All Commentary
Tuesday, August 1, 1972

The Founding of the American Republic: 13. The American Triumph

Dr. Carson shortly will join the faculty of Hillsdale College in Michigan as Chairman of the Department of History. He is a noted lecturer and author, his latest book entitled Throttling the Railroads.

That the Americans were eventually triumphant in the War for Independence is a matter of record. The triumph was military, diplomatic, and big with portent for the future of republics. That the triumph could have come earlier, could have been more decisive, and could have involved the United States in fewer entanglements, is speculation. George Washington thought that the victory could have come much sooner. In his circular letter to the governors of the states in 1783, he declared that if he had sufficient space he “could demonstrate to every mind open to conviction, that in less time, and with much less expense than has been incurred, the war might have been brought to the same happy conclusion, if the resources of the continent could have been properly drawn forth….”1 Speculation is not history of course, but it does sometimes help to shed light on history. The prolongation of the war due to the failure to muster American resources effectively brought in its train a host of consequences, some of which entangled America with European powers at just that time when they were effecting their independence of England.

The scope of the war was greatly broadened from 1778 onward. It spread and extended over much of the North American continent. There was extensive fighting in the Ohio valley, in Georgia and the Carolinas (fighting which involved Loyalists on a considerable scale, and heightened domestic animosities), in western New York, as well as elsewhere. Those who follow only George Washington’s army during the course of the war lose sight of the vast amount of territory being contended for. The war became, also, a world war before it was over. France entered the fray against Britain in 1778, Spain in 1779, and Holland in 1780, though the last two were not allied with the United States. In addition, there was a naval League of Armed Neutrality of other European powers organized against Britain.

American diplomats went to Europe seeking allies, munitions, and, above all, loans, to bolster sagging finances. European monarchs were hardly devoted to the idea of the rise of a republic in America or its independence (though some Frenchmen were); most of them did have axes to grind with Britain. Moreover, there was territory they would like to acquire or protect, and trade they would like to gain for their ships and ports. The adorning United States was caught up to some extent in the cross currents of the conflicting interests of European powers. Some Americans—notably Silas Deane, Arthur Lee, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay — experienced the machinations of European diplomats at first hand, an experience which confirmed most of them in their beliefs about the corruption of the Old World. However, America came out of all this much better than might have been expected.

Changed British Strategy

Despite the French alliance and the portending entry of other European powers into the conflict, the American military position did not generally improve for some while. British strategy did change from what it had been up to 1778. During the early part of the war, Britain had focused the major military effort on the Middle States and their seaport cities. This approach was largely abandoned after Saratoga. Though the British continued to hold New York City and to concentrate the major army there, as things turned out this was a defensive position from 1778 until the end of the war.

British strategists at home pushed for the concentration of offensive measures in the South. Having failed in their efforts to conquer America by attacking at the points of the concentration of strength, they advocated attacking at the weakest point. This strategy had much to commend it. After all, the key to the effective control over much of what had been English America was Virginia. Virginia was the most populous of the states, the oldest of the colonies, the one in which the Anglican religion had been longest established, the producer of much that was most wanted by British merchants for world trade, and the hub of the Southern wheel. If Britain could control Virginia and the lower South, plus Canada, it might still dominate the vast eastern Mississippi valley region. Virginia already laid claim to much of the territory west of the Alleghenies; the conquest of Virginia might vouchsafe it to Britain. The approach to Virginia might be made from the lower South which was the weakest link in the colonial chain. Georgia was the least populous of the states, and a considerable portion of the population of South Carolina was slave. North Carolina was known to have an important Loyalist contingent.

Savannah fell to British forces in December of 1778, and early the next year they took over the rest of Georgia and installed a Loyal government. But the British stationed in Georgia had little success during the next year with their forays into South Carolina; the force sent there was not adequate to such a campaign. Early in 1780, however, General Clinton, who had been reluctant to undertake the Southern campaign, finally did so; he was able to take Charleston May 12, 1780 with a vastly superior military and naval force. Clinton returned to New York, entrusting the Southern campaign now to Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis was probably the ablest field commander the British ever had in America. He was daring, courageous, beloved of his men, could win battles when the odds were against him by audacious tactics, and did win many battles. In fact, he won most of the battles and lost the war.

For the remainder of 1780, Cornwallis see-sawed back and forth between South and North Carolina with his army. Virtually the whole Patriot army in that region had been surrendered at Charleston, necessitating the assembly of a new force in the deep South. Congress sent General Horatio Gates, the victorious commander at Saratoga, southward with a core of Continentals to do the job. As it turned out, his victory at Saratoga had given General Gates a much greater reputation than he deserved. Cornwallis routed his army at Camden in August; Gates fled the scene of battle on the fastest horse he could command, and was sixty miles away before he considered it safe to stop. His army was scattered, and his reputation was ruined.

Nathanael Greene assumed command of the Patriot forces in the Carolinas late in the year, and he proved worthy of the calling. He was as successful at maneuvering as his mentor, George Washington, but Cornwallis did not tarry overlong to test his talents. Instead, Cornwallis moved northward into Virginia in 1781, while Greene drove southward into South Carolina. In the course of the year he was so successful against British posts that they held only Charleston by the end of the year. Indeed, a pattern emerged in the South similar to the one elsewhere on the continent. The British frequently won the pitched battles, but once the main army moved on, the post left behind soon fell to Patriot forces.

During the late spring and into the summer of 1781 Cornwallis rampaged across Virginia with a much larger army than the Americans could muster in that state. When the American forces were increased, Cornwallis decided to establish a base accessible to the sea. He decided upon Yorktown which is located on the peninsula between the York and James rivers. He set up camp there in early August.

Showdown at Yorktown

Virginians had for some time been pleading with Washington to come with his army to save his home state. However, Washington was confronting the largest British army in America in New York; victory over it would most likely be decisive; he wanted only the help of the French fleet to undertake it, and the French fleet was rarely available to him. However, he determined upon concentrating his effort against Cornwallis at Yorktown when the French agreed to aid him. Washington’s Continentals were now reinforced by a major French army under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau. Washington took pains to tie Clinton’s army down in New York both by leaving a sizable detachment behind and by getting misleading information to him.

The attacking army usually has a plan which, if it works, should bring victory, much as each play by the offense in football is conceived to make a touchdown — if it works. In battle, the aim is to bring such force to bear at selected points that it may be expected to break up the opposing army.

 Timing and coordination are the requisite conditions and are the most difficult to achieve. Washington’s plan depended upon much greater coordination of a variety of elements than would commonly be involved. He had to move an army several hundred miles, most of them going over land. His heavy artillery was dispatched by sea, but its arrival was dependent on the dispersal of the British navy. The French navy had to be available at the right time or Cornwallis might be reinforced or his army transported elsewhere.

For once, all went well for the combined American and French undertaking. Clinton kept his army in New York; Admiral de Grasse, the French naval commander, turned up with the fleet at the right time, and lured the British navy out to sea after having successfully engaged it in action. Cornwallis stayed where he was, cut off by sea from retreat. The Continentals and the French were joined by the militia to make a formidably superior force under Washington. Cornwallis did not deign to attempt daring maneuvers to break out in these circumstances; after only a brief try against the forces, which did not even bring most of his army into play, he surrendered his army intact. The memorable date was October 19, 1781.

Yorktown was the great victory of the American War for Independence. It had all, or almost all, of the right ingredients. Washington was in command of the victorious; after so many years of perseverance in the face of the odds, his hour had come. That Cornwallis should have been the British commander defeated was as it should be, too, for no other British commander had routed so many American armies. Even the surrender was dramatically conducted, though Cornwallis sent a subaltern to do the dishonors. With the French lined up on one side and the Americans on the other, the British marched between them to the tune of “The World Turned Upside Down” to the place where they laid down their arms. The British turned their eyes toward the French, as if in contempt of the Americans. They were roundly jeered by the Americans who waited to do so, wisely, until the British had thrown down their arms. Thus ended the last great battle of the war.

There had been and were to be American victories elsewhere, some with great portent for the future, though none so dramatic or decisive for victory in the war as that at Yorktown. Neither the British nor Americans had entirely neglected the western and southern frontiers. The British attempted to dominate the land beyond the mountains largely with the aid of the Indians. However, in 1778 and 1779 George Rogers Clark of Virginia broke the back of this dominance. Of Clark’s victory at Vincennes in 1779, a military historian has said: “His march across flooded Illinois may not compare for hardship with Arnold’s long journey through the Maine wilderness in 1775, yet the issue was happier, the victory complete and significant. British power in the West was broken, and despite the failure to take Detroit, Clark helped make it possible for the vast area to be included within the boundaries of the United States of America at the peace treaty.”2 Less grand in its dimensions but equally important for a smaller area, Georgia was reconquered by the Patriots in 1782, the culmination of a long series of exploits by General Anthony Wayne.

