The Influence of Grenville on Pitt's Foreign Policy, 1787-1798

By Ephraim Douglass Adams | Go to book overview

PITT'S SECOND PEACE PROPOSAL AND MALMESBURY'S MISSION TO PARIS.

SEPTEMBER TO DECEMBER, 1796.

With the failure of Grenville's plan to secure the aid of Prussia the pendulum of English foreign policy swung back again to ideas of peace, though Grenville himself was in no wise inclined to discontinue war. Pitt, however, oppressed by the knowledge of the rapidly increasing financial difficulties of the English government, and believing that a change was imminent in the sentiments of the French Directory, reasserted his authority in the Cabinet and resolved to attempt once more a negotiation for peace. In August, 1796, he had had a number of secret conversations with one Nettement, a Frenchman claiming to represent a pacifically inclined faction of the Directory.* Nettement gave a detailed and truthful analysis of the political situation in France and urged that England should propose to France a negotiation for peace in so frank a way that the Directory "should be forced to declare openly if it desires peace or wishes to continue the war." The plan of negotiations proposed by this French agent was based more upon the idea of assisting the moderate party in Paris to gain control of the Directorate than upon any fixed belief that peace would be assured by such a result, but Pitt's readiness to listen to these indirect suggestions evinces his real interest in the main question. Throughout the summer of 1796 the English partisans of peace were active in pushing their policy. Auckland urged Pitt to renew overtures to France and was corresponding with friends in Paris, by whom he was informed that the exact moment had arrived when a proposal from England must be listened to if made immediately, while in non-political circles the rumor was current that the Cabinet had already reached the decision to end the war. It was even asserted that the ministry and the oppo-

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*
Smith MSS., 369. The papers of Joseph Smith, Pitt's private secretary, show that Sir R. Woodford brought Nettement and Pitt together and state the substance of conversations.
Ibid., 370-371. On August 15 Nettement returned to France, but before leaving wrote out his advice. He believed the Directory to be opposed to peace, but that it was afraid of the moderate party which advocated it, and that if the Directory "should haughtily reject the conditions of peace proposed by England, I should not be surprised by a union between the Moderates, who wish for peace, and the Jacobins, who do not love the Directory, in order to replace them by other governors. But as long as the British Administration has not made known its views in an authentic manner, they will be protected from every sort of influence, and will govern the armies and the people despotically" (p. 370). Nettement also advised a protracted negotiation, and it is interesting to note that the methods he proposed were those actually employed in Malmesbury's negotiation at Paris.
Auckland to Pitt, July 30, 1796. Auckland, III, 352-354.

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