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Memoir of Bishop Seabury

By William Jones Seabury, D.D.

New York: Edwin S. Gorham, 1908.
London: Rivingtons, 1908.

Chapter XII. Vae Victis! 1783.

THE contemplation of a lost cause can hardly fail to be suggestive of melancholy reflections. Even if we imagine that the loss of that cause has been the gain of another which holds the promise of a higher benefit to the world, we cannot but feel a certain sympathetic sadness in the consciousness of the sorrow experienced by those who have nobly thrown themselves into the struggle for what they deemed the right; who have given their all for an idea which they had taken for better, for worse; and who have realized at last that they have nothing left but the thankful remembrance of having devoted their best efforts to the frustration of the evils in which they have now found themselves irretrievably involved.

The sense of loss too would undoubtedly be proportioned to the confidence which the advocates of such a cause had felt, not only in its justice, but also in its prospects of ultimate success. Throughout the war the adherents to the legitimate government, had been persuaded that the efforts of those who sought to overthrow it in this country, could with small difficulty have been brought to naught, if the government had seriously and with determination set itself to the task of overcoming the resistance opposed to it; and those who had opportunities of forming an intelligent estimate of the situation were not slow to discern the fact that the strength of the colonial cause was largely due to the sympathy and support which it received, implicitly if not explicitly, from the opposition in England, which systematically weakened the administration, and so hampered its action as to destroy its efficiency. The history of the process has hardly yet been fully written, but enough perhaps has transpired to give good ground for the inference that the loss of the Colonies to England was its fault as well as its misfortune; and that the success of the Colonies was due not so much to their own capability, as to the Providential confusion of the counsels of their adversaries. At all events those who were then disposed to take that view of the case, could not but be prostrated with grief and disappointment--mingled sometimes with a more resentful feeling--at the utterly unexpected recognition of the Independence of the thirteen States, and the settlement of the terms of a general peace in the Treaty signed November 30, 1782.

As illustrative of the state of mind among the Loyalists both before and after the peace it may be worth while to refer to Dr. Chandler who had good opportunities for the formation of intelligent opinions; and who, although he is rather addicted to strong language, may be supposed to have said only what a good many others felt, though they had less capacity for the expression of it.

In a letter to Dr. Seabury from London, August 5, 1782, at which time he considered negotiations for peace at an end for the present, he says:

"I am not surprised to find your late letters written in a querulous strain. To see such a cause disgraced, and such a country ruined, in so infamous a manner--to see the absurdity, pusilanimity and degeneracy of Britain co-operating with the diabolical madness of America--to see justice, honour, virtue and merit persecuted and insulted by those who ought to be their protectors, while everything that is vile, and

wicked, and abominable, is encouraged and promoted--is indeed beyond the bearing of mortal patience. I do not therefore wonder that "the affection and attachment of the Loyalists within the British lines (to a Government that will suffer all this) are nearly expired." . . .

The change in the Ministry which you speak of, though disagreeable on some accounts, was, upon the whole, not un-pleasing to us here; for we plainly saw that nothing could be done, or was to be expected, under the old Ministry, well disposed as it was, while embarrassed and intimidated with such an opposition. We hoped that the new Ministers, having carried their point of getting into power, would see the necessity of adopting the principle of their predecessors with regard to the great American question, and that everything would be carried on with proper spirit. But we have been more than a little disappointed. It soon appeared that this Ministry was divided amongst themselves; that part of the Cabinet was for giving up America, and everything else; that our exertions, where it was meant to carry on the war, were as languid as before; and that there was little prospect of their saving the nation.

The death of Lord Rockingham, about a month ago, has produced another change, which I hope will be advantageous. Mr. Fox and most of his associates, are out of place; and Lord Shelburn, a warm and avowed enemy to the independence of the Colonies, is the Minister, being at the head of the Treasury. ... It is thought that Administration will soon undergo a second refinement, without which the strength of the nation cannot be properly exerted. In the meanwhile, I am well assured that it is the fixed purpose of Lord Shelburn not to lose the Colonies."

Hopefulness in spite of the recognition of the evil political conditions arrayed against success, is the manifest tone of this letter written only three or four months before the peace. After that event, however, the tone is changed to one of disappointment bordering upon despair.

