The relations of the two New powers.
The negotiations of Great Britain
with the petty
princes, who transferred the service of their subjects for money, have been fully related.
, cultivated by travel in Holland
, and France
, ruled his principality of Saxe
and Altenburg with wisdom and justice.
By frugality and simplicity in his court, he restored the disordered finances of his duchy, and provided for great public works and for science.
Though the king of England
was his near relation, he put aside the offers of enormous subsidies for troops to be employed in America
When, ten years later, he was ready to risk his life and independence in the defence of the unity and the liberties of Germany
, these are the words in which he cheered on his dearest friend to aid in curbing the ambition of Austria
: ‘All hope for our freedom and the preservation of the constitution is
Right and equity are on our side, and the
wise Providence, according to my idea of it, cannot approve, cannot support, perjury and the suppression of all rights of citizens and of states.
Of this principle the example of America
is the eloquent proof.
met with her deserts.
It was necessary that her pride should be bowed, and that oppressed innocence should carry off the victory.
Time cannot outlaw the rights of mankind.’2
The friend to whom these words were addressed was the brave, warm-hearted Charles Augustus
, who, in 1776, being then of only nineteen years, refused a request for leave to open recruiting offices at Ilmenau and Jena
for the English
but consented to the delivery of vagabonds and convicts.4
When, in the last days of November, 1777, the Prince
, as the go between of the British
ministry, made unlimited offers of subsidies for some of his battalions, the patriot prince called his ministers to a conference, and, supported by the unanimous advice of those present, on the third of December, he answered: ‘There are, in general, many weighty reasons why I cannot yield my consent to deliver troops into foreign service and pay;’ and it is minuted on the draft that ‘Serenissimus himself took charge of posting the letter.’5
The signature of Goethe
, the youngest minister of Weimar
, is wanting to the draft, for he was absent on a winter trip to the Hartz Mountains
; but that his heart was with his colleagues appears from his writing simultaneously from Goslar
: ‘How am I again brought to love that class of men which is called the lower class, but which assuredly for God is the highest!
In them moderation, contentment, straightforwardness, patience, endurance, all the virtues, meet together.’6
In like manner, when, in 1775, an overture from England
reached Frederic Augustus
, the young elector of Saxony
, Count Sacken
, his minister, promptly reported his decision: ‘The thoughts of sending a part of his army to the remote countries of the New World touch too nearly his paternal tenderness for his subjects, and seem to be too much in contrast with the rules of a healthy policy.’7
Did the future bring honor to the houses of the princes who refused to fight against America
or to those who sold their subjects to destroy the freedom of the New World?
Every dynasty which furnished troops to England
has ceased to reign, except one, which has now for its sole representative an aged and childless man. On the other hand, the three Saxon
families remain; and in their states local selfgovern-ment has continually increased, and the wisdom and
the will of the inhabitants been consulted and re-
, the collision predicted for Germany
, between monarchy and popular freedom, was avoided by the wisdom of its administration.
Nor is the different fate of the princes to be attributed to accident.
The same infidelity to duty which induced some of them to support their vices by traffic in their subjects colored their career, and brought them in conflict with the laws of the eternal Providence
who, next to Joseph of Austria
, governed at that time the largest number of men having the German for their mother tongue, was Frederic of Prussia
, then the only king in Germany
He united in himself the qualities of a great regent.
Superior to personal and dynastic influences, he lived with and for the people.
Free from prejudice, he saw things as they were.
His prudence measured his strength correctly, and he never risked extreme danger but for a necessary object.
He possessed the inventive faculty which creates resources.
He had the strong will that executes with energy, swiftly, and at the right time.
He had also the truest test of greatness, moderation.
The people bore him no grudge on account of the distribution of employments; for he never yielded the smallest fraction of political power to the class of nobles, was frugal in rewarding their service, and exacted of them the fulfilment of duty as unsparingly as he exacted it from himself.
From an unhappy defect in his education, he never acquired a mastery of the German tongue, and slighted German men of
letters; but they magnanimously forgave his neglect,
acted as his allies, and heralded his greatness.
