Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite: The American Revolution & the European Response

By Charles W. Toth | Go to book overview

Although America had a surprising number of friends in England, when the Continental Congress requested a list of names from Franklin to be included in a special resolution of thanks, the list was limited to the Earl of Chatham ( Pitt the Elder), Edmund Burke, and David Hartley. From 1774 to 1780, upon which date his fervor for the American cause temporarily lost him his seat in Parliament, Hartley was a persistent opponent of war and an advocate of negotiated peace. John Adams thought Hartley not only "a friend to peace," but also a champion of the rights of mankind -- or at least the rights of all Englishmen under the British constitution.

Although a radical Whig, Hartley never fully championed independence. And he was impatient with his fellow Whigs who delighted in American victories if only to enjoy the embarrassment it might bring to the king and his ministers. Indeed Hartley remained the foe of any who would endanger the possibility of conciliation and peace. When confronted with the reality of independence after Yorktown, Hartley sought to keep America in the fold as a friendly relative in a growing British dominion -- a concept which was too early for its time. Hartley was thus reduced to the search for "political intimacy" through commercial reciprocity.

When Hartley succeeded Oswald as Minister Plenipotentiary, Franklin remarked that "I would have been content to finish with Mr. Oswald, whom we always found very reasonable." Still Franklin and Hartley shared an old and friendly correspondence. Hartley's arrival produced momentary confusion as well as hope, since the English government was racked by resignations and death. London had four heads of government between March, 1782 to December, 1783. The American delegation soon realized that the coalition of Fox and North would act as a break upon the enthusiasm of Hartley, and Franklin reported to Congress that "his zeal for systems friendly to us constantly exceeded his authority." Hartley was not unaware of this. When Jay informed him that Congress had instructed the American ministers to add to the provisional treaty an article for opening and regulating trade "on principles as liberal and reciprocal as you please," Hartley was forced to admit that the adoption of such a proposal

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