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De Lisle’s Letter

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

October 1. –It is unnecessary to say a word of the spirit and numbers of the people of America–of their attachment to their liberty–of the extent and nature of their country–of their resources–and the interest all the powers in Europe have, in maintaining the independence of the American States, to show the absolute impracticability of Great Britain’s ever subduing this country. I should not despair of the final success of the Americans in the present war, if they were at this time expending their last pound of powder, and their last ounce of ball. Desperation would supply the want of every thing. No force can subdue the hearts of these people; and nine-tenths of them, I am sure, are determined in their opposition to the government of Britain. It is inconceivable to see the exertions of these young republican States. They have done wonders. All the force of the monarchy of Britain in the last war with France, did not produce from the whole continent of America, half the exertions which we sometimes see here in a single State; and yet these republics have as yet put forth but a small part of their strength. I expect to see them, before the close of the war, upon a footing with the oldest monarchies in Europe: and if I was not sure that a love of conquest was incompatible with a love of liberty, I should think they would make some of them tremble from their foundations.

No force can subdue the hearts of the American people.

Every part of the conduct of Great Britain, and of her generals and armies, shows the power of this country, and the absolute impossibility of conquering it. Why has the court of Britain meanly solicited all the courts of Europe to withhold aid of all kinds from the Americans? Why has she bought up twenty thousand foreigners to assist in the reduction of America? Why did she send an army of forty thousand men across the ocean for that purpose last year? Why has the King of Britain proclaimed a fast, and called upon the Almighty to enter into an alliance with him, to assist in conquering his rebellious subjects? Surely all this has been done because they dreaded the power and resources of America.

I believe in no war with the powerful monarchy of France did Britain ever negotiate with more expense–stood more for foreign alliances–lie more for internal support–or fast and pray with more seeming devotion than in the present war with America. An uninformed spectator, from a view of these things, would suppose that the only object of Britain in the prosecution of the war, was not to suppress a rebellion in America, but to defend herself from being subjugated by her American colonies.

But the conduct of her generals in America is all of a piece with the conduct of the court. Read their letters to the British ministry. Observe with what caution they land, how slowly they advance and how circumspectly they march through the country. Their modes of attack and defence in all their battles and skirmishes with the Americans from their own accounts of them, show that they are aware of the skill, and fear the courage, of their generals and armies. Their stratagems (of which they boast) confess that they are contending with a regular army, and not with an undisciplined mob. Even their shouts of victory and the high encomiums they publish of the gallant behavior of their officers and soldiers, declare that they fight with a formidable enemy. The inhumanity of their generals, the insolence of their officers, and the rancor of their soldiers towards the Americans, are all testimonies of the strength of this country. They indicate hatred which can only be exercised towards equals or superiors. The exchange of letters and prisoners between the British and American generals, are further acknowledgments on the behalf of the former, of the stability of the power from whence the latter derive their authority. In spite of all the pains the British generals have taken to destroy the credit of the paper money emitted by the Congress, they have given a sanction to its validity by sending it out from New York to support their prisoners among the Americans. The indiscriminate ravages to which the professed royalists or Tories are exposed in common with the republicans or Whigs, show that the British, army believe that a great majority of the people of America are opposed to them, and that all professions of attachment to them are hypocritical, and intended only to save property. But the British generals have gone still farther in declaring by their conduct, that the Americans are invincible. They have, in some measure, thrown down their arms as useless in the present controversy, and have attempted to subdue their enemies by the perfidious arts of a court. They have attempted to surprise the Congress into a negotiation, only for the purpose of deceiving them. They have published proclamations for the encouragement of desertions in the army, and defection among the citizens of America. They have hired printers to traduce the Congress and the army; and to complete all, they have made and attempted to circulate large quantities of counterfeit continental money among the Americans; aiming thereby, at one blow, to cut their sinews of war. Their folly in this manoeuvre exceeded their villany; for they weekly advertised their money for distribution, in a New York paper.

I am not so sanguine as some of my friends, as to the issue of the present campaign. But I rest satisfied at all times, that the loss of a battle or of a town will detract nothing, finally, from the Americans; and that the acquisition of victories and of territory will serve only to weaken General Howe’s army, and to accelerate the period when America shall establish her freedom and independence, upon the permanent foundation of public virtue and military knowledge.1


1 Extract of a letter from a French gentleman, who “has been near two years in America, and has been introduced to the first characters on the continent. His real name must be a secret. The name by which he has chosen to be known to the public,” is De Lisle. —New Jersey Gazette, January 7, 1778.

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