Much went on during the War for Independence besides military and naval battles, of course. Nor was the American triumph, in the final analysis, simply a military triumph. What Americans would do with their independence was surely more important than whether they would have it. One thing Americans were determined not to have for very long was arbitrary government. They thought that the way to avoid this was to have a written constitution. When Richard Henry Lee made a motion for independence in the Second Continental Congress in June of 1776, he included with his resolution a proposal that some plan of confederation be devised. Such a plan to be acceptable, of course, would have to be of the nature of a constitution. A committee was appointed to attend to this even before independence had been formally declared. A few days after the adoption of the Declaration, the committee presented what were called Articles of Confederation to the Congress. They were drafted, in the main, by John Dickinson.

Congress did not move with such dispatch to approve them, however, nor the states to their ratification. Some debate was wedged in from time to time between the more pressing items of business which confronted the Congress. The Articles of Confederation were finally adopted by Congress in 1777 and sent along in due course for the states to ratify. Most of the states acted within the next fourteen months, but Maryland withheld ratification for several years. The main issue was western lands, particularly the extensive claims of Virginia beyond the mountains. Virginia would have been huge in comparison with the other states if it had consisted only of the present states of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky, which it did; but that parent state laid claim to vast territory in the Ohio valley as well. Agreements of the states involved to yield up their western claims brought Maryland into the fold on March 1, 1781.

On the occasion, the Pennsylvania Packet editorialized in this jubilant fashion:

This great event, which will confound our enemies, fortify us against their arts of seduction, and frustrate their plans of division, was announced to the public at twelve o’clock under the discharge of the artillery on the land, and the cannon of the shipping in the Delaware. The bells were rung, and every manifestation of joy shown on the occasion… 3

Truth to tell, however, it had taken more than half as long to get the Articles adopted as they would serve as the foundation for a union.

The Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation were born of the necessity for the states to unite in order to carry on war against Britain and were given their content by the reaction to the increasing use of British power which occasioned the war. While men recognized the need for united action against a common enemy they were most reluctant to locate much power in a central government — or, if Madison was right in his later analysis, even to establish such a government.

There was considerable ambiguity as to the status of the states and of the union from the outset. That ambiguity was a product both of history and the desires of the people. On the one hand, the colonies had never been united with one another before 1776 —except by their allegiance to the king of England, which tended to separate them from one another rather than to link them together. On the other hand, they acted together both in their resistance to British impositions and eventually in separating from England. There was no point in time when the states were independent and sovereign on their own. As John Fiske said: “It is… clear that in the very act of severing their connection with England these commonwealths entered into some sort of union which was incompatible with their absolute sovereignty taken severally.”4

Yet, the term “state” was early used to apply to most of them, and the name has stuck (in general usage even when the “state” involved is actually, styled a “commonwealth”). The most common meaning attached to “state” in political theory and usage is this: “the body politic as organized for supreme civil rule and government.” A “state” is also usually referred to as sovereign and independent.

The Articles of Confederation did attempt to clear up any confusion in status; the question was formally resolved in favor of state sovereignty. The union established under the Articles was styled a confederation. In common usage, a confederation is an alliance or league among sovereign states. The articles appeared to affirm that this was to be the case. Article II says, “Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” What is implied here is a division of powers: some to be retained and exercised by the states individually, others to be conferred upon the confederation to be exercised jointly. But once such powers were conferred, the states would lose their absolute sovereignty. Could some plan not be devised whereby the states could retain their sovereignty individually, yet act together in common concerns? The Articles of Confederation attempted to do this.

What was tried was to make the Congress continually and completely dependent upon the states.

Congress was denied the power of taxation, nor did it have any enforcement machinery of its own, i.e., it had neither constabulary nor courts. Moreover, the representatives to the Congress were to be chosen by or under the direction of the state legislatures. Each state was to have only one vote in the Congress, though a state might have from two to seven delegates. Care was taken that the members of Congress did not gain personal power. This was guarded against by having members subject to recall by the states at any time and prohibiting that any person serve more than three years in any six year period. The picture that emerges from this is of the states resolutely clinging to their power.

With the above restrictions upon it, Congress was ostensibly granted extensive authority. It was empowered to make war and peace, send and receive ambassadors and ministers, emit bills of credit, borrow money, make treaties and alliances, establish a post office, settle various kinds of disputes arising among the states, appoint high ranking military and all naval officers, fix the value of coins, regulate weights and measures, and manage Indian affairs where a state was not directly involved. Further to cement the union, the Articles provided that each state was to give full faith and credit to the acts of the others and that citizens of any state could move from state to state.

The Articles also limited state power in a variety of ways. States were prohibited to carry on diplomatic relations with other countries or enter into treaties or alliances with them without the consent of Congress. In a similar fashion, states were forbidden to form alliances or confederations with one another. States were limited in the military or naval forces they could have and restricted in their war-making powers to defensive action.

Although the Articles of Confederation were soon to be adjudged inadequate to the needs of union — and a further critique of them is made in a subsequent chapter —, they are nonetheless important for reasons in addition to the fact that they served briefly as a basis of governing the United States. First of all, the Articles were the first United States constitution. They were influential in the drawing of the Constitution of 1787; some of the language was taken verbatim into the later document. They provided for a limited government with specified powers, probably the most important principle of the Constitution. And, the Articles attempted to divide and separate powers among two different levels of government, a principle which the later document incorporated much more effectively. The Articles of Confederation signify the triumph of limited constitutional government in America, even though they were a groping toward and a demonstrably insufficient realization of it.

The Treaty of Paris, 1783

The greatest achievement under the Articles of Confederation was the Treaty of Paris of 1783. By its terms the thirteen states not only attained their independence but also acquired an empire beyond the mountains. The acquisition of this vast domain was probably the greatest diplomatic triumph in American history. That a people who had won so few battles, who had such a weak central government, who had never managed to bring many of their resources to bear in the prosecution of the war effort, who were so dependent on the aid of other countries, should have such success at the peace table requires a little explanation.

The American success was helped by the precarious situation of the English. Britain wanted an end to the war, but her leaders were eager to prevent gains by European powers. Lord North’s government fell in early 1782 in the most humiliating manner. A motion carried to make it a crime to advance the notion that the colonies could be restored by war. Lord North was replaced by the Earl of Rockingham, “the old Whig and repealer of the Stamp Act,” who “was recalled to preside over a government committed to the abandonment of the former American colonies in revolt and to the liquidation of the world war in progress.”5 He died shortly, and was replaced by Lord Shelburne who was, if anything, more favorably disposed to the Americans than Rockingham.

France had already renounced any claim to any territory on the continent of North America in the Franco-American Alliance of 1778. Even so, France was not eager to see Canada become a part of the United States. Moreover, France was allied with Spain and was, in this way, entangled with Spanish territorial ambitions. As if this were not enough, Congress instructed its peace commission to follow the guidance of the French in the treaty making.

It was left to the peace commission either to utilize to American advantage the animosities, jealousies, and rivalries of European powers or to have American ambitions subordinated to them. It was in the hands, then, of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams. A hostess thinking in terms of compatible guests probably would not have invited these three at the same time. Jay and Adams could get along well enough together. Both men were distrustful of European diplomats; they considered them corrupt and devious. Jay’s recent experiences in Spain had fortified him in this opinion. John Adams was a Yankee — an American — and proud of it. Truly one of the great men among the Founders, Adams’ greatness was circumscribed by a temperament which tended to alienate others and a physique more suited to a mortician than a statesman. It was his fate to labor ever in the shade of men whose most lauded attainments he would hardly have considered worthy of his best efforts. He lacked Franklin’s resiliency, Washington’s commanding presence, Hamilton’s dynamic drive, and Jefferson’s knack for illuminating philosophical positions with unforgettable prose. Yet, great man he was, his constancy to the American cause was as enduring as Washington’s, and his sacrifices for it were rarely exceeded. What he lacked as a diplomat he made up for with his commitment to his country. Benjamin Franklin was — well, Benjamin Franklin: diplomat par excellence, homely economist, scientist and inventor, and international bon vivant. A good diplomat is one who yields everything to the other party except the substance for which they are contending. For much of his life Franklin had devoted himself to the austere task of learning to get his way by subterfuge. His years in Paris were a fitting epitome to a long life. These three matched and overmatched the best Europe could send against them.

Even before negotiations got under way, informal French and Spanish proposals had been brought to Jay’s attention which would have turned the territory south of the Ohio over to Spain and allowed Britain to keep the territory north of the Ohio. “If this French proposal, which so pleased the Spaniards, had been adopted, the United States would not have secured from Great Britain title to the region now composing the present states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and would have lost to Spain the western part of Kentucky and Tennessee, Mississippi, and part of Louisiana, along with most of Alabama.”” In view of the fact that Spain wanted Gibraltar from Britain and Britain wanted to hold on to Florida, the above dispositions might have been made if all interested parties had gathered around a table to negotiate or if France had been allowed the role of arbitrator. This did not happen. The Americans ignored the instructions of Congress to defer to France, negotiated a settlement with Britain, and saw to it that this settlement was subsequently made a part of the overall treaty. They were faithful to the terms of alliance with France, for this was not a separate peace, but they undoubtedly exceeded the bounds Congress had set for them.

In the treaty, the United States got all the territory west to the Mississippi river, south to the 31st parallel, and north to a line bisecting the Great Lakes, or south of Canada. The British also conceded that the people of the United States could use the North Atlantic fisheries. The independence of the states was affirmed, hostilities were to cease, and Britain agreed to remove her armed forces from the United States “with all convenient speed.”

There were some concessions made by the United States. Both sides agreed that creditors of either country should have no obstacles put in the way of collecting debts owed them by citizens of the other. Most of the creditors involved were British. Congress was to recommend to the states that the rights and property of Loyalists be restored, and the treaty provided that the persecution of loyalists should end. Britain and the United States agreed to the free navigation of the Mississippi, but Spain, the other country with territory on it, did not join in the agreement.

The Treaty of Paris was truly an American triumph. George Washington described its portent in these words: “The citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole lords and proprietors of a vast tract of continent, comprehending all the various soils and climates of the world, and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniences of life, are now, by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and independence.”7 Some decades ago, an American historian declared: “On the part of the Americans the treaty of Paris was one of the most brilliant triumphs in the whole history of modern diplomacy.”8 A more recent diplomatic historian has seconded this opinion: “The greatest victory in the annals of American diplomacy was won at the outset by Franklin, Jay, and Adams.”°

Disbanding the Troops

The greatest triumph of all, however, requires an appreciation of what might have been but was not to stand out in relief. The most critical moment for the success of the American Revolution almost certainly came in 1783. It was at about the time of the British withdrawal of forces from the east coast. The Continental army, what remained of it in camps along with what might have been summoned again into service, was now the only considerable force in the United States. This was the moment for a military coup d’état, if there was to be one, the moment when the American Revolution might have followed the course of so many others. Nor was the provocation lacking. The military had been sorely neglected during the long years of war. Now that the victory had been won, the army was invited to disband and its members return home without being paid what had so long been promised.

George Washington was almost certainly the key to what would and did happen at this critical juncture. His prestige had grown during the years of his command, until at the end of the war he was the pre-eminent American. His critics had harmed only themselves; they were chipping at granite with teaspoons. He was approached more than once with the idea that he take over the country. There is no evidence that he ever seriously contemplated such a course. On the contrary, he rebuked those who hinted at such things, and persisted in doing his duty as he saw it. His duty as he saw it was, having finished his military task to lay down his sword, following the path he had ever trod of subordination to the civil authorities, and return to his peaceful pursuits at Mount Vernon. His every utterance confirmed, too, that in this case duty was happily joined to his heart’s desire, for he longed for the leisure to pursue his private affairs. Moreover, the manner in which he conducted himself in his resignation and retirement should leave no reasonable doubt as to his sincerity. A little retelling of some of the events of his last months of service will underscore the point.

Two events of early 1783 indicate that there was danger of a military revolt. The first of these is the one known as the Newburgh Address, which was a letter sent around to Washington’s officers exhorting them to take matters into their own hands to get what they thought they deserved. Washington ordered his officers assembled and to be presided over by General Horatio Gates who, it is believed, had a hand in the Address. When they were assembled, Washington came into the room and asked to be allowed to say a few words to them. He told them that he knew well how much they had suffered and could sympathize with their wish to be rewarded. But he bade them to keep their faith in and with Congress. He had with him a letter from a member of Congress which he thought might help to restore their faith if he read from it. But when he opened it up to read, he had difficulty making out some of the words. He took out his eyeglasses and put them on — he had not worn them in public before —, and looking up from the letter, he said: “I have grown gray in your service, and now find myself growing blind.” It is said that the eyes of those gathered round filled with tears, for they knew how sturdily he had borne so much for so many years. It was hardly necessary for him to finish what he had to say. Once Washington withdrew, the officers adopted a resolution affirming their confidence in Congress and declared that they rejected “with disdain the infamous proposals contained in a late anonymous address to them.”¹° Of less potential for mischief was an event in June, though it does show what might have been. Fewer than a hundred soldiers of the Pennsylvania Line regiment descended on Congress at Philadelphia and threatened them in such a way that Congress retired to hold its deliberations at Princeton. Washington sent troops to put down this little uprising in Pennsylvania.

