Sunday, July 14, 2024

ARP319 Gibraltar Threatens Negotiations


Last week we left off with the struggles of the both British and American delegations to form a coherent negotiation strategy for the peace treaty.  The British Prime Minister, the Earl of Shelburne, seemed to change his views on American Independence with each conversation.  Benjamin Franklin, who had been the American representative in France for several years, was dealing with recall efforts headed by Arthur Lee in the Continental Congress.  Franklin also had to figure out a way to work with his fellow peace commissioners.

Franklin Steps Back

Some time during that summer of 1782, Franklin suffered a bout of bladder stones, which made traveling, or even moving, very painful.  Franklin had to remain in bed while John Jay took over the primary negotiation role for the Americans.

Siege and Relief of Gibraltar
Franklin had been serving in France for many years by this time.  He was well ensconced in elite French society, which gave him many advantages in negotiating with France.  He had negotiated the 1778 treaty of alliance with France, which required that America would not reach peace terms with Britain until France also agreed to peace.  Franklin firmly believed that American success was tied to the French alliance.

By contrast, Franklin’s fellow commissioner, John Jay had spent very little time in France, spoke no French, and was much less interested in maintaining a relationship with America’s ally than he was negotiating a peace treaty with Britain.  Jay had spent two years as minister to Spain, and got nothing but a cold shoulder from the government in Madrid. As a result, he had no attachment to Spanish interests either.  At one point, Jay suggested to the British negotiator, Richard Oswald, that Britain should redeploy its armies in New York and Charleston to recapture West Florida from Spain.  Jay told the British negotiator that he would rather have Britain as a neighbor than Spain.  

Clearly Jay had no intention of simply following the lead of either France or Spain in any negotiation. While Jay was aware of the instructions from Congress to follow France’s lead in negotiations, he was also aware that delegates in Congress, led by Arthur Lee, were pulling away from that idea and that many now distrusted France to have America’s best interests at heart when negotiating the final peace.  In addition to negotiating with Richard Oswald, Jay began using Franklin’s British backchannel contact, Richard Vaughn, to establish direct communications with the Earl of Shelburne in London.

The Ministry in Britain saw Jay as an opportunity to separate America from France and Spain in the negotiations.  British agents showed Jay a letter from the secretary of French Minister Luzerne in Philadelphia.  The letter argued against allowing Americans to get the western lands all the way to the Mississippi River.  These British agents also informed him that French Minister Vergennes had sent Alexander Gérard de Rayneval, to Britain.  Gérard de Rayneval had been the first French Ambassador to America.  He had returned to France in 1779 and was working with the Foreign Ministry. During the summer of 1782, Gérard de Rayneval had traveled in secret to open direct peace negotiations between France and Britain.  

This British-provided intelligence convinced Jay that France and Spain were conspiring to bargain away western lands in America in exchange for other British concessions to them.  As Britain had hoped, Jay began negotiating directly with Britain, cutting out France and Spain entirely.

Benjamin Franklin
Jay’s reports back to America also gave Arthur Lee more ammunition to press forward with his own desired plan to break with France.  Back in the summer of 1781, before Yorktown, and when things were looking pretty bleak for the Americans, Congress had instructed its peace commissioners to follow France’s lead in any peace negotiations.  In August of 1782, Lee proposed that Congress form a commission to reconsider the instructions to the commissioners.  He intended to give them the authority to negotiate a separate peace with Britain, without any coordination with France or Spain.  Like Jay, Lee believed that France could not be trusted with American interests in any final negotiations.

Of course, even after Yorktown, America was still heavily dependent on the French alliance. The Continental Congress had only survived financially for the past several years, from gifts or loans from Europe.  Future gifts and loans looked difficult, especially if they were going against the diplomatic interests of those European powers.  Others in Congress recognized this reality and pushed back against Lee’s efforts to break the treaty of alliance with France and seek a separate peace with Britain.

Leading the opposition to Lee’s proposals was a young delegate, also from Virginia.  Since his arrival in Philadelphia two years earlier, James Madison had been focused on the ongoing financial crisis that Congress had failed to fix.  He opposed any moves that would cause a break in the Franco-American alliance at this critical time, especially when Congress was still asking Franklin to arrange additional loans from France to keep the Continental government operational.  

