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not be free,' will be a proverb translated into every language.” 1
These incitements and admonitions were not superfluous; for the fears which pervaded Philadelphia were fast assuming the dimensions of a panic. The Whigs were crestfallen and desponding, and profoundly distrustful of the neighbours among whom they lived. Those numerous and very influential citizens, who had opposed the Declaration of Independence, saw that an opportunity had now arrived for assailing the Revolution with such weapons as, in each respective case, their conscience permitted them to wield. The Quakers, with the courage which is never wanting to them, conspired in the face of daylight. Their Meeting for Sufferings, under date of Twelfth Month Twentieth 1776, called upon all the members of their Society to withstand the arbitrary injunctions of men who assumed to themselves the power of compelling others to take part in war, and who imposed tests not warranted by the precepts of Christ, or by the laws of that happy political constitution under which the Friends had long enjoyed tranquillity and peace. Other Loyalists,
whose bellicose intentions were not a more serious menace to the American cause than the meek, but invincible, ill-will of the Quakers, - made active preparations to rise in arms as soon as the British should come within striking distance of the Pennsylvanian capital. These people had skated up and down the Delaware, as boys and men, almost every winter of their lives; and they confidently anticipated that the first hard frost would bring Cornwallis and his infantry dry-footed across the river. The condition of the streets was so alarming that General Israel Putnam, whom Washington had placed over the city as military Governor, gave orders that any of the inhabitants who appeared abroad after ten o'clock at night should be arrested and detained. Putnam's ostensible mission was to
1 Hampden to the Associators of Pennsylvania ; Epaminondas to the people of Pennsylvania ; November, and December, 1776.
fortify the approaches to the suburbs with a line of earthworks; but the real motive of his appointment was a hope that his vigour and popularity might do something to restore public confidence, - a confidence which there is reason to believe that the old general himself was very far from sharing.
A report had been diligently put about that, rather than surrender Philadelphia to the British, the Continental troops would destroy the town. Washington judged it necessary publicly to refute the story; and, by his direction, Putnam announced that he should consider an attempt to burn the city as a crime of the blackest dye, and would punish capitally, without ceremony, any incendiary who had "the hardiness and cruelty" to engage in such an enterprise.
Scared by the alarm of fire, and by the more imminent probability of a visitation from the Hessians, families of all ranks loaded waggons with their furniture, and fled forth into the comparative security of the rural districts. Apprehension, and even despair, affected some who ought to have been proof against the contagion ; and more especially certain politicians who, ever since Philadelphia was in danger of attack, had been inditing heroic letters, and making very gallant speeches. A great deal had been said and written about those Conscript Fathers who sate in their porches awaiting the irruption of the Gauls; and about the sale of the plot of land on which Hannibal was encamped outside the walls of Rome, - that celebrated auction to which, in the course of the last two thousand years, approving reference has so often been made by people who, had they been alive at the time, would have been the very last to come forward as bidders. On the tenth of December, Congress solemnly resolved to defend the
1 Ambrose Serle, in a letter to Lord Dartmouth of December 3, 1776, reported some remarks which Putnam, while lodging in the house of a rich New Jersey Loyalist, was said to have made concerning the hopeless situation of the Revolutionary army.