On the 15th of March, 1783, Dr. Chandler writes a letter which I venture to think worthy of being presented entire, both on account of the light which it throws upon the nature of the influences which had been affecting the treatment of the American question, and also on account of its intrinsic interest as one of the series of letters with which its author favoured the subject of this Memoir during the progress of the war; and which have been carefully preserved among his papers. Could his replies to Dr. Chandler's letters be recovered the complete correspondence would be of great value; but it is probable that they have not survived. [In the hope that these letters might have passed into the possession of Bishop Hobart, who married a daughter of Dr. Chandler, and that they might have been preserved among his papers, I once asked the late Rev. Dr. Hobart, the son of the Bishop, concerning them; and learned from him that Bishop Hobart's papers had been destroyed by a fire in which his house was burned.] Dr. Chandler's letters alone, however, are of rare interest by reason of his uncompromising convictions and trenchant style; as the reader may perhaps infer from the following specimen.

"My Dear Sir

This is to be delivered to you by Sir John St. Clair. This young Baronet is going over to America to look into his affairs there; he offers to take charge of any letters I have occasion to send, and wishes to be introduced to any of my friends. Will you therefore accept of my recommendation, and shew him any little civilities that may fall in your way. I do not insist upon your giving him a dinner; yet it might not be amiss if he were permitted to drink tea with your daughters.

Your favour of Decr. 17th by Mr. Cooke, did not reach me till the 25th of Feb:--I fully intended to acknowledge it by the Packet, but I was, in spite of the most resolute exertions, and to my great mortification, disappointed, I would have written fully to you by this opportunity; but Sir John, though he has talked for some time of his voyage, sets off at last unexpectedly, and it happens, as is frequently the case, that is in a comparative sense, that I must put you off with a hasty letter.

When you wrote, little did you imagine, though your imagination is a very fine one, and can make as daring excursions as any man's, that we had arrived at that state of outrageous insanity, which before this time you must have been informed of. At that time you could conceive of no character's being worse than that of Fox. His, I confess, is bad enough in all conscience; but we are now fully convinced that he is a political Saint, when compared with that infernal politician who was lately at the head of this nation. Fox has always been fair and open; he would have given Independency to the Colonies, but he would not have given them the best part of Canada and Louisiana; and he would have secured some tolerable terms for the Loyalists; whereas in contradiction to all his professions and avowed principles, with the fullest evidence before him that the recovery of our just rights was practicable and easy, that true friend of sedition and son of perdition, Malagrida, has plunged the nation into irretrievable ruin and everlasting infamy. [A nickname given by contemporary political opponents to Lord Shelburn: derived perhaps from the reputation of Gabriel Malagrida, an Italian Jesuit and Missionary to Brazil, said to have been a conspirator against the King of Portugal. See Webster's Dictionary.] We have been at a loss to account for such monstrous conduct, upon any motives that can actuate the mind of a human creature, and we are still unable completely to solve the problem. Indeed we can easily conceive of his motives for giving Independency to America, and for making a general peace, on such terms as might be had; for it may easily be supposed that he had entered into such engagements with the leaders of the rebellion, that if he refused to grant them Independency when he had it in his power, they would expose to the world his villanies and treasons; but this could not oblige him to grant them so much more than Independency. And as to a general peace, he was under one of the strongest temptations, to one in his situation, to secure it at all adventures; for, being involved in debt up to the very ears, by that means he was able to make, and has made, by the purchase and sale of stock, not much less than £200,000, some say more. It is an undoubted fact that he has very lately paid off a mortgage to one person, whom I know, to the amount of £70,000--But all this does not solve the problem, in its full extent. Time, that great revealer of secrets, will sooner or later place it in its proper light.

When the terms of the peace were known, we were in hopes that the Parliament would have so much wisdom and spirit as to set it aside, and to renew the war with proper vigour. But it is over with England. Her stamina have failed; her Constitution is ruined; and her dissolution must soon follow. The most it seems that could be done by Parliament was to disapprove of the peace, and yet confirm it, and to displace the Minister, but without any punishment or impeachment. What can be the end of these things! We have been near a month without an Administration. The Nation, you know, and the world knows, is divided into a number of parties. No one party has a bottom broad enough to support the pillar of Government. A coalition of two or more parties is therefore necessary. An attempt of this sort has been making, but to incorporate such heterogeneous bodies is the work of time. It is now thought that the Northfto and Yoxites will soon unite, and form an administration that will have a chance for some permanency.

