On the 16th of June, just as the House was growing impatient for prorogation, Lord North, who earlier in the Session had made some unsuccessful negotiations with the Whigs, announced intelligence which put such prorogation out of the question. He informed the House that the Spanish Ambassador had delivered a hostile manifesto and had thereupon quitted London. On the 17th a Royal Message was delivered, asserting his Majesty's surprise at this act of Spain, and declaring that nothing on his part had provoked it. But it by no means took anybody else by surprise, and the Opposition strongly reproached Government for not giving credit to their warnings on this head. In the Commons, Lord John Cavendish, and, in the Lords, the Earl of Abingdon and the Duke of Richmond, moved that the fleet and army should be immediately withdrawn from America, that peace be made with those States, and all our forces be concentrated in chastising France and Spain, as they deserved, for their treachery and unprovoked interference. They called for a total change of Ministers and measures. It was at this crisis, when Hastings was just recovering his authority in the Council, that the news arrived in India, and spread amongst the native chiefs, that in Yenghi Dunia, or the New World, the Company Sahibfor the East Indians could never separate the ideas of the East India Company and England itselfthere had been a great revolution, and the English driven out. This, as might be expected, wonderfully elated the native chiefs, and especially those in the south. There the French of Pondicherry and Chandernagore boasted of the destruction of the British power, and that it was by their own hands. Hastings, who was as able and far-seeing as he was unprincipled in carrying out his plans for the maintenance of the British dominion in India, immediately set himself to counteract the mischievous effects of these diligently-disseminated rumours, and of the cabals which the French excited. These were most to be feared amongst the vast and martial family of the Mahrattas. The Mahrattas had risen on the ruins of the great Mogul empire. They now extended their tribes over a vast space of India from Mysore to the Ganges. The Peishwa, as head of these nations, held his residence at Poonah. Besides his, there were the great houses of Holkar and Scindia; the Guicowar, who ruled in Guzerat; the Bonslah, or Rajah of Berar, a descendant of Sivaji. The Mahrattas were, for the most part, a rude, warlike race, rapacious and ambitious, and living in the most primitive style. To destroy the confidence of these fierce warriors in the French, Hastings gave immediate orders, on receiving the news of the proclamation of war in Europe, for the seizure of the French settlements. This was on the 7th of July, 1778; on the 10th he had taken Chandernagore, and ordered Sir Hector[329] Munro to invest Pondicherry. That was soon accomplished, and the only remaining possession of France, the small one of Mah, on the coast of Malabar, was seized the next spring.

These resolutions being carried, it then became a question whether the prince would accept this restricted regency. Burke had warned the House that perhaps, after all, the prince would not accept such a shadow of his own natural powers, and he warned them likewise that the British Parliament might find itself electing the prince as regent, whilst the Irish Parliament was nominating him as by right. But it would appear that the Whigs were so anxious to seize on office, even under such cramping restrictions, and to see Pitt dethroned, that they advised the prince to accept. A joint committee of Lords and Commons waited on him on the 30th of January, the anniversary of the execution of Charles I., and another joint-committee the same day waited on the queen, and the next day their answers, accepting their respective offices, were communicated to Parliament. The prince, indeed, qualified his acceptance by declaring that he did it only as a temporary arrangement, and in the hope, notwithstanding the peculiar and unprecedented circumstances, of preserving the interests of the king, the crown, and the people. Such were the difficulties under which Congress and Washington had been struggling through this winter to raise and keep together any considerable force; whilst General, now Sir William Howe, had been completely dozing at New York. The first movements of Howe were to execute several detached evolutions, and a vast quantity of stores were destroyed. As a retaliation, the Americans sent Colonel Meigs over to Long Island, to a place called Sag Harbour, where the English had a great quantity of provision stores, which they learned were very remissly guarded. Meigs, who had been trained under Arnold, conducted the enterprise very adroitly. He passed the Sound in whale-boats in the night, landed without much difficulty before the break of day, and began to fire the magazines. He met with a brave resistance from the crews of the merchants' vessels; but, having two hundred men, and there being no soldiers to oppose him, he destroyed twelve of the trading vessels, took ninety prisoners, and returned triumphantly without the loss of a single man. In the meantime, Washington had quitted his encampment at Morristown, and taken up a strong position at Middlebrook, about twelve miles from Princeton. On the 13th of June[238] Howe at last marched out of New Brunswick to attack him. On this, Washington called to his assistance a great part of the troops in the highlands, the whole force of the Jersey militia, whilst Arnold, who had the command at Philadelphia, was actively engaged with Mifflin in preparing defences for the Delaware. The object of Howe was to draw Washington from his entrenchments, certain that, on fair ground, it would require little exertion to totally dissipate his army; therefore, after marching up almost to the American lines, he commenced a retreat, evacuated even New Brunswick, and fell back to Amboy. Washington fell into the snare; he sent a strong force in pursuit of Howe, who, keeping up the ruse, threw a bridge over the narrow strait which divides Staten Island from the mainland, and sent over part of his baggage and a number of troops. Satisfied then that Howe was bent on resuming his old quarters at New York, Washington quitted his camp, which had cost him so much labour to create, and descended with his main body to Quibbletown. On seeing this, Howe advanced again, and dispatched several bodies of soldiers by different routes, to get, if possible, between Washington and his old post on the hills, so as to bring him to an engagement on the plain. Washington instantly became aware of his design, and retreated with all speed. Lord Cornwallis, who led the British van, notwithstanding, managed to come up with him, and fell upon a division of three thousand strong, advantageously posted, and defended with cannon. Cornwallis's charge, however, threw him into confusion, the rout became general, and the British pursued them as far as Westfield, when, coming to a woody country, and the heat of the day being intense, they halted for the night. This halt was the salvation of Washington: it enabled him to regain his old fortified post in the hills, leaving behind him part of his cannon, and about two hundred men killed.