Yorktown, North, Rockingham, Shelburne, Franco-Spanish Alliance, Vergennes, Adams, Franklin, Jay and the Treaty of Paris

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 5th, 2012

Politics 101

For the British to Maintain the Balance of Power in Europe an Independent America actually Helped Them

The war wasn’t over with Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown.  But his surrender changed everything.  The continuing war was becoming more and more unpopular in Britain.  And costly.  Britain was fighting four wars.   One with the Americans.  One with the French.  One with the Spanish.  And one with the Dutch.  The debt was growing so great that there were discussions about suspending some interest payments.  The British wanted out of these wars.  The opposition blamed Lord North for the latest debacle at Yorktown.  The Prime Minister resigned.  His government fell.  And the opposition took power.

The new Prime Minister, Lord Rockingham, had favored American independence.  His foreign secretary, Charles James Fox, had favored American independence.  In fact, those who had favored American independence filled all cabinet positions.  Except for one.  The Secretary of Colonial Affairs.  Lord Shelburne.  Fox and Shelburne did not much care for each other.  They quarreled.  Each having their own idea of how they should conduct the peace.  Fox sent Thomas Green to France to begin negotiations with the French.  Shelburne sent Richard Oswald to France to begin negotiations with the Americans (Benjamin Franklin was in Paris).

The French had a debt problem of their own.  And they, too, were anxious for the war to end.  But on favorable terms.  They were looking to change the balance of power with their eternal enemy.  The British.  And therefore wanted to negotiate the peace for the Americans.  Get back some of their lost North American territories.  And elsewhere.  Meanwhile the Spanish were laying siege to the British in Gibraltar.  Anxious to retrieve that from the British.  They were greatly interested in blocking American westward expansion.  And they also wanted to keep them off the Mississippi River.  Which flowed to the Gulf of Mexico through their Louisiana Territory.  So the politics were quite complex in negotiating the peace.  For the British to maintain the balance of power they enjoyed an independent America actually helped them.  While an independent America actually harmed the French and the Spanish.

Shelburne negotiated Directly with the Americans to use them to gain Favorable Terms with their European Enemies

The original peace commission in Paris was just John Adams.  Few could be found that were more adamant on American independence than he.  And this was a problem for the French foreign minister.  Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes.  He didn’t like Adams.  Who was not willing to compromise.  Vergennes wanted to end the war.  And stop the financial hemorrhaging.   And he was willing to compromise with the British to make that happen.  Willing to compromise away American independence.  American navigation of the Mississippi River.  American territorial ambitions beyond the Appalachians (leaving Maine, New York City, portions of the Northwest territories, Charleston and Savannah British).  And the American fishing rights off Newfoundland.  He was willing to give all that up to end the war with Britain.  He had only one problem.  John Adams.  Who refused to give up what the Americans were actually fighting for in the first place.

Vergennes instructed the French minister in America, the Chevalier de la Luzerne, to lobby the Continental Congress.  To have them order Adams to be less belligerent.  To be more willing to compromise.  And to accept the wise counsel of the King of France.  The most generous sovereign who made it possible for the Americans to bring the British to the negotiating table.  Luzerne was successful.  Perhaps with a little bribery.  The Congress sent Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and Henry Laurens to join Adams.  With the instructions to follow the advice of the French in the peace negotiations. 

Fox still favored granting American independence.  And he wanted to do it quickly.  To split the allies apart.  And make separate peace treaties to limit the damage.  For the French, Spanish and Dutch could hold out for a grander bargain.  Especially if the fortunes of war turned their way.  As the Spanish were hoping would soon happen at Gibraltar.  So the British warned that their allies could force the Americans to continue the war not for their own interests but that of these Europeans.  He told Green to tell Franklin that Britain was prepared to recognize American independence.  And that it was in America’s best interests to negotiate a separate peace.  Franklin suggested early that Britain may want to throw Canada into the deal.  To help pay for all the damage the British did to American property.  Shelburne wasn’t about to negotiate away Canada.  His answer was to bring up the debt owed to British creditors.  And reimbursing the Loyalists who lost their property in America.  Things that weren’t high on the American list of demands.  Then Rockingham died.  Shelburne became prime minister.  And Fox quit.  Pro-American independence ministers no longer filled the government.  Still, Shelburne continued to negotiate directly with the Americans.  So he could use them to gain favorable terms with their European enemies.

