British foreign policy history





At the same time royal authority had really ceased in all the colonies. Each had formed a provisional government for itself, and each looked to the Continental Congress as the central director of the civil and military movements of the United Colonies in the great struggle before them. They were waging a defensive war against a powerful nation, whose maritime superiority was universally acknowledged; and the contest would have been hopeless on their part but for the geo-graphical, topographical, and social conditions which were substitutes, in a large degree, for numerous and well-disciplined and well-furnished armies, which they lacked. The American settlements were sparsely sprinkled along a comparatively narrow selvedge of the continent on the western shores of the Atlantic Ocean, for a thousand miles. Their country was broken by rugged hills, considerable rivers and vast morasses, and heavily wooded almost everywhere. The population were occupied chiefly in farming, and presented very few salient points of attack by military or naval forces, such as cities and large villages. The only towns of considerable size were Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Norfolk, and Charleston. Of these, three of the larger ones did not contain twenty thousand inhabitants each, while neither of the others had half that number. It was next to impossible to subdue a country so extended and so populated, if the people were tolerably united. This fact dawned upon the minds of the headstrong king and his supple ministry, after the events at Lexington and Concord, as a new and ominous light. They had declared before the world their intention to crush the rebellion in America, and to enforce obedience; but they saw with alarm that their military establishment was not strong enough to spare sufficient troops and ships from the necessary police force of the kingdom to do it; so they began to look for foreign mercenaries in America and Europe--the savages of our forests and the soldiers of the old world despotisms--to aid them in enslaving between two and three million of their best subjects.



The king first applied to the Empress of Russia, whom he was disposed to regard as a half-barbarian sovereign of a barbarous nation, for the loan of her soldiers. Her ministers expected a ready compliance, for could not British gold purchase anything? Gibbon, the historian, wrote to a friend in October, 1775: "When the Russians arrive, will you go and see their camp? We have great hopes of getting a body of these barbarians; the ministers daily and hourly expect to hear that the business is concluded; the worst of it is, the Baltic will soon be frozen up, and it must be late next year before they can get to America." But Catharine sent a flat refusal to enter into such nefarious business, half-barbarian as the British king thought her to be. She said, in a letter written by her minister, "I am just beginning to enjoy peace, and your majesty knows that my empire needs repose. It is also known what must be the condition of an army, though victorious, when it comes out of a long war in a murderous climate. There is an impropriety in employing so considerable a body in another hemisphere, under a power almost unknown to it, and almost deprived of all correspondence with its sovereign. My own confidence in my peace, which has cost me so great efforts to acquire, demands absolutely that I do not deprive myself so soon of so considerable a part of my forces. Affairs on the side of Sweden are but put to sleep, and those of Poland are not yet definitely terminated. Moreover, I should not be able to prevent myself from reflecting on the consequences which would result for our own dignity, for that of the two monarchies and the two nations, from this junction of our forces, simply to calm a rebellion which is not supported by any foreign power."

This letter, which conveyed reproof in sarcastic words, stung and irritated the king. He was also surprised and offended by what he deemed her want of politeness, in not answering his gracious autograph letter with her own hands, and with soft words becoming a woman. He sputtered out his indignation in his rapid way, and said: "She has not had the civility to answer me in her own hands, and with soft words becoming a woman. He sputtered out his indignation in his rapid way, and said: "She has not had the civility to answer me in her own hand; and has thrown out expressions that may be civil to a Russian ear, but certainly not to more civilized ones." The king was compelled to pocket his wrath, which he did with dignity and composure after the first ebullition of feeling, and turning to the needy German princes--the rulers of a people out of whom had come his own dynasty--he was rewarded with success.

FAILING to procure "barbarians" from Russia, the British monarch asked Holland for the loan of a brigade of troops. Deputies said: "A commercial State should avoid quarrels if possible;" and Van der Capellan, the greatest statesman of the Netherlands at that time, remarked: "A republic should never assist in making war on a free people." Unwilling to offend England, the brigade was offered on the condition that it should not serve out of Europe. This was a polite and adroit denial of the request, and the troops were not accepted.

While these negotiations were going on, bargains were made by the British government with some of the less scrupulous German rulers for the hire of the required number of soldiers. The bargains were perfected at the close of 1775, and early in 1776. The contracting parties were the reigning governors of Hesse-Cassel, Hesse-Hanau, Brunswick, Anhalt, Anspach, and Waldeck, and the King of Great Britain. They were governed in the negotiations by the common law of trade expressed by supply and demand. England needed troops; the German rulers needed money. The former had the money and the latter the troops, which, in time of peace, were a heavy burden upon the resources of the princes. The bargain was a natural one on business principles; the morality of the transaction was quite another affair.

