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Chapter 21:

France has need of peace.

1780, 1781.

England,’ said Vergennes, ‘has declared war
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against the Netherlands from hatred of their accession to the neutrality. The more I reflect, the more I am perplexed to know whether we ought to be glad or sorry.’1 A new obstacle was created to the general peace for which we must now trace the negotiations. Spain had calculated every thing for a single campaign.2 The invasion of England having failed, the querulous King Charles, after but seven months of hostilities, complained ‘that France had brought Spain into the war for its own interests alone;3 and had caused the first mishaps’ to his flag.4 Florida Blanca, speaking to the French ambassador, called himself a great fool for having induced his king to the declaration against England. With regard to [442] the United States, Vergennes always maintained that
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France was held in honor to sustain their independence, but that their boundaries were contingent on events;5 and to conciliate independence with the honor of England,6 and quiet the apprehensions of Spain, he was willing to leave to England at the peace Canada, according to the old French claims, and the country west and north-west of the Ohio.7 But King Charles desired to retain them if possible in some kind of vassalage to Great Britain,8 or give them up to helpless anarchy.9 He would not receive Jay as an envoy, and declined even a visit from the late minister of France at Philadelphia, on his way back from his mission. If American independence was to be granted, it must be only on such terms as would lead to endless quarrels with England.10 It was the constant reasoning of Florida Blanca, that the northern colonies preserved a strong attachment for their mother country, and, if once possessed of independence, would become her useful ally; while if they were compelled to submit to her rule, they would be only turbulent subjects.11 Tossed by danger and doubt from one expedient to another, Spain, through the government of Portugal, sought to open a secret negotiation with England; and the king of France, in an autograph letter, acquiesced in the attempt.12

When in February, 1780, John Adams arrived in [443] Paris with full powers to treat with Great Britain for

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peace and commerce, the French minister desired that the object of his commission should for the present remain unknown. Adams replied by enumerating the reasons for communicating it to Great Britain without delay; but he was not obstinate, and waited for the opinion of congress. A discussion next followed on applying to French creditors the reduction by congress in the value of its paper money. Adams argued vigorously that the reduction must affect all nations alike, for which he obtained the approbation of congress. These points being disposed of, he not only assumed a right to give advice to the king of France on the conduct of the war, but, to a court where the sanctity of regal power formed the accepted creed, he laid it down as certain that ‘in this intelligent age the principle is well agreed on in the world that the people have a right to a form of government according to their own judgments and inclinations.’ Vergennes broke off correspondence with him, as not being accredited to France, and complained to the French minister at Philadelphia of his want of a conciliatory temper. Franklin, too, though with reluctance, suffered himself to be made the channel of communicating officially the censures which Vergennes did not spare. In the favor of congress Franklin lost ground by his compliance, while Adams was supported more heartily than before.

In midsummer, from his eagerness for peace, Maurepas forgot himself so far as to insinuate his wish in a letter to one Forth, a former secretary of the British embassy at Paris. Nothing came of [444] the overture. ‘Peace will be a great good,’ wrote

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Marie Antoinette; ‘but, if our enemies do not demand it, I shall be very much afflicted by a humiliating one.’13 After the capture of Charleston, and the rout of the army under Gates, the British parliament, which came together in November, granted all the demands of the ministry for money and for men by vast majorities; and the dread of disorder in the cities of England gave new strength to the government. At such a moment, Necker, who was ready
Dec. 1.
to take everything upon himself, wrote secretly to Lord North, proposing peace on the basis of a truce, during which each party should keep possession of all that it had acquired. The terms thus clandestinely offered were such as Vergennes always rejected, as inconsistent with the fidelity and honor of France. In England, they were no farther heeded than as a confession of exhaustion and weakness.

‘I will express no opinion,’ said Vergennes, of Necker, in January, 1781, ‘on his financial opera-

tions, but in all other parts of the administration he is short-sighted and ignorant.’ Called to the conferences of the ministers, he continually dinned into their ears ‘Peace! peace!’ ‘Peace,’ replied Vergennes, ‘is a good thing, only you should propose the means of attaining it in an honorable manner.’14 In his clamor for peace, Necker did but echo the opinion of all Paris. Maurepas, too, gave out that peace must be restored before the close of the year; and the king declared that he was [445] tired of the war, and that an end must be made of it
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before the year should go out.15 The negotiations for peace belonged to Vergennes, and for their success he needed mediation or great results in the field. Thus far the war had been carried on without a plan, for which the cause lay in the heart of the government itself. There could be no vigorous unity of administration with a young, feeble, and ignorant king, who prided himself on personally governing, and left the government, without a real head, to be swayed by the different cabals which from day to day followed each other in the court. By the influence of the queen, Sartine, towards the end of the former year, had been superseded in the ministry of the marine by the Marquis de Castries, and the imbecile Montbarey by the Marquis de Segur. All the while France was drawing nearer to inevitable bankruptcy, its debt verging upon a fourth milliard.

