to get De Rochambeau to agree to an
immediate attack on New York. His army was on the very eve of
dissolution, and he began with reason to doubt his own power of
holding it together longer. The finances of the country were going
ever faster to irremediable ruin, and it seemed impossible that
anything could postpone open and avowed bankruptcy. So, with his army
crumbling, mutinous, and half starved, he turned to his one unfailing
resource of fighting, and tried to persuade De Rochambeau to join
him. Under the circumstances, Washington was right to wish to risk a
battle, and De Rochambeau, from his point of view, was equally so in
refusing to take the offensive, unless the second division arrived or
De Guichen came with his fleet, or the English force at New York was

In these debates and delays, mingled with an appeal to De Guichen in
the West Indies, the summer was fast wearing away, and, by way of
addition, early in September came tidings of the battle of Camden,
and the utter rout of Gates's army. Despite his own needs and trials,
Washington's first idea was to stem the current of disaster at the
south, and he ordered the fresh Maryland troops to turn back at once
and march to the Carolinas, but Gates fled so fast and far that it
was some time before anything was heard of him. As more news came of
Camden and its beaten general, Washington wrote to Rutledge that he
should ultimately come southward. Meantime, he could only struggle
with his own difficulties, and rack his brains for men and means to
rescue the south. It must have seemed to Washington, in those lovely
September days, as if fate could not have any worse trials in store,
and that if he could only breast the troubles now surging about him,
he might count on sure and speedy success. Yet the bitterest trial of
all was even then hanging over his head, and with a sort of savage
sarcasm it came upon him in one of those rare moments when he had an
hour of rest and sunshine.

The story of Arnold's treason is easily told. Its romantic side
has made it familiar to all Americans, and given it a factitious
importance. Had it succeeded it would have opened opportunities of
disaster to the American arms, although it would not have affected
the final outcome of the Revolution. As it was it failed, and had no
result whatever. It has passed into history simply as a picturesque
episode, charged with possibilities which attract the imagination, but
having, in itself, neither meaning nor consequences beyond the two
conspirators. To us it is of interest, because it shows Washington in
one of the sharpest and bitterest experiences of his life. Let us see
how he met it and dealt with it.

From the day when the French landed, both De Rochambeau and
Washington had been most anxious to meet. The French general had been
particularly urgent, but it was difficult for Washington to get away.
As he wrote on August 21: "We are about ten miles from the enemy. Our
popular government imposes a necessity of great circumspection. If
any misfortune should happen in my absence, it would be attended with
every inconvenience. I will, however, endeavor if possible, and as
soon as possible, to meet you at some convenient rendezvous." In
accordance with this promise, a few weeks later, he left Greene in
command of the army, and, not without misgivings, started on September
18 to meet De Rochambeau. On his way he had an interview with Arnold,
who came to him to show a letter from the loyalist Colonel Robinson,
and thus disarm suspicion as to his doings. On the 20th, the day when
Andre and Arnold met to arrange the terms of the sale, Washington was
with De Rochambeau at Hartford. News had arrived, meantime, that De
Guichen had sailed for Europe; the command of the sea was therefore
lost, and the opportunity for action had gone by. There was no need
for further conference, and Washington accordingly set out on his
return at once, two or three days earlier than he had intended.

He was accompanied by his own staff, and by Knox and Lafayette with
their officers. With him, too, went the young Count Dumas, who has
left a description of their journey, and of the popular enthusiasm
displayed in the towns through which they passed. In one village,
which they reached after nightfall, all the people turned out, the
children bearing torches, and men and women hailed Washington as
father, and pressed about him to touch the hem of his garments.
Turning to Dumas he said, "We may be beaten by the English; it is
the chance of war; but there is the army they will never conquer."
Political leaders grumbled, and military officers caballed, but
the popular feeling went out to Washington with a sure and utter
confidence. The people in that little village recognized the great and
unselfish leader as they recognized Lincoln a century later, and from
the masses of the people no one ever heard the cry that Washington was
cold or unsympathetic. They loved him, and believed in him, and such a
manifestation of their devotion touched him deeply. His spirits rose
under the spell of appreciation and affection, always so strong upon
human nature, and he rode away from Fishkill the next morning at
daybreak with a light heart.

The company was pleasant and lively, the morning was fair, and as they
approached Arnold's headquarters at the Robinson house, Washington
turned off to the redoubts by the river, telling the young men that
they were all in love with Mrs. Arnold and would do well to go
straight on and breakfast with her. Hamilton and McHenry followed his
advice, and while they were at breakfast a note was brought to Arnold.
It was the letter of warning from Andre announcing his capture, which
Colonel Jameson, who ought to have been cashiered for doing it, had
forwarded. Arnold at once left the table, and saying that he was going
to West Point, jumped into his boat and was rowed rapidly down the
river to the British man-of-war. Washington on his arrival was told
that Arnold had gone to the fort, and so after a hasty breakfast he
went over there himself. On reaching West Point no salute broke the
stillness, and no guard turned out to receive him. He was astonished
to learn that his arrival was unexpected, and that Arnold had not been
there for two days. Still unsuspecting he inspected the works, and
then returned.

Meantime, the messenger sent to Hartford with the papers taken on
Andre reached the Robinson house and delivered them to Hamilton,
together with a letter of confession from Andre himself. Hamilton read
them, and hurrying out met Washington just coming up from the river.
He took his chief aside, said a few words to him in a low voice, and
they went into the house together. When they came out, Washington
looked as calm as ever, and calling to Lafayette and Knox gave them
the papers, saying simply, "Whom can we trust now?" He dispatched
Hamilton at once to try to intercept Arnold at Verplanck's Point, but
it was too late; the boat had passed, and Arnold was safe on board the
Vulture. This done, Washington bade his staff sit down with him at
dinner, as the general was absent, and Mrs. Arnold was ill in her
room. Dinner over, he immediately set about guarding the post, which
had been so near betrayal. To Colonel Wade at West Point he wrote:
"Arnold has gone to the enemy; you are in command, be vigilant." To
Jameson he sent word to guard Andre closely. To the colonels and
commanders of various outlying regiments he sent orders to bring up
their troops. Everything was done that should have been done, quickly,
quietly, and without comment. The most sudden and appalling treachery
had failed to shake his nerve, or confuse his mind.

Yet the strong and silent man was wrung to the quick, and when
everything possible had been done, and he had retired to his room, the
guard outside the door heard him marching back and forth through all
the weary night. The one thing he least expected, because he least
understood it, had come to pass. He had been a good and true friend to
the villain who had fled, for Arnold's reckless bravery and dare-devil
fighting had appealed to the strongest passion of his nature, and he
had stood by him always. He had grieved over the refusal of Congress
to promote him in due order and had interceded with ultimate success
in his behalf. He had sympathized with him in his recent troubles
in Philadelphia, and had administered the reprimand awarded by the
court-martial so that rebuke seemed turned to praise. He had sought
to give him every opportunity that a soldier could desire, and had
finally conferred upon him the command of West Point. He had admired
his courage and palliated his misconduct, and now the scoundrel had
turned on him and fled. Mingled with the bitterness of these memories
of betrayed confidence was the torturing ignorance of how far this
base treachery had extended. For all he knew there might be a brood of
traitors about him in the very citadel of America. We can never know
Washington's thoughts at that time, for he was ever silent, but as we
listen in imagination to the sound of the even footfalls which the
guard heard all through that September night, we can dimly guess the
feelings of the strong and passionate nature, wounded and distressed
almost beyond endurance.

There is but little more to tell. The conspiracy stopped with Arnold.
He had no accomplices, and meant to deliver the post and pocket the
booty alone. The British tried to spread the idea that other officers
had been corrupted, but the attempt failed, and Washington's prompt
measures of defense checked any movement against the forts. Every
effort was made by Clinton to save Andre, but in vain. He was tried
by a court composed of the highest officers in the American service,
among whom was Lafayette. On his own statement, but one decision was
possible. He was condemned as a spy, and as a spy he was sentenced to
be hanged. He made a manly appeal against the manner of his death, and
begged to be shot. Washington declined to interfere, and Andre went to
the gallows.

