« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
Clair, and another who had raised the corps which he was appointed to command.
It is certain that appointments were conferred upon unworthy persons at every period of the war.
Knox wrote to Gerry, that there were men in service “ who wished to have their power perpetuated at the expense of the liberties of the people,” and who “had been rewarded with rank without having the least pretensions to it, except cabal and intrigue.” There were officers who were destitute alike of honor and patriotism ; who unjustly clamored for their pay, while they drew large sums of public money under pretence of paying their men, but applied them to the support of their own extravagance ; who went home on furloughs, and never returned; and who, regardless of their word as gentlemen, violated their paroles, and were threatened by Washington with exposure in every newspaper in the land, as men who had disgraced themselves and were insensible to the sufferings of their associates in captivity, whose restraints were increased by their misconduct. At times, courts-martial were continually sitting, and so numerous were the convictions, that the names of those who were cashiered were sent to Congress in lists. " Many of the surgeons, ” said Washington, “ are very great rascals, countenancing the men to sham complaints to exempt them from duty, and often receiving bribes to certify indispositions, with a view to procure discharges or furloughs"; and still further, they drew for the public “medicines and stores, in the most profuse and extravagant manner, for private purposes.". In a letter to the governor of a State, he affirmed that the officers who had been sent him therefrom were “ generally of the lowest class of the people,” that they "led their soldiers to plunder the inhabitants, and into every kind of mischief.” To his brother, John Augustine Washington, he declared that the different States were nominating such officers as were " not fit to be shoeblacks." *
Among the amusing proofs to sustain Washington in so emphatic an expression of his contempt and disgust, two instances may be cited. The first relates to a captain of horse, who was to be seen shaving his privates on parade! The other is of a colonel, who employed his two sons for waiters, and allowed one of them to work at shoe-making in his own apartment, when not required to perform the menial duties of a body servant. A mob overthrew and destroyed the shoe-maker's bench, and put an end to cobbling at regimental head-quarters. In the affray, the colonel, who had long endured the sneers of the officers of another line, was assaulted and much injured.
Resignations occurred upon discreditable pretexts, and became alarmingly prevalent. Some resigned at critical moments, and others combined together in considerable numbers for purposes of intimidation, and threatened to retire from the service at a specified time, unless certain terms were complied with. For a single instance, to show the extent of the evil, we again quote from the Commander-in-chief, who wrote to a member of Congress, in 1778, that “the spirit of resigning commissions has been long at an alarming height, and increases daily. The Virginia line has sustained a violent shock. Not less than ninety have already resigned to
The same conduct has prevailed among the officers from the other States, though not yet in so considerable a degree ; and there are but too just grounds to fear that it will shake the very existence of the army, unless a remedy is soon, very soon, applied.” The spirit did not abate ; since, two years after, he informed the President of Congress, that he had “scarcely a sufficient number [of officers] left to take care even of the fragments of corps which remained.”
We would not be understood to assert that there were not proper and imperative causes to justify the retirement of many ; but the illustrious man whose words we have so often quoted, and who was obliged to bear the disheartening consequences of these frequent resignations, was a competent judge of the motives and reasons which influenced those with whom he was associated ; and as we have his assertion that he was often deserted, we have not hesitated to class the numerous resignations of the officers of the Revolutionary army with the other evidences of a destitution of principle. The complaints of their wives and children at home, the inattention of Congress and of the State legislatures, to whom they had a right, both legal and moral, to look for sympathy and support in the poverty to which some were reduced, are to be taken into the account in forming, and should do much to soften, our judgment; but with the proofs before us, obtained entirely from the writings of distinguished Whigs, we are compelled to believe that many of those who abandoned Washington were guilty of a crime, which, when committed by private soldiers, is called desertion, and punished with death.
Eighteen of the generals retired during the war ; some from declining health, others from the weight of advanced VOL. LXVI. - No. 139.
years, others to accept of civil employments, but many from private resentments, and real or imaginary wrongs inflicted by Congress or associates in the service. Several of the latter class are not to be held excused. Their example was pernicious, and when so many heads of divisions and brigades abandoned their commands for reasons chiefly or entirely personal, it was to be expected that regiments, battalions, and companies would be left, in like manner, without officers. Washington's individual grievances were very great, and every one must seel indignant at the treatment received by Greene ;
but when and by whom would the yoke of our Colonial vassalage have been broken, had they sacrificed their duty to their sensibility ? Had the generals who were offended at the promotion of their brethren acted upon the principle of the noble son * of South Carolina, “ We will first dispose of our enemies, and then settle the questions of rank,' the names of some of them would not be mentioned by students of our history in terms of doubtful approbation.
