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Chapter 27:

Rockingham's ministry Assents to American independence.


the hatred of America as a self-existent state
Chap. XXVII.} 1782.
became every day more intense in Spain from the desperate weakness of her authority in her transatlantic possessions. Her rule was dreaded in them all; and, as even her allies confessed, with good reason. The seeds of rebellion were already sown in the vice-royalties of Buenos Ayres and Peru; and a union of Creoles and Indians might prove at any moment fatal to metropolitan dominion. French statesmen were of opinion that England, by emancipating Spanish America, might indemnify itself for all loss from the independence of a part of its own colonial empire; and they foresaw in such a revolution the greatest benefit to the commerce of their own country. Immense naval preparations had been made by the Bourbons for the conquest of Jamaica, but now from the fear of spreading the love of change Florida Blanca suppressed every wish to [539] acquire that hated nest of contraband trade. When
Chap. XXVII.} 1782. April.
the French ambassador reported to him the proposal of Vergennes to constitute its inhabitants an independent republic, he seemed to hear the tocsin of insurrection sounding from the La Plata to San Francisco, and from that time had nothing to propose for the employment of the allied fleets in the West Indies. He was perplexed beyond the power of extrication. One hope only remained. Minorca having been wrested from the English, he concentrated all the force of Spain in Europe on the one great object of recovering Gibraltar, and held France to her promise not to make peace until that fortress should be given up.

With America, therefore, measures for a general peace must begin. As the pacification of the late British dependencies belonged exclusively to the department of Lord Shelburne, the other members of the cabinet should have respected his right. As a body, they did so; but Fox, leagued with young men as uncontrollable as himself, resolved to fasten a quarrel upon him, and to get into his own hands every part of the negotiations for peace. At a cabinet meeting on the twelfth of April, he told Shel-

burne and those who sided with him, that he was determined to bring the matter to a crisis; and on the same day he wrote to one of his young friends: ‘They must yield entirely. If they do not, we must go to war again; that is all: I am sure I am ready.’ Oswald at the time was on his way to Paris, where on the sixteenth he went straightway to Franklin.
The latter, speaking not his own opinion only, but that of congress and of every one of his associate [540] commissioners, explained that the United States
Chap. XXVII.} 1782. April.
could not treat for peace with Great Britain unless it was also intended to treat with France; and, though Oswald desired to keep aloof from European affairs, he allowed himself to be introduced by Franklin to Vergennes, who received with pleasure assurances of the good disposition of the British king, reciprocated them on the part of his own sovereign, and invited an offer of its conditions. He wished America and France to treat directly with British plenipotentiaries, each for itself, the two negotiations to move on with equal step, and the two treaties to be simultaneously signed.

From Amsterdam, John Adams questioned whether, with Canada and Nova Scotia in the hands of the English, the Americans could ever have a real peace. In a like spirit, Franklin intrusted to Oswald ‘Notes for Conversation,’ in which the voluntary cession of Canada was suggested as the surety ‘of a durable peace and a sweet reconciliation.’ At the same time he replied to his old friend Lord Shelburne: ‘I desire no other channel of communication between us than that of Mr. Oswald, which I think your lordship has chosen with much judgment. He will be witness of my acting with all the sincerity and good faith which you do me the honor to expect from me; and if he is enabled when he returns hither to communicate more fully your lordship's mind on the principal points to be settled, I think it may contribute much to the blessed work our hearts are engaged in.’

Another great step was taken by Franklin. He excluded Spain altogether from the American negotiation. Entreating Jay to come to Paris, he wrote: [541] ‘Spain has taken four years to consider whether she

Chap. XXVII.} 1782. April 23.
should treat with us or not. Give her forty, and let us in the mean time mind our own business.’

