CHAPTER VII.: The Negotiation and Signature of the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain. – John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 1 (Life of the Author) 
The moral trial described in the last chapter, was not yet entirely passed. It had only changed its form. Some time prior to the completion of the labors there narrated, the calls upon Mr. Adams to repair to another great scene of duty, opening at Paris, had become quite urgent. Not much disposed to be subject, without strong necessity, to a renewal of the rude and menacing tone which Count de Vergennes had not forborne again to use on his last visit, Mr. Adams waited to be convinced that the causes were sufficient to require his presence before he went. Nor was the necessity of putting the seal to the treaty, which he had succeeded in negotiating with the States of Holland, without its imperative force in favor of delay. He deemed it wise to make sure of it before he should leave the Hague. But, this great object once gained, he lost not a moment more. The fact had become by this time apparent that Great Britain was making some attempts at negotiation. Intimations had also been received of the occurrence of differences of opinion at Paris, which his intervention would be required to decide. These events contributed to quicken his movements, so that, on the 26th of October, 1782, he was again in the French capital. In order to comprehend the state of things he found there, it will be necessary to go back a little, and explain the several steps which led to the pacification.
Even before the decisive vote given in the House of Commons upon General Conway’s motion, which snapped the chain by which Lord North had been so long held to his sovereign, and before that sovereign had been compelled to subject his recalcitrating will to the necessity of receiving the Whigs once more into his counsels, emissaries had been sent to the continent, directed to discover where the Americans were who were understood to have powers to treat, and what was the precise extent of their authority. They succeeded in their object so far, that on the 11th of March, the day after Lord North had given to the king his final decision to resign, but before any successor had been designated, a private individual, by the name of Digges, who had been in more or less communication with the American ministers throughout the war, was dispatched with a message and a letter from David Hartley to Mr. Adams, announcing that a bill was about to be enacted in parliament to enable the crown to conclude a peace or truce with America, and desiring to know whether the four commissioners understood to have been appointed by her were empowered to conclude as well as to treat, and whether jointly or severally. This agent was sent by Lord North, but with the privity of General Conway, Lord Shelburne, and the leaders of the opposition. His real object seems to have been to sound Mr. Adams as to the possibility of a separate negotiation for a truce. The repugnance to admitting, in any way, the intervention of France, was yet all powerful in the mind of the sovereign, and it existed more or less strongly among all British statesmen, of whatever party.1 Nor was the hope abandoned that the nation might yet be saved the mortification of a direct acknowledgment of the independence of the United States. Indeed, visions still flitted across the brain of royalty of the possibility, even at this stage, of succeeding in severing the alliance between them and France, and continuing the war with effect upon one or the other division, as the case might be.
There is reason to infer that all these things combined to originate the experiment upon Mr. Adams, whose dissatisfaction with Count de Vergennes, not entirely unknown in Holland, might have reached the ears of the king. Mr. Adams, apparently quite aware of the delicacy of his position, in agreeing to a conference proposed by Mr. Digges, at Amsterdam, on the 20th of March, attached the condition that it should not be conducted without a witness, and that he should be at liberty to communicate all that might pass to Dr. Franklin and the Count de Vergennes; a wise precaution, which proved not without effect in dispelling from the mind of the latter the suspicions of British tendencies which Gérard had first implanted and which subsequent contentions had nourished.1 The effect of the condition was partially to close the mouth of Digges, who was probably charged with communications to Mr. Adams, of the nature of which Mr. Hartley himself had not been made aware, and to deter him altogether from prosecuting the journey to see Dr. Franklin, which Hartley had arranged for him. Instead of this, Digges took Mr. Adams’s advice and hastily retraced his steps to London. In point of fact, his mission had already failed. Upon his return home he wrote to Mr. Adams, expressing his own doubts of the sincerity of the whole movement, not only on the part of Lord North, but likewise of the incoming ministry. “I could wish,” he said, “I had it more in my power than I now have to say I had clearly discovered the intentions of the new set, at least those I have conversed with, to wit, Lord Shelburne, Lord Camden, General Conway, and Lord Keppel, to be that of going to peace with America on the avowed basis of independence. Every voice pronounces it to be their intention, but I like a little more open declaration for so doing. Time will show what is meant, but, I own, appearances do not please me.”
Other overtures came through Lord Shelburne to Mr. Adams, but he was yet too incredulous of any good faith to be disposed to put confidence in them. He therefore contented himself with apprising the French court of the facts, through Dr. Franklin, and resumed his labors in Holland, just then culminating to the wished for point. In truth, the public mind in England was teeming with visions of the possibility of yet succeeding in a disruption of the formidable combinations against her, of drawing off Holland or Spain, of buying up a reconciliation with America, and even of a separate pacification with France. An attempt to effect this last scheme, coeval with the mission of Digges, was made through an emissary, used more or less throughout the war, by the name of Forth,1 who visited Count de Vergennes as from Lord North, and without the privity of the Whigs. The substance of his conference is given in a dispatch, dated two days later, from De Vergennes to the French envoy at Madrid, Count de Montmorin. But in that he, singularly enough, omits to mention one important offer made to him, the knowledge of which has been gained from elsewhere. The same omission occurs in the communication of the overture made by his order to congress. This was the restoration of Canada, as the price of a separate peace. To the Count it raised no temptation, for his line of policy had always been the retention of Canada just where it was, as a check on the new American nation. Neither is it at all probable that he regarded it as made in good faith. The mission was symbolical of the distracted councils in which it originated, and of nothing else. For if the nature of these contemporaneous overtures, through Digges and Forth, be analyzed in connection with the fact that during the same time Lord Shelburne alone had been consulted by the king, whilst the Rockingham Whigs were studiously kept out of his confidence, the inference is irresistible that none of them were more than clumsy traps, without a foundation worthy a moment’s trust.
Neither does it appear that the uncertainty of purpose, which is visible before the induction of the Whigs into office, entirely ceased even quite down to the moment of pacification. Whatever may be thought of Lord Shelburne’s good will at last to carry through a policy of conciliation with the United States as an independent nation, there is great reason to question it at the outset. In the administration formed under the Marquis of Rockingham, in which the king was finally compelled to acquiesce, the department of foreign affairs had been assigned to Charles Fox, whilst that of the colonies fell to Lord Shelburne. A difficulty immediately occurred, on account of the anomalous condition of America. In the English view, the United States were still dependent and separate colonies, and therefore under the supervision of Shelburne. In point of fact, their independence and their union as one nation were admitted, and therefore all dealings with them more properly belonged to Fox. This embarrassment was much aggravated by the jealousy already existing from other causes between the two chiefs. Neither was it in any way relieved by the accidental circumstances through which the negotiation took its rise. A private letter, addressed by Dr. Franklin to Lord Shelburne upon the change of administration, expressive of a hope that peace might grow out of it, was made by Shelburne an excuse for sending, without the knowledge of the cabinet, Mr. Richard Oswald, a gentleman described by him as “a pacifical man, conversant in those negotiations which are most interesting to mankind,” to Paris, informally to inquire upon what terms a peace with America could be initiated. The notion of a separate peace was yet the predominating one. Neither was it dispelled until Dr. Franklin assured his visitor that a conference with Count de Vergennes was indispensable to any further proceedings. Mr. Oswald accordingly conferred with the French minister, as well as he could without knowing the French language, and offered to become the medium of conveying to his employer propositions for a general negotiation.
It cannot be pretended that this last proceeding was not an encroachment upon the province of Mr. Fox and the action of the cabinet. Mr. Oswald is reported, by Count de Vergennes, to have proposed a scheme of truce, upon the old ground of uti possidetis, not unlike that suggested by Spain two years before, at this time when the Rockingham party was notoriously disposed to adopt a more liberal policy of concession.1 But Dr. Franklin, wholly unconscious of all these entanglements in the British cabinet, sent Mr. Oswald home with a kind letter to Lord Shelburne, expressive of a hope that he would soon return so amiable a gentleman, armed with powers to treat. The hint, falling in with Shelburne’s own desire to control the negotiation, was eagerly taken, and Oswald was sent back with a promise of such powers. Oswald appears to have communicated to Franklin that part of the record of the cabinet council held on the 27th of April, which settled the terms of a general pacification, but, perhaps from a wish not to expose domestic troubles to the eye of so shrewd an observer, he omitted the significant conclusion which Mr. Fox had succeeded in attaching to it.1 By that conclusion, Fox had drawn the negotiation with France back into his own hands. Distrustful of Shelburne’s agent, he had appointed Mr. Thomas Grenville to confer with Count de Vergennes. This omission, significant of the dissensions at home, was supplied by Oswald’s announcement of the fact of that appointment, verbally, as he was ordered, towards the close of the conversation. Thus it appears that, at the very outset of this important proceeding, each of the two rival interests then in the British administration was carrying on a part of the same general duty, without harmony or even a desire to coöperate with the other. The effect of this was not long in making itself felt.
The prudence and statesmanship of Prince Kaunitz had more than once, during this war, proved unavailing to restrain some ejaculations at the diplomacy of his excellent English friends. Frederick the Second, of Prussia, had no opinion of it habitually. But nowhere is the justice of this verdict more palpable than in the opening details of these momentous negotiations. When Mr. Grenville, a person not without abilities, but a novice in such matters, not yet twenty-seven years of age, found his way over to Paris, and opened his business to one of the most expert veterans in Europe, the first inquiry addressed to him was upon the extent of his powers; for France could not treat excepting in conjunction with her allies. But no such question had been provided for or thought of in London. Mr. Grenville’s commission empowered him to deal only with France. Yet though the Count at once pronounced this a barrier to his treating, he offered to listen, and the embarrassed Grenville was fain to put up even with this mode of securing an opening for the great offer with which he considered himself charged. In the mind of an Englishman, nothing could be greater than the surrender of the point of American Independence; so that, when once uttered, the young man seemed to take it for granted that every thing would be settled, and peace ensue as a matter of course. His consternation may be imagined, when the adroit old minister assured him that American independence was but an incidental object of the war, and that many other concessions might be required of Great Britain before peace could be attained. These views the Count repeated the next day upon a renewal of the conference, at which he took the precaution of obtaining the presence of the Spanish minister, Count d’Aranda, in order to confirm and extend the impression he wished to make upon his youthful antagonist.
