previous next

Chapter 26:

England refuses to continue the American war.


the campaign in Virginia being finished, Wash-
Chap. XXVI.} 1782. Jan. 7.
ington and the eastern army were cantoned for the winter in their old positions around New York; Wayne, with the Pennsylvania line, marched to the south to re-enforce Greene; the French under Rochambeau encamped in Virginia; and de Grasse took his fleet to the West Indies. From Philadelphia, Robert R. Livingston, the first American secretary for foreign affairs, communicated to Franklin the final instructions for negotiating peace; and the firm tone of Franklin's reply awakened new hopes in congress.

While the conditions of peace were under consideration, America obtained an avowed friend in the Dutch republic. John Adams had waited more than eight months for an audience of reception, unaided even indirectly by the French ambassador at the Hague, because interference would have pledged [527] France too deeply to the support of the United

Chap. XXVI.} 1782. Jan. 9.
Provinces, whose complicated form of government promised nothing but embarrassment to an ally. Encouraged by the success at Yorktown, on the ninth of January he presented himself to the president of the states-general, and renewing his formal request for an opportunity of presenting his credentials, ‘demanded a categorical answer which he might transmit to his sovereign.’ He next went in person to the deputies of the several cities of Holland, following the order of their rank in the confederation, and repeated his demand to each one of them. The attention of Europe was drawn to the adventurous and sturdy diplomatist, who dared alone and unsustained to initiate so bold and novel a procedure. Not one of the representatives of foreign powers at the Hague believed that it could succeed.

On the twenty-sixth of February, Friesland, famous

Feb. 26.
for the spirit of liberty in its people, who had retained in their own hands the election of their regencies, declared in favor of receiving the American envoy; and its vote was the index of the opinion of the nation. A month later, the states of Hol-
March 28.
land, yielding to petitions from all the principal towns, followed the example. Zealand adhered on the fourth of April; Overyssel, on the fifth; Gronin-
April 4.
gen, on the ninth; Utrecht, on the tenth; and
Guelderland, on the seventeenth. On the day which
chanced to be the seventh anniversary of ‘the battle
of Lexington,’ their High Mightinesses, the statesgeneral, reporting the unanimous decision of the seven provinces, resolved that John Adams should be received. [528]

The Dutch republic was the second power in the

Chap. XXVI.} 1782.
world to recognise the independence of the United States of America, and the act proceeded from its heroic sympathy with a young people struggling against oppression, after the example of its own ancestors. The American minister found special pleasure in being introduced to the court where the first and the third William accomplished such great
June 15.
things for the Protestant religion and the rights of mankind. ‘This country,’ wrote he to a friend, ‘appears to be more a home than any other that I have seen. I have often been to that church at Leyden, where the planters of Plymouth worshipped so many years ago, and felt a kind of veneration for the bricks and timbers.’1

The liberal spirit that was prevailing in the world pleaded for peace. The time had not come, but was coming, when health-giving truth might show herself everywhere and hope to be received. The principles on which America was founded impressed themselves even on the rescripts of the emperor of Austria, who proclaimed in his dominions freedom of religion.

If liberty was spreading through all realms, how much more should it make itself felt by the people who regarded their land as its chosen abode! It might suffer eclipse during their struggle to recover their trans-Atlantic possessions by force; but the old love of freedom, which was fixed by the habit of centuries, must once more reassert its sway. In the calm hours of the winter recess, members of the house of commons reasoned dispassionately on the war with their ancient colonists. The king having given up [529] Germain, superseded Sir Henry Clinton by the humane

Chap. XXVI.} 1782.
Sir Guy Carleton, and owned it impossible to propose great continental operations. The estimates carried by the ministry through parliament for America were limited to defensive measures, and the house could no longer deceive itself as to the hopelessness of the contest. Accordingly on the twenty-second of February,
Feb. 22.
1782, a motion against continuing the American war was made by Conway; was supported by Fox, William Pitt, Barre, Wilberforce, Mahon, Burke, and Cavendish; and was negatived by a majority of but one. Five days later, his resolution of the same purport for
an address to the king obtained a majority of nineteen.