The last major contingent of British forces departed from New York City in early December of 1783. Just prior to their taking leave the Continental troops moved into the city to see that everything went off in an orderly way. It was an occasion for great rejoicing as the Continentals marched in, for the British had occupied the city for more than seven years. A spectator wrote: “We had been accustomed for a long time to military display in all the finish and finery of garrison life; the troops just leaving us were as if equipped for show, and with their scarlet uniforms and burnished arms, made a brilliant display; the troops that marched in, on the contrary, were ill-clad and weather beaten, and made a forlorn appearance; but then they were our troops, and as I looked at them and thought upon all they had done and suffered for us, my heart and eyes were full, and I admired and gloried in them the more, because they were weather beaten and forlorn.”11

The time had at last come for George Washington to take leave of the army he had served for eight and a half years. He notified the officers that he would bid them farewell at Fraunces’ Tavern at noon of the day of departure. All who could make it gathered there. It was a moving occasion. Washington was so filled with emotion that he could hardly speak. “With a heart full of love and gratitude,” he said, “I now take my leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your later days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.” So saying, he asked that each of them would come by to shake his hand, since he feared he would not be able to make it around to them. General Henry Knox, who had served him faithfully for so many years, came first; Washington was so overcome that a handshake would not do. He embraced him as both of them wept. “Once done, this had of course to be done with all from Steuben to the youngest officer. With streaming eyes, they came to him, received the embrace, and passed on.”12

Washington hoped to make it home to Virginia by Christmas when he set out from New York. But there were many festive occasions to be attended along the way, and he had business to do first. He journeyed to Philadelphia to turn in his accounts. Then he went on to Annapolis to resign his commission before Congress.

This he did just after twelve o’clock on December 23rd. The galleries were packed for the occasion, though many members of Congress were absent at this time. As the ceremony began, Washington’s biographer says that “a hush of high expectance prevailed.” Washington began his address: “Mr. President: The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I have now the honor of offering my sincere Congratulations to Congress and of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the service of my country.”¹3

It was a solemn and affecting spectacle…. The spectators all wept, and there was hardly a member of Congress who did not drop tears. The General’s hand which held the address shook as he read it. When he spoke of the officers who had composed his family, and recommended those who had continued in it to the present moment to the favorable notice of Congress he was obliged to support the paper with both hands. But when he commended the interests of his dearest country to almighty God… his voice faltered and sunk, and the whole house felt his agitations.

When Washington regained his composure, he concluded strongly:

Having now finished the work assigned me I retire from the great theatre of action, and bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body under whose orders I have so long acted I here offer my commission and take my leave of all the employments of public life.14

As soon as the ceremony was over, Washington set out for Mount Vernon, and by hard riding was able to make it home to spend Christmas day with his wife and grandchildren. The American Cincinnatus had returned to his plow.

Next: Freeing the Individual.



¹ Jack P. Greene, ed., Colonies to Nation (New York: McGraw Hill, 1967), p. 443.

2 Howard H. Peckham, The War for Independence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), pp. 109-10.

3 Quoted in Merrill Jensen, The New Nation (New York: Vintage Books, 1950), pp. 26-27.

4 John Fiske, The Critical Period of American History (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916), p. 91.

5 Dan Lacy, The Meaning of the American Revolution (New York: New American Library, 1964), p. 191.

6 Samuel F. Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957), p. 219.

7 Greene, op. cit., p. 437.

8 Fiske, op. cit., p. 34.

9 Bemis, op. cit., p. 256.

¹º Fiske, op. cit., p. 111.

1¹ Quoted in Douglas S. Freeman, Washington, abridged by Richard Harwell (New York: Scribner’s, 1968), p. 506.

¹2 Ibid., p. 507.

13 Ibid., p. 509.

14 Quoted in Samuel E. Morison, The Oxford History of the American People (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 269.  

  • Clarence Carson (1926-2003) was a historian who taught at Eaton College, Grove City College, and Hillsdale College. His primary publication venue was the Foundation for Economic Education. Among his many works is the six-volume A Basic History of the United States.