Hardships had shattered his constitution.
He was old and broken; had outlived friends, of whom the dearest had fallen near him in battle; had lost all enjoyment in music, in building, in the arts, but not the keen sense of duty.
The thought of his campaigns gave him no pleasure, their marvellously triumphant result no pride: he remembered them with awe, and even with horror; like one who has sailed through a long relentless whirlwind in midocean, just escaping shipwreck.
No one of the powers of Europe
was heartily his ally.
will soon leave him for Austria
His great deeds become to him so many anxieties; he dreads the want of perpetuity to his system, which meets with persistent and deadly enmity.
He seeks rest; and strong and unavoidable antagonisms allow his wasted strength no repose.
He is childless and alone; his nephew, who will be his successor, neglects him,8
and follows other counsels; his own brother hopes and prays to heaven that the king's days may not be prolonged.9
Worn by unparalleled labor and years, he strikes against obstacles on all sides in seeking to give a sure life to his kingdom; and his consummate prudence teaches him that he must still dare and suffer and go on. He must maintain Protestant and intellectual liberty, and
the liberty of Germany
, against Austria
, which uses
the imperial crown only for its advantage as a foreign power, and with relentless perseverance aims at the destruction of his realm.
The impartiality of Frederic extended to the forms of government.
The most perfect he held to be that of a well-administered monarchy.
‘But then,’ he added, ‘kingdoms are subjected to the caprice of a single man whose successors will have no common character.
A good-for-nothing prince succeeds an ambitious one; then follows a devotee; then a warrior; then a scholar; then, it may be, a voluptuary: and the genius of the nation, diverted by the variety of objects, assumes no fixed character.
But republics fulfil more promptly the design of their institution, and hold out better; for good kings die, but wise laws are immortal.
There is unity in the end which republics propose, and in the means which they employ; and they therefore almost never miss their aim.’10
The republic which arose in America
encountered no unfavorable prejudice in his mind.
The relations of Frederic to England
and to France
changed with the changing character of their governments.
Towards the former, a Protestant power, he, as the head of the chief Protestant power on the continent, naturally leaned.
, whose dissolute king made himself the champion of superstition, he had fought for seven years; but, with the France which protected the United States
, he had a common feeling.
Liberal English statesmen commanded his good-will; but he detested the policy of
and of North
: so that for him and the United
States there were in England
the same friends and the same enemies.
In November, 1774, he expressed the opinion that
colonies would rather be buried under the ruins of their settlements than submit to the yoke of the mother country.
Maltzan, his minister in London
, yielded to surrounding influences, and in February, 1775, wishing to pave the way for an alliance
between the two powers, wrote: ‘The smallest attention would flatter the ministry beyond all expression.’
‘What motive have I,’ answered Frederic, ‘to flatter Lord North?
I see none: the love I bear my people imposes on me no necessity to seek the alliance of England
He was astonished at the apathy and gloomy silence of the British
nation on undertaking a war alike absurd and fraught with hazard.12
‘The treatment of the colonies,’ he wrote in September, ‘appears to me to be the first step towards despotism.
If in this the king should succeed, he will by and by attempt to impose his own will upon the mother country.’13
In October, 1775, the British
minister at Berlin
reported of the Prussian king: ‘His ill state of health threatens him with a speedy dissolution.’14
It was while face to face with death that Frederic wrote of the August proclamation of George the Third: ‘It seems to me very hard to proclaim as rebels free subjects who only defend their privileges against the
despotism of a ministry.’15
While still but half
recovered from a long, painful, and complicated sickness, he explained the processes of his mind when others thought him dying:
The more I reflect on the measures of the British government, the more they appear to me arbitrary and despotic.
The British constitution itself seems to authorize resistance.
That the court has provoked its colonies to withstand its measures, nobody can doubt.
It invents new taxes; it wishes by its own authority to impose them on its colonies in manifest breach of their privileges: the colonies do not refuse their former taxes, and demand only with regard to new ones to be placed on the same footing with England; but the government will not accord to them the right to tax themselves.
This is, in short, the whole history of these disturbances.
During my illness, in which I have passed many moments doing nothing, these are the ideas that occupied my mind; and it seems to me that they could not escape any reasonable Englishman who is naturally much more interested than I. Everything which is taking place in America can be to me very indifferent in the main; and I have no cause to embarrass myself either about the form of government that will be established there, or the degree of influence of the party of Bute in the mother country.
But every patriotic Englishman must deplore the turn which the affairs of his country are taking under the present administration, and the odious perspective which it opens before him.
Frederic to Maltzan, 13 Nov., 1775.
‘The court carries its point against all principles
of true patriotism, and treads under foot the rules of sound policy.’16
‘If I had a voice in the British
cabinet, I should take advantage of the good disposition of the colonies to reconcile myself with them.’17
‘In order to interest the nation in this war, the British court will, it is true, offer conditions of reconciliation; but it will make them so burdensome that the colonies will never be able to accept them.’18
‘The issue of this contest cannot fail to make an epoch in British annals.’19
‘The great question is always whether the colonies will not find means to separate entirely from the mother country and form a free republic.
The examples of the Netherlands and of Switzerland
make me at least presume that this is not impossible.
It is very certain that nearly all Europe
takes the part of the colonies and defends their cause, while that of the court finds neither favor nor aid. Persons who have lately been in England
, and with whom I have spoken, make no secret with me, that the higher classes of the nation are no longer so enthusiastic for their liberty.
From all that I have learned, it appears that the ancient British spirit is almost totally eclipsed.’20
When the ministry confessed its inability to reduce the colonies except by the subvention of foreign troops, he wrote: ‘The imprudence of Lord North shows itself in the clearest light; and surely he ought not to be at his ease, when he considers that it is he who has plunged
his country into this abyss of embarrassment and
No prince could be farther than Frederic from romantic attempts to rescue from oppression foreign colonies that were beyond his reach.
In his cabinet papers for several years, relating to England
, the Netherlands, Russia
, and other powers, I have found no letter or part of a letter in which he allowed the interest of his kingdom to suffer from personal pique, or passion, or dynastic influences.
His cares are for the country which he rather serves than rules.
He sees and exactly measures its weakness as well as its strength; he cares for every one of its disconnected parts, and gathers them all under his wings.
But he connects his policy with the movement of the world towards light and reason, the amelioration of domestic and international law.
When in May, 1776, the Prussian minister in London
offered to submit a plan for a direct commerce with America
, so as to open a sale for Silesian cloths, and at the same time to procure American products at the cheapest rate,22
Frederic answered: ‘The plan appears to me very problematical.
Without a fleet, how could I cause such a commerce to be respected?’23
‘I shall never be able to form a navy strong enough to protect it.’24
In September, he received from his minister in London25
a French version of the American declaration of independence
He had predicted that
measure when first informed that the mother coun-
try sought the aid of foreign troops to reduce her colonies;26
and now, as the British
had not had decisive success in arms, the declaration was to him a clear indication that the colonies could not be subjugated.
He had heard of the death-bed remark of Hume
, that the success of the court would bring to England
the loss of her liberties.27
‘If, under such circumstances,’ he continued, ‘the nation should suffer the faction of Bute
and the tories to infringe with impunity the form of their government, they certainly merit no longer the name of free Britons.’28
With a commercial agent, sent in the following November by Silas Deane, he declined to treat; for he saw endless difficulties in the way of establishing a direct commerce between the United States
: but he consented to an exchange of commodities through the ports of Brittany
would be drawn into the war, he from the first foretold, yet not without misgivings as to the effect on themselves.30
,’ said he, on the day on which congress in committee decided for independence, ‘France
resembles a sick man who is just rising from a grievous malady and yet assumes the air of robust health.’31
‘In the ruinous condition of its finances, a war would certainly bring bankruptcy in its train.’32
Meantime the liberties of Germany
, not less than
those of the United States
, were endangered; and the political question of the day assumed the largest proportions.