Environed by difficulties, Vergennes attempted a compromise with England on the basis of a long truce of at least twenty years, during which South Carolina and Georgia would remain with the English in return for the evacuation of New York. He had sounded Washington and others in America on the subject, and they all had repelled the idea. ‘There are none but the mediators,’ wrote Vergennes, ‘who could make to the United States so grievous an offer. It would be hard for France to propose it, because she has guaranteed the independence of the thirteen states.’16 Kaunitz, accordingly, set himself to work to bring the mediation to a successful issue. [446]

In the month of April, young Laurens arrived

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at Versailles, preceded by importunate letters from Rochambeau and Lafayette to the ministry. His demand was for a loan of twenty-five million livres to be raised for the United States on the credit of the king of France, and in support of it he communicated to the French ministry his letter of advice from Washington. Franklin had lately written: ‘If it is found unable to procure the aids that are wanted, the whole system of the new government in America may be shaken.’ The French minister at Philadelphia had reported these words from Greene: ‘The states in the southern department may struggle a little while longer; but without more effectual support they must fall.’ Washington represented immediate and efficacious succor from abroad as indispensable to the safety of his country; but, combined with maritime superiority, and ‘a decided effort of the allied arms on this continent,’ so he wrote, ‘it would bring the contest to a glorious issue.’17 In pressing the demands of congress, the youthful envoy said menacingly that the failure of his mission might drive the Americans back to their old allegiance, to fight once more against France in the armies of Great Britain. The confession of the inefficiency of their own general government was suited to raise a doubt of their power finally to establish their independence; and Vergennes complained that an excessive and ever-increasing proportion of the burdens of the war was thrown upon France. Yet the cabinet resolved to go far in complying [447] with the request of the United States. Franklin had
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already obtained the promise of a gift of six millions of livres, and a loan of four millions; Necker consented to a loan of ten millions more, to be raised in Holland in the name of the king of France.

To insure to the United States a maritime superiority, de Grasse, who had the naval command in America, received orders to repair from the West Indies to the north in the course of the year, and conform himself to the counsels of Washington and Rochambeau. On the other hand, the great expense of re-enforcing Rochambeau by another detachment from the French army was on Washington's recommendation avoided; and America was left to herself to find men for the struggle on land. The decision displeased Rochambeau, who understood little of the country to which he was sent, and nothing of its language, and he entreated leave to return to Europe; but he received fresh orders to regard himself as the commander of auxiliary troops, and to put them as well as himself under the orders of Washington.

To the sole direction of Washington, the French government would have gladly reserved the disbursement of its gift of six millions; but he refused a trust which would have roused the jealousy of congress. The first use made of the money was a spendthrift one. South Carolina had an unexecuted contract in Holland for supplies. Laurens, acting for that state, and for the United States, made a transfer of it to the latter, and, without taking the pains to understand the condition of the business and without superintending it, paid all arrears out of [448] the fund which Franklin had obtained from France.

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South Carolina was relieved from a burdensome engagement; while great and, as it proved, useless expenses were thrown on the United States.

During these negotiations, Necker aspired to become the head of the administration. The octogenarian Maurepas could not be duped; he roused himself from apathy, and when Necker was preparing through the king to take the cabinet by storm, Maurepas quietly let him know that the king expected his resignation. ‘The king had given his word to support me,’ said Necker, in recounting his fall, ‘and I am the victim of having counted upon it too much.’ He had refused all pay as minister, yet in his period of office he doubled his fortune. His hands were clean from embezzlement, but his banking house had profited enormously in its business.

While the disgrace of Necker was passionately discussed, the government of Louis the Sixteenth persecuted in Paris the principles which it was spending the blood and treasure of France to establish on immovable foundations in America. Just at this time, there appeared in Paris a new edition of Raynal's philosophic and political history of the two Indies, with the name of the author on the title-page. His work abounded in declamations against priestcraft, monarchical power, and negro slavery. He described the United States of America as a country that more than renewed the simple heroism of antiquity, which otherwise, in the depravity of the laws and manners of Europe, would have been esteemed but a fiction. Here at last, especially in New England, was found [449] a land that knew how to be happy ‘without kings

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and without priests.’18 ‘Philosophy,’ he wrote, ‘desires to see all governments just, and all peoples happy. If the love of justice had decided the court of Versailles to the alliance of a monarchy with a people defending its liberty, the first article of its treaty with the United States should have been, that all oppressed peoples have the right to rise against their oppressors.’19 The advocate-general Segur having drawn up the most minatory indictment, Raynal left his book to be burned by the hangman, and fled through Brussels to Holland.

