The more we look into the events of the war, the more, perhaps, shall we be convinced that it resolves itself into a duel between two men who never saw each other in the flesh, Washington and George III.
Continuing How the American Revolutionary War Ended,
our selection from War of American Independence by John M. Ludlow published in 1876. The selection is presented in 6 easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in How the American Revolutionary War Ended.
But the early resort to the aid of German mercenaries showed that this popularity was only skin-deep — that the heart of the masses was not engaged in the war. The very employment of these mercenaries, as well as of the Indian auxiliaries of the royal forces, tended to lower the character of the war in English eyes. When Chatham, in his scathing invectives, would speak of the Ministers’ “traffic and barter with every little pitiful German prince that sells and sends his subjects to the shambles,” or of their sending “the infidel savage — against whom? against your Protestant brethren, to lay waste their country, to desolate their dwellings, and extirpate their race and name,” he might not carry with him the votes of the House of Lords, but his words would burn their way into English hearts. That the war with the American colonies themselves was repugnant to the deepest feelings of the nation is proved by contrast through the sudden burst of warlike spirit which followed (1778-1779) on the outbreak of war with France and Spain. A few days before the French treaty with America was known, Horace Walpole had written to Mason that the new levies “don’t come, consequently they will not go.” By July of the same year he writes to Sir Horace Mann, “The country is covered with camps.” In 1776 the King had reviewed the Guards on Wimbledon Common, and pulled off his hat to them before their departure for America. He had now (1779) to review volunteers. The passionate interest which is henceforth taken in so much of the struggle as is carried on with foreign foes, Keppel’s scarcely deserved popularity, the riotous popular joy on his acquittal, the outburst of universal rejoicing over Rodney’s victories, show a totally different temper to that brought out by either victory or defeat in what was now felt to be a dread civil war with our American kinsmen.
Hence it was, no doubt, that after the surrender of Yorktown, hostilities were practically at an end with America, while the naval warfare with France and Spain was carried on for another twelvemonth, and that the signing of provisional articles of peace with the United States preceded by two months that of similar articles with France and Spain, the armistice with Holland being of still later date. It may even be conjectured that the outbreak of war with France and Spain, instead of incensing the mind of the English people against the Americans, rather gave different objects to their angry passions, and tended to diminish their bitterness toward the colonists. It must have been a kind of relief to Englishmen to find themselves fighting once more against those whom they considered hereditary enemies, against men who did not speak their own mother-tongue; and the wholly unprovoked character of these foreign hostilities would soften men’s feelings toward the stubbornness of those colonists of their own blood, who after all asked only to be left alone. It is moreover observable that when peace came, though it upset the Shelburne ministry, yet that of the coalition which succeeded it was most unpopular, and addresses came pouring in from counties and towns to thank the King for making the peace.
Substantially indeed — although colonial independence would no doubt have been achieved sooner or later — the more we look into the events of the war of 1775-1783, the more, perhaps, shall we be convinced that it resolves itself into a duel between two men who never saw each other in the flesh, Washington and George III.
Take Washington out of the history on the American side, and it is impossible to conceive of American success. It is barely possible that under Greene — the one general after Washington’s own heart, who wrote to him from his command in the South, “We fight, get beaten, and fight again” — the army itself might have been commanded with an ability which would enable it to withstand its British opponents. But neither Greene nor any other general possessed that weight of personal character which fixed the trust of Congress and people on Washington, maintained him in authority through all reverses, and enabled him to criticize with such unflinching frankness the measures of Congress.
Take, on the other hand, George III out of the history on the British side, and it is beyond question that if the war had ever broken out, it would have been put a stop to long before its ultimate failure. In him alone is to be found the real center of resistance to American independence. It is now well known that at least from the beginning of 1778, if not from the end of 1775, Lord North was anxious to resign, and desirous of conciliation, and that it was only through the King’s constant appeals to his sense of honor, not to “desert” him, that the minister was prevailed upon to remain in office. “Till I see things change to a more favorable position,” the King wrote to Lord North as late as May 19, 1780, “I shall not feel at liberty to grant your resignation”; and it was only on March 20, 1781, that Lord North at last compelled his master to accept it. Three ideas were fixed in the King’s mind, the first of which was a delusion, the second a mistake, and the third contrary to all principles of constitutional government.
First, he had persuaded himself that the country was radically opposed to American independence. In January, 1778, he opposes conciliatory measures, “lest they should dissatisfy this country, which so cheerfully and handsomely carries on the contest.” In the autumn of that year he is certain that “if ministers show that they never will consent to the independence of America, the cry will be strong in their favor.” Two years later he “can never suppose this country so far lost to all ideas of self-importance as to be willing to grant American independence.”
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