Benjamin Franklin, Bon Homme Richard, John Paul Jones, Whitehaven, Dominica, Rhode Island, Count d’Estaing, Anti-French Riots and Serapis

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 26th, 2012

Politics 101

The First French Action in the New World that was in Support of their New American Allies was in Rhode Island

The French loved Benjamin Franklin.  He was America personified.  They loved his science.  And his Poor Richard’s Almanac.  In 1779 King Louis XVI of France bought a merchant ship from the French East India Company and gave it to the Americans to use in their common war with Great Britain.  The U.S. captain fittingly named the Duc de Duras the Bon Homme Richard.  Which translates to Good Man Richard.  Richard as in Poor Richard’s Almanac.  To make it a favorite of the French.  Who were already quite enthused by this young American captain.  Who was a Scotsman by birth.  John Paul Jones.  From his actions off (and on) the British coast the previous year.  In the first year of the Franco-American alliance in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783).

With the French on board Benjamin Franklin wanted to capitalize on this new alliance.  With friendly ports on the far side of the Atlantic Franklin instructed John Paul Jones to harass the British coast.  To bring the war home to the British people.  And that’s exactly what Jones did.  Then in command of the Ranger.  Coming ashore at Whitehaven in April of 1778.  A seaport on the north east coast of England.  His intent was to set fire to the ships and port facilities.  To disrupt British shipping.  He didn’t do the great damage he had hoped.  But it really brought the American Revolutionary War to British soil.  And the British were not amused.  But the French were.

The French were eager to get some payback for their embarrassing defeat in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763).  And to recover some of their lost New World territories.  Beginning in the West Indies.  On the island of Dominica in September of 1778.  The first of a series of victories in the West Indies where the French navy began helping the Americans in their War of Independence.  By taking these islands from the British.  Which helped the Americans by keeping the British busy.  And depriving the Royal Navy of some useful ports.  But these actions benefited the French more than the Americans.  Which was keeping with French interests in joining this war.  Payback for their prior defeats at the hands of the British.  And regaining lost territory.  The first French action in the New World that was in support of their new American allies was in Rhode Island.  In the first Franco-American combined action in the war.  Which didn’t go well.  Or end well.

The French arrive with a Fleet Including some 16 Warships and about 4,000 French Soldiers

1777 ended well for the Americans.  They defeated a British Army at the Battle of Saratoga.  Because of this the French joined in alliance with the Americans in their war against Great Britain.  Valley Forge followed.  Which was pretty horrible.  But Baron von Steuben drilled the Continental Army.  Made them as good as any European Army.  And when General Clinton was moving his army from Philadelphia back to New York in the Spring Washington wanted to go on the offensive.  His chance came at the Battle of Monmouth.  Washington ordered an attack on the rearguard of Clinton’s army.  General Charles Lee hesitated.  Then ordered a retreat.  Which Washington turned around.  As had the British in their retreat to New York.  The Americans and the British then engaged in a long day of attacks and counterattacks.  Stopping only after exhaustion set in.  Von Steuben’s trained Continental Army fought the British Army to a draw.  As impressive a feat as the win at Saratoga.  Perhaps more so.  And so close to a win.  Had Lee followed Washington’s orders perhaps it would have been.  But, alas, it wasn’t.  And in the morning the British were gone.

The French were on their way.  But they did not arrive early enough to prevent Clinton from getting his army across to Manhattan.  But the appearance of the French fleet did paralyze the British into inaction.  The French fleet included some 16 warships and about 4,000 French soldiers.  With some 50,000 British regulars in New York surrounded by a fleet of 100 or so made New York NOT the best place to test the grand Franco-American alliance.  Instead the first test of that grand alliance would be in Newport, Rhode Island.