Greatly discouraged by this imposing exhibition of the temper of France, Grenville wrote home for further instructions and for an extension of his commission, if it was thought best to proceed. From the minutes of the cabinet council held on his application, it seems that a full authority to treat with “all the belligerent powers” was ordered to be sent to Mr. Grenville, though the basis of negotiation was not changed. Yet by some singular inattention on the part of the foreign office, the new commission came, bearing substantially the same restriction as before. Under such circumstances, it can be no cause of surprise that the wary French minister should infer that the whole proceeding lacked good faith. On the other hand, Dr. Franklin had his reasons for a similar conclusion, growing out of a still more extraordinary concurrence of accidents, not easy, from his point of view, to account for in any other way. They were these. At the time of Mr. Oswald’s departure from Paris, after his visit of inquiry, Dr. Franklin had seized the opportunity to commit to his care a paper, designed for the eye of Lord Shelburne alone, which contained some reasons why a cession of Canada to the United States should be made an integral part of any basis that might be proposed of reconciliation between the two countries. It is most remarkable that the Doctor, at the same time, imposed upon him a strong injunction of secrecy on this point, particularly as it respected the French ministry, which did not favor the idea. The bearing of this material fact will be made visible at a later period of the negotiation. Mr. Oswald, who seems throughout to have displayed the qualities rather of good sense, and a conciliatory temper, than of a trained statesman or advocate, manifested no aversion to the proposal, and cheerfully consented to become the bearer of it to Lord Shelburne. That minister, not over inclined to favor the idea, yet unwilling to put any unnecessary obstacle in the way of negotiation, preferred to wave the consideration of the subject until things should arrive at a later stage, and he so instructed Mr. Oswald upon his return to Paris. It did so happen, however, that in the course of a conversation with Mr. Grenville, Oswald, forgetting the injunction of secrecy, casually betrayed the fact that such a proposition had been received and considered by his principal. The effect of this disclosure upon Grenville was decisive. Attaching a much worse construction to it than the thing really merited, and yet not an unreasonable one under the peculiar circumstances, this gentleman instantly wrote to Mr. Fox, communicating his discovery, and requesting to be forthwith relieved from the painful position of appearing to conduct a negotiation actually managed by other hands. His desire, he said, was the more positive from the perception of a marked change in the manner of Dr. Franklin towards him ever since Mr. Oswald’s return. Instead of opening himself unreservedly, as he had promised, not a word more could be gained from him on the topics of the proposed negotiation. This change, however surprising to Grenville, was to be accounted for naturally enough. Dr. Franklin, looking only from the outside, saw a duplicate mission, the reasons for which he could only in part conjecture, but the effect he perceived was to create confusion, and put off action. It is not, then, to be wondered at, that he should suspect it was all a contrivance for delay. Count de Vergennes, as has been already shown, was much in the same state of mind. It was, therefore, no more than the exercise of proper caution in Franklin, to decline further confidential conversation until he should be able definitely to understand what were the true intentions of Great Britain.
The life of Charles James Fox was one long game of chance, only the scene of which was changed, from Almack’s and Brookes’s, with a pack of cards, whenever in opposition; to the cabinet of the sovereign, with public principles, when put into the administration. It was a game, too, in which the luck was almost always against him. This time he had only come in to be tortured with jealousies and suspicions of his colleague, Lord Shelburne, who seemed to have the ear of the king, which was closed to him. In this state of mind, the intelligence conveyed by Grenville from Paris, came to him like confirmation strong of the duplicity to which he imputed the obvious difference in the royal favor. One thing was certain, that Oswald had been sent at first without consultation with the cabinet, to which not a whisper of such a proposal as the cession of Canada had ever been made. To remain a mere pageant, without power in the government, was out of the question. So the Rockingham party, to which Mr. Fox belonged, after consultation, made up their minds to avail themselves of the earliest excuse for retiring. One shade of difference between the factions related to the mode of initiating the negotiations with America. Whilst Fox advocated the more manly way of commencing with a recognition of her independence, Shelburne had wished to make it a condition to chaffer with in the peace negotiation. The question was brought up in the cabinet for a decision. The Rockingham Whigs were outvoted, which Mr. Fox construed as furnishing the desired opportunity; and accordingly their withdrawal was announced.
But before this design could be executed, a new event brought on a crisis of a different kind, which put another face upon affairs. It was the death of the chief of the Whigs, the Marquis of Rockingham, the very day after the cabinet meeting. The question now was, who should succeed him in that position, not less than who should become prime minister. The two situations had been united in Lord Rockingham. But Lord Shelburne, who now advanced very reasonable claims to the lead in the cabinet, claims backed by the preference of the king himself, stood no chance whatever of attaining the other place. The major part of the Whigs, under the influence of Fox, setting aside the pretensions of the Duke of Richmond, determined that, unless the Duke of Portland, whom they had made their chief, was likewise placed at the head of the ministry, they would not consent even to form a part of the same cabinet with Shelburne. The consequence of these selfish and factious counsels was dissension, and an ultimate disruption of the party. The king, biased, perhaps, by the action at the last cabinet meeting, selected Shelburne, and the Duke of Richmond, with four other Whigs, decided to retain office, whilst Fox and the remainder chose to resign. It was the impulse of wounded pride in the latter, a motive which will never be found to sustain the action of a public man, especially at a critical moment in the affairs of his country. This was a primary cause of all the later errors of Mr. Fox, errors which must forever forfeit for him a place among Britain’s best or purest statesmen.
The immediate effect of this revolution in the cabinet upon the state of things at Paris was the recall of Mr. Fox’s minister, Grenville, who was only too glad to get away, but no material change in the double form of the negotiations. Mr. Oswald obtained his commission to treat with America, which had up to this moment been represented solely by Dr. Franklin. But Mr. Jay, having failed in animating Spain with a single generous or downright sentiment, now joined him as a colleague. In the room of Grenville, Thomas Townshend, the new foreign secretary, dispatched Mr. Alleyne Fitzherbert as the minister to treat with France. Besides these avowed agents, another gentleman, Mr. Benjamin Vaughan, repaired to Paris, with no ostensible commission, but, in fact, charged by Lord Shelburne to give him confidential information respecting the character of the American commissioners, and the easiest terms with which they would be likely to be satisfied.
The position occupied by Mr. Jay in the public affairs of the United States, down to the day of his election to the mission to Spain, has been already explained. It may be recollected that that election was regarded as a triumph by the French minister, bent upon defeating Arthur Lee, and counteracting the influence of the Eastern, or, as he called them, the British party. In the conflict, which raged so long in congress upon the instructions to be given to the negotiator for peace, Mr. Jay had been ranged among those who favored every modification of the ultimata that had been pressed by France, and this to such an extent as to bring upon him the most determined resistance on the part of the New England States, as one ready to abandon their darling interest, the fisheries, in case he should be made the pacificator. But, as not infrequently happens in popular governments, the parties, in the vehemence of their struggles for a policy, forgot to measure the character of the man expected to execute it. They are apt to regard him merely as an index of the party that supports him. Such indeed, in common times, he too often proves. But these were not common times, and John Jay was no common man. Throughout the contest, his sympathies had never been with New England. The moderation and repose of his character had little in unison with the more stubborn and vehement temper that had carried on the struggle in the East. And so long as he was subjected to the collisions of opinion incident to public assemblies, he had almost instinctively ranged himself on the calmer and more conservative side. But this was very far from making him what the power which had contributed to bring him on the scene in Europe had expected. Jubilant at what he regarded his victory, M. Gérard, about to return to France, and willing perhaps to make an opportunity for intimacy with the new envoy, offered him a passage in the frigate which was to convey himself. The two accordingly embarked together. What happened on the voyage has not been fully explained. Mr. Jay has left enough to justify an inference that something or other then opened a novel train of ideas in his mind. Suspicions of the policy of France took their date from this period with him, which further observation, after he reached his destination, only tended more and more to confirm. Neither was it simply the failure of his wearisome solicitations to Spain for aid, always promised but never given, which weighed so much with him, as the conviction that the coöperation of France was not hearty. The objects of the latter power, at Madrid, were different, and the necessity of humoring her capricious ally, to gain them, overbore all other considerations. They might, in the end, lead even to her acquiescing in a sacrifice of favorite American claims in order to pacify her. Hence, when Mr. Jay found that he made no progress, it was a positive relief to him to receive a letter from Dr. Franklin, saying that the time had come for him to exchange his humiliating position as a rejected mendicant at Madrid, for the more honorable task of negotiating a peace with Great Britain at Paris.
But if the experience of Mr. Jay, in his first mission, was not altogether agreeable, it was not without its compensations in better fitting him for his share of the task which now devolved upon him. He had at least been warned that Spain, so far from being disposed to yield the free navigation of the Mississippi, was pushing her claims to a boundary on the west of the United States, which would exclude them altogether from that river, and that France had expressed no aversion to the proceeding. With this clue he came to meet Count de Vergennes face to face. The first thing that fixed his attention, was the solicitude of that minister to have him begin with Count d’Aranda, the Spanish minister at Paris, the negotiation which he had in vain tried to conduct at the court he had just left. The next was the anxiety manifested by the confidential secretary of the foreign office, de Rayneval, that he should listen to the proposed sacrifice in regard to the boundary, which went to the extent of submitting to his consideration a memoir affirming the reasonableness of the Spanish claim. All this was to be arranged, too, previously to a recognition by Spain of the independence of America. Mr. Jay’s cautious nature took the alarm. He began to suspect more than was actually intended. For the motives of France are now tolerably apparent. Foreseeing the greatest obstacles to a pacification from the intractable imbecility of Spain, Count de Vergennes, without wishing to do positive injury to America, was not the less disposed to keep within reach as many means of satisfying it as possible. Among them this cession of boundary was one; but the resolute refusal of Mr. Jay to treat without a prior acknowledgment of his position, put all possibility of resort to it, for the time, out of the question.
In the mean while the British government had gone on very slowly. Misled by the representations of unauthorized persons who had affirmed Dr. Franklin to be disposed to proceed without a recognition of American independence, or cherishing a hope that they might make something out of the concession, as an item in the negotiation, they yet showed a hesitation well calculated to keep alive the distrust of all the parties watching their movements at Paris. So late as the 25th of July, the king’s order to the attorney-general, to prepare a commission for Mr. Oswald, specified only an authority to treat with “commissioners of the thirteen colonies, or any person or persons whatsoever,” and not with any sovereign state. And this authority was issued under the supervision of the Home, and not the Foreign Department. The phraseology was material, if there was no certainty of good faith behind it; and neither George the Third nor Shelburne bore an unequivocal reputation in that regard. Under these circumstances a copy of this commission was submitted by Mr. Oswald to Dr. Franklin and Mr. Jay, who, in their turn, laid it before Count de Vergennes, for his advice. That minister, anxious to advance the negotiations, and regarding the precise form of treating as of small consequence, provided Great Britain would consent to treat at all, gave an opinion that it was sufficient, and this opinion Dr. Franklin cautiously seconded. The argument to sustain it was, that it was not to be expected that the effect, independence, should be made to precede its cause, the treaty itself. But in maintaining this, the existence of the treaty with France, and her own excuse made to Great Britain for negotiating it, which was that the independence of the United States was already established beyond question, were overlooked by Count de Vergennes. Mr. Jay, not convinced by the reasoning, having his experience of the joint Spanish and French representations fresh upon him, and deeply impressed with the responsibility of his position, was unwilling to commit himself to the sanction of a negotiation with so ambiguous a commencement. He declined to proceed.
