July 22, 1776

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Congress, sitting as a committee of the whole, considered the printed draft of John Dickinson’s “Articles of Confederation.”  They would become finally adopted in November 1777.

Richard Cranch writes to John Adams with word about his family and their inoculations:  “Those that are dearest to you are here, under Inocolation. Charles was Inocolated with me on Thursday, the 11th. Instt. Our Symptoms are very promising; Mrs. A. and the other three Children underwent the operation the next Day. I suppose the enclos’d will be more particular.  The Declaration of Independency which took place here last Thursday, was an Event most ardently wish’d for by every consistant Lover of American Liberty, and was received accordingly by the loudest Acclamations of the People, who Shouted—God Save the united States of America!—We have various Stories current here of Vessels having spoken with Lord Howe, and that he inform’d them he had Powers to treat with Congress &c. Beware of Punic Faith.”

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July 20, 1776

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At noon a barge arrived with Colonel Paterson to finally address George Washington with the peace overtures that he was permitted to offer.  Washington, who had previously refused two written offerings because they had not properly given Washington his credentials, had his personal guard lining up in formation to the entrance, and he himself appeared in his full battlefield outfit.  According to Henry Knox, who observed the meeting, Paterson “appeared awestruck, as if he was before something supernatural.”  Paterson lay on the table the original letter from Richard Howe addressed to “George Washington Esq. etc. etc.”  Again, Washington refused to pick this up.  Paterson explained that the et ceteras implied everything that might follow.  Washington replied, “It does so – and anything!”  Paterson continued to say that his King had permitted the Howe brothers to grant pardons, but Washington replied that  “those who had committed no fault wanted no pardon.”  The meeting was as pointless as Washington had known it would be, and he described it as “the vile machinations of still viler ministerial agents.”

In one of two letters that he sent on this day, John Adams laments to his wife Abigail that friends have not written to inform him how she was doing in regards to the smallpox.  (He had already heard that she intended to take the inoculation along with her children.)  Writes Adams:  “This has been a dull day to me: I waited the Arrival of the Post with much Solicitude and Impatience, but his Arrival made me more solicitous still.—“To be left at the Post Office” in your Hand Writing, on the back of a few Lines from the Dr. were all that I could learn of you, and my little Folks. If you was too busy to write, I hoped that some kind Hand would have been found to let me know something about you.  Do my Friends think that I have been a Politician so long as to have lost all feeling? Do they suppose I have forgotten my Wife and Children? Or are they so panic struck with the Loss of Canada, as to be afraid to correspond with me? Or have they forgotten that you have an Husband and your Children a Father? What have I done, or omitted to do, that I should be thus forgotten and neglected in the most tender and affecting scaene of my Life! Don’t mistake me, I don’t blame you. Your Time and Thoughts must have been wholly taken up, with your own and your Families situation and Necessities.—But twenty other Persons might have informed me.  I suspect, that you intended to have run slyly, through the small Pox with the family, without letting me know it, and then have sent me an Account that you were all well. This might be a kind Intention, and if the design had succeeded, would have made me very joyous. But the secret is out, and I am left to conjecture. But as the Faculty have this distemper so much under Command I will flatter myself with the Hope and Expectation of soon hearing of your Recovery.”