John Jay
To address Lee’s concerns, Madison proposed a committee to review Congress’ instructions to the delegates, but ensured that he and four other delegates who strongly supported the French alliance be nominated to that committee.  He froze out Lee from having any say on the changes.  Congress overwhelmingly supported the Madison committee plan and left Lee and his allies powerless.

In frustration, Lee wrote a letter to a friend in Virginia that expressed his hostility toward France. When this letter became public, it threatened to create a rift between the two countries.  The Virginia assembly considered a motion of censorship and recalling Lee from the Continental Congress.  Lee appeared to want to destroy America’s alliance with France.  The vast majority of American leaders realized this would be a fatal error.  In the end, Lee’s important family connections in Virginia resulted in the censure vote failing narrowly.  But the American debate over whether to break with France in pursuing peace with Britain remained highly contentious on both sides of the Atlantic.

French Concerns

Back in France, Foreign Minister Vergennes was keeping a close eye on the Americans.  His minister in Philadelphia, Luzerne, kept him up to date on the debates in Congress and Lee’s efforts to break with France.

France was certainly motivated to bring the war to an end.  They were going deeply into debt, and were finding it increasingly difficult to borrow money to continue the war.  If finances were going to determine the winner, Britain had the clear advantage.

Comte de Vergennes

In addition, France needed to end the war soon or find itself ousted as the key power in Europe.  Crimea, at this time, was an independent power that was essentially controlled by Russia. In June of 1782, a group backed by the Ottoman Empire overthrew the Russian backed government in Crimea.  Russia responded by blocking all of the ports and massing 15,000 soldiers on the Crimean border. Russia also allied with Austria.  Joseph II of Austria saw an opportunity to ally with Russia so that both powers could take more control of Ottoman territories. Although France was busy with these other wars, they offered France the prize of Egypt if France would support the invasion of Crimea.

France was allied with the Ottomans.  It had a valuable trade relationship with them.  Vergennes, who had been the French Ambassador in Constantinople for many years, realized that what was going one was a power play by Russia and Austria to extend their power, which would be to France’s disadvantage. He also knew that he was in this position because of the ongoing war with Britain.

France had also traditionally allied with Austria.  After all, Queen Marie Antoinette’s marriage to King Louis was supposed to embody that alliance.  But if France and Austria found themselves as enemies, France would be particularly isolated and would be vulnerable, especially if it continued to weaken itself through the ongoing war with Britain.

Siege of Gibraltar

Part of ending the war required that France had to worry about its treaty with Spain.  Recall that when Spain entered the war in 1779, France agreed that the war could not end until Spain recovered Gibraltar.  Years of siege had led to nothing.  The British defenses there were far too strong, and the British Navy seemed capable of resupplying the garrison whenever it was needed.

Floating Batteries
Vergennes agreed to an all-out effort with Spain to take Gibraltar in the fall of 1782.  A combined French and Spanish fleet would be supplemented by the construction of ten floating batteries that would be towed into place and reign down artillery fire on Gibraltar.  

The batteries had walls built with three foot wide oak timbers packed with wet sand in between two layers to prevent direct fire, and had decks covered with wet sand in order to prevent hot shot from setting them on fire.  Each battery held between ten and twenty six large siege guns to pound the enemy defenses. Over 4000 men would serve on these batteries.  

The combined French and Spanish fleet also included 47 ships of the line with a total of 40,000 soldiers and sailors against the garrison of about 7000 British and Hessian soldiers in Gibraltar.

The Duc de Crillon took command of this force in March 1782.  He had recently defeated the British at Minorca and was considered one of France’s best military commanders.  France and Spain spent most of the summer preparing their armies and navies for this definitive assault.

Destruction of the floating batteries
On the night of September 13, 1782, the fleets towed their floating batteries into place.  Around 7:00 in the morning, they opened fire.  A floating line of artillery stretched over two-thirds of a mile, throwing everything they could at the British lines.

The artillery fire continued back and forth all day.  During the morning, the British grew frustrated that they could not penetrate the walls of the firing platforms.  They switched to hotshot (highly heated cannonballs) in an effort to burn them.  At first the efforts to contain fire damage seemed to work, but eventually enough hotshots hit wood of the floating batteries and set them aflame.  By nightfall the shooting from the floating batteries had stopped as the crew tried to escape the burning vessels.  Overnight, most of the batteries exploded as flames reached their ammunition bunkers.  By morning, the two remaining batteries were set on fire by their own crews, in order to prevent capture by the enemy.

