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3 . ‘‘Are We Not . . . Independant States?’’ Imagining and Realizing an Independent America The King I think may treat with us by virtue of his prerogative, as Independant States. For are we not in fact such? Hath not our Independance been acknowledged by France? Did she not ground her connection with us upon our having been in full possession of Independance ever since July 1776? Have we not reason to expect other Nations will follow the example of France? —Francis Dana, June 1778 In early 1779, the American Continental Congress proclaimed to the world that the independence of the thirteen former British colonies in North America could no longer be denied. With the publication of a 122page pamphlet, Observations on the American Revolution, Congress made it clear, once and for all, that American independence was a reality and that reconciliation with the British metropolis was now an impossibility. ‘‘All negotiation for dependence,’’ they told their fellow Americans, was ‘‘at an end.’’ The rulers of Great Britain, if they were ‘‘under the guidance of reason,’’ now had only one option: they would call o√ their war and ‘‘would desist from those e√orts which threaten us.’’ However, Congress did not truly expect such a course of action: ‘‘On the part of Great-Britain it is declared, that as we will not submit, and she cannot subdue, she will attempt to ruin and destroy.’’∞ The specter now loomed that the American Revolutionary War would escalate and metastasize into something more total and more deadly. Yet the ‘‘Are We Not . . . Independant States?’’ 91 Americans were undaunted. Congress proclaimed that it would respond to any provocations in kind: ‘‘On the part of America it is declared, that if war is prosecuted in a manner not conformable to the law of nations, the conduct of her enemies shall be retaliated.’’ In such a case, Congress observed, no course of action was too extreme: ‘‘[T]he determination of America to retaliate . . . must terminate to the great prejudice of Britain.’’ The means were readily at hand, as ‘‘the towns on her coast are at least as defenceless as ours; and their citizens, unused to arms, are utterly incapable of repelling an assault.’’ Congress noted that a ‘‘small sum of money would wrap their metropolis in flames’’ and warned that British ‘‘subjects and adherents may easily be found in any part of the earth; and the dreaded scalping-knife itself may, in the hands of our riflemen, spread horror through their island.’’ The message was clear. In order to defend America, total war was now, seemingly , the only option.≤ The author of this pamphlet was New York delegate Gouverneur Morris . Readers may be shocked and surprised to find the man regarded as one of the most conservative of the American Revolutionaries authoring a tract advocating extraordinary acts of violence.≥ While overheated rhetoric was often part and parcel of Revolutionary pamphleteering, Morris deployed such vehement invective at this particular moment to serve a calculated political purpose. His threats of extreme violence are indicative of the height to which political tensions were raised during the course of 1778. Observations on the American Revolution appeared at the conclusion of a crucial set of episodes in the history of the movement for American independence , in which Americans faced a fundamental choice about the direction their revolution was to take. In February 1778, the United States of America had concluded their first substantial treaties with a sovereign European power, the Kingdom of France. With recognition by a European power, the United States had cleared a major hurdle to enter the Westphalian states system. This American diplomatic achievement prompted the ministry of Lord North in Great Britain to o√er the heretofore most generous terms of reconciliation and reunion to the American colonies. A commission headed by Frederick Howard, Earl of Carlisle, carried these peace terms to America, arriving in June 1778. With the arrival of the treaties with France and the o√ers of reconciliation with Britain in succession (the first in early May, the second in mid-June), the leaders of the American Congress seemingly faced a choice— 92 Revolutionary Negotiations alliance with France and a continued war for independence or reunion with Britain and the reintegration of the colonies into the British Empire.∂ The Continental Congress confronted this choice in a curious way. Rather than openly discuss and deliberate on the options at hand, Congress quickly ratified the treaties with France, and from the moment the Carlisle Commission arrived in...


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