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Chapter 11:

Progress of the war in Europe.


Frederic of Prussia had raised the hope that he
Chap. XI.} 1779.
would follow France in recognising the independence of the United States; but the question of the Bavarian succession, of which the just solution also affected the cause of human progress, compelled him to stand forth as the protector of his own dominions against mortal danger, and as the champion of Germany; so that in his late old age, broken as he was in everything but spirit, he joined with Saxony to stay the aggressions of Austria on Bavarian territory. ‘At this moment,’ wrote he to his envoys, ‘the affairs of England with her colonies disappear from my eyes.’ To William Lee, who in March, 1778, im-
portuned his minister Schulenburg for leave to reside at Berlin as an American functionary, he minuted this answer: ‘We are so occupied with Germany that we cannot think of the Americans: we should be heartily glad to recognise them; but at this present [241] moment it could do them no good, and to us
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might be very detrimental.’

The unseasonable importunities of Lee in the year of war continued till he was dismissed from office by congress. Their effect was only to make Frederic more reserved. From his camp he always put them aside, yet with gentleness and caution. He could not receive the prizes of the Americans at Emden, because he had no means to protect the harbor against aggression: they might purchase in his dominions munitions of war; and their merchants would be received in his ports on the same terms as the merchants of all other countries.

Meantime the British ministry, abandoning the scheme of destroying Prussian influence at Petersburg, sought rather to propitiate Frederic, as the best means of gaining favor in Russia; and authorized its minister at Berlin to propose an alliance. But Frederic saw that the influence which had ruled England in 1762 was still paramount, and that the offers of friendship were insincere. ‘I have no wish to dissemble,’ so he answered in January, 1778; ‘whatever pains may be taken, I will never lend myself to an alliance with England. I am not like so many German princes, to be gained by money. My unalterable principle is, not to contract relations with a power which, like England in the last war, has once deceived me so unworthily.’1

Nevertheless the British cabinet persisted in seeking aid from Russia and the friendship of the king [242] of Prussia.2 But from Petersburg Harris wrote:

Chap. XI.} 1778.
‘They never will be brought to subscribe to any stipulations in favor of our contest with the colonies.’ ‘Our influence, never very high, has quite vanished.’3 Frederic relented so far as to allow a few recruits for the English army to pass through his dominions; and as a German prince he let it be known that he would save Hanover from French aggression; but proposals for closer relations with England were inflexibly declined. ‘He is hostile,’ wrote Suffolk,4 ‘to that kingdom to whose liberal support in the last war he owes his present existence amongst the powers of Europe;’ and the British ministry of that day looked upon the aid which he had received in the time of the elder Pitt as a very grave mistake.5 Prussia should have been left to perish.

Through his minister in France, Frederic sent word to Maurepas and Vergennes: ‘All the pains which the king of England may take to make an alliance with me will be entirely thrown away. The interests of the state and my own views turn in another direction.’6 ‘Peace is as dear and precious to me as to the ministry of Versailles; but as nothing less is at stake than the liberty and constitutions of all the Germanic body, I, one of their principal bulwarks, should fail in duty as an elector if I were willing to acquiesce in the despotism of Austria. Rather than be guilty of such weakness, I should [243] prefer eternal war to peace.’7 ‘Now is the mo-

Chap. XI.} 1778.
ment,’ he warned his minister, ‘to exert all your power: the deaf must hear; the blind see; the lethargic wake up.’8 ‘Last year,’ he continued, ‘I saw that France could not avoid war with England; I offer my vows for the success of the French;’9 and he added in his own hand: ‘The Austrians wish openly to subjugate the empire, abolish the constitutions, tyrannize the liberty of voices, and establish their own absolute and unlimited power on the ruins of the ancient government. Let him who will, bear such violences: I shall oppose them till death closes my eyes.’10 Since France would not fulfil her guarantee of the peace of Westphalia, Frederic desired at least a formal and positive assurance of her neutrality. ‘As to the French ministers,’ said he, ‘I admire their apathy; but if I were to imitate it, I should surely be lost.’11 The queen of France besought her husband even with tears to favor the designs of the court of Vienna, and bitterly complained that neutrality had been promised by his cabinet; but the king turned aside her entreaties, remarking that these affairs ought never to become the subject of their conversation. The interference made the ministry more dissembling and more inflexible. For himself, Louis the Sixteenth had no partiality for Austria, and Maurepas retained the old traditions of the French monarchy. Moreover, he was willing to see Prussia and Austria enfeeble each other, and [244] exhibit to the world France in the proud position of
Chap. XI.} 1779.
arbiter between them.

