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Chapter 50:

How George the Third Fared in his Bid for Russians.

September, October—1775.

the king's proclamation was a contemptuous defi-
Chap. L.} 1775. Sept.
ance of the opposition, alike of the party of Rockingham and the party of Chatham, as the instigators, correspondents, and accomplices of the American rebels. Party spirit was exasperated and embittered, and Rochford was heard repeatedly to foretell, that before the winter should pass over, heads would fall on the block. ‘The king of England,’ said Wilkes, the lord mayor of London, in conversation at a public dinner, ‘hates me; I have always despised him: the time is come to decide which of us understands the other best, and in what direction heads are to fall.’ The French statesmen who, with wonderful powers of penetration, analyzed the public men and their acts, but neither the institutions nor the people of England, complacently contrasted its seeming anarchy with their own happiness in ‘living peacefully under [145] a good and virtuous king.’ For a moment they
Chap L.} 1775. Sept.
thought that danger menaced George the Third himself, and that he was deficient in the greatness of character which his position required; but his fortitude was exemplary in difficulties, and he always bore adversity with a courage that would have become a righteous cause. Others might quail; he scoffed at the thought of an insurrection, but stationed troops where riotous disorder was apprehended. ‘I know,’ said he, ‘what my duty to my country makes me undertake, and threats cannot prevent me from doing that to the utmost extent.’ A rumor prevailed that seven or eight members of the opposition would be sent to the tower of London; but this happened only to Stephen Sayre, an American by birth, a man of no political importance.

Loyal addresses began to come in, to the joy of Lord North; but the king, from his fatal experience and his instincts, which, on the subject of despotic authority, were more true than those of any man in his cabinet, wished to avoid the appeal to popular opinion. Yet for a time the public was united by the representation, that the insurrection in the colonies had been long premeditated with the deliberate design of achieving independence; and while that delusion lasted, the violent measures of coercion were acquiesced in ‘by a majority of individuals of all ranks and professions;’ yet their countenance of the ministry was passive, without zeal, and unattended by a willingness to serve in America, so that the regiments could not be kept full by enlistments in Britain. The foreign relations of England became, therefore, of paramount importance. [146]

The secretary of state desired to draw from the

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French ambassador at London a written denial of Lee's assertion, that the Americans had a certainty of receiving support from France and Spain; but the intimation was evaded, for ‘the king of France would not suffer himself to be made an instrument to bend the resistance of the Americans.’ ‘If they should make us any application,’ said Vergennes, ‘we shall dismiss them politely, and we shall keep their secret.’

Beaumarchais who was then in England as an emissary from Louis the Sixteenth, and who from the charms of his conversation, his ability to write verses and to sing well, his generous style of living, and his apparent want of an official character, had opportunities of gaining information from the most various sources, encouraged the notion that England might seek to recover her colonies by entering on a war with France, and thus reviving their ancient sympathies. Having become acquainted with Arthur Lee, and having received accurate accounts of the state of America from persons newly arrived, he left London abruptly, ran over to Paris, and through De Sartine, presented to the king a secret memorial in favor of taking part with the insurgents. ‘The Americans,’ said he, ‘are full of the enthusiasm of liberty, and resolve to suffer everything rather than yield; such a people must be invincible; all men of sense are convinced that the English colonies are lost for the mother country, and that is my opinion too.’

On the twenty-second of September, the day after the subject was discussed in the council of the king, De Sartine put a new commission into the hands [147] of Beaumarchais. Vergennes continued to present

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America to his mind in every possible aspect. He found it difficult to believe, that the mistakes, absurdity, and passion of the British ministers could be so great as they really were; otherwise he never erred in his judgment. He received hints of negotiations for Russian troops; but yet he held it impossible that the king of England should be willing to send foreign mercenaries against his own subjects. Henry the Fourth would not have accepted the aid of foreign troops to reduce Paris; their employment would render it in any event impossible to restore affectionate relations between the parent state and the colonies. But Vergennes had not penetrated the character of the British government of his day, which, in the management of domestic affairs, was tempered by a popular influence, but which, in its foreign policy, consulted only the interests or the pride of the oligarchy, and was less capable of a generous impulse than that of France. The ministry did not scruple to engage troops wherever they chanced to be in the market.

The hereditary prince of Hesse Cassel, who was already the ruler of the little principality of Hainau, had instinctively scented the wants of England, and written to George the Third: ‘I never cease to make the most ardent vows and prayers for the best of kings; I venture to offer, without the least condition, my regiment of five hundred men, all ready to sacrifice with me their life and their blood for your majesty's service. Deign to regard the motive and not the thing itself. Oh! that I could offer twenty thousand men to your majesty; it should be done with [148] the same zeal; my regiment is all ready at the first

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twinkle that shall be given me;’ and like the beggar that sends his goods as a present to a rich patron from whose charity he means to extort more than the market price, he demanded nothing, but was now in England to renew his solicitations.

The king wished leave to recruit in Holland, and also to obtain of that republic the loan of its so called Scottish brigade, which consisted no longer of Scots, but chiefly of Walloons and deserters. The consent of the house of Orange could easily have been gained; but the dignity, the principles, and the policy of the States General forbade. This is the first attempt of either party to induce Holland to take part in the American war; and its neutrality gave grievous offence in England.

