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from The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

by James Parton

Boston: James R. Osgood, 1864.

Part 5

CHAPTER V.

THE CONFERENCE WITH LORD HOWE.


 


            LORD HOWE reappears in our narrative. From the chapter in which that nobleman has already figured, some irreverent readers may have derived the impression that his zeal in behalf of America, and his sister's also, was owing, in part, to his wish for an advantageous appointment. That virtuous desire was gratified one year after the discontinuance of the negotiations with Dr. Franklin; when he was appointed admiral of the king's naval forces in America, and joint commissioner with his brother, General William Howe, to grant pardons to such of the American rebels as should lay down their arms and renew their allegiance to the king.

            He arrived off Sandy Hook on the twelfth of July, with the great fleet to which allusion has just been made. He sent on shore a packet addressed to each of the royal governors, containing a copy of a document which, being addressed to no one in particular, he styled a Declaration. This was nothing more than an announcement, that himself and his brother had been endowed by a gracious king with power to grant pardons both to individuals and to whole colonies. This Declaration the royal governors were commanded to distribute as widely as possible among a deluded people. The worthy admiral (a great sailor, though an unskillful politician), who was sincerely desirous of restoring peace to his country, cherished the expectation of being aided in the work of pacification by his old friend, Dr. Franklin. The English friends of Franklin had availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by Lord Howe's appointment, to send over to him letters, parcels, and books, which the admiral dispatched on shore by the boat which conveyed his Declaration, and, at the same time, sent to Dr. Franklin a very civil letter:

            "I cannot, my worthy friend," wrote the admiral, "permit the letters and parcels (which I have sent in the state I received them) to be landed, without adding a word upon the subject of the injurious extremities in which our unhappy differences have engaged us. You will learn the nature of my mission from the official dispatches, which I have recommended to be forwarded by the same conveyance. Retaining all the earnestness I ever expressed to see our differences accommodated, I shall conceive, if I meet with the disposition in the colonies I was once taught to expect, the most flattering hopes of proving serviceable in the objects of the king's paternal solicitude, by promoting the establishment of lasting peace and union with the colonies. But, if the deep-rooted prejudices of America, and the necessity for preventing her trade from passing into foreign channels, must keep us still a divided people, I shall, from every private as well as public motive, most heartily lament that this is not the moment wherein those great objects of my ambition are to be attained; and that I am to be longer deprived of an opportunity to assure you personally of the regard with which I am your sincere and faithful humble servant."

            Congress received Lord Howe's Declaration, and Dr. Franklin received his letter, by the same carrier. The retort of Congress to the Declaration was spirited and wise; they merely ordered the publication of the document in the newspapers, "that the few who still remain suspended by a hope founded either in the justice or moderation of their late king, may now at length be convinced that the valor alone of their country is to save its liberties." Dr. Franklin submitted his letter to Congress, who, after a day's deliberation, "Resolved, that Dr. Franklin may, if he thinks proper, return a reply to the letter he received from Lord Howe." He did think proper.  Having written a reply, he either read it to Congress, or showed it to so many of the members, that the whole body was perfectly acquainted with its contents. The more decided patriots appear to have relished it exceedingly, and even Mr. Joseph Reed thought it "most excellent," and wished it had been in his power to take a copy of it. This letter, once so celebrated throughout Europe and America, ought, I think, to have place here:

            "My Lord: I received safe the letters your lordship so kindly forwarded to me, and beg you to accept my thanks.

            "The official dispatches, to which you refer me, contain nothing more than what we had seen in the act of Parliament, viz., offers of pardon upon submission, which I am sorry to find, as it must give your lordship pain to be sent so far on so hopeless a business.