The promptness with which Frederic interposed for the rescue of Bavaria, his disinterestedness, the fact that he had justice as well as the laws of the empire on his side, and his right by treaty to call upon his ally, Russia, for aid, enabled him under the mediation of France and Russia to bring his war with Austria to an end, almost before France and Spain had come to an understanding.

Joseph of Austria, like Frederic, had liberal aspirations, but with unequal results. The one was sovereign over men substantially of one nationality. The other was a monarch not only over Germans, but over men of many languages and races. Frederic acted for and with his people; and what he accomplished was sure to live, for it had its root in them. The reforms of Joseph were acts of power which had their root only in his own mind, were never identified with his subject nations, and therefore, for the most part, had not a life even as long as his own. Frederic bounded his efforts by his means; Joseph, by his desires. Frederic attempted but one thing at once, and for that awaited the favoring moment: the unrest of Joseph stirred up every power to ill wishes by seeking to acquire territory alike from German princes, in Italy, on the coast of the Adriatic, and on the Danube; and he never could abide his opportunity, and never confine himself to one enterprise long enough for success. He kept up, at least in name, his alliance with France; while he inclined to the ancient connection of the Hapsburgs with England, and was pleased at the insignificance [245] of the successes of the Bourbons. Ver-

Chap. XI.} 1779.
gennes, on the other side, aware of his insincerity, pronounced Austria to be in name an ally, in fact a rival.12 Austria and Prussia resumed their places among European powers, each to have an influence on American affairs: the former to embarrass the independence of the United States; the latter to adopt the system of neutrality, just when that system could benefit them most. The benefit, however, came not from any intention of Frederic to subordinate the interests of his own dominions to those of a republic in another hemisphere, but from the coincidence of the interests of the two new powers.

With the restoration of peace, Austria and Russia contested the honor of becoming mediators between the Bourbons and England. Their interference was desired by neither party; yet both France and England were unwilling to wound the self-love of either of them. Austria, though the nominal ally of France, excluded the question of American independence; on the contrary, Catharine, in whose esteem Fox and the English liberal party stood higher than the king and the ministry, inclined to propositions friendly to America. Maria Theresa, who truly loved peace, was the first to declare herself. On the fifteenth of May she wrote in her own hand to Charles the Third of Spain, in the hope still to be able to hold him back from war; and she sent a like letter to her soninlaw at Versailles. Kaunitz followed with formal proposals of mediation to France and England. In an autograph letter the king of Spain put aside the interference [246] of the empress under the plea, that the

Chap. XI.} 1779. June 16.
conduct of England had made his acceptance of it inconsistent with his honor; and on the sixteenth of June, between twelve and one o'clock, his ambassador in London delivered to Lord Weymouth a declaration of war; but neither there nor in his manifesto was there one word relating to the war in America. Now that Great Britain, without a single ally, was to confront Spain and France and the United States, no man showed more resoluteness than its king. He was impatient at the ‘over-caution’ of his admirals, and sought to breathe his own courage into his ministers.