Sir Joseph Yorke, at the Hague, was further directed to gain information on ‘the practicability of using the good dispositions of the king's friends upon the continent, and the military force which its princes might be engaged to supply.’ For England to recruit in Germany was a defiance of the law of the empire; but Yorke reported that recruits might be raised there in any number, and at a tolerably easy rate; and that bodies of troops might be obtained of the princes of Hesse Cassel, Wurtemberg, Saxe Gotha, Darmstadt, and Baden.

But for the moment England had in contemplation a larger scheme. Gunning's private and confidential despatch from Moscow was received in London on the first day of September, with elation and delight. That very day Suffolk prepared an answer to the minister. To Catharine, George himself, ‘with his own hand [149] wrote a very polite epistle,’ requesting her friendly

Chap. L.} 1775. Sept.
assistance: ‘I accept the succor that your majesty offers me of a part of your troops, whom the acts of rebellion of my subjects in some of my colonies in America unhappily require; I shall provide my minister with the necessary full powers; nothing shall ever efface from my memory the offer your imperial majesty has made to me on this occasion.’ Armed with this letter, Gunning was ordered to ask an audience of the empress, and to request of her the assistance of twenty thousand disciplined infantry, completely equipped and prepared on the opening of the Baltic in spring, to embark by way of England for Canada, where they were to be under the supreme command of the British general. The journey from London to Moscow required about twenty three days; yet they were all so overweeningly confident, that they hoped to get the definitive promise by the twenty third of October, in season to announce it at the opening of parliament; and early in September Lord Dartmouth and his secretary hurried off messages to Howe and to Carleton, that the empress had given the most ample assurances of letting them have any number of infantry that might be wanted.

On the eighth, Suffolk despatched a second courier to Gunning, with a project of a treaty for taking a body of Russian troops into the pay and service of Great Britain. The treaty was to continue for two years, within which the king and his ministers were confident of crushing the insurrection. The levy money for the troops might be seven pounds sterling a man, payable one half in cash and the other half on embarkation. A subsidy was not to be refused. ‘I [150] will not conceal from you,’ wrote Suffolk to Gunning,

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‘that this accession of force being very earnestly desired, expense is not so much an object as in ordinary cases.’

Scarcely had the project of a treaty left England, when, on the tenth of September, Gunning at court poured out to the empress assurances of the most inviolable attachment on the part of England. ‘Has any progress been made,’ asked the empress with the utmost coolness, ‘towards settling your dispute in America?’ and without waiting for an answer, she added: ‘For God's sake put an end to it as soon as possible, and do not confine yourselves to one method of accomplishing this desirable end; there are other means of doing it than force of arms, and they ought all to be tried. You know my situation has lately been full as embarrassing, and, believe me, I did not rest my certainty of success upon one mode of acting. There are moments when we must not be too rigorous. The interest I take in everything that concerns you, makes me speak thus freely upon this subject.’

‘The measures which are pursuing to suppress the rebellion,’ answered Gunning, who found himself most unexpectedly put upon the defensive, ‘are such as are consistent with his majesty's dignity and that of the nation, and I am persuaded that your majesty would neither advise nor approve of any that were not so; resentment has not yet found its way into his majesty's councils.’ But Catharine only repeated her wishes for a speedy and a peaceful end to the difference; thus reading the king of England a lesson in humanity, and citing her own example of lenity and [151] concession as the best mode of suppressing a re-

Chap. L.} 1775 Sept.

Late on the twenty fourth, the first British courier reached Moscow a few hours after Catharine's departure for some days of religious seclusion in the monastery at Voskresensk, for she was scrupulous in her observance of the forms and usages of the Greek church. As no time was to be lost, Gunning went to Panin, who received him cordially, heard his communication without any sign of emotion, and consented to forward to the empress in her retirement a copy of the king's letter. It was the policy of the empire to preserve amicable relations with George the Third; the vice chancellor Ostermann, therefore, calmly explained the impossibility of conceding his request; but the British envoy persisted in his urgency, and wilfully deluded by the tranquil self-possession and friendly manner of the Russian minister, left him with the belief that if the British requisition should come to be a matter of debate, it would be supported by his voice.

The empress having returned to Moscow, Gunning, at five in the afternoon of the thirtieth, waited on Panin, by appointment. The autograph letter, which he wished to deliver in person, said positively that she had made him an offer of troops; Panin denied that any offer of troops had been made, and after much expostulation, Gunning confessed: ‘It is true; in your answer to me no explicit mention was made of troops.’

The message of the empress now was, that she was affected by the cordiality of the king, that in return, her friendship was equally warm, but that she had [152] much repugnance to having her troops employed in

Chap. L.} 1775. Sept.
America. ‘And could not his majesty,’ asked Panin, ‘make use of Hanoverians?’

