Britain and France at the Birth of America: The European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782-1783

Britain and France at the Birth of America: The European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782-1783

Britain and France at the Birth of America: The European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782-1783

Britain and France at the Birth of America: The European Powers and the Peace Negotiations of 1782-1783

Synopsis

This is the first comprehensive study of the peace negotiations which ended the American War of Independence. It challenges traditional views and uses a wide range of sources to provide a detailed analysis of the treaties signed between Britain and France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States. It shows that American independence, rather than being the important issue of the negotiations, was consistently subordinated to European balance of power considerations. The book demonstrates the importance of personality and popular prejudice in determining foreign policy, and new insights are offered into the personalities and objectives of the leading political figures of the time, including George III, Louis XVI, Benjamin Franklin, Lords Shelburne, Grantham and North, Charles James Fox, the comte de Vergennes, John Jay, John Adams, Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great. The result is a significant new study of eighteenth-century diplomatic and political history which overturns previously established views.

Excerpt

The chronology

Writing to Charles Jenkinson in November 1782, William, earl of Shelburne, noted that ‘Parliament and the Peace make Government a perfect Pandora’s box… It is impossible for me to say whether I can conduct our Barque without losing some masts and endangering others … But I will do my best.’

Shelburne’s best was, in the end, to prove insufficient. Government in 1782 was, to say the least, arduous. At the beginning of that year Britain was still caught up in attempting to suppress the revolt of her American colonies. She was also at war with France, Spain and the Netherlands. The task of making peace and ending what has become known as the ‘War of American Independence’ was to require the attention of no fewer than five British ministries.

By 1782, Frederick, Lord North, had served as George Ill’s first minister for well over a decade. As first lord of the Treasury, he had had to deal with armed rebellion in North America from 1775, and had presided over the outbreak of war with France in 1778, with Spain in 1779, and with the Netherlands towards the end of 1780. As the war continued and expanded, North’s secretaries of state (Viscount Stormont, the earl of Hillsborough, and Lord George Germain) made and received a variety of peace overtures. North himself dispatched a flurry of envoys to enemy courts shordy before losing power in March 1782. Britain’s unofficial emissaries included David Hardey, Richard Cumberland, Nathaniel Forth, Thomas Digges and Paul Wentworth. Their efforts were, however, to end unrewarded. It had been a long and cosdy war and British defeat at the battle of Yorktown spurred the House of Commons into renouncing offensive warfare in America. North, the minister who had . . .

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