            "Directing pardons to be offered the colonies, who are the very parties injured, expresses indeed that opinion of our ignorance,  baseness, and insensibility, which your uninformed and proud nation has long been pleased to entertain of us; but it can have no other effect than that of increasing our resentment. It is impossible we should think of submission to a government that has with the most wanton barbarity and cruelty burnt our defenseless towns in the midst of winter, excited the savages to massacre our farmers, and our slaves to murder their masters, and is even now bringing foreign mercenaries to deluge our settlements with blood. These atrocious injuries have extinguished every remaining spark of affection for that parent country we once held so dear; but, were it possible for us to forget and forgive them, it is not possible for you (I mean the British nation) to forgive the people you have so heavily injured. You can never confide again in those as fellow subjects, and permit them to enjoy equal freedom, to whom you know you have given such just cause of lasting enmity: And this must impel you, were we again under your government, to endeavor the breaking our spirit by the severest tyranny, and obstructing, by every means in your power, our growing strength and prosperity.

            "But your lordship mentions 'The king's paternal solicitude for promoting the establishment of lasting peace and union with the colonies.' If by peace is here meant a peace to be entered into between Britain and America, as distinct states now at war, and his majesty has given your lordship powers to treat with us of such a peace, I may venture to say, though without authority, that I think a treaty for that purpose not yet quite impracticable, before we enter into foreign alliances. But I am persuaded you have no such powers. Your nation, though, by punishing those American governors who have created and fomented the discord, rebuilding our burnt towns, and repairing as far as possible the mischiefs done us, might yet recover a great share of our regard, and the greatest part of our growing commerce, with all the advantage of that additional strength to be derived from a friendship with us; but I know too well her abounding pride and deficient wisdom, to believe she will ever take such salutary measures. Her fondness for conquest, as a warlike nation, her lust of dominion, as an ambitious one, and her thirst for a gainful monopoly, as a commercial one (none of them legitimate causes of war), will all join to hide from her eyes every view of her true interests, and continually goad her on in those ruinous distant expeditions, so destructive both of lives and treasure, that must prove as pernicious to her in the end, as the crusades formerly were to most of the nations of Europe.

            "I have not the vanity, my lord, to think of intimidating by thus predicting the effects of this war; for I know it will in England have the fate of all my former predictions, not to be believed till the event shall verify it.

            "Long did I endeavor, with unfeigned and unwearied zeal, to preserve from breaking that fine and noble China vase, the British empire; for I knew that, being once broken, the separate parts could not retain even their share of the strength or value that existed in the whole, and that a perfect reunion of those parts could scarce ever be hoped for. Your lordship may possibly remember the tears of joy that wet my cheek, when, at your good sister's in London,  you once gave me expectations that a reconciliation might soon take place. I had the misfortune to find those expectations disappointed, and to be treated as the cause of the mischief I was laboring to prevent. My consolation under that groundless and malevolent treatment was, that I retained the friendship of many wise and good men in that country, and among the rest, some share in the regard of Lord Howe.

            "The well-founded esteem, and permit me to say, affection, which I shall always have for your lordship, makes it painful to me to see you engaged in conducting a war, the great ground of  which, as expressed in your letter, is 'the necessity of preventing the American trade from passing into foreign channels.' To me it seems, that neither the obtaining or retaining of any trade, how valuable soever, is an object for which men may justly spill each other's blood; that the true and sure means of extending and securing commerce, is the goodness and cheapness of commodities; and that the profit of no trade can ever be equal to the expense of compelling it, and of holding it, by fleets and armies.

            "I consider this war against us, therefore, as both unjust and unwise; and I am persuaded that cool, dispassionate posterity will condemn to infamy those who advised it; and that even success will not save from some degree of dishonor those who voluntarily engaged to conduct it. I know your great motive in coming hither was the hope of being instrumental in a reconciliation: and I believe, when you find that impossible on any terms given you to propose, you will relinquish so odious a command, and return to a more honorable private station."