The American Negotiators were being Played by the Best of European Intrigue

In Franklin’s talks with Oswald he made it clear that independence was a prerequisite for peace.  Officially that was a problem for Oswald.  For his original commission from Shelburne directed him to negotiate with a commissioner from the colonies or plantations.  Not a commissioner from the United States of America.  Which, of course, would recognize American independence.  Vergennes urged Franklin and Jay to proceed anyway.  That official recognition could follow in the final peace treaty.  Jay suspected that the French were stalling.  He knew of the siege of Gibraltar.  And didn’t trust the Franco-Spanish alliance.  So he ignored Congress’ order.  And did not listen to the wise French counsel.  Joining Franklin and Adams in stating that independence was a prerequisite for peace.

The American commission had good reason to not trust their European allies.  The French wanted the British to agree to keep the Americans out of the fisheries along Newfoundland.  So they could fish these waters.  A bitter pill for a New Englander like Adams to swallow.  The French were also opposed to the Americans annexing Canada.  What they once called New France.  Before it became British.  While the Spanish were working hard behind the scenes to keep the Mississippi River away from the Americans.  Had they gotten their way the Mississippi south of the Ohio River would have been in Spanish hands.  As well as the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Louisiana. 

The American negotiators were being played by the best of European intrigue.  But thanks to the principled men America sent to negotiate the peace the Americans bested the Europeans at their own game.  John Adams.  Benjamin Franklin.  And John Jay.  For the Americas got their independence.  Territory that stretched to the Mississippi River.  And navigation on the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.  Even their fishing rights off of Newfoundland (though they would revisit that issue later).  It would be America’s greatest achievement in diplomacy.  The Treaty of Paris (1783).  And they made this treaty without consulting the French.  Who were miffed.  But thanks to Franklin America and France remained friends.  So the Americans won the Revolutionary War.  And the peace.  While avoiding any entangling alliances with the old European powers.  Not bad for a brand new nation on the world’s stage.

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Trenton, Saratoga, Valley Forge, Rockingham, Chatham, American Problem, Carlisle Commission, Professional American Army and World War

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 5th, 2012

Politics 101

General Gates gave the British Lenient Terms of Surrender at Saratoga allowing a Defeated British Army to be Replaced by Another

When the Americans began fighting for their independence the British said, “Really?  You’re going to fight us?  The greatest military power in the world?  Yeah, right.  Forgive us if we don’t tremble in our boots.”  Then came Lexington and Concorde.  Bunker Hill.  Then the Siege of Boston.  Not exactly an auspicious start for the greatest military power in the world.  But a little premature for the Americans to be feeling big in the britches department.  For the British had a cure for britches that ware too big.  It’s something they called the greatest military power in the world.  Which General Sir William Howe unleashed on the Americans on Long Island.  And he didn’t stop pushing the Americans back until he took winter quarters in New Jersey.  General Howe took those big American britches and shrunk them down in good order.  Very disheartening times for the Patriots.  Times that Thomas Paine wrote “try men’s souls.”

The British were feeling confident.  Even their hired mercenaries.  The Hessians.  Who where in Trenton.  Across the Delaware from Washington’s army that was “almost naked, dying of cold, without blankets, and very ill supplied with provisions.”  Ill conceived words from the Hessian commander.  Considering that naked, starving army surprised the bejesus out of them.  Giving the Americans a much needed win in the field against the British.  Or their Hessian allies.  Giving the Patriots fresh hope.  After they had just lost pretty much all of it.  And when they emerged from winter quarters they came out fighting.  Came close to a couple of victories.  But unable to pull out a victory.  Losing more land in the process.  Including Philadelphia.  And when the army took winter quarters at Valley Forge they were “almost naked, dying of cold, without blankets, and very ill supplied with provisions” again.

But it wasn’t all bad.  For there was an American victory up north.  At Saratoga.  Where a British army surrendered.  To an American force.  Something the French had great trouble doing themselves in the last century.  So this win was big.  But it could have been bigger.  For General Gates gave the British painfully lenient terms of surrender.  Allowing the British army to go back to Britain if they promised that they would never fight in North America again.  Of course the fault with that logic is that if that army went back to Britain they could relieve other forces that could fight in North America.  So the victory was a hollow one militarily.  As it did not weaken the enemy militarily.  Worse, had that British army been interned in a POW camp the war may not have continued for another 5 years.  For that win at Saratoga brought the French into the war.

