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Chapter 20:

Great Britain Makes war on the Netherlands.


the successor of Lord Weymouth was Lord Stor-
Chap. XX.} 1780.
mont, the late British ambassador at Paris. He had an unbounded confidence in the spirit and resources of his country; but this confidence took the worst forms of haughty blindness to moral distinctions in dealing with foreign powers. To the complaints of the Dutch respecting the outrage on their flag, he answered by interpreting treaties directly contrary to their plain meaning, and then by saying: ‘We are determined to persist in the line of conduct we have taken, be the consequences what they may.’1

The British ministry sent the case of the Dutch merchant vessels that had been carried into Portsmouth to the court of admiralty; and Sir James Mariott, the judge, thus laid down the law: ‘It imports little whether the blockade be made across the narrows at Dover, or off the harbor at Brest or [427] L'Orient. If you are taken, you are blocked. Great

Chap. XX.} 1780.
Britain, by her insular position, blocks naturally all the ports of Spain and France. She has a right to avail herself of this position as a gift of Providence.’2 Influenced by the preponderating members of the republic, the stadholder addressed a representation to the empress of Russia for concert in the defence of neutral flags. Before it had been received at Petersburg, Prince Galitzin, the Russian envoy at the Hague, on the third of April invited the states-gen-
April 3.
eral to a union for the protection of neutral trade and navigation. ‘The same invitation,’ said the envoy, ‘has been made to the courts of Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Lisbon, in order that by the joint endeavors of all neutral maritime powers a natural system, founded on justice, may be established as a rule for future ages.’ The states-general desired to join in the defensive association, but the stadholder, under English influence, contrived to make delay.

England acted promptly. On the seventeenth, an

order of the sing in council suspended all treaties between the two countries, and threw back the Netherlands upon their rights under the law of nations. In consequence of this order in council, Dutch ships were taken into English ports and condemned by the admiralty, on the principle that French harbors being naturally blockaded by those of England Dutch ships had no right to sail near them.

Of the belligerents the honor of making the first answer to the Russian declaration was conceded to Spain; and Florida Blanca on the eighteenth of April

adopted the measure so heartily that in the autobiographic [428] report which he made of his administration
Chap. XX.} 1780.
to his king he relates: ‘The honor of this successful project has been ascribed to Russia, which in fact lent to it support; but it had its origin in the cabinet of your Majesty.’

A week later, France, like Spain, acceded to the declaration of Russia. ‘The war in which the king is engaged has no other object than the liberty of the seas. The king believed he had prepared an epoch glorious for his reign, in fixing by his example the rights of neutrals. His hopes have not been deceived.’

On the fifth of October, the United States of

Oct. 5.
America in congress, by a resolution which Robert R. Livingston had drafted, proclaimed the principles of the empress of Russia, and afterwards included them in their treaties with the Netherlands, with Sweden, and with Prussia.

By the other belligerent of that day, the armed neutrality was considered fatal to its sovereignty over the ocean. The king was ready to having the question to an issue. His ministry were of the opinion, that to tolerate the armed neutrality was to confess that British supremacy on the high seas was broken. A half-official rumor was set afloat that England would declare war on the Netherlands if they should accept the invitation of Russia; and the cabinet established two points, from neither of which they would depart,——the one to attack any Netherlands convoy; the other to prevent the association of the Netherlands with Russia at all hazards.3

Even Lord Shelburne, the chief of the opposition in [429] the upper house, condemned the Russian manifesto

Chap. XX.} 1780.
as an attempt by a ‘nation scarcely known to have existence as a maritime power thirty years ago, to dictate laws of navigation to Great Britain.’ And Lord Camden condemned the declaration of the empress as a dangerous and arbitrary edict, subversive of the first principle of the law of nations.

Yet the answer of the British government to the declaration of the empress of Russia avoided expressing any opinion on the rules which she had laid down. ‘An ambiguous and trimming answer was given:’ such is the severe judgment of Harris. ‘We seemed equally afraid to accept or dismiss the new-fangled doctrines of Russia. I was instructed secretly to oppose, but avowedly to acquiesce in them.’

