Page images

ed to make them doubt at least, whether congress were not trifling with the public, on so interesting and important a subject.

“Let it be remembered,” they remarked, “ that paper money is the only kind of money, which cannot 'make unto itself wings and fly away.' It remains with us, it will not forsake us, it is always ready and at hand for the purpose of commerce or taxes, and every industrious man can find it."*

The continued failures of the states to comply with the requisitions made upon them, and the increasing wants of the country, increased the issues, (notwithstanding the resolution of congress to the contrary,) to more than three hundred millions; and the idea of redeeming the bills at their nominal value, was at length abandoned. In March, 1780, the states were required to bring them in at forty for one. The bills when brought in were to be cancelled, and new ones to issue in lieu of them, not exceeding one twentieth part of their nominal amount. The new bills were to be redeemable in six years, to bear an interest of five per cent., to be issued on the credit of the individual states, and their payment guarantied by the United States.

The new system of finance was equally unavailing. The old bills were not brought in, and of course few new ones issued. The general treasury was empty, the army without pay or clothing, and often without provisions. The states were called upon for supplies in specific articles. To keep the army together, congress were obliged to raise money, by drawing bills on their ministers in Europe, without any assurance of their payment.

The continental bills, at last, became of so little value, that they ceased to circulate ; and in the course of the year 1780, quietly died in the hands of the possessors.

In addition to this, the campaign of 1780, was unfortunate for America. The cities of Charleston and Savannah were taken, and the states of South Carolina and Georgia, were in possession of the enemy. In this situation, congress had no other means of providing for the next campaign, but foreign loans. To obtain these, they, on the 22d of November, addressed a letter to their

* Journals of Congress, vol. 5, pp. 262, 266.

ally the king of France, stating their embarrassments, and declaring that a foreign loan of, at least, twenty-five millions of livres, was indispensably necessary, for a vigorous prosecution of the war.* Dr. Franklin was specially instructed, “ to employ his unremitted and utmost abilities,” to procure the aids required. At no time since the campaign of 1776, had the affairs of the United States worn so gloomy an aspect, as at the close of this year. General Washington, in a circular letter to the governors of the states, in October, says, “our finances are in an alarming state of derangement. The public credit is almost arrived at its last stage. The people begin to be dissatisfied with the feeble mode of conducting the war, and with the ineffectual burdens imposed on them, which, though light in comparison with what other nations feel, are from their novelty heavy to them. They lose their confidence in government apace.”

The absolute necessity of obtaining foreign loans, induced congress, in December, 1780, to send a special minister to France. Col. John Laurens, one of the aids of general Washington, and son of Henry Laurens, then a prisoner in the tower of London, was selected for this important mission.

He repaired to Paris, in the winter of 1781. Before his arrival, in consequence of the letter of congress and the solicitations of Dr. Franklin, promises of assistance had been made by the French court. The delay, however, in fulfilling these promises, ill accorded with the high and ardent feelings of the young American envoy. Knowing the pressing wants of his country, and the necessity of immediate aid, if afforded at all, after a delay of more than two months, he determined at the next levee day, to present in person, a memorial to the king, though directly contrary to the forms of court.

In conversation with Vergennes, on the morning of the day, on which he intended to present his memorial to the king, he expostulated with him, on delaying the promised aid, in such warm and bold language, that the minister replied. “Col. Lau

[blocks in formation]


rens, you are so recently from the head quarters of the American army, that you forget you are no longer delivering the orders of the commander in chief, but addressing the minister of a monarch, who has every disposition to favor your country.” “Favor, Sir!" rejoined Laurens, “ the respect which I owe my country will not admit the term-say the object of my mission is of mutual interest to our respective nations, and I subscribe the obligations; but as the most conclusive argument I can address to your excellency, the sword which I now carry, in defense of France, as well as of my own country, unless the succor I solicit is speedily accorded, I may be compelled to draw against France, as a British subject.”

He presented his memorial to the king, on the same day. It was graciously received, and no doubt, was the means of hastening the promised succors.*

The king gave the United States, by way of subsidy, six millions of livres, and furnished a further sum, by way of loan.