The British, at the time, and some of their writers afterwards,
attacked Washington for insisting on this mode of execution, but there
never was an instance in his career when he was more entirely right.
Andre was a spy and briber, who sought to ruin the American cause
by means of the treachery of an American general. It was a dark and
dangerous game, and he knew that he staked his life on the result. He
failed, and paid the penalty. Washington could not permit, he would
have been grossly and feebly culpable if he had permitted, such an
attempt to pass without extreme punishment. He was generous and
magnanimous, but he was not a sentimentalist, and he punished this
miserable treason, so far as he could reach it, as it deserved. It is
true that Andre was a man of talent, well-bred and courageous, and of
engaging manners. He deserved all the sympathy and sorrow which he
excited at the time, but nothing more. He was not only technically a
spy, but he had sought his ends by bribery, he had prostituted a flag
of truce, and he was to be richly paid for his work. It was all hire
and salary. No doubt Andre was patriotic and loyal. Many spies have
been the same, and have engaged in their dangerous exploits from
the highest motives. Nathan Hale, whom the British hanged without
compunction, was as well-born and well-bred as Andre, and as patriotic
as man could be, and moreover he was a spy and nothing more. Andre
was a trafficker in bribes and treachery, and however we may pity his
fate, his name has no proper place in the great temple at Westminster,
where all English-speaking people bow with reverence, and only a most
perverted sentimentality could conceive that it was fitting to erect a
monument to his memory in this country.

Washington sent Andre to the gallows because it was his duty to do so,
but he pitied him none the less, and whatever he may have thought of
the means Andre employed to effect his end, he made no comment upon
him, except to say that "he met his fate with that fortitude which was
to be expected from an accomplished man and gallant officer." As to
Arnold, he was almost equally silent. When obliged to refer to him he
did so in the plainest and simplest way, and only in a familiar letter
to Laurens do we get a glimpse of his feelings. He wrote: "I am
mistaken if at this time Arnold is undergoing the torment of a mental
hell. He wants feeling. From some traits of his character which have
lately come to my knowledge, he seems to have been so hackneyed in
villainy, and so lost to all sense of honor and shame, that, while his
faculties will enable him to continue his sordid pursuits, there will
be no time for remorse." With this single expression of measureless
contempt, Washington let Arnold drop from his life. The first shock
had touched him to the quick, although it could not shake his steady
mind. Reflection revealed to him the extraordinary baseness of
Arnold's real character, and he cast the thought of him out forever,
content to leave the traitor to the tender mercies of history. The
calmness and dignity, the firmness and deep feeling which Washington
exhibited, are of far more interest than the abortive treason, and
have as real a value now as they had then, when suspicion for a moment
ran riot, and men wondered "whom they could trust."

The treason of Arnold swept like a black cloud across the sky, broke,
and left everything as before. That such a base peril should have
existed was alarming and hateful. That it should have been exploded
harmlessly made all men give a deep sigh of relief. But neither the
treason nor its discovery altered the current of events one jot. The
summer had come and gone. The French had arrived, and no blow had
been struck. There was nothing to show for the campaign but
inaction, disappointment, and the loss of the Carolinas. With the
commander-in-chief, through it all, were ever present two great
questions, getting more portentous and more difficult of solution with
each succeeding day. How he was to keep his army in existence was one,
and how he was to hold the government together was the other. He
had thirteen tired States, a general government almost impotent, a
bankrupt treasury, and a broken credit. The American Revolution had
come down to the question of whether the brain, will, and nerve of one
man could keep the machine going long enough to find fit opportunity
for a final and decisive stroke. Washington had confidence in the
people of the country and in himself, but the difficulties in the way
were huge, and the means of surmounting them slight. There is here
and there a passionate undertone in the letters of this period, which
shows us the moments when the waves of trouble and disaster seemed to
sweep over him. But the feeling passed, or was trampled under
foot, for there was no break in the steady fight against untoward
circumstances, or in the grim refusal to accept defeat.

It is almost impossible now to conceive the actual condition at that
time of every matter of detail which makes military and political
existence possible. No general phrases can do justice to the situation
of the army; and the petty miseries and privations, which made life
unendurable, went on from day to day in ever varying forms. While
Washington was hearing the first ill news from the south and
struggling with the problem on that side, and at the same time was
planning with Lafayette how to take advantage of the French succors,
the means of subsisting his army were wholly giving out. The men
actually had no food. For days, as Washington wrote, there was no meat
at all in camp. Goaded by hunger, a Connecticut regiment mutinied.
They were brought back to duty, but held out steadily for their pay,
which they had not received for five months. Indeed, the whole army
was more or less mutinous, and it was only by the utmost tact that
Washington kept them from wholesale desertion. After the summer had
passed and the chance for a decisive campaign had gone with it, the
excitement of expected action ceased to sustain the men, and the
unclothed, unpaid, unfed soldiers began again to get restive. We can
imagine what the condition of the rank and file must have been when
we find that Washington himself could not procure an express from
the quartermaster-general, and was obliged to send a letter to the
Minister of France by the unsafe and slow medium of the post. He was
expected to carry on a war against a rich and powerful enemy, and he
could not even pay a courier to carry his dispatches.

With the commander-in-chief thus straitened, the sufferings of the
men grew to be intolerable, and the spirit of revolt which had been
checked through the summer began again to appear. At last, in January,
1781, it burst all the bounds. The Pennsylvania line mutinied and
threatened Congress. Attempts on the part of the English to seduce
them failed, but they remained in a state of open rebellion. The
officers were powerless, and it looked as if the disaffection would
spread, and the whole army go to pieces in the very face of the enemy.
Washington held firm, and intended in his unshaken way to bring them
back to their duty without yielding in a dangerous fashion. But the
government of Pennsylvania, at last thoroughly frightened, rushed into
the field, and patched up a compromise which contained most perilous
concessions. The natural consequence was a fresh mutiny in the New
Jersey line, and this time Washington determined that he would not be
forestalled. He sent forward at once some regiments of loyal troops,
suppressed the mutiny suddenly and with a strong hand, and hanged
two of the ringleaders. The difficulty was conquered, and discipline

To take this course required great boldness, for these mutinies were
of no ordinary character. In the first place, it was impossible to
tell whether any troops would do their duty against their fellows, and
failure would have been fatal. In the second place, the grievances
of the soldiers were very great, and their complaints were entirely
righteous. Washington felt the profoundest sympathy with his men, and
it was no easy matter to maintain order with soldiers tried almost
beyond endurance, against their comrades whose claims were just. Two
things saved the army. One was Washington's great influence with the
men and their utter belief in him. The other was the quality of
the men themselves. Lafayette said they were the most patient and
patriotic soldiers the world had seen, and it is easy to believe him.
The wonder is, not that they mutinied when they did, but that the
whole army had not mutinied and abandoned the struggle years before.
The misfortunes and mistakes of the Revolution, to whomever due, were
in no respect to be charged to the army, and the conduct of the troops
through all the dreary months of starvation and cold and poverty is
a proof of the intelligent patriotism and patient courage of the
American soldier which can never be gainsaid. To fight successful
battles is the test of a good general, but to hold together a
suffering army through years of unexampled privations, to meet endless
failure of details with unending expedients, and then to fight battles
and plan campaigns, shows a leader who was far more than a good
general. Such multiplied trials and difficulties are overcome only by
a great soldier who with small means achieves large results, and by a
great man who by force of will and character can establish with all
who follow him a power which no miseries can conquer, and no suffering

The height reached by the troubles in the army and their menacing
character had, however, a good as well as a bad side. They penetrated
the indifference and carelessness of both Congress and the States.
Gentlemen in the confederate and local administrations and
legislatures woke up to a realizing sense that the dissolution of the
army meant a general wreck, in which their own necks would be in very
considerable danger; and they also had an uneasy feeling that starving
and mutinous soldiers were very uncertain in taking revenge.
The condition of the army gave a sudden and piercing reality to
Washington's indignant words to Mathews on October 4: "At a time when
public harmony is so essential, when we should aid and assist each
other with all our abilities, when our hearts should be open to
information and our hands ready to administer relief, to find
distrusts and jealousies taking possession of the mind and a party
spirit prevailing affords a most melancholy reflection, and forebodes
no good." The hoarse murmur of impending mutiny emphasized strongly
the words written on the same day to Duane: "The history of the war is
a history of false hopes and temporary expedients. Would to God they
were to end here."

The events in the south, too, had a sobering effect. The congressional
general Gates had not proved a success. His defeat at Camden had
been terribly complete, and his flight had been too rapid to inspire
confidence in his capacity for recuperation. The members of Congress
were thus led to believe that as managers of military matters they
left much to be desired; and when Washington, on October 11, addressed
to them one of his long and admirable letters on reorganization, it
was received in a very chastened spirit. They had listened to many
such letters before, and had benefited by them always a little,
but danger and defeat gave this one peculiar point. They therefore
accepted the situation, and adopted all the suggestions of the
commander-in-chief. They also in the same reasonable frame of mind
determined that Washington should select the next general for the
southern army. A good deal could have been saved had this decision
been reached before; but even now it was not too late. October 14,
Washington appointed Greene to this post of difficulty and danger, and
Greene's assumption of the command marks the turning-point in the
tide of disaster, and the beginning of the ultimate expulsion of the
British from the only portion of the colonies where they had made a
tolerable campaign.