Benjamin Franklin writes to Lord Howe making clear that the Americans seek no pardon from Great Britain, having done nothing wrong:  “My Lord, I received safe the Letters your Lordship so kindly forwarded to me, and beg you to accept my Thanks.  The Official Dispatches to which you refer me, contain nothing more than what we had seen in the Act of Parliament, viz. Offers of Pardon upon Submission; which I was sorry to find, as it must give your Lordship Pain to be sent so far on so hopeless a Business.  Directing Pardons to be offered the Colonies, who are the very Parties injured, expresses indeed that Opinion of our Ignorance, Baseness, and Insensibility which your uninform’d and proud Nation has long been pleased to entertain of us; but it can have no other Effect than that of increasing our Resentment. It is impossible we should think of Submission to a Government, that has with the most wanton Barbarity and Cruelty, burnt our defenceless Towns in the midst of Winter, excited the Savages to massacre our Farmers, and our Slaves to murder their Masters, and is even now bringing foreign Mercenaries to deluge our Settlements with Blood.1 These atrocious Injuries have extinguished every remaining Spark of Affection for that Parent Country we once held so dear: But were it possible for us to forget and forgive them, it is not possible for you (I mean the British Nation) to forgive the People you have so heavily injured; you can never confide again in those as Fellow Subjects, and permit them to enjoy equal Freedom, to whom you know you have given such just Cause of lasting Enmity. And this must impel you, were we again under your Government, to endeavour the breaking our Sprit by the severest Tyranny, and obstructing by every means in your Power our growing Strength and Prosperity.  But your Lordship mentions ‘the Kings paternal Solicitude for promoting the Establishment of lasting Peace and Union with the Colonies.’ If by Peace is here meant, a Peace to be entered into between Britain and America as distinct States now at War, and his Majesty has given your Lordship Powers to treat with us of such a Peace, I may venture to say, tho’ without Authority, that I think a Treaty for that purpose not yet quite impracticable, before we enter into Foreign Alliances. But I am persuaded you have no such Powers. Your Nation, tho’ by punishing those American Governors who have created and fomented the Discord, rebuilding our burnt Towns, and repairing as far as possible the Mischiefs done us, She might yet recover a great Share of our Regard and the greatest part of our growing Commerce, with all the Advantage of that additional Strength to be derived from a Friendship with us; I know too well her abounding Pride and deficient Wisdom, to believe she will ever take such Salutary Measures. Her Fondness for Conquest as a Warlike Nation, her Lust of Dominion as an Ambitious one, and her Thirst for a gainful Monopoly as a Commercial one, (none of them legitimate Causes of War) will all join to hide from her Eyes every View of her true Interests; and continually goad her on in these ruinous distant Expeditions, so destructive both of Lives and Treasure, that must prove as perrnicious to her in the End as the Croisades formerly were to most of the Nations of Europe.  I have not the Vanity, my Lord, to think of intimidating by thus predicting the Effects of this War; for I know it will in England have the Fate of all my former Predictions, not to be believed till the Event shall verify it.  Long did I endeavour with unfeigned and unwearied Zeal, to preserve from breaking, that fine and noble China Vase the British Empire: for I knew that being once broken, the separate Parts could not retain even their Share of the Strength or Value that existed in the Whole, and that a perfect Re-Union of those Parts could scarce even be hoped for. Your Lordship may possibly remember the Tears of Joy that wet my Cheek, when, at your good Sister’s in London, you once gave me Expectations that a Reconciliation might soon take place. I had the Misfortune to find those Expectations disappointed, and to be treated as the Cause of the Mischief I was labouring to prevent. My Consolation under that groundless and malevolent Treatment was, that I retained the Friendship of many Wise and Good Men in that Country, and among the rest some Share in the Regard of Lord Howe.  The well founded Esteem, and permit me to say Affection, which I shall always have for your Lordship, makes it painful to me to see you engag’d in conducting a War, the great Ground of which, as expressed in your Letter, is, “the Necessity of preventing the American Trade from passing into foreign Channels.” To me it seems that neither the obtaining or retaining of any Trade, how valuable soever, is an Object for which Men may justly Spill each others Blood; that the true and sure means of extending and securing Commerce is the goodness and cheapness of Commodities; and that the profits of no Trade can ever be equal to the Expence of compelling it, and of holding it, by Fleets and Armies. I consider this War against us therefore, as both unjust, and unwise; and I am persuaded cool dispassionate Posterity will condemn to Infamy those who advised it; and that even Success will not save from some degree of Dishonour, those who voluntarily engag’d to conduct it. I know your great Motive in coming hither was the Hope of being instrumental in a Reconciliation; and I believe when you find that impossible on any Terms given you to propose, you will relinquish so odious a Command, and return to a more honourable private Station.”

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July 19, 1776

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The Congress resolved to publish in “several gazettes” a copy of the circular letter and enclosed declaration, which Lord Howe had sent to former Royal Governors Franklin, Eden, Penn, Dunmore, Martin, and Wright.  They hoped that in publishing the Commission’s terms, the few who still remain suspended by the hope found in justice or moderation of their late King, mauy now, at length, be convinced, that the valor alone of their country is to save its liberties.

Off the coast of Charlestown, South Carolina British General Henry Clinton sailed with his troops convoyed by the one frigate that Commodore Peter Parker had in condition to go to sea.  He would join Howe on Staten Island on August 1, 1776.