2 Order of December 13, 1776.
Federal Capital with all the force that could be mustered, and fell valiantly to the work of assembling and organising à garrison. On the eleventh of the month, they invited the several States to appoint, each for itself, a day of fasting and humiliation. During the same sitting they carried a Resolution denouncing as "false and malicious" a rumour that they were about to disperse, or adjourn, from Philadelphia; and they requested the Commander-in-Chief to publish their denial of the calumny in a General Order to his army. Washington declined to adopt their suggestion in a letter marked by admirable good sense, which he certainly did not find cause to regret having written. After another interval of just twenty-four hours, the very few Members of Congress who still were attending to their duties voted an adjournment, and next day transferred themselves southward to Baltimore; leaving Robert Morris, and two others of their number, to act for them in Pennsylvania. Their departure accentuated the terror in the city, and was very ill taken by the army. “For God's sake,” (asked an indignant Colonel,) "why did you remove from Philadelphia ? You have given an invitation to the enemy, and have discovered a timidity that dispirits our friends. A good face among men in power keeps up the spirits of the people; and one cheerful countenance may do wonders. I have run off with complaints, and am led to make them by the damned gloomy countenances seen wherever I go, except among the soldiers."' 2
On the other side in politics soldiers, and civilians as
Washington respectfully, but very clearly, explained to the President of Congress why the Members should not have made their staying or going, the subject of a Resolution. “Their remaining in, or leaving, Philadelphia must be governed by circumstances and events. If their departure should become necessary, it will be right. On the other hand, if there should not be a necessity for it, they will remain, and their continuance will show the report to be the production of calumny and falsehood.” Washington to the President of Congress ; Trenton Falls, December 12, 1776.
2 Colonel Cadwalader to Robert Morris ; December 15, 1776.
well, wore beaming faces, and were liberal in their exultation over the prospect of a triumph which now seemed fairly within their grasp. There had been one short period of the campaign when the Loyalists were nervous and uneasy; but, in the main, they had all along made sure of victory. "The whole say and desire of the army,” (wrote a Queen's Ranger in September,)“ is to have the rebels stand their ground; and the jig will be at an end.” As time went forward, and the Americans were decidedly worsted, partisans of the Crown began to speak as if serious fighting was over, and the hour of retribution had already sounded. Every door in New York, behind which there was a family in sympathy with rebellion, had long ago been marked with a broad R; and the Tories of the city promised that an example should soon be made of the inmates. On the second of December an English field-officer wrote home that Mr. Washington had been seen retreating with two brigades to Trenton, which he talked of defending; but that the revolutionists were in such a panic that no part of New Jersey could hold them, and it would require very little pressure to make them evacuate Philadelphia. “The Congress," this gentleman added, “consists now of only seven members; and they are in such consternation that they know not what to do. The two Adamses are in New England; Franklin has gone to France; Lynch has lost his senses; Ruttledge has gone home disgusted; so that the fools have lost the assistance of the knaves. However, should they embrace the enclosed proclamation, they may yet escape the halter." In England it was very generally believed that the flame of colonial resistance was flickering out, and might at any moment sink into ashes. Even Horace Walpole, who always read his news in a light the most unfavourable to the policy of the Cabinet, allowed that the Americans must submit to such terms as they could obtain unless France, without reserve or hesitation, interposed for their benefit. Edmund Burke
1 Walpole to Mann ; December 20, 1776.
knew the Stock Exchange, not altogether from the outside; and he was already watching for the moment when the collapse of the American cause should be signified to the London world by an upward leap in the price of Consols which would fill the pockets of speculators favoured with private information from Downing Street. Government, (he said,) would no doubt make the fortunes of all their creatures by imparting to them the earliest intelligence.1
The sky was very black, and hope had almost died out from the hearts of Americans, when of a sudden the light broke forth in a most unlikely quarter of their gloomy horizon. A people observant of anniversaries, the best of whom retained the old belief that their national welfare and security did not depend on their own exertions, but were in the keeping of a higher power, - might well have marked the thirteenth of December with a white stone in their calendar; for that day was signalised by two events which, to a New Englander of four generations back, must have presented every appearance of special providences. Then, for the first time, General Howe disclosed to those about him his intention of suspending further military operations until the spring came. He distributed the greater part of his army into winter quarters throughout the northern counties of New Jersey; he covered his front with a line of detachments which, during the next fortnight, was admiringly described by military critics as a strong and impenetrable "chain of posts; and he himself withdrew to New York City, taking Lord Cornwallis with him. Intelligent Loyalists, even such as were not professional soldiers, then and thereafter were unanimous in accounting that fatal resolution as the death-blow of their party. American Whigs, – when they came to understand the full consequences of the step which Howe had taken, — were not disposed censoriously to examine his motives for a course of action which was so exactly to their own mind; but
1 Edmund Burke to Richard Champion ; January 1777.