Coincident with these preparations for a solid national existence, was the adoption of a device for a great seal - the symbol of sovereignty and authority - for the inchoate republic. A committee for the purpose was appointed on the afternoon of the 4th of July, 1776. That committee and others, from time to time, presented unsatisfactory devices. Finally, in the spring of 1782, Charles Thompson, the Secretary of Congress, gave to that body a device largely suggested to John Adams by Sir John Prestwich of England, which was made the basis of a design adopted on the 20th of June, 1782, and which is still the device of our great seal. It is composed of a spread-eagle, the emblem of strength, bearing on its breast an escutcheon with thirteen stripes alternate red and white. In his right talon he holds an olive-branch, emblem of peace, and in his left, thirteen arrows, emblems of the thirteen States, ready for war if it should be necessary. In his beak is a ribbon bearing the legend: E Pluribus Unum-"many in one" -- many States making one nation. Over the head of the eagle is a golden light breaking through a cloud surrounding thirteen stars forming a constellation on a blue field. On the reverse is an unfinished pyramid, emblematic of the unfinished republic, the building of which is still going on. In the zenith is an All-seeing Eye surrounded by light, and over the eye the word Annuit Captis--"God favors the undertaking." On the base of the pyramid, in Roman numerals, the date 1776, and below the words: "Novus ordo seclorum--"a new series of ages." So the Americans showed their faith in the stability of the structure whose foundations they had laid.
With the joyful prospect of returning peace came many shadowing forebodings of evil in the near future for the poor soldiers, when the army should be disbanded and they be compelled to seek other employment for a livelihood among the desolations caused by war. Many of them were invalids; and for a long time neither officers nor private soldiers had received any pay, for the treasury was empty, and the prospect of a continuance of the poverty of the government had produced widespread discontent in the army. The officers had been promised half-pay for life; but would that promise be fulfilled? was a question that pressed upon the minds of many. Contemplating the evidently inherent weakness of the government, many were inclined to consider it a normal condition of the republican form and to sigh for a stronger one-like that of Great Britain. This feeling became so manifest in the army, that Colonel Nicola, a foreigner by birth and of weighty character, at the head of a Pennsylvania regiment, addressed a well-written letter to Washington in May, 1782, in which, professing to speak for the army, he urged the necessity of a monarchy to secure for the Americans an efficient government and the rights of the people. He proposed to Washington to accept the headship of such a government with the title of king, and assured him that the army would support him. Possibly a budding conspiracy to that end existed in the army, but it was crushed by the stern rebuke administered by the chief in a letter to Nicola. "If I am not deceived." Washington wrote, "in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable."
Many months later discontents in the army assumed a more dangerous form. The headquarters of the army had been, during the autumn of 1782, at Verplanck's Point, on the Hudson, when the troops numbered about ten thousand men. There they formed a promised junction with the French army on their return from Virginia. From that point the latter marched to New England ports and embarked for France, and the Americans went above the Highlands and spent the ensuing winter in huts in the vicinity of Newburgh. At the latter place Washington made his quarters in a house yet standing in the southern portion of that rural city, on the brow of a slope extending to the river.
In the latter part of the winter of 1783, the discontent in the army appeared more formidable than ever. In December (1782), the officers seeing in the continued weakness and poverty of their government no apparent security for a future adjustment of the claims of the army for backpay or for the promised half-pay for a term of years for themselves, sent a respectful memorial to the Congress by the hands of General McDougall, the head of a committee appointed for the purpose, in which they asked (1) for present pay; (2) a settlement of arrearages of pay and security for what was due; (3) a commutation of the half-pay or an equivalent in gross; and (4) a settlement of the accounts of deficiencies of rations, clothing, and compensation. The Congress adopted a series of resolutions on the subject, late in January, which were not very satisfactory. Feeble in resources, they made no definite promises of present relief or future justice, and the discontents of the army were greater than before. Early in March a well-written address to the army was circulated extensively through the camps. If bore no name of author, but was calculated to stir up the spirit of revolt in the hearts of the soldiers. It advised the army to take matters into their own hands, make demonstrations of power and determination that should arouse the fears of the people and of the Congress, and so obtain justice for themselves. With this address was circulated privately a notification of a meeting of officers at a large building called The Temple, which had been erected for public meetings and a gathering-place for the Freemasons of the army.