But in order to acquit himself of his responsibility for this course, he determined on two measures; the one, a strong appeal to Mr. Oswald to exert himself with his government to procure a recognition of the United States; the other, the preparation of an elaborate paper, addressed to Count de Vergennes, giving reasons for thus abruptly closing the way to negotiation. Dr. Franklin, on his side, however, viewed these movements with more or less dissatisfaction, as too distrustful of the French, and too captious with the English. Nobody was left in Europe with power to settle this difference but Mr. Adams, and he was yet at the Hague, so deeply engaged in his special duties as to be unwilling to leave them for what seemed, at best, a very uncertain overture. Letters had already passed between him and Mr. Jay, in which he had expressed his sentiments decisively. Whilst he had entirely accorded with that gentleman in refusing to accept the language of Oswald’s commission, he suggested a modification by which the difficulty might be removed.1 As it stood, the king assumed that he was to treat only with colonies or individuals. But if, instead of this, the commission should confer authority to treat with the ministers of “the United States of America,” that would be acknowledgment enough for him to begin with. The same sentiment had been expressed by him in a letter written to Dr. Franklin on the 2d of May preceding.2 Mr. Jay ultimately adopted this idea. It was then submitted to Mr. Oswald, who cheerfully welcomed it, and sent it, together with a copy of Mr. Jay’s argument, furnished to him for the purpose, by a courier to London, for the decision of his government.
In the mean while, Benjamin Vaughan, Lord Shelburne’s secret agent, had been improving his time in sounding the disposition of Franklin and of Jay, and in communicating the result of his observations to his anxious principal. With the former, as an old acquaintance not entirely unapprised of his relations with the minister, he labored assiduously in smoothing down what seemed obstacles in the way of reconciliation, whilst he so far won the confidence of Jay as to obtain from him, to his great joy, a special commission to wait upon Lord Shelburne in person, and urge him to acquiesce in making the concession demanded. This was on the 9th of September. Mr. Jay, however, in soliciting this, does not seem to have known that Shelburne had sent Vaughan to Paris, nor that a letter had already gone from Vaughan by Oswald’s courier, earnestly exhorting Shelburne to grant what had been asked.
One reason given for this urgency by Mr. Vaughan is too remarkable to be omitted in this biography. He had found the two commissioners so well disposed, that he considered it safer to hurry the negotiations whilst they were here alone, than to await the arrival of Mr. Adams and Mr. Laurens, from whose ill-will he apprehended much embarrassment. The day before the departure of Mr. Vaughan, a secret and confidential dispatch of Barbé de Marbois, secretary of the French legation, who had been sent out to the United States with the Chevalier de la Luzerne, to Count de Vergennes, which had been intercepted by the British, was put into Mr. Jay’s hands. It revealed something of the general course of the French policy, such as it had been ever since M. Gérard had initiated it at Philadelphia, marking out the Eastern States, and Samuel Adams, in particular, as unreasonable in their pretensions for the fisheries, and leaning strongly to the members of the more southern States, as in harmony with France. The object of this disclosure on the part of England was to make Mr. Jay willing to surrender his objection to immediate negotiation on the terms of Oswald’s commission. Its effect was directly the reverse of this, for Mr. Jay made it the basis of the strongest representations, communicated through Mr. Vaughan to Lord Shelburne, to secure the modification which was required. It was this last view, reinforced by the written representations made before, and the verbal communication held after Mr. Vaughan’s arrival in England, which probably turned the scale in favor of the concession.
Mr. Vaughan left Paris on the 11th of September. By his own account it appears that the cabinet decision was made whilst he was in London.1 Four days before his departure, another secret agent had been dispatched from the French capital, under an assumed name, on an errand of still greater importance. This was no less a person than Gérard de Rayneval, a premier commis in the department of Count de Vergennes, a brother of M. Gérard, who had been in the same department, and had conducted the earlier negotiations with the United States, and, like him, possessed of the principles with a great share of the confidence of his chief. Of this mission, not a hint had been given by the Count either to Dr. Franklin or to Mr. Jay. The latter learned it from other persons the very day before Marbois’ intercepted letter came into his hands. The suspicions, that the two events coming so near together generated in his breast, of a design in the Count to defeat his purpose, and to persuade the British to adhere to their first commission, were natural, but they were not well founded. The construction gave much more importance to the objection, in the French view of it, than it really had. But the purpose of De Rayneval’s mission was not less important for all that. The whole truth has never yet been disclosed concerning it, nor is it certain that it ever will be. De Rayneval, under his fictitious name, called privately upon Lord Shelburne, who seems, for a time, to have kept the information of the visit secret from all his colleagues. There are reasons to suppose that some irregular interference had occurred with the ministerial policy, which had so far confirmed the French court in its suspicions of duplicity in Lord Shelburne as to justify a demand of a direct explanation.
These suspicions had grown out of the reception, through the hands of the liberated Count de Grasse, of a mysterious note, containing certain propositions, purporting to come from Lord Shelburne. The nature of this message, which has never been disclosed, seems to have excited no less surprise than the channel through which it was received. It was the business of De Rayneval to ascertain what it meant, and whether Lord Shelburne had really authorized it. In case of disavowal, his instructions were to return forthwith. But before leaving, he was at liberty to make an opening for such further communications as the minister might be disposed to make, touching his views of the proposed negotiations. Accordingly, after the disavowal, a general examination ensued of the points which should serve as a basis for a treaty, so far as France was concerned. Beyond these, when pressed to answer, he declared himself without authority to speak. For example, when Shelburne expressed a hope that France would not sustain the American claim to the fisheries, Rayneval replied that “he might venture to say, the king would never support unjust demands; that he was not able to judge whether those of the Americans were of that kind or not; and that, besides, he was without authority in this respect.” And afterwards, when Shelburne alluded, in the same way, to the American claims of boundaries, Rayneval fell back into the same guarded strain.
The natural inference of an acute statesman from the tone taken by Rayneval could scarcely be other than that perseverance against the American demands would not be objected to by France; an inference, the justice of which receives great confirmation from the fact, now well known, that Rayneval had already officially done what he could to persuade Mr. Jay to give way to Spain on one point, the southern boundary, and that he afterwards equally urged concession to Great Britain in the matter of the fisheries and the northern boundary. These were the two points in the American negotiation, the fisheries and the boundaries, in which France took pains to declare that she had no interest; the very same points, it should be recollected, which M. Gérard had labored so hard to expunge as ultimata from the original instructions given to Mr. Adams; and to which M. Marbois, in his intercepted letter, had alluded as unreasonably insisted upon in America. It may fairly be presumed, then, that one of the purposes of De Rayneval’s visit was to give the British incidentally to understand how France felt about them, without committing herself by any overt act. But with regard to the question upon which Mr. Jay had fixed his suspicions, it involved an object which had been from the first directly interesting to France. De Rayneval was not tied up so cautiously here, and he therefore urged upon the prime minister a concession in this respect to the demands of the Americans. There is no evidence to show that his action, in this point, had any effect, independent of the representations which were pressing upon Lord Shelburne from Mr. Vaughan, Mr. Oswald, and Mr. Jay. What he gained by his expedition, was the answer he was instructed to obtain, disavowing the message through De Grasse, and a more perfect apprehension of those points which might constitute the serious obstacles to a pacification. Among these, neither the American claim to the fisheries nor to the boundaries was to be ranked, so far, at least, as France had any hand in the negotiation. They were yet held in abeyance, waiting for the period when it might be necessary to deal with Spain as well as with England. In accordance with this understanding, a note was made of the English proposals, which received the sanction of the cabinet, and was then carried, by M. de Rayneval, back to Paris.
From this statement of facts, it appears that although Mr. Jay was in error in suspecting Rayneval to be charged with a commission to thwart him in his demand of the recognition of American independence, a result which had been a principal object of the war on the part of France, and which fell in with her general European policy, he was not so much mistaken in regard to the disposition, rather betrayed than expressed, upon the secondary points in the negotiation. Without uttering a single word that could be used to commit him or his government with America, M. de Rayneval had succeeded in making Lord Shelburne comprehend that France was not inclined to prolong the war by supporting America in unjust claims. What sense M. de Rayneval himself attached to the word unjust, will appear as the negotiations proceed.
This was the first of three trips made during this period by De Rayneval to England. On the other hand, Mr. Vaughan, who had been the bearer of Mr. Jay’s message to Lord Shelburne, was again on his way back to Paris, charged to continue his confidential labors with the American commissioners, and accompanied by the courier bearing Mr. Oswald’s amended commission. The obstacles to negotiation being now all removed, the parties, consisting of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Jay on one side, and Mr. Oswald on the other, prepared themselves for the task of constructing the basis of a pacification.
Of all the surprising incidents in this remarkable war, nothing now seems so difficult to account for as the mode in which Great Britain pursued her objects by negotiation. The person first selected to cope with the ablest of French diplomatists was a young man who had never had experience in public life outside of Great Britain. The individual pitched upon to deal with the United States was a respectable and amiable private gentleman, nominated at the suggestion of Dr. Franklin, with whom he was to treat, because the Doctor thought he would get along easily with him, but by no means a match for a combination of three such men as Franklin, Jay, and John Adams. In order to be upon equal terms with them, Great Britain had need of the best capacity and experience within her borders. But it was her fortune, during all this period, and, indeed, almost to the present day, to insist upon underrating the people with whom she had to do, because they had been her dependents; a mistake which has been productive of more unfortunate consequences to herself than an age of repentance can repair.
The first instance of this took place on the preparation of a basis, made out of a project suggested by Dr. Franklin whilst he was alone at Paris, to which Mr. Oswald was persuaded to give his assent so far as to send it home for the consideration of his government. This basis was formed of three propositions. The first acknowledged the independence, and defined the boundaries of the United States. The second provided for the continued use of the fisheries by the people of both countries, in the manner that had been practised before the last war between France and England. The third admitted the free navigation of the Mississippi, and placed trade on the most liberal footing of reciprocity. The United States could, in all reason, ask little more of any nation; and at bottom there was no more than, with a comprehensive view of national policy, Great Britain would have found it for her interest to grant. But neither sovereign, ministers, nor people in that country were at all prepared for what appeared to them such extravagant liberality. To avert the possibility of a similar error, a new person, fresh from the bureau of the foreign office, and experienced in business, Mr. Henry Strachey, was selected and dispatched to assist Mr. Oswald. In other words, the English position was to be fortified by a little more obstinacy. The instructions with which he was charged were to insist upon indemnity for the refugees, to narrow the line of boundaries, and to cut off the reciprocity of the fisheries and of trade.