The neutral powers on the continent, one after the other, joined in accepting the code of Catharine. Bernstorff, though very reluctant to do anything not acceptable to the English court, with which he was then conducting a private negotiation on contraband, on the eighth of July announced the adhesion of

July 8.
Denmark to the Russian principles, and on the next day confirmed the declaration by a treaty with Russia. On the twenty-first of July, Gustavus set forth to the
belligerents that the principles of Russia were his own, and Sweden acceded to the treaty between Denmark and Russia, and Denmark to that between Russia and Sweden. The three powers agreed to support each other against all and every attack by reprisals and other means. Each power was to fit out a fleet, and the several commanders were ordered to protect every mercantile ship of the three nations [430] against injury. When in autumn it came to
Chap. XX.} 1780.
light that Bernstorff in a separate treaty with Great Britain had compromised the rule on contraband, the minister was for the time dismissed from office.4 It may here be added that on the seventh of May, 1781,
May 7.
Frederic of Prussia, acceded to the armed neutrality, and obtained its protection for the commerce of his people. Five months later, Joseph the Second overcame his ill-humored demurs, and, by yielding by treaty to the empress, gained advantages for the commerce of Belgium. The accession of Portugal took place in July, 1782; that of Naples in February
of the following year; that of the Ottoman Porte in September, 1782, by its treaty with Spain, confirmed in June, 1783, by its treaty with Russia.

Every considerable power on the continent of Europe, from Archangel to Constantinople, accepted the rules of navigation which the empress of Russia had promulgated; yet Great Britain, which had met

them without a protest or a denial, was unrelentingly resolved to prevent the accession of the Netherlands to the association through their stadholder or by war.

Even if the British had reason for suspending all treaties with the Netherlands, the republic remained an independent state, and had all the rights of an unprivileged neutral; yet Stormont showed it no more respect than might have been done to a vassal. ‘The best way,’ wrote he to Yorke, ‘to bring the Dutch around to their senses is to wound them in their most feeling part, their carrying trade. The [431] success of our cruisers has hitherto fallen much short

Chap. XX.} 1780. May 30.
of expectation.’ So on the thirtieth of May, in a time of uninterrupted peace, Yorke was instructed to collect the best intelligence on the voyages of the Dutch merchants, that the British cruisers might know where to go for the richest prizes.5

The condition of the Netherlands was truly difficult to be borne; their honor was trifled with; their

commerce pillaged; they were weak and without promise of help from any side; their stadholder did not support them. The arrival of each English mail was waited for to learn by what new measures the British cabinet would abuse their power, and how many more Dutch ships had been seized. The republic had no part to choose but submission to Great Britain or an association with Russia. The draft of the convention which the empress had directed to be offered to Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, arrived in June. The grand pensionary and the country wished to accede to the confederacy of the North. But the stadholder, who in May, acting in the interests of England, refused to take a step till the conduct of all the other neutral powers should be thoroughly understood, in June would not listen to
June 16.
any treaty with Russia unless the possessions of the republic in both Indies should be guaranteed. ‘A better idea,’ wrote Yorke, ‘could not be started to overset the whole.’6

Yet Stormont, who on this subject guided the cabinet of England, wrote to the British ambassador at the Hague: ‘If the states-general proceed, they [432] throw the die and leave us no alternative;’7 and he

Chap. XX.} 1780. June.
made the same unequivocal declaration to Welderen, the Dutch representative at London. A war by England against the Netherlands might prove fatal to the House of Orange. ‘I am as much attached to that family as a man can be,’ wrote Stormont; but he would not let any sentiments of veneration and attachment bias his opinion or retard extreme measures.8

The commissioners for the Netherlands found in Panin a statesman who regarded the independence of America as a result very advantageous for all nations and especially for Russia, and who did not doubt that England would be forced to recognise it.9 He could not grant the wished — for guarantee of the Dutch possessions in America, at the Cape of Good Hope, and in India; but in the course of September he drafted the

convention which he held to be the only possible one between Russia and the republic.10 The draft did not include a general guarantee; but, if the republic should be attacked on account of the convention, the other powers were to take her part. A separate article declared the object of the armed neutrality to be the restoration of peace. At the same time couriers were despatched to the courts of Stockholm and Copenhagen; so that against the return of a favorable answer from the Hague all things might be prepared for receiving the Dutch republic into the league of neutral powers.

Every step of this negotiation was watched by England, with the determination, if it should succeed, [433] to declare war against the Netherlands, even though

Chap. XX.} 1780.
it might prove fatal to the House of Orange. Yet the ministry, who were all the time seeking an alliance with Russia, disliked the appearance of going to war with the republic solely for her intention of
joining the armed neutrality. In October, Henry Laurens, whom the United States had accredited to the Netherlands for the purpose of raising a loan, was taken on his passage to Europe, and among his papers was found the unauthorized project for a treaty, concerted as we have seen between Neufville and William Lee. To Lord Stormont the ‘transaction appeared to be the act of individuals,’11 and the Earl of Hillsborough owned ‘that the states-general had had no knowledge of the treaty, which had never been signed except by private persons.’12 But the resolution was instantly taken to use the Laurens papers so as to ‘give the properest direction to the war.’13 After an examination at the admiralty before the three secretaries of state, Laurens was escorted through the streets of London by a large guard, and confined as a state's prisoner in the tower, where he was debarred from all intercourse, and from the use of pen and paper, so as to produce upon the public mind a strange and startling sensation.

When the courier from Petersburg arrived at the Hague with the treaty that Panin had drafted, Stormont saw there was no time to be lost. ‘If the states should relinquish the demand of a general [434] guarantee,’ thus on the eleventh of October he in-

Chap. XX.} 1780. Oct. 31.
structed Yorke, ‘and accede to the neutral convention, such an event would leave us no alternative.’14 On the last day of October, Yorke announced that the states-general, at their meeting in the first week of November, would disavow the transaction between Am-
sterdam and America, but would decide to join the northern league. ‘I am afraid,’ he said, ‘we must proceed alone, and advise an immediate declaration.’15

On the third of November, this despatch was laid before the king. On that very same day, the states of Holland, after full deliberation, condemned the conduct of Amsterdam for the acts which Great Britain resented, and resolved to give to the British government every reasonable satisfaction, so as to leave not the slightest ground for just complaint. Even Yorke, who saw everything with the eyes of an Englishman, thought their conduct rather fair.16 Yet Stormont would brook no delay; and the British cabinet anticipating the peaceful intentions of the states of Holland and the states-general, with the approval of the king, on the same day came to a determination to make war upon the republic, unless it should recede from its purpose of joining the northern confederacy.17 In the very hours in which this decision was taken, Yorke was writing that a war with the republic would be a war with a government without artillery, ‘in want of stores of all kinds, without fleet or army, or any one possession in a state of defence.’18 [435]

The memorial to the states-general was drafted by

Chap. XX.} 1780. Nov.
Lord Stormont himself, and was designed to conceal the real motives of Great Britain under a cloud of obloquy relating to Amsterdam, and by demands impossible to be complied with. The memorial was not to be presented if the ambassador had certain information that the majority of the provinces would refuse to join the maritime league of the North. ‘We do not wish,’ wrote Stormont, ‘to give a deep wound to our old and natural allies. Our object is to cure their madness by stunning them into their senses.’19

On the sixth, Yorke represented to the stadholder the opportunity of the republic for repentance and amendment. The prince, shrugging his shoulders, answered: ‘I foresee consequences which may be fatal to my house and the republic.’ Yorke replied that the stadholder might do a secondary and passive kind of service by starting difficulties and delays to hamper the conclusion of the fresh instructions to the ministers at Petersburg. The stadholder answered: ‘England cannot impute a wish for war to those who are for concluding a neutral alliance with Russia, nor blame a vote of convoy from which masts and shiptimber are excluded.’ Yorke urged that the alliance with the North was pushed by men of warlike views. The stadholder answered: ‘The regents in general have not that view.’ Yorke turned the conversation to the negotiation with America. The stadholder answered: ‘I have reason to believe Holland will, as it ought to do, disavow and disapprove that transaction.’ ‘And give satisfaction too?’ asked Yorke. [436] The prince answered: ‘I hope they will communi-