In the event of the death of the childless elector of Bavaria
, Joseph of Austria
was prepared, under the false pretext of a right of inheritance, to appropriate a large part of that electorate.
To prevent so fatal a measure, the king of Prussia
, in the last months of 1776, began to draw near to France
, which was one of the guarantees of the peace of Westphalia
His desire for a ‘good understanding’ with that power34
was cordially reciprocated by Vergennes
On the advent of the rupture between France
, he announced that England
should receive no aid from Prussia
; and Vergennes
on his side gave the hint that France
, if it should become involved in the conflict, would confine itself to a maritime war.36
The year 1777 opened with nearer approaches be-
tween the courts of Potsdam
Frederic, while ‘he never ceased to be on his guard on every side, and held himself prepared for every event,’38
on the seventh of January instructed his minister more definitely: ‘Should France
begin war, she may be sure that I will do everything in the world to preserve peace’ on the continent.
‘Convince the ministry at Versailles
of this; and
add that France
will not find me in her way, nor
have any reason to complain of my policy.’39
‘I guarantee to you reciprocity on the part of his most Christian majesty,’ was the answer of Maurepas
On the fourteenth of February, 1777, the American
commissioners at Paris
transmitted to Frederic a copy of the declaration of independence
, and of the articles of American confederation, with the formal expression of the earnest desire of the United States
to obtain his friendship, and to establish a mutually beneficial free commerce between their distant countries.
The great king received from Franklin
with unmingled satisfaction the manifesto of the republic and its first essay at a constitution.
The victories of Washington
had already proved to him that the colonies were become a nation.
He supported the rights of neutrals in their fullest extent; and, when England
began to issue letters of marque, he stigmatized privateers as ‘pirates of the sea.’41
But, as to a direct commerce, he could only answer as before: ‘I am without a navy; having no armed ships to protect trade, the direct commerce could be conducted only under the flag of the Netherlands, and England
respects that flag no longer.
St. Eustatius is watched by at least ninety English cruisers.
Under more favorable circumstances, our linens of Silesia
, our woollens and other manufactures, might find a new market.’
But, while he postponed negotiations, he, who was accustomed to utter his commands
tersely and not to repeat his words, charged
thrice over in the same rescript, to say and do nothing that could offend or wound the American
In the remaining years of the war, some one of the American
agents would ever and anon renew the same proposition; but he always in gentle words turned aside the request which interfered with his nearer duty to Prussia
I have already related the visit of Arthur Lee
The rash man, who was then British envoy to Prussia
, attempted to throw upon the officiousness of a servant the blame of having stolen the American
papers, which he himself received and read.43
Against the rules of the court, he hurried to Potsdam
: the king refused to see him; and a scornful cabinet order, in his own handwriting, still preserves his judgment upon Elliott
: ‘It is a case of public theft, and he should be forbidden the court; but I will not push matters with rigor.’
And to his minister in London
the king wrote: ‘Oh, the worthy pupil of Bute
In truth, the English
ought to blush for shame at sending such ministers to foreign courts.’44
Whoever will understand the penetrating sagacity of the statesmen of France
in the eighteenth century must search the records of their diplomacy: the vigor of the British
political mind must be studied in the debates in parliament; at the courts of foreign powers, England
in those days did not feel the need of employing able men.
The people of that kingdom cherished the fame of
the Prussian king as in some measure their own; not aware how basely Bute
had betrayed him, they unanimously desired the renewal of his alliance; and the ministry sought to open the way for it through his envoy in London
Frederic, in his replies, made the most frank avowal of his policy: ‘No man is further removed than myself from having connections with England
‘We will remain on the footing on which we now are with her.’46
knows perfectly well that it has absolutely nothing to apprehend from me in case of a war with England
My indifference for this latter power can surprise nobody: “a scalded cat fears cold water,” says the proverb; and, in fact, what could be the union to contract with this crown after the signal experience that I have had of its duplicity?