            This letter was delivered to Lord Howe ten days after its date, on board his flag ship in the harbor of New York, by Colonel Palfrey of the American army, who went on board to arrange a plan for the exchange of naval prisoners. Colonel Palfrey saw the good-natured Admiral read the letter. "I watched his countenance,” he wrote the next day to Mr. Hancock, "and observed him often to exhibit marks of surprise. When he had finished reading it he said his old friend had expressed himself very warmly; that when he had the pleasure of seeing him in England, he made him acquainted with his sentiments respecting the dispute between Great Britain and the colonies, and with his earnest desire that a reconciliation might take place, equally honorable and advantageous to both. Possessed of these sentiments, and the most ardent desire to be the means of effecting this union, he had accepted the honor the king had done him in appointing him one of the commissioners; and that unfortunately a long passage prevented his arriving here before the Declaration of Independence. I told him he had now a fair opportunity to mention to his friend, Dr. Franklin, in a private letter, his design in coming out, and what his expectations from America were. This he declined, saying that the Doctor had grown too warm, and if he expressed his sentiments fully to him, he should only give him pain, which he would wish to avoid."

            Three weeks later Lord Howe wrote again to Dr. Franklin, on terms of perfect civility, regretting that he was not to have the advantage of Dr. Franklin's assistance, and professing for him an unabated esteem. To this letter it was not the intention of Franklin to reply, since some members of Congress did not approve his corresponding with a public enemy. Events went their course, meanwhile. The battle of Long Island was fought, and the result was discouraging to the Americans, though far from being decisive of the campaign. If the American army had suffered a partial defeat, its honor had been saved by the gallantry of some of the regiments, and the skillful retreat to New York, where it was still formidable. The moment was deemed by Lord Howe extremely favorable for negotiation, since both sides were still powerful, and either of them could concede much without the concession seeming to be the result of intimidation. He, therefore, paroled General Sullivan, one of the prisoners of war, and sent him to Philadelphia, charged with a verbal message to Congress.

            September the second, Congress having been notified of General Sullivan's arrival and errand, ordered him to appear before them and deliver his message. He obeyed both commands. Congress then ordered him to reduce the message to writing, which he did, and presented it on the following day; to this effect:

"Lord Howe could not at present treat with Congress, as such; yet he desired to confer with some of its members, whom he would regard as private gentlemen, and meet at any place they might appoint. He and his brother had full powers to arrange an accommodation on terms advantageous to both countries, the obtaining of which had detained him in England two months, so that he did not arrive in America until after the Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, if Congress were disposed to treat, many things which they had not yet even asked might and ought to be granted them, and the authority of Congress itself recognized."

            Such was the purport of the message brought by General Sullivan. Warm and long debates followed its delivery. John Adams was of opinion, to use his own language, "that the whole affair of the commission was a bubble, an ambuscade, a mere insidious maneuver, calculated only to decoy and deceive," and that no notice whatever ought to be taken of it. After a debate which occupied parts of three days, Congress agreed to the following: "Resolved, That General Sullivan be requested to inform Lord Howe, that this Congress, being the representatives of the free and independent States of America, cannot, with propriety, send any of its members to confer with his lordship in their private characters, but that, ever desirous of establishing peace on reasonable terms, they will send a committee of their body to know whether he has any authority to treat with persons authorized by Congress for that purpose on behalf of America, and what that authority is, and to hear such propositions as be shall think fit to make respecting the same."

            Dr. Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge were elected the Committee. Mr. Adams wrote to one of his friends: "All sides agreed in sending me;" both the stanch and intrepid friends of Independence, and his own political opponents, all "pushed for me, that as little evil might come of it as possible." Dr. Franklin now answered Lord Howe's last letter, and named "the governor’s house at Amboy, or the house on Staten Island, opposite to Amboy," as places suitable for the conference. Lord Howe preferred the house on Staten Island, and agreed to send a boat to Amboy with a flag of truce, and convey the committee to the island.

            What a graphic and entertaining narrative Mr. Adams has given us of the two days' journey of the committee from Philadelphia to Amboy -- himself on horseback, and his companions in chairs! The second night they lodged at an inn in New Brunswick, whither were marching bodies of troops for General Washington's army, to help hold New York. "On the road," says Mr. Adams, "and at all the public houses, we saw such numbers of officers and soldiers straggling and loitering, as gave me, at least, but a poor opinion of the discipline of our forces, and excited as much indignation as anxiety. Such thoughtless dissipation at a time so critical, was not calculated to inspire very sanguine hopes, or give great courage to embassadors. I was, nevertheless, determined that it should not dishearten me. I saw that we must, and had no doubts but we should, be chastised into order in time." Mr. Adams remembered what he had seen.

            Owing to the rush of soldiery, the taverns on the way were so full that the committee could scarcely find admission, much less accommodation. At New Brunswick Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams were compelled to share one bed; of which adventure Mr. Adams has left us a delicious account. "The chamber," he says, "was little larger than the bed, without a chimney, and with only one small window. The window was open, and I, who was an invalid, and afraid of the air of the night, shut it close. 'Oh!' says Franklin, 'don't shut the window, we shall be suffocated.' I answered I was afraid of the evening air. Dr. Franklin replied, 'The air within the chamber will soon be, and indeed is now, worse than that without doors. Come, open the window and come to bed, and I will convince you. I believe you are not acquainted with my theory of colds.' Opening the window and leaping into bed, I said I had read his letters to Dr. Cooper, in which he had advanced that nobody got cold by going into a cold church or any other cold air, but the theory was so little consistent with my experience, that I thought it a paradox. However, I had so much curiosity to hear his reasons, that I would run the risk of a cold. The Doctor then began a harangue upon air and cold, and respiration and perspiration, with which I was so much amused that I soon fell asleep, and left him and his philosophy together; but I believe they were equally sound and insensible within a few minutes after me, for the last words I heard pronounced were more than half asleep. I remember little of the lecture, except that the human body, by respiration and perspiration, destroys a gallon of air per minute; that two such persons as were now in that chamber would consume all the air in it in an hour or two; that by breathing over again the matter thrown off by the lungs and skin, we should imbibe the real cause of colds, not from abroad, but from within. I am not inclined to introduce here a dissertation on this subject. There is much truth, I believe, in some things he advanced, but they warrant not the assertion that a cold is never taken from cold air. I have often conversed with him since on the same subject, and I believe with him, that colds are often taken in foul air in close rooms, but they are often taken from cold air abroad, too. I have often asked him whether a person heated with exercise going suddenly into cold air, or standing still in a current of it, might not have his pores suddenly contracted, his perspiration stopped, and that matter thrown into the circulation or cast upon the lungs, which he acknowledged was the cause of colds. To this he could never give me a satisfactory answer."

            Resuming their journey the next morning, a ride of a few miles brought them to the beautiful shore opposite Staten Island. Lord Howe's boat was there at the appointed time. In it came over an officer, who informed the committee that he was ordered to remain subject to their orders, a hostage for their safe return. Mr. Adams turned to Dr. Franklin, and said it would be childish in them to depend upon such a pledge, and proposed taking back the officer in the barge. "My colleagues," says our high-minded chronicler, "exulted in the proposition, and agreed to it instantly." The hostage was, accordingly, notified, that if he held himself under their direction, he must go back with them in the boat; ,to which he bowed assent, and they all embarked.

            Lord Howe had made hasty preparations for the entertainment of his expected guests. The house appointed for the interview was a rather large, plain, old-fashioned house of stone, with a veranda in front; the residence of a man of wealth; but, of late, it had been occupied by soldiers, and had become dilapidated and dirty. The house was standing and inhabited as late as 1858, though it was an old house in 1776. One large apartment Lord Howe had cause to be strewn and hung with moss and branches, till he had made it, says Mr. Adams, "not only wholesome, but romantically elegant." In this delightful bower the hospitable representative of the majesty of Britain had ordered to be spread a collation, which consisted, as Mr. Adams records, of "good claret, good bread, cold ham, tongues, and mutton." His preparations complete, the Admiral saw the barges approaching, and walked toward the shore to meet the committee, while the colonel of the Hessian regiment in attendance drew up his men in two lines, so as to form a lane of soldiers from the beach to the house. The barge reached the shore. Lord Howe perceiving his officer with the committee, cried out, "Gentlemen, you make me a very high compliment, and you may depend upon it I will consider it the most sacred of things." He shook hands very cordially with Dr. Franklin, who introduced his companions, and they all moved towards the house conversing pleasantly together. The sight of the Hessians appears to have stirred the wrath of John Adams a little, for he says: “We walked up to the house between lines of guards of grenadiers, looking fierce as ten Furies, making all the grimaces, and gestures, and motions of their muskets with bayonets fixed, which, I suppose, military etiquette requires, but which we neither understood nor regarded." After reaching the apartment prepared, Lord Howe, his secretary, Mr. Henry Strachey, the committee, and the Hessian colonel, all sat down to the collation, and spent an agreeable half hour in discussing the good claret, the good bread, the cold ham, the tongues, and the mutton. The colonel then withdrew, the table was cleared, and the conference began.