General Washington writes the following missive to Horatio Gates:  “I expected ’ere this to have heard from you; as I have not, I will open the corrispondance by expressing my exceeding great concern on acct of the determination of your board of General Officers, to retreat from Crown Point to Ticonderago; assigning (contrary to the opinion of all your Field Officers) for reason, that the former place is not tenable with your present force, or the Force expected.  My concern arises from information, and a firm belief, that your relinquishing Crown point is, in its consequences, a relinquishment of the Lakes, and all the advantages to be derived therefrom; for it does not admit of a doubt, but that the Enemy will possess themselves, if possible, of that pass (wch is a key to all these Colonies) the moment you leave it, & thereby confine your Vessels to the narrow part of the Lake in front of that Post, or, by having them in the Rear of it cut off all kind of Supplies from, & intercourse between your Camp & them; securing by this means a free and uninterrupted passage into the three New England Governments for Invasion thereof.  Nothing but a belief that you have actually removed the Army from the point to Tyconderago, and demolishd the Works at the former; and the fear of creating dissentions, & encouraging a Spirit of remonstrating against the conduct of Superior Officers by inferiors, have prevented me by Advice of the Genl Officers here, from directing the Post at Crown point to be held till Congress should decide upon the propriety of its Evacuation—As the case stands I can give no Order in the matter, least between two opinions; & places, neither are put into such a posture of defence, as to resist an advancing Enemy. I must however express my sorrow at the Resolution of your Council—& wish, that it had never happened; as every body who Speaks of it also does; & that the measure could yet be changed with Propriety.  We have the Enemy full in view of us, but their operations are to be suspended ’till the Reinforcement hourly expected, arrives, when I suppose there will soon be pretty warm work—Lord Howe is arrived. He & the Genl his Brother are appointed Commissioners to dispense pardons to Repenting Sinners.”  Note the sarcasm with which Washington refers to his upcoming meeting with the British Peace Delegates.

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July 18, 1776

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Loylist lawyer William Lynchon of Salem wrote, “at noon the Congress read the Declaration of Independence of the colonies of Great Britain from the balcony of the town house, a regiment under arms, and artillery company in King Street, and the guns at the several batteries were fired.  Three cheers given, bell ringing, etc.  In the afternoon the King’s arms were taken down and broken to pieces in King Street, and carried off by the people.”

John Adams writes to a young lawyer, Jonathan Mason, to advise him to stick to his books:  I cannot advise you, to quit the retired scene, of which you have hitherto appeared to be so fond, and engage in the noisy Business of War. I doubt not you have Honour and Spirit, and Abilities sufficient, to make a Figure in the Field: and if the future Circumstances of your Country should make it necessary, I hope you would not hesitate to buckle on your Armour. But at present I See no Necessity for it. Accomplishments of the civil and political Kind are no less necessary, for the Happiness of Mankind than martial ones. We cannot be all Soldiers, and there will probably be in a very few Years a greater Scarcity of Lawyers, and Statesmen than of Warriours.  The Circumstances of this Country, from the Years 1755 to 1758, during which Period I was a student in Mr. Putnams Office, were almost as confused as they are now. And the Prospect before me, my young Friend was much more gloomy than yours. I felt an Inclination, exactly Similar to yours, for engaging in active martial Life, but I was advised, and upon a Consideration of all Circumstances concluded, to mind my Books. Whether my determination was prudent or not, it is not possible to say, but I never repented it. To attain the real Knowledge, which is necessary for a Lawyer, requires the whole Time and Thoughts of a Man in his youth, and it will do him no good to dissipate his Mind among the confused objects of a Camp. Nocturnâ versate manu, versate diurnâ [Give your days and nights to the study of these authors”]—must be your Motto.  I wish you had told me, particularly, what Lawyers have opened Offices in Boston, and what Progress is made in the Practice, and in the Courts of Justice. I cannot undertake to Advise you, whether you had better go into an office in Boston or not. I rather think that the Practice at present is too inconsiderable to be of much service to you. You will be likely to be obliged to waste much of your Time in running of Errands, and doing trifling drudgery without learning much.—Depend upon it, it is of more Importance that you read much, than that you draw many Writts. The common Writts upon Notes, Bonds and Accounts, are mastered in half an Hour. Common Declarations for Rent, and Ejectment and Trespass, both of Assault and Battery and Quare Clausum fregit, are learn’d in very near as short a Time. The more difficult Special Declarations, and especially the Refinements of Special Pleadings are never learnd in an office. They are the Result of Experience, and long Habits of Thinking.  If you read Ploudens Commentaries, you will see the Nature of Special Pleadings. In Addition to these read Instructor Clericalis, Mallory, Lilly, and look into Rastall and Cooke. Your Time will be better Spent upon these Authors, than in dancing Attendance upon a Lawyers Office and his Clients. Many of our most respectable Lawyers never did this att all. Gridly, Pratt, Thatcher, Sewall, Paine. Never served regularly in any office.  Upon the whole, my young Friend, I wish that the State of public Affairs, would have admitted of my Spending more Time with you. I had no greater Pleasure in this Life, than in assisting young Minds possessed of ambition to excell, which I very well know to be your Case. Let me intreat you not to be too anxious about Futurity. Mind your Books. Set down patiently to Ploudens Commentaries, read them through coolly, deliberately, and Attentively. Read them in Course. Endeavour, to make yourself Master of the Point on which the Case turns. Remark the Reasoning, and the Decision. And tell me a year hence, whether your Time has not been more agreably, and profitably Spent than in drawing Writs and running of Errands. I hope to see you eer long. I am obliged to you for this Letter, and wish a Continuance of your Correspondence. I am anxious, very anxious, for my dear Mrs. Adams, and my Babes. God preserve them. I can do them no kind office, whatever.