On the twenty-third, shortly after the return of Oswald to London, the cabinet on his report agreed to send him again to Franklin to acquaint him of their readiness to treat for a general peace, and at Paris, conceding American independence, but otherwise maintaining the treaties of 1763. On the twenty-eighth, Shelburne, who was in earnest, gave

to his agent the verbal instruction: ‘If America is independent, she must be so of the whole world, with no ostensible, tacit, or secret connection with France.’ Canada could not be ceded. It was ‘reasonable to expect a free trade, unencumbered with duties, to every part of America.’ ‘All debts due to British subjects were to be secure, and the loyalists to be restored to a full enjoyment of their rights and privileges.’ As a compensation for the restoration of New York, Charleston, and Savannah, the river Penobscot might be proposed for the eastern boundary of New England. ‘Finally,’ he said, ‘tell Dr. Franklin candidly and confidentially Lord Shelburne's situation with the king; that his lordship will make no use of it but to keep his word with mankind.’ With these instructions, Oswald returned immediately to Paris, bearing from Shelburne to Franklin a most friendly letter, to which the king had given his thorough approval.

With the European belligerents the communication was necessarily to proceed from the department of which Fox was the chief. He entered upon the business in a spirit that foreboded no success, for, at [542] the very moment of his selection of an emissary, he

Chap. XXVII.} 1782. April.
declared that he did not think it much signified how soon he should break up the cabinet. The person of whom he made choice to treat on the weightiest interests with the most skilful diplomatist of Europe was Thomas Grenville, one of his own partisans, who was totally ignorant of the relations of America to France, and very young, with no experience in public business, having a very scant knowledge of the foreign relations of his own country.

Arriving in Paris on the eighth of May, Grenville

May 8.
delivered to Franklin a most cordial letter of introduction from Fox, and met with the heartiest welcome. After receiving him at breakfast, Franklin took him in his own carriage to Versailles; and there the dismissed postmaster-general for America, at the request of the British secretary of state, introduced the son of the author of the American stamp act as the British plenipotentiary to the minister for foreign affairs of the Bourbon king. Statesmen at Paris and Vienna were amused on hearing that the envoy of the ‘rebel’ colonies was become ‘the introductor’ of the representatives of Great Britain at the court of Versailles.

Vergennes received Grenville most cordially as the nephew of an old friend, but smiled at his offer to grant to France the independence of the United States, and Franklin refused to accept at second hand that independence which his country had already won. Grenville remarked that the war had been provoked by encouragement from France to the Americans to revolt; to which Vergennes answered with warmth that France had found and not [543] made America independent, and that American inde-

Chap. XXVII.} 1782. May 10.
pendence was not the only cause of the war. On the next day, Grenville, unaccompanied by Franklin, met Vergennes and de Aranda, and offered peace on the basis of the independence of the United States and the treaty of 1763. ‘That treaty,’ said Vergennes, ‘I can never read without a shudder. The king, my master, cannot in any treaty consider the independence of America as ceded to him. To do so would be injurious to the dignity of his Britannic Majesty.’ The Spanish ambassador urged with vehemence, that the griefs of the king of Spain were totally distinct from the independence of America.

With regard to America, the frequent conversations of the young envoy with Franklin, who received him with constant hospitality, cleared up his views. It was explained to him with precision that the United States were free from every sort of engagement with France except those contained in the public treaties of commerce and alliance. Grenville asked if these obligations extended to the recovery of Gibraltar for Spain; and Franklin answered: ‘It is nothing to America who has Gibraltar.’ But Franklin saw in Grenville a young statesman ambitious of recommending himself as an able negotiator; in Oswald, a man who free from interested motives earnestly sought a final settlement of all differences between Great Britain and America. To the former he had no objection, but he would have been loath to lose the latter; and, before beginning to treat of the conditions of peace, he wrote to Shelburne his belief that the ‘moderation, prudent counsels, and sound judgment of Oswald might contribute much not only to the speedy conelusion [544] of a peace, but to the framing of such a peace

Chap. XXVII.} 1782. May.
as may be firm and lasting.’ The king, as he read the wishes of Franklin, which were seconded by Vergennes, ‘thought it best to let Oswald remain at Paris,’ saying that ‘his correspondence carried marks of coming from a man of sense.’

