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Hildreth gives a glimpse at his personal character, when, admitting his frank manners and liberal politics, he describes his "habits as rather freer than suited the New England standard." *
Pownall stands forth conspicuous for his championship of our national independence, and especially for his foresight with regard to our national future. In both these respects his writings are unique. Other Englishmen were in favor of our independence, and saw our future also; but I doubt if any one can be named who was his equal in strenuous action, or in minuteness of foresight. While the war was still proceeding, as early as 1780, he openly announced, not only that independence was inevitable, but that the new nation, "founded in nature and built up in truth," would continually expand; that its population would increase and multiply; that a civilizing activity beyond what Europe could ever know would animate it; and that its commercial and naval power would be found in every quarter of the globe. All this he set forth at length with argument and illustration, and he called his prophetic words "the stating of the simple fact, so little understood in the Old World." Treated at first as 66 intelligible speculation" and as "unfashionable," the truth he announced was neglected where it was not rejected, but generally rejected as inadmissible, and the author, according to his own language, "was called by the wise men of the British Cabinet a Wild Man, unfit to be employed." But these writings are a better title now than any office. In manner they are diffuse and pedantic; but they hardly deserve the cold judgment of John Adams, who in his old age said of them, that "a reader who has patience to search for good sense in an uncouth and disgusting style will find in those writings proofs of a thinking mind." † He seems to have written a good
* Hildreth, History of the United States, Vol. II. p. 476.
↑ John Adams, Works, Vol. X. p. 241.
deal. But the works which will be remembered the longest are not even mentioned by several of his biographers. Rose, in his Biographical Dictionary, records works by him, entitled Antiquities of Ancient Greece; Roman Antiquities dug up at Bath; Observations on the Currents of the Ocean; Intellectual Physics; and also contributions to the Archæologia. Gorton in his Biographical Dictionary adds some other titles to this list. But neither mentions his works on America. This is another instance where the stone rejected by the builders becomes the head of the corner.
At an early date Pownall comprehended the position of our country, geographically. He saw the wonderful means of internal communication supplied by its inland waters, and also the opportunities of external commerce supplied by the Atlantic Ocean. On the first he dwells, in a memorial drawn up in 1756 for the Duke of Cumberland.
Nobody in our own day, after the experience of more than a century, has portrayed more vividly the two masses of waters,-one composed of the great lakes and their dependencies, and the other of the Mississippi and its tributaries. The great lakes are described as "a wilderness of waters spreading over the country by an infinite number and variety of branchings, bays, and straits." The Mississippi, with its eastern branch, called the Ohio, is described as having, "so far as we know, but two falls, - one at a place called, by the French, St. Antoine, high up on the west or main branch"; and all its waters "run to the ocean with a still, easy, and gentle current." The picture is completed by exhibiting the two masses of water in combination :
"The waters of each respective mass
not only the lesser streams, but the main general body of each going through this continent in every course and direction - have by their approach to each other, by their communication
*Pownall, Administration of the Colonies, Appendix, p. 7.
to every quarter and in every direction, an alliance and unity, and form one mass, or one whole."*
Again, depicting the intercommunication among the several waters of the continent, and how "the watery element claims and holds dominion over this extent of land," he insists that all shall see these two mighty masses in their central throne, declaring that "the great lakes which lie upon its bosom on one hand, and the great river Mississippi and the multitude of waters which run into it, form there a communication, — an alliance or dominion of the watery element, that commands throughout the whole; that these great lakes appear to be the throne, the centre of a dominion, whose influence, by an infinite number of rivers, creeks, and streams, extends itself through all and every part of the continent, supported by the communication of, and alliance with, the waters of the Mississippi." †
If these means of internal commerce were vast, those afforded by the Atlantic Ocean were not less extensive. The latter were developed in the volume entitled "The Administration of the Colonies," the fourth edition of which, published in 1768, is now before me. This was after the differences between the Colonies and the mother country had begun, but before the idea of independence had shown itself. Pownall insisted that the Colonies ought to be considered as parts of the realm, entitled to representation in Parliament. This was a constitutional unity. But he portrayed a commercial unity also, which he represented in attractive forms. The British isles, and the British possessions in the Atlantic and in America, were, according to him, one grand marine dominion," and ought, therefore, by policy, to be united into one empire, with one centre. On this he dwells at length, and the picture is presented repeatedly. It was incident to the crisis produced in the world by the predominance of the commercial spirit
* Pownall, Administration of the Colonies, Appendix, p. 6.
+ Ibid., p. 9.
Pownall, Colonies, pp. 9, 10, 164.
which already began to rule the powers of Europe. It was the duty of England to place herself at the head of this great movement.
"As the rising of this crisis forms precisely the object on which government should be employed, so the taking leading measures towards the forming all those Atlantic and American possessions into one empire, of which Great Britain should be the commercial and political centre, is the precise duty of government at this crisis."