If it would give me all the millions possible, I would not furnish it two small files of my troops to serve against the colonies.
Neither can it expect from me a guarantee of its electorate of Hanover
I know by the past too well what the like guarantee has cost me to have any desire to renew it.’47
‘Although I was then its ally, its conduct towards me was that of a thorough enemy.’
‘Never in past ages,’ he continued, some weeks later, ‘has the situation of England
been so critical.
The nation itself seems to me to have degenerated.
Once so proud and so jealous of its liberty, it abandons the ship of state to the caprice of its ministry, which is without men of talent.’48
would be the wisest policy for England
; and, because
it would be the wisest policy, it will not be adopted.’49
will make the sacrifice of thirty-six million crowns for one campaign.’50
‘True, her ministry can find thirty-six millions more easily than I a single florin.’51
‘But the largest sums will not be sufficient to procure the sailors and recruits she needs; the storm which is forming between the courts of England
will burst forth’52
‘not later than the next spring.’53
‘And a glance at the situation shows that, if she continues to employ the same generals, four campaigns will hardly be enough to subjugate her colonies.’54
‘All good judges agree with me that, if the colonies remain united, the mother country will never subjugate them.’55
In the interim, Frederic wished the ministry to know that he had refused to the American
emissaries the use of Embden as a base for troubling British navigation.
‘You have only to declare to the British
government,’ so he instructed his envoy in London
, ‘that my marine is nothing but a mercantile marine, of which I know the limits too well to go beyond them.’56
‘If the colonies shall sustain their independence, a direct commerce with them will follow, of course.’57
Having taken his position towards England
, he proceeded to gain the aid of France
as well as of Russia
against the annexation of Bavaria
to the Austrian
dominions; and in the breast of the aged Maurepas
whose experience in office preceded the seven years war, there remained enough of the earlier French traditions to render him jealous of such an aggrandizement of the old rival of his country.
The vital importance of the question was understood at Potsdam
and at Vienna
Kaunitz, who made it the cardinal point of Austrian
policy to overthrow the kingdom of Prussia
, looked upon the acquisition of Bavaria
as the harbinger of success.
When Joseph repaired to Paris
to win France
for his design through the influence of his sister, Marie Antoinette
, the Prussian envoy was commanded to be watchful, but to be silent.
No sooner had the emperor retired than Frederic, knowing that Maurepas
had resisted the influence of the queen, renewed his efforts; and, through a confidential French agent sent to him under the pretext of attending the midsummer military reviews at Magdeburg
, the two kingdoms adjusted their foreign policy, of which the central points lay in the United States
and in Germany
, if she would venture on war with England
, needed security and encouragement from Frederic on the side of Germany
, and his aid to stop the sale of German troops.58
He met the overture with joy, and near the end of July wrote with his own hand: ‘No; certainly we have no jealousy of the aggrandizement of France
: we even put up prayers for her prosperity, provided her armies are not found near Wesel
‘You can assure M. de Maurepas
,’ so he continued in August and Septemher,
‘that I have no connection whatever with Eng-
land, nor do I grudge to France
any advantages she may gain by the war with the colonies.’60
‘Her first interest requires the enfeeblement of Great Britain
, and the way to this is to make it lose its colonies in America
The present opportunity is more favorable than ever before existed, and more favorable than is likely to recur in three centuries.’61
‘The independence of the colonies will be worth to France
all which the war will cost.’62
As the only way to bridle the ambition of Austria
, and to preserve the existence of his own kingdom and the liberties of Germany
, he pressed upon the French
council an alliance of France
, and Russia
,’ he said, ‘would follow, and no alliance would be left to Austria
except that with England
If it does not take place, troubles are at hand to be decided only by the sword.’64
In his infirm old age, he felt his own powers utterly unequal to the renewal of such a conflict; and he saw no hope for himself, as king of Prussia
, to rescue Bavaria
and with it Germany
from absorption by Austria
, except in the good — will of France
While Frederic was encouraging France
to strike a decisive blow in favor of the United States
, their cause found an efficient advocate in Marie Antoinette
She placed in the hands of her husband a memoir which had been prepared by Count de Maillebois
and which severely censured the
timid policy of his ministers from the very beginning of the troubles in America
The states of Europe
, it was said, would judge the reign of Louis the Sixteenth by the manner in which that prince will know how to avail himself of the occasion to lower the pride and presumption of a rival power.