The book went into many a library, and its proscription found for it new readers. The young men of France, even of the nobility, shared its principles,20 which infiltrated themselves through all classes. The new minister of the marine had in the army of Rochambeau a son, whom sons of the new minister of war and the Duke de Broglie were soon to follow. But the philosophers, like the statesmen of France, would not have the United States become too great: they rather desired to preserve for England so much strength in North America, that the two powers might watch, restrain, and balance each other.21

Meantime Prince Kaunitz, in preparing the preliminary articles for the peace congress at Vienna, adopted the idea of Vergennes that the United States should be represented, so that direct negotiations between them and Great Britain might proceed simultaneously with those of the European powers; [450] and his paper was pronounced by Marie Antoinette to

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be a masterpiece of political wisdom. But all was in vain. England would still have no negotiation with France for peace till that power should give up its connection with insurgent America; John Adams was ready to go to Vienna, but only on condition of being received by the mediating powers as the plenipotentiary of an independent state; Spain shunned all mediation, knowing that no mediator would award to her Gibraltar.

Mortified at his ill success, Kaunitz threw the blame of it upon the unreasonable pretensions of the British ministry; and Austria joined herself to the powers which held that the British government owed concessions to America. Meantime he consoled his emperor for the failure of the mediation by saying: ‘As to us, there is more to gain than to lose by the continuation of the war, which becomes useful to us by the mutual exhaustion of those who carry it on and by the commercial advantages which accrue to us so long as it lasts.’22 The British ministry was willing to buy the alliance of Catharine by the cession of Minorca, and to propitiate Joseph by opening the Scheldt; but the desires of both were mainly directed to the east and south. Catharine could not conceive why Europe should be unwilling to see Christianity rise again into life and power on the Bosphorus. ‘We will guarantee to you,’ said Potemkin to Joseph, ‘all the conquests that you may make, except in Germany or in Poland.’ ‘Rome,’ wrote the [451] empress, ‘is a fit acquisition for a king of the Ro-

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mans.’ Joseph, on his part, would have the eastern shore of the Adriatic, the Danube to Belgrade, and all the country north of the straight line drawn from Belgrade to the southernmost point of the gulf of Drina, sparing the possessions neither of Turkey nor of the republic of Venice. But he insisted that the king of Prussia should never acquire another foot of land, not even round off his territory by exchanges. So the two eastern powers divided out the Orient and Italy between them, knowing that, so long as the war lasted, neither France nor Great Britain could interfere.

Spain had just heard of an insurrection begun by ex-Jesuits in Peru, and supported by Tupac Amaru, who claimed descent from the ancient royal family of the Incas. But the first reports were not alarming, and she was still disposed to pursue the separate negotiation with Great Britain. The suggestion of Hillsborough to exchange Gibraltar for Porto Rico was rejected by Florida Blanca; and Cumberland, the British agent at Madrid, having nothing to propose which King Charles was willing to accept, returned from his fruitless expedition.

The results of the campaign outside of the United States were indecisive. The French again made an unsuccessful attempt to recover the isle of Jersey. The garrison of Gibraltar was once more reduced to a state of famine, and ere the middle of April was once more relieved. The English and Dutch fleets encountered each other in August near the Dogger Bank, and for three hours and a half fought within musket shot. Victory belonged to neither party. [452] The Dutch, who had given proof of the hardihood of

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their race, bore away for the Texel; and the British admiral returned to the Nore, to receive a visit from his king, and on the plea of age to refuse to serve longer under so feeble an administration. The name and fame of Hyder Ali spread from the Mysore through Europe and the United States; and he seemed with his army of one hundred thousand men about to beat back the few troops of the British; but he proved unable to withstand their discipline. On the ninth of May, Pensacola, after a most gallant defence against the many times superior force of the Spaniards, was surrendered under an honorable capitulation. The British troops, who were not to serve against Spain or her allies, were left free to be employed against the United States.

