Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Silas Deane, Arthur Lee, John Jay, Mississippi River and Dutch Treaty of Commerce and Friendship

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 17th, 2012

Politics 101

Franklin spent a Great Deal of Time in France during the Revolution enjoying Social Gatherings and Social Drinking

People are disgusted by politics today.  Negative campaigns.  Personal attacks.  Special interests.  People using their public office for personal gain.  Scandals.  Intrigue.  It’s enough to turn anyone off of politics.  Forever.  For it seems like no matter what the politicians say nothing ever changes.  And you know what?  They haven’t changed.  For even before there was a United States of America this stuff was going on.  Even threatening the success of the American Revolutionary War.

George Washington is criticized for many things.  For owning slaves (which he released and trained to enter the workforce as free men in his will).  That he wasn’t a great general.  For he did lose more battles than he won.  But even his critics have to give him this at least.  He was a man of honor.  With impeccable integrity.  His men respected him.  His officers respected him.  His enemies respected him.  One of Britain’s last attempts of treachery was to try and bribe Washington to defect to the British side.  Where he could live out his life very comfortably.  Knowing the Americans would give up without him.  But he did not waiver.  Resolute to the end.  The indispensable one.  The Father of our Country. 

Sadly, though, there weren’t many indispensable ones.  And few that matched Washington’s stature.  Perhaps the one coming closest was Benjamin Franklin.  Our most respected diplomat.  Who played a large part in gaining French support for the American cause.  Franklin spent a great deal of time in France during the Revolution.  The French loved him.  And he loved his time there.  Perhaps a little too much.  Staying up late.  Getting up late.  Enjoying social gatherings.  And social drinking.  Something that John Adams couldn’t stand.  Who was very religious.  And all-business.  About as different from Franklin as you could get.  But the French liked Franklin.  And did not like Adams.  Because he was all-business.  And a bit insufferable.

It didn’t take a Genius to know that the Americans Planned on Moving West to the Mississippi River and Beyond

France was America’s most important ally during the war.  And technically speaking their only ally.  There were many foreigners who sought a commission in the American army.  But that was more for glory and fame than support of the cause.  France, though, entered into treaty with the independent United States.  And supplied a large part of the war effort in both money and arms.  Granted this was more to get back at their archenemy, the British, than it was to help the Americans.  But the love and respect for Franklin was real.

Franklin was a self-made man living his third life.  He was a small business owner and writer.  He was a scientist.  And now he was a diplomat.  He had little to prove.  And needed no money.  All he wanted was to enjoy what life he had left.  And champion the American cause.  Not so with his co-emissary Arthur Lee.  Whose interests centered more on Arthur Lee than the American cause.  He didn’t like Franklin because the French liked and respected him more.  And he didn’t like America’s other emissary, Silas Deane, who was in France before Franklin and Lee joined him.  And who the French liked and respected, too.  Which really annoyed him because the French didn’t like him at all.  In fact they thought Lee liked England just a little too much.  For he had a brother in England.  Which didn’t go over well with the French.  Despite his having two brothers in the Continental Congress you just didn’t know where his allegiance lay.  Lee aggressively tried to disgrace both Deane and Franklin to make his star shine brighter.  Franklin’s character was impeccable, though.  No one believed anything he said about Franklin.  But, alas, they did about poor Deane.  At least enough to recall him to Congress.  The French, though, respected Deane enough to give him safe passage back on a French warship with the new French minister to America.  This whole episode did little to impress upon the French the professional stature of American diplomacy.   Nor did it impress the other European courts.  America just wasn’t being taken seriously in Europe.

Except, perhaps, in Spain.  John Jay went to Madrid to get Spanish recognition.  And Spanish aid.  Getting little of either.  Spain entered the conflict.  As an ally to France, though.  Because they, too, hated the British.  And they used this opportunity to get Gibraltar back from the British.  (They didn’t.)  Other than that they had little interest in helping the Americans.  For they didn’t trust the Americans.  France may have lost all of their North American possessions to the British but they hadn’t.  They still had the Louisiana Territory.  Western Florida.  The land from the Texas Gulf coast to California.  As well as the port of New Orleans.  And control of the lower Mississippi River.  Which the Americans wanted navigation rights on.  And god knows what else.  For it was no secret that the Americans wanted to expand west.  That’s why they wanted the Ohio country.  And the Ohio River flowed into the Mississippi River.  It didn’t take a genius to know what that meant.  The Americans planned on moving west to the Mississippi River.  And beyond.  Using the Mississippi to ship all of their goods from the interior of the country to the Port of New Orleans.  And on to the world.  All they needed to do was to remove one last obstacle.  The Spanish.  And the Spanish grew weary of John Jay.  Who only wanted two things.  To get Spain to recognize their independence.  And for Spain to give them money.  Suffice it to say the Spanish did not enter into an alliance with the United States.  And gave little money.

Catherine the Great’s League of Armed Neutrality isolated Britain and helped Adams in the Netherlands

Meanwhile John Adams, having annoyed the French, headed to the Netherlands.  And was more successful.  Not so much because they supported the American cause but because of their commerce.  The Dutch and the British had been bitter rivals.  The Dutch East (and West) India Company.  The English East India Company.  They both wanted what the other had.  Commerce.  They would actually go to war over this trade.  Some 4 times.  And now the British were interfering with their trade once again.  Interfering with their lucrative black market trade from the Dutch West Indies to the United States.  Through the British blockade.  Which may have broken a treaty they had with the British.  So Adams found commercial incentive for Dutch support.  But what he didn’t find was Dutch respect for the American cause.  And a general ignorance of the American cause.  There was just little information about the United States in the Netherlands.

They did see a rising commercial power in the U.S.  That would have a lot of food and materials to ship.  And being good businessmen they wanted a piece of that action.  And they certainly didn’t want to see the French and Spanish monopolize that trade.  Which could happen based on the treaty between France and America.  And the treaty between France and Spain.  Of course if they backed the wrong horse that could hurt them in post-war relations with Britain.  Should Britain win.  But neither was it in their best interests for Britain to win.  For that would only make their greatest rival stronger.  But what if the Americans won with the help of the Franco-Spanish alliance?  Would the Americans keep their independence?  Or would they get absorbed into France and/or Spain?  That wouldn’t be good.  For it wasn’t that long ago that they won their independence from Spain.  So making Spain stronger and/or richer wasn’t high in their to-do list. 

Catherine the Great of Russia finally helped push the issue.  Indirectly.  To keep the seas free and to protect neutral nations she organized a League of Armed Neutrality of which the Netherlands was signatory.  Neutral nations wanted no part of Britain’s war with America.  And they didn’t want it to interfere with their trade on the high seas.  Even if that trade favored the Americans somehow more than the British.  So if the British fired upon a neutral engaging in trade the British did not approve of these neutrals would fire back.  Thus isolating Britain.  And shortly thereafter Adams negotiated a couple of loans.  Got recognition as the minister representing the United States of America.  And as one of his first duties in that capacity he signed a treaty of commerce and friendship.  He may not have had the stature of a Washington or a Franklin but he had the same dedication to the cause.  And refused to quit.  He was successful.  But few other American diplomatic missions were.  And they probably caused more harm than good.  The antics of a few bringing ridicule to the new nation.  Franklin in fact did not approve of this ‘cold calling’ on countries for recognition and aid.  Perhaps explaining his laid back ways in France that so irritated Adams.  “A virgin state,” Franklin said, “should preserve its virgin character, and not go about suitoring for alliances, but wait with decent virgin dignity for the application of others.”  It seemed to do wonders for him.  And the nation.

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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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