Relief of Gibraltar
The remainder of the fleet, however, continued the siege.  Although they could not crush the British garrison militarily, the defenders on Gibraltar had used much of their ammunition to defeat the platforms and were at risk of running out of just about everything.  The siege continued for several weeks until a British relief fleet under Admiral Richard Howe arrived on October 11.  Howe led a fleet with 38 ships of the line, escorting close to 150 merchant supply ships carrying everything the garrison needed.

Howe’s fleet was outgunned by the 49 ships of the line in the French and Spanish fleets.  Howe placed his warships between the enemy and the merchant fleet.  The French and Spanish fleets seemed reluctant to engage.  Some people blame this on the recent naval loss in the West Indies.  In any event, the hesitation allowed the merchant fleet to sail into Gibraltar and supply the garrison with everything it would need for the next year.  Britain had broken the siege.

John Adams

The impending war in eastern Europe, and the failure of the Siege of Gibraltar, along with accumulating war debt made France especially eager to find a path to peace.  Unfortunately, the American Peace delegation only seemed to create more complications.

In October of 1782, shortly after the British success at Gibraltar, John Adams arrived in France from the Netherlands.  Adams was feeling especially cocky, having just concluded a Dutch loan of 5 million guilders for the Continental Congress.  Adams already disliked Franklin. The two men decidedly did not get along when Adams had been in France a few years earlier.  Adams also had concerns about Jay since he thought Jay was too closely associated with Silas Deane.

John Adams
Adams spent his first three days in Paris getting a new suit tailored, finding suitable quarters, and chatting with old friends.  He refused to call on Franklin.  This was seen as a public sign of disrespect.  Finally, after some persuasion by his friends, Adams rode out to Passy to meet with Franklin. At their meeting, Adams told Franklin that he thought Jay was doing a good job with negotiations and that Adams intended to support Jay’s efforts and ignore the French.  Franklin mostly listened and did not respond.

A few days later, Franklin mentioned to Adams that Vergennes was offended that Franklin had not even bothered to call on the French ministry, something any foreign diplomat was expected to do.  A contrite Adams scheduled a visit.  When he got there, Vergennes tried to use his diplomatic charm with Adams, treating him to a lavish dinner and congratulating him on arranging the Dutch loan.

Adams was polite but unmoved.  Shortly after meeting with Vergennes, Adams also called on the British negotiator, Richard Oswald to assure him that Adams and Jay wanted to continue direct negotiations and were not concerned about coordinating with France.

Franklin found himself in the difficult position of either breaking with his fellow peace negotiators from America and standing with France as America’s ally, or joining Adams and Jay to negotiate a separate peace and creating a potential break with France.  In the end, Franklin decided that keeping unanimity among the US commissioners was most important and agreed to cooperate with the negotiations that Jay had been conducting with Oswald.

One Final Gamble

For Vergennes, holding a grudge against the American defection was not going to solve anything.  Vergennes, above all, was a realist.  France was going broke. It was losing influence in Europe. The British victory at Gibraltar had emboldened London.  There was a chance that when the British Parliament returned in November, they might oust Shelburne as Prime Minister and just continue the war.  Parliament had already voted to increase the size of its navy for 1783.  

Marquis de Lafayette
By contrast, France was really tired of war. The debts and hardships continued to pile up with little to show for it.  Queen Marie Antoinette, who had never liked France’s support for the American rebellion, was at the point of trying to oust Vergennes over the ministry’s refusal to back her brother Emperor Joseph of Austria, over his efforts in Austria to go to war with the Ottomans.  Vergennes might have to retire in failure and disgrace.

Not quite ready to sign onto a bad treaty, Vergennes considered one final gamble.  He convinced Spain to assemble another armada.  This fleet would carry a 25,000 man army to the West Indies, which would capture Jamaica.  After that, the fleet would sail up to New York and expel the British.  After that, the fleet would sail north to Canada and return that region to French control.

This plan sounded almost naively optimistic.  A proposed plan that required three high risk victories seemed a bit ill-considered. But Vergennes was running out of good options.  The commander who had pushed for this campaign was young but also had a good run of success. That commander was the Marquis de Lafayette.