The French council, nevertheless, put off the day of decision.
Even so late as the twenty-third of November, every one of them, except the minister of the marine and Vergennes
above all, desired to avoid a conflict.66
Frederic, on his part, all the more continued his admonitions, through his minister at Paris
, that France
had now an opportunity which must be regarded as unique; that England
could from no quarter obtain the troops which she needed; that Denmark
would be solicited in vain to furnish ships of war and mariners; that he himself, by refusing passage through any part of his dominions to the recruits levied in Germany
, had given public evidence of his sympathy with the Americans
; that France
, if she should go to war with England
, might be free from apprehension alike on the side of Russia
and of Prussia
So when the news of the surrender of Burgoyne
's army was received at Paris
, and every face, even that of the French
king, showed signs of joy,67 Maurepas
prepared to yield; but first wished the great warrior who knew so well the relative forces of the house of Bourbon
to express his
judgment on the probable issues of a war; and Fred-
eric, renewing assurances of his own good — will and the non-interference of Russia
, replied, ‘that the chances were one hundred to one in favor of great advantages to France
; that the colonies would sustain their independence.’68
Balancing the disasters of Burgoyne
with the successes of Howe
, he wrote: ‘These triumphs of Howe
The ministry would feel a counterblow if the English
had not degenerated from their ancient spirit.
They may get funds, but where will they get twenty thousand men?
will furnish them; and, as she is at variance with Holland
, she will find no assistance there.
apply to the small princes of the empire?
Their military force is already too much absorbed.
I see no gate at which she can knock for auxiliaries; and nothing remains to her but her electorate of Hanover
, exposed to be invaded by France
the moment that she shall leave it bare of troops.’69
made originally an awkward mistake in going to war with its colonies; then followed the illusion of being able to subjugate them by a corps of seven thousand men; next, the scattering its different corps, which has caused the failure of all its enterprises.
I am of Chatham
's opinion, that the ill success of England
is due to the ignorance, rashness, and incapacity of its ministry.
Even should there be a change in the ministry, the tories would still retain
‘The primal source of the de-
cay of Britain is to be sought in the departure of its present government in a sovereign degree from the principles of British history.
All the efforts of his Britannic majesty tend to despotism.
It is only to the principles of the tories that the present war with the colonies is to be attributed.
The reen-forcements which these same ministers design to send to America
will not change the face of affairs; and independence will always be the indispensable condition of an accommodation.
Everything is to be expected from a ministry as corrupt as the present British ministry.
It is entirely a slave to the king, who will make of it whatever he pleases.
Without patriotism, it will take no measures but false ones, diametrically contrary to the true interests of the country; and this will be the first step towards the decay which menaces the British constitution.’71
At the same time Frederic expressed more freely his sympathy with the United States
The port of Embden could not receive their cruisers, for the want of a fleet or a fort to defend them from insult; but he offered them an asylum in the Baltic
He attempted, though in vain, to dissuade the prince of Anspach from furnishing troops to England
; and he forbade the subsidiary troops both from Anspach and Hesse
to pass through his dominions.
The prohibition, which was made as publicly as possible, and just as the news arrived of the surrender of Burgoyne
, resounded throughout Europe
; and he announced to the Americans
that it was given ‘to testify his goodwill
Every facility was afforded to the
American commissioners to purchase and ship arms from Prussia
Before the end of 1777 he promised not to be the last to recognise the independence of the United States
and in January, 1778, his minis-
, wrote officially to one of their commissioners in Paris
: ‘The king desires that your generous efforts may be crowned with complete success.
He will not hesitate to recognise your independence, when France
, which is more directly interested in the event of this contest, shall have given the example.’74