About seventeen thousand German troops, most of them well-disciplined, were hired. Their masters were to receive for each soldier a bounty of twenty-two dollars and a half, besides an annual subsidy, the whole amounting to a large sum. The British government also agreed to make restitution for all soldiers who might perish from contagious diseases; while being transported in ships; in engagements, and during sieges; and they were all to take an oath of allegiance to the British monarch, without its interfering with their oaths of allegiance to their respective rulers. They were, according to the agreement, to constitute a corps made up of four battalions of grenadiers, each four companies; fifteen battalions of infantry of five companies each, and two companies of Yagers (riflemen), all to be well equipped with the implements of war. The chief commanders of these troops, best known to Americans, were General Baron de Riedesel, General Baron Knyphausen, and General De Heister. The name of Hessians was given to them all, and because they were mercenaries (men fighting only for pay), they were particularly detested by the Americans. The employment of them was a disgrace to the British government, and the method used in forcing many of them was a crime against humanity. Laborers were seized in the fields, mechanics in the workshops and worshippers in the churches, and hurried to the barracks without being allowed a parting embrace with their families. The king of Great Britain, to avoid complicity in the horrid work, refused to give commissions to German recruiting officers (who, it was known to the British ministry, intended to impress men), saying: "It, in plain English, amounts to making me a kidnapper, which I cannot think a very honorable occupation." All Europe cried "Shame!" and Frederick the Great of Prussia took every occasion to express his contempt for "the scandalous man-traffic" of his neighbors. Whenever any of these troops were compelled to pass through any part of his dominions, he claimed the usual toll for so many head of cattle, since, as he said, they had been sold as such. Of the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, he remarked in a letter to Voltaire: "The sordid passion for gain is the only motive of his vile proceeding."

Without these troops the war would have been short; with them the British were not successful. A part of them under Riedesel went to Canada in the spring of 1776, to assist in driving the republicans out of that province. Another part under Knyphausen and De Heister joined the British army under General Howe before New York, in the summer, and had their first encounter with the patriots on Long Island.

We left the little army of republicans in Canada, bereaved of their brave leader, shattered in strength and shivering with cold outside the walls of Quebec. The time of the enlistment of many of the soldiers expired with the year, and they went home; and the besieging army was reduced to about four hundred Americans, and as many uncertain Canadian volunteers. Arnold, on whom the command devolved, though disabled by his wound, retired with them to Sillery, above Quebec, where he formed a camp and passed a rigorous winter. He was full of pluck. From that suffering camp he wrote: "I have no thought of leaving this proud town until I enter it in triumph." But he needed ten thousand well-provided troops to do that and effect the conquest of Canada. The army needed not only men, but hard money and everything necessary for a siege and conquest. General Wooster, on whom the chief command of the army in Canada devolved, on the death of Montgomery, wrote to Schuyler from Montreal, that with hard money supplies might be procured in that province. "Money we must have," he wrote, "or give up everything. If we are not immediately supplied with hard cash we must starve, quit the country, or lay it under contribution." He wrote in every direction for aid, but it did not appear. Schuyler, when he heard of the disaster, was anxious to fly to the relief of the imperiled army. Like all true patriots he was grieved at the loss of Montgomery. He could not take his place, for he was then tortured with gout and confined to his house. He was also watching the suspicious movements of Sir John Johnson and the Tories and Indians of the Mohawk region. He sent urgent appeals to the Continental Congress and that of New York for men, money, and munitions. How could they be furnished? With difficulty the army of Washington on the sea-coast, in the midst of a populous region, could be supplied with these; how then could they be furnished for service on the St. Lawrence, more than three hundred miles from the sea, with a desolate wilderness between, and the broad forests and few open fields and lakes covered with snow and ice? It was impossible. The Canadians were restrained from enlisting by the priests, whom Wooster had offended by his injudicious exhibition of his hatred of "popery." His prejudices were so strong, that he could hardly be civil to the Roman Catholics by whom he was surrounded, and whose friendship it was important to cultivate. The petty tyranny of Arnold offended and disgusted the nobility, who were taught by circumstances to regard his troops as intruders and a scourge, rather than deliverers, as they were considered when Montgomery was in command. The priests and nobles led all the rest, and the people held back. Had Montgomery lived, no doubt Canada would have been standing side by side with the other British-American colonies in the strife for freedom.

That Wooster, on account of his age and temperament, was unfit to command the army in Canada, all contemporary writers agree. He took personal charge of the troops at Quebec, on the first of April. They lay scattered around the town, in groups, some distance from each other, about two thousand in number, only one-half of whom were fit for duty, for the small-pox and other diseases had filled the hospitals with sick men. To dislodge the British garrison required several thousand men and a good train of artillery. These were wanting. Reinforcements from the colonies went forward tardily. The Canadians had changed from lukewarm friends into active enemies, and were gathering around the standard of Carleton. It seemed as if the little army of republicans must be captured or destroyed very speedily, when Washington, who was then at New York with a little more than eight thousand troops, sent three thousand of his best men, under General Sullivan, for service in Canada. Thomas of Massachusetts had already been commissioned a major-general and sent to take command of the troops near Quebec; for the health of Schuyler, and his important duties in relation to the Tories and Indians in the Mohawk region, would not permit him to go to the head of the troops in Canada.





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