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July 17, 1776

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The third time is the charm!  Learning of General Washington’s repeated refusals to accept letters addressed to “George Washington Esq., etc. etc.” the Congress commends him, stating he “acted with a dignity becoming his station” and directed all American commanders to receive only letters addressed to them “in the characters they respectfully sustain.”  Today Washington receives a letter addressed to “His Excellency, General Washington,” with a request that he meet with Lieutenant Colonel James Patterson, the adjutant general of General William Howe.  Washington agreed to meet with him on July 20th,  at Henry Knox’s headquarters at 1 Broadway, near the water.

In a letter written to Elbridge Gerry, Major Joseph Thompson, from Northampton, Massachusetts, advocated death to all Tories.  “Can we subsist, did any state ever subsist without exterminating traitors?  No one thing made the Declaration of Independence indispensably necessary more than cutting off traitors.”

John Adams writes to Isaac Smith regarding his family and their inoculations.  “Your Letter of the Eighth contains Intelligence of an interesting Nature to the Public as well as to me, and my Family in particular.—The Small Pox is so terrible an Enemy that it is high Time to subdue it.—I am under the greatest Obligation to you, Sir, and Mrs. Smith for your kind Offer of the Accommodations of your House to Mrs. Adams and my Children. I shall be very, very anxious, untill I hear further, and if it was possible I would be in Boston as soon as an Horse could carry me. But this is the most unlucky Time, that ever happened. Such Business is now before Us, that I cannot in Honour and in duty to the public, stir from this Place, at present. After a very few Months, I shall return: But in the mean Time, I shall suffer inexpressible distress, on Account of my Family. My only Consolation is that they have no small Number of very kind Friends.  We are in hourly Expectation of some important Event at New York. We hope there will be a sufficient Number of Men there, to give the Enemy a proper Reception. But am sorry the Massachusetts have not sent along some of their Militia, as requested.”  Indeed, the small pox becomes a much more powerful enemy throughout the war than the England ever come close to being.  Soon it will become a requirement that all soldiers who have not yet been vaccinated first go through the procedure prior to active duty.

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July 16, 1776

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Once again, General Howe sends a soldier under a flag of truce with a letter addressed to “George Washington Esq.”  This letter was refused for the same reason that the letter addressed in the same way had been refused on the 14th – it was not stating Washington’s proper credentials, and was thus a rebuff to not only himself but his cause.  The British agent, Ambrose Serle, was furious, remarking that the letter “was refused for the same idle and insolent reasons as were given before.”  Why he thought there would be a different outcome is difficult to fathom.  Serle continued that “it seems to be beneath a little paltry colonel of militia at the head of banditti or rebels to treat with the representative of his lawful sovereign because ‘tis impossible for him to give all the titles which the poor creature requires.