This arrival gave another turn to the negotiation. And a new element came in to add a shade of gloom. Simultaneously with the mission of Mr. Strachey, designed to give a higher tone to the British demands, Mr. Jay held a conference with M. de Rayneval, in which it soon appeared that so far from retaining the inability to judge of the merits of the American demands, which he had professed in the conference a short month before with Lord Shelburne, he had no scruples in expressing his positive opinion that they were ill founded and should be materially curtailed. If “ill founded,” of course they were “unjust.” This related to both the questions, that on the fisheries as well as that on the boundaries. And with regard to the latter, his arguments, which had on a former occasion been applied to restrict them on the south and west, were now directed, in the same spirit, towards the north and east. Inasmuch as M. de Rayneval was well understood to be possessed of the entire confidence of Count de Vergennes, extending, as it proved, even to the intrusting him with the successive missions to Great Britain, each of them vitally important to the pacification, it is not to be wondered at, if Mr. Jay drew some inferences of his own as to the nature of the advice which the head of the department would give, in the contingency of the Americans being obliged to ask it for their government, in the negotiation.
It was precisely at this moment that Mr. Adams, having completed his business in Holland, arrived to take his place in the commission. His advent seems to have been viewed with equal uneasiness by the agents of England and of France. Mr. Vaughan had been imploring his principal to make haste in order “to get out of the reach of interruption from Mr. Adams.” For he was not softened, like Franklin, by English connections or conversation,1 and he was “very warm and ambitious,” so that Mr. Vaughan would not answer for the mischief he might do, if there should be a delay. On the other hand, M. de Rayneval, in alluding to the fisheries, had freely expressed to Mr. Jay his fears of “the ambition and restless views of Mr. Adams.” The coincidence of this sentiment with that expressed in the letter of Marbois of the temper of Samuel Adams, must not be overlooked in this connection. The probability is that both the Adamses were classed, in the French mind, under the same head, as their policy had been identical. On the other hand, Mr. Adams felt, on his arrival, the most profound anxiety respecting his own position. He stood between two colleagues in the commission, with neither of whom he had heretofore entirely sympathized. He had concurred as little with the views of domestic policy held in congress by Mr. Jay, as with the foreign system adopted by Dr. Franklin. His most secret feelings are portrayed in his “Diary” for the 27th of October. He already knew that the two were not agreed upon the course proper now to be taken, and that in taking a side one way or the other, he should be assuming the responsibility of the action that would follow; but he had yet no means to ascertain how far the conclusion arrived at might be one to which he should be ready to give a hearty and cordial support.
An occasion for determining this point was at hand. The instructions of congress, given to the American commissioners under the instigation of the French court, were absolute and imperative, “to undertake nothing without the knowledge and concurrence of that court, and ultimately to govern themselves by their advice and opinion.” These orders, transmitted at the time of the enlargement of the commission, had just been reinforced by assurances given to quiet the uneasiness created in France by the British overtures through Governor Carleton. Thus far, although the commissioners had felt them to be derogatory to the honor of their country, as well as to their own character as its representatives, there had been no necessity for action either under or against them. But now that matters were coming to the point of a serious negotiation, and the secondary questions of interest to America were to be determined, especially those to which France had shown herself indifferent, not to say adverse, it seemed as if no chance remained of escaping a decision. Mr. Jay, jealous of the mission of De Rayneval, of which not a hint had been dropped by the French court, suspicious of its good faith from the disclosures of the remarkable dispatch of Marbois, and fearful of any advice like that of which he had received a foretaste through M. de Rayneval, at the same time provoked that the confidence expected should be all on one side, the Count communicating nothing of the separate French negotiation, came to the conclusion that the interests of America were safest when retained in American hands. He therefore declared himself in favor of going on to treat with Great Britain, without consulting the French court. Dr. Franklin, on the other hand, expressing his confidence in that court, secured by his sense of the steady reception of benefits by his country, signified his willingness to abide by the instructions he had received. Yet it is a singular fact, but lately disclosed, that, notwithstanding this general feeling, which was doubtless sincerely entertained, Dr. Franklin had been the first person to violate those instructions, at the very inception of the negotiations, by proposing to Lord Shelburne the cession of Canada, and covering his proposal with an earnest injunction to keep it secret from France, because of his belief that she was adverse to the measure.1 A similar secret and confidential communication he promised to make to Thomas Grenville, until diverted from his purpose, as Grenville inferred, by the interposition of Oswald in the negotiation. Oswald himself, so early as the 11th of July, had reported to Lord Shelburne Franklin’s desire to treat and end with Great Britain on a separate footing from the other powers. From all this evidence it may fairly be inferred that, whatever Franklin might have been disposed to believe of the French court, his instincts were too strong to enable him to trust them implicitly with the care of interests purely American.
And, in this, there can be no reasonable cause for doubt that he was right. The more full the disclosures have been of the French policy from their confidential papers, the more do they show Count de Vergennes assailing England in America, with quite as fixed a purpose as ever Chatham had to conquer America in Germany. Mr. Adams had no doubt of it. He had never seen any signs of a disposition to aid the United States from affection or sympathy. On the contrary, he had perceived their cause everywhere made subordinate to the general considerations of continental politics. Perhaps his impressions at some moments carried him even further, and led him to suspect in the Count a positive desire to check and depress America. In this he fell into the natural mistake of exaggerating the importance of his own country. In the great game of nations which was now playing at Paris under the practised eye of France’s chief, (for Count de Maurepas was no longer living,) the United States probably held a relative position, in his mind, not higher than that of a pawn, or possibly a knight, on a chess table. Whilst his attention was absorbed in arranging the combinations of several powers, it necessarily followed that he had not the time to devote to any one, which its special representative might imagine to be its due. But even this hypothesis was to Mr. Adams justification quite sufficient for declining to submit the interests of his country implicitly to the Count’s control. If not so material in the Count’s eyes, the greater the necessity of keeping them in his own care. He therefore seized the first opportunity to announce to his colleagues his preference for the views of Mr. Jay. After some little reflection, Dr. Franklin signified his acquiescence in this decision. His objections to it had doubtless been increased by the peculiar relations he had previously sustained to the French court, and by a very proper desire to be released from the responsibility of what might from him be regarded as a discourteous act. No such delicacy was called for on the part of the other commissioners. Neither does it appear that Count de Vergennes manifested a sign of discontent with them at the time. He saw that little confidence was placed in him, but he does not seem to have made the slightest effort to change the decision or even to get an explanation of it. The truth is, that the course thus taken had its conveniences for him, provided only that the good faith of the American negotiators, not to make a separate peace, could be depended upon. Neither did he ever affect to complain of it, excepting at one particular moment when he thought he had cause for apprehending that the support he relied on might fail.
This important preliminary having been thus settled, nothing remained but to come to an understanding at once with Great Britain upon the points already made. These were simple enough. The boundaries, the fisheries, the recovery of British debts, and some provision for the refugees, made up the whole. Mr. Strachey, who had been sent from England for the purpose of stiffening the easy nature of Mr. Oswald, succeeded only in infusing into the conferences all the asperity which they ever betrayed. It does not fall within the scope of this work to follow up the narrative of the negotiation further than is necessary to elucidate the precise share of it belonging to Mr. Adams. Down to this time his interposition had been effective in two particulars; first, as to the precise shape of Mr. Oswald’s commission, upon which the negotiation was opened; secondly, as to the assumption of the responsibility of proceeding without consultation with France. The articles, upon which to treat as a basis, had been agreed upon before his arrival. They were entirely satisfactory to him, so that he entered into the treaty only at that stage in which Mr. Strachey appeared, demanding adverse modifications for the British cabinet. No moment could have been more happily chosen for reinforcing the arguments already presented by Dr. Franklin and Mr. Jay. Upon the question of the northern and eastern boundary, which the British were attempting to push back to the Penobscot, he came fully prepared with materials especially confided to him by his own State of Massachusetts, intended to establish her rights as far as the St. Croix and the highlands, the ancient bounds of Nova Scotia.1 In the matter of the claims of indemnity, he suggested the very proper concession of acknowledging the just debts contracted before the Revolution, and opening the American courts to the full recovery of them, which furnished the British government some grounds at home for concluding the treaty, without which it is doubtful whether they could have ventured on it at all.
The third and the most delicate point was that relating to the fisheries. It was here, and here alone, that there was any appearance of a conflict of interests with France, which was likewise negotiating with Great Britain on that subject; and it was here that was shown the greatest reluctance to concede any thing to America. On this point the two other commissioners had been tenacious, without making it a vital element of the treaty. Mr. Adams insisted upon an acknowledgment of the right of fishery as indispensable to the durability of any compact that could be made. After a succession of elaborate conferences and mutual propositions, a new set of articles was finally prepared, and sent, by the hands of Mr. Strachey, to England, for the approbation of the cabinet. But so little were they to the taste of that gentleman, that he left behind him a note for the American commissioners, intimating, in a manner not the most courteous, that unless they should immediately reconsider their denial of indemnity to the refugees, and furnish him with the evidence of it before he got to London, little prospect remained of a favorable result from his journey. But neither conciliation nor menaces could avail to shake them from the position which Dr. Franklin had been the most strenuous in assuming. They replied, but not in the way Mr. Strachey desired. The letter and the mode of action both bear the characteristic marks of Dr. Franklin. The real answer, addressed to Mr. Oswald, although firm in its refusal, abounded in terms of kindness and conciliation to him, which were made the more emphatic by contrast with the cold ceremonious note to Mr. Strachey, inclosing the paper for his information.
This was on the 6th of November. It was the 25th before the gentleman returned. In the meanwhile the indefatigable Vaughan, not content with writing to Lord Shelburne a series of letters, urging, with great good sense and solid statesmanship, the expediency of yielding a little more on the disputed points, acceded to the desires of the Americans, and once more crossed the channel to reinforce his representations by personal conference. He had seen the unfortunate effect of the interposition of Mr. Strachey at Paris, and dreading the consequences, in widening the breach, of the report that gentleman was likely to make, he left Paris on the 17th, with the hope of counteracting it. Before he reached London, however, the cabinet had decided upon their course, which was to persevere on the main points, but not to break off the negotiation in case the Americans should remain firm. After a confidential interview with Shelburne, in which he was made acquainted with his views, Mr. Vaughan once more followed Strachey back to Paris, arriving there three days after him, and two days before the decisive conference on the 29th of November.
