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WASHINGTON TO GAGE.
Elbridge Gerry; or that the advice of a council of war should be taken in a matter of such apparent delicacy.
Lee became aware of the surmises that might be awakened by the proposed interview, and wrote a friendly note to Burgoyne declining it.
A correspondence of a more important character took place between Washington and General Gage. It was one intended to put the hostile services on a proper footing. A strong disposition had been manifested among the British officers to regard those engaged in the patriot cause as malefactors, outlawed from the courtesies of chivalric warfare. Washington was determined to have a full understanding on this point. He was peculiarly sensitive with regard to Gage. They had been companions in arms in their early days; but Gage might now affect to look down upon him as the chief of a rebel army. Washington took an early opportunity to let him. know, that he claimed to be the commander of a legitimate force, engaged in a legitimate cause, and that both himself and his army were to be treated on a footing of perfect equality. The correspondence arose from the treatment of several American officers.
"I understand," writes Washington to Gage, "that the officers engaged in the cause of liberty and their country, who by the fortune of war have fallen into your hands, have been thrown indiscriminately into a common jail, appropriated to felons; that no consideration has been had for those of the most respectable rank, when lan
guishing with wounds and sickness, and that some have been amputated in this unworthy situation. Let your opinion, sir, of the principles which actuate them, be what it may, they suppose that they act from the noblest of all principles, love of freedom and their country. But political principles, I conceive, are foreign to this point. The obligations arising from the rights of humanity and claims of rank are universally binding and extensive, except in case of retaliation. These, I should have hoped, would have dictated a more tender treatment of those individuals whom chance or war had put in your power. Nor can I forbear suggesting its fatal tendency to widen that unhappy breach which you, and those ministers under whom you act, have repeatedly declared your wish to see forever closed. My duty now makes it necessary to apprise you that, for the future, I shall regulate all my conduct towards those gentlemen who are, or may be, in our possession, exactly by the rule you shall observe towards those of ours, now in your custody.
"If severity and hardships mark the line of your conduct, painful as it may be to me, your prisoners will feel its effects. But if kindness and humanity are shown to us, I shall with pleasure consider those in our hands only as unfortunate, and they shall receive from me. that treatment to which the unfortunate are ever entitled."
The following are the essential parts of a letter from General Gage in reply:
REPLY OF GAGE.
"SIR,-To the glory of civilized nations, humanity and war have been compatible, and humanity to the subdued has become almost a general system. Britons, ever preeminent in mercy, have outgone common examples, and overlooked the criminal in the captive. Upon these principles your prisoners, whose lives by the law of the land are destined to the cord, have hitherto been treated with care and kindness, and more comfortably lodged than the king's troops in the hospitals; indiscriminately, it is true, for I acknowledge no rank that is not derived from the king.
'My intelligence from your army would justify severe recriminations. I understand there are of the king's faithful subjects, taken some time since by the rebels, laboring, like negro slaves to gain their daily subsistence, or reduced to the wretched alternative to perish by famine or take arms against their king and country. Those who have made the treatment of the prisoners in my hands, or of your other friends in Boston, a pretense for such measures, found barbarity upon falsehood.
"I would willingly hope, sir, that the sentiments of liberality which I have always believed you to possess, will be exerted to correct these misdoings. Be temperate in political disquisition: give free operation to truth, and punish those who deceive and misrepresent; and not only the effects, but the cause, of this unhappy conflict will be removed. Should those, under whose usurped authority you act, control such a disposition,
and dare to call severity retaliation; to God, who knows all hearts, be the appeal of the dreadful consequences,'
There were expressions in the foregoing letter well calculated to rouse indignant feelings in the most temperate bosom. Had Washington been as readily moved to transports of passion as some are pleased to represent him, the rebel and the cord might readily have stung him to fury; but with him, anger was checked in its impulses by higher energies, and reined in to give a grander effect to the dictates of his judgment. The following was his noble and dignified reply to General Gage:
"I addressed you, sir, on the 11th instant, in terms which gave the fairest scope for that humanity and politeness which were supposed to form a part of your character. I remonstrated with you on the unworthy treatment shown to the officers and citizens of America, whom the fortune of war, chance, or a mistaken confidence, had thrown into your hands. Whether British or American mercy, fortitude, and patience are most preeminent; whether our virtuous citizens, whom the hand of tyranny has forced into arms to defend their wives, their children, and their property, or the merciless instruments of lawless domination, avarice, and revenge, best deserve the appellation of rebels and the punishment of that cord which your affected clemency has forborne to inflict; whether the authority under which I
WASHINGTON IN ANSWER TO GAGE.
act is usurped, or founded upon the genuine principles of liberty, were altogether foreign to the subject. I purposely avoided all political disquisition; nor shall I now avail myself of those advantages which the sacred cause of my country, of liberty, and of human nature give me over you; much less shall I stoop to retort and invective; but the intelligence you say you have received from our army requires a reply. I have taken time, sir, to make a strict inquiry, and find it has not the least foundation in truth. Not only your officers and soldiers have been treated with the tenderness due to fellowcitizens and brethren, but even those execrable parricides, whose counsels and aid have deluged their country with blood, have been protected from the fury of a justly enraged people. Far from compelling or permitting their assistance, I am embarrassed with the numbers who crowd to our camp, animated with the purest principles of virtue and love to their country.
"You affect, sir, to despise all rank not derived from the same source with your own. I cannot conceive one more honorable than that which flows from the uncorrupted choice of a brave and free people, the purest source and original fountain of all power. Far from making it a plea for cruelty, a mind of true magnanimity and enlarged ideas would comprehend and respect it.
"What may have been the ministerial views which