Jonathan Trumbull: a satirical poem



On the 4th of June, 1778 three commissioners--the Earl of Carlisle, George Johnstone, and William Eden--sent to negotiate for peace, arrived at Philadelphia. They were accompanied by Adam Ferguson, the eminent professor in the University of Edinburgh. Directions were sent for General Howe to join them, but as he had left the country, and the army was commanded by Sir Henry Clinton, the latter took his place. The commissioners sent their credentials to the Congress by a flat. The Congress refused to treat with them, and the papers were returned to them, with a letter from the President giving reasons for the act. The commissioners tried by various arts to accomplish their purposes, but were foiled; and in October they returned to England, after issuing an angry manifesto and proclamation to the Congress, the State legislatures, and the whole inhabitants, in which they denounced the "rebels" and warned the people to beware of the righteous wrath of Great Britain.

Johnstone early lost all claims to respectful consideration, by attempting to gain by intrigue, what he could not obtain by fair means. He became acquainted with the accomplished Mrs. Ferguson, wife of a relative of the secretary of the commissioners, and daughter of Dr. Thomas Graeme of Pennsylvania. Her husband was in the British service, and she was much with the loyalists, but her conduct was so discreet, and her attachment to her country was so undoubtedly sincere, that she maintained the confidence and respect of leading patriots. Johnstone made her believe he was a warm friend of the Americans, and was exceedingly anxious to stop the effusion of blood. He expressed his belief that if a proper representation could be made to the members of Congress and other leading Whigs, peace might speedily be secured. Mrs. Ferguson sympathized with him. As he could not pass the lines himself, he entreated her to go to General Joseph Reed, and say to him that if he could, conscientiously, exert his influence to bring about a reconciliation, he might command ten thousand guineas and the highest post in the government. "That," said Mrs. Ferguson, "General Reed would consider the offer of a bribe." Johnstone disclaimed any such intention. Believing him sincere, Mrs. Ferguson sought and obtained an interview with Reed, as soon as the British left Philadelphia. When she had repeated the conversation with Johnstone, Reed indignantly replied--" I am not worth purchasing, but such as I am, the king of Great Britain is not rich enough to do it!" This attempt at bribery was soon made known, and drew upon the commissioners the scorn of all honest men. Mrs. Ferguson, whose motives seem to have been pure, was violently assailed. Trumbull, in his satire entitled "McFingal," thus alludes to the transaction:

"Behold, at Britain's utmost shifts, Comes Johnstone, loaded with like gifts, To venture through the Whiggish tribe, To cuddle, wheedle, coax and bribe; And call, to aid his desp'rate mission, His petticoated politician; While Venus, joined to act the farce, Strolls forth, embassadress of Mars. In vain he strives; for, while he lingers, Their mastiffs bite his off'ring fingers Nor buys for George and realms infernal, One spaniel but the mongrel, Arnold."





Return to Our Country, Vol II