The uses of adversity, moreover, did not stop here. They extended to
the States, which began to grow more vigorous in action, and to show
signs of appreciating the gravity of the situation and the duties
which rested upon them. This change and improvement both in Congress
and the States came none too soon. Indeed, as it was, the results of
their renewed efforts were too slow to be felt at once by the army,
and mutinies broke out even after the new spirit had shown itself.
Washington also sent Knox to travel from State to State, to see the
various governors, and lay the situation of affairs before them; yet
even with such a text it was a difficult struggle to get the States to
make quick and strong exertions sufficient to prevent a partial mutiny
from becoming a general revolt. The lesson, however, had had its
effect. For the moment, at least, the cause was saved. The worst
defects were temporarily remedied, and something was done toward
supplies and subsistence. The army would be able to exist through
another winter, and face another summer. Then the next campaign might
bring the decisive moment; but still, who could tell? Years, instead
of months, might yet elapse before the end was reached, and then no
man could say what the result would be.

Washington saw plainly enough that the relief and improvement were
only temporary, and that carelessness and indifference were likely to
return, and be more case-hardened than ever. He was too strong and
sane a man to waste time in fighting shadows or in nourishing himself
with hopes. He dealt with the present as he found it, and fought down
difficulties as they sprang up in his path. But he was also a man of
extraordinary prescience, with a foresight as penetrating as it was
judicious. It was, perhaps, his most remarkable gift, and while
he controlled the present he studied the future. Outside of the
operations of armies, and the plans of campaign, he saw, as the
war progressed, that the really fatal perils were involved in the
political system. At the beginning of the Revolution there was no
organization outside the local state governments. Congress voted and
resolved in favor of anything that seemed proper, and the States
responded to their appeal. In the first flush of revolution, and the
first excitement of freedom, this was all very well. But as the
early passion cooled, and a long and stubborn struggle, replete with
sufferings and defeat, developed itself, the want of system began to

One of the earliest tasks of Congress was the formation of articles
for a general government, but state jealousies, and the delays
incident to the movements of thirteen sovereignties, prevented their
adoption until the war was nearly over. Washington, suffering from all
the complicated troubles of jarring States and general incoherence,
longed for and urged the adoption of the act of confederation. He saw
sooner than any one else, and with more painful intensity, the need of
better union and more energetic government. As the days and months of
difficulties and trials went by, the suggestions on this question in
his letters grew more frequent and more urgent, and they showed the
insight of the statesman and practical man of affairs. How much he
hoped from the final acceptance of the act of confederation it is not
easy to say, but he hoped for some improvement certainly. When at last
it went into force, he saw almost at once that it would not do, and in
the spring of 1780 he knew it to be a miserable failure. The system
which had been established was really no better than that which had
preceded it. With alarm and disgust Washington found himself flung
back on what he called "the pernicious state system," and with worse
prospects than ever.

Up to the time of the Revolution he had never given attention to the
philosophy or science of government, but when it fell to his lot to
fight the war for independence he perceived almost immediately the
need of a strong central government, and his suggestions, scattered
broadcast among his correspondents, manifested a knowledge of the
conditions of the political problem possessed by no one else at that
period. When he was satisfied of the failure of the confederation, his
efforts to improve the existing administration multiplied, and he soon
had the assistance of his aide-de-camp, Alexander Hamilton, who then
wrote, although little more than a boy, his remarkable letters on
government and finance, which were the first full expositions of the
political necessities from which sprang the Constitution of the United
States. Washington was vigorous in action and methodical in business,
while the system of thirteen sovereignties was discordant, disorderly,
and feeble in execution. He knew that the vices inherent in the
confederation were ineradicable and fatal, and he also knew that it
was useless to expect any comprehensive reforms until the war was
over. The problem before him was whether the existing machine could be
made to work until the British were finally driven from the country.
The winter of 1780-81 was marked, therefore, on his part, by an urgent
striving for union, and by unceasing efforts to mend and improve the
rickety system of the confederation. It was with this view that he
secured the dispatch of Laurens, whom he carefully instructed, to get
money in Paris; for he was satisfied that it was only possible to tide
over the financial difficulties by foreign loans from those interested
in our success. In the same spirit he worked to bring about
the establishment of executive departments, which was finally
accomplished, after delays that sorely tried his patience. These two
cases were but the most important among many of similar character, for
he was always at work on these perplexing questions.

It is an astonishing proof of the strength and power of his mind that
he was able to solve the daily questions of army existence, to deal
with the allies, to plan attacks on New York, to watch and scheme for
the southern department, to cope with Arnold's treason, with mutiny,
and with administrative imbecility, and at the very same time consider
the gravest governmental problems, and send forth wise suggestions,
which met the exigencies of the moment, and laid the foundation of
much that afterwards appeared in the Constitution of the United
States. He was not a speculator on government, and after his fashion
he was engaged in dealing with the questions of the day and hour. Yet
the ideas that he put forth in this time of confusion and conflict and
expedients were so vitally sound and wise that they deserve the most
careful study in relation to after events. The political trials
and difficulties of this period were the stern teachers from whom
Washington acquired the knowledge and experience which made him the
principal agent in bringing about the formation and adoption of the
Constitution of the United States. We shall have occasion to examine
these opinions and views more closely when they were afterwards
brought into actual play. At this point it is only necessary to trace
the history of the methods by which he solved the problem of the
Revolution before the political system of the confederation became
absolutely useless.



The failure to accomplish anything in the north caused Washington,
as the year drew to a close, to turn his thoughts once more toward a
combined movement at the south. In pursuance of this idea, he devised
a scheme of uniting with the Spaniards in the seizure of Florida, and
of advancing thence through Georgia to assail the English in the rear.
De Rochambeau did not approve the plan, and it was abandoned; but the
idea of a southern movement was still kept steadily in sight. The
governing thought now was, not to protect this place or that, but to
cast aside everything else in order to strike one great blow which
would finish the war. Where he could do this, time alone would show,
but if one follows the correspondence closely, it is apparent that
Washington's military instinct turned more and more toward the south.

In that department affairs changed their aspect rapidly. January 17,
Morgan won his brilliant victory at the Cowpens, withdrew in good
order with his prisoners, and united his army with that of Greene.
Cornwallis was terribly disappointed by this unexpected reverse, but
he determined to push on, defeat the combined American army, and then
join the British forces on the Chesapeake. Greene was too weak to risk
a battle, and made a masterly retreat of two hundred miles before
Cornwallis, escaping across the Dan only twelve hours ahead of the
enemy. The moment the British moved away, Greene recrossed the river
and hung upon their rear. For a month he kept in their neighborhood,
checking the rising of the Tories, and declining battle. At last he
received reinforcements, felt strong enough to stand his ground, and
on March 15 the battle of Guilford Court House was fought. It was a
sharp and bloody fight; the British had the advantage, and Greene
abandoned the field, bringing off his army in good order. Cornwallis,
on his part, had suffered so heavily, however, that his victory turned
to ashes. On the 18th he was in full retreat, with Greene in hot
chase, and it was not until the 28th that he succeeded in getting over
the Deep River and escaping to Wilmington. Thence he determined to
push on and transfer the seat of war to the Chesapeake. Greene, with
the boldness and quickness which showed him to be a soldier of a high
order, now dropped the pursuit and turned back to fight the British in
detachments and free the southern States. There is no need to follow
him in the brilliant operations which ensued, and by which he achieved
this result. It is sufficient to say here that he had altered the
whole aspect of the war, forced Cornwallis into Virginia within reach
of Washington, and begun the work of redeeming the Carolinas.

The troops which Cornwallis intended to join had been sent in
detachments to Virginia during the winter and spring. The first body
had arrived early in January under the command of Arnold, and a
general marauding and ravaging took place. A little later General
Phillips arrived with reinforcements and took command. On May 13,
General Phillips died, and a week later Cornwallis appeared at
Petersburg, assumed control, and sent Arnold back to New York.

Meantime Washington, though relieved by Morgan's and Greene's
admirable work, had a most trying and unhappy winter and spring. He
sent every man he could spare, and more than he ought to have spared,
to Greene, and he stripped himself still further when the invasion of
Virginia began. But for the most part he was obliged, from lack of any
naval strength, to stand helplessly by and see more and more British
troops sent to the south, and witness the ravaging of his native
State, without any ability to prevent it. To these grave trials was
added a small one, which stung him to the quick. The British came up
the Potomac, and Lund Washington, in order to preserve Mount Vernon,
gave them refreshments, and treated them in a conciliatory manner. He
meant well but acted ill, and Washington wrote:--

"It would have been a less painful circumstance to me to have heard
that, in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they
had burnt my house and laid the plantation in ruins. You ought to have
considered yourself as my representative, and should have reflected
on the bad example of communicating with the enemy, and making a
voluntary offer of refreshments to them, with a view to prevent a

What a clear glimpse this little episode gives of the earnestness of
the man who wrote these lines. He could not bear the thought that any
favor should be shown him on any pretense. He was ready to take his
share of the marauding and pillaging with the rest, but he was deeply
indignant at the idea that any one representing him should even appear
to ask a favor of the British.