This was his desire. But he saw clearly the resources as well as the rights of the Colonies, and was satisfied that, if power were not consolidated under the constitutional auspices of England, it would be transferred to the other side of the Atlantic. Here his words are prophetic :
"The whole train of events, the whole course of business, must perpetually bring forward into practice, and necessarily in the end into establishment, either an American or a British union. There is no other alternative."
The necessity for union is enforced in a manner which foreshadows our national Union:
"The Colonial Legislature does not answer all purposes; is incompetent and inadequate to many purposes. Something more is necessary, — either a common union among themselves, or a common union of subordination under the one general legislature of the state." *
Then, again, in another place of the same work, after representing the declarations of power over the Colonies as little better than mockery, he prophesies again :
"Such is the actual state of the really existing system of our dominions, that neither the power of government over these various parts can long continue under the present mode of administration, nor the great interests of commerce extended throughout the whole long subsist under the present system of the laws of trade." t
* Pownall, Administration of the Colonies, p. 165. ↑ Ibid., p. 164.
Recent events may give present interest to his views, in this same work, on the nature and necessity of a paper curency, where he follows Franklin. The principal points of his plan were, that bills of credit, to a certain amount, should be printed in England for the use of the Colonies; that a loan-office should be established in each Colony to issue bills, take securities, and receive the payment; that the bills should be issued for ten years, bearing interest at five per cent, one tenth part of the sum borrowed to be paid annually, with interest; and that they should be a legal tender.
When the differences had flamed forth in war, then the prophet became more earnest. His utterances deserve to be rescued from oblivion. He was open, and almost defiant. As early as 2d December, 1777, some months before our treaty with France, he declared, from his place in Parliament," that the sovereignty of this country over America is abolished and gone forever"; "that they are determined at all events to be independent, and will be so"; and "that all the treaty this country can ever expect with America is federal, and that, probably, only commercial." In this spirit he said to the House:
"Until you shall be convinced that you are no longer sovereigns over America, but that the United States are an independent, sovereign people, - until you are prepared to treat with them as such, it is of no consequence at all what schemes or plans of conciliation this side of the House or that may adopt." *
The position taken in Parliament he maintained by writings, and here he depicted the great destinies of our country. He began with a work entitled "A Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe," which was published early in 1780, and was afterwards, through the influence of John Adams, while at the Hague, abridged and translated into French. In this remarkable production independence was the least that he
*Parliamentary History, Vol. XIX. pp. 527, 528. See also p. 1137.
claimed for us. Thus he foretells our future:
"North America is become a new primary planet' in the system of the world, which, while it takes its own course, must have effect on the orbit of every other planet, and shift the common centre of gravity of the whole system of the European world. North America is de facto an independent power, which has taken its equal station with other powers, and must be so de jure. . . . . The independence of America is fixed as fate. She is mistress of her own future, knows that she is so, and will actuate that power which she feels she hath, so as to establish her own system and to change the system of Europe."
Not only is the new power to take an independent place, but it is "to change the system of Europe." For all this its people are amply prepared. "Standing on that high ground of improvement up to which the most enlightened parts of Europe have advanced, like eaglets, they commence the first efforts of their pinions from a towering advantage." Then again, giving expression to this same conviction in another form, he says:
"North America has advanced, and is every day advancing, to growth of state, with a steady and continually accelerating motion, of which there has never yet been any example in Europe." "It is a vitality, liable to many disorders, many dangerous diseases; but it is young and strong, and will struggle, by the vigor of internal healing principles of life, against those evils, and surmount them. Its strength will grow with its years." §
He then dwells in detail on "the progressive population" here; on our advantage in being "on the other side of the globe, where there is no enemy"; on the products of the soil, among which is "bread-corn to a degree that has wrought it to a staple export for * Pownall, Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe, pp. 4. 5.
Ibid., p. 43. ¡ Ibid., p. 56. $ Ibid., p. 69.
the supply of the Old World"; on the fisheries, which he calls "mines of more solid riches than all the silver of Potosi"; on the inventive spirit of the people; and on their commercial activity. Of such a people it is easy to predict great things; and our prophet an
1. That the new state will be "an active naval power," exercising a peculiar influence on commerce, and, through commerce, on the political system of the Old World, — becoming the arbitress of commerce, and, perhaps, the mediatrix of peace.*
2. That ship-building and the science of navigation have made such progress in America, that her people will be able to build and navigate cheaper than any country in Europe, even Holland, with all her economy.t
3. That the peculiar articles to be had from America only, and so much sought in Europe, must give Americans a preference in those markets. ‡
4. That a people whose empire stands singly predominant on a great continent" can hardly "suffer in their borders such a monopoly as the European Hudson Bay Company"; that it cannot be stopped by Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope; that before long they will be found "trading in the South Sea and in China"; and that the Dutch "will hear of them in the Spice Islands." §
5. That by constant intercommunion of business and correspondence, and by increased knowledge with regard to the ocean, "America will seem every day to approach nearer and nearer to Europe"; that the old alarm at the sea will subside, and “a thousand attractive motives will become the irresistible cause of an almost general emigration to the New World"; and that 'many of the most useful, enterprising spirits, and much of the active property, will go there also." ||
* Pownall, Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe, PP. 74, 77
6. That "North America will become a free port to all the nations of the world indiscriminately, and will expect, insist on, and demand, in fair reciprocity, a free market in all those nations with whom she trades"; and that, adhering to this principle, she must be, in the course of time, the chief carrier of the commerce of the whole world." *
7. That America must avoid complication with European politics, or “the entanglement of alliances," having no connections with Europe other than commercial;t-all of which at a later day was put forth by Washington in his Farewell Address, when he said, "The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political concern as possible."