Later disclosures of the secret influences operating upon the prime minister’s position, at this time, sufficiently explain the reasons of his course. A peace had become a matter of necessity. No other escape from the difficulties with which he was surrounded, seemed to present itself. On the one side was the condition of Ireland, and the urgency of the Marquis of Buckingham, then the Lord Lieutenant, that something should be done to redeem his engagements to that country;1 on the other, the ill-reconciled assemblage within the cabinet, all its members equally feeling that the king himself was scarcely to be depended on from day to day. It may be doubted whether a more distracted state of things ever existed in the councils of that country. And to lead out of the confusion, no clue was so tangible as a peace. It is however doing no more than justice to Lord Shelburne to add that his judgment and his line of policy led him the same way. He felt, and justly felt, that a further perseverance in the war was idle. In comparison with the object of peace, the concession required was insignificant, and no sacrifice was made by it, excepting one of pride. But to the American commissioners, little informed of the true state of things in London, the interval of Mr. Strachey’s absence had been one of no little anxiety. No better evidence of this can be supplied than that of Mr. Adams in his “Diary.” It must have been then a moment of great interest to them, when they learned that the expected answer had arrived.
The conferences were resumed on the 25th of November, and Mr. Strachey appeared once more. His tone was apparently but little changed. The ministry, he said, continued dissatisfied with the refusal of a provision for the Tories, and they required modifications of the article on the fisheries. On the boundaries alone were they disposed to concede. But discouraging as this announcement seemed, it was actually more than compensated by the introduction of Mr. Fitzherbert, to whom the negotiation with France had already been intrusted, as an assistant to Mr. Oswald. The discussions which ensued for the next four days, were long, animated, and often vehement. The great struggle was upon the fisheries. Great Britain was willing to concede the use on the high seas as a privilege, whilst she denied it altogether within its three miles’ jurisdiction on the coasts. America, on the other hand, claimed the former as a right, and asked for the privilege of the latter. Here was the place at which Mr. Adams assumed the greatest share of responsibility in the negotiation. He insisted upon placing the two countries exactly on a level in regard to the right to the fishery, a claim, the justice of which few, at this day, would be found to dispute. The energy and effect of his representations, on this point, are so well shown in his “Diary” as to render it unnecessary to dwell further on them here.1 He further claimed for his countrymen a liberty to cure and dry fish on the unsettled regions of British America, and a privilege of the same kind in the settled parts, with the consent of the proprietors.
These propositions he put in writing in a paper which, on the 29th, he proposed to the conference as an article to be inserted in the treaty. The paper was then subjected to a critical examination, in the course of which many alterations and some limitations were agreed to, but the substance remained unchanged. It was at this stage that the British commissioners made their last demonstration. Mr. Strachey proposed that the word “right,” in its connection with the entire fishery, should be changed into “liberty.” And Mr. Fitzherbert sustained the movement by remarking that “right” was an obnoxious expression. The suggestion seems to have fired Mr. Adams, and immediately he burst into an earnest and overwhelming defence of the term he had chosen. The British commissioners, not prepared to resist the argument, proposed to sign the preliminaries, leaving this question to be adjusted at the definitive treaty. But neither would Mr. Adams consent to this. He rose, and with the concentrated power which he possessed when excited, declared that when first commissioned as a negotiator with Great Britain, his country had ordered him to make no peace without a clear acknowledgment of the right to the fishery, and by that direction he would stand. No preliminaries should have his signature without it. And here he appealed, with some adroitness, to Mr. Laurens, who had just taken his place in the commission, and who happened to have been president of congress at the time when that first commission was given. Mr. Laurens had likewise been in sympathy with the original movement that produced the commission, so that he readily responded to the call, and seconded the position with characteristic warmth. And Mr. Jay, without committing himself to an equal extent, virtually threw his weight into the scale.
This act was the assumption of another prodigious responsibility. For the powers to treat on commerce, in which the instructions referred to were inserted, had in the interval been revoked by congress, and the right to the fisheries, although adhered to in argument, had been abandoned as an ultimatum. But Mr. Adams, knowing that these things had been gained from congress by the importunity of the French ministry, and feeling in the depths of his soul a conviction that his country’s interests were safest under his guardianship, ventured to risk a direct appeal to the British commissioners to concede this point rather than put at hazard the reconciliation. The stroke proved decisive. The term of persistence, dictated to the British by their government, had been reached; and after consultation, they announced their readiness to abide by Mr. Adams’s article as it stood. Such a victory is not often recorded in the annals of diplomacy.
That the effect thus produced by Mr. Adams was not entirely the result of his action at the last conference, but had been gradually forming in the course of his conversations with the British commissioners, and especially with Mr. Oswald, is proved by the evidence of that gentleman himself in a remarkable paper which he seems to have drawn up for the use of Mr. Strachey in case any justification of the concession should be necessary at home. It is in the form of a postscript to a letter, dated the 8th of January, 1783, explanatory of the mode of conducting the Newfoundland fishery. This paper, as illustrating the conduct of Mr. Adams, on this subject, from a British point of view, is so material as to merit insertion here entire.
“I will next add what was settled as to what passed with the American commissioners, particularly Mr. Adams, (the New England member,) when we came to treat of this article, and to propose keeping off the Americans to a distance from the shore, in the prosecution of their fishery, as well as drying their fish on the coast of Newfoundland.
“I had sundry conversations with this gentleman on the subject before you came over the last time; when his language was as follows:—
“That the fishery was their all, their bread. That other States had staples of production; they had none but what they raised out of the sea; that they had enjoyed a freedom of fishing time out of mind, and their people would never part with it; that in depriving them of the privilege in question, we should strike a deeper stroke into their vitals, than any, perhaps, they had suffered since the war commenced. That our refusal was unfriendly, ungenerous, insidious, since we could not come out in time to overtake them; and when we did come, we could not miss them, there being fish enough for all nations, during the whole time we chose to seek for them. But that we grudged that they should avail themselves of the natural conveniency of their situation, only to prevent our (the British) getting somewhat less for that part which it was convenient for us to undertake. That we made no difficulty in accommodating the French in this matter, which of itself would make their people more sensibly feel the effect of the exclusion. That his constituents were alarmed, and particularly attentive to this question; and sent him instructions that would by no means allow of his signing any treaty in which this privilege should be excepted.1 That he would never sign any such treaty; that if he were to do so, he should consider it as signing a declaration of perpetual war between England and America. That if things were to come to the worst, their States would support that war of themselves, without the help of France or any other nation. That if we lost somewhat in the sales of our fish by their interfering with us, it would, in part, be made up in the sale of our (British) manufactures, since the more money they had for their fish, the more they would buy of these manufactures.
“These observations passed (as I have said) at different times in conversation with him, (Mr. Adams,) some part of which he also mentioned in your hearing.
“And you will remember the other commissioners were equally stiff in refusing to proceed in the treaty, while we proposed to deprive their people of the coast or inshore fishery.
“And also that one of these gentlemen said, that if we insisted on keeping their people at a distance of three leagues from our shores, we could not complain if they also forbad our ships from coming within the like distance of the coasts of the thirteen provinces.
“With respect to drying their fish, the same gentleman said he thought, if we would not allow of their landing upon the unsettled parts of our shore, at a certain season in the year, they would justly deny us the same privilege in all parts of their country.
“Another of these commissioners (who had all along expressed himself with great resentment at their people being thus unfavorably distinguished from the French) declared that it was a matter of indifference to them as to what prohibitions we should put their people under, since they would easily make reprisals in another way to their advantage, by an act of navigation, that should exclude English ships forever from any participation in the American trade, either inwards or outwards.1
“In answer to all these arguments, (some of which, I have said, passed in your hearing,) you will remember, we had not much to oppose. We did not think it proper to insist on the right of the sovereignty of the coast; nor to say any thing as to how such a grant would affect the treaty with France; and, upon the whole, were confined to the single object of preventing quarrels among the fishermen, as the supposed consequence of allowing the Americans to come within three leagues of the shore of Newfoundland and other places.
“In answer to which Mr. Adams said, that he made little account of squabbles among fishermen, which were soon made up. But that quarrels between States were not so easily settled. And which were most likely to happen, since, when we came to send out men-of-war to watch in those seas, so as to keep their ships to the precise distance of three leagues (and which stations they must take in the earliest season in the spring) disputes might arise and men would be killed; and redress could be had only by appeals to government of either side. And, in the end, would be attended with such unpleasant consequences that he should be sorry it should ever happen. And would therefore advise, that we should overlook the loss we apprehended by their interference in the early part of the fishery, and end the matter so as that people should not be put in mind, on all occasions, that they were not Englishmen.
“The above is the substance of what the American commissioners said, at different times, upon the unpleasant subject of this intended exclusion, and as near their words as I can remember. I had put them in writing, from time to time, as they occurred in my conversation with the commissioners; and when you (Mr. Strachey) came over and showed me the altered plan of the treaty, and how the article was guarded in all the instructions and letters, I own I despaired of any settlement with America before the meeting of parliament. But there being, happily, a discretionary power, as well regarding the extent as the manner of dispensing with this article, in your instructions, I used the freedom of pointing it out, and insisting on it. And you, very properly, (as well as Mr. Fitzherbert,) took the benefit of it, and gave your consent to my signing the treaty. To which, if there is still any objection, I must take my share of the blame, as I took the liberty of mentioning to the secretary of state, in the letter which I troubled you with upon your return to London.
“If your wishing for this paper is to answer some purpose in parliament, in case of challenge on this head, you can judge what parts will be suitable to be brought under public review. Perhaps not many. The best general one is, that, without giving way in this particular, there would have been no provisional articles. That is very certain.”
The right to the fisheries, considered as a resource for the subsistence of the people of New England, has gradually lost its importance in the progress of time. But whether it be regarded as an attribute of sovereignty indispensable to the completeness of the independence of a nation bordering on the great oceans of the globe, or as a school of discipline for a maritime people, the estimate of it remains undiminished down to this day. The prediction made by Mr. Adams, that so long as there should remain an opening for a question of the exercise of this right, just so long would there be danger of a renewal of the conflict with Great Britain, has been verified by later events. But it has only been within a very late period that the good sense and practical wisdom of both nations, stimulated by the increasing danger of collisions between them, have so far overcome the illiberal theories of the last century, as to sweep away all remnants of exclusiveness in the enjoyment of what was evidently designed by Providence as the reward of enterprise alone. Proximity is an advantage of which the subjects of Great Britain enjoy their full share, and on neither side can it be a just cause of complaint. The good use that may be made of it should depend upon the skill and adventure of those who choose to try this field of exertion, and not upon mere claims of exclusive property, resting upon no permanent foundation whatever.
