Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview
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The Diplomatic Front

To Washington, the campaign of 1781 seemed destined to end in disappointment and frustration as had his every undertaking since 1778. Congress had asked the states to put thirty-seven thousand men in the field; yet, by June 1781, Washington's effective force was under five thousand men, and some of the states even declined to reply to his requests for reinforcements. He feared that the year would be frittered away in a futile search for manpower; by midsummer, he lamented, things dragged on "like a Cart without wheels." The states were so backward in filling their quotas of troops that he declared he could do nothing unless the French sent, besides naval aid, a large army to the United States. Three weeks before the march to Yorktown, he warned that "we must end our Operations in Languor and disgrace, and perhaps protract the War to the Hazard of our final Ruin."

In contrast to the low state of the American army, business was booming throughout the country. In May 1781, the Philadelphia water front was a beehive of activity and the stores and shops of the city were filled with goods; business, reported a citizen, was "going on as brisk as ever, houses, stores are building, our markets affording the greatest plenty of every article one can desire and as for luxury and extravagance in dresses, equipages and entertainments, it is carried to the highest pitch." In the cities, pleasure-seeking went on as though the republic were in a state of peace and security; and in the country, harvests had seldom been better. Not without bitterness, Washington said that "the bountiful hand of Heaven is holding out to us a Plenty of every Article."

Despite this bounty, the country still hovered on the edge of disaster. Its currency worthless, its army suffering from shortages of every essen


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