Triumph of Freedom, 1775-1783

By John C. Miller | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XXIX
The Peace Settlement

DESPITE military defeats and diplomatic reverses that might easily have overturned another ministry, Lord North remained in power, picking his way from disaster to disaster. As the war spun itself out, North and his colleagues seemed riveted to their seats; through good news and bad, the Ministry stood firm, invulnerable to the slings and arrows of the opposition. Burke lamented that every event of the war, whether victory or defeat, the appointment of new generals or the recall of old generals, towns captured or towns surrendered, "all spurred us on to this fatal business. Victories gave us hopes, defeats made us desperate, and both instigated us to go on." "Everything has miscarried that has been undertaken," exclaimed Horace Walpole in 1779, "and the worse we succeed, the more is risked; -- yet the nation is not angry."

Lord North owed his long tenure of power primarily to the determination of Englishmen to restore the revolted colonies to the empire. As the leader of the war party, North possessed the confidence of the country to a greater degree than did any Whig statesman; in general, Englishmen opened their hearts to the man who stood for the integrity of the British Empire against rebels and republicans. In his hours of discouragement -- and they were many -- Lord North took comfort in the reflection that there was "a very great majority of the nation at large, who were for prosecuting the war against our rebellious subjects in America"; he had not only the King, but the people, on his side.

At the beginning of the war, the Duke of Richmond had predicted that nothing except defeat and hardship would induce the people of Great Britain to make peace. "Injustice, rapine, murder, desolation, loss of liberty, all these we can inflict, or suffer our fellow-subjects to endure," he declared, "but when we are to pay, we shall grumble; . . . it will only

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