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and neither party could allege being compelled Chap.vh. to enter into such agreement. 1776.
That in case congress were disposed to treat, many things which they had not as yet asked, might, and ought to be granted them; and that if, upon the conference, they found any probable ground of an accommodation, the authority of congress must be afterwards acknowledged, otherwise the compact would not be complete.
This proposition of lord Howe was not without its embarrassments. To reject it altogether would be to give some countenance to the opinion that, if independence was waved, a restoration of the ancient connexions between the two countries, on principles formerly deemed constitutional, was still practicable; an opinion believed by congress not to be well founded, but which would have an unfavourable effect on the public sentiment, and which, therefore, it was useful to explode. On the other hand, to enter into a negotiation under such circumstances, might excite a suspicion that their determination to maintain the independence they had declared, was not immovable, and that things were in such a situation as to admit of some relaxation in the measures necessary for the defence of the country.
The answer given to lord Howe through general Sullivan was " that congress being the representatives of the free and independent
Chap, Vii. states of America, cannot with propriety send 1776. any of its members to confer with his lordship in their private characters; but that ever desirous of establishing peace on reasonable terms, they will send a committee of their body to know whether he has any authority to treat with persons authorized by congress for that purpose on behalf of America; and what that authority is, and to hear such propositions as he shall think proper to make respecting the same."
The president was, at the same time, directed to give to general Washington the opinion of congress, that no propositions for making peace "ought to be received or attended to, unless the same be made in writing and addressed to the representatives of the United States in congress, or persons authorized by them. And if application be made to him by any of the commanders of the British forces on that subject, that he inform them, that these United States who entered into the war only for the defence of their lives and liberties, will cheerfully agree to peace on reasonable terms whenever such shall be proposed to them in manner aforesaid."
It is worthy of remark that, in these resolutions, congress preserve the appearance of insisting on the independence of the United States, without declaring it to be the indispensable condition of peace.
Mr. Franklin, mr. John Adams, and mr. Edward Rutledge, all zealous advocates for independence, were appointed, in conformity Chap. vu. with the resolution, to receive the communi- 1776. cations of lord Howe.
They waited on his lordship, and on their return reported, "that he had received them on the 11th of September on Staten island opposite to Amboy, with great politeness.
He opened the conversation by acquainting them, that though he could not treat with them as a committee of congress, yet, as his powers enabled him to confer and consult with any private gentlemen of influence in the colonies, on the means of restoring peace between the two countries, he was glad of this opportunity of conferring with them on that subject, if they thought themselves at liberty to enter into a conference with him in that character. The committee observed to his lordship, that, as their business was to hear, he might consider them in what light he pleased, and communicate to them any propositions he might be authorized to make for the purpose mentioned; but, that they could consider themselves in no other character than that in which they were placed by order of congress. His lordship then entered into a discourse of considerable length, which contained no explicit proposition of peace, except one, namely; that the colonies should return to their allegiance and obedience to the government of Great Britain. The rest consisted principally of assurances,
Chap. Vii. that there was an exceeding good disposition in 1776. the king and his ministers to make that government easy to them, with intimations, that, in case of submission, they would cause the offensive acts of parliament to be revised, and the instructions to governors to be reconsidered; that so, if any just causes of complaint were found in the acts, or any errors in government were perceived to have crept into the instructions, they might be amended or withdrawn.
The committee gave it as their opinion to his lordship, that a return to the domination of Great Britain was not now to be expected. They mentioned the repeated humble petitions of the colonies to the king and parliament, which had been treated with contempt and answered only by additional injuries; the unexampled patience which had been shown under their tyrannical government; and that it was not until the late act of parliament which denounced war against them, and put them out of the king's protection, that they declared their independence; that this declaration had been called for by the people of the colonies in general; and that every colony had approved of it when made, and all now considered themselves as independent states, and were setding, or had settled their governments accordingly; so that it was not in the power of congress to agree for them that they should return to their former dependant state; that there was no Chap.Vh. doubt of their inclination to peace, and their 1776. willingness to enter into a treaty with Britain, that might be advantageous to both countries: that though his lordship had at present no power to treat with them as independent states, he might, if there was the same good disposition in Britain, much sooner obtain fresh powers from thence, for that purpose, than powers could be obtained by congress, from the several colonies, to consent to a submission.
His lordship then saying, that he was sorry to find, that no accommodation was like to take place, put an end to the conference.
These fruitless negotiations produced no suspension of hostilities.
The day after the troops had been withdrawn from Long island, Governor's island was also evacuated. This place derived its principal importance from being auxiliary to the defence of the position at Brooklyn, and to the communication between that camp and New York. It was also, of very considerable consequence in the event of a direct attack on the town, as it, in a great measure, commands the harbour. But the position was too hazardous to attempt its preservation after the evacuation of Long island; and it was the less to be desired, as the general began to entertain very serious fears of being unable longer to defend New