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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

We should either have to send able negotiators at once


When

this news arrived in America, Washington was seriously uneasy. He had to keep up an incessant struggle against the delays and the jealousies of Congress; it was by dint of unheard-of efforts and of unwavering perseverance that he succeeded in obtaining the necessary supplies for his army. "To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness," he exclaimed, "without blankets to lie upon, without victuals and often without shoes (for you might follow their track by the blood that trickled from their feet), advancing through ice and snow, and taking up their winter-quarters, at Christmas, less than a day's march from the enemy, in a place where they have not to shelter them either houses or huts but such as they have thrown up themselves,--to see these men doing all this without a murmur, is an exhibition of patience and obedience such as the world has rarely seen."

As a set-off against the impassioned devotion of the patriots, Washington knew that the loyalists were still numerous and powerful; the burden of war was beginning to press heavily upon the whole country, he feared some act of weakness. "Let us accept nothing short of Independence," he wrote at once to his friends: "we can never forget the outrages to which Great Britain has made us--submit; a peace on any other conditions would be a source of perpetual disputes. If Great Britain, urged on by her love for tyranny, were to seek once more to bend our necks beneath her iron yoke, --and

she would do so, you may be sure, for her pride and her ambition are indomitable,--what nation would believe any more in our professions of faith and would lend us its support? It is to be feared, however, that the proposals of England will produce a great effect in this country. Men are naturally friends of peace, and there is more than one symptom to lead me to believe that the American people are generally weary of war. If it be so, nothing can be more politic than to inspire the country with confidence by putting the army on an imposing footing, and by showing greater energy in our negotiations with European powers. I think that by now France must have recognized our independence, and that she will immediately declare war against Great Britain, when she sees that we have made serious proposals of alliance to her. But if, influenced by a false policy, or by an exaggerated opinion of our power, she were to hesitate, we should either have to send able negotiators at once, or give fresh instructions to our charges d'affaires to obtain a definitive answer from her."

It is the property of great men, even when they share the prejudices of their time and of their country, to know how to get free from them, and how to rise superior to their natural habits of thought. It has been said that, as a matter of taste, Washington did not like France and had no confidence in her, but his great and strong common sense had enlightened him as to the conditions of the contest he had entered upon. He knew it was a desperate one, he foresaw that it would be a long one; better than anybody he knew the weaknesses as well as the merits of the instruments which he had at disposal; he had learned to desire the alliance and the aid of France. She did not belie his hopes: at the very moment when Congress was refusing to enter into negotiations with Great Britain as long as a single English soldier remained on American soil, rejoicings and thanksgivings were everywhere throughout the thirteen colonies greeting the news of the recognition by France of the Independence of the United States; the treaties of alliance, a triumph of diplomatic ability on the part of Franklin, had been signed at Paris on the 6th of February, 1778.


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