8. That similar modes of living and thinking, the same manners and same fashions, the same language and old habits of national love, impressed on the heart and not yet effaced, the very indentings of the fracture where North America is broken off from England, all conspire naturally to a rejuncture by alliance.‡
9. That the sovereigns of Europe, "who have despised the unfashioned, awkward youth of America,” and have neglected to interweave their interests with the rising States, when they find the system of the new empire not only obstructing, but superseding, the old system of Europe, and crossing all their settled maxims, will call upon their ministers and wise men, "Come, curse me this people, for they are too mighty for me." §
This appeal was followed by two other memorials, "drawn up solely for the king's use, and designed solely for his eye," dated at Richmond, January, 1782, in which the author most persuasively pleads with the king to treat with the Colonies on the footing of indepen* Pownall, Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe, pp. 80. 97.
↑ Ibid., p. 78. Ibid., p. 93§ Ibid., p. 91.
dence, and with this view to institute a preliminary negotiation "as with free states de facto under a truce." On the signature of the treaty of peace, he wrote a private letter to Franklin, dated at Richmond, 28th February, 1783, in which he testifies again to the magnitude of the event, as follows:
"My old Friend, — I write this to congratulate you on the establishment of your country as a free and sovereign power, taking its equal station amongst the powers of the world. I congratulate you, in particular, as chosen by Providence to be a principal instrument in this great Revolution, -a Revolution that has stranger marks of Divine interposition, superseding the ordinary course of human affairs, than any other event which this world has experienced."
He closes this letter by saying that he thought of making a tour of America, adding that, "if there ever was an object worth travelling to see, and worthy of the contemplation of a philosopher, it is that in which he may see the beginning of a great empire at its foundation."* He communicated this purpose also to John Adams, who answered him, that "he would be received respectfully in every part of America, — that he had always been considered friendly to America, that his writings had been useful to our cause." +
Then came another work, first published in 1783, entitled, “A Memorial addressed to the Sovereigns of America, by Governor Pownall," of which he gave the mistaken judgment to a private friend, that it was "the best thing he ever wrote." Here for the first time American citizens are called "sovereigns." At the beginning he explains and indicates the simplicity with which he addresses them :
"Having presumed to address to the Sovereigns of Europe a Memorial.... permit me now to address this Memorial to you, Sovereigns of America. I shall not address you with the court
Franklin, Works, Vol. IX. p. 491. † John Adams, Works, Vol. VIII. p. 179.
titles of Gothic Europe, nor with those of servile Asia. I will neither address your Sublimity or Majesty, your Grace or Holiness, your Eminence or Highmightiness, your Excellence or Honors. What are titles, where things themselves are known and understood? What title did the Republic of Rome take? The state was known to be sovereign and the citizens to be free. What could add to this? Therefore, United States and Citizens of America, I address you as you are.”
Here again are the same constant sympathy with liberty, the same confidence in our national destinies, and the same aspirations for our prosperity, mingled with warnings against disturbing influences. He exhorts that all our foundations should be “laid in nature"; that there should be "no contention for, nor acquisition of, unequal domination in men"; and that union should be established on the attractive principle by which all are drawn to a common centre. He fears difficulty in making the line of frontier between us and the British Provinces "a line of peace," as it ought to be; he is anxious lest something may break out between us and Spain; and he suggests that possibly, "in the cool hours of unimpassioned reflection," we may learn the danger of our "alliances,”—referring plainly to that original alliance with France which, at a later day, was the occasion of such trouble. Two other warnings occur. One is against Slavery, which is more noteworthy, because in an earlier memorial he enumerates among articles of commerce "African slaves carried by a circuitous trade in American shipping to the West India market." The other warning is. thus strongly expressed :- "Every inhabitant of America is, de facto as well as de jure, equal, in his essential, in-separable rights of the individual, to any other individual, and is, in these rights, independent of any power that
* Pownall, Memorial to the Sovereigns of America, pp. 5, 6.
+ Pownall, Memorial to the Sovereigns of Europe,. p. 83.