Altogether, the spring of 1781 was very trying, for there was nothing
so galling to Washington as to be unable to fight. He wanted to get to
the south, but he was bound hand and foot by lack of force. Yet the
obstacles did not daunt or depress him. He wrote in June that he felt
sure of bringing the war to a happy conclusion, and in the division of
the British forces he saw his opportunity taking shape. Greene had
the southern forces well in hand. Cornwallis was equally removed from
Clinton on the north and Rawdon on the south, and had come within
reach; so that if he could but have naval strength he could fall upon
Cornwallis with superior force and crush him. In naval matters fortune
thus far had dealt hardly with him, yet he could not but feel that
a French fleet of sufficient force must soon come. He grasped the
situation with a master-hand, and began to prepare the way. Still he
kept his counsel strictly to himself, and set to work to threaten, and
if possible to attack, New York, not with much hope of succeeding
in any such attempt, but with a view of frightening Clinton and of
inducing him either to withdraw troops from Virginia, or at least to
withhold reinforcements. As he began his Virginian campaign in this
distant and remote fashion at the mouth of the Hudson, he was cheered
by news that De Grasse, the French admiral, had sent recruits to
Newport, and intended to come himself to the American coast. He at
once wrote De Grasse not to determine absolutely to come to New
York, hinting that it might prove more advisable to operate to the
southward. It required great tact to keep the French fleet where he
needed it, and yet not reveal his intentions, and nothing showed
Washington's foresight more plainly than the manner in which he made
the moves in this campaign, when miles of space and weeks of time
separated him from the final object of his plans. To trace this
mastery of details, and the skill with which every point was
remembered and covered, would require a long and minute narrative.
They can only be indicated here sufficiently to show how exactly each
movement fitted in its place, and how all together brought the great

Fortified by the good news from De Grasse, Washington had an interview
with De Rochambeau, and effected a junction with the French army. Thus
strengthened, he opened his campaign against Cornwallis by beginning a
movement against Clinton. The troops were massed above the city, and
an effort was made to surprise the upper posts and destroy Delancey's
partisan corps. The attempt, although well planned, failed of its
immediate purpose, giving Washington opportunity only for an effective
reconnoissance of the enemy's positions. But the move was perfectly
successful in its real and indirect object. Clinton was alarmed. He
began to write to Cornwallis that troops should be returned to New
York, and he gave up absolutely the idea of sending more men to
Virginia. Having thus convinced Clinton that New York was menaced,
Washington then set to work to familiarize skillfully the minds of his
allies and of Congress with the idea of a southern campaign. With this
end in view, he wrote on August 2 that, if more troops arrived from
Virginia, New York would be impracticable, and that the next point
was the south. The only contingency, as he set forth, was the
all-important one of obtaining naval superiority. August 15 this
essential condition gave promise of fulfillment, for on that day
definite news arrived that De Grasse with his fleet was on his way to
the Chesapeake. Without a moment's hesitation, Washington began to
move, and at the same time he sent an urgent letter to the New England
governors, demanding troops with an earnestness which he had never

In Virginia, meanwhile, during these long midsummer days, while
Washington was waiting and planning, Cornwallis had been going up and
down, harrying, burning, and plundering. His cavalry had scattered the
legislature, and driven Governor Jefferson in headlong flight over the
hills, while property to the value of more than three millions had
been destroyed. Lafayette, sent by Washington to maintain the American
cause, had been too weak to act decisively, but he had been true to
his general's teaching, and, refusing battle, had hung upon the flanks
of the British and harassed and checked them. Joined by Wayne, he had
fought an unsuccessful engagement at Green Springs, but brought off
his army, and with steady pertinacity followed the enemy to the coast,
gathering strength as he moved. Now, when all was at last ready,
Washington began to draw his net about Cornwallis, whom he had been
keenly watching during the victorious marauding of the summer. On the
news of the coming of the French fleet, he wrote to Lafayette to be
prepared to join him when he reached Virginia, to retain Wayne, who
intended to join Greene, and to stop Cornwallis at all hazards, if he
attempted to go southward.

Cornwallis, however, had no intention of moving. He had seen the peril
of his position, and had wished to withdraw to Charleston; but the
ministry, highly pleased with his performances, wished him to remain
on the Chesapeake, and decisive orders came to him to take a permanent
post in that region. Clinton, moreover, was jealous of Cornwallis,
and, impressed and deceived by Washington's movements, he not only
sent no reinforcements, but detained three thousand Hessians, who had
lately arrived. Cornwallis, therefore, had no choice, and with much
writing for aid, and some protesting, he obeyed his orders, planted
himself at Yorktown and Gloucester, and proceeded to fortify, while
Lafayette kept close watch upon him. Cornwallis was a good soldier and
a clever man, suffering, as Burgoyne did, from a stupid ministry and
a dull and jealous commander-in-chief. Thus hampered and burdened,
he was ready to fall a victim to the operations of a really great
general, whom his official superiors in England undervalued and

August 17, as soon as he had set his own machinery in motion,
Washington wrote to De Grasse to meet him in the Chesapeake. He was
working now more anxiously and earnestly than at any time in the
Revolution, not merely because he felt that success depended on the
blow, but because he descried a new and alarming danger. He had
perceived it in June, and the idea pursued him until all was over, and
kept recurring in his letters during this strained and eager summer.
To Washington's eyes, watching campaigns and government at home and
the politics of Europe abroad, the signs of exhaustion, of mediation,
and of coming peace across the Atlantic were plainly visible. If peace
should come as things then were, America would get independence, and
be shorn of many of her most valuable possessions. The sprawling
British campaign of maraud and plunder, so bad in a military point of
view, and about to prove fatal to Cornwallis, would, in case of sudden
cessation of hostilities, be capable of the worst construction. Time,
therefore, had become of the last importance. The decisive blow must
be given at once, and before the slow political movements could come
to a head. On July 14, Washington had his plan mapped out. He wrote in
his diary:--

"Matters having now come to a crisis, and a decided plan to be
determined on, I was obliged--from the shortness of Count De Grasse's
promised stay on this coast, the apparent disinclination of their
naval officers to force the harbor of New York, and the feeble
compliance of the States with my requisitions for men hitherto, and
the little prospect of greater exertions in future--to give up all
ideas of attacking New York, and instead thereof to remove the French
troops and a detachment from the American army to the Head of Elk, to
be transported to Virginia for the purpose of cooeperating with the
force from the West Indies against the troops in that State."

Like most of Washington's plans, this one was clear-cut and direct,
and looks now simple enough, but at the moment it was hedged with
almost inconceivable difficulties at every step. The ever-present and
ever-growing obstacles at home were there as usual. Appeals to Morris
for money were met by the most discouraging responses, and the States
seemed more lethargic than ever. Neither men nor supplies could be
obtained; neither transportation nor provision for the march could be
promised. Then, too, in addition to all this, came a wholly new set of
stumbling-blocks arising among the allies. Everything hinged on the
naval force. Washington needed it for a short time only; but for that
crucial moment he must have not only superiority but supremacy at sea.
Every French ship that could be reached must be in the Chesapeake, and
Washington had had too many French fleets slip away from him at the
last moment and bring everything to naught to take any chances in this
direction. To bring about his naval supremacy required the utmost
tact and good management, and that he succeeded is one of the
chief triumphs of the campaign. In fact, at the very outset he was
threatened in this quarter with a serious defection. De Barras, with
the squadron of the American station, was at Boston, and it was
essential that he should be united with De Grasse at Yorktown. But De
Barras was nettled by the favoritism which had made De Grasse, his
junior in service, his superior in command. He determined therefore to
take advantage of his orders and sail away to the north to Nova Scotia
and Newfoundland, and leave De Grasse to fight it out alone. It is a
hard thing to beat an opposing army, but it is equally hard to bring
human jealousies and ambitions into the narrow path of self-sacrifice
and subordination. Alarmed beyond measure at the suggested departure
of the Boston squadron, Washington wrote a letter, which De Rochambeau
signed with him, urging De Barras to turn his fleet toward the
Chesapeake. It was a skillfully drawn missive, an adroit mingling of
appeals to honor and sympathy and of vigorous demands to perform an
obvious duty. The letter did its work, the diplomacy of Washington was
successful, and De Barras suppressed his feelings of disappointment,
and agreed to go to the Chesapeake and serve under De Grasse.