The next day, Edmund Burke wrote to Franklin: ‘I congratulate you as the friend of America; I trust not as the enemy of England; I am sure as the friend of mankind; the resolution of the house of commons, carried in a very full house, was, I think, the opinion of the whole. I trust it will lead to a speedy peace between the two branches of the English nation.’

The address to the king having been answered in equivocal terms, on the fourth of March Conway

March 4.
brought forward a second address, to declare that the house would consider as enemies to the king and country all those who would further attempt the prosecution of a war on the continent of America for the purpose of reducing the revolted colonies to obedience; and, after a long discussion, it was adopted without a division. With the same unanimity, leave was the next day granted to bring in a bill, ‘enabling’ the king to make a peace or a truce [530] with America. The bill for that purpose was accord-
Chap. XXVI.} 1782. March 4.
ingly brought in by the ministers; but more than two and a half months passed away before it became a law under their successors, in an amended form. Forth, who in the time of Stormont had been secretary of embassy at Paris, repaired to France as the agent of the expiring administration, to parley with Vergennes on conditions of peace, which did not essentially differ from those of Necker in a former year.

To anticipate any half-way change of ministry, Fox, in the debate of the fourth, denounced Lord North and his colleagues as ‘men void of honor and honesty,’ a coalition with any one of them as an infamy; but three days later he qualified his words in favor of Lord Thurlow. In the majesty of upright intention, William Pitt, now in his great days, which were the days of his youth, stood aloof from all intrigue, saying: ‘I cannot expect to take any share in a new administration, and I never will accept a subordinate situation.’ The king toiled earnestly to retard the formation of a ministry till he could bring Rockingham to accept conditions, but the house of commons would brook no delay. On the twentieth, more members appeared than on any oc-

casion thus far during that reign, and the crowds of spectators were unprecedented. Lord North, having a few days before narrowly escaped a vote of censure, rose at the same moment with a member who was to have moved a want of confidence in the ministers. The two parties in the house shouted wildly the names of their respective champions. The speaker hesitated; when Lord North, taking the floor on a question of order, with good temper but [531] visible emotion, announced that his administration
Chap. XXVI.} 1782. March.
was at an end.

The outgoing ministry was the worst which England had known since parliament had been supreme. ‘Such a bunch of imbecility,’ said the author of ‘Taxation no Tyranny,’ and he might have added, of corruption, ‘never disgraced the country;’ and he has left on record that he ‘prayed and gave thanks’ when it was dissolved. Posterity has been towards Lord North more lenient and less just. America gained, through his mismanagement, independence, and could bear him no grudge. In England, no party claimed him as their representative, or saw fit to bring him to judgment; so that his scholarship, his unruffled temper, the purity of his private life, and good words from Burns, from Gibbon, and more than all from Macaulay, have retained for him among his countrymen a better repute as minister than he deserved.

The people were not yet known in parliament as a power; and outside of them three groups only could contribute members to an administration. The new tory or conservative party, toward which the part of the whigs represented by Portland and Burke were gravitating, had at that time for its most conspicuous and least scrupulous defender the chancellor, Lord Thurlow. The followers of Lord Chatham, of whom it was the cardinal principle that the British constitution recognises a king and a people, no less than a hereditary aristocracy, and that to prevent the overbearing weight of that aristocracy the king should sustain the liberties of the people, owned Lord Shelburne as their standard-bearer. In point of years, experience, philosophic culture, and superiority [532] to ambition as a passion, he was their fittest

