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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

On sending Count de Guines the necessary instructions


The

die was cast, and retreat cut off for the timid and the malcontent; through a course of alternate successes and reverses Washington had kept up hostilities during the rough campaign of 1776. Many a time he had thought the game lost, and he had found himself under the necessity of abandoning posts he had mastered to fall back upon Philadelphia. "What will you do if Philadelphia is taken?" he was asked. "We will retire beyond the Susquehanna, and then, if necessary, beyond the Alleghanies," answered the general without hesitation. Unwavering in his patriotic faith and resolution, he relied upon the savage resources and the vast wildernesses of his native country to wear out at last the patience and courage of the English generals. At the end of the campaign, Washington, suddenly resuming the offensive, had beaten the king's troops at Trenton and at Princeton one after the other. This brilliant action had restored the affairs of the Americans, and was a preparatory step to the formation of a new army. On the 30th of December, 1776, Washington was invested by Congress with the full powers of a dictator.

Europe, meanwhile, was following with increasing interest the vicissitudes of a struggle which at a distance had from the first appeared to the most experienced an unequal one. "Let us not anticipate events, but content ourselves with learning them when they occur," said a letter, in 1775, to M. de Guines, ambassador in London, from Louis

XVI.'s minister for foreign affairs, M. de Vergennes: "I prefer to follow, as a quiet observer; the course of events rather than try to produce them." He had but lately said with prophetic anxiety: "Far from seeking to profit by the embarrassment in which England finds herself on account of affairs in America, we should rather desire to extricate her. The spirit of revolt, in whatever spot it breaks out, is always of dangerous precedent; it is with moral as with physical diseases, both may become contagious. This consideration should induce us to take care that the spirit of independence, which is causing so terrible an explosion in North America, have no power to communicate itself to points interesting to us in this hemisphere."

For a moment French diplomatists had been seriously disconcerted; remembrance of the surprise in 1755, when England had commenced hostilities without declaring war, still troubled men's minds. Count de Guines wrote to M. de Vergennes "Lord Rochford confided to me yesterday that numbers of persons on both sides were perfectly convinced that the way to put a stop to this war in America was to declare it against France, and that he saw with pain that opinion gaining ground. I assure you, sir, that all which is said for is very extraordinary and far from encouraging. The partisans of this plan argue that fear of a war, disastrous for England, which might end by putting France once more in possession of Canada, would be the most certain bugbear for America, where the propinquity of our religion and our government is excessively apprehended; they say, in fact, that the Americans, forced by a war to give up their project of liberty and to decide between us and them, would certainly give them the preference."

The question of Canada was always, indeed, an anxious one for the American colonists; Washington had detached in that direction a body of troops which had been repulsed with loss. M. de Vergennes had determined to keep in the United States a semi-official agent, M. de Bonvouloir, commissioned to furnish the ministry with information as to the state of affairs. On sending Count de Guines the necessary instructions, the minister wrote on the 7th of August, 1775: "One of the most essential objects is to reassure the Americans on the score of the dread which they are no doubt taught to feel of us. Canada is the point of jealousy for them; they must be made to understand that we have no thought at all about it, and that, so far from grudging them the liberty and independence they are laboring to secure, we admire, on the contrary, the grandeur and nobleness of their efforts, and that, having no interest in injuring them, we should see with pleasure such a happy conjunction of circumstances as would set them at liberty to frequent our ports; the facilities they would find for their commerce would soon prove to them all the esteem we feel for them."


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