            Of the conversation which followed we have unusually full information. Besides the report of the interview given to Congress by the committee, and several narratives, more or less complete, from the vivacious pen of John Adams, we now have in New York the minutes of the conversation taken down at the time by Mr. Strachey; whose manuscript, with notes in pencil by Lord Howe himself, is the property of one of our eminent historical collectors. (1) From all these sources we can now reproduce the conversation with sufficient exactness.

            Lord Howe. "Long ago, gentlemen, I entertained the opinion that the differences between the mother-country and her colonies might be accommodated to the satisfaction of both. I was known in England to be a well-wisher to America -- particularly to the Province of Massachusetts Bay, which had endeared itself to me by the very high honor it had bestowed upon my eldest brother. I assure you, gentlemen, that I esteem that honor to my family above all things in this world. Such is my gratitude and affection to this country on that account, that I feel for America as for a brother, and if America should fall, I should feel and lament it like the loss of a brother."

            Dr. Franklin. ("With an easy air, a collected countenance, a bow, a smile, and all that naiveté which sometimes appeared in his conversation and often, in his writings." (2)) “My lord, we will use our utmost endeavors to save your lordship that mortification."

    Lord Howe. (Taking the joke too seriously, but suppressing his feelings.) "I suppose you will endeavor to give us employment in Europe." (Dead silence on the part of the committee, and countenances blank. Lord Howe recovers from the digression.) "My going out as commissioner from the king was talked of long ago, as Dr. Franklin is aware. After his departure, I heard no more of it for a long time. Then an idea arose of sending over several commissioners, but to this I objected, for my plan was to go alone, with only a civil commission, and proceed straight to Philadelphia, and meet the Congress face to face. I objected even to my brother’s being in the commission, from the delicacy of the employment, and from my desire to take upon myself all the reproach that might be the consequence of it. It was thought best, however, that General Howe, being in command of the army in America, should be joined in the commission, and that I should have the naval command; since, in that case, the two commissioners would control the movements of both forces. I acquiesced in this arrangement. I hoped to reach America before the army had made a movement to begin the campaign, and had no doubt that if the disposition of Congress remained the same as expressed in their last petition to the king, I should be able to bring about an accommodation. That petition, I thought, was a sufficient basis to confer upon; as it contained matter which, with candor and discussion, might be wrought into a permanent system. True, the Address to the People, which accompanied the petition to his majesty, had injured the effect of the petition. Nevertheless, to the moment of my arrival in America, I flattered myself that, taking the petition as a basis, I should able to do some good. But since I left England, you have yourselves changed your ground by the Declaration of Independency. That act, gentlemen, if it cannot be got over, precludes all treaty-making; for, as you are aware, I have not, nor do I expect ever to have, powers to consider the colonies in the light of independent States. You must be sensible, also, that I cannot confer with Congress. I cannot acknowledge a body which is not acknowledged by the king, whose delegate I am, and, for the same reason, I cannot confer with you, gentlemen, as a committee of the Congress. If you are unwilling to lay aside that distinction, it will be improper for me to proceed. That, however, I trust, you will regard as an unessential form, which may for a moment lie dormant, and give me leave to consider you merely as gentlemen of great ability and influence in the country, who have met here to converse with me and try if we can devise the outline of a plan to stay the calamities of war. I beg you to consider the delicacy of my situation, and the reproach I should be liable to if I should be understood, by any act of mine, to have treated with the Congress or acknowledged its authority. I hope you will not, by any implication, commit me upon that point. Even in the present meeting I have gone rather beyond my powers."