One other obstacle had been in the way, the more difficult to remove, that it rested on a point of honor in the British heart. Those individuals who had taken the side of the mother country in the colonies, and who, for doing so, had been subjected to the mortification, disasters, and personal losses consequent upon a failure to reëstablish her authority, naturally looked to her to protect their rights, in any and every attempt that might be made at accommodation. And this was a valid claim on her, in spite of the fact that the difficulties into which the mother country had fallen, were mainly owing to the interested misrepresentations made by leading persons of this class in America. On this point, the instructions to obtain an acknowledgment of their claims to indemnity, had been most positive. But the American commissioners, on their side, well knowing the impossibility of reconciling their countrymen to the acknowledgment of such odious pretensions, and little disposed themselves to recognize their validity, manifested no inclination to concede any thing beyond what the strict rule of justice would demand. Here Dr. Franklin took the lead; finding that the British were about to urge their views on this subject and the fisheries together, he prepared an article, making, by way of set-off, a counter-claim of compensation for the severe and not infrequently wanton injuries inflicted upon the patriots by the British troops. Neither did this lose force by its reference to the voluntary acts of those very adherents to the British cause, whose pretensions were set up for consideration. The fact that this contest had, in many of its parts, been marked with the most painful characteristics of civil convulsion, in the course of which the parties had suffered shocking outrages from each other, was too well known to be denied. And the wounds were too fresh to permit the supposition that the victorious side would be prepared at once to replace in their former position those of their brethren, who had not only forfeited their confidence by joining the oppressor, but had been guilty of the greatest barbarities in conducting the struggle. The earnest and strenuous resistance of Dr. Franklin, reinforced by the representations of the other commissioners, at last produced an effect in convincing the British envoys that further urgency in their behalf was useless. To prolong the war a single day only for their sakes, without prospect of a better result, was obviously a waste of means which might be better employed in supplying the very remuneration which was now in agitation. The good sense of Mr. Fitzherbert, confirming that of Mr. Oswald, prevailed, and this troublesome discussion was finally terminated by the preparation of two articles, to which all agreed, providing that further hostility to the Tories should cease, and that congress should earnestly recommend to the States the restitution of their estates to such persons as could be proved to be real British subjects, and such Americans as had not borne arms against the United States.
The difficulties, on both sides, being thus finally removed, the negotiators on the 30th of November, 1782, signed their names to the preliminary articles of a peace. These were made contingent upon the general pacification, the negotiations for which were now in full activity between the three great powers, but they were signed without the knowledge of the French court. They were, however, communicated to the Count de Vergennes immediately after the signature, who then manifested no dissatisfaction to the commissioners,1 but, on the contrary, commended their management, and signified his opinion that the greatest difficulty in the way of a general peace, the acknowledgment of American Independence, was now removed. Fifteen days elapsed, and his tone had undergone a very great change. He then addressed to Dr. Franklin, who had announced his intention to dispatch immediately to the United States a vessel with the interesting intelligence, and had offered to him the use of the same opportunity, an indignant remonstrance against the proceeding, as a breach of the agreement between the two countries. He particularly complained that the commissioners had been in such haste to send home an account of their own acts, before assuring themselves of the conclusion of the French negotiation.
Two circumstances are particularly deserving of notice here. One, that so many days had been suffered to elapse before any cause of dissatisfaction was intimated; the other, that a complaint should have been made of the commissioners for not informing themselves of the state of a negotiation, no part of which was voluntarily communicated to them whilst it was going on. Of the details of their own proceedings, Count de Vergennes had been kept informed unofficially even by Mr. Adams himself, to whom he had expressed opinions favorable to the British pretensions on the great points of difficulty, but he seems never to have inclined to reciprocate any part of the confidence. Some explanation is then necessary for the altered language of the note of the 15th of December. It is, perhaps, to be found in a knowledge of the secret influences which had, in the interval, suddenly thrown a cloud over the pacification, and roused, in their full force, all the apprehensions entertained from the outset by the French minister of a reconciliation between Britain and America to be effected at the expense of the isolation of France.
As in the beginning, so throughout, to conciliate the intractable temper of Spain had made a cardinal point of the Count’s policy. Her loudest outcry was for Gibraltar, without gratification in which she was very likely to stretch her pretensions over the southern borders of the United States and into the Mediterranean, a proceeding which would tend materially to complicate the chances of a pacification. Nor yet did she abstain from threatening that if France did not gain it for her, she would give her the British for neighbors by ceding the Spanish part of St. Domingo to them as the purchase-money. But Gibraltar, even though Shelburne himself appeared not indisposed to yield it, was so fastened into the prejudices and pride of the British nation, that the good sense of Count de Vergennes early saw the futility of calculating upon its surrender. The only alternative was, to devise some exchange of equivalents between the three powers, with which Spain might be consoled for her disappointment. The mode of doing this had been entrusted to the confidential agency, once more, of the secretary, De Rayneval, who, with the son of De Vergennes and a Spanish secretary, had gone to London for the purpose of more speedily bringing it to a conclusion. It was just at the nick of time, when every thing seemed likely to be arranged, and when, after concessions wrung from all sides, the Count d’Aranda had assumed the responsibility of accepting the Floridas for Spain, that the news came of the signature of the preliminaries by the Americans. For a moment there was chaos in the British cabinet. The remainder of the Rockingham Whigs, headed by the Duke of Richmond, anxious to find an excuse for a breach with Lord Shelburne, which would send them back to their old associates, seized this opportunity to declare their opposition to closing with France; and the idea was started, either by them or, what is more likely, by the king’s peculiar friends, of the possibility, in conjunction with the United States, of continuing the war with her.
This it was which roused the suspicions in the minds of the French,1 that the American commissioners might have precipitated a signature of their preliminaries with the view of facilitating such a combination. Hence the sudden change in the language of De Vergennes, perhaps quickened by his sense of the existence of a party in the French cabinet exerting itself to defeat his policy, and thus effect his own fall. There was, however, not a shadow of foundation for any calculations of the kind; a fact which Lord Shelburne and Thomas Townshend, the secretary, knew too certainly to be in the least moved by the flurry among their colleagues. The former had been regularly and industriously supplied by his private agent, Mr. Vaughan, with such minute information respecting the thoughts and feelings of the American commissioners, as to preclude all doubt in his mind of their fixed intention to abide by the alliance with France. His convictions were finally wrung from him in parliament, in his admission that the signature of the preliminaries with America would have been of no effect, unaccompanied by a peace with France. It was impossible to overcome the weight of this evidence; so the cabinet and the nation relapsed into a sullen acquiescence in the march of the general pacification. And with the removal of this obstacle, the alarm of Count de Vergennes became quieted, so that nothing further was heard from him concerning the matter. Not four weeks elapsed from the date of his remonstrance, before he and Mr. Fitzherbert set their hands and seals to the preliminaries of a treaty, which, in conjunction with a similar agreement with Spain, executed at the same time, gave full force to the American articles, and thus put an end to any further doubt that the time had at last arrived when the United States were, by common consent, to be enrolled in the list of the principalities of the earth.
Count de Vergennes had taken advantage of Dr. Franklin’s civility in offering to transmit his dispatches to America with his own, to send to M. de la Luzerne instructions to express to congress the displeasure of France with the separate action of their commissioners. This once more revived, though in a very qualified form, the party conflicts of the earlier period of the commission. The clause of the instructions, which directed them to be governed by the opinion and advice of the French minister, had not been the offspring of any spontaneous popular sentiment. It sprang from the distrust Count de Vergennes felt of his ability to control Mr. Adams, and the suspicions he entertained of his disposition to treat separately with Britain. This had prompted the instructions to Luzerne, which had extorted from a reluctant majority in congress the revocation of the powers to negotiate a treaty of commerce, the addition of four other persons in the commission for the peace, the retraction of all ultimata except independence, and last of all, this substitution of the dubious good-will of a minister of a European power in the place of the discretion, the wisdom, and the integrity of some of the noblest men whom the great struggle had produced. The manner by which this last act was brought about, has been already explained. It had never been heartily concurred in. At two several periods, efforts had been made to rescind it, which were defeated only by the feeblest considerations of sectional jealousy,1 and the private remonstrances of the emissaries of France. Hence, when the complaint of the violation of this instruction by the commissioners came at the same time with the news that preliminaries had been actually signed, it met with little real disposition in congress to respond to it. Those who had voted for it well knew that their act itself, if called into question, would have needed more explanation and defence before the people of the States than they were prepared to give, especially in the face of the fact, which the commissioners had to present, that the great objects of the war had all been gained in spite of it. They were, therefore, content to let the matter subside as quietly as a decent regard to the source of the application would permit.
The odious restriction had been received by Mr. Jay and Mr. Adams with the most painful and indignant sensations. The latter, who got the intelligence just on the eve of his entrance into the negotiation, was impelled by it at once to address to Secretary Livingston a letter, resigning all his employments in Europe. A few hours of reflection, however, sufficed to show him the folly of such precipitation. If the issue should prove that there was a disposition on the part of France to surrender any important interests of his country, his resignation would only remove one more barrier to the execution of the plan. If, on the other hand, no such disposition should prevail, there was no occasion of apprehending difficulty from the instructions. Besides, such an act, on his part, at such a critical moment, had too much the appearance of deserting a post of the highest responsibility, which his experience in Europe had fitted him to occupy much better than any new man could. Reasoning thus, he omitted from the official copy of his dispatch2 the record of his hasty determination, and made up his mind to act without fear of consequences, regulated by this instruction only so far as it should go hand in hand with his duty to protect his country. The responsibility was one from which nothing but a successful issue could redeem his reputation; but it was one, the assumption of which was entirely in harmony with the general spirit of his public life. He had done the same thing in the winter of 1775, when independence first came in question; and again in Holland, when he pressed for a categorical answer to his demand of recognition. He now felt his stake in the fortunes of his country to be incomparably greater than that of any representative of France, and therefore that the care of these should take precedence of every other consideration.