This point made, Washington pushed on his preparations, or rather
pushed on despite his lack of preparations, and on August 17, as has
been said, wrote to De Grasse to meet him in the Chesapeake. He left
the larger part of his own troops with Heath, to whom in carefully
drawn instructions he intrusted the grave duty of guarding the Hudson
and watching the British in New York. This done, he gathered his
forces together, and on August 21 the army started on its march to the
south. On the 23d and 24th it crossed the Hudson, without annoyance
from the British of any kind. Washington had threatened New York so
effectively, and manoeuvred so successfully, that Clinton could not be
shaken in his belief that the real object of the Americans was his own
army; and it was not until September 6 that he fully realized that his
enemy was going to the south, and that Cornwallis was in danger. He
even then hesitated and delayed, but finally dispatched Admiral Graves
with the fleet to the Chesapeake. The Admiral came upon the French
early on September 5, the very day that Washington was rejoicing in
the news that De Grasse had arrived in the Chesapeake and had landed
St. Simon and three thousand men to support Lafayette. As soon as the
English fleet appeared, the French, although many of their men were
on shore, sailed out and gave battle. An indecisive action ensued, in
which the British suffered so much that five days later they burned
one of their frigates and withdrew to New York. De Grasse returned to
his anchorage, to find that De Barras had come in from Newport with
eight ships and ten transports carrying ordnance.

While everything was thus moving well toward the consummation of the
campaign, Washington, in the midst of his delicate and important work
of breaking camp and beginning his rapid march to the south, was
harassed by the ever-recurring difficulties of the feeble and bankrupt
government of the confederation. He wrote again and again to Morris
for money, and finally got some. His demands for men and supplies
remained almost unheeded, but somehow he got provisions enough to
start. He foresaw the most pressing need, and sent messages in all
directions for shipping to transport his army down the Chesapeake. No
one responded, but still he gathered the transports; at first a few,
then more, and finally, after many delays, enough to move his army to
Yorktown. The spectacle of such a struggle, so heroically made, one
would think, might have inspired every soul on the continent with
enthusiasm; but at this very moment, while Washington was breaking
camp and marching southward, Congress was considering the reduction
of the army!--which was as appropriate as it would have been for the
English Parliament to have reduced the navy on the eve of Trafalgar,
or for Lincoln to have advised the restoration of the army to a peace
footing while Grant was fighting in the Wilderness. The fact was that
the Continental Congress was weakened in ability and very tired in
point of nerve and will-power. They saw that peace was coming, and
naturally thought that the sooner they could get it the better. They
entirely failed to see, as Washington saw, that in a too sudden peace
lurked the danger of the _uti possidetis_, and that the mere fact of
peace by no means implied necessarily complete success. They did not,
of course, effect their reductions, but they remained inert, and so
for the most part did the state governments, becoming drags upon
the wheels of war instead of helpers to the man who was driving the
Revolution forward to its goal. Both state and confederate governments
still meant well, but they were worn out and relaxed. Yet over and
through all these heavy masses of misapprehension and feebleness,
Washington made his way. Here again all that can be said is that
somehow or other the thing was done. We can take account of the
resisting forces, but we cannot tell just how they were dealt with.
We only know that one strong man trampled them down and got what he
wanted done.

Pushing on after the joyful news of the arrival of De Grasse had been
received, Washington left the army to go by water from the Head of
Elk, and hurried to Mount Vernon, accompanied by De Rochambeau. It
was six years since he had seen his home. He had left it a Virginian
colonel, full of forebodings for his country, with a vast and unknown
problem awaiting solution at his hands. He returned to it the first
soldier of his day, after six years of battle and trial, of victory
and defeat, on the eve of the last and crowning triumph. As he paused
on the well-beloved spot, and gazed across the broad and beautiful
river at his feet, thoughts and remembrances must have come thronging
to his mind which it is given to few men to know. He lingered there
two days, and then pressing on again, was in Williamsburg on the 14th,
and on the 17th went on board the Ville de Paris to congratulate De
Grasse on his victory, and to concert measures for the siege.

The meeting was most agreeable. All had gone well, all promised well,
and everything was smiling and harmonious. Yet they were on the eve
of the greatest peril which occurred in the campaign. Washington
had managed to scrape together enough transports; but his almost
unassisted labors had taken time, and delay had followed. Then the
transports were slow, and winds and tides were uncertain, and there
was further delay. The interval permitted De Grasse to hear that the
British fleet had received reinforcements, and to become nervous in
consequence. He wanted to get out to sea; the season was advancing,
and he was anxious to return to the West Indies; and above all he
did not wish to fight in the bay. He therefore proposed firmly and
vigorously to leave two ships in the river, and stand out to sea with
his fleet. The Yorktown campaign began to look as if it had reached
its conclusion. Once again Washington wrote one of his masterly
letters of expostulation and remonstrance, and once more he prevailed,
aided by the reasoning and appeals of Lafayette, who carried the
message. De Grasse consented to stay, and Washington, grateful beyond
measure, wrote him that "a great mind knows how to make personal
sacrifice to secure an important general good." Under the
circumstances, and in view of the general truth of this complimentary
sentiment, one cannot help rejoicing that De Grasse had "a great

At all events he stayed, and thereafter everything went well. The
northern army landed at Williamsburg and marched for Yorktown on the
28th. They reconnoitred the outlying works the next day, and prepared
for an immediate assault; but in the night Cornwallis abandoned all
his outside works and withdrew into the town. Washington thereupon
advanced at once, and prepared for the siege. On the night of the 5th,
the trenches were opened only six hundred yards from the enemy's line,
and in three days the first parallel was completed. On the 11th the
second parallel was begun, and on the 14th the American batteries
played on the two advanced redoubts with such effect that the breaches
were pronounced practicable. Washington at once ordered an assault.
The smaller redoubt was stormed by the Americans under Hamilton and
taken in ten minutes. The other, larger and more strongly garrisoned,
was carried by the French with equal gallantry, after half an hour's
fighting. During the assault Washington stood in an embrasure of the
grand battery watching the advance of the men. He was always given to
exposing himself recklessly when there was fighting to be done, but
not when he was only an observer. This night, however, he was much
exposed to the enemy's fire. One of his aides, anxious and disturbed
for his safety, told him that the place was perilous. "If you think
so," was the quiet answer, "you are at liberty to step back." The
moment was too exciting, too fraught with meaning, to think of peril.
The old fighting spirit of Braddock's field was unchained for the last
time. He would have liked to head the American assault, sword in hand,
and as he could not do that he stood as near his troops as he could,
utterly regardless of the bullets whistling in the air about him. Who
can wonder at his intense excitement at that moment? Others saw a
brilliant storming of two outworks, but to Washington the whole
Revolution, and all the labor and thought and conflict of six years
were culminating in the smoke and din on those redoubts, while out of
the dust and heat of the sharp quick fight success was coming. He
had waited long, and worked hard, and his whole soul went out as he
watched the troops cross the abattis and scale the works. He could
have no thought of danger then, and when all was over he turned to
Knox and said, "The work is done, and well done. Bring me my horse."

Washington was not mistaken. The work was indeed done. Tarleton early
in the siege had dashed out against Lauzun on the other side of the
river and been repulsed. Cornwallis had been forced back steadily into
the town, and his redoubts, as soon as taken, were included in the
second parallel. A sortie to retake the redoubts failed, and a wild
attempt to transport the army across the river was stopped by a gale
of wind. On the 17th Cornwallis was compelled to face much bloody and
useless slaughter, or to surrender. He chose the latter course, and
after opening negotiations and trying in vain to obtain delay, finally
signed the capitulation and gave up the town. The next day the troops
marched out and laid down their arms. Over 7000 British and Hessian
troops surrendered. It was a crushing defeat. The victorious army
consisted in round numbers of 5500 continentals, 3500 militia, and
7000 French, and they were backed by the French fleet with entire
control of the sea.