       Dr. Franklin. "You may depend upon our taking care of that, my lord."

      Lord Howe. "I think the idea of a Congress may easily be thrown out at present; because, if matters can be so settled that the king's government is re-established, the Congress would of course cease to exist. And if you really mean an accommodation of that kind, you must see how unnecessary it is to stand upon a form which you are negotiating to give up."

      Dr. Franklin. "Your lordship may consider us in any view you think proper. We, on our part, are at liberty to consider ourselves in our real character. But there is, really, no necessity on this occasion to distinguish between members of Congress and individuals. The conversation may be held as among friends."

      Mr. Adams. "Your lordship may consider me in what light you please. Indeed, I should be willing to consider myself for a few moments in any character which would be agreeable to your lordship, except that of a British subject."

      Lord Howe. (With gravity.) "Mr. Adams is a decided character."

      Mr. Rutledge. "I think, with Dr. Franklin, that the conversation may be as among friends.

      Lord Howe. "On my arrival in this country, gentlemen, I thought it expedient to issue a Declaration, which one of you has done me the honor to comment upon. I endeavored to couch it in such terms as would be least exceptionable, and I conclude you must have supposed I did not express in it all I had to offer. I thought, however, that I said enough to bring on a discussion which might lead the way to accommodation. But the Declaration of Independency has since rendered me more cautious of opening myself, for it is  absolutely impossible for me to treat, or even confer upon that ground, or to admit the idea in the smallest degree. If that is given up, I flatter myself there is still room for me to effect the king's purpose. His majesty's most earnest desire is to make his American subjects happy, to cause a reform in whatever affected the freedom of their legislation, and to concur with his Parliament in the redress of any real grievances. My powers are, speaking generally, to restore peace and grant pardons, to attend to complaints and representations, and to confer upon the means of a reunion upon terms honorable and advantageous to the colonies and to Great Britain. You know, gentlemen, that we expect aid from America; our dispute seems only to be concerning the mode of obtaining it."

      Dr. Franklin. "Aid we never refused upon requisition."

      Lord Howe. "Your money, let me assure you, is the smallest consideration. America can confer upon Great Britain more solid advantages; it is her commerce, her strength, her men, that we chiefly want."

      Dr. Franklin. "Ay, my lord, we have in America a pretty considerable manufactory of men. (3)

      Lord Howe. "It is desirable to put a stop to these ruinous extremities, as well for the sake of our country as yours. When an American falls, England feels it. The question is: Is there no way of treating back of this step of Independency, and thus opening the door to a full discussion? Now, gentlemen, having opened to you the general purport of my commission, and the king's disposition to a permanent peace, I must stop to hear what you may choose to observe."

      Dr. Franklin. "I suppose your lordship has seen the Resolution of the Congress which has sent us hither. It authorizes us to inquire what authority your lordship bears, and what propositions you have to offer for the consideration of the Congress. That Resolution contains the whole of our commission. Nevertheless, this conversation, if productive of no immediate good effect, may be of service at a future time. I will therefore say, that America considered the Prohibitory Act as the answer to her last petition to the king. Forces have been sent out, and towns have been burnt. We cannot now expect happiness under the domination of Great Britain. All former attachments are obliterated. America cannot return to the domination of Great Britain, and I imagine that Great Britain means to rest it upon force. The other gentlemen will doubtless deliver their sentiments."

      Mr. Adams. "The resolution of the Congress which declared Independency was not taken up upon its own authority. Congress had been instructed so to do by all the colonies. It is not in our power, therefore, my lord, to treat otherwise than as independent states, and, for my own part, I avow my determination never to depart from the idea of Independency."

