« 上一頁繼續 »
16th of July, 1776. Franklin was unanimously chosen President. No pen can describe the intensity of his labors. All appreciated his consummate wisdom, and yielded readily to his suggestions. Troops were hurrying to and fro. One hundred and twenty British war vessels were in New York harbor. No one knew upon what seaport the thunderbolts of this formidable armament would be hurled. The Americans had been defeated on Long Island in August, 1776, and had almost miraculously escaped with their field pieces and stores, across the East River to New York. This brilliant retreat was deemed, by the Americans, almost equivalent to a victory.
Lord Howe, the old friend of Franklin and a hu. mane and respected Englishman, who was sincerely desirous of peace with the Colonies, was appointed Admiral of the king's naval forces. He accepted the appointment, with the hope that, by the aid of Franklin, reconciliation might be effected. Still he was an Englishman and could not conceive that Americans had any rights which the English government was bound to respect. The degree of his infatuation may be inferred from the fact that, as soon as he reached our shores, he published a Declaration, which he circulated far and wide, stating that if the Americans would only give up the conflict and return to implicit submission, the British Government would forgive their sins, pardon the guilty ones, with a few exceptions, and receive them again to favor. The weak man seemed really to think, that this was an extraordinary act of clemency on the part of the English Court.
The reply, which Franklin drew up, to the Declaration, was grand. And it was the more grand when we reflect that it was addressed to a man who was supported by an army, of we know not how many thousand British regulars, and by a fleet of one hundred and twenty war vessels, many of which were of gigantic armament. Admiral Howe had written a courteous private letter to Dr. Franklin, in which he enclosed the Declaration. Congress gave Franklin permission to reply. He wrote,
“My lord; the official despatches to which you refer me, contain nothing more than offers of pardon upon submission. Directing pardon to be offered to 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. It is impossible that 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." : I have not space to copy the remainder of this admirable letter. It was delivered to Lord Howe, on board his flag ship in New York harbor, ten days after its date. As he read it his countenance expressed surprise, and almost his only remark was, “My old friend has expressed himself very warmly."
A few weeks later this good natured but weak man paroled General Sullivan, who was a prisoner of war, and sent him to Philadelphia, with a message to Congress which Lord Howe cautiously declined to put upon paper. General Sullivan reduced the message to writing and presented it to Congress. It was in substance as follows:
“The government of England cannot admit that Congress is a legitimate body, to be recognized by any diplomatic relations whatever. It is but a tumultous assembly of men who have treasonably conspired against their lawful sovereign. Still the government is willing that Lord Howe should confer with some of the members of congress, as private gentlemen, to see if some terms of accommodation cannot be arranged.”
After much and earnest discussion, in which a
great diversity of opinion prevailed, it was voted that General Sullivan should inform Admiral Howe, that a committee of three would be sent to ascertain whether he “has any authority to treat with persons, authorized by Congress for that purpose.”
Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge composed this committee. An antique house, nearly a hundred years old, formerly the abode of wealth and splendor, which stood in a green lawn, but a few rods from the beach on the western shore of Staten Island, was chosen as the place for the conference. A two days' journey conveyed the committee to Amboy, opposite the house. Adams traveled on horseback: Franklin and Rutledge in a two wheel chaise.
Admiral Howe sent a boat, under the protection of a flag of truce, with an officer, who stated that he was to be left behind as a hostage for their safe return. Promptly they declined manifesting any such distrust of the honor of Admiral Howe, and took the hostage back in the boat with them. The barge, propelled by lusty rowers, soon reached the Staten Island shore. A large apartment of the old stone house had been richly decorated with moss and branches in honor of the occasion.
A regiment of Hessians was posted at that spot. The colonel drew them up in two lines and through