Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

of different parties, at different times, and in a country in which, excepting from himself, the complaint of persecution is utterly unknown? To these questions he answers, that with regard to the charges of his enemies, it would be found, that in the 19th century (notwithstanding the progress of arts, sciences and civiliza'tion) he had been sacrificed to angry passions and ambitious in"trigues, and that his uniform zeal had been repaid by persecustions, which sprung out of frivolous incidents, to which he was not "a party, and unlooked-for events, over which he had no control.' a We now proceed, as is our duty, to examine these angry passions, ambitious intrigues and frivolous incidents, to which the General has become a victim, and particularly, how far the description he has given, adapts itself to the persecutions he has suffered.

The first of these--and which may be denominated the persecution of his youth-was set on foot in the year 1777, and supported, on two charges, sufficiently frivolous, to wit: a breach of faith to an old friend and benefactor ; and an attempt to fasten the stigma of his own delinquency on an innocent and unsuspecting companion. To get at the real character of this affair, the reader must consent to go back a few steps with us, and by doing so he will find, that as early as the fall of 1776, General Gates had obtained a very dangerous ascendency over the head and heart of our author; that, on one occasion, he drew him from his duty at the peril of his reputation ;b that, on another, he made him abandon a Lieutenant-Colonelcy in the line, for a Majority in the staff; and lastly, that but for the interposition of a woman, he would have made him blow out his brains. These facts, abundantly show the feverish attachment of our author, which was not unreturned in quality or degree ; for if the one praised and admired, the other flattered and rewarded; and in a few weeks, the aid was raised to the duties of an Adjutant-General, and the Major to the rank of a Colonel. Nor did this flood of tenderness stop here: the capture of Burgoyne and his army, was not an every day occurrence; its details must be sent to Congress; the Adjutant-General was selected to carry the despatch, and, according to the tradition of the day, took care to have himself so spoken of in it, as induced Congress to make him a Brigadier by brevet.a About the time of his leaving the northern army, his friend and patron received a letter from Gen. Conway, indicating some defects in our military establishment, and pointing some censures at the conduct of the commander in chief. This letter was shown to Wilkinson confidentially,

a Vol. II. chap. 1. p. 3. b Vol. I. chap. 3. p. 126. and chap. 4. p. 160. c Vol. I. chap. 4. p. 172. 'I anxiously expect General St. Clair ; his presence will help to alleviate the load which oppresses me. The perfidy Fof mankind truly disgusts me with life, and, if the happiness of an amiable woman was not unfortunately too dependent upon my wretched existence, I * should think I had lived long enough, nor would I wish more to breathe the 'common air with ingrates, assassins, and double-faced villains.' This disgust of life is pretty well for a lad, who—though he had been two years before let loose upon the world as a practising physician-had not, according to his own computation, reached twenty years. And, on what account, is he so indignant? Because Schuyler superseded Gates! and who were the ingrates, assassins, &c. of whom he spoke? The old and venerable Congress of the revolution or what avail are the censures of one, who has been a slanderer from his cradle, and who calls names with so little truth, justice or discrimination?

who seizing its character and object, treasured up enough of both for future use. Having now got from Gates, all that Gates could give-his praises and his secrets-our hero sets out for Congress, and in six days reached the town of Reading. This period, short as it appears, was long enough to rescue him from the infatuation of his late attachment; to restore him to his senses, and make kim reflect how he could best employ the two levers with which Gates's partiality had furnished him. The letter to Congress must indeed operate with that body; but might not its object be promoted by an adroit discovery of Conway's disaffection? Was it rot probable, that Washington would be consulted, on the propriety of making the youngest Colonel in the army a Brigadier General ? Was it certain, that if the appointment was made, the army would tolerate a violation of all rules in favour of a man, who defended no work, who marshalled no line, who led no attack, and whose principal merit was that of a Clerk ? With all his selfapprobation, these reflections were not likely to escape our author, and he thought he saw, in Conway's letter and Gates's confidence, the means of silencing the objections of the troops and propitiating the favour of their chief. Nor, with views like these, could any thing be more fortunate than his rencounter with Lord Sterling; who, next to his bottle, loved his friend and commander. Even the weather became subsidiary to the plot, and furnished a pretext for delay and the acceptance of a 'pot-luck' dinner with his Lordship. We dined agreeably,' says the General, and I did not get 'away before midnight.' 'In the course of the day, the Earl fought · over the battle of Long-Island in detail, and favoured me with • recitals of all the affairs in which he had subsequently performed ' a part; and I reciprocated information of such transactions, in

