British Friends of the American Revolution

By Jerome R. Reich | Go to book overview
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13
David Hartley: Amateur Diplomat

The treaty of Paris finally ending the conflict between Great Britain and thirteen of its former colonies in North America was not signed at the royal palace of Versailles. More fittingly, it was endorsed at the Paris residence of David Hartley, an Englishman who, perhaps more than any of his compatriots, was responsible for the conclusion of hostilities between the two combatants.

David Hartley is difficult to characterize. He was born in 1731 and educated at private schools and Oxford. Like his distinguished father, David Hartley, Sr., David was interested in medicine and philosophy. But the son also had an interest in, and aptitude for, science. He was responsible for the invention of a process for making buildings fire proof or at least fire resistant, which helped him financially and won him the respect of many outstanding personages not the least of whom were the king and Lord North. 1 However, like Benjamin Franklin, his American friend whose career in so many ways paralleled and intertwined with his own, Hartley was drawn into politics. His proclivities aligned him with the Whigs and those who felt the necessity for parliamentary reform. Hartley authored several pamphlets criticizing Lord Bute and George Grenville, among others, but his major contribution to the American cause was made as a member of the House of Commons representing Kingston-upon-Hull. Hartley took his seat in November 1774, just as American affairs were approaching a crisis. Earlier in the year, the Coercive Acts had been passed to punish the people of Boston for their Tea Party.

We have no account of Hartley's first remarks in Parliament. The records merely reported that on December 5, "Mr. Hartley (a new member) entered fully into the contents of the [king's] Speech and Address and urged strongly the necessity of the proposed Amendment" (which implied disapproval of the ministerial policy toward America). 2 A few days later, in the

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