The plan was to land the French soldiers to join an American force to assault the British forces with the support of the guns of the French fleet.  What happened was a tragic comedy of errors.  A militia force arrived late.  While the Franco-American force was waiting a British naval squadron appeared.  Count d’Estaing, the French naval commander, re-embarked the French troops and prepared for battle.  Then a violent storm blew in.  Scattering the opposing naval forces.  The British then limped back to New York to refit.  And the French limped to Boston to refit.  The American commander was furious at the French.  He published an order condemning the French.  American morale fell.  Militia went home.  The British seeing this decided to attack.  The Americans held their ground.  Fought to another draw.  Then slipped away under the cover of night.  Yet another missed opportunity.

When the Serapis asked the crippled Bon Homme Richard if she was striking her colors Jones replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.” 

The Americans were not amused with the French actions.  Anti-French riots broke out in Boston where the French fleet was refitting.  All the old animosities from the previous war resurfaced.  When the Americans fought alongside the British against the French.  It took the combined efforts of d’Estaing, John Hancock, Nathanael Greene and Alexander Hamilton to maintain the peace between the Franco-American alliance in Boston.  Their counterparts in Charlestown, South Carolina, were not so successful.  Where the French and the Americans fired upon each other with cannon and small arms.  And there was blood.  Dead and wounded.  Not the greatest of beginnings between the grand alliance.

While the French fleet failed to pay any dividends for the Americans some other naval action was.  Harassing the sea lanes between London and the West Indies.  Causing great headaches to British commerce.  Harassing the fisheries off of Nova Scotia.  Capturing enemy ships.  And who was doing all of this damage to the British fleet?  And to British pride?  That Scotsman fighting for America.  John Paul Jones.  Who did not know the meaning of the word ‘surrender’.

In September of 1779 Jones came into contact with a convoy of 40 British merchant ships coming from the Baltic under the protection of the 44-gun Serapis and the 28-gun Countess of Scarborough.  Jones commanded a 4-vessel squadron including the Bon Homme Richard and the Alliance captained by French Captain Pierre Landais.  And engaged.  The battle lasted some three and a half hours.  And into the night.  The Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis rammed into each other yet still continued the fight.  The Alliance fired broadside after broadside into the Bon Homme Richard and yet Jones continued the fight.  When the captain of the Serapis asked the crippled Bon Homme Richard if she was striking her colors (surrendering) Jones reportedly replied, “I have not yet begun to fight.”  And he kept fighting until the captain of the Serapis struck his colors sometime after 10 PM.

Again, not an auspicious start for the Franco-American grand alliance.  But a pretty impressive one for a nearly nonexistent U.S. Navy.

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British, French, Quebec City, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Pierre Beaumarchais, Silas Deane, King Louis XVI and Entangling Alliances

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 29th, 2012

 Politics 101

When the American Colonists rebelled against their British Overlords it created a Complex Political Landscape

For about a hundred years the nations of Europe had been at war.  Over religion (Protestantism versus Catholicism).  Oversea colonies to build trade networks.  And the balance of power of the European nations.  Often tilted by the acquisitions of their overseas possessions.  These nations have been at war with each other off and on from the late 17th century to the late 18th century.  Alliances formed and shifted during this century of war.  But one thing was constant.  The Protestant British and the Catholic French were always on opposing sides.

The most recent war that ended in 1763 (the Seven Year’s War) was a particularly bitter pill for the French to swallow.  They lost pretty much all of New France in North America to Great Britain.  Including Quebec City.  Founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608.  The British occupation defiled 155 years of French history.  This was the heart and soul of New France.   The French culture was so deep that they still speak French there today, having never accepted their British overlords.  And never have forgotten their French heritage.  For as Quebec’s official motto says today, “Je me souviens.”  Which translates to, “I remember.”  Remember what?  That they were French.  And remain French.

When the American colonists rebelled against their British overlords it created a complex political landscape.  In a drawn out war with Great Britain the Americans would more than likely need foreign assistance.  Meaning an alliance.  However, the reason why they declared their independence from Great Britain had a lot to do with all those European wars that Britain fought.  Which were expensive.  As was the following peace.  For they now had to defend their newly conquered lands.  Exhausted from all these wars the British taxpayers felt taxed out.  So Parliament turned to their British brethren in America.  And taxed them.  Which led, of course, to the Americans’ Declaration of Independence.  So the Americans were very wary of joining into any European alliances.  Fearful that the Europeans would pull them into a future European war.  And bankrupt them.  Before they even had a chance to become a country. 

The European Monarchs weren’t going to help the Americans Rebel against Monarchy out of the Goodness of their Hearts

So the Americans were wary of alliances.  But they were thinking about it.  Especially with the most likely candidate for an alliance.  In September of 1776 John Adams wrote, “our negotiations with France ought, however, to be conducted with great caution, and with all the foresight we could possibly attain; that we ought not to enter into any alliance with her which should entangle us in any future wars in Europe; that we ought to lay it down as a first principle and a maxim never to be forgotten, to maintain an entire neutrality in all future European wars; that it never could be in our interest to unite with France in the destruction of England, or in any measures to break her spirit or reduce her to a situation in which she could not support her independence.”  This from one of the most outspoken Founding Fathers for independence.  One of the few men Britain was not willing to forgive for the things he said and wrote.   A man the British condemned to death even if the Americans reconciled with the British.

At the time of the Revolution The Hague in the Netherlands had diplomats from all the courts of Europe.  One of these diplomats was a friend of Benjamin Franklin.  Charles William Dumas.  Franklin wrote to him to feel out the foreign powers.  In September of 1775 he wrote asking if there was any “state or power in Europe who would be willing to enter into an alliance with us for the benefit of our commerce, which amounted, before the war, to near seven millions sterling per annum…”  Like Adams, he wanted to avoid any alliance that could draw America into a future European war.  Feeling that American commerce would be reason enough to support the Americans.  As at that time all American trade went though Great Britain.  So treating directly with the Americans would cut out the middle man.  Making American goods less costly.  Surely a financial incentive for any nation.

Then again, these European powers they were feeling out were all monarchies.  Would these monarchies support a rebellion against royal authority?  France, their most likely alliance partner due to their history with Great Britain, was an absolute monarchy.  Would they support the Americans in their bid for independence with French taxes?  Would they take a chance that their oppressed masses wouldn’t rise up in defiance of those high taxes and/or royal authority (which they eventually did)?  Then there was a moral element as Robert Morrison noted in a letter to John Jay in September of 1776.  “Can this be morally right?”  Bringing war to the people of Europe in their bid for independence?  Their kings may not care about what they do to the innocents.  But a government of the people would.  Or should.  But if they got any support from these European monarchs the big question would be at what price?  For these monarchs weren’t going to help the Americans in their rebellion against monarchy out of the goodness of their hearts.  For, as monarchs, they kind of liked the institution of monarchy.  So any involvement on their part wasn’t going to be for any moral imperative.  It was for personal gain.  New territory.  Getting back lost territory.  Or changing the balance of power in Europe to their favor.

Despite all of their Misgivings the Americans entered into an Entangling Alliance with the French

Monarchies were getting a little nervous about the impoverished masses around this time.  For there were a lot more poor people than royals and nobles.  Revolution was in the air.  They made fun of the noble classes in some of the leading plays of the day.  In fact, one play was banned in Vienna.  For being less than respectful of the aristocracy.  But that didn’t stop a composer from using it to write a new opera from it.  That play?  The Marriage of Figaro.  The composer was, of course, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Who based his new opera on the play written by a Frenchman.  Pierre Beaumarchais.  Who plays a prominent role in America’s Revolutionary War.

Beaumarchais had written a play making fun of the aristocracy.  And the American rebellion against aristocracy piqued his interest.  So he decided to aid the Americans in their cause.  He strongly encouraged Louis XVI to support the Americans in their cause.  For if they did not they would not only lose in the balance power to Great Britain.  But likely the very valuable sugar trade coming from the French West Indies.  He also set up a private company to ship war material to America in exchange for tobacco.  Silas Deane arrived from America in Paris in July 1776.  He, too, worked on obtaining the materials of war as well as skilled officers.  America’s greatest diplomat and propagandist was also in Paris.  Benjamin Franklin.  Who the French adored.  For his scientific experiments.  And his plain American airs.  They really got a kick out of the coonskin hat he wore.  Which he wore only for them.  Never having worn one back in America.