Gunning replied at great length: ‘Would the refusal of troops be a suitable return for our conduct during the late war, for our having foregone the commercial advantages which the Porte would undoubtedly have granted us, could she only have obtained a real neutrality on our part, which our partiality for Russia prevented us from observing. Were not the king's harbors, his subjects, and the credit and influence of the nation at her service during the whole war? Did not her majesty, at the risk of a rupture with France and Spain, forbid those powers to molest the Russian fleet which they would otherwise have annihilated? And though these services were rendered from the most pure and disinterested motives, yet as it had pleased the empress so frequently to express her wishes for an occasion of showing her sense of their merit, it is with the utmost astonishment I see her decline the present occasion of evincing it. I conjure you, by regard for the honor of your sovereign, to reflect on the light in which such a refusal must be looked upon by us, as well as by all the powers in Europe, and on the effect it might have on the conduct of some of them.’ And as he was refused an audience, he desired Panin himself to deliver the autograph letter of George the Third.

The next morning, Gunning went to Panin before

he was up, and to remove objections, offered to be content with a corps of fifteen thousand men. At court, though it was the grand duke's birthday, he found that the empress would not appear. He returned [153] to the palace in the evening, but the empress,
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feigning indisposition, excused herself from seeing him.

Meantime the subject was debated in council, and objections without end rose up against the proposed traffic in troops, from the condition of the army wasted by wars, the divisions in Poland, the hostile attitude of Sweden, the dignity of the empress, the danger of disturbing her diplomatic relations with other European powers, the grievous discontents it would engender among her own subjects. She asked Panin whether granting the king such assistance would not disgust the British nation; and Ivan Ctzernichew, lately her ambassador at London, now minister of the marine, declared that it would give offence to the great body of the people of England, who were vehemently opposed to the policy of the king and his ministers.

Besides, what motive had the people of Russia to interfere against the armed husbandmen of New England? Why should the oldest monarchy of modern Europe, the connecting link between the world of antiquity and the modern world, assist to repress the development of the youngest power in the west? Catharine claimed to sit on the throne of the Byzantine Cesars, as heir to their dignity and their religion; and how could she so far disregard her own glory, as to take part in the American dispute, by making a shambles of the mighty empire which assumed to be the successor of Constantine's? The requisition of England was marked by so much extravagance, that nothing but the wildest credulity of statesmanship could have anticipated success.

The first suggestion to Catharine that the king of [154] England needed her aid, was flattering to her vanity,

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and, supposing it had reference only to entanglements in Europe, she was pleased with the idea of becoming the supreme arbiter of his affairs. But when the application came to be exhibited to her as a naked demand of twenty thousand men to be shipped to America, where they were to serve, under British command, not as auxiliaries but as mercenaries, with no liberty left to herself but to fix the price of her subjects in money and so plunge her hand as deeply as she pleased into the British exchequer, the offer was taken as an offence to her pride, and an insult to her honor. Using no palliatives she framed accordingly a sarcastic and unequivocal answer: ‘I am just beginning to enjoy peace, and your majesty knows that my empire has need of repose. It is also known what must be the condition of an army, though victorious, when it comes out of a long war in a murderous climate. There is an impropriety in employing so considerable a body in another hemisphere, under a power almost unknown to it, and almost deprived of all correspondence with its sovereign. My own confidence in my peace, which has cost me so great efforts to acquire, demands absolutely that I do not deprive myself so soon of so considerable a part of my forces. Affairs on the side of Sweden are but put to sleep, and those of Poland are not yet definitively terminated. Moreover, I should not be able to prevent myself from reflecting on the consequences which would result for our own dignity, for that of the two monarchies and the two nations, from this junction of our forces, simply to calm a rebellion which is not supported by any foreign power.’ [155]

Every word of the letter of the king of England

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to the empress of Russia was in his own hand; she purposely employed her private secretary to write her answer. The second English courier, with the project of a treaty, reached Gunning on the fourth of October; he seized the earliest opportunity to begin reading it to Panin, and was willing to come down in his demand to ten thousand men; but the chancellor, interrupting him, put into his hands Catharine's answer, and declined all further discussion.

The letter seemed to the British envoy in some passages exceptionable, and he was in doubt whether it was fit to be received; but suppressing his discontent, he forwarded it to his sovereign.

The conduct of this negotiation was watched with the intensest curiosity by every court from Moscow to Madrid, and its progress was well understood; but no foreign influence whatever, not even that of the king of Prussia, however desirous he might have been of rendering ill offices to England, had any share in determining the empress. The decision was founded on her own judgment and that of her ministers, on the necessities of her position and the state of her dominions. For a short time a report prevailed through western Europe, that the English request was to be granted; but Vergennes rejected it as incredible, and wrote to the French envoy at Moscow: ‘I cannot reconcile Catharine's elevation of soul with the dishonorable idea of trafficking in the blood of her subjects.’

On the last day of October, the French minister asked Panin of the truth of the rumors, and Panin answered: ‘People have said so, but it is physically [156] impossible; besides, it is not consistent with the dig-

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nity of England to employ foreign troops against its own subjects.’

The empress continued to be profuse of courtesies to Gunning; and when in December he took his leave, she renewed the assurances of affection and esteem for his king, whom she expressed her readiness to assist on all occasions, adding, however: ‘But one cannot go beyond one's means.’

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