These papers were brought to the notice of Washington on the day when they were issued, and he determined to guide and control the movement. In general orders the next morning he referred to them; expressed his disapprobation of the whole proceedings as disorderly, and requested the general and field officers, with one officer from every company in the army, to meet at the "New Building" (The Temple) on the 15th at noon. General Gates, the senior officer, was requested to preside. On the appearance of this order, the writer of the anonymous addresses issued another, more subdued in tone, in which he tried to give the impression that Washington approved the scheme, the time of meeting being changed. There was a full attendance, and deep solemnity pervaded the assembly, when the commander-in-chief stepped upon the platform to read an address which he had prepared for the occasion. As he put on his spectacles, he remarked: "You see, gentlemen, that I have not only grown gray, but blind in your service." This simple remark, under the circumstances, had a powerful effect upon the assemblage. When he had read his address, so compact in form and construction, so clear in expression and meaning, so dignified and patriotic, so mild yet so severe, and withal so vitally important in its relations to the well-being of the unfolding republic, the men before him and the army they represented, as well as the best interests of human freedom, he immediately retired and left the officers to discuss the matter unrestrained by his presence. Their conference was brief; their deliberations, short. They passed resolutions by unanimous vote thanking their chief for the course he had pursued; expressing their unabated attachment to his person and their country; declaring their unshaken confidence in the good faith of Congress, and their determination to bear with patience their grievances until, in due time, they should be redressed. These proceedings were signed by General Gates as president of the meeting; and three days afterward Washington, in general orders, expressed his entire satisfaction. All the papers relating to this affair were forwarded to the Congress and entered at length in their journals; and very soon that body took action that satisfied the army of the wisdom of Washington's proceedings at Newburg. The author of the anonymous addresses was Major John Armstrong, one of General Gates' aids, who afterward held civil offices of distinction in our national government. He was Secretary of War during a portion of the conflict between the United States and Great Britain in 1812-'15. In a letter to Armstrong many years after the events above related, Washington expressed his belief that the motives of the major were patriotic.
The great drama of the war for independence was now drawing to its close. Sir Guy Carleton was ordered to evacuate the city of New York, the only place in our republic then occupied by British troops. He was delayed by waiting for vessels to convey refugee Loyalists to Nova Scotia, who were compelled by a law of their State to leave their country and their confiscated property. Finally, the 25th of November was the day fixed for the evacuation by Carleton. Washington repaired to West Point, where Knox had stationed the remnant of the Continental Army--the remnant of two hundred and thirty thousand regulars and fifty-six thousand militia who bore arms during the war. Of all that glorious band of patriots, not one now remains. The two latest survivors were William Hutchings of Maine and Lemuel Cook of New York, who both died in the month of May, 1866, the former at the age of one hundred and one years and seven months, and the latter, one hundred and two years. The British had sent to subdue the American "rebels" one hundred and thirteen thousand troops for the land service, and more than twenty-two thousand seamen. Of the former, one of them (John Battin), died in the city of New York at the age of a little more than one hundred years.
Accompanied by Governor George Clinton and other civil officers, and escorted by a detachment of troops from West Point under General Knox, Washington, with his staff, appeared near the city of New York (at the site of the Cooper Institute), on the morning appointed for the evacuation--the city from which he and his troops had been compelled to fly more than seven years before. At one o'clock in the afternoon, when the British had withdrawn to the water's edge for embarkation, the Americans marched into the city, the General and Governor at their head, the civil officers and a cavalcade of citizens following, with the regular troops. In compliment to the governor and the civil authority the procession was escorted by West-Chester Light Horsemen, the continental jurisdiction having ceased or was suspended. Before three o'clock General Knox had taken possession of Fort George, at the foot of Broadway, amid the acclamations of thousands of citizens and the roar of artillery; when Clinton formally re-established civil government there, and closed the important transactions of the day by a public dinner.
Before the British left Fort George, they nailed their colors to the top of the flag-staff, knocked off the cleats, and "slushed" the pole from top to bottom to prevent its being climbed. When Knox took possession of the fort, John Van Arsdale, a lively sailor boy sixteen years of age, climbed the flag-staff by nailing on the cleats, tore down the British flag, and in its place unfurled the American banner of Stars and Stripes. The British hoped to leave the harbor with their flag still floating over the spot they had occupied so long, but they did not. The last sail of the British fleet that bore away the army and the Loyalists, did not disappear beyond the Narrows, before the evening twilight.
The late Dr. Alexander Anderson, the pioneer wood-engraver in America, related to me the following amusing incident of that evacuation-day. He was then a boy between eight and nine years of age, having been born three days after the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord. He was living with his parents in Murray street, near the Hudson River, then sparsely settled. Opposite his father's dwelling was a boarding-house kept by a man named Day, whose wife was a large, stout woman and zealous Whig. On the morning of evacuation-day, she ran up the American flag upon a pole in front of her house. The British claimed possession of the city until twelve o'clock at noon, and this act was offensive to them. Early in the forenoon, when young Anderson was on his father's stoop, he saw a burly red-faced British officer, in full uniform, coming down Murray street in great haste. Mrs. Day was sweeping in front of her door when the officer came up to her in a blustering manner, and in loud and angry tones ordered her to haul down the flag. She refused, when the officer seized the halyards to pull it down himself. Mrs. Day flew at him with her broomstick, and beat him so furiously over his head, that she made the powder fly from his wig. The officer stormed and swore, and tugged in vain at the halyards, which were entangled; and Mrs. Day applied her weapon so vigorously that he was soon compelled to retreat, and leave the flag of the valiant woman floating triumphantly in the keen morning breeze. The British officer was the infamous provost marshal of the army, William Cunningham, who, for seven years, had cruelly treated American prisoners under his charge in New York, and terribly oppressed some of the few Whig families who remained in that city. This inglorious attempt to capture the colors of Day Castle and the result, was the last fight between the British and Americans in the Old War for Independence.
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