The Americans weren’t Interested in Making a British Peace, what they Had in Mind was an American Win

The British did not want to broaden this war.  And the last thing they wanted was to bring in their old nemesis.  France.  Who would be glad to broaden the war.  And would rejoice at the opportunity to bring some hurt down on their old foe.  And perhaps recover some of their lost North American possessions.  So the British started to send out some peace feelers.  They approached Benjamin Franklin in January of 1778.  But he was not interested in what terms the British offered for Parliament to recognize America’s independence.  For Franklin said it was not up to Parliament to recognize their independence.  It was up to the Americans.  And they already did.

The British even tried bribing prominent Americans.  Such as Franklin and Washington.  In exchange for their help in convincing the American people to end their rebellion they would bestow upon them titles and rank.  And privilege.  Including generous pensions.  But Franklin and Washington weren’t for sale.  Parliament held heated debate about the American problem.  And the Americans and the French entering into any treaties.  Lord Rockingham led the Whig opposition who favored American independence.  While Lord Chatham vehemently disagreed with giving up sovereignty over America.  As it would be an insult to the Crown.  He was making his case passionately in Parliament when he collapsed.  This became his last speech as he died shortly thereafter.  His last breaths in Parliament were for naught, though.  As they agreed to send a peace commission to America.  To try to end the war before the French could affect the outcome. 

The Carlisle Commission arrived in Philadelphia as General Clinton (who replaced General Howe) was moving his army back to New York.  Which did not give the British a strong negotiating position.  For it is usually easier to get someone to accept your generous terms when you have the world’s most powerful military behind you.  Giving people something to think about if they don’t accept your generous terms.  The Americans refused to negotiate with them, though.  The British then tried bribing some prominent Americans.  Even tried to appeal directly to the American people.  Who just suffered a British army occupying their city.  So the British made no progress towards a negotiated peace.  Even though the terms were generous.  And had the British offered them a few years earlier the Americans would have accepted them.  For they gave them most of what they wanted then.  But after three years of war things changed.  The British had done things they couldn’t undo.  Certain unrestricted warfare things.  And the Americans weren’t desperate to make peace.  For they had survived 3 years of war against the greatest military power in the world.  Recently defeating one of their armies in the field of battle.  And now had the French as allies.  No, the Americans weren’t interested in making a British peace.  What they had in mind was an American win.

After Surviving 3 Years of War and 6 Months at Valley Forge the Americans had Reason to Believe they could Win this War

As General Washington entered winter quarters in the barren land of Valley Forge the British were settling in for a comfortable winter in the city of Philadelphia.  The British moved into comfortable homes while the Americans raced the calendar to build some barracks before the snow fell.  They had little food.  No meat whatsoever.  Many were barefoot.  Few had a decent shirt to wear.  And blankets were few.  To stay warm soldiers huddled around fires.  Or shivered under shared blankets. 

Some 2,500 men would die in all during the 6 months of Valley Forge.  But the army emerged intact.  And with confidence.  They now had an ally.  France.  And during that awful winter they also trained.  Under the Prussian Baron Friedrich von Steuben.  Who may have lied on his resume.  But he knew how to drill an army into shape.  And that’s what emerged from Valley Forge.  A professional army.  As good as any in Europe.  Even European officers led some of their units.  Who came over to fight for the cause.  Combat engineers like Louis Duportail from France.  And Thaddeus Kosciusko from Poland.  Also from Poland was cavalry commander Count Casimir Pulaski.  And, of course, Marquis de Lafayette from France.  The one foreign officer that never caused Washington any grief over persistent demands for promotion and rank.  Not Lafayette.  Who proved himself in battle.  And even changed his political persuasion during the war.  From monarchy to the liberty of republicanism.  Washington looked upon Lafayette as a son. 

After surviving 3 years of war and 6 months at Valley Forge the Americans had reason to believe they could win this war.  For the army that emerged from Valley Forge was a better army than the one that defeated General Burgoyne at Saratoga.  And they were less alone.  Thanks to France.  And these foreign officers.  Making it more difficult for Britain.  For with France (and her ally Spain joining in) the American Revolutionary War became a world war.  Diverting British resources elsewhere as their new enemies looked to take advantage of Britain’s American problem.  Which the Americans knew when rejecting the Carlisle Commission.  Namely that a quick peace didn’t favor the Americans.  It favored the British.

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