the north, as could interest or amuse him.' In this flow of toddy and of soul, Conway's letter was not forgotten, and Lord Sterling was enabled to transmit an alleged copy of the offensive paragraph, with this remark, “the enclosed, was communicated by Col. Wilkinson to Major M Williams.”a Having thus sown his seed, our intriguer left it to vegetate, and pursued his journey to York; whence, in a long and affectionate letter to Gates, he admonishes his much loved friend against ever, in future, suffering his papers, public or private, to be inspected.b

a The story alluded to was, that Gates had ended with paragraph 3d of the letter, as it now stands, (vol. 1. p. 324,) but showing it to Wilkinson, and finding it was not enough to satisfy the demands of his appetite, he said in his rough way—“Well, damn you, take the pen and make it what you wish it to be.": Wilkinson's modesty did not permit him to add more than the last sentence.

b Vol. I. p. 331.

On the 6th of November, Congress bestowed upon him what, from bis own account, he had so well deserved—the rank of Brigadier General-after which, he immediately repaired to head quarters, and was neither disappointed nor displeased with the reception he met.

While the new Brigadier, was thus making his court and exhibiting his stars, his old friend and patron, was not on a bed of roses. He had received a letter from Mifflin, advising him of the trick that had been played him ;—that “an extract from General Conway's letter had been procured and sent to Head Quarters,' and though 'a collection of just sentiments, yet such as should not "hare been intrusted to any of his family.'d The bint was lost upon Gates, who did not recollect, that of the young men who then composed his staff, Wilkinson was the only one with whom Mifflin was acquainted, and that therefore the suspicion was necessarily directed at him he could not admit, for a moment, that the protege whom he had nourished, caressed and exalted ; that the friend of bis bosom, who had so recently admonished him against overWeening confidence, could have been either indiscreet, or flagitious; and accordingly, his reception of Wilkinson was, what it used to be, cordial and confidential.

The subject nearest the old General's heart, was soonest on his lips; "We have had,” he says, “a spy in the camp, since you left us; Conway's letter has been stolen and copied, and an extract sent to Head Quarters.” “And whom do you suspect," replies Wilkinson, “any of the family?” “No-Hamilton was left alone in this room, and may have taken the letter from that closet." Now reader, what answer would you expect from one, whose 're'ligious principles were always alive and active'—from one, the jewel of whose soul was honour'--from one, 'unconscious of ever having done wrong to mortal man—from one, who so often and solemnly appeals to the Searcher of all hearts,' for the purity of his own?-Not surely prevarication, nor falsehood; nor an attempt to deceive his benefactor, and ruin the reputation of an unoffending companion and friend ? Such certainly would have been our cona Vol. I. p. 386.

b, Vol. I. p. 337. c Two silver stars, on gold straps, were the insiguia of a Brigadier General's epaulettes.

d Vol. I. p. 374.

[ocr errors]

clusion-but listen to Judas-"Is it not more probable," says he, “that Troup, who was Hamilton's intimate friend, may have in. cautiously whispered the secret to him ?” What epithets, reader, are strong enough to characterize this conduct? Can any thing more base, hollow, or flagitious, be imagined? But let us not be hasty in giving judgment; let us hear and weigh the defence that a lapse of forty years has enabled him to make.

In page 330, the subject is first introduced, and we are told, that in Oct. 1777, Conway's letter and his thirteen reasons for the

loss of the battle of Brandywine,' were table-talk both in Easton and Reading: but here the author pauses in his narration, recoils from his own story, and to enliven himself and his reader, resorts to two episodes—the adventures of Madame De Reidhesel, and a critique, of his own, on the battle of Germantown. At page 372, Conway and his letter appear again and occupy three pages; when lo! they give place to more urgent business; to plans for · Lady · Ackland's accouchement' in New York, instead of Albany; the exchange of her husband for Col. Williams; the subsequent and sorrowful story of the English major and his lady; a peep into Vattel's Law of Nations, and the details of a very pleasant jaunt to Johnston-Hall, the Mohawk-Castle, and the Rev. Mr. Kirkland's. On his return to Albany, he finds a very unexpected and not very welcome letter from Lord Sterling. This recalls him to his subject, which however after a little more manoeuvring, he contrives to sink, in the copy of a correspondence between Generals Washington and Gates.

After barely remarking these grand tactics of our author, we return to the defence, which rests on three points :

1st. That Gates made no secret of Conway's letter, and that he had even read it publicly as news from Head-Quarters : which, if true, would no doubt be the most natural, easy and efficient defence possible; because no man has a right to expect from his neighbour, more care and circumspection with regard to his business, than he himself employs; nor is any one bound to keep secret, opinions or occurrences, which the party concerned, has thought proper to publish. This dictate of common sense, could not have escaped our author; and why, therefore, on his return from the south, when he found his old friend, groping in the dark-puzzling himself and vexing others—did he not remind him of the fact? Again : why, when at Yorktown he received Gates's letter of the 23d of February, 1778, charging him with duplicity and treason, does he forget to urge a circumstance, which would have put his antagonist so completely in the wrong and so entirely justified himself? And lastly : how comes it, that in speaking to Lord Sterling of Conway's letter, he should consider it a private and confidential com

the

munication, which an honourable man could neither transcribe nor transmit la

2d. That conveying only Conway's opinions, it was, in itself, a thing of no importance, and might have been either remembered or forgotten, published or concealed, without praise and without censure. This ground of defence is doubtful, as well on the score of sincerity as soundness. If a thing of so little importance, why refuse a copy of it to Sterling? why denounce that officer, as cruel and perfidious, for having mentioned it? why call so many hard names, for what, in itself, was perfectly indifferent? And why accept the defence set up for him by Washington ; which turns, not on the unimportance, but the importance of the matter disclosed—the justice and patriotism of 'forewarning and forearming the Commander in

Chief, against the secret practices of a dangerous incendiary.' These facts cut up this apology of our author by the roots : but

proper answer to it is yet to be given; and will present itself to all who reflect, what would be the state of society, if every man and woman intrusted with a secret, had a right to graduate its importance, and keep, or not keep it, as they thought it interesting or indifferent? In this case, Mr. Wilkinson was not constituted the judge of Conway's opinions-he was but their depository, and ought to have held them sacred. And;

3d. That the report made of this letter, by Lord Sterling, to General Washington, and said to have been derived from him, (Wilkinson) was utterly false. "I went early,' says he, agreeably to request, was kindly received, and after a few minutes, General · Washington invited me into his cabinet, and opened the subject of Conway's letter. A conversation ensued, in which I took oc

casion to remark on the cruel misrepresentations of Lord Ster' ling; disclaiming any correspondence, or even acquaintance with • M-Williams—and utterly denied the information he [Washington] · had received from his Lordship.? How extraordinary is this. Here are the minutiæ of a conversation, held near forty years ago, in relation to transactions, of which, within a few months of their date, the author solemnly declared he remembered nothing ? Let us then compare this recent recollection of the authenticity of which, no proof is offered-with declarations made and acknowledged by himself, while Washington, M Williams, and Sterling, were living. The last of these gentlemen, not choosing to trust altogether to the memory of our new Brigadier, wisely determined to get him on paper, and accordingly wrote as follows: "When “I had the pleasure of seeing you at Reading, it was mentioned, “ that in a letter from Gen. Conway to Gen. Gates, were the fol

lowing words, viz:- Heaven, surely, is determined to save the a Vol. I. p. 383.

b Vol. I.

p. VOL. I.

2

394.

« ForrigeFortsæt »