So the Americans were really working their mojo behind the scenes to get French support for the cause.  As well as French money and arms.  Which they were getting.  And after the American win at the Battle of Saratoga, they got a whole lot more.  Formal recognition of the United States.  And despite all of their misgivings, an alliance.  On January 7, 1778 they entered into a treaty of amity and commerce.  Followed by (on February 6) the treaty of alliance.  And these treaties were rather entangling.  But so dictated the necessities of war.  And what did the Americans agree to?  In exchange for French military support against the British in North America the Americans would support the French militarily in the French West Indies.  In any future French war where the Americans were neutral the French and their warships would have access to American ports.  While the French adversary would not.  Also, the French could bring in any captured ships into American ports to refit and re-provision them.  And then leave freely.  Which came back to haunt the Washington administration during the next war between the French and the British.  Following the French Revolution.  A war in which America not only remained neutral.  But her neutrality ‘favored’ the British.  As the vast majority of her trade was with the British.  Causing a lot of animosity in America.  For we had a treaty with the French.  Who helped win them their independence from the nation they were now currently fighting.  Again.  A treaty some of the Americans noted, though, that they made with King Louis XVI.  Who the French recently executed.  Brought about, in part, by the incredible French debt incurred financing the American Revolution.  Providing the tinder for the French Revolution.

A complex political landscape indeed.  Of course the Americans didn’t know what was awaiting them in the future.  All they knew is that when General Washington left winter quarters at Valley Forge they were no longer alone in their struggle.  After their win at Saratoga and their new ally things were looking up.  Little did they know that there would still be 5 more years of war.

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War of the Spanish Succession, War of the Austrian Succession, Diplomatic Revolution , Seven Years’ War, Royal Proclamation and Quebec Act

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2012

Politics 101

The French lost most of their colonial possessions to Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War

The 18th century started off with a bang.  And it banged all the way through the century.  Starting with the War of the Spanish Succession from 1701-1714.  At issue was the Spanish throne.  The last Spanish Habsburg, Charles II of Spain, died in 1700.  Leaving the throne without an heir.  And France was very interested in occupying it.  But the British weren’t too keen on Catholic France controlling so much of Europe.  The rest of Europe that wasn’t Spanish or French wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the idea, either.  For France and Spain, both Catholic, at this time were the two European superpowers.  And a union between the French and the Spanish would alter the ‘balance of power’.  A term entering the political discourse at this time.  So there was war.  There’s a lot more details to this war as one would expect in a war that lasted over a decade.  But in the end there was no French and Spanish union.  The Spanish lost territory in Italy and the Netherlands to Austria.  And Spanish Gibraltar became British.  As did parts of French North America.  Also, when Queen Anne died in Great Britain with no male heir, the Brits plucked one from German Hanover.  Over on the continent.  George I.  For his mum was the daughter of James I.  Which gave her Stuart blood.  And she was a Protestant.  Making George a Protestant.  Very important and necessary for a British ruler.  George I ascended the throne of Great Britain in 1714.  Creating a personal union between the British and German states (two separate kingdoms ruled by the same king).

But the peace didn’t last.  Because another Habsburg died.  The last male Austrian Hapsburg.  Charles VI.  Before he died, fearing he may have no sons to inherit his throne, he issued an edict.  The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713.  Which said in the absence of a Habsburg son a Habsburg daughter, his daughter, could inherit the throne.  Most of the German states accepted the edict.  Problem solved.  Until Charles died.  And his daughter, Maria Theresa, ascended the throne.  Then the European states went to war.  The War of the Austrian Succession from 1740-1748.  Because some said that Maria Theresa was ineligible to inherit the Hapsburg throne.  But what they really wanted was a chance to alter the balance of power now that the Habsburg line was extinct.  For the Austrian Habsburgs were a major power.  And whoever succeeded to that throne would control a large part of Europe.  Something Prussia (a rising German state) was interested in.  As were the French.  And the Spanish (primarily to win back what it lost in the War of Spanish Succession).   Who joined together.  With the threat of a French/Spanish super state again the British jumped in to prevent that.  And joined in on the Habsburg side.  Who at the time was stronger than the rising Prussian state.  And a better balance to French power and ambition.  Especially with Hanover being so close to the French border.  After 8 years of war not a whole lot changed in the balance of power.  Except that Prussia appeared to be now a more formidable threat than Austria.  Which the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756 addressed.  By a changing of sides.  The France-Prussia alliance versus the Great Britain-Austria alliance became the France-Austria alliance versus the Great Britain-Prussia alliance.  Which made for a long and lasting peace.