Entering with such feelings into the negotiation, the intercepted dispatch of Marbois was put into his hands at the same time that he heard of De Rayneval’s mission to England, secretly undertaken by the French Court for purposes in no way hinted at to the Americans. Surely, these were not indications of a kind to establish confidence already impaired, or to show a willingness on the part of France to make common cause of American interests. They were of so decided a kind as to impose great caution in proceeding, as a positive duty. Neither was the tone of her official agents, on either side of the water, upon every question at issue in the negotiation on the part of America, calculated to reassure him. It was decidedly against her on the subject of the cession of Canada, a favorite object with Dr. Franklin and the Northern States. The reason is now disclosed to have been a desire to keep Great Britain as a check upon the United States in that quarter.1 It was against her on the navigation of the Mississippi, equally a favorite object of the Southern States. The motive on this side was to keep open a mode of conciliating Spain. It was against her on the fisheries, the objection being there alone a rivalry of interests. And it was against her on the principle of refusing indemnity to the refugees, because that was viewed as a reasonable concession to Great Britain. These constituted the whole of the secondary questions involved in the negotiation. The vital one, of the recognition of independence, was the only thing in which the policy of the two nations exactly coincided. That, under this concurrence of circumstances, the American commissioners were entirely right in maintaining their freedom of action; that, in doing so, they redeemed the dignity of their country in the eyes of all Europe, then inclining to speculate upon its future influence as a make-weight in the scale of France, would seem to be scarcely susceptible of a doubt. Still less can it be questioned that they did wisely in thus acting, if merely considered as a question of policy. For they at once withdrew the interests of their country from the common stock of equivalents, liable to be used like counters to equalize the bargains of the general negotiation. And by saving the pride of the British government, they induced them to offer far easier terms of reconciliation than would have been obtained, had they been passed under the patronage of their most formidable enemy.
The precise character of the policy of the French cabinet in the American Revolution was viewed very differently by different persons at the time, and has of late been once more opened to extended discussion. All the evidence necessary fully to determine it has not yet been submitted to the public eye. But enough has been disclosed to form grounds for a tolerably clear judgment. The memoirs of De Vergennes and Turgot, first sketching out a line of policy for France, and looking at the contest exclusively in the light of its effect upon the power of Great Britain, the confidential dispatches of the former to his envoy in Spain, the policy marked out for M. Gérard, the first minister to the United States, and the way it was executed, as disclosed by the possessor of the papers of that gentleman, and lastly the course of M. Marbois, the real, though not the ostensible, minister to succeed M. Gérard, all, taken together, display a great uniformity from first to last. The intercepted dispatch of Marbois was only an exposition, in terms not guarded against the possibility of exposure, of the same spirit which had animated the policy of M. Gérard. It viewed parties and men in America in exactly the same light in which Gérard had taught his court to see them. It echoed the language of De Rayneval, the brother of M. Gérard, and the man proclaimed by De Vergennes himself1 as of all men the most thoroughly possessed of his principles of action, and the most relied on in executing them. It is by no means to be regarded as an accidental and volunteer effusion of an eccentric individual. Such an idea is not to be reconciled either with the earlier or the subsequent career of Marbois. Brought up in the schools of diplomacy, he had served Count de Vergennes with skill and success in various posts at the smaller German courts. From Bavaria, where he had been of great service in a critical moment, he had been transferred to the United States to act an equally responsible part. A man passing through such a training, and acting under a prescribed form of instructions, would scarcely be likely to address to his principal any views based on important principles not in accordance with the general line of policy that had been marked out for him. And if he were, he would not put himself by it in a way to be kept much longer employed. Yet it has been alleged that in this letter Marbois had no countenance from the Count de Vergennes, and the language of the latter, excusing it, is quoted in corroboration of this idea. But it is rather a significant proof to the contrary, that the Count not only did not disavow it, but in no way withdrew his favor on account of it. He only said that “the opinion of M. Marbois was not necessarily that of the king,” a fact which nobody would be wild enough to deny, and further, “that the views indicated in that dispatch had not been followed,” a result which might well have been owing to other causes than a disposition to find fault with him for holding them.2
Nor yet does the case rest upon the single intercepted dispatch. For Mr. Livingston, whilst foreign secretary, and himself ever disposed to the most favorable construction of the French policy, admits that the views indicated in that dispatch, were in perfect agreement with all of the writer’s public language and action whilst he was in Philadelphia. On the other hand, Mr. Adams affirms that they were by no means the views which Marbois, in private conversations during the passage to America, which they took together in the frigate Sensible, had developed to him. To suppose, then, that he would change those views after he got to America, and when placed in a higher post of responsibility, with the knowledge that the change must put him either in opposition to, or at variance with the opinions prevailing at Versailles, is utterly contrary to all the principles which have ever been understood to regulate the diplomatic movements of modern European courts. That the views indicated were not actually followed, was owing far more to the turn given by the commissioners of America to the negotiations than to any other cause. For there can be no doubt that if the British had persisted in demanding a greater sacrifice of American interests, in a negotiation carried on with the privity of France, and a peace had depended upon the decision, the advice of Count de Vergennes would have been on the side of sacrifice.
Yet this minister’s policy, though by no means deserving of the praise which some Americans, in the enthusiasm of their gratitude to the people of France, a very different body from the cabinet, have been disposed to extend to it; though designed neither to uphold great general ideas, nor to befriend the struggling Americans for their sakes alone, may, when tried by the ordinary standard of European diplomacy, merit to be considered both liberal and comprehensive. Liberal, in its freedom from minor considerations of selfish advantages to be wrung from the necessities of America; comprehensive, in its aim to restore the power of France, so seriously impaired by the disasters and calamities of the preceding war. The incidental consequences, which befell that country from this triumph, in the accumulation of a crushing debt, and in the introduction of a new and potent form of opinion, were not to be foreseen. Count de Vergennes lived long enough to become profoundly alarmed by the progress that the new nation, which he had helped into being, was making.1 Neither the internal dissensions, nor the external vices, upon the detrimental effects of which he had relied at the outset, proved sufficient to keep down the energies set in motion by the new principle of liberty. The instructions of his successor, Count de Montmorin, to his agents, were to avoid giving more strength to America. On Montmorin he devolved the penalty for his own temporary triumph. He was safe in his grave when the avalanche came down upon his disciple inflicting such a dreadful death. With him departed the brilliant era of Louis the Sixteenth’s reign. He is the only minister of that nation, during his time, whose career was untinged with a shade of misfortune. His name will always stand, if not among the list of the great in genius or in learning, at least with those of the most wary and skilful steersmen through the difficult navigation of European diplomacy. Considered in the more restricted attitude of a French statesman, he is entitled to peculiar praise. Neither does his American policy deserve to be denominated, as it often is by his countrymen, a great mistake. The severance of Great Britain was indispensable to the maintenance of France as a power of the first class in the present century. He foresaw the danger from an empire which would have controlled all the oceans of the globe, and had the ready energy to seize the happy moment for dividing it forever. And his decision set forward the change which has since been and is yet, slowly but certainly, passing over the face of the world.
But if the statesmanship of De Vergennes merits a share of commendation, it is to be awarded to one trained by a discipline of more than half a century to unweave all the tangled threads of the foreign relations of France, the central nation of Europe. Not so with the American commissioners. To them diplomacy, as a science, was, up to the date when they were called to act as representatives of a new power among the nations, utterly unknown. Yet, although destined to meet many of the ablest men then flourishing in Europe, no one can follow the course of their proceedings without receiving a vivid impression of the great and varied abilities displayed by them in every situation in which they were placed. Notwithstanding the differences of sentiment, having their sources deep down in the peculiarities of their minds and hearts, they appear to have put them all out of sight in every case involving the interests of their common country. Of the purity of their patriotism there cannot be a shadow of a doubt. If each of them found a different field for its exercise, it was only the better to sustain the conclusion to which he arrived with the strength of all. The unity of action thus obtained, did not fail of its effect upon the British agents who were successively sent out to deal with them. Upon every point, on which there was a probability of dispute, they were prepared to reason far more vigorously than those whom they were deputed to meet. And in no case did they manifest more of tact and talent than in that for which they have been sometimes subject to censure. They succeeded in maintaining their own independence without furnishing the least opening for complaint of want of good faith to their ally. Even of Mr. Adams, little as he had cause to be satisfied with the treatment he had previously met with from Count de Vergennes, it was remarked by Mr. Vaughan, in a letter to Lord Shelburne, that nothing could be expected from him, friendly to Great Britain, which was to be obtained at the expense of the alliance with France. As he afterwards significantly remarked, in reply to the rather indiscreet outgiving of George the Third, he had no attachment but to his own country. This was the ruling principle of his foreign policy, not merely during this period, but throughout his life; and it was maintained under still more severe trials, the nature of which will be explained as this narrative proceeds.
When the accounts of the signature of the preliminaries arrived in the United States, they were received both in and out of congress with general joy, not unmingled with apprehensions. The terms obtained by the United States were so satisfactory as to preclude all possibility of complaint on this score. But there were some who disapproved of the violation of the instructions as a breach of good faith towards France, and others who, as yet unapprised of all the circumstances attending the negotiation, were fearful lest their ministers had fallen upon some trap, which might yet be sprung by Great Britain, and destroy at once the alliance with France and the pacification. The greatest embarrassment seems to have arisen from the separate and secret article, establishing a boundary on the south, more or less remote, according to the hands into which the ownership of the Floridas might fall. This article was one, in which France could claim no interest excepting as the ally of Spain, and of which she could scarcely make a complaint even in that relation, as no rights of Spain in the tract of land conditionally ceded were to be affected. From the abstract of the debates, to which this matter gave rise, and in which congress divided much in the usual way, it would appear as if the anxiety to avert possible consequences from what might be stigmatized as rashness in their ministers, was the leading motive in their policy. Mr. Livingston, with characteristic caution, addressed a letter to the president of congress, dwelling upon the danger of this secret article as an instrument in the hands of Great Britain, and suggesting the adoption of an order instructing him to avert the apprehended evils, by communicating the article at once to the French minister, by directing the ministers to agree to the least favorable line of boundary, without any contingency as to the ownership of the adjacent territory, and by disclaiming any validity of the preliminaries unless in conjunction with a treaty between Great Britain and France. The timidity of this proceeding, in surrendering a considerable tract to Spain without any consideration whatever, as well as in volunteering a disavowal of a construction to which the negotiators themselves had never dreamed of giving countenance, is its most striking feature. Mr. Madison, among others, showed clearly enough, in the debate, that the alarm at the secret article, as a violation even of the well-known restrictions on the American commissioners, was without just foundation. As Mr. Livingston’s proposal did not meet with much favor in congress, three others were successively offered by different members, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Peters, and Mr. Alexander Hamilton, neither of which seemed exactly to meet the views of a majority. On the other hand, Mr. John Rutledge, of South Carolina, declared himself with so much warmth and earnestness against any action of the kind at all, and the New England members manifested so general a determination to sustain him, that the subject was not then further pressed. The arrival of later intelligence dispelled uneasiness as to possible consequences, so that the question lost its interest, and was forgotten in the general congratulations upon the glorious issue of the contest.
