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

By Ephraim Douglass Adams | Go to book overview

With the disappearance of the probability of peace, new overtures were made to Russia and received from her.* The death of Frederick William II and the accession of a new monarch in Berlin created temporary hopes of a change in Prussian sentiment. Even Austria hinted at a renewal of alliance with England. In other and more positive ways the English position was greatly improved. The naval mutiny was over, and Duncan's victory off Camperdown, October 11, had revived the confidence of England in her warfare at sea. New French attempts on Ireland and risings in England itself had alike proved abortive. The crop prospects were unusually favorable. The very reaction from the first wave of panic tended to arouse the nation and to restore its vigor. It needed but some aggressive act of the French government to create that unanimity of English opinion for which Grenville hoped, and this France did not long delay to supply. In January, 1798, the government of Holland was remodeled to suit the new conditions in France; in February the Papal States were attacked, while in April occurred the most irritating blow of all and the one least possible of defense by the partisans of peace, when France over- threw the ancient constitution of Switzerland and practically incorporated that country within her own frontiers. At the same time the opposition in Parliament lost its vigor and cohesion. Fox and Sheridan, who had been absenting themselves from Parliament for some months past, and thus protesting against the "arbitrary conduct of the government," resumed their seats in December, 1797, for the purpose of attacking Pitt's new tax scheme, but found their arguments considered unpatriotic in the light of these new French aggressions. On April 22 Sheridan, moved thereto by the attack upon Switzerland, came forward in a brilliant speech, in which he acknowledged that the defense of England must now take precedence over every other question. Fox more slowly and much later reached the same decision. For the moment there was no essential opposition to Pitt's government. Parliament and nation alike were united by a wave of patriotic enthusiasm for war.§

After April, 1798, the policy of the English government was, as Pitt in his speech of November 10, 1797, had himself asserted, fixed in the

____________________
*
Woronzow to Grenville, Nov. 10 and Dec. 12, 1797. Dropmore, III, 391, 403.
§
Even Miles thought war now justifiable, writing to Nicholls on April 10, 1798, "France leaves us no alternative between ruinous dishonorable concession and eternal warfare." Miles, II, 293.
George III to Grenville, Dec. 23, 1797, and Grenville to George III, Dec. 29, 1797. Ibid., 405, 407.
Woronzow to Grenville, Nov. 17, 1797, and Grenville to George III, Dec. 29, 1797. Ibid., 395, 407.

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