Spain stood self-condemned; for an offer of mediation implies impartiality, and her declaration of war showed the malice of a pre-determined enemy. In reply to that declaration, Burke, Fox, and their friends joined in pledging the house of commons and the nation to the support of the crown. Fifty thousand troops defended the coasts, and as many more of the militia were enrolled to repel invasion. The oscillation of the funds did not exceed one per cent. But opinion more and more condemned the war of England with her children, denied to parliament the right of taxing unrepresented colonies, and prepared to accept the necessity of recognising their independence. In the commons, Lord John Cavendish, true to the idea of Chatham, moved for orders to withdraw the British forces employed in America; to the lords, the Duke of Richmond proposed a total change of measures in America and Ireland; and both were supported by increasing numbers. The great landowners were grown sick of taxing America. Lord [247] North was frequently dropping hints to the king, that

Chap. XI.} 1779.
the advantage to be gained by continuing the contest would never repay the expenses; and the king, though unrelenting in his purpose of reducing the colonies to obedience, owned that the man who should approve the taxing of them in connection with all its consequences was more fit for a madhouse than for a seat in parliament.

On the twenty-first of June he summoned his min-

June 21.
isters to his library,13 and, at a table at which all were seated, he expressed to them in a speech of an hour and a half ‘the dictates of his frequent and severe self-examination.’ Inviting the friends of Grenville to the support of the administration, he declared his unchanging resolution to carry on the war against America, France, and Spain. Before he would hear of any man's readiness to come into office, he would expect to see it signed under his hand, that he was resolved to keep the empire entire, and that consequently no troops should be withdrawn from America nor its independence ever be allowed. ‘If his ministers would act with vigor and firmness, he would support them against wind and tide.’ Yet the ministry was not united; and, far from obtaining recruits from the friends of Grenville, it was about to lose its members of the Bedford connection. And his chief minister, cowering before the storm, and incapable of forming a plan for the conduct of the war, repeatedly offered his resignation, as an excuse [248] for remaining in office without assuming the proper
Chap. XI.} 1779.
responsibility of his station. Confiding in the ruin of the American finances and in recruiting successfully within the states, the king was certain that, but for the intervention of Spain, the colonies would have sued to the mother country for pardon; and ‘he did not despair that, with the activity of Clinton and the Indians in their rear, the provinces would even now submit.’ But his demands for an unconditional compliance with his American policy riveted every able statesman in a united opposition. He had no choice of ministers but among weak men. So the office made vacant by the death of Lord Suffolk, the representative of the Grenville party, was reserved for Hillsborough. ‘His American sentiments,’ said the king, ‘make him acceptable to me.’ Yet it would have been hard to find a public man more ignorant or more narrow; more confused in judgment or faltering in action; nor was he allowed to take his seat till Weymouth had withdrawn.

To unite the house of Bourbon in the war, France had bound herself to the invasion of England. True to her covenant, she moved troops to the coasts of Normandy and Brittany, and engaged more than sixty transport vessels of sixteen thousand tons' burden. The king of Spain would not listen to a whisper on the hazard of the undertaking, for which he was to furnish no contingent, and only the temporary use of twenty ships to help in crossing the channel. Florida Blanca, who dared not dispute his unreasoning impatience, insisted on an immediate descent on England without regard to risk. Vergennes, on the other hand, held the landing of a [249] French army in England to be rash, until a naval

Chap. XI.} 1779.
victory over the British should have won the dominion of the water.

The fitting out of the expedition had been intrusted to Sartine, the marine minister, and to d'orvilliers, its commander. Early in June the French fleet of thirty-one ships of the line yielded to Spanish importunities; and, before they could be ready with men or provisions, put to sea from Brest; and yet they were obliged to wait off the coast of Spain for the Spaniards. After a great loss of time in the best season of the year, a junction was effected with more than twenty ships of war under the separate command of Count Gaston; and the combined fleet sailed for the British channel. Never before had so large a force been seen afloat; and in construction the Spanish ships were equal or superior to the English.14 Charles of Spain pictured to himself the British escaping in terror from their houses before the invaders. King George longed to hear that Sir Charles Hardy, who had under his command more than forty ships of the line, had dared with inferior numbers to bring the new Armada to battle. ‘Everything,’ wrote Marie Antoinette, ‘depends on the present moment. Our fleets being united, we have a great superiority. They are in the channel, and I cannot think without a shudder that, from one moment to the next, our destiny will be decided.’15