While Oswald came to London to make his second report, news that better reconciled the English to treat for peace arrived from the Caribbean islands. The fleet of de Grasse in 1781, after leaving the coast of the United States, gave to France the naval ascendency in the West Indies. St. Eustatius was recaptured, and generously restored to the United Provinces. St. Christopher, Nevis, and Montserrat

Feb. 19.
were successively taken. On the nineteenth of February, 1782, Rodney reappeared at Barbadoes with a re-enforcement of twelve sail, and in the next week he effected a junction with the squadron of Hood to the leeward of Antigua. To cope with his great adversary, de Grasse, who was closely watched by Rodney from St. Lucia, must unite with the Span-
April 8.
ish squadron. For that purpose, on the eighth of April he turned his fleet out of Fort Royal in Martinique; and with only the advantage of a few hours over the British he ran for Hispaniola. On the ninth,
a partial engagement took place near the island of Dominique. At daylight on the twelfth, Rodney by
skilful manoeuvres drew near the French in the expanse of waters that lies between the islands of Guadeloupe, the Saintes, and Marie Galante. The sky was clear, the sea quiet; the trade-wind blew lightly, and, having the advantage of its unvarying breeze, Rodney made the signal for attack. The British had [545] thirty-six ships; the French, with a less number,
Chap. XXVII.} 1782. April.
excelled in the weight of metal. The French ships were better built; the British in superior repair. The complement of the French crews was the more full, but the British mariners were better disciplined. The fight began at seven in the morning, and without a respite of seven minutes it continued for eleven hours. The French handled their guns well at a distance, but in close fight there was a want of personal exertion and presence of mind. About the time when the sun was at the highest, Rodney cut the line of his enemy; and the battle was continued in ‘detail, all the ships on each side being nearly equally engaged. The Ville de Paris,’ the flag-ship of de Grasse, did not strike its colors till it was near foundering, and only three men were left unhurt on the upper deck. Four other ships of his fleet were captured; one sunk in the action.

On the side of the victors about one thousand were killed or wounded: of the French, thrice as many; for their ships were crowded with over five thousand land troops, and the fire of the British was rapid and well aimed. The going down of the sun put an end to the battle, and Rodney neglected pursuit. Just at nightfall, one of the ships of which the English had taken possession blew up. Of the poor wretches who were cast into the sea some clung to bits of the wreck; the sharks, of which the fight had called together shoals from the waters round about, tore them all off, and even after the carnage of the day could hardly be glutted.

The feeling of having recovered the dominion of the sea reconciled England to the idea of peace. On [546] the eighteenth of May, the day on which tidings

Chap. XXVII.} 1782. May 18.
of the victory were received, the cabinet agreed to invite proposals from Vergennes. Soon after this came a letter from Grenville, in which he argued that, as America had been the road to war with France, so it offered the most practicable way of getting out of it; and the cabinet agreed to a minute almost in his words ‘to propose the independency of America in the first instance, instead of making it a condition of a general treaty.’ The proposition in the words of Fox was accepted by Shelburne, was embodied by him in his instructions to Sir Guy Carleton at New York, and formed the rule of action for Oswald on his return, with renewed authority, to Paris. Independence was, as the king expressed it, ‘the dreadful price now offered to America’ for peace.

A commission was forwarded to Grenville by Fox to treat with France, but with no other country; yet he devoted nearly all his letter of instructions to the relations with America, showing that in a negotiation for peace the United States ought not to be encumbered by a power like Spain, ‘which had never assisted them during the war, and had even refused to acknowledge their independence.’

When Grenville laid before Vergennes his credentials, he received the answer that they were very insufficient, as they did not enable him to treat with Spain and America, the allies of France; or with the Netherlands, her partner in the war. Repulsed at Versailles, Grenville took upon himself to play the plenipotentiary with America; on the fourth of June

June 4.
he confided to Franklin the minute of the cabinet, [547] and hoped to draw from him in return the Ameri-
Chap. XXVII.} 1782.
can conditions for a separate peace. But Franklin would not unfold the American conditions to a person not authorized to receive them. Irritated by this ‘unlucky check,’ by which, as he thought, his hopes of a great diplomatic success were ‘completely annihilated,’ he made bitter and passionate and altogether groundless complaints of Oswald. He would have Fox not lose one moment to fight the battle with advantage against Shelburne, and to take to himself the American business by comprehending all in one.