Until hostilities flared up again later that year.  In the Seven Years’ War from 1756 – 1763.  This was a big one.  A world war.  Over the balance of power.  In Europe.  And other parts of the world.  Especially where colonial interests clashed.  Where they were generating lucrative trade.  And the British were bumping into the French almost everywhere they went.  In North America.  As the British expanded their colonies west from the Atlantic into the river valleys the French claimed.  In the Caribbean.  In coastal Africa.  In the Philippines.  In India.  In the end Britain’s Royal Navy and their alliance with Prussia led them to victory.  The Prussian armies of Frederick the Great held their own in Europe and freed the British Army for service elsewhere.  The Royal Navy ruled the seas.  And moved the British Army at will.  Where they prosecuted and won the colonial battles.  At the close of hostilities the French lost most of their colonial possessions to Great Britain.  And Spain lost Florida.  The British extended their control in North America to all lands east of the Mississippi River.  Spain ended up with the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River.  But the mighty Spanish empire was now in decline.  France wasn’t looking that much better.  France and Spain also lost most of their naval power.  Which elevated Great Britain to true empire status.

To Help bring the Catholic in the Province of Quebec under British Rule the British passed the Quebec Act

The British did well in the Seven Years’ War.  They won large parts of the world.  And paid a pretty price to do it.  Almost bankrupted them.  This despite the previous efforts of William Pitt the Elder.  The British Secretary of State who built a great and prosperous colonial empire.  The British Empire.  Before the war.  And added greatly to it during the war.  But conquering is one thing.  Governing is another.  And, as it turns out, governing is as expensive as conquering.

British North America required a little political finesse.  For the Protestant British now governed Catholic French Quebec.  And they had to step lightly with the Indian Nations.  Who were allied with the French.  Agreeing to halt further westward expansion.  Via the Royal Proclamation of 1763.  To avoid hostilities on the frontier. 

To help bring the Catholic in the Province of Quebec under British rule the British passed the Quebec Act of 1774.  This act extended Quebec territory to include most of the Midwest states bordering the Great lakes.   The oath of allegiance to the British Crown no longer included a reference to Protestantism.  It protected Catholicism in the Province of Quebec.  And it allowed the use of French civil law in some instances over English common law. 

Great Britain would fight a Civil War in British North America before the Century was Out

None of this went over well with the British North Americans.  After defeating the French all eyes looked west.  And they did not like this Royal Proclamation interfering with their business.  And these fiercely loyal and proud Britons were also devoutly Protestant.  Many fought in the war to get the Catholic French out of their country.  And this protection of Catholicism in their Protestant backyard was nothing short of an insult.  But worse of all were the taxes.  To pay for a century of war against the French that only some of which was fought in North America. 

Great Britain’s money woes would continue.  For they would be fighting another war before the century was out.  This one a civil war in British North America.  Another costly 8 years of war.  That would not end as well for them as the previous war.  Worse, it would cause a Revolution in France.  Brought about in part due to the near bankruptcy of France from all of her wars.  And alliances.  Bringing about yet another war with the French for the British before the century was out.

The century started out with a war to contain French expansion and Catholicism.  And the century would end with great successes in that endeavor.  With the decline of the French and Spanish empires the world was safe from Catholicism.  But France and Great Britain would fight on.  Into the next century.

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