Chap. XX.} 1780. Nov.
cate their disavowal to England.’ But he did not deny that the plurality of the provinces was in favor of the connection with Russia on the terms which that empire had proposed.20

Just after this interview, Yorke received from Stormont an inquiry as to where blows could be struck at the republic with the most profit, and on the seventh of November Yorke replied: ‘This

country is by no means prepared for war. It is the fashion still to suppose a war against England impossible. The executive part of the government has been averse to it all along. As to the Dutch settlements in the East and West Indies, their own avowal proves them in a deplorable state; but St. Eustatius, above all St. Eustatius, is the golden mine of the moment.’21 This letter of Yorke was received by Stormont on the twelfth; and the passage relating to
St. Eustatius was secretly sent forthwith to the British admiralty for its guidance.

Already on the tenth Yorke had presented to

the states-general Lord Stormont's memorial. ‘The king insists,’ so ran its words, ‘on the exemplary punishment of the Pensionary van Berckel and his accomplices, as disturbers of the public peace, and violators of the rights of nations. His Majesty flatters himself that the answer of your High Mightinesses will be speedy, and to the purpose in every respect.’ ‘To pass over in silence so just a request will be deemed a denial, and his Majesty will think himself obliged to take such steps as become his dignity.’ [437]

Three days after the delivery of the memorial,

Chap. XX.} 1780. Nov.
Yorke caused it to be printed. It seemed to the patriots singular for the English to demand the punishment of Van Berckel, when they themselves did not even bring Laurens to trial. People in the towns under English influence said: ‘Van Berckel and accomplices deserve to be “ de-Witted.” ’22 ‘If a small mob,’ wrote Yorke from the Hague, ‘receive the deputies of Amsterdam when they next come here, the affair will be soon decided. But how promise for work with the tools I have.’23

‘The die is thrown,’ wrote Stormont to Yorke on the fourteenth, as he asked him for the best informa-

tion respecting all the vulnerable parts of the republic.24 At that time there still reigned among the Dutch confidence in peace. On the twenty-third,
the states of Holland, acting on a communication from the stadholder, entirely disavowed and disapproved all and whatever had been done by or on the part of the burgomasters and regents of the town of Amsterdam respecting negotiations with congress.25 The disavowal of Van Berckel was, in itself, a very severe punishment. Before further proceeding, inquiry needed to be made as to the nature of his offence and the tribunal before which he could be brought to trial. The states-general confirmed the disavowal made by the states of Holland, and further declared their wish to preserve a good understanding with England. Every post brought to the court of London concurrent proofs that the cities, the people, [438] every branch of the government, all the ministers,
Chap. XX.} 1780. Nov.
desired to continue at peace. Even the stadholder, the great partisan of England, thought that the Dutch government had done enough to remove from themselves every suspicion.

Yet on the first of December Stormont demanded

Dec. 1.
the exemplary and immediate punishment of the Amsterdam offenders; and on the fifth he asked of
Yorke some ideas for a manifesto, for he was preparing ‘to send secret orders to seize the Dutch settlements in the West Indies.’26 Then, on the sixteenth,
before he even knew that his second memorial had been presented, having been informed that, on the afternoon of the eleventh, the states-general had resolved to make the declaration of the armed neutrality without delay, he sent orders to Yorke ‘as soon as may be to quit Holland without taking leave.’27

While Yorke was still negotiating at the Hague, British cruisers pounced upon the unsuspecting merchantmen of their ally of a hundred and six years, and captured two hundred ships of the republic, carrying cargoes worth fifteen millions of guilders. Four days at least before he left the Hague, a swift cutter was sent to Rodney at Barbadoes with orders, founded upon the ambassador's letter of the seventh of November, to seize St. Eustatius.