The united fleet rode unmolested by the British: Sir Charles Hardy either did not, or would not see [250] them. On the sixteenth of August they appeared

Chap. XI.} 1779. Aug. 18.
off Plymouth, but did not attack the town. After two idle days, a strong wind drove them to the west. Montmorin had written to Vergennes: ‘I hope the Spanish marine will fight well; but I should like it better if the English, frightened at their number, would retreat to their own harbors without fighting.’16 When the gale had abated, the allies rallied, returned up the channel, and the British retreated before them.

No harmony existed between the French and Spanish officers. A deadly malady ravaged the French ships and infected the Spaniards.17 The combined fleet never had one chief. The French returned to port, where they remained; the Spaniards, under their independent commander, sailed for Cadiz, execrating their allies. The wrath of their admiral was so great, that he was ready to give his parole of honor never to serve against England, while he would with pleasure serve against France. It was the sentiment of them all.18

The immense preparations of the two powers had not even harmed British merchant vessels on their homeward voyages. The troops that were to have embarked for England were wasted by dysentery in their camps in Normandy and Brittany.19 There was a general desolation. The French public complained relentlessly of d'orvilliers. ‘The doing of nothing at all will have cost us a great deal of money,’ wrote [251] Marie Antoinette to her mother.20 There was nothing

Chap. XI.} 1779.
but the capture of the little island of Grenada for which a Te Deum could be chanted in Paris. Maria Theresa continued to offer her mediation, whenever it should best suit the king. ‘We shall feel it very sensibly if any other offer of mediation should be preferred to ours.’ So she wrote to her daughter, who could only answer: ‘The nothingness of the campaign removes every idea of peace.’21

During the attempt at an invasion of England, the allied belligerents considered the condition of Ireland. ‘To separate Ireland from England and form it into an independent government like that of America,’ wrote Vergennes, ‘I would not count upon the Catholics, although they form the largest and the most oppressed part of the nation. But the principle of their religion attaches them specially to the monarchical system. It is otherwise with the numerous presbyterians who inhabit the north of Ireland. Their fanaticism makes them enemies of all civil or religious authority concentrated in a chief. They aspire to nothing but to give themselves a form of government like that of the United Provinces of America.’22 ‘It is not easy to find a suitable emissary. Irishmen enough press around me; but, being all Catholics, they have no connection except among their countrymen of their own communion, who have not energy enough to attempt a revolution. The presbyterians, being by their principles and by their characters more enterprising, more daring, more inimical to royal authority, and even more opposed to us, [252] it is to them that I ought to address myself; for if

Chap. XI.} 1779.
they determine to rise, our hand will not be recognised in the work.’23 An American was selected as the agent of France, and instructed to form close relations with the principal presbyterians, especially with the ministers. After gaining their confidence, he might offer to become their mediator with France.

The extreme and universal discontent in Ireland might imply a disposition to revolt. The French ambassador at Madrid advised Florida Blanca to send an agent to the Irish Catholics. At the same time he reported to his government wisely: ‘The troubles in Ireland can be regarded only as a diversion, useful by dividing the attention of England. An insurrection in Ireland cannot have success as in America.’24 The emissary selected in Spain was a Catholic priest, who was promised a bishopric if he should succeed in his undertaking. He could have no success. After the first shedding of American blood in 1775, one hundred and twenty-one Irish Catholics, having indeed no formal representative authority, yet professing to speak not for themselves only, but ‘for all their fellow Roman Catholic Irish subjects,’ had addressed the English secretary in Ireland, ‘in proof of their grateful attachment to the best of kings, and their just abhorrence of the unnatural American rebellion,’ and had ‘made a tender of two millions of faithful and affectionate hearts and hands in defence of his person and government in any part of the world.’25

Vergennes learned from his agent as well as from [253] other sources, that the Irish association aimed only

Chap. XI.} 1779.
to extort the concession of free trade, and was combined with readiness to oppose foreign invasion.

