Western Lands and the American Revolution

By Thomas Perkins Abernethy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI
CONGRESSIONAL POLITICS, 1778

IT has been seen to what extent, during the early years of the Revolution while the insurgent colonies were fighting with no great success for what they deemed to be their rights, attempts were usually made to sidestep factional differences for the sake of the common cause and how in 1777 friction in Congress was aroused as a result of the Conway cabal. The year 1778 brought with it a crisis that forced partisan strife in Congress into the foreground, and during the remainder of the War two antagonistic groups struggled openly for control of that body.

The natural line of cleavage was between the Northern and the Southern colonies, and this for two main reasons. The major part of the Western lands was claimed by the Southern group, and many issues grew out of this fact. Then again, the land-owning Anglican aristocracy of the South possessed a different standard of values from that of the smallfarmer and mercantile society of the North. On many issues this sectional division came to the fore, notably in connection with sumptuary and sabbatical legislation brought forward by the Northern Puritanical element in Congress.1 But it has been shown how the purely sectional division was cut across and largely submerged by the alliance between the Virginia Lees and the Massachusetts Adamses in Congress. A personal element was involved in this coalition, but it represented primarily an alliance of the predominantly agricultural forces as opposed to the commercial. The fact that the opposition was led by the great merchant, Robert Morris, and that its policies usually involved mercantile interests was the central fact in the situation.2

Strangely enough, the events which brought to a crisis this hostility between merchant and farmer occurred in Paris. At the beginning of 1778 Franklin, Deane, and Lee still represented the cause of America in

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1
Gérard to Vergennes, Aug. 24, 1778, Correspondence Politique, Affaires Étrangères, États-Unis, L. of C. transcripts, IV, 98: same to same, Oct. 4, 1778, ibid., V, 8.
2
De Francy wrote, " Robert Morris in his time has had much influence, but since it appeared that he occupied himself only with his own affairs in appearing to occupy himself with those of the public, the confidence which was reposed in him infinitely diminished." John Bigelow, ed., Beaumarchais the Merchant: Letters of Théveneau de Francy, 1777-1780 ( New York, 1870) pp. 12-13. See also Worthington C. Ford, ed., Letters of William Lee ( Brooklyn, 1891) III, 947.

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