I am extremely impatient to hear in what manner the concessions of this Country affect the minds of people in America, both of the Loyalists and of the now legalised, sanctified rebels. I want much to know, whether the country is likely to become peaceable; or whether there is not a greater probability of a contest previous to it, between the Republicans and Anti-Republicans which must again bring on a deluge of blood. In the latter case, if the Loyalists are not allowed a neutrality, I hope they will not hesitate which side to take. They have nothing, I believe, to expect from this country, unless they remove into some part of what are now the British dominions. To such as have lost estates by confiscation some compensation will be made, but on such conditions of leaving the States &c as many thousands will not, in prudence, be able to comply with. In what part of the world I shall fix myself, is at present impossible to foresee. Canada appears, at this instant, to be most eligible. Wherever I may be situated, you may always depend upon my continuing to be, with sincere esteem and affection,

Unalterably yours--London, March 15th, 1783. Rev. Dr Seabury."

The feelings of Dr. Chandler were, in a man of his spirit and with his experiences, perhaps natural enough. His account at any rate affords a rather vivid picture of the situation, and his apprehensions of the future were no doubt shared by many in that day. One can hardly help thinking after all, in view of his lugubrious forecast of subsequent developments which never took place, how foolish it is to think that our wisdom can measure the designs of Providence in the arrangement of human and National affairs. Had Dr. Chandler and his disappointed associates been able really to penetrate the future, and see not only the continued expansion and strengthening of the British Empire, but also the development of the Free and Independent American States into a consolidation fully as Imperial as that of Great Britain, and with all the appropriate accompaniments of distant subject Colonies, and other facilities for the cultivation of a legitimate despotism, they would no doubt have been persuaded that there was not so much need to dread the results of the temporary triumph of Republican principles.

But many of those who fully sympathized with Dr. Chandler in his general feelings, were more moderate in the expression of their feelings, and more judicious in estimating the influence of events which they equally deplored upon the course which they themselves thought it their duty to follow.

The Revd. Dr. Inglis, for example, the friend and political associate of Dr. Chandler and Dr. Seabury, being then Rector of Trinity Church, New York, thus expresses himself in a letter of March 28, 1783, to the Hon. James Duane:

"The general part I took in the late contest was the result of principle and conscience; to their dictates I honestly adhered, and conceived I was thereby promoting the best interests and welfare of America. But the views of Divine Providence, respecting this Country, were different; and it is my indispensable duty to acquiesce in the decisions of Providence. By recognizing the Independency of America, the King gives up his claim to my allegiance; I am thenceforth at full liberty to transfer it to that State where Providence may place me; and I need not tell you that the same principles, the same sense of the sacredness of an oath, and the same dictates of conscience, will lead me in future, as they have done hitherto, to observe inviolably my oath of Allegiance." [From a letter in the handwriting of Dr. Inglis, among Bishop Seabury's papers.]

As to the feeling of Dr. Seabury himself in this juncture there appears no record. His subsequent course as a citizen of the State of Connecticut is sufficient to show that, however much he may have sympathized with Dr. Chandler in his sense of outrage and disappointment at the conduct and result of the War, his judgment in regard to his duty in the course of his own life was based upon the principles so well expressed by Dr. Inglis.

But what is of chief importance for us to notice at this time is that the issue of the contest in which he had been for many years so strenuously engaged had been such as to throw him back upon the renewed exercise of the Ministry; which he had indeed never neglected, but which he had been incapacitated from discharging in the regular way. The political contest was over, and nothing remained for him in this respect, but simple acquiescence in the result, and the faithful discharge of the duties of ordinary good citizenship in connection with the performance of the functions of his Ministry. The open questions were closed; and what had been his chief motive in trying to influence the determination of them, namely the safeguarding of the welfare of the Church, and the securing of the introduction of Bishops as a means to that end, while it was no longer operative as an inducement to influence the course of civil affairs, was still vitally present to his conscience as the controlling incentive to his individual action. From this period accordingly the concern of his life is the Church; and to the benefit, extension and preservation of that he wholly devoted himself, leaving the course of this world to the ordering of whomsoever the Divine Providence might see fit to select for that end; feeling perhaps that the precept of Christ to one who sought to postpone his discipleship until certain preliminary affairs had been disposed of, had acquired a new and very solemn meaning for him: "Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead."

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