Meanwhile, John Adams receives words that not only his children are to be given the smallpox vaccination, but that his wife is as well, and is anguished to be so far apart from her.  “In a Letter from your Uncle Smith, and in another from Mr. Mason which I received by this days Post I am informed that you were about taking the Small Pox, with all the Children. . . .It is not possible for me to describe, nor for you to conceive my Feelings upon this Occasion. Nothing, but the critical State of our Affairs should prevent me from flying to Boston, to your Assistance…I can do no more than wish and pray for your Health, and that of the Children. Never—Never in my whole Life, had I so many Cares upon my Mind at once. I should have been happier, if I had received my Letters, before Mr. Gerry went away this Morning, because I should have written more by him.—I rely upon the tender Care of our Friends. Dr. Tufts and your Uncle Quincy, and my Brother will be able to visit you, and give you any Assistance. Our other Friends, I doubt not will give you every Advice, Consolation and Aid in their Power.—I am very anxious about supplying you with Money. Spare for nothing, if you can get Friends to lend it you. I will repay with Gratitude as well as Interest, any sum that you may borrow.—I shall feel like a Savage to be here, while my whole Family is sick at Boston. But it cannot be avoided. I cannot leave this Place, without more Injury to the public now, than I ever could at any other Time, being in the Midst of scaenes of Business, which must not stop for any Thing. . . . Make Mr. Mason, Mr. any Body write to me, by every Post—don’t miss one for any Cause whatever.—My dearest Love to you all.”

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July 14, 1776

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Since the 12th, five British ships have been within sight of Manhattan Island.  Upon seeing the ships, the American defense fell apart, some soldiers running, others gaping at the British, and few firing pointlessly at their out-of-range ships.  Two of the ships entered the Hudson River unchallenged, and conducted a two-hour cannon attack of New York.  Washington observed that “the shrieks & cries of these poor creatures running every way with their children was truly distressing.”  This was followed by the entrance of the British man-of-war, the sixty-four gun HM Eagle, carrying none other than Admiral Lord Howe.  The two Howe brothers had now arrived.

However, they had come with the power not only to engage in war, but to offer peace.  It was still the hope of the British that the Americans would see the error of their ways, especially when they saw all of the ships with the armaments aimed directly at them.

On the 14th, a small boat under white flag was sent by Lord Howe to offer terms of peace.  Philip Brown was in the boat and he carried a letter from Lord Howe to “George Washington, Esqr, New York.”  Three Continental Army Officers (Henry Knox, Joseph Reed, and Samuel Webb) met with Brown, who, as Knox recalled, rose up, bowed, and said “I have a letter, sir, from Lord Howe to Mr. Washington.”  Colonel Reed understood well the importance of the designation of “Mr. Washington,” as opposed to his official title as General of the Continental Army.  “Sir, Colonel Reed replied, “we have no person in our army with that address.”  Perplexed, Brown pulled the envelope out again, showed it to him, and said, “Sir, will you look at the address?”  Reed responded, “No, sir, I cannot receive that letter.”  Replied Brown, “I am very sorry, and so will be Lord Howe, that any error in the superscription should prevent the letter being received by General Washington.”  Colonel Reed said, “You are sensible, sir, of the rank of General Washington in our army?”  Brown replied, “Yes, sir, we are.  I am sure my Lord Howe will lament exceedingly this affair, as the letter is quite of a civil nature, and not a military one. He laments exceedingly that he was not here a little sooner.”  By which Brown was saying that had he gotten there before the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, perhaps that lamentable action could have been avoided.

Washington himself had no deep concern over refusing the overture, although he wrote to John Hancock on this day that “I would not upon any occasion sacrifice essentials to punctilio, but in this instance…I deemed it a duty to my country and my appointment to insist upon that respect which in any other than a public view would willingly have waived.”  Nonetheless, at this point Washington was no longer looking toward reconciliation, and he saw British peace overtures as merely attempts “to distract, divide, & create as much confusion as possible.”  Lord Howe’s secretary, Ambrose Serle, was disgusted by the American action.  “So high is the vanity and the insolence of these men…There now seems no alternative but war and bloodshed, which must lay at the door of these unhappy people.  They pretend (or rather have pretended) to seek peace, and yet renounce it.  The faction have thrown aside all appearances at length, and declare openly for Independence & War.”

Washington believed, correctly, that the only offer Howe was permitted to make would be one of  pardon.  Washington, however, sought no pardon, either for himself or his people.  In his eyes, they had done nothing wrong that admitted of a pardon.

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