The young general returned to France following his role in the Yorktown victory.  He arrived in France in January of 1782. The first thing he did was go home to his wife and sire his third child, daughter, Marie Antoinette Virginie.  After that, he began lobbying for a new military command.

The king gave overall command of the armada to the Comte d’Estaing.  The admiral had recovered from his injuries, to both his body and reputation for his loss at the Siege of Savannah in 1779.  Lafayette received appointment as chief of staff of this united French and Spanish force.  He would lead a French army of 8000 soldiers to march to Cadiz in southern Spain where the fleet would depart.  Once the fleet arrived in America, Lafayette would command the land forces that would be involved in each assault.

Rayneval Negotiations

Even while planning another military offensive, Vergennes was still looking for a respectable peace treaty with Britain.  The story that British officials had told Jay about Vergennes secretly sending Gerard de Rayneval to London to negotiate directly was true.  

Gérard de Rayneval
Rayneval had been working closely with Vergennes on negotiations.  Because he spoke French, Spanish, and English, he has served as a translator at many of the early meetings with the Americans.  The Frenchman had grown to distrust Jay, as the American exhibited increased hostility toward the idea of working with France on a final treaty.  Rayneval sided with Spain on the view that Spain should get control of lands between the Mississippi River and the Appalachian mountains.  At one point during the debate, he noted that neither power really had a presence there.  If anyone had a claim to the land, it was the Indians who lived there. Everyone agreed that was not realistic.  France and Spain agreed that Spain should be granted the land.  

Vergennes also shared the view that Spain would get the land, but kept quiet about it. He allowed Gerard de Rayneval to make the point, so Vergennes personally would not be committed to anything.  Rayneval told Jay that he thought the American land claims were extravagant.  This seemed to be the time that Jay decided that negotiating alongside France was not in the American interest.

It’s not clear for certain the motivations, but one could believe that Vergennes thought that sending Rayneval to Britain might be better since he seemed to be in such direct conflict with Jay.  Using Rayneval to feel out the British terms of peace would also remove him from direct contact with the American commissioners.

The substance of negotiations between Rayneval and Shelburne are a mystery since no written record of those discussions seems to exist.  But Shelburne informed the King that Rayneval seemed knowledgeable and down to business in getting the terms of a final peace treaty resolved.  The king remained suspicious that anyone that Vergennes sent did not have some level of cunning, and told Shelburne that he would not approve what he considered a “bad peace.”

During the course of these negotiations Britain broke the Siege of Gibraltar.  This victory not only increased the King’s resolve, but also British sentiment overall toward giving into any peace treaty that would not give Britain a big win..  Shelburne could not agree to a treaty that appeared to give away everything if continuing the war would improve Britain’s position.  At the same time, if he did not have a treaty by the time Parliament reconvened in November, he might be thrown out of office in favor of a government that would continue the war.

So, by October 1782, all parties seemed more than eager to reach final peace terms, but no one seemed willing to agree on exactly what those terms should be. 

Next week, the diplomats will finally be pushed into an agreement that we know today as the Treaty of Paris.

- - -

Next Episode 320 Treaty of Paris (Available July 21, 2024)

Previous Episode 318 Peace Negotiations

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Further Reading

Websites

The Treaty of Paris (1783) in a changing states system: papers from a conference, January 26-27, 1984 (borrow only). 

Bemis, Samuel F. The Diplomacy Of The American Revolution, Indiana Univ. Press, 1935. 

Jay, John The Peace Negotiations of 1782 and 1783. An address delivered before the New York Historical Society on its seventy-ninth anniversary, Tuesday, November 27, 1883, New York Historical Society, 1884. 

Pellew, George John Jay, Boston, New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. 1890. 

Perkins, James B. France in the American Revolution, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Co. 1911. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Bond, Peter 300 Years of British Gibraltar 1704–2004, Peter-Tan Publishing Co. 2003.

Brown, Marvin Luther American Independence Through Prussian Eyes: A Neutral View of the Peace Negotiations of 1782-1783 - Selections from the Diplomatic Correspondence, Duke Univ. Press, 1959 (borrow on Archive.org). 

Dull, Jonathan A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution, Yale Univ. Press, 1985.

Fleming, Thomas The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown, Harper Collins, 2007.  