When Washington had once reached Yorktown with his fleet and army, the
campaign was really at an end, for he held Cornwallis in an iron grip
from which there was no escape. The masterly part of the Yorktown
campaign lay in the manner in which it was brought about, in the
management of so many elements, and in the rapidity of movement which
carried an army without any proper supplies or means of transportation
from New York to the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. The control of the sea
had been the great advantage of the British from the beginning, and
had enabled them to achieve all that they ever gained. With these odds
against him, with no possibility of obtaining a fleet of his own,
Washington saw that his only chance of bringing the war to a quick and
successful issue was by means of the French. It is difficult to manage
allied troops. It is still more difficult to manage allied troops and
an allied fleet. Washington did both with infinite address, and won.
The chief factor of his success in this direction lay in his profound
personal influence on all men with whom he came in contact. His
courtesy and tact were perfect, but he made no concessions, and
never stooped. The proudest French noble who came here shrank from
disagreement with the American general, and yet not one of them had
anything but admiration and respect to express when they wrote of
Washington in their memoirs, diaries, and letters. He impressed them
one and all with a sense of power and greatness which could not
be disregarded. Many times he failed to get the French fleet in
cooeperation, but finally it came. Then he put forth all his influence
and all his address, and thus he got De Barras to the Chesapeake, and
kept De Grasse at Yorktown.

This was one side of the problem, the most essential because
everything hinged on the fleet, but by no means the most harassing.
The doubt about the control of the sea made it impossible to work
steadily for a sufficient time toward any one end. It was necessary to
have a plan for every contingency, and be ready to adopt any one of
several plans at short notice. With a foresight and judgment that
never failed, Washington planned an attack on New York, another on
Yorktown, and a third on Charleston. The division of the British
forces gave him his opportunity of striking at one point with an
overwhelming force, but there was always the possibility of their
suddenly reuniting. In the extreme south he felt reasonably sure that
Greene would hold Rawdon, but he was obliged to deceive and amuse
Clinton, and at the same time, with a ridiculously inferior force,
to keep Cornwallis from marching to South Carolina. Partly by good
fortune, partly by skill, Cornwallis was kept in Virginia, while by
admirably managed feints and threats Clinton was held in New York in
inactivity. When the decisive moment came, and it was evident that the
control of the sea was to be determined in the Chesapeake, Washington,
overriding all sorts of obstacles, moved forward, despite a bankrupt
and inert government, with a rapidity and daring which have been
rarely equaled. It was a bold stroke to leave Clinton behind at the
mouth of the Hudson, and only the quickness with which it was done,
and the careful deception which had been practiced, made it possible.
Once at Yorktown, there was little more to do. The combination was
so perfect, and the judgment had been so sure, that Cornwallis was
crushed as helplessly as if he had been thrown before the car of
Juggernaut. There was really but little fighting, for there was no
opportunity to fight. Washington held the British in a vice, and the
utter helplessness of Cornwallis, the entire inability of such a good
and gallant soldier even to struggle, are the most convincing proofs
of the military genius of his antagonist.



Fortitude in misfortune is more common than composure in the hour
of victory. The bitter medicine of defeat, however unpalatable,
is usually extremely sobering, but the strong new wine of success
generally sets the heads of poor humanity spinning, and leads often to
worse results than folly. The capture of Cornwallis was enough to have
turned the strongest head, for the moment at least, but it had no
apparent effect upon the man who had brought it to pass, and who, more
than any one else, knew what it meant. Unshaken and undismayed in the
New Jersey winter, and among the complicated miseries of Valley Forge,
Washington turned from the spectacle of a powerful British army laying
down their arms as coolly as if he had merely fought a successful
skirmish, or repelled a dangerous raid. He had that rare gift, the
attribute of the strongest minds, of leaving the past to take care of
itself. He never fretted over what could not be undone, nor dallied
among pleasant memories while aught still remained to do. He wrote to
Congress in words of quiet congratulation, through which pierced the
devout and solemn sense of the great deed accomplished, and then,
while the salvos of artillery were still booming in his ears, and the
shouts of victory were still rising about him, he set himself, after
his fashion, to care for the future and provide for the immediate
completion of his work.

He wrote to De Grasse, urging him to join in an immediate movement
against Charleston, such as he had already suggested, and he presented
in the strongest terms the opportunities now offered for the sudden
and complete ending of the struggle. But the French admiral was by no
means imbued with the tireless and determined spirit of Washington. He
had had his fill even of victory, and was so eager to get back to the
West Indies, where he was to fall a victim to Rodney, that he would
not even transport troops to Wilmington. Thus deprived of the force
which alone made comprehensive and extended movements possible,
Washington returned, as he had done so often before, to making the
best of cramped circumstances and straitened means. He sent all the
troops he could spare to Greene, to help him in wresting the southern
States from the enemy, the work to which he had in vain summoned De
Grasse. This done, he prepared to go north. On his way he was stopped
at Eltham by the illness and death of his wife's son, John Custis, a
blow which he felt severely, and which saddened the great victory he
had just achieved. Still the business of the State could not wait on
private grief. He left the house of mourning, and, pausing for an
instant only at Mount Vernon, hastened on to Philadelphia. At the
very moment of victory, and while honorable members were shaking each
other's hands and congratulating each other that the war was now
really over, the commander-in-chief had fallen again to writing them
letters in the old strain, and was once more urging them to keep up
the army, while he himself gave his personal attention to securing a
naval force for the ensuing year, through the medium of Lafayette.
Nothing was ever finished with Washington until it was really complete
throughout, and he had as little time for rejoicing as he had for
despondency or despair, while a British force still remained in the
country. He probably felt that this was as untoward a time as he had
ever met in a pretty large experience of unsuitable occasions, for
offering sound advice, but he was not deterred thereby from doing it.
This time, however, he was destined to an agreeable disappointment,
for on his arrival at Philadelphia he found an excellent spirit
prevailing in Congress. That body was acting cheerfully on his advice,
it had filled the departments of the government, and set on foot such
measures as it could to keep up the army. So Washington remained for
some time at Philadelphia, helping and counseling Congress in its
work, and writing to the States vigorous letters, demanding pay and
clothing for the soldiers, ever uppermost in his thoughts.

But although Congress was compliant, Washington could not convince
the country of the justice of his views, and of the continued need of
energetic exertion. The steady relaxation of tone, which the strain of
a long and trying war had produced, was accelerated by the brilliant
victory of Yorktown. Washington for his own part had but little trust
in the sense or the knowledge of his enemy. He felt that Yorktown was
decisive, but he also thought that Great Britain would still struggle
on, and that her talk of peace was very probably a mere blind, to
enable her to gain time, and, by taking advantage of our relaxed and
feeble condition, to strike again in hope of winning back all that had
been lost. He therefore continued his appeals in behalf of the
army, and reiterated everywhere the necessity for fresh and ample

As late as May 4 he wrote sharply to the States for men and money,
saying that the change of ministry was likely to be adverse to
peace, and that we were being lulled into a false and fatal sense of
security. A few days later, on receiving information from Sir Guy
Carleton of the address of the Commons to the king for peace,
Washington wrote to Congress: "For my own part, I view our situation
as such that, instead of relaxing, we ought to improve the present
moment as the most favorable to our wishes. The British nation
appear to me to be staggered, and almost ready to sink beneath the
accumulating weight of debt and misfortune. If we follow the blow with
vigor and energy, I think the game is our own."

Again he wrote in July: "Sir Guy Carleton is using every art to
soothe and lull our people into a state of security. Admiral Digby
is capturing all our vessels, and suffocating as fast as possible in
prison-ships all our seamen who will not enlist into the service of
his Britannic Majesty; and Haldimand, with his savage allies, is
scalping and burning on the frontiers." Facts always were the object
of Washington's first regard, and while gentlemen on all sides were
talking of peace, war was going on, and he could not understand the
supineness which would permit our seamen to be suffocated, and our
borderers scalped, because some people thought the war ought to be and
practically was over. While the other side was fighting, he wished to
be fighting too. A month later he wrote to Greene: "From the former
infatuation, duplicity, and perverse system of British policy, I
confess I am induced to doubt everything, to suspect everything." He
could say heartily with the Trojan priest, "Quicquid id est timeo
Danaos et dona ferentes." Yet again, a month later still, when the
negotiations were really going forward in Paris, he wrote to McHenry:
"If we are wise, let us prepare for the worst. There is nothing which
will so soon produce a speedy and honorable peace as a state of
preparation for war; and we must either do this, or lay our account to
patch up an inglorious peace, after all the toil, blood, and treasure
we have spent."

No man had done and given so much as Washington, and at the same
time no other man had his love of thoroughness, and his indomitable
fighting temper. He found few sympathizers, his words fell upon deaf
ears, and he was left to struggle on and maintain his ground as best
he might, without any substantial backing. As it turned out, England
was more severely wounded than he dared to hope, and her desire for
peace was real. But Washington's distrust and the active policy which
he urged were, in the conditions of the moment, perfectly sound,
both in a military and a political point of view. It made no real
difference, however, whether he was right or wrong in his opinion.
He could not get what he wanted, and he was obliged to drag through
another year, fettered in his military movements, and oppressed with
anxiety for the future. He longed to drive the British from New York,
and was forced to content himself, as so often before, with keeping
his army in existence. It was a trying time, and fruitful in nothing
but anxious forebodings. All the fighting was confined to skirmishes
of outposts, and his days were consumed in vain efforts to obtain help
from the States, while he watched with painful eagerness the current
of events in Europe, down which the fortunes of his country were
feebly drifting.

Among the petty incidents of the year there was one which, in its
effects, gained an international importance, which has left a deep
stain upon the English arms, and which touched Washington deeply.
Captain Huddy, an American officer, was captured in a skirmish and
carried to New York, where he was placed in confinement. Thence he
was taken on April 12 by a party of Tories in the British service,
commanded by Captain Lippencott, and hanged in the broad light of day
on the heights near Middletown. Testimony and affidavits to the
fact, which was never questioned, were duly gathered and laid before
Washington. The deed was one of wanton barbarity, for which it would
be difficult to find a parallel in the annals of modern warfare.
The authors of this brutal murder, to our shame be it said, were of
American birth, but they were fighting for the crown and wore the
British uniform. England, which for generations has deafened the
world with paeans of praise for her own love of fair play and for
her generous humanity, stepped in here and threw the mantle of her
protection over these cowardly hangmen. It has not been uncommon for
wild North American savages to deliver up criminals to the vengeance
of the law, but English ministers and officers condoned the murder of
Huddy, and sheltered his murderers.

When the case was laid before Washington it stirred him to the deepest
wrath. He submitted the facts to twenty-five of his general officers,
who unanimously advised what he was himself determined upon, instant
retaliation. He wrote at once to Sir Guy Carleton, and informed him
that unless the murderers were given up he should be compelled to
retaliate. Carleton replied that a court-martial was ordered, and some
attempt was made to recriminate; but Washington pressed on in the path
he had marked out, and had an English officer selected by lot and held
in close confinement to await the action of the enemy. These sharp
measures brought the British, as nothing else could have done, to some
sense of the enormity of the crime that had been committed. Sir Guy
Carleton wrote in remonstrance, and Washington replied: "Ever since
the commencement of this unnatural war my conduct has borne invariable
testimony against those inhuman excesses, which, in too many
instances, have marked its progress. With respect to a late
transaction, to which I presume your excellency alludes, I have
already expressed my resolution, a resolution formed on the most
mature deliberation, and from which I shall not recede." The
affair dragged along, purposely protracted by the British, and the
court-martial on a technical point acquitted Lippencott. Sir Guy
Carleton, however, who really was deeply indignant at the outrage,
wrote, expressing his abhorrence, disavowed Lippencott, and promised
a further inquiry. This placed Washington in a very trying position,
more especially as his humanity was touched by the situation of the
unlucky hostage. The fatal lot had fallen upon a mere boy, Captain
Asgill, who was both amiable and popular, and Washington was beset
with appeals in his behalf, for Lady Asgill moved heaven and earth to
save her son. She interested the French court, and Vergennes made a
special request that Asgill should be released. Even Washington's own
officers, notably Hamilton, sought to influence him, and begged him to
recede. In these difficult circumstances, which were enhanced by the
fact that contrary to his orders to select an unconditional prisoner,
the lot had fallen on a Yorktown prisoner protected by the terms
of the capitulation,[1] he hesitated, and asked instructions from
Congress. He wrote to Duane in September: "While retaliation was
apparently necessary, however disagreeable in itself, I had no
repugnance to the measure. But when the end proposed by it is answered
by a disavowal of the act, by a dissolution of the board of refugees,
and by a promise (whether with or without meaning to comply with it, I
shall not determine) that further inquisition should be made into the
matter, I thought it incumbent upon me, before I proceeded any farther
in the matter, to have the sense of Congress, who had most explicitly
approved and impliedly indeed ordered retaliation to take place. To
this hour I am held in darkness."

[Footnote 1: MS, letter to Lincoln.]

He did not long remain in doubt. The fact was that the public, as is
commonly the case, had forgotten the original crime and saw only the
misery of the man who was to pay the just penalty, and who was, in
this instance, an innocent and vicarious sufferer. It was difficult
to refuse Vergennes, and Congress, glad of the excuse and anxious to
oblige their allies, ordered the release of Asgill. That Washington,
touched by the unhappy condition of his prisoner, did not feel
relieved by the result, it would be absurd to suppose. But he was by
no means satisfied, for the murderous wrong that had been done rankled
in his breast. He wrote to Vergennes: "Captain Asgill has been
released, and is at perfect liberty to return to the arms of an
affectionate parent, whose pathetic address to your Excellency could
not fail of interesting every feeling heart in her behalf. I have no
right to assume any particular merit from the lenient manner in which
this disagreeable affair has terminated."

There is a perfect honesty about this which is very wholesome. He had
been freely charged with cruelty, and had regarded the accusation with
indifference. Now, when it was easy for him to have taken the glory
of mercy by simply keeping silent, he took pains to avow that the
leniency was not due to him. He was not satisfied, and no one should
believe that he was, even if the admission seemed to justify the
charge of cruelty. If he erred at all it was in not executing some
British officer at the very start, unless Lippencott had been given up
within a limited time. As it was, after delay was once permitted, it
is hard to see how he could have acted otherwise than he did, but
Washington was not in the habit of receding from a fixed purpose, and
being obliged to do so in this case troubled him, for he knew that he
did well to be angry. But the frankness of the avowal to Vergennes is
a good example of his entire honesty and absolute moral fearlessness.

The matter, however, which most filled his heart and mind during these
weary days of waiting and doubt was the condition and the future of
his soldiers. To those persons who have suspected or suggested that
Washington was cold-blooded and unmindful of others, the letters he
wrote in regard to the soldiers may be commended. The man whose heart
was wrung by the sufferings of the poor people on the Virginian
frontier, in the days of the old French war, never in fact changed
his nature. Fierce in fight, passionate and hot when his anger was
stirred, his love and sympathy were keen and strong toward his army.
His heart went out to the brave men who had followed him, loved him,
and never swerved in their loyalty to him and to their country.
Washington's affection for his men, and their devotion to him, had
saved the cause of American independence more often than strategy or
daring. Now, when the war was practically over, his influence with
both officers and soldiers was destined to be put to its severest

The people of the American colonies were self-governing in the
extremest sense, that is, they were accustomed to very little
government interference of any sort. They were also poor and entirely
unused to war. Suddenly they found themselves plunged into a bitter
and protracted conflict with the most powerful of civilized nations.
In the first flush of excitement, patriotic enthusiasm supplied many
defects; but as time wore on, and year after year passed, and the
whole social and political fabric was shaken, the moral tone of the
people relaxed. In such a struggle, coming upon an unprepared people
of the habits and in the circumstances of the colonists, this
relaxation was inevitable. It was likewise inevitable that, as the war
continued, there should be in both national and state governments, and
in all directions, many shortcomings and many lamentable errors. But
for the treatment accorded the army, no such excuse can be made, and
no sufficient explanation can be offered. There was throughout the
colonies an inborn and a carefully cultivated dread of standing armies
and military power. But this very natural feeling was turned most
unreasonably against our own army, and carried in that direction to
the verge of insanity. This jealousy of military power indeed pursued
Washington from the beginning to the end of the Revolution. It cropped
out as soon as he was appointed, and came up in one form or another
whenever he was obliged to take strong measures. Even at the very end,
after he had borne the cause through to triumph, Congress was driven
almost to frenzy because Vergennes proposed to commit the disposition
of a French subsidy to the commander-in-chief.

If this feeling could show itself toward Washington, it is easy to
imagine that it was not restrained toward his officers and men, and
the treatment of the soldiers by Congress and by the States was not
only ungrateful to the last degree, but was utterly unpardonable.
Again and again the menace of immediate ruin and the stern demands of
Washington alone extorted the most grudging concessions, and saved the
army from dissolution. The soldiers had every reason to think that
nothing but personal fear could obtain the barest consideration from
the civil power. In this frame of mind, they saw the war which they
had fought and won drawing to a close with no prospect of either
provision or reward for them, and every indication that they would be
disbanded when they were no longer needed, and left in many cases
to beggary and want. In the inaction consequent upon the victory at
Yorktown, they had ample time to reflect upon these facts, and their
reflections were of such a nature that the situation soon became
dangerous. Washington, who had struggled in season and out of season
for justice to the soldiers, labored more zealously than ever during
all this period, aided vigorously by Hamilton, who was now in
Congress. Still nothing was done, and in October, 1782, he wrote to
the Secretary of War in words warm with indignant feeling: "While I
premise that no one I have seen or heard of appears opposed to the
principle of reducing the army as circumstances may require, yet I
cannot help fearing the result of the measure in contemplation, under
present circumstances, when I see such a number of men, goaded by a
thousand 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 suffered everything
that human nature is capable of enduring on this side of death.... You
may rely upon it, the patriotism and long-suffering of this army
are almost exhausted, and that there never was so great a spirit of
discontent as at this instant. While in the field I think it may be
kept from breaking into acts of outrage; but when we retire into
winter-quarters, unless the storm is previously dissipated, I cannot
be at ease respecting the consequences. It is high time for a peace."

These were grave words, coming from such a man as Washington, but they
passed unheeded. Congress and the States went blandly along as if
everything was all right, and as if the army had no grievances. But
the soldiers thought differently. "Dissatisfactions rose to a great
and alarming height, and combinations among officers to resign at
given periods in a body were beginning to take place." The outlook
was so threatening that Washington, who had intended to go to Mount
Vernon, remained in camp, and by management and tact thwarted these
combinations and converted these dangerous movements into an address
to Congress from the officers, asking for half-pay, arrearages, and
some other equally proper concessions. Still Congress did not stir.
Some indefinite resolutions were passed, but nothing was done as to
the commutation of half-pay into a fixed sum, and after such a display
of indifference the dissatisfaction increased rapidly, and the army
became more and more restless. In March a call was issued for a
meeting of officers, and an anonymous address, written with
much skill,--the work, as afterwards appeared, of Major John
Armstrong,--was published at the same time. The address was well
calculated to inflame the passions of the troops; it advised a resort
to force, and was scattered broadcast through the camp. The army was
now in a ferment, and the situation was full of peril. A weak man
would have held his peace; a rash one would have tried to suppress the
meeting. Washington did neither, but quietly took control of the whole
movement himself. In general orders he censured the call and the
address as irregular, and then appointed a time and place for the
meeting. Another anonymous address thereupon appeared, quieter in
tone, but congratulating the army on the recognition accorded by the

When the officers assembled, Washington arose with a manuscript in
his hand, and as he took out his glasses said, simply, "You see,
gentlemen, I have grown both blind and gray in your service." His
address was brief, calm, and strong. The clear, vigorous sentences
were charged with meaning and with deep feeling. He exhorted them one
and all, both officers and men, to remain loyal and obedient, true
to their glorious past and to their country. He appealed to their
patriotism, and promised them that which they had always had, his
own earnest support in obtaining justice from Congress. When he had
finished he quietly withdrew. The officers were deeply moved by
his words, and his influence prevailed. Resolutions were passed,
reiterating the demands of the army, but professing entire faith in
the government. This time Congress listened, and the measures granting
half-pay in commutation and certain other requests were passed. Thus
this very serious danger was averted, not by the reluctant action of
Congress, but by the wisdom and strength of the general, who was loved
by his soldiers after a fashion that few conquerors could boast.

Underlying all these general discontents, there was, besides, a
well-defined movement, which saw a solution of all difficulties and a
redress of all wrongs in a radical change of the form of government,
and in the elevation of Washington to supreme power. This party was
satisfied that the existing system was a failure, and that it was
not and could not be made either strong, honest, or respectable. The
obvious relief was in some kind of monarchy, with a large infusion of
the one-man power; and it followed, as a matter of course, that the
one man could be no other than the commander-in-chief. In May, 1782,
when the feeling in the army had risen very high, this party of reform
brought their ideas before Washington through an old and respected
friend of his, Colonel Nicola. The colonel set forth very clearly the
failure and shortcomings of the existing government, argued in favor
of the substitution of something much stronger, and wound up by
hinting very plainly that his correspondent was the man for the crisis
and the proper savior of society. The letter was forcible and well
written, and Colonel Nicola was a man of character and standing. It
could not be passed over lightly or in silence, and Washington replied
as follows:--

"With a mixture of surprise and astonishment, I have read with
attention the sentiments you have submitted to my perusal. Be assured,
sir, no occurrence in the course of the war has given me more painful
sensations than your information of there being such ideas existing
in the army as you have expressed, and [which] I must view with
abhorrence and reprehend with severity. For the present, the
communication of them will rest in my own bosom, unless some further
agitation of the matter shall make a disclosure necessary. I am
much at a loss to conceive what part of my conduct could have given
encouragement to an address which seems to me big with the greatest
mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the
knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your
schemes are more disagreeable. At the same time, in justice to my own
feelings, I must add that no man possesses a more sincere wish to
see justice done to the army than I do; and as far as my power and
influence in a constitutional way extend, they shall be employed to
the utmost of my abilities to effect it, should there be any occasion.
Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country,
concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these
thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, as from yourself or
any one else, a sentiment of the like nature."

This simple but exceedingly plain letter checked the whole movement
at once; but the feeling of hostility to the existing system of
government and of confidence in Washington increased steadily through
the summer and winter. When the next spring had come round, and the
"Newburgh addresses" had been published, the excitement was at fever
heat. All the army needed was a leader. It was as easy for Washington
to have grasped supreme power then, as it would have been for Caesar
to have taken the crown from Antony upon the Lupercal. He repelled
Nicola's suggestion with quiet reproof, and took the actual movement,
when it reared its head, into his own hands and turned it into other
channels. This incident has been passed over altogether too carelessly
by historians and biographers. It has generally been used merely to
show the general nobility of Washington's sentiments, and no proper
stress has been laid upon the facts of the time which gave birth to
such an idea and such a proposition. It would have been a perfectly
feasible thing at that particular moment to have altered the frame of
government and placed the successful soldier in possession of supreme
power. The notion of kingly government was, of course, entirely
familiar to everybody, and had in itself nothing repulsive. The
confederation was disintegrated, the States were demoralized, and the
whole social and political life was weakened. The army was the one
coherent, active, and thoroughly organized body in the country. Six
years of war had turned them from militia into seasoned veterans, and
they stood armed and angry, ready to respond to the call of the great
leader to whom they were entirely devoted. When the English troops
were once withdrawn, there was nothing on the continent that could
have stood against them. If they had moved, they would have been
everywhere supported by their old comrades who had returned to the
ranks of civil life, by all the large class who wanted peace and order
in the quickest and surest way, and by the timid and tired generally.
There would have been in fact no serious opposition, probably because
there would have been no means of sustaining it.

The absolute feebleness of the general government was shown a few
weeks later, when a recently recruited regiment of Pennsylvania troops
mutinied, and obliged Congress to leave Philadelphia, unable either to
defend themselves or procure defense from the State. This mutiny was
put down suddenly and effectively by Washington, very wroth at the
insubordination of raw troops, who had neither fought nor suffered.
Yet even such mutineers as these would have succeeded in a large
measure, had it not been for Washington, and one can easily imagine
from this incident the result of disciplined and well-planned action
on the part of the army led by their great chief. In that hour of
debility and relaxation, a military seizure of the government and
the erection of some form of monarchy would not have been difficult.
Whether such a change would have lasted is another question, but there
is no reason to doubt that at the moment it might have been effected.
Washington, however, not only refused to have anything to do with the
scheme, but he used the personal loyalty which might have raised him
to supreme power to check all dangerous movements and put in motion
the splendid and unselfish patriotism for which the army was
conspicuous, and which underlay all their irritations and discontents.

The obvious view of Washington's action in this crisis as a remarkable
exhibition of patriotism is at best somewhat superficial. In a man in
any way less great, the letter of refusal to Nicola and the treatment
of the opportunity presented at the time of the Newburgh addresses
would have been fine in a high degree. In Washington they were not so
extraordinary, for the situation offered him no temptation. Carlyle
was led to think slightingly of Washington, one may believe, because
he did not seize the tottering government with a strong hand, and
bring order out of chaos on the instant. But this is a woeful
misunderstanding of the man. To put aside a crown for love of country
is noble, but to look down upon such an opportunity indicates a much
greater loftiness and strength of mind. Washington was wholly free
from the vulgar ambition of the usurper, and the desire of mere
personal aggrandizement found no place in his nature. His ruling
passion was the passion for success, and for thorough and complete
success. What he could not bear was the least shadow of failure. To
have fought such a war to a victorious finish, and then turned it to
his own advantage, would have been to him failure of the meanest
kind. He fought to free the colonies from England, and make them
independent, not to play the part of a Caesar or a Cromwell in the
wreck and confusion of civil war. He flung aside the suggestion of
supreme power, not simply as dishonorable and unpatriotic, but because
such a result would have defeated the one great and noble object
at which he aimed. Nor did he act in this way through any indolent
shrinking from the great task of making what he had won worth winning,
by crushing the forces of anarchy and separation, and bringing order
and unity out of confusion. From the surrender of Yorktown to the


Back to Full Books