Chap. XXVI.} 1782. March.
leader, though he had never enjoyed the intimate friendship of their departed chief. It was he who reconciled George the Third to the lessons of Adam Smith, and recommended them to the younger Pitt, through whom they passed to Sir Robert Peel; but his habits of study, and his want of skill in parliamentary tactics, had kept him from political connections as well as from political intrigues. His respect for the monarchical element in the British constitution invited the slander, that he was only a counterfeit liberal, at heart devoted to the king; but in truth he was very sincere. His reputation has comparatively suffered with posterity, for no party has taken charge of his fame. Moreover, being more liberal than his age, his speeches sometimes had an air of ambiguity, from his attempt to present his views in a form that might clash as little as possible with the prejudices of his hearers. The third set was that of the old whigs, which had governed England from the revolution till the coming in of George the Third, and which deemed itself invested with a right to govern for ever. Its principle was the paramount power of the aristocracy; its office, as Rockingham expressed it, “to fight up against king and people.” They claimed to be liberal, and many of them were so; but they were more willing to act as the trustees of the people, than with the people and by the people. Like the great Roman lawyers, the best of them meant to be true to their clients, but never respected them as their equals. An enduring liberal government could at that time be established in England only by a junction of the party then represented by Shelburne and [533] the liberal wing of the supporters of Rockingham.
Chap. XXVI.} 1782. March 21.
Such a union Chatham for twenty years had striven to bring about.

The king kept his sorrows as well as he could pent up in his own breast, but his mind was ‘truly torn to pieces’ by the inflexible resolve of the house of commons to stop the war in America. He blamed them for having lost the feelings of Englishmen. Moreover, he felt keenly ‘the cruel usage of all the powers of Europe,’ of whom every one adhered to the principles of the armed neutrality, and every great one but Spain desired the perfect emancipation of the United States. The day after the ministry announced its retirement, he proposed to the Earl of Shelburne to take the administration with Thurlow, Gower, and Weymouth, Camden, Grafton, and Rockingham. This Shelburne declined as ‘absolutely impracticable,’ and from an equal regard to the quiet of the sovereign and the good of the country he urged that Rockingham might be sent for. The king could not prevail with himself to accept the advice, and he spoke discursively of his shattered health, his agitation of mind, his low opinion of Rockingham's understanding, his horror of Charles Fox, his preference of Shelburne as compared to the rest of the opposition. For a day

he contemplated calling in a number of principal persons, among whom Rockingham might be included; and when the many objections to such a measure were pointed out, he still refused to meet Rockingham face to face, and could not bring himself further than to receive him through the intervention of Shelburne.

In this state of things the latter consented to be the bearer of a message from the king, but only on [534] the condition of ‘full power and full confidence;’ a

Chap. XXVI.} 1782. March 22.
clear approval at first setting out of every engagement to which he stood already committed as to men and as to measures; and authority to procure ‘the assistance and co-operation of the Rockinghams, cost what it would, more or less.’ ‘Necessity,’ relates the king, ‘made me yield to the advice of Lord Shelburne.’ Thus armed with the amplest powers, the mediator fulfilled his office. Before accepting the offer of the treasury, Rockingham, not neglecting two or three minor matters, made but one great proposition, that there should be ‘no veto to the independence of America.’ The king, though in bitterness of spirit, consented in writing to the demand. ‘I was thoroughly resolved,’ he says of himself, ‘not to open my mouth on any negotiation with America.’

In constructing his ministry, Rockingham wisely composed it of members from both fractions of the liberal party. His own connection was represented by himself, Fox, Cavendish, Keppel, and Richmond; but he also retained as chancellor Thurlow, who bore Shelburne malice, and had publicly received the glowing eulogies of Fox. Shelburne took with him into the cabinet Camden; and, as a balance to Thurlow, the great lawyer Dunning, raising him to the peerage as Lord Ashburton. Conway and Grafton might be esteemed as neutral, having both been members alike of the Rockingham and the Chatham administrations. Men of the next generation asked why Burke was offered no seat in the cabinet. The new tory party would give power to any man, however born, that proved himself a bulwark to their fortress; the old whig party reserved the highest places for those [535] cradled in the purple. ‘I have no views to become

Chap. XXVI.} 1782. March.
a minister,’ Burke said; ‘nor have I any right to such views. I am a man who have no pretensions to it from fortune;’ and he was more than content with the rich office of paymaster for himself, and lucrative places for his kin.