‘The movements of the Irish,’ wrote Vergennes towards the close of the year, ‘are those of a people who wish to profit by circumstances to redeem themselves from oppressions; but there is no design of separating from the crown of England.’ ‘The Irish nation seems to wish to depend on the royal prerogative alone, and to throw off the yoke of the British parliament. This is aiming at independence, not by breaking all bonds as America has done, but by making them so weak that they become precarious. The irreconcilable interests of the two peoples can but keep them in a continual state of rivalry and even of quarrel. It will be difficult for a king of Great Britain to hold the balance even; and, as the scale of England will be the best taken care of, the less-favored people will naturally tend to a complete secession. We have nothing better to do than tranquilly to watch the movement.’26

Greater energy was displayed by Spain in her separate acts. As soon as the existence of war between that power and Great Britain was known at New Orleans, Galvez, the governor of Louisiana, drew together all the troops under his command to drive the British from the Mississippi. Their posts were protected by less than five hundred men; Lieutenant-Colonel Dickson, abandoning Manchac as untenable, sustained a siege of nine days at Baton Rouge,27 [254] and on the twenty-first of September made an honor-

Chap. XI.} 1779.
able capitulation. The Spaniards planned the recovery of East Florida, prepared to take the posts of Pensacola and Mobile, and captured or expelled from Honduras the British logwood cutters. In Europe their first act was the siege of Gibraltar.

Still more important were the consequences of the imperious manner in which Great Britain violated the maritime rights of neutrals, substituting its own will alike for its treaties and the law of nations. But these events, which for half a century scattered the seeds of war, need to be explained at large.

1 Frederic to Maltzan, 20 Jan., 1778; Elliot to Suffolk, 22 Feb., 1778, and Ibid., private and secret, of same date.

2 Suffolk to Elliot, 7 April, 1778.

3 Harris to Suffolk, 2 Feb., to Sir I. Yorke, 1 May, 1778.

4 Suffolk to Harris, 9 Jan., 1778.

5 Report of Count Belgiojoso, and 8 Jan., 1781.

6 Frederic to Maltzan, 22 Jan., 1779.

7 Frederic to Goltz, 9 Feb., 1778.

8 Ibid., 11 Feb., 1778.

9 Ibid., 27 Feb., 1778.

10 Frederic to Goltz, 27 Feb., 1778.

11 Ibid., 22 March, 1778.

12 Compare Vergennes to Montmorin, 21 Sept., 1779. maison d'autriche, notre alliee ‘La de nom, et notre rivale de fait.’

13 On this interview of the king with his ministers, the authorities are: Maltzan to Frederic, 29 June, 1779; King to Lord North, 21 and 22 June, 1779; in Donne, II. 260, 262; Under-Secretary Knox, Considerations on the Present State of the Nation, 53; Letter to Jenkinson, 9, 10; Almon's Anecdotes, II. 102.

14 Rodney to Lady Rodney, Gibraltar, 7 Feb., 1780.

15 Marie Antoinette to Maria Theresa, Versailles, 6 Aug., 1779, Ihr Briefwechsel, herausgegeben von A. von Arneth, 296.

16 Montmorin to Vergennes, 30 March, 1779.

17 Marie Antoinette in von Arneth, 304.

18 Rodney to Lady Rodney, Gibraltar, 7 Feb., 1780.

19 Marie Antoinette in von Arneth, 304.

20 Von Arneth, 302.

21 Von Arneth, 306.

22 Vergennes to Montmorin, 29 April, 1779.

23 Vergennes to Montmorin, 29 May, 1779.

24 Montmorin to Vergennes, 11 June, 1779.

25 Froude's The English in Ireland, II. 176.

26 Vergennes to Montmorin, 13 Nov. and 17 Dec., 1779.

27 Remembrancer, 1780, i. 359-364.

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