Meantime Vergennes complained, through the French minister at Philadelphia, of John Adams as an embarrassing negotiator. At first a majority of congress was disposed to insist on Adams as their sole plenipotentiary for peace; Virginia, with Madison for one of her delegates, being unanimous in his favor.23 But, on reflection and through French influence, it was wisely decided to strengthen the hands of the New England man by joint commissioners selected from other sections of the country. With the aid of Sullivan of New Hampshire, who was in the pay of France, instructions such as Vergennes eight t have drafted were first agreed upon; then on the ballot the choice fell upon Jay, Franklin, Henry Laurens, and Thomas Jefferson. Of these, the last was detained in America by the illness of his wife. ‘Congress have done [453] very well,’ wrote John Adams to Franklin, ‘to join

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others in the commission for peace, who have some faculties for it. My talent, if I have one, lies in making war.’24 At the same time, he saw so wide a dissemination of the principles of the American revolution that, in his opinion, ‘despotisms, monarchies, and aristocracies must conform to them in some degree in practice, or hazard a total revolution in religion and government throughout all Europe.’25

The kingdom of Ireland had been subjected to all the restrictions of the colonial system, beside still severer oppressions of her own. And now the fire kindled by the example of America burned nowhere in the Old World so fiercely as in this part of the dominions of Great Britain. Yet the Irish refused to follow the example of resisting evil laws by force; and by taking skilful advantage of the habitual, indolent want of forethought of Lord North, they gained more complete emancipation than could have been won through insurrection. When the tidings from Lexington and Bunker Hill reached them, their parliament came to a vote that ‘they heard of the rebellion with abhorrence, and were ready to show to the world their attachment to the sacred person of the king.’ Taking advantage of its eminently loyal disposition, Lord North obtained its leave to employ four thousand men of the Irish army for service in America. That army should, by law, have consisted of twelve thousand men; but it mustered scarcely more than nine thousand. Out of these, the strongest and best, without regard to the prescribed limitation of numbers, were selected; and eight regiments, [454] all that could be formed, were shipped across the

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Atlantic. Ireland itself being left defenceless, its parliament offered the national remedy of a militia. This was refused by Lord North, and inconsequence, instead of a militia organized and controlled by the government, self-formed bands of volunteers started into being. After reflection, the militia bill was sent over for enactment: but the opportunity had been missed; the Irish parliament had learned to prefer volunteer corps supported by the Irish themselves. When, in 1778, it appeared how much the commissioners sent to America had been willing to concede to insurgents for the sake of reconciliation, the patriots of Ireland awoke to a sense of what they might demand. The man who had obtained the lead was Henry Grattan, who, in a venal age and in a venal house of commons, was incorruptible. No one heard the eloquence of Chatham with more delight; and no one has sketched in more vivid words the character of the greatest Englishman of that day. At the opening of the session of October, 1779, Grattan, then but thirty-three years of age, and for hardly four years a member of the house, moved an amendment to the address, that the nation could be saved only by free export and free import, or, according to the terser words that were finally chosen, by free trade. The friends of government dared not resist the amendment, and it was carried unanimously. New taxes were refused. The ordinary supplies, usually granted for two years, were granted for six months. The house was in earnest; the people were in earnest; an inextinguishable sentiment of nationality was aroused; and the nation [455] had an army of fifty thousand volunteers under offi-
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cers of their own choosing. Great Britain being already tasked to the uttermost by its conflict with America, Lord North gave way, and persuaded its parliament to concede the claims of the neighboring land to commercial equality. The people of that island entered into possession of their natural rights; yet their happiness was clouded by the thought that their new freedom rested on the act of a legislature which exclusively represented another kingdom, and which still pretended to full power to bind the kingdom of Ireland.

1 Vergennes to Montmorin, 25 and 27 Dec., 1780.

2 Montmorin to Vergennes, 13 May, 1780.

3 Montmorin to Vergennes, 9 Jan., 1780.

4 Ibid., 26 June, 1780.

5 Compare Vergennes to Montmorin, 22 Jan., 1781.

6 Ibid., 13 Jan., 1780.

7 Ibid., 26 April and 4 Dec., 1780.

8 Montmorin to Vergennes, 22 Jan., 1780.

9 Montmorin to Vergennes, 22 Feb., 1780.

10 Ibid., 29 March, 1780.

11 Ibid., 20 Nov., 1780.

12 The king of France to the king of Spain, 25 April, 1780.

13 Marie Antoinette to Maria Theresa, 13 July and 11 Oct., 1780.

14 Count von Mercy to Prince Kaunitz, 21 Jan., 1781.

15 Mercy to Kaunitz, 7 Feb., 1781.

16 Vergennes to Luzerne, 1 Feb., 1781.

17 Writings of Washington, ed. Sparks, VII. 368.

18 Raynal, IX. 18, ed. 1781.

19 Ibid., 305, ed. 1781.

20 Memoires de Segur, i. 264.

21 Raynal, IX. 318, ed. 1781.

22 Kaunitz to Joseph II., 8 July, 1781, in Beer's Joseph II., Leopold II., und Kaunitz, ihr Briefwechsel.

23 Secret Journals, II. 437.

24 Dip. Cor., VI. 159.

25 Ibid., 186.

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