The foregoing chapters bear ample testimony how heartily I have sympathized with our elder brother colonists of America, in their conception and manly advocacy and defense of their constitutional rights as British subjects; how faithfully I have narrated their wrongs and advocated their rights, and how utterly I have abhorred the despotic conduct of George the Third, and of his corrupt Ministers and mercenary and corrupted Parliament, in their unscrupulous efforts to wrest from the American colonists the attributes and privileges of British freemen, and to convert their lands, with their harbours and commerce, into mere plantations and instruments to enrich the manufacturers and merchants of England, and provide places of honour and emolument for the scions and protegees of the British aristocracy and Parliament.
But I cannot sympathize with, much less defend, the leaders of the old American colonists in the repudiating what they had professed from their forefathers; in avowing what they had for many years denied; in making their confiding and distinguished defenders in the British Parliament--the Chathams, Camdens, Sherburnes, the Foxes, Burkes, and Cavendishes--liars in presence of all Europe; in deliberately practising upon their fellow-colonists what they had so loudly complained of against the King and Parliament of Great Britain; in seeking the alliance of a Power which had sought to destroy them for a hundred years, against the land of their forefathers which had protected them during that hundred years, and whose Administration had wronged and sought to oppress them for only twelve years.
After many years of anxious study and reflection, I have a strong conviction that the Declaration of American Independence, in 1776, was a great mistake in itself, a great calamity to America as well as to England, a great injustice to many thousands on both sides of the Atlantic, a great loss of human life, a great blow to the real liberties of mankind, and a great impediment to the highest Christian and Anglo-Saxon civilization among the nations of the world.
In this summary statement of opinion--so contrary to the sentiments of American historians and to popular feeling in the United States--I mean no reflection on the motives, character, patriotism, and abilities of those great men who advocated and secured the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in the General Congress of 1776. I believe America has never produced a race of statesmen equal in purity of character, in comprehensiveness of views, in noble patriotism and moral courage, to "the Fathers of the American Revolution." Their discussions of public questions, during the eleven years which preceded the Declaration of Independence, evince a clearness of discernment, an accuracy of statement, a niceness of distinction, a thorough knowledge of the principles of government, and the mutual relation of colonies and the parent State, elegance of diction, and force of argument, not surpassed in discussions of the kind in any age or country; their diplomatic correspondence displays great superiority in every respect over the English statesmen of the day, who sought to oppress them; the correspondence of Washington with General Gage commanded alike the admiration of Europe and the gratitude of America; the memorials and other public papers transmitted to England by the American Congress, and written by Jay and other members, drew forth from the Earl of Chatham, in the House of Lords, January 20th, 1775, the following eulogy: "When your lordships look at the papers transmitted to us from America--when you consider their decency, firmness, and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must avow that in all my reading--and I have read Thucydides, and have studied and admired the master States of the world--for solidity of reason, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion under a complication of difficult circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia. The histories of Greece and Rome give us nothing equal to it, and all attempts to impose servitude upon such a mighty continental nation must be vain."
"We shall be forced ultimately to retract; let us retract while we can, not when we must. These violent Acts must be repealed; you will repeal them; I pledge myself for it, I stake my reputation on it, that you will in the end repeal them."
(Those violent Acts were repealed three years afterwards.)
When the Earl of Shelburne read the reply, written by Jefferson, of the Virginia Legislature, to Lord North's proposition, his Lordship said: "In my life, I was never more pleased with a State paper than with the Assembly of Virginia's discussion of Lord North's proposition. It is masterly. But what I fear is that the evil is irretrievable."
Among the statesmanlike productions of that period, the correspondence of Franklin, the masterly letters of Dickenson, the letters and State papers of Samuel and John Adams, Jay and Livingstone, and of many others, exhibit a scholarly race of statesmen and writers of whom any nation or age might be proud.
But it must not be forgotten that the education of every one of these great men, and their training in public affairs, was under English constitutional government, for which every one of them (except Samuel Adams) expressed their unqualified admiration, and to which they avowed their unswerving attachment to within twelve months of the declaration of independence. Though the United States can boast of many distinguished scholars and politicians and jurists, I believe American democracy has never produced a generation of scholarly, able, and stainless statesmen, such as those who had received the whole of their mental, moral, and political training when America formed a part of the British empire.
It is not surprising, indeed, that the major part (for they were not unanimous) of so noble and patriotic a class of statesmen should, by the wicked policy and cruel measures against them by the worst administration of government that ever ruled England, be betrayed into an act which they had so many years disavowed. Placing, as they rightly did, in the foreground the civil and religious liberties of Englishmen as the first ingredient of the elements of political greatness and social progress, they became exasperated into the conviction that the last and only effective means of maintaining those liberties was to sever their connection with England altogether, and declare their own absolute independence. We honour the sentiments and courage which prompted them to maintain and defend their liberties; we question not the purity and patriotism of their motives in declaring independence as the means of securing those liberties; but we must believe that, had they maintained the integrity of their professions and positions for even a twelvemonth longer, they would have achieved all for which they had contended, would have become a free and happy country, as Canada now is, beside the mother country and not in antagonism to her, maintaining inviolate their national life and traditions, instead of forming an alliance for bloody warfare with their own former and their mother country's hereditary enemies.
It was unnatural and disgraceful for the British Ministry to employ German mercenaries and savage Indians to subdue the American colonists to unconditional obedience; but was it less unnatural for the colonists themselves to seek and obtain the alliance of the King of France, whose government was a despotism, and who had for a hundred years sought to destroy the colonists, had murdered them without mercy, and employed by high premiums the Indians to butcher and scalp men, women, and children of the colonists--indeed, to "drive them into the sea," and to exterminate them from the soil of America? Yet with such enemies of civil and religious liberty, with such enemies of their own liberties, and even their existence as Anglo-Saxons, the colonists sought and obtained an alliance against the mother country, which had effectually, and at an immense expenditure, defended them against the efforts of both France and Spain to destroy them. Had the American colonists maintained the position and professions after 1776, as they had maintained them before 1776, presenting the contrast of their own integrity and unity and patriotism to the perfidious counsels, mercenary and un-English policy of the British Ministry and Parliament, they would have escaped the disastrous defeats and bloodshed of 1777-8, and would have repeated the victories which they had gained over the English soldiers in 1775 and the early part of 1776. Unprepared and sadly deficient in arms and ammunition, they repulsed the regular English soldiers sent against them at Concord, at Lexington, at Bunker's Hill; they had shut up as prisoners the largest English army ever sent to New England, and, though commanded by such generals as Howe and Clinton, compelled their evacuation of the city of Boston. In the Southern States they had routed the English forces, and had compelled the Governors of Virginia and South and North Carolina to take refuge on board of English men-of-war. Before the declaration of independence, the colonists fought with the enthusiasm of Englishmen for Englishmen's rights, and the British soldiers fought without heart against their fellow-subjects contending for what many of both the soldiers and officers knew to be rights dear to all true Englishmen; but when the Congress of the American colonies declared themselves to be no longer Englishmen, no longer supporters of the constitutional rights of Englishmen, but separationists from England, and seeking alliance with the enemies of England, then the English army felt that they were fighting against enemies and not fellow-subjects, and fought with an energy and courage which carried disaster, in almost every instance, to the heretofore united but now divided colonists, until France and Spain came to their assistance.