Hoffman, Ronald and Peter Albert (eds) Peace and the Peacemakers: The Treaty of 1783, Univ. Press of Va., 1986. (borrow on Archive.org).

Hutson, James H. John Adams and the Diplomacy of the American Revolution, Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1980.  (borrow on Archive.org).

Morris, Richard B. The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence, Harper & Row, 1965 (borrow on Archive.org). 

Smith, Page John Adams, Vol. 1, Doubleday & Co. 1962.

Stockley, Andrew Britain and France at the Birth of America: The European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782-83, Liverpool Univ. Press, 2001. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Sunday, July 7, 2024

ARP318 Peace Negotiations


Last week we covered the negotiators who assembled in early 1782 to begin negotiating a peace treaty that would end the Revolutionary War.  Benjamin Franklin called on John Adams from the Netherlands, John Jay from Spain, and Henry Laurens from Britain to join him in France for those negotiations.

Trouble from Philadelphia

The Americans were relatively new at international diplomacy.  Franklin arguably had some experience from serving as a colonial representative in Britain for many years before the war.  The others had served in Congress where there was arguably diplomacy between the British colonies or states, but nothing like the international stage that they faced in 1782.

Earl of Shelburne
The American diplomatic experience had been troubled from the beginning.  Initially, back in 1776, Congress had sent Silas Deane to France to seek financial assistance from King Louis.  Deane had incredible success, not because of any diplomatic skill, but because French Minister Vergennes saw a benefit to providing the British colonies with covert aid and used Deane as a conduit to get supplies to the Americans.

A few months later, Deane was joined by Franklin and Arthur Lee.  Franklin had spent nearly two decades in Britain before the war, acting as a colonial agent.  His reputation among elites and in scientific circles, made him a cause celeb in France.  Franklin very quickly acquired the greatest favor with the French government and French aristocracy.

Arthur Lee had been living in Europe for much of his life. The son of a prominent Virginia family, Lee attended Eton College and the University of Edinburgh. He studied law and was making a living as a lawyer in London when the war began.  Through his brothers in the Continental Congress, Lee received an appointment, along with Deane and Franklin, to negotiate an alliance with France.  Lee did not get along at all with Deane or Franklin, who managed to get the treaty despite Lee’s constant criticisms.  Lee attacked Deane and Franklin in numerous letters to delegates in Congress.  He eventually managed to have Deane recalled in 1778, falsely claiming that the secret loans Deane had obtained from France were actually gifts and that Deane was going to keep loan repayments for himself.  

As a result, Congress recalled Deane and spent years investigating him in a way that did not seem interested in getting at the truth, but rather just destroying his career and reputation. With Deane gone, Lee focused on trying to destroy Franklin.  This met with less success. Congress also recalled Lee a few months later.

Lee spent several years back in America without any government assignments.  Had he come from a less influential family, his public career probably would have come to an end. But in 1782, he returned to Philadelphia as a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress.

Lee seemed to have a paranoia that bordered on delusion.  He seemed to think that everyone he worked with was either corrupt or incompetent.  Adams, who had worked with Lee for a short time in Europe wrote about Lee. 

There is an acrimony in his temper, there is a jealousy, there is an obstinacy, and a want of candor at times, and an affection of secrecy, the fruit of jealousy, which renders him disagreeable often to his friends, makes him enemies and gives them infinite advantage over them.

In 1781, Congress sent John Laurens to Europe.  Laurens’ father, Henry Laurens, had been taken prisoner by the British in an attempt to open diplomatic relations with the Netherlands.  The younger Laurens was very close to Washington, having served as an aide for many years.  He was also very close to the Marquis de Lafayette, which gave him instant credibility at Versailles.  

Lee saw this appointment as an opportunity to destroy Franklin and get him recalled.  Franklin saw this coming and pulled out all stops to get a huge financial gift from France for the Continentals before Laurens arrived, thus underscoring his importance to the American diplomatic effort.  The new French ambassador to Philadelphia, the chevalier de La Luzerne, worked to build support among the Continental Congress to build support to keep Franklin in France.

Franklin served as the sole American diplomat to France, Jay got sent to Spain and Adams to the Netherlands.  Laurens, after a short time in France, also returned home.  Things seemed to be working pretty well.  Following the British surrender at Yorktown, things seemed to be heading toward a conclusion.

