The War for America: 1775-1783

By Piers Mackesy | Go to book overview
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1. Lord North and the People

'Never did a deeper political gloom overspread England, than in the autumn of 1779.' Looking back on the crisis, Wraxall questioned whether the Dutch in the Medway or the defeat off Beachy Head had caused such despondency and discontent. The enemy's command of the Channel, the loss of St Vincent and Grenada, and d'Estaing's threat to Jamaica were misfortunes which might have made a Chatham falter. And soon political agitation at home was to erupt into new channels with dangerous violence. A storm was brewing such as the Ministry had never yet encountered.

On 10 September Lord North wrote to ask Germain for his advice on future diplomacy and strategy. But in the same letter he asked an ominous question of another kind. How could the Ministry be strengthened to meet the coming session of Parliament? The Ministry's future lay very much in the hands of Germain. The deadlock over the vacant Secretaryship of State was still unresolved. Wedderburn and Eden were hoping to bring in a professional diplomatist, Sir Joseph Yorke or Lord Stormont, who they imagined might be more accessible to their influence than a politician; and to Stormont the King and North inclined. But the Bedfords' protéGé Lord Carlisle was still unbeneficed. There were signs that the Bedford group might desert the Ministry; so it was more than ever vital to conciliate Gower over his son-in-law. If Germain would surrender the Board of Trade, Carlisle could be provided for. Some tiny grain of resolution had momentarily asserted itself in the Prime Minister, and this was the purpose of his approach to Germain.

Germain could have been bought out with a peerage, but the King would not hear of it. 'He has not been of use in his department, and nothing but the most meritorious service could have wiped off his former misfortunes.' This ungenerous allusion had nothing to do with Germain's handling of the war. The King assessed his servants primarily by their political usefulness; and Germain's rash handling of the Howes had temporarily annoyed him. But while he vetoed the easy solution, he did push North into stating his difficulty candidly to Germain. Germain grumbled that Carlisle's promotion following on his peace mission would raise the expectations of the Americans; but after a token resistance he gave way, and the Board of Trade was at


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