Securing American Independence: John Jay and the French Alliance

By Frank W. Brecher | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6

1781-82: An American Military Campaign Unexpectedly Changes the Shape of the War

Versailles was at its nadir in the winter of 1780-81. This was true regarding all aspects of its war effort: militarily, three fighting seasons without decisive developments; financially, a draining burden that undermined its every domestic reform program, much to the chagrin of Necker, who now undertook a surreptitious peace initiative through international banking circles at the expense of Vergennes's own diplomacy; politically, a frustrationcaused dismissal of Vergennes's two most trusted, principal colleagues, Navy Minister Sartine (October 1780) and War Minister Montbarey (January 1781); and diplomatically, one ally, the U.S., militarily ineffective and financially importunate, while the other ally, Spain, stubborn in its insistence on implementing a doubtful military strategy in which an undue portion of the cost and risk fell on France, even as almost all the prospective, overly ambitious spoils of war belonged to Spain. The one major and possibly positive international development in this winter season was the Dutch decision to proceed with their plan to accede to the Russian-led Neutrality Association. They did so even in the absence of any assurances from the Association's members of military protection from the predictable English retaliatory attacks on their possessions, and even in the knowledge that their determination to join the Association would result in a precipitate English declaration of war in advance of its formally occurring so as to convert them from neutral to belligerent status prior to their mem-

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