Lee Goes on the Attack

Then came the Silas Deane letters.  If you don’t know what I mean by that, go back and listen to Episode 281.  Essentially, Deane wrote several private letters disparaging Congress, saying that it was incapable of running a government and that perhaps we should consider settling the war with Britain and accepting some sort of British rule.  British agents captured and published these letters, which the public read just after Yorktown.  The result was a wide condemnation of Deane.

If that had been the end of the story, it was a shame for Deane, but did not really impact the war effort.  Dean had been out of power for years anyway, thanks to Lee’s lies about him.  Deane had moved back to Paris in an attempt to settle his affairs, but went broke and moved to Ghent (in what is today Belgium), where the cost of living was cheaper.

Arthur Lee, however, took the Deane issue and ran with it.  He called Deane a traitor and told everyone who would listen how he knew about this for years and that Deane’s letters proved him correct.  He then argued that men including Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris who had worked closely with Deane in the past should be thrown out of office based on their associations with this man.

Lee went on a rant about how Morris was really a Tory at heart and did not care about the people of America.  He attacked Philadelphia as a Tory city that was the cause of all of the nation’s money problems.  According to Lee, Morris’ Bank of North America kept all of the money in Philadelphia, forcing the rest of the country to suffer unnecessarily.

He called for an investigation into all of Morris’ commercial activities.  Remember that Morris had reluctantly accepted the position as Secretary of Finance, even though it forced him to neglect his private affairs and had driven him nearly to personal bankruptcy.  He was desperately trying to hold together the financial affairs of the country at a time when it looked like finances might result in the entire cause to fail.  

Morris was attempting to push through a bill that would allow Congress to collect import tariffs, something that was absolutely critical to paying off the army and keeping the war effort alive.  Congress had been running on donations from France for at least a couple of years.  France, heavily in debt itself, had made clear that it could not continue to fund the entire government in America.  

In the end, twelve of the thirteen states backed the controversial tariff bill.  Only tiny Rhode Island refused.  Since revenue bills had to be unanimous, all of the pressure was on Rhode Island.  Then Lee’s home state of Virginia reversed itself and said it also would no longer support the tariff bill.  The Government’s financial plans fell apart.  Many believed that this could have been the end.  While Deane had lamented this end, Lee seemed bent on making it happen.

Lee did not stop there.  The Deane letters also led Lee to call for the recall of both Benjamin Franklin and John Jay.  As allies of Deane in past years, both men should not be permitted to negotiate the peace treaty with Britain.  Lee also criticized Franklin for being too pro-French.  Lee noted that Congress’ instructions to the peace commissioners back in July of 1781 were to work closely with France to come up with a unified plan.  

Lee actually blamed Franklin for supporting those instructions and the terms of the 1778 treaty with France that obligated the US not to establish a separate peace with Britain.  The Continentals, according to Lee, needed to send a new commission to Europe that would not be so closely aligned with France, implicitly arguing that they should seek a separate peace with Britain.

He also called for the dismissal of Robert Livingston as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who Lee believed was too close to Franklin and, therefore, could not be trusted.  Some of Lee’s supporters began to back this position and argued that Lee should replace Livingston and take over all of US foreign policy.

In August, 1782, the French Ambassador in Philadelphia, the Chevalier de La Luzerne wrote a candid letter to Vergennes saying that it appeared Lee wanted to stop all progress toward a peace treaty, then take over all foreign affairs.  Lee’s actions seemed so counter to US interests that Luzerne suspected that Lee might be in the process of betraying the US, in exchange for a reward from Britain for ending the war on terms favorable to Britain.

Fox Goes on the Attack

While Lee was doing everything in Philadelphia to block progress on peace, Charles James Fox was doing something similar in London.  After Shelburne became Prime Minister in July 1782, following the death of Lord Rockingham, Fox resigned his position in the government and returned to the opposition in Parliament.  Fox called Shelburne’s government a “den of thieves” and began to undermine their negotiations.

Fox’s representative in Paris, Thomas Grenville, called on Vergennes to tell the French government that Fox’s resignation had fatally wounded peace negotiations, and that he was resigning his appointment and returning to London.

Fox supporter, Edmund Burke told parliament that he thought Shelburne’s ministry was “fifty times worse” than the North Government.  He said he did not think Shelburne was willing to negotiate a peace based on the principles that Parliament had outlined.

