Despite the mounting tension in the South, the main focus of potential revolutionary conflict was still Massachusetts. The British authorities, ever more attracted to a hard line, were becoming increasingly disenchanted with the timorousness and caution of General Gage, who had actually asked for heavy reinforcements when everyone knew that the scurvy Americans could be routed by a mere show of force from the superb British army. Four hundred Royal Marines and several new regiments were sent to Gage, but the king, one of the leaders of coercion sentiment, seriously considered removing Gage from command.
There were a few voices of reason in the British government, but they were not listened to. The Whiggish secretary of war, Lord Barrington, urged reliance on the cheap and efficient method of naval blockade rather than on a land war in the large expanse and forests of America. And General Edward Harvey warned of any attempt to conquer America by a land army. But the cabinet was convinced that ten thousand British regulars, assisted by American Tories, could crush any conceivable American resistance. Underlying this conviction—and consequent British eagerness to wield armed force—was a chauvinist and quasi-racist contempt for the Americans. Thus, General James Grant sneered at the “skulking peasants” who dared to resist the Crown. Major John Pitcairn, stationed at Boston, was sure that “if he drew his sword but half out of the scabbard, the whole banditti of Massachusetts Bay would flee before him.” Particularly important was the speech in Parliament of the powerful Bedfordite, the Earl of Sandwich, first lord of the Admiralty, who sneeringly asked: “Suppose the colonies do abound in men, what does that signify? They are raw, undisciplined, cowardly men. I wish instead of… fifty thousand of these brave fellows, they would produce in the field at least two hundred thousand; the more the better; the easier would be the conquest… the very sound of a cannon would carry them off… as fast as their feet could carry them.”
There was another reason, it should be noted, for Sandwich’s reluctance to use the fleet rather than the army against the enemy. While the army was to dispatch the Americans, Sandwich wished to use the fleet against France, with which he hoped and expected to be soon at war.