      Mr. Rutledge. “I am one of the oldest members of the Congress, my lord, having been a member from the beginning. I think it is worth the consideration of Great Britain whether she would not derive greater advantages from an alliance with the colonies as independent states than she has hitherto done. England may still enjoy a great share of the American commerce, and so procure raw materials for her manufactures. Besides: the United States can protect the West India Islands more effectually and more easily than England can, to say nothing of the New Foundland fishery; while the products both of the West Indies and of New Foundland would continue to enrich the merchants of England. I am glad this conversation has occurred, as it will be the occasion of opening to Great Britain the consideration of the advantages she may derive from an alliance with America before any thing is settled with other foreign powers. With regard to the people consenting to come again under the English government, it is impossible. I can answer for South Carolina. The royal government there was very oppressive. The officers of the crown claimed 'privilege,' and confined people for breaches of 'privilege.' At last we took the government into our own hands, and the people are now settled and happy under that government. They would not, even if the Congress should desire it, return to the king's government."

      Lord Howe. "If such are your sentiments, gentlemen, I can only lament that it is not in my power to bring about the accommodation I wish. I have not authority, nor do I ever expect to have, to treat with the colonies as states independent of the crown of Great Britain. I am sorry, gentlemen, that you have had the trouble of coming so far to so little purpose. If the colonies will not give up the system of independency, it is impossible for me to enter into any negotiation."

      Dr. Franklin. "It would take as much time for us to refer to and get answers from our constituents, as it would the royal commissioners to get fresh instructions from home, which, I suppose, might be about three months."

      Lord Howe. "It is in vain to think of my receiving instructions to treat upon that ground."

      Dr. Franklin. (After a pause.) "Well, my lord, as America is to expect nothing but upon unconditional submission"?

      Lord Howe. (Interrupting him.) "No, Dr. Franklin. Great Britain does not require unconditional submission. I think that what I have already said proves the contrary, and I desire, gentlemen, that you will not go away with such an idea."

      Dr. Franklin. "As your lordship has no proposition to make to us, give me leave to ask whether, if we should make propositions to Great Britain (not that I know, or am authorized to say we shall), you would receive and transmit them?"

     Lord Howe. " I do not know that I could avoid receiving any papers that should be put into my hands, though I am doubtful of the propriety of transmitting them home. Still, I do not say that I would decline doing so."

            The conference ended. Lord Howe politely attended the committee to the barge, which bore them, in a few minutes, to the shore of New Jersey. Two days after the committee gave to Congress a brief account of the conversation, and reported that, "upon the whole, it did not appear that his lordship's commission contained any other authority than that expressed in the act of Parliament, namely, that of granting pardons, with such exceptions as the commissioners should think proper to make, and of declaring America, or any part of it, to be in the king's peace, upon submission." Congress, therefore, ordered the committee to publish their report in the newspapers, and took no further action upon it. The practical result of the affair was the furnishing of a new topic for the oratory of Mr. John Adams. He tells us, in his Autobiography, that during his journey to Amboy, he observed such dissipation and idleness, such confusion and distraction among officers and soldiers, as astonished, grieved, and alarmed him. Hitherto his incessant cry had been Independence, Independence, Independence! Hence-forward it was Discipline, Discipline, Discipline! The reward of his exertions was the adoption by Congress of the British Discipline and articles of war, which, to this hour, constitute the substance of the military system of the United States.

            The conference with Lord Howe closed the ancient account between the thirteen colonies and Great Britain. England would not treat with independent America. It was now to be ascertained whether there was, in any part of the world, a Power that would.


Notes

1. Mr. George H. Moore, Secretary and Librarian of the New York Historical Society, who obligingly gave me a copy of this most interesting relic.

2.  John Adams.

3. Mr. Strachey, misunderstanding this remark, added these words: "alluding as should seem to their numerous army." Lord Howe, more used to Dr. Franklin's manner, corrected his secretary by penciling on the margin: "No; their increasing population."

 
 
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