Shelburne fed into the view of his opponents.  Shelburne had joined the government with the idea of granting American independence. After speaking at length with King George, Shelburne insisted that giving up on America would be a terrible blow to the British Empire, and could spell its end.  Although he had called for American independence when he was working under Rockingham, he now seemed to pull back from that position.

Shelburne remained vague on what would be acceptable terms to end the war, but he did say that it had to result in France being kept from any real gains from the war so that Britain’s enemy would always remain subordinate to Britain.

Franklin Opens Negotiations

Franklin was aware of the apparent change in tone in both Philadelphia and London. His fellow commissioners were not yet ready.  Jay had arrived in France late June, only to be stricken with influenza and unable to leave his sick bed for weeks.  Franklin also began talks without Vergennes.  The French minister wanted Britain to provide the first proposal.  Franklin thought that delay might result in the peace talks coming to an end entirely.  He knew that neither France nor the US could continue the war financially much longer.  He was ready to talk.

Franklin told British negotiator, Richard Oswald, that there were four basic areas on which they had to agree.  The first was full and complete independence for the US.  The second was the settlement of boundaries between the US and the British colonies in Canada and Florida.  The third issue was western boundaries.  Britain was claiming pretty much everything west of the Appalachian mountains was part of Quebec.  That was unacceptable. The fourth matter was fishing rights off Newfoundland.  These were traditional commercial fishing areas for New England and were critical to its economy.

Franklin, however, had not given up on compensation for all the damage that Britain had done in the war.  He suggested several more matters if Britain wanted to have a good relationship with the US after the war.  One was a grant of five or six hundred thousand pounds sterling to compensate for harm done to private parties during the war in America.  Another was a public acknowledgement that Britain had been wrong to start the war.  Third would be a commercial treaty giving American ships the right to free trade in all British ports, including Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies.  The fourth was giving up British Canada.

Recall that last week, Oswald had suggested that perhaps Britain might hand over all of Canada to the US.  Unsurprisingly, when Oswald returned to London and conferred with Shelburne, it became clear that was a nonstarter.  Oswald told Franklin that the only way that might be a matter of discussion would be if France agreed to give back all the territories worldwide that it had captured during the war, putting France back in the highly disadvantageous position it found itself at the end of the Seven Years War.  Franklin knew that France would never agree to that, and even suggesting it to Vergennes would create a rift between France and America. So while Franklin hoped to keep the idea alive as a bargaining chip, he was more focused on boundaries between an independent US and British Canada.

Around this same time, Franklin wrote to Benjamin Vaughan, a young man in Britain who was close to Lord Shelburne, but also a friend of Franklin’s based on their shared love of science.  Vaughan gave Franklin a backchannel into Shelburne’s thinking, and also provided a way to make clear to Shelburne what conditions were most important to American negotiators in a final treaty.  Franklin’s letter made clear he was aware that Shelburne wanted something less than complete independence for America, but that was a nonstarter.  Britain had to accept full and unconditional American Independence.

Oswald, the British negotiator, seemed to have a knack for telling people whatever they wanted to hear.  According to Franklin’s notes, Oswald told him that the British were certainly ready to accept total American independence. Around this same time Oswald wrote to Shelburne to say he did not think the war should be coming to an end.  Britain needed to continue the war until victory allowed Britain to impose heavy sanctions on America, including removal of many of the rights of self-government that they had as colonies.

A few weeks later, Shelburne seemed to reverse himself again.  After arguing for weeks that complete independence for America was unacceptable, he wrote again to Oswald saying that Britain would support independence.  He even included a letter to General Carleton, sent several months earlier, which showed Shelburne's support for independence, asserting that he has always taken that position.  Shelburne, however, also made clear that France had to make some concessions.  Otherwise, Britain was more than willing to continue the war.  Shelburne seemed to hope Franklin would pass this along to Vergennes, either to get the French to become more flexible in demands, or still to drive a wedge between America and France by giving America what it wanted and denying France most of its goals from a peace treaty.

