- Historic Sites
A Bicentennial Monument ToOur Fumbling Foes Of ’76
April 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 3
Although the bicentennial of American independence is just over a year away, it is the unhappy fact that the United States has not yet expressed the slightest appreciation to those who did the most to make that independence possible.
The foregoing assertion will of course evoke instant, loud, and repeated contradiction to the effect that we have memorialized every American hero of the Revolution from General Washington down to Sergeant Jasper of South Carolina; that foreign volunteers such as Lafayette and Pulaski have long been honored by place-names throughout the land; and that in Kentucky, Bourbon County (as well as the potent beverage named after it) and the cities of Louisville, Paris, and Versailles commemorate the French monarchy without whose aid we could not have won. But —and this is the present point—we have not yet extended even minimal recognition to those who really made the greatest contribution to the American victory: the British leaders whose thoroughgoing and indeed monumental incompetence made it possible for the American colonies to win a war that on paper they were certain to lose.
Consider the opening odds: two million colonists, scattered under thirteen separate governments along a thousand-mile frontier, whose chief financial resource was the printing press and whose armed forces consisted of an indifferent and divided militia, supplemented on the high seas merely by a tradition of individualistic privateering, faced a wealthy worldwide empire with eleven million people at home, who operated an ample industrial plant and whose large and well-trained army and navy had but recently humbled both Bourbon powers, expelling France from North America and taking Florida from Spain.
That the colonies ultimately prevailed in so unequal a contest must be primarily attributed to the utter incapacity of the British leaders, military, naval, and ministerial. Accordingly, in order to refute any imputation of ingratitude on our part, it is hereby proposed to erect, before the end of the Bicentennial, a multifigured monument in the nature of a Rogers group, to memorialize those to whom this country owes more than it has ever acknowledged.
The proper location for such a memorial would be some easily accessible park in the nation’s capital. There, on a massive marble pedestal inscribed should be placed larger-than-life representations of those whose individual contributions to the final happy result most clearly merit recognition. (See key, page 4.)
Five figures will be supplied by the British army:
First of all, General Thomas Gage, who ordered out the poorly planned expedition that took such a shellacking on the way back from Concord and who then, announcing that he would take the bull by the horns, ordered the frontal assault on Bunker Hill that cost the attacking force 4o per cent in casualties.
Next, General Sir William Howe, who could have mopped up the remnants of the Continental Army on several occasions in 1776 after he defeated them at Long Island; who could have done the same in the winter of 1777-78, when Washington’s men were starving and freezing at Valley Forge; but who instead preferred his comfortable winter quarters, first at New York and then in Philadelphia, where he could find surcease from making war in amusements to which we shall refer again shortly.
The third army man to be honored is Lieutenant General John Burgoyne, whose magnificent surrender at Saratoga brought in the French on the American side.
Number four is Sir Henry Clinton, commander in chief for four years, the indecisive neurotic who was unable ever to give clear or emphatic orders to his military subordinate (though social superior), Lord Cornwallis.
The final army figure is that of Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis himself, whose string of overcostly tactical victories led to strategic disaster and whose abject surrender at Yorktown evoked the House of Commons resolution that took Britain out of the war.
The Royal Navy supplies three persons, the first of whom is Vice Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot—a seventy-year-old incompetent who fought with Clinton far more effectively than with the French fleet.
Next comes Rear Admiral Thomas Graves, who managed to lose the naval battle at the Chesapeake and thus made Cornwallis’ surrender inevitable.
The last navy file is Rear Admiral John Byron, who had such a faculty for attracting heavy weather, once any squadron got under way flying his flag, that he was universally known as “Foul Weather Jack.”
The ministry also supplies three figures, with the first place occupied, most appropriately, by the First Lord of the Treasury. This was Lord North, who presided over the debacle; an able parliamentary politician, his substitute for martial leadership was a succession of limp requests for permission to resign.
The second ministerial figure is John, Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, who selected the naval commanders. Quite unsurprisingly, he is today primarily remembered for his invention of bread slices enclosing a piece of meat, a thing that will forever bear his name.
The third minister is Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for War and for the Colonies, who wound up by losing both. It was he who organized both of the disastrous surrenders by sending to commanders three thousand miles distant detailed orders that under optimum conditions could not possibly have reached them in less than six weeks.
For the center of the memorial only King George in will do, because it was that monarch’s stubbornness that set the tone for all that happened. (The king was not, as was long believed, insane. Rather he was the victim of an organic ailment, porphyria, one of whose symptoms is delirium.)
There was, after all, nothing irrational about George m’s basic premises. His views on the wrongness of secession were precisely those that Abraham Lincoln espoused—and enforced—fourscore and seven years later. And George in had the same opinion of the taxing power of Parliament as we have concerning the competence of our Congress to levy taxes on people living in Guam or Samoa.
When the Stamp Act was repealed, New York erected an equestrian statue of King George, which was later pulled down and melted into bullets to be shot at his troops. Now, by way of partial restitution, George should be in the center of the proposed group, not indeed mounted, but seated comfortably amidst his ministers and minions.
Finally, like every other proper historical monument, the one here proposed must have a symbolic female figure somewhere in or at least hovering near the group—which would otherwise be painfully incomplete.
Every visitor to New York knows the Sherman statue at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street: Old Cump sits on his horse, preceded by the goddess of victory. With one hand she grasps the bridle, leading horse and rider both; in her other hand she holds aloft a laurel wreath, symbolizing the general’s many victories.
For the group memorial now suggested, however, we shall want a different wreath—and above all a different female. The wreath, considering that it is to be held aloft for an assemblage of defeated leaders, can hardly be of laurel; it must be, in equal parts, of sour grapes and rue.
And the female should not be a mythical goddess or, indeed, any ethereal being at all. She must be a flesh-andblood woman and if not British born and bred, at least British at heart and other ardent parts.
In short, the only lady appropriate to hover over this highly select group would be Mistress Elizabeth Lloyd Loring, American-born wife of General Howe’s complaisant commissary general of prisoners, Joshua Loring, Jr. Because, after all, it was the charisma of Ms. Loring’s unique personality and warm embraces that dissuaded Sir William Howe from two successive winter campaigns in each of which he could have utterly destroyed the Continental Army, thus bringing the American rebellion to an ignominious close.
That is why, when the presently proposed tribute is finally fashioned and unveiled, as a heartfelt if belated expression of gratitude by a great republic at long last mindful of its obligations, it should prominently display the figure not of the goddess of victory but of the nymph who surrendered.