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The United States of America: A History
Book 2: Chapter XI - Help from Europe


1778 A D.

A GREAT war may be very glorious, but it is also very miserable. Twenty thousand Englishmen had already perished in this war. Trade languished, and among the working-classes there was want of employment and consequent want of food. American cruisers swarmed upon the sea, and inflicted enormous losses upon English commerce. The debt of the country increased. And for all these evils there was no compensation. There was not even the poor satisfaction of success in our unprofitable undertaking.

If it was any comfort to inflict even greater miseries than she endured, England did not fight in vain. The sufferings of America were very lamentable. The loss of life in battle and by disease, resulting from want and exposure, had been great. The fields in many districts were unsown. Trade was extinct; the trading classes were bankrupt. English cruisers had annihilated the fisheries and seized the greater part of the American merchant ships. Money had well-nigh disappeared from the country. Congress issued paper money, which proved a very indifferent substitute. The public had so little confidence in the new currency, that Washington declared, "A waggon-load of money will scarcely purchase a waggon-load of provisions."

But the war went on. It was not for England, with her high place among the nations, to retire defeated from an enterprise on which she had deliberately entered. As for the Americans, after they had declared their resolution to be independent, they could die, but they could not yield.

The surrender of Burgoyne brought an important ally to the American side. The gods help those who help themselves. So soon as America proved that she was likely to conquer in the struggle, France offered to come to her aid. France had always looked with interest on the war; art1y because she hated England, and partly because her pulses already throbbed with that new life, whose misdirected energies produced, a few years afterwards, results so lamentable. Even now a people contending for their liberties awakened the sympathies of France. America had sent three Commissioners—one of whom was Benjamin Franklin —to Paris, to cultivate as opportunity offered the friendship of the French Government. For a time they laboured without visible results. But when news came that Burgoyne and his army had surrendered, hesitation was at an end. A treaty was signed by which France and America engaged to make common cause against England. The King opposed this treaty so long as he dared, but he was forced to give way. England, of course, accepted it as a declaration of war.

Spain could not miss the opportunity of avenging herself upon England. Her King desired to live at peace, he said, and to see his neighbours do the same. But he was profoundly interested in the liberties of the young Republic, and lie was bound by strong ties to his good brother of France. Above all, England had in various quarters of the world grievously wronged him, by violating his territory and interfering with the trade of his subjects. And so lie deemed it proper that he should waste the scanty substance of his people in equipping fleets and armies. When his preparations were complete he joined France and America in the league, and declared war against England.

The fleets of France and Spain appeared in the British Channel, and England had to face the perils of invasion. The spirit of her people rose nobly to meet the impending trial. The southern counties were one great camp. Voluntary contributions from all parts of the country aided Government to equip ships and soldiers. The King was to head his warlike people, should the enemy land, and share their danger and their glory. But the black cloud rolled harmlessly away, and the abounding heroism of the people was not further evoked. The invading admirals quarrelled. One of them wished to land at once; the other wished first to dispose of the English fleet. They could not agree upon a course, and therefore they sailed away home each to his own country, having effected nothing.

The war spread itself over a very wide surface. In the north, Paul Jones with three American ships alarmed the Scotch coast and destroyed much shipping. Spain besieged Gibraltar, but failed to regain that much-coveted prize. On the African coast the French took Senegal from the English, and the English took Goree from the French. In the West Indies the French took St. Vincent and Granada. On the American Continent, from New York to Savannah, the same wasteful and bloody labour was ruthlessly pursued.

The remaining years of the war were distinguished by few striking or decisive enterprises. The fleet sent by France sailed hither and thither in a feeble manner, accomplishing nothing. When General Howe was made aware of its approach, he abandoned Philadelphia and retired to New York. Washington followed him on his retreat, but neither then nor for some time afterwards could effect much. Congress and the American people formed sanguine expectations of the French alliance, and ceased to put forth the great efforts which distinguished the earlier period of the war. The English overran Georgia and the Carolinas. The Americans captured two or three forts. The war degenerated into a series of marauding expeditions. Some towns, innumerable farm-houses, were burned by the English. Occasional massacres took place. With increasing frequency, prisoners were, under a variety of pretexts, put to death. On both sides feeling had become intensely hitter. On both sides cruelties of a most savage type were perpetrated.

To the very end Washington's army was miserably supplied, and endured extreme hardships. Congress was a weak, and, it must be added, a very unwise body. The ablest men were in the army, and Congress was composed of twenty or thirty persons of little character or influence. They had no authority to impose taxes. They tried to borrow money in Europe, and failed. They had only one resource—the issue of paper currency, and this was carried to such a wild excess that latterly a colonel's ay would not buy oats for his horse. Washington ceased to have the means of purchasing. Reluctantly, and under pressure of extreme necessity, he forcibly exacted supplies of meat and flour from the neighbourhood. Not otherwise could he save his army from dissolution and the country from ruin.

But there was one respect in which the cause grew constantly in strength. Men do not fight for eight years, in a war like this, without learning to hate each other. With a deep and deadly hatred the American people hated the power which ruthlessly inflicted upon them such cruel sufferings. Under the growing influence of this hatred, men became soldiers with increasing alacrity. The hardships of soldier-life no longer daunted them, so long as they had the English to resist. The trouble of short enlistments had ceased, and Washington was at length at the head of an army, often ill fed and always ill clad, but disciplined and invincibly resolved that their country should be free.


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