Suddenly, on the third of February, 1781, the

1781. Feb. 3.
British West India fleet and army, after a feint on the coasts of Martinique, appeared off the island and demanded of de Graat, the governor, its surrender [439] within an hour. ‘The surprise and astonishment of
Chap. XX.} 1781.
the inhabitants was scarcely to be conceived.’ Unable to offer resistance, ignorant of a rupture between Great Britain and the republic, the governor surrendered his post and its dependencies, invoking clemency for the town. The wealth of the island, which was a free port for all nations, astonished even those who had expected most, ‘the whole of it being one continued store of French, American, Dutch,’ and also English ‘property.’ In the words of Rodney: ‘All the magazines, the storehouses, are filled, and even the beach covered with tobacco and sugar.’ The value of the merchandise, at a moderate estimate, considerably exceeded three millions of pounds sterling. Besides this, there were taken in the bay upwards of one hundred and fifty merchant vessels, a Dutch frigate, and five smaller vessels of war, all complete and ready for service. Thirty richly freighted Dutch ships, which had left the island about thirty-six hours before, were overtaken by a detachment from Rodney's fleet, and captured with the Dutch ship of sixty guns which was their convoy. The Dutch flag was kept flying on the island, and decoyed no less than seventeen ships into the port after its capture. Three large ships from Amsterdam, laden with all kinds of naval stores, were taken and carried into St. Christopher. At St. Eustatius, in the order of sale, English stores were, for form's sake, excepted; but all property was seized, and the confiscation was general without discrimination between friend and foe, between neutral powers and belligerents, between Dutch and British. A remonstrance from British merchants, written by the king's solicitor-general [440] in St. Christopher, Rodney scorned to read, and
Chap. XX.} 1781. Feb. 3.
answered: ‘The island of St. Eustatius is Dutch; everything in it is Dutch; everything is under the protection of the Dutch flag, and as Dutch it shall be treated.’

Besides St. Eustatius, all the settlements of the republic in South America were taken during the season. The undefended Cape of Good Hope, the half-way house on the voyage to India; the feebly garrisoned Negapatam; and the unique harbor of Trincomalee on Ceylon,—were all of them most desirable objects for Great Britain.

The Dutch republic was relatively weak; yet, if her finances were impaired, it was by debts contracted during her alliance with England and in rendering service to that power. England lost, for the time, its remaining influence on the continent of Europe by this cruel and unjust war. No nation remained with which it had any connection on the score of principle; not one to which it was drawn by regard for the higher interests of humanity.

1 Stormont to Yorke, 11 Jan., 1780.

2 Dip. Cor., IV. 473.

3 Welderen to Fagel, 2 May, 1780.

4 Bismarck to Frederic, 5 and 12 Sept., 3 and 10 Oct., 11 and 14 Nov., 1780.

5 Stormont to Yorke, 30 May, 1780.

6 Yorke to Stormont, 16 June, 1780.

7 Stormont to Yorke, 8 Aug., 1780.

8 Ibid., 19 Sept., 1780.

9 The Marquis de Verac to Vergennes, 1 Sept., 1780.

10 Ibid., 12 Sept., 1780.

11 Stormont to Keith, 3 Nov., 1780.

12 Maltzan to Frederic, 10 Nov., 1780.

13 Stormont to Yorke, 11 Oct., 1780.

14 Stormont to Yorke, 11 Oct., 1780.

15 Yorke to Stormont, 31 Oct., 1780.

16 Yorke to Stormont, 7 Nov., 1780.

17 Stormont to Yorke, 4 Nov., 1780.

18 Yorke to Stormont, 3 Nov., 1780.

19 Stormont to Yorke, 4 Nov., 1780.

20 Yorke to Stormont, 7 Nov., 1780.

21 Yorke to Stormont, 7 Nov., 1780.

22 Yorke to Stormont, 14 Nov., 1780.

23 Yorke to Fraser, 14 Nov., 1780.

24 Stormont to Yorke, 14 Nov., 1780.

25 Resolution of the States of Holland, 23 Nov., 1780.

26 Stormont to Yorke, Confidential, 5 Dec., 1780.

27 Stormont to Yorke, 16 Dec., 1780.

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