Jay Enters Negotiations

While Franklin was ready to deal, he was soon joined by a partner who was not.  Jay had recovered from the flu and was ready to join the negotiations.  Well, at least ready to argue that Britain had to do more before they could negotiate.  Jay told Oswald that Parliament need to pass a resolution explicitly recognizing American Independence before negotiations could even begin.  When Oswald pointed out the Parliament had already left for summer recess, Jay suggested that, perhaps instead, the King could issue a proclamation that recognized American Independence.  Everyone knew that given the King’s attitude toward these negotiations, that was an impossibility.

Jay also got into a fight with Spanish negotiators.  Jay had spent two frustrating years in Madrid, just trying to get Spain to recognize the US. He had gotten nowhere and gave little credit to Spain for any real help to the American cause.  

Now that negotiations were getting serious, Jay met with the Spanish Ambassador to France, the Conde de Aranda to discuss a treaty of alliance between Spain and the US.  Discussions soon turned to a discussion of land.  Aranda said that Spain should be given just about all lands in North America west of the Allegheny Mountains.  Jay thought the border should be at the Mississippi River.  Most of the land that Spain wanted was already claimed by multiple US states.  Americans already had settlements up to the eastern shore of the Mississippi, while Spain had virtually no presence on that side.  Spain seemed to want to bottle up the US along the east coast, while America was demanding almost all of the land between the Mississippi and the Atlantic.

Franklin was unsure how to deal with this new player in the negotiations.  Jay’s demands of a British concession of independence before even talking, and his talk of a US that stretched from the river to the sea, if you will, endangered the delicate talks between the parties.  Franklin took Jay to see Vergennes so that the French diplomat could set him straight.

Vergennes did not want to delay negotiations based on demands.  He pointed out that the fact that Britain was negotiating with the American peace commission was an implicit recognition of American independence.  Vergennes also thought that Spanish claims on the western lands had to be a topic of discussion.  He was not ready to side with either the Spanish or the Americans on that issue.

Jay came away from the meeting frustrated.  He believed that Vergennes wanted to prolong the war, bankrupt the US, and force it to become a client state of France.  While Franklin disagreed with Vergennes on some issues, he argued that Vergennes was trying to move along the discussions by rejecting Jay’s demand that negotiations could not begin until formal British recognition of the United States.

So, during the summer of 1782, negotiations didn't seem to be going anywhere.

Next week, we take a looks at the negotiations from the French and Spanish perspectives.

- - -

Next Episode 319 Gibraltar Threatens Negotiations

Previous Episode 317 Peace Commissioners

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Further Reading

Websites

The Treaty of Paris (1783) in a changing states system: papers from a conference, January 26-27, 1984 (borrow only). 

Bemis, Samuel F. The Diplomacy Of The American Revolution, Indiana Univ. Press, 1935. 

Jay, John The Peace Negotiations of 1782 and 1783. An address delivered before the New York Historical Society on its seventy-ninth anniversary, Tuesday, November 27, 1883, New York Historical Society, 1884. 

Pellew, George John JayJohn Jay, Boston, New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. 1890. 

Perkins, James B. France in the American RevolutionFrance in the American Revolution, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Co. 1911. 

Wallace, David Duncan The life of Henry Laurens, with a sketch of the life of Lieutenant-Colonel John LaurensNew York G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1915.


Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Brown, Marvin Luther American Independence Through Prussian Eyes: A Neutral View of the Peace Negotiations of 1782-1783 - Selections from the Diplomatic CorrespondenceAmerican Independence Through Prussian Eyes: A Neutral View of the Peace Negotiations of 1782-1783 - Selections from the Diplomatic Correspondence, Duke Univ. Press, 1959 (borrow on Archive.org). 

Dull, Jonathan A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution, Yale Univ. Press, 1985.

Fleming, Thomas The Perils of Peace: America's Struggle for Survival After Yorktown, Harper Collins, 2007.  

Hoffman, Ronald and Peter Albert (eds) Peace and the Peacemakers: The Treaty of 1783, Univ. Press of Va., 1986. (borrow on Archive.org).

Hutson, James H. John Adams and the Diplomacy of the American Revolution, Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1980.  (borrow on Archive.org).

Morris, Richard B. The Peacemakers: The Great Powers and American Independence, Harper & Row, 1965 (borrow on Archive.org). 

Smith, Page John Adams, Vol. 1, Doubleday & Co. 1962.

Stockley, Andrew Britain and France at the Birth of America: The European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782-83, Liverpool Univ. Press, 2001. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.