Lord Loudon





No better instrument could have been selected by the British government to render that government odious to the colonists than the Earl of Loudon. He was devoid of genius either civil or military. Imperious and undignified in his deportment; quick to threaten but slow to execute; possessing no semblance of public virtue; unsympathetic with anything noble or generous in human character; always in a hurry and hurrying others, but excessively dilatory in the performance of duties, he excited the disgust, jealousy, dislike and contempt of the colonists. He could not understand how a public officer could be unselfish and honest. When Dr. Franklin urged him to reimburse money which the latter had spent for the public service, the earl told him he could afford to wait, as he had doubtless taken care to fill his own pockets in his public transactions. When Franklin repelled the insinuation by declaring his integrity, the corrupt earl spoke of it as a thing incredible. "I wonder much," wrote Franklin, "how such a man came to be entrusted with so important a business as the conduct of a great doing; but having since seen more of the great world, and the means of obtaining and motives for giving places and employments, my wonder is diminished." Referring to Loudon's hurry and tardiness, a person said to Franklin: "He is like St. George on a sign-post; always on horseback, but never goes forward."

Events equally disgraceful in England and America occurred during the year 1756. Quarrels, scandals, intrigues, corruptions and imbecility had marked the court and administration of the British monarch. The king's mistress governed the realm. Patriots trembled for the fate of their country. Satire and caricature assailed its governing ministers; and Hogarth arose in reputation. The only hope for the future of England, in the minds of thinking men, was given late in the year, by raising William Pitt, the great Commoner, to the dignity of Secretary of State. The English people were with the untitled minister; the English aristocracy were against him. The latter, in power, stood in the way of every wise and generous plan of Pitt. When he proposed to pursue a just and liberal course toward the American colonies, he was met by churlish cavils from the Lords of Trade, and demands for the taxation of the Americans. When he was pressed to recommend a stamp-tax for America, he replied: "With the enemy at their back, and British bayonets at their breasts, in the day of their distress, perhaps the Americans may submit to the imposition." Pitt understood the Americans better, and had a clearer conception of justice and its wise policy, than any public man in England. He would not yield his country to the persuasion nor threats of the aristocracy; he would not resign the office which he knew the English people desired him to fill; and in the spring of 1757, he was dismissed by the king, with other good members of the cabinet. The government of England was in a state of anarchy for several weeks, and Loudon was making infinite mischief in America.

In January, 1757, Loudon held a council in Boston. The governors of Nova Scotia and New England were there. The earl's behavior was that of an autocrat. His opinions, dogmatically expressed, swayed the council and determined its decisions. Better men acquiesced in his plans in violation of their wiser convictions, because they feared less injury from his imbecility than from his uncontrolled resentment. It was decided to confine the military operations of the campaign to the capture of Louisburg; an object of far less importance to Great Britain and her colonies at that time, than the expulsion of the French from the frontier posts and from Montreal and Quebec. The New England people were disappointed and alarmed, New Yorkers were amazed. Pennsylvanians and Virginians were distressed because of the exposed condition of their frontier settlers to the sanguinary visits of the Indians and their allies. Yet the colonists responded generously to calls for men and supplies, and at the first of June, 1757, Loudon found himself at the head of an army of provincials who, alone, were competent, under a good commander, to crush French dominion in America.

The earl resolved to lead the expedition against Louisburg in person. His officers easily foretold the result. Before his departure he made precautionary provisions. He ordered Colonel Bouquet to watch the Carolina frontiers with a few troops. General Stanwix was ordered to guard the western frontiers with two thousand men; and General Webb was sent with six thousand troops to defend Forts Edward and William Henry. Washington spent the summer with a few Virginia troops, in skirmishing with Indians and building a fort at Winchester, his headquarters.

The earl was ready for his eastern campaign late in June. Having exasperated the people of the whole country by impressing into the British service, at New York, four hundred men, he sailed from that port with a considerable force, and arrived at Halifax on the 30th of the month. There he was joined by ships under Admiral Holborne and six thousand troops commanded by George Viscount Howe. On the 9th of July he assembled his whole armament, composed of ten thousand soldiers, sixteen ships of the line, and several frigates and transports. It was supposed that an immediate attack upon Louisburg was intended, but the hope was delusive. The troops were landed. They were made to level the uneven ground for a parade; and for almost a month they were employed in the cultivation of a vegetable garden and exercises in sham fights and sieges. The army was dispirited, and the patience of the officers was exhausted. Major-General Lord Charles Hay could no longer repress expressions of his indignation. One day while he was sitting under a tree near the seashore, discussing army matters with some fellow-officers, he sprang to his feet, and blazing with indignation, he said, as he pointed toward a noble ship lying near, and to the idle camp not far off, "See how the power of England is held in chains by imbecility! Her substance is wasted by indecision! With such ships and such men as we have here, led by an energetic and competent commander, Cape Breton and its fortress, and all this eastern region, might have been a part of the British empire a month ago." For these brave words, his lordship was arrested, sent to England and tried by court-martial, and was acquitted. At that trial, there was a tragical event. The President of the Board, while putting a question to Lord Hay, fell from his seat in an apoplectic fit, and died.

Stung by Lord Hay's remarks, Loudon bustled about a few days and embarked his troops as if for Louisburg. During the delay at Halifax, that fortress had been reinforced, and ships had been added to the French fleet there. A reconnoitering vessel brought word to the earl that his enemy had one more ship than he; so his lordship abandoned the expedition and sailed for New York. The army was amazed and thoroughly disgusted. On the 10th of August, when the fleet had voyaged westward only two days, an express sloop was met. A messenger from her came in haste to Lord Loudon with a despatch, telling him that the French, in large numbers, had closely invested Fort William Henry, on Lake George. The earl immediately sent orders back for troops that he had left behind, to follow him to New York. When he arrived there at near the close of August, he was met with the news that the French were in possession of Fort William Henry and all northern New York. The province was trembling with alarm. That alarm was intensified fourfold when the stupid and stubborn earl proposed to encamp his forces on Long Island for the defence of the continent!





Return to Our Country, Vol. I