Though Fox had given up all present hope of making peace, he enlarged the powers of Grenville so as to include any potentate or state then at war with Great Britain; and he beat about for proofs of Shelburne's ‘duplicity of conduct,’ resolved, if he could but get them, to ‘drive to an open rupture.’

Under his extended powers, Grenville made haste to claim the right to treat with America; but, when questioned by Franklin, he was obliged to own that he was acting without the sanction of parliament. Within twenty-four hours of the passing of the enabling act, the powers for Oswald as a negotiator of peace with the United States were begun upon and were ‘completely finished in the four days following;’ but, on the assertion of Fox that they would prejudice everything then depending in Paris, they were delayed. Fox then proposed that America, even without a treaty, should be recognised as an independent power. Had he prevailed, the business of America must have passed from the home department to that for foreign affairs; but, after full reflection, [548] the cabinet decided ‘that independence should

Chap. XXVII.} 1782.
in the first instance be allowed as the basis to treat on.’ Professing discontent, ‘Fox declared that his part was taken to quit his office.’1

The next day Lord Rockingham expired. His ministry left great memorials of its short career. Through the mediation of Shelburne, it forced the king to treat for peace with the United States on the basis of their independence. The success of America brought emancipation to Ireland, which had suffered even more than the United States from colonial monopoly. Its volunteer army, commanded by officers of its own choice, having increased to nearly fifty thousand well-armed men, united under one generalin-chief, the viceroy reported that, ‘unless it was determined that the knot which bound the two countries should be severed for ever,’ the points required by the Irish parliament must be conceded.2 Fox would rather have seen Ireland totally separated than kept in obedience by force. Eden, one of Lord North's commissioners in America in 1778, and lately his secretary for Ireland, was the first in a moment of ill-humor to propose the repeal of the act of George the First, which asserted the right of the parliament of Great Britain to make laws to bind the people and the kingdom of Ireland; and after reflection the ministry of Rockingham adopted and carried the measure. Appeals from the courts of law in Ireland to the British house of peers were abolished; the restraint on independent legislation was done away with; and Ireland, owning allegiance to the same king as Great Britain, obtained the indepb n=549> pendence of its own parliament. These were the

Chap. XXVII.} 1782.
first-fruits of the American revolution. The Irish owed the vindication of their rights to the United States; but at the time the gratitude of the nation took the direction of loyalty to their king, and their legislature voted one hundred thousand pounds sterling for the levy of twenty thousand seamen.

During the ministry of Rockingham, the British house of commons for the first time since the days of Cromwell seriously considered the question of a reform in the representation of Great Britain. The author of the proposition was William Pitt, then without office, but the acknowledged heir of the principles of Chatham. The resolution of inquiry was received with ill-concealed repugnance by Rockingham. Its support by Fox was lukewarm, and bore the mark of his aristocratic connections. Edmund Burke, in his fixed opposition to reform, was almost beside himself with passion, and was with difficulty persuaded to remain away from the debate. The friends of Shelburne, on the contrary, gave to the motion their cordial support; yet by the absence and opposition of many of the Rockingham connection the question on this first division in the house of commons upon the state of the representation in the British parliament was lost, though only by a majority of twenty. The freedom of Ireland and the hopes of reform in the British parliament itself went hand in hand with the triumph of liberty in America.

The accession of a liberal ministry revived in Frederic of Prussia his old inclination to friendly relations with England. The empress of Russia now [550] included the government in her admiration of the

Chap. XXVII.} 1782.
British people; and Fox on his side, with the consent of the ministry but to the great vexation of the king, accepted her declaration of the maritime rights of neutrals. But for the moment no practical result followed; for the cabinet, as the price of their formal adhesion to her code, demanded her alliance.

1 Grafton's Memoirs.

2 Froude's Ireland, II. 337.

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