Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mixed Messages

On February 21, 1776, Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire wrote to John Langdon, "I Believe it is certain the British parliament has ordered all American vessels to be Seized, as you will see by the publick papers. Two of the outward bound vessels fitted out by the Secret Committee [of the Continental Congress], for the purpose of necessaries, are taken and Carried to the West Indies, the master of one has got back. In short we have nothing to Expect from Brittain, but war & Bloodshed, notwithstanding the pretence of sending Commissioners here to treat."

 Paul H. Smith, et al., editors, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Vol. 3: January 1, 1776-May 15, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1978), page 293.

The mixed messages of British political and military leaders seemed both sinister and absurd to Americans. In a 1782 letter to former aid Tench Tilghman, George Washington remarked that General Sir Guy Carleton "gives strong assurances of the pacific disposition of his most gracious majesty, by Land," while at sea Admiral Robert Digby "gives proofs" of King George III's "good intention of capturing every thing that floats on the face of the Waters; and of his humane design of suffocating all those who are taken thereon, in Prison Ships, who will not engage in his Service."

Washington remarked, "To an American whose genius is not susceptable of refined Ideas, there would appear some little inconsistency in all this; but to the enlarged and comprehensive Mind of a Briton, these things are perfectly reconcilable."
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