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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 6345

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Power of Great Britain.]

When we compare the population and resources of the two countries, the defiance of the colonists seems almost foolhardy. In 1775 England, Ireland, and Scotland together had from eight to ten million souls; while the colonies numbered but three millions. Great Britain had a considerable system of manufactures, and the greatest foreign commerce in the world, and rich colonies in every quarter of the globe poured wealth into her lap. What she lacked she could buy. In the year 1775 the home government raised ten million pounds in taxes, and when the time came she was able to borrow hundreds of millions in all the colonies together, two million pounds in money was the utmost that could be raised in a single year by any system of taxes or loans. In 1776 one hundred and thirty cruisers and transports brought the British army to New York: the whole American navy had not more than seventeen vessels. In moral resources Great Britain was decidedly stronger than America. Parliament was divided, but the king was determined. On Oct 15, 1775, he wrote: "Every means of distressing America must meet with my concurrence." Down to 1778 the war was popular in England, and interfered little with her prosperity.

[Sidenote: Weakness of America.]

How was it in America? Canada, the Floridas, the West Indies, and Nova Scotia held off. Of the three millions of population, five hundred thousand were negro slaves, carried no muskets, and caused constant fear of revolt. John Adams has said that more than a third part of the principal men in America were throughout opposed to the Revolution; and of those who agreed with the principles of the Revolution, thousands thought them not worth fighting for. There were rivalries and jealousies between American public men and between the sections. The troops of one New England State refused to serve under officers from another State. The whole power of England could be concentrated upon the struggle, and the Revolution would have been crushed in a single year if the eyes of the English had not been so blinded to the real seriousness of the crisis that they sent small forces and inefficient commanders. England was at peace with all the world, and might naturally expect to prevent the active assistance of the colonies by any other power.

[Sidenote: The two armies.]

[Sidenote: Hessians.]

[Sidenote: Indians.]

[Sidenote: Discipline.]

When the armies are compared, the number and enthusiasm of the Americans by no means made up for the difference of population. On the average, 33,000 men were under the American colors each year; but the army sometimes fell, as at the battle of Princeton, Jan. 2, 1777, to but 5,000. The English had an average of 40,000 troops in the colonies, of whom from 20,000 to 25,000 might have been utilized in a single military operation; and in the crisis of the general European war, about 1780, Great Britain placed 314,000 troops under arms in different parts of the world. The efficiency of the American army was very much diminished by the fact that two kinds of troops were in service,-the Continentals, enlisted by Congress; and t

he militia, raised by each colony separately. Of these militia, New England, with one fourth of the population of the country, furnished as many as the other colonies put together. The British were able to draw garrisons from other parts of the world, and to fill up gaps with Germans hired like horses; yet, although sold by their sovereign at the contract price of thirty-six dollars per head, and often abused in service, these Hessians made good soldiers, and sometimes saved British armies in critical moments. Another sort of aliens were brought into the contest, first by the Americans, later by the English. These were the Indians. They were intractable in the service of both sides, and determined no important contest; but since the British were the invaders, their use of the Indians combined with that of the Hessians to exasperate the Americans, although they had the same kind of savage allies, and eventually called in foreigners also. In discipline the Americans were far inferior to the English. General Montgomery wrote: "The privates are all generals, but not soldiers;" and Baron Steuben wrote to a Prussian officer a little later: "You say to your soldier, 'Do this,' and he doeth it; but I am obliged to say to mine, 'This is the reason why you ought to do that,' and then he does it." The British officers were often incapable, but they had a military training, and were accustomed to require and to observe discipline. The American officers came in most cases from civil life, had no social superiority over their men, and were so unruly that John Adams wrote in 1777: "They quarrel like cats and dogs. They worry one another like mastiffs, scrambling for rank and pay like apes for nuts."

[Sidenote: Commanders.]

The success of the Revolution was, nevertheless, due to the personal qualities of these officers and their troops, when directed by able commanders. In the early stages of the war the British generals were slow, timid, unready, and inefficient. Putnam, Wayne, Greene, and other American generals were natural soldiers; and in Washington we have the one man who never made a serious blunder, who was never frightened, who never despaired, and whose unflinching confidence was the rallying point of the military forces of the nation.

[Sidenote: Plans of campaign.]

The theatre of the war was more favorable to the British than to the Americans. There were no fortresses, and the coast was everywhere open to the landing of expeditions. The simplest military principle demanded the isolation of New England, the source and centre of the Revolution, from the rest of the colonies. From 1776 the British occupied the town of New York, and they held Canada. A combined military operation from both South and North would give them the valley of the Hudson. The failure of Burgoyne's expedition in 1777 prevented the success of this manoeuvre. The war was then transferred to the Southern colonies, with the intention to roll up the line of defence, as the French line had been rolled up in 1758; but whenever the British attempted to penetrate far into the country from the sea-coast, they were eventually worsted and driven back.

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