Franklin in Paris had watched the process of the house of commons in condemning the war, and knew England so well as to be sure that Lord Shelburne must be a member of the new administration. Already on the twenty-second, he seized the opportunity of a traveller returning to England to open a correspondence with his friend of many years, assuring him of the continuance of his own ancient respect for his talents and virtues, and congratulating him on the returning good disposition of his country in favor of America. ‘I hope,’ continued he, ‘it will tend to produce a general peace, which I am sure your lordship, with all good men, desires; which I wish to see before I die; and to which I shall with infinite pleasure contribute everything in my power.’ In this manner began the negotiation which was to bring a breathing time to the world.

Franklin had rightly divined the future, and his overture arrived most opportunely. Shelburne, as the elder secretary of state, having his choice, elected the home department, which then included America; so that he had by right the direction of all measures relating to the United States. On the fourth of April,

April 4.
he instructed Sir Guy Carleton to proceed to New York with all possible expedition; and he would not suffer Arnold to return to the land which he had [536] bargained to betray. On the same day he had an
Chap. XXVI.} 1782. April.
interview with Laurens, then in England, as a prisoner on parole; and having learned of him the powers of the American commissioners, before evening he selected for his diplomatic agent with them Richard Oswald of Scotland. The king, moved by the acceptable part which Shelburne had ‘acted in the whole negotiation for forming the present administration,’ departed from his purpose of total silence, and gave his approval, alike to the attempt ‘to sound Mr. Franklin,’ and to the employment of Oswald, who had passed many years in America, understood it well, on questions of commerce agreed with Adam Smith, and engaged in the business disinterestedly. By him, writing as friend to friend, Shelburne answered the overture of Franklin in a letter, which is the key to the treaty that followed.

London, 6 April, 1782. Dear Sir, I have been favored with your letter, and am much obliged by your remembrance. I find myself returned nearly to the same situation which you remember me to have occupied nineteen years ago; and I should be very glad to talk to you as I did then, and afterwards in 1767, upon the means of promoting the happiness of mankind, a subject much more agreeable to my nature than the best concerted plans for spreading misery and devastation. I have had a high opinion of the compass of your mind, and of your foresight. I have often been beholden to both, and shall be glad to be so again, as far as is compatible with your situation. Your letter, discovering the same disposition, has made me send to you Mr. Oswald. I have had a longer acquaintance with him than even with you. [537] believe him an honorable man, and, after consulting

Chap. XXVI.} 1782. April.
some of our common friends, I have thought him the fittest for the purpose. He is a pacifical man, and conversant in those negotiations which are most interesting to mankind. This has made me prefer him to any of our speculative friends, or to any person of higher rank. He is fully apprised of my mind, and you may give full credit to any thing he assures you of. At the same time, if any other channel occurs to you, I am ready to embrace it. I wish to retain the same simplicity and good faith which subsisted between us in transactions of less importance. Shelburne.’

With this credential, Oswald repaired to Paris by way of Ostend. Laurens, proceeding to the Hague, found Adams engrossed with the question of his reception as minister in Holland, to be followed by efforts to obtain a loan of money for the United States, and to negotiate a treaty of commerce and a triple alliance. Besides, believing that Shelburne was not in earnest, he was willing to wait till the British nation should be ripe for peace. In this manner, the American negotiation was left in the hands of Franklin alone.

1 John Adams to Samuel Adams, 15 June, 1782.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1782 AD (14)
April 4th (4)
March 4th (3)
February 26th (2)
February 22nd (2)
January 9th (2)
June 15th, 1782 AD (1)
April 6th, 1782 AD (1)
1767 AD (1)
June 15th (1)
March 28th (1)
March 22nd (1)
March 21st (1)
January 7th (1)
22nd (1)
20th (1)
17th (1)
10th (1)
9th (1)
5th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: