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   Chapter 22 UNPATRIOTIC CONFUSION OF OPINIONS AND INTERESTS

The Wonderful Story of Washington By Charles M. Stevens Characters: 8888

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:04


In order to appreciate the difficulties which Washington had to overcome, and therefore to make any just estimate of his character, his patriotism and his services in the cause of political liberty, the conditions in which he worked must be understood. It must not be assumed that he had a united country, a solid backing, and that there was unanimous patriotism sustaining him. To do so would not only be untrue, but it would belittle the almost superhuman task which gave birth to American government, and made possible the final organization through Abraham Lincoln of a land of the free, able to sustain its freedom against all the struggling masteries of the world. To suppose that Washington did his revolutionary work in the midst of reliable patriotism is as erroneous as to suppose that Lincoln did his nation-saving task in the midst of a unanimous North.

There was no such thing as patriotism at the time of Washington, according to the usual definition of patriotism, because there was no geographical territory holding a united people, for whom or for which to feel a national patriotism.

American patriotism, therefore, began in the patriotism for human rights, not thus making "a man without a country," as patriotism for humanity has been sometimes defined alike by extreme pacifists and extreme militarists, but in the fact that American democracy and humanity are synonymous terms, in all they can mean for the rights of man.

There was then no political country to be patriotic for. There were only colonies. Patrick Henry's cry, so pathetic in its divine need, and so little true for his fellows as shown in 1861, "I am not a Virginian, I am an American," rang through the congress at Philadelphia with the thrill of a new vision of human faith, but it was almost a century, through an age of desperate reconstruction, before it could be even approximately called true; before American democracy and humanity could face the warring world, the King-made world, with one meaning, one service and one moral law.

John Adams, of indisputable authority, tells us that more than a third of the property owners and men of affairs, were opposed to the revolution throughout the war.

Lecky, in his history of England, declares that an examination of the correspondence of the revolution at any period shows that, "in the middle colonies at least, those who really desired to throw off the English rule were a small and not very respectable minority. The great mass were indifferent, half-hearted, engrossed with their private interests or occupations, prepared to risk nothing till they could clearly foresee the issue of the contest. In almost every part of the States-even in New England itself-there were large bodies of devoted royalists."

After the war more than a hundred thousand, it is estimated, of irreconciliable royalists were expelled from the colonies.

When General Gage evacuated Boston, more than a thousand royalists from that immediate territory went with him to Halifax, Nova Scotia, so that our American grandmothers, even a hundred years later, when exasperated, would exclaim against their tormentor, with much of the ancient vehemence, "You go to Halifax!"

If we want to appreciate Washington and to understand his wonderful service for mankind, we must understand the difficulties and obstacles he had to overcome. The "Spirit of '76" belonged at first to only a few inspired souls, who had a wonderful vision of human rights for a new world. Right was might with them and their might-right won the great cause as the immortal "Spirit of '76."

General Washington's description of the conditions are vividly portrayed in a letter to Joseph Reed, from Cambridge, dated November 28, 1775:

"Such a dearth of public spirit, and such a want of virtue, such stock jobbing and such fertility in all the low arts to obtain advantages of one kind or another in this great change of military arrangement I never saw before, and pray God's mercy that I may never be witness to again. What will be the end of these man?uvers is beyond my scan. I tremble at the prospect. We have been till this time enlisting about three thousand five hundred men. To engage these I have been obliged to allow furloughs as far as fifty men to a regiment, and the officers, I am persuaded, indulge as many more. The Connecticut troops will not be prevailed upon to stay longer than their term, saving those who h

ave enlisted for the next campaign and are mostly on a furlough; and such a mercenary spirit pervades the whole that I should not be at all surprised at any disaster that may happen. In short after the last of this month our lines will be so weakened that the Minute Men and Militia must be called in for their defense; and these being under no kind of government themselves, will destroy the little subordination I have been laboring to establish, and run me into one evil whilst I am endeavoring to avoid another; but the less must be chosen. Could I have foreseen what I have experienced, and am likely to experience, no consideration upon earth would have induced me to accept the command."

At the meeting of the colonies in congress at Philadelphia in 1774, George the Third saw that it was a conquest of wills and he exclaimed, "The die is cast, the colonies must either submit or triumph." But even when the British government was sending Hessian mercenaries over against the colonies, a thing regarded as a supreme outrage by those opposed to England, it was almost impossible to get together enough American patriotism to adopt a declaration of independence.

John Adams says that a large section of Congress regarded such a declaration with both terror and disgust. To those who have believed that a unanimous patriotism made only a little severe fighting necessary, backed by some clever generalship, there can be no proper appreciation of the great American achievement.

Then, as now, the prosperous did not want their prosperity disturbed by any change. They didn't want to lose their business, not to speak of their lives, by going into an army. But there had been a generation of people pouring into the colonies from the poverty-devastations of English misgovernment in Scotland and Ireland. They had never had any chance to protest against their wrongs in the old country, but fortune, or fate, or Providence, had banished them across the ocean directly into an opportunity to express their sentiments with guns, and they took the opportunity. They flocked to the recruiting stations of Washington's army.

But so unsafe were business transactions with the party fighting Great Britain that the revolution was coming to the gates of despair because of the impossibility of getting military supplies and army equipments. There was fast growing a vision of collapse unless there was received the encouraging help of a foreign power. France in almost unceasing war with England was the only hope, and France could have no interest unless the colonies were fighting for separation from England, instead of against a tax on tea, as it bore the appearance, at the beginning, from a foreign point of view. France wanted to know what the colonies were fighting for. France wanted a bill of particulars. This brought American interests to a crisis. France had no interest in a mere family fuss. The French government could have no interest unless it was for something that lessened the power of England.

Under the early troubles, a peace party among the business interests was fast coming into power. Against this the commoners were aflame with the patriotic pamphlets of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, the eloquence of Patrick Henry, the statesmanship of John Adams, and the work of the powerful-minded few who saw the sublime vision of American freedom. At last they were enabled to pass the Declaration of Independence, and France began, at first secretly and then openly, to give encouragement through money-loans, supplies, and volunteers. Burgoyne's surrender in October, 1777, showed that America could be successful with France's help, and early in the next year France recognized the independence of the colonies. They soon made the cause of America their own, and sent over not only necessary supplies but soldiers and ships. Known budgets of expenses, used in aid of the Colonies, exceed $500,000,000, not a cent of which was ever returned or asked for. Though there was the political interest to humble England, yet France was at heart a profound lover of human freedom and political liberty. Despite the implacable enemies of republican government in Europe, France has successfully kept the dead-lines across which "they shall not pass." The moral debt which human liberty owes to France can never be paid except as it is paid to humanity, and, to that social justice, is dedicated the meaning of America.

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