Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
The French Alliance

GREAT BRITAIN embarked upon war with its colonies little apprehending that France would make itself a party to the dispute. It was expected to be a short, decisive struggle -- a brief interlude of domestic dissension which would afford the Bourbons no opportunity to make trouble. Louis XVI, said Germain in 1774, "will have enough to do at home for his amusement, and if he will not make war with us till he has established economy in the different branches of Government, and has taught morality to the bishops and the people, I shall hope for peace in my time." The British government made two costly errors in believing that the Americans would not fight and that the French would not aid them.

Decisive victory over the rebels eluded the British and by 1776, the government and people could hardly fail to see that storm clouds were piling up on the other side of the Channel. The ministers attempted to allay alarm by frequent assurances that France harbored no warlike intentions, but French military and naval preparations gave them the lie. Early in 1776, for example, Lord North told Parliament that England and France had reached a perfect understanding and that this understanding was more necessary to France than to Britain; whereupon "the whole Parliament had the common sense to laugh in his face." In fact, the government betrayed its own uneasiness by its eagerness to persuade France that peace was its best policy.

The English Whigs, far from being taken in by the government's soothing reports on Anglo-French relations, urged the government to make peace with America before France struck. An alliance with America, "let the price of it be what it will," said Burke, was preferable to driving the colonists into an alliance with France. The loss of America, he declared,

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