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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George Washington , Clinton, Cornwallis, Lord George Germain, Comte de Rochambeau, Comte de Grasse, Yorktown and Treaty of Paris

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 28th, 2012

Politics 101

British Sea Power allowed the British to Remain in a Hostile Land for the Eight Years of the Revolutionary War

The American Revolutionary War began in April of 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  For years following these battles George Washington yearned to meet the British in a grand battle and defeat them.  What he got instead was a lot of smaller battles that sent him in retreat.  For despite fighting on the far side of an ocean the British had a large professional army.  A vast merchant marine to supply them whatever they needed.  And the world’s preeminent navy.  The Royal Navy.

That sea power allowed the British to remain in a hostile land for the following 7 years.  Allowed them to remain in New York.  Allowed them to take the war to the South unopposed.  It allowed them to move armies.  And supply armies.  As well as control the world’s sea lanes to maintain their commerce.  The Royal Navy tipped the balance of power well to the side of the British.  And perhaps it was their undoing as well.  Trusting that their naval superiority would always be there.

British generals Clinton (superior in rank and resting comfortably in New York) and Cornwallis (junior in rank and chasing American armies in the South) did not see eye to eye.  Their boss, Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for the American Department, didn’t help matters.  It was his job to suppress the American rebellion.  But he didn’t understand the country.  Or the people.  Thinking of America in European terms.  He thought the Americans were no match for a professional European army assembled on the field of battle.  And he was right.  But the Americans didn’t fight the war like Europeans.  Which proved to be a great disadvantage for the British.

With the French Fleet heading to Chesapeake Bay Washington Scrapped his Plan to Attack New York

General Burgoyne had a grand strategy to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.  A three-pronged attack that required General Howe (who preceded Clinton) coming up from New York.  Germain approved the plan.  And two of the three prongs proceeded accordingly.  East through the Mohawk Valley.  And south down the upper Hudson valley.  Howe was to come up the Lower Hudson valley and meet the other two prongs around Albany.  But Germain did not order Howe to do so.  So Howe didn’t.  Executing his own plans in Pennsylvania.  Which led to Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga (1777).  And the entry of France into the War (on the condition that the Americans would not make a separate peace with the British).  The Spanish later (allied to the French).  The Dutch, too.  And an armed neutrality of the other powers who did not want to partake in the war and would not submit to the advances of the Royal Navy on the high seas.  Making it difficult to blockade arms and supplies from reaching the Americans.

The first Franco-American actions proved disappointing.  In fact a lot of public sentiment turned against the French.  Especially after they abandoned an offensive action in Rhode Island.  Leaving the Americans to retreat again.  Then Cornwallis moved north.  Toward Virginia.  And there was another window for French cooperation after some action in the West Indies.  And there was a French Army in Newport, Rhode Island, commanded by Comte de Rochambeau, a veteran of the Seven Years’ War.  So he knew a thing or two about fighting the British.  These forces arrived after Clinton pulled his forces out and returned them to New York.  Which is where Washington wanted to attack with this Franco-American force.

Washington and Rochambeau drew up some plans.  The French fleet coming from the West Indies commanded by Comte de Grasse was to support the attack.  However, this was the battle Clinton was waiting for.  And he was ready for it.  Washington tested the New York defenses and found them formidable.  And there was a British fleet in New York Harbor.  Then he got a letter from De Grasse.  Rochambeau had left him some freedom in his orders.  Instead of going to New York he was heading to the Chesapeake Bay.  Where Cornwallis’ army was.  It wasn’t New York but it was still a British army.  And he would have a large French fleet in support.  Washington soon scrapped his New York plans.  And looked to Virginia instead.   

Cornwallis and Burgoyne lost their Armies because the British never Coordinated their Forces in a Unified Plan

Quickly and quietly the Franco-American force moved from around New York towards Virginia.  They were across the Delaware River before Clinton knew where they were going.  Or what they planned to do.  They kept Admiral Graves in the dark as well.  Who kept his British fleet around New York.  Waiting to support the army when the Americans and French launched their attack on New York.  By the time they figured out what Washington and the Franco-America force were up to it was too late.  The French fleet beat them to the Chesapeake Bay.  The superior French fleet repelled the smaller British fleet which returned to New York.  Leaving Cornwallis on his own.  As he faced an enemy that outnumbered him more than two to one.  A force that numbered 5,700 professional Continentals and 7,000 professional French troops.  As well as 3,100 militia.

Cornwallis was entrenched in Yorktown.  With Banastre Tarleton (of Waxhaw Massacre fame) across the York River in Gloucester.  As Cornwallis looked out at the gathering force against him laying siege to his army he saw the French on his right.  And the Americans on his left.  Their trenches slowly moving closer to his.  Across the York the French were closing in on Tarleton.  Soon the American artillery was within effective range.  And George Washington lit the first fuse.  It was over in less than a month.  And included a bayonet charge led by America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  Recognizing the seriousness of Cornwallis’ position Clinton sent a fleet to help lift the siege.  But by the time it arrived Cornwallis had already surrendered.

Cornwallis lost his army for the same reason Burgoyne lost his army at Saratoga.  Lord Germain.  Who failed to coordinate his generals in the American Department.  While the Americans did.  For most of the war the British had the superior army and the superior navy.  Yet they could not win.  Because these superior forces were never coordinated together in a unified plan.  Opposition in Parliament forced Germain out of office after the fall of Yorktown.  And called for the resignation of the Prime Minister.  Lord North.  Which he gave.  A first for a British Prime Minister.  The new government would end the war with the Americans with the Treaty of Paris (1783).  Where the Americans did very well.  And conducted separate peace treaties with the Spanish and the Dutch.  As well as the French.  Which the French were not pleased with.  And they did not do as well as the Americans in the peace.  Worse, they would find themselves in their own revolution within a decade.  The American Revolution being a major cause of the French Revolution.  By saddling France with an enormous war debt.  And filling their people with the spirit of liberty.

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