A Year of Tension
I shall carry Holland in my veins to my grave.
THE year 1780, Adams had complained, was the most difficult of his life. But 1781 would surpass it in setbacks, confusion, and despair. It had begun full of hope, with his appointment, his vigorous memorials, his enthusiastic "militia" diplomacy, and it would end so brilliantly for the American cause. But in between came long months of uncertainty and opposition. Independence was in greater peril than most of the American leaders realized. The United States was on the verge of becoming a football in an extremely complicated game of European diplomacy, and the Americans were too far away and too dependent on their French ally to see it clearly. It was the particular achievement of Adams that he saw it clearly from the very start and that he resisted with all the indomitable courage characteristic of him.
The heart of the problem was the attitude of France. For the fact was that the French government was not at all eager for an American victory. France's intervention in the struggle had been quite ambivalent; her purpose was more to oppose England than to help the American rebels, toward whom she displayed an overweening paternalism, and she conceded to them scarcely any role of their own in the diplomatic struggle that in these years I780 and 1781 became steadily more intense and especially more complex. America was no more than one small piece in a true eighteenth-century conflict over the balance of power. This became all the more evident as talks on an eventual peace got under way.
A steadily growing desire for peace began to take hold among all the warring parties. The war was costly, and success seemed to be beyond anyone's reach. In America the British armies controlled large territories after their most recent victories; yet they were in no position to reconquer the whole country. The European countries at war with England all had their own interests. France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic formed an