Mr. Livingston, however, anxious not to be wanting in courtesy to France by utterly neglecting the remonstrances which had at last arrived from that country, and sincere in his own belief of their soundness, seized the opportunity of the first dispatch to the commissioners to give his sentiments at large, and to express his dissent from the reasoning upon which they rested their separate action. This paper was received by a majority of them with not a little indignation. The task of framing a reply was devolved upon Mr. Jay, who accordingly prepared a draft, the substance of which was finally adopted and signed by them all. But a portion of the commencement, objected to by Dr. Franklin as unnecessary in the existing state of things, was stricken out. Mr. Jay, unwilling to lose it altogether, embodied it as an expression of his own sentiments in a private letter to Mr. Livingston, which has been since given to the world in the biography written by his son. Another form, proposed by Mr. Laurens as a substitute for that of Mr. Jay, met with no better success, and was also laid aside. But as these suppressed passages were deemed of sufficient consequence to be recorded in the book kept by the secretary of the commission, together with the reason given for not adopting them, it may subserve the purpose of completing the evidence of all the movements in this most important negotiation, to give them to the world. For this reason they are placed in the Appendix to the present volume.1
The general pacification was effected by the signature of the preliminaries between the three great powers on the 21st of January, 1783. But Great Britain, which had demanded at the hands of Lord Shelburne some sort of a peace, was by no means disposed to receive any sort with favor, much less to approve that which he was compelled to present. Of the factions into which parliament was then divided, not one but acknowledged the necessity under which he had acted, yet not one was averse to making it a cause of reproach to him that he had done so. History does not furnish an instance of a more gross perversion of public professions to private ends than this. The remnant of the Rockingham Whigs, which had continued in the cabinet at the time of Mr. Fox’s resignation, now deserted Shelburne, so that, when the time came to meet parliament, he was left almost without support. It is difficult to find in the public policy of that minister any justification for the course adopted towards him by all sides. The only objection of a serious nature urged against him was a personal one, of duplicity in his relations with his colleagues. But although his isolated habits gave some color to the accusation, the instance most relied on by Mr. Fox to establish it, is now clearly proved to have been greatly misconceived. He certainly was not to blame, in saying nothing of the proposal made to him to cede Canada by Dr. Franklin; a proposal which he never manifested any inclination seriously to entertain. Yet the experiment served to show the impossibility of keeping a cabinet together upon his plan of imperfect confidence in its head on the part of its members. Lord Shelburne was quite as jealous of the influence of Fox, as Fox was suspicious of him. Yet he brought himself at last to offer to Fox, through the agency of the younger Pitt, a free opening to power. The refusal to accept this proposal on any terms short of the removal of the chief, was the selfish act which determined the character of the rest of Fox’s political life. Fearful of a union, in which there would have been a general harmony of principles, as likely to shut them out for a long time from place, the faction of Lord North, on their side, made overtures to their bitterest opponents, the Rockingham Whigs, which they, forgetful of their own self-respect, and listening only to the promptings of their favorite leader, were tempted, in an evil hour, to accept. Thus originated the ill-starred coalition, in which Fox began by condemning a treaty, the legitimate consequence of his own policy whilst a member of the ministry, the mere hesitation to accept which in its fullest extent by Shelburne had been his pretext for deserting it; and in which he ended by approving, when he got to be a minister, the very same articles, in the shape of a definitive treaty, against which he made his victorious assault when offered in the form of preliminaries by Shelburne. The extent to which a contemporary age can be biased in its judgments by the authority of a man of leading character in the political arena, it is almost impossible to measure by any standard of abstract morality. There is no more striking instance of it in English history, than that of Mr. Fox. But posterity cannot be so far blinded by such influences as to leave uncondemned those great delinquencies of his life, both public and private, which forfeit for him the honor of being set down as a benefactor of his own generation, or an example for imitation by those that are to come.
[1 ]Even Mr. Fox seems to have cherished the idea, at this time, of detaching America from France. Memorials of C. J. Fox, edited by Lord John Russell, vol. i. p. 341.
[1 ]The motive assigned by Count de Vergennes for Digges’s mission is singular. He called it a hope that “Mr. John Adams’s connection with some independent members might facilitate an accommodation.” At least this was the version of his dispatch furnished verbally to Mr. Livingston by M. de la Luzerne.
[1 ]A history of the various secret agencies, instituted by the British government on the continent during the struggle, would make a curious chapter. To them it is doubtless fair to attribute the efforts made through anonymous letters to tempt the American ministers, as well as to embroil them with each other. Several remarkable specimens of this kind remain among Mr. Adams’s papers. Forth had been secretary to Lord Stormont in France before the war, and had given early warning of the events which led to it. Dr. Bancroft seems to have been a source of information, doubtless on account of his intimacy with Dr. Franklin, but whether paid or not is left doubtful. Paul Wentworth was a good deal in Holland during the period of Mr. Adams’s negotiations there. The precise time when Silas Deane sold his services, is not quite made out. All these persons, as well as two or three others, are mentioned as channels of intelligence in the correspondence of the King with Lord North. The allusion to Deane, on the 8th of March, 1781, is obscure.
[1 ]This proposition, intended for the Americans, was made to Count de Vergennes, in order to enlist his authority with them to secure its adoption. No wonder that the Count’s fine tact marvelled at the “absurdity” of Shelburne’s agent.
Much of the secret history of these events is now furnished to the world from the three sources. The above fact is given in the dispatch of Count de Vergennes to Count de Montmorin, in Spain, April 18, 1782. Flassan, tom. vii. p. 331.
[1 ]Compare the minutes of council as given by Franklin, from Oswald’s reading, with the official copy. Sparks’s Franklin, vol. ix. p. 266. Russell’s Memorials of Fox, vol. i. p. 345.
[1 ]Letter to J. Jay, 10 August, 1782, vol. vii. p. 606.
[2 ]Vol. vii. p. 580.
[1 ]The contrary is affirmed by Mr. Sparks. Dipl. Corr. of the Revolution, vol. viii. p. 211. On the other hand, Dr. Gordon says that Mr. Vaughan wrote in advance to Lord Shelburne a request that he should enter into no business with De Rayneval, till he had first seen him. History, vol. iv. p. 337. Mr. Jay likewise affirms that a letter to that effect was written by Vaughan at his instance. Dipl. Corr. vol. viii. p. 165. This fact is not, however, mentioned in the papers of Mr. Vaughan, from which the statement in the text is made. He only says that “while he was in London, the business of M. Rayneval and the amendment to the commission under the great seal to Mr. Oswald took place.” The decision of the cabinet was not made before the 14th or later than the 20th September, as appears from Secretary Townshend’s letter to Mr. Oswald of the last date, announcing it. Mr. Vaughan was in London during that period. The amended commission is dated the 21st. There appears to be very little ground for the inference drawn by Mr. Sparks that De Rayneval’s representations had an effect in bringing about the change. The question scarcely depended on his agency either way.
It is in no disposition to detract from the valuable services rendered to the revolutionary history by Mr. Sparks, that a doubt may be permitted whether a national publication, like the “Diplomatic Correspondence,” is the right medium through which to disseminate arguments and inferences to sustain any peculiar views of the action of these times. Of the two extremes, the course adopted by Mr. Force, in the “American Archives,” of literally adhering even to obvious errors, seems the safest and the most satisfactory.
[1 ]It would appear from Mr. Vaughan’s letters that William Temple Franklin, then secretary to the commission, had been indiscreet enough to urge a recommendation of his father, Governor Franklin, to the favor of the British premier. Mr. Vaughan, taking the hint, repeatedly pressed Lord Shelburne to provide for him, for the sake of the effect it might have on the negotiation. There is no reason to suppose that Dr. Franklin had the remotest suspicion of this intrigue.
[1 ]This is stated by Thomas Grenville as disclosed to him by Mr. Oswald. The injunction, probably, was the reason of Lord Shelburne’s withholding the knowledge of the proposal from the cabinet, whilst the disclosure of his reception of it, made by Oswald to Grenville, and by the latter, in turn, to Mr. Fox, gave rise to the suspicions of Shelburne’s good faith, which ultimately dispersed the Rockingham ministry, and led to many important consequences.
Russell’s Memorials of C. J. Fox, vol. i. p. 363. Also, p. 376.
[1 ]Some further details concerning the discussion of the boundary question, taken from Mr. Adams’s letters to the Boston Patriot, are placed in the Appendix, C.
[1 ]The influence of this cause upon the American question has come to light in the confidential letters of W. W. Grenville, afterwards Lord Grenville, addressed to his brother, the Lord Lieutenant. He reports Lord Shelburne as admitting to him that “the situation of Ireland weighed very materially with him in his wishes for peace.” The reason why may be fully understood by examining Grenville’s letters at large. Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George the Third, vol. i. pp. 66-136.
[1 ]See the Diary, vol. iii. pp. 333-335.
[1 ]This refers to the separate representations of Massachusetts, which were never varied or qualified.
[1 ]Mr. Vaughan, among whose papers this letter is found, attributes these remarks to Mr. Laurens.
[1 ]Franklin’s Works, vol. ix. p. 442.
[1 ]Flassan, t. vii. p. 353. De Sevelinges, Introduction to the French translation of Botta, tom. i. p. lvii. The latter writer affirms that this plan was concerted with some Americans. Whether he found such an intimation in M. Gérard’s papers, from which he wrote his account, does not appear. It was natural for the minister to suspect it.
[1 ]Madison Papers, vol. i. p. 241. The strong feeling of Gouverneur Morris is expressed in his letter to Mr. Jay. Jay’s Life of Jay, vol. i. p. 130.
[2 ]The passage remains in his letter-book.
[1 ]Given in the memoir of Count de Vergennes read to the king, already quoted, page 311. Opposition to any movement to conquer Canada was likewise made part of the duty of M. Gérard. Yet his successor assured congress that his sovereign desired to see Canada and Nova Scotia annexed to the United States. Dipl. Corr. of the Revolution, vol. x. p. 366. Is this, too, to be classed among the mensonges politiques described by Flassan?
[1 ]Flassan, t. vii. p. 365. The language is so emphatic that it puts to rest all doubts of De Rayneval’s expressing the opinions of the French court.
[2 ]Some comments of Mr. Adams on this letter of Marbois, taken from his letters to the Boston Patriot, may be found in the Appendix, D.
[1 ]Marbois, Histoire de la Louisiane, p. 163. Marbois is not an unfriendly witness. On the other hand, there is much stronger testimony to the same effect from the revolutionary party, which, after an examination of the papers, denounced the policy of De Vergennes as having been nothing better than “une vile spéculation.” See the report of the minister of foreign affairs to the Convention, in the Appendix, E.
[1 ]See Appendix, F.
Editors Note: This is Volume 1 of the 10 Volume “The Works of John Adams”, (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). The author, Charles Henry Adams is John Adams grandson. The copyright for the original text is in the Public Domain because its copyright has expired. The font, and formatting of this version of The Works of John Adams, as well as all other Americanist Library and Founders Corner selections are, unless otherwise specified, Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell.