Today, the Lafayette Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin takes us back to April 28, 1781 with an article from the Pennsylvania Packet.
We can learn from history.
In this case, the author attempted to convince Americans of their honor, their integrity, and most of all, their objectives of the war.
[Rough translation of the Latin phrase from Horace: if you do not pursue your goals for your preservation, the evils resulting from your indolence will cause you more trouble than you originally refused to take.]
April 28. — “Cassius,” in the Pennsylvania Packet of today, makes the following strictures upon the present state of affairs in America: —
Si nolis sanus, curres hydropicus.
Friends and Countrymen: — We are now entered into the sixth year of the war, and yet experience has not furnished us with wisdom.
Our officers and soldiers have indeed acquired a considerable degree of military knowledge; but every department of government, in every State of the Union, seems rather to have lost a part of what they possessed at the beginning of the contest, than to have added to the original stock.
When Sir William Howe landed on this continent with about thirty thousand veteran soldiers in 1776, though you had nothing but inexperienced and undisciplined troops to oppose to them, no despondency was to be seen.
At the beginning you were beaten, which was expected by everybody who had any knowledge of the history of the world.
The perseverance, however, and exertions of Congress, and of the different States, prevented the enemy from reaping the advantages which they expected from their success.
Their objects were conquest and subjugation, and they were disappointed.
The capture of the Hessians at Trenton, and the engagement at Princeton, which immediately followed that event, reflected the highest honor on your general and the troops under his command, and gave the first favorable turn to your affairs; and the courage and conduct of your army at Saratoga impressed all Europe with a high opinion of your military character.
The virtuous cause in which America was engaged, the wisdom of her councils, and the bravery of her troops, were everywhere the subjects of conversation.
Your friends were delighted, and the various publications which appeared in England, together with the debates of the English Parliament, proved that your enemies could not withhold their admiration, at the same time that they were confounded and astonished.
In the hour of their insolence the throne of England had been in vain besieged by your supplications. Offers were now made on their part and rejected, infinitely more favorable to America than had ever been proposed by her.
These offers came too late. Your Representatives in Congress had resolved to break the political bands which had connected you with England, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitled you; and for the support of that declaration had pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.
Other insuperable objections presented themselves against the acceptance of the offers of Great Britain. The most solemn engagements had been entered into by treaty with the king of France, that neither of the contracting parties should conclude either truce or peace with her, without the formal consent of the other; and they had mutually agreed not to lay down their arms, until the independence of the United States, which is declared to be the essential and direct end of the alliance, should be secured.
The two contracting parties likewise engaged “to make all the efforts in their power against their common enemy, in order to attain the end proposed.”
It is not my intention to touch upon the cabals and party disputes with which this country has been distracted, both in and out of Congress, and which have retarded our exertions.
I pass over them with silence and with sorrow. They are to be lamented by us all; and it is the interest of all that they should be buried in eternal oblivion.
I am induced to trouble you with this address, to remind you that the stipulations which have just been mentioned are mutual. That you are as solemnly engaged to France, as she is to you, to make all the efforts in the power of each of you, against the common enemy, for the purpose of securing the independence of the United States, AND THAT YOU HAVE NOT FULFILLED YOUR ENGAGEMENTS.
With respect to the army, Congress appear to have done everything in their power. They are not vested with legislative authority, but whenever their requisitions are made for the public good, they ought punctually to be complied with.
They called in proper time upon the different States, for a certain number of men, to be furnished by each of them, in proportion to their respective abilities, for the completion of the federal army.
The time for opening the campaign draws very near, and this necessary requisition of Congress has not yet been fully complied with. The reinforcement mentioned by the Count De Rochambeau will probably arrive during the course of next summer.
That general officer informed the Assembly of Rhode Island, that the corps which he now commands, is only the avant-garde of a greater force expected from France.
It is certain that the avant-garde has preceded the main body an unusual length of time; unforeseen circumstances may have occasioned this.
There is no doubt, however, but the latter will come; and when they do, it will be as uncommon a spectacle as it will be disgraceful to us, to see a body of auxiliaries sent from the distance of three thousand miles, exceeding in number the national troops of the country they are sent to assist.
If you are determined not to make those exertions which are necessary for establishing your independence, it is an act of cruelty to suffer the war to be continued any longer.
In that case you should instruct your representatives in Congress to send a deputation immediately to the Court of France, to inform them of your intentions.
They should be told, that the solemn assurances which you gave some time ago, to prosecute the war with all possible vigor, even to the sacrifice of your lives and fortunes, for the accomplishment of your independence, were words without any meaning, and that you are sorry you ever made use of them.
That it is true the English have used you very ill, that they have destroyed a great number of your bravest and most valuable citizens, have burnt your towns, and let loose the savages of the wilderness to murder your women and children, and have committed many other acts of the most atrocious nature; that, however, your hearts are very tender, and disposed to forget and forgive; and that therefore you beg to be absolved from your engagements with the Court of France, that you may sue for, and receive the pardon and protection from the king of England, which he has been graciously pleased to offer to those who truly repent.
Dishonorable and criminal as this proceeding may appear, it certainly would be less so than the conduct of several legislatures of this continent.
These legislatures are of your own creation, and receive their political existence from the breath of your nostrils.
It behooves you, therefore, to enter into an immediate examination of their conduct, and to instruct them on those points wherein they may be found to have been negligent or deficient.
The Lafayette Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows against an image of the Pennsylvania Packet newspaper from 1781.
[Lafayette dollar image courtesy of US Mint.]