Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
The American Crisis

WITH the Declaration of Independence, Americans put an end to the anomaly of waging war against a sovereign to whom they professed allegiance and against a country they called "mother." The course was now clear and unmistakable: to conquer or to be conquered, to achieve complete independence or suffer the fate of rebels.

The Declaration of Independence might have discouraged even the most zealous peacemakers, yet the Howes, nothing daunted, began to explore the possibilities of a peaceful settlement of the dispute immediately after the battle of Long Island. This, they held, was the proper time to send out peace feelers: "no decisive blow was struck, and neither party could say they were compelled to enter into the agreement." A captured American general, Sullivan, was released on parole to go to Philadelphia to inform Congress that the British general and admiral would be pleased to receive a deputation from Congress, but strictly as private gentlemen, for the Howes "could not own any such a body as Congress."

Similarly, the Howes could not recognize Washington by his title of general. In their eyes, he was the leader of a crew of outlaws; therefore "Mr." Washington was good enough for him. On the other hand, Lord Howe was eager to have Washington sir in on the peace conference; but how was he to address the rebel commander without giving him a military title that might convey a recognition of the legality of the rebellion? Howe first tried writing to Washington under the name of "George Washington, Esq." When that was refused on the ground that there was no such person in the American camp -- did Lord Howe mean General George Washington? he was asked -- Howe wrote another letter to "George Washington, Esq., etc. etc.," pointing out that "the etc. etc.,

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