Abundant testimony can be adduced to show that individuals of all ranks entered the army from interested and discreditable motives, and left it from similar reasons. John Adams wrote, in 1777,- “ I am wearied to death with the wrangles between military officers, high and low. They quarrel like cats and dogs. They worry one another like mastiffs, scrambling for rank and
Washington, more guarded to Congress, uses language almost as pointed in his letters to private friends. The disaffections which arose at a later time, in consequence of the unwarrantable promotion of foreign military adventurers, ought not to be censured. The embarrassments of the Commander-inchief from this source were very great, and drew from him the remark, in a private letter to Gouverneur Morris, that he “most devoutly wished that we had not a single foreigner among us, except the Marquis de Lafayette.” Strange that Congress should have been so criminally unmindful of the claims of natives of the country! Certainly, if we except Mercer and Lafayette, and perhaps Steuben, the Americanborn generals were the best in the service.
Again, indications of our increasing degeneracy are supposed to be found in the fickleness of the popular will, as
* Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.
manifested in the frequent changes in Congress, and in the inferior characters of those who are chosen to be members of that body. But how was it in the past ? We can dispose of the first point by stating the single fact, that McKean, of Delaware, was the only member of the Congress of the Revolution who served eight successive years ; and that Jefferson, Gerry, and Ellery were the only signers of the Declaration of Independence who remained in service when the definitive treaty of peace was submitted for consideration. The attendance of members, at times, was irregular, and the public service often suffered by their absence.
There were periods when several of the States were without representation, and when the requisite number for the transaction of business were not in their places. The entire control of affairs, executive and legislative, of the measures taken to procure loans in Europe and to raise money at home to provide for the army, and for every branch of the public service, devolved frequently upon as few as thirty delegates ; and some of the most momentous questions were determined by twenty. Those who steadily attended to their duties were worn down with care and excessive labor. John Adams, one of them, was in Congress three years and three months, during which term he was a member of ninety committees, and chairman of twenty-five. In the course of the war, persons of small claims to notice or regard obtained seats in Congress, and by their want of capacity and principle prolonged the contest, and needlessly increased its burdens and expenses. This statement can be shown to be true upon the highest authority ; proofs of it may be found in the correspondence of all the principal personages of the time.
The decline of public virtue is said to be seen, also, in increased sectional feeling, and in the malignant disposition which one portion of the American people evince towards their brethren in another part of the country. We reply, that there never has been entire harmony between the North and the South, from the earliest hour of their connection. Perfect unanimity of sentiment is not to be expected now or ever ; but we deny that there is less kindness at present than there was under the Confederacy, or in the first days of the Union. Whoever is familiar with the proceedings in the Congress, and with the angry collisions in the army, of the Revolution, and recalls the menaces and violent language ut
tered during the presidency of Washington and his immediate successor, will agree with us, perhaps, in the opinion, that, as domestic quarrels do not always result in the dissolution of family ties, so also flippant paragraphs, resolves of associations, and oratorical flourishes do not always portend the separation of states and the division of a nation.
Allied to sectional feeling is the spirit of faction and party. In these respects, strange as the assertion may seem to some, we see a sensible change for the better. When we look back at the conduct of those who had an empire to win, we can readily account for, while we cannot wholly excuse, .the enmity which existed between them and their opponents, the banishment of persons and the confiscation of estates; but we are amazed at the dissensions of the Whigs among themselves. Overlooking the minor factions, we read of the governors of States struggling against both Whigs and Tories ; of the hot disputes in Congress on the appointment of ambassadors to foreign courts, and on determining the relative rank of different officers in the service ; of the strong prejudices entertained against Franklin in the State of his birth, in Congress, and in the State of his adoption ; of the party arrayed against Greene ; of the equivocal support of Washington by many, of the open manifestation of hostility to him after the disasters at Brooklyn heights, and of the combination more extensive than some have been willing to believe — which was finally formed to displace him ; and of the force of party discipline, which, as was bitterly remarked by a leading Whig, brought men into the management of affairs “ who might have lived till the millennium in silent obscurity, had they depended on their mental qualifications.” As we examine the history of the civil administration of Washington, we find that he who had rendered such invaluable services to his country without pecuniary reward was now assailed with the atrocious charge of drawing money from the treasury fraudulently and for his private use ; and when he affixed his official signature to the treaty negotiated by Jay, the shouts of disappointed and enraged partisans resounded through the Union. The frenzy that was occasioned in this country by the Revolution in France showed itself in a manner that more than rivalled the party associations, banners, and badges of our own day; and grosser falsehoods cannot be collected from party newspapers at the