The Struggle for the Hudson River and the Middle States in 1776

  1. The Declaration of Independence is adopted July 4, 1776
  2. The Tories complicate the American cause
  3. Washington tries to prevent British control of the lower Hudson and is defeated
  4. Washington is forced to retreat
  5. Victories at Trenton and Princeton
  6. Robert Morris gives money liberally

A. The Declaration of Independence, a remarkable historical document, is adopted July 4, 1776.

When the first gun of the Revolution was fired, Samuel Adams stood almost alone in his desire for the political separation of America from England. Within the period of a year, however, the desire for independence had grown rapidly. These were some of the reasons: the king had refused to hear the petition sent to him by the Continental Congress; he had called the colonists rebels; he had sent his ships of war to burn their towns; and, worst of all, he had hired Hessian soldiers to make war upon them. The fact that war already existed also weakened the bond of union with England, and many began to look with favor upon the idea of independence.

Virginia took a leading part in the movement by instructing her delegates in Congress to vote for independence, and her action had its due influence upon the other colonies. Besides, the Stamp Act, the Boston Port Bill, and the other unpopular measures of the king and Parliament had drawn the colonies closer together. They were beginning not only to realize the value of union, but to have a feeling of self-confidence leading to a desire for independence. This found formal expression when, on June 7, Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, introduced in Congress a resolution "that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states. This resolution was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts. Thus did the leading colonies, Massachusetts and Virginia, unite in this important step toward establishing the nation which was to be called the United States.

Before July all the colonies except New York had declared themselves in favor of independence. In the meantime the committee which had been appointed to prepare the Declaration of Independence made its report. This famous paper, written by Thomas Jefferson, was formally adopted in Independence Hall,s Philadelphia, July 4, 1776. Realizing how serious the occasion was, John Hancock said: "We must be unanimous; we must hang together." "Yes," said Franklin, with his ready wit, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

After the adoption, the old Liberty Bell, that hung in the belfry of the building where Congress met, pealed forth the glad tidings; and the great event was celebrated throughout the country by huge bonfires, the ringing of bells, the firing of guns, and torchlight processions.

B. The Tories complicate the American cause.

Before July 4, 1776, the American Patriots had been struggling for rights of free-born Engllshmen; after that date they fought for national independence. Yet, as indicated, not all the Americans were united in their desire for separation from the British Empire. Even in the Continental Congress there were lively and vigorous debates over the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. It has been estimated that at the time when the Continental Congress held its first meeting (1774), probably from 40 to 50 per cent of the colonists were Loyalists, or Tories. Indeed, in Pennsylvania and in New York, as well as in South Carolina and Georgia, the Tories numbered, according to some authorities, more than half the people. There is little doubt that during the war as many as 25,000 American Tories took up arms on the side of King George and the British Government. After the signing of the Declaration of Independence the situation changed in America. The thirteen colonies had now become thirteen states, and had united to form an independent country of their own. Therefore, the men in America Who in-sisted upon remaining loyal to the British king were now looked upon and denounced as enemies and traitors. In fact, the Declaration of Independence had precipitated a war whose character was twofold, for it was not only a war between the Americans and the British, but also a civil war between the American Patriots and American Tories.

C. Washington tries to prevent the British from gaining control of the lower Hudson and is defeated.

Washington thought that the British after leaving Boston would try to take New York, with the purpose of getting control of the Hudson River, thus cutting off New England from the other states. He therefore went to New York with his army, consisting of only 28,000 men, most of them untrained, and all poorly supplied with arms and food.

General Howe arrived from Halifax early in August with an army of 30,000 men and a large fleet. Late in the month he attacked that part of Washington's army which was occupying Brooklyn Heights and, having vastly larger numbers, defeated them. If he had pressed his victory he might have captured all the American army that was on Long Island and even Washington himself, who, during the last part of the battle, had crossed over from New York. But he was too slow. Two days later Washington, perceiving that the British fleet was moving to cut him off from New York, collected all the boats he could find, and, with he aid of a heavy fog, escaped during the night with his whole force.

D. Washington is forced to retreat across New Jersey.

Realizing that he could not hold New York, Washington withdrew his army. After some minor engagements north of the city, he crossed over to New Jersey with a part of his troops. Two or three weeks later the British captured Forts Washington and Lee, near the mouth of the Hudson, and 3,000 men. This was a heavy loss to the American cause, especially at this time, when everything seemed to be going against it.

Even worse misfortunes were to follow. In order to prevent the British from taking Philadelphia, Washington put his troops between that city and New York. General Howe pressed him closely. To save his army from capture, Washington was again forced to retreat, breaking down bridges and destroying supplies. Often his rear-guard was just leaving a burning bridge when the British could be seen approaching. But his retreat through New Jersey was so effective in delaying the British that it took them nineteen days to advance a little over sixty miles. Having previously sent on men to collect boats along the Delaware River, for nearly one hundred miles, Washington got his little army across just in time to escape the British, who arrived on the evening of the same day.

E. Victories at Trenton and Princeton inspire the Patriots with new hope.

These were indeed "dark and dismal" days. In the retreat across Princeton inspire the New Jersey there was great suffering. Many of the soldiers were without shoes, and could be tracked by their crimson footsteps upon the snow. Moreover, Washington saw his army dwindling constantly, because the men whose term of enlistment had expired were leaving daily for their homes. When he crossed the Delaware River he had only about 3,000 soldiers. Even the friends of the Patriot cause, both in England and America, believed the Americans hopelessly beaten. Doubt and gloom were wide-spread. But Washington was not without hope. He still had faith in the cause and in his power to win if only the army would hold out.

His one hope of success was by a surprise attack. He therefore planned to strike his overconfident enemy a heavy blow by marching against a body of Hessians stationed at Trenton. The attack was made on Christmas night with 2,400 picked men. Early in the evening they began to cross the river, where great blocks of ice floating down the swift current made the adventure a perilous one.

Massachusetts fishermen skilfully directed the boats, but it was four in the morning before the soldiers were all landed, ready to take up their line of march. In a furious storm of snow and sleet which beat in their faces they plodded on toward Trenton, nine miles away, where they arrived at daybreak. They captured more than 1,000 men, almost the whole force. Thus by one bold stroke Washington had changed defeat to victory, and inspired the patriot Americans with new hope. The British generals were amazed. Leaving a rear- guard at Princeton to protect his supplies, General Charles Cornwallis speedily advanced with a superior force against Washington. At nightfall, January 2, 1777, only a small creek separated the two armies, just south of Trenton. "At last," said Cornwallis, "we have run down the old fox, and we will bag him in the morning." But Washington outgeneralled him. During the night he not only escaped but marched around Cornwallis, defeating his rear -guard at Princeton, and capturing 500 prisoners.

F. Robert Morris gives money liberally to keep the army together.

Nevertheless after these striking successes Washington was in sore straits with his army. Many of the soldiers' terms of service would soon expire, and these men were eager to get to their homes. Washington knew that hard cash would hold them for a few weeks. He wrote in haste, therefore, to his friend Robert Morris, a rich merchant and banker of Philadelphia, for $50,000. Morris promptly responded. Before light on New Year's morning he went knocking from door to door to secure the money from among his friends. By noon the sum was made up and on its way to Washington.

The army was saved, and Washington was able to bring to an end a brilliantly executed campaign. Again, during Greene's campaign in the Carolinas (1780), and during Washington's about Yorktown (1781), Morris came to the rescue of the army. His ample,fortune was a silent power which none the less truly than the military genius of Washington made American independence possible.