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The policy of such a measure was debated. It was determined that concessions of such a nature would only degrade the character of the struggle, to contest about pecuniary matters; and probably disunite the staanch friends of American independence. It was then proposed to substitute a monopoly of particular articles. To this the local interests of the several states opposed an insurmountable objection. Again, it was proposed by those who were hearty and resolute in their detestation of the British ministry, to of. fer an alliance, complete and unequivocal, offensive and defensive to France, if she would put forth her strength in this contest. To this it was replied by the politicians of the day, and they were men who could foresee the consequences of such an unequal alliance)—that it would be either destructive to America, or useless to France; that the friendship of small states might be purchased, but America was too poor to purchase that of France. But this was the great argument, and it was urged with a force correspondent with its importance. If France can be induced to assist America, it cannot be from any reward that America can spare, but from a natural de. sire of crippling and restraining her formidable and ambitious neighbour. These arguments had been urged in a masterly manner by General Lee, while at the southward, to the French minister, and were properly appreciated. The navy of Great Britain, and her commerce were what made her so terrible ; intercept the communication between her and her colo. nies, and the difficulties and expense of maintaining the former, would be exceedingly increased, while the means of supporting both would be diminished in the same proportion. It would be assailing her
dockyards and her revenue-the points where, alone, she was vulnerable.
The most powerful inducement, therefore, which they could offer to France or any other potent nation, jealous of the growing supremacy of a rival, would be the proof of an invincible determination, never to return to a state of dependence on that rival. After all these propositions had been deliberated upon, it was again determined never to listen to any terms of submission, to assert their independence with their last breath, and trust their destiny and the destinies of their children to the God of Battles. Copies of these resolutions were distributed at the courts of Vienna, Madrid, Berlin, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and commissioners were appointed to solicit their friendship and negociate loans. These resolutions afterwards fell into the hands of the British and were published. A magnanimous step, it must be acknowledged, but its policy may be questioned, as it contributed to extend the proofs of American firmness, in the darkest hour of American hopes, from one extremity of Europe to the other. It was a sublime exhibition. At such, his hour of deepest humiliation, when the nations of Europe were looking for his entire self-abandonment, to behold the genius of the western world, rising from his devotions, again throwing his shield before his force, and advancing to battle with the same undaunted step-the same intrepid look, but with a holier, steadier confidence in heaven. Such a spectacle was inspiration. Monarchs forgot their danger--their sceptres trembled in their hands, as they contemplated with enthusiastic admiration, the illuminated countenance of the young stranger, bursting from the solitudes of a new
world, and grasping the lightenings of heaven. They forgot that the bolt might be launched against themselves before an arm could be raised for protectionthat the commotion which already shook the thrones of Britain was every moment approaching their own. This was the forgetfulness of France. The kindling presence of liberty was already felt amid her government of ages, already its dreadful agony was toiling at the monuments of her strength-they were soon to be tumbled to the earth.
These measures, adopted so critically in the councils of the nation, were seconded by a proportionate energy in the field. Fifteen hundred Pennsylvania militia were immediately embodied to reinforce the continental army. The delay of nineteen days in the retreat of the latter through New Jersey, enabled these reinforcements to assemble. The force under Washington, it has been mentioned, was fluctuating between two and three thousand men; but soon after it was augmented by these seasonable supplies, to about seven thousand. To give battle to the British with such a handful, would hare been madness; yet something to inspirit the nation, the army, and give life to the recruiting service, had long been a subject of anxious meditation in the mind of Washington. So early as the 14th of December, the royal army, were so scattered along the Jerseys, that the probability of effecting something of this nature was constantly working in his thought. Opportunities were presented, but he was unable to take advantage of them; it was too hazardous in his enfeebled state, but as the Pennsylvania militia came in, a part were posted at Bristol, and the remainder of the army were cantoned along the Delaware to oppose any
attempt of the enemy to cross, and be ready for tak. ing advantage of every oversight or imprudence. But instead of pushing their advantage over a narrow, smooth river, with such means of transportation as the neighbourhood of Trenton afforded, the British troops were thrown into temporary cantonments; forming a chain from Brunswick to the Delaware, stretchiag down its shore for several miles, and presenting a front towards Philadelphia, at the extremity of the line. An account of their situation and numbers was brought to Washington, by a lad who, on account of his extreme simplicity, was long permitted to mix with the British soldiers and traverse their camp without suspicion. "Now then," said Washington, 6 is the time to clip their wings, while they are so spread!" and immediately all the energies of his nature were labouring to effect the wish. But before it could be done, he was almost discouraged from the attempt, when be reflected on the probable reduction of his army which was at hand. No dependence could be placed on those whose terms of service bad expired; and every information he could obtain, led him to expect the enemy would cross as soon as the ice should be formed. I saw him at that gloomy period, says General Wilkinson, dined with him, and attentively marked his aspect; always grave and thoughtful, he appeared at that time pensive and solemn in the extreme. An exact return of his forces was called for. They proved far less efficient than his worst fears had anticipated. But Washington was a man to know the worst at once : he would meet his fate and not shrink from it. His situation was communicated to a confidential officer. Let it not be discovered, said Washington; a discovery may be fa. VOL. I.
tal to us. This officer was Colonel Joseph Reed, always a favourite of the Commander in Chief, and afterwards Governour of Pennsylvania : He had written to Washington in a noble and manly strain of argument, apologizing for the freedom of a soldierhe, like Washington had every thing at stake, and urged a blow at the enemy, lowever, or wherever it might be given, as an event, upon which the salvation of the country depended. Washington felt the force of his arguments, and subscribed to the necessity of doing something immediately—but how? or where?—these were important questions. At length he had determined. On the 23d, he said to the same officer, “necessity, dire necessity, will-nay, must justify the attempt. Prepare, and in concert with Griffin, attack as many posts as you possibly can, with a prospect of success. I have ample testimony of the enemy's intentions to attack Philadelphia, as soon as the ice will afford the means of conveyance. One hour before day is the time fixed upon, for an attempt upon Trenton. If we are successful, which Heaven grant! and other circumstances favour, we may push on. I shall direct every ferry and ford to be well guarded, and not a soul suffered to pass.”
The Colonel Griffin here spoken of, while entirely unacquainted with the hour and plan of attack, had crossed over from Philadelphia, and being joined with a few Jersey militia, advanced to Mount Holly; a movement which drew Colonel Donop, twelve miles from Bordentown, and contributed, in some measure, to the success of the attack on Colonel Rhal.
It was a part of the plan prepared by Washington, for General Putnam to keep Count Donop employed, but the latter represented the disorderly conduct of the