Applications for loans in Holland had hitherto been unsuccessful. The Hollanders either distrusted the security, or were unwilling to incur the resentment of Great Britain, by lending the Americans money, to enable them to carry on the war.

His most christian majesty had, through his minister at the Hague, offered his assistance to the Americans in procuring loans in that country, but without effect. The king of France now engaged to become himself accountable for the sums which might be furnished. In consequence of this, and the exertions of Mr. Adams, a loan of ten millions of livres was obtained in Holland. The demands upon the French treasury from America, induced Vergennes to inform congress, that they must not expect future pecuniary aid from France. In a letter of the 11th of May, 1781, he said, he thought it his duty “freely and openly to declare, that the moment is come, not to spend the time in expectation, deliberation and useless exhortations : that though he would wish to avoid every disagreeable intimation, friendship

* See an account of this transaction given by Major Jackson, secretary to Laurens, in No. 2, of the American Quarterly Review, p. 426.

and common interest obliged France to speak without reserve and with perfect sincerity: that the king has done, on this occasion, what he can do no more: that congress, if well informed of the situation of his majesty's affairs, would be sensible that an exertion like the present cannot be repeated; and that the court would feel the deepest concern, if it was under the disagreeable but indispensable necessity of refusing the demands of an ally whose case is now become his own."*

While congress were soliciting foreign aid, they felt the necessity of a more complete and efficient arrangement of their civil departments at home. In January, 1781, they established an office for the department of foreign affairs, at the head of which was placed a person to be styled, “ secretary of foreign affairs.” In February following, they also determined to appoint a superintendant of finance, and secretaries of war and marine. The office of superintendant of finance was at that time, particularly necessary. This officer was directed to examine into the public debts, the public expenditures and the public revenue-to digest and report plans for improving and regulating the finances, and for establishing order and economy in the expenditures of the public money—to direct the execution of all plans, which should be adopted by congress respecting revenue and expenditures—to superintend and control the settlement of all public accounts—to direct and control all persons employed in procuring supplies for the public service, and in the expenditures of public money-to obtain accounts of all the specific supplies furnished be the several states—to compel the payment of all monies due to the United States, and in his official character, or in such manner as the laws of the states might direct, to prosecute, in behalf of the United States, for all delinquencies repecting the public revenue and expenditures. Robert Morriss, an eminent merchant of Philadelphia, was soon after appointed to this important office, and in the course of the year, Robert R. Livingston was made secretary of foreign affairs, and Benjamin Lincoln secretary of war.

To aid the finanical operations of the country, * Secret Journals of Congress, vol. 3, p. 37.

Mr. Morriss, in May, submitted to congress a plan for a national bank, with a capital of 400,000 dollars. It was approved by congress, and they engaged that the subscribers should be incorporated by the name of " the president and directors of the bank of North America,” as soon as the subscription should be filled. They, at the same time, made the bills of the bank receivable in payment of all taxes, duties and debts due the United States ; and recommended to the individual states to punish those who should counterfeit the bills, and to provide that no other bank should be established during the war. In December, 1781, this bank, being the first in the United States, was incorporated, and went into successful operation. A considerable part of the money obtained in France, by Mr. Laurens, was brought into the United States in specie; and by these timely aids, and the united efforts of the allies, the military operations in America were brought to a close, in October of this year, by the capture of the British army at Yorktown.

The deranged situation of the American finances, added to the innumerable calamities necessarily incident to a state of war, produced unparalleled distress among all classes of citizens, but particularly those belonging to the army. The soldiers were not only paid in paper, worth little or nothing, but were often left entirely destitute of necessary clothing and provisions; and nothing but their unexampled patience and patriotism, with the influence of their beloved commander, could have so long kept them together.

A particular narrative of their sufferings, does not fall within our prescribed limits. Yet it ought never to be forgotten, that while general Howe and his army, in the winter of 1778, were enjoying ease and plenty, in the elegant and comfortable mansions of Philadelphia, general Washington and his troops, took up their winter quarters in a neighboring forest, in temporary log huts, built by themselves; the men half naked, and often without provisions. That their march to this place of cantonment could be traced by the blood from their naked feet. Their hardships and their patience under them, are thus described by general Washington, Vol. II.


« PreviousContinue »