Chapter 26 – Conclusion | France in the Revolution


    About the author

    James Breck Perkins headshot.
    James Breck Perkins

    James Breck Perkins (1847–1910) was an American historian notable for his works on French history. Educated at the University of Rochester, he initially practiced law before shifting to writing and public service. Perkins is best known for his comprehensive studies on the French Regency period, particularly in “France Under the Regency,” which examined Philippe d’Orléans’ governance post-Louis XIV. His other significant works include “France Under Louis XV” and “France in the American Revolution.”



      It is now time to trace the history of the negotiations between France, Spain, and England, and see the effect produced on them by the agreement made between England and the United States. If the signature of preliminaries by the American commissioners had any influence on the treaty finally made by England with France and Spain, it is impossible to see where it worked any injury to French interests.

      The visits of Rayneval to London, which Jay viewed with such distrust, had, as we have seen, nothing to do with questions affecting the United States. His only mission was to ascertain if the English were ready to grant France and Spain terms that would be fairly satisfactory to these countries. As soon as the French were satisfied that Shelburne in good faith desired peace and was willing to agree to reasonable conditions, the negotiations took formal shape. While the American commissioners remained at Paris, the questions affecting France and Spain were for the most part considered at London.

      So far as France was concerned, terms were agreed upon with the utmost ease. The French were singularly modest in their demands; they had begun the war to assist the United States, and they asked little for themselves at its close. Fitzherbert, the English commissioner at Paris, and Vergennes soon reached an agreement, and there was little need of applying to the ministers at London for instructions.

      On one question, not of large importance except as it affected the national dignity, Vergennes was inexorable. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 contained a provision that the fortifications of Dunkirk should be destroyed. This provision was a constant irritation to France, and was not without its effect in making the French people eager for a new war with England whenever opportunity offered. At the beginning of the negotiations it was now suggested that all clauses in former treaties relating to Dunkirk should be abrogated, and to that proposal Shelburne offered no objection except that he hoped France would not exercise the right of restoring the fortifications of Dunkirk, as English pride would not suffer “a pistol to be pointed at the mouth of the Thames.” (Fitzmaurice, Life of Shelburne, iii, 260; Doniol, v, 144.)

      The matter was of small practical importance, but the French felt their honor was involved in the abolition of a humiliating condition. England was in no position to insist on it at the end of a disastrous war, and it was therefore agreed that in the future France might fortify and reestablish the Port of Dunkirk as she saw fit.

      In India, where the French might fairly have claimed large advantages, they obtained little save some unimportant acquisitions in territory and some slight ameliorations in trade conditions. The rights of the French to fish in Newfoundland were left substantially as they had been fixed by the Treaty of Utrecht seventy years before. In the West Indies the islands captured by either party were restored.

      France secured the independence of her American allies, but the material advantages she obtained were small recompense for a war which had cost her seven hundred and seventy-two millions.

      In 1783, as in 1763, her embarrassment grew chiefly out of the demands made by her Spanish ally. Few political combinations were more extolled, and with less reason, than the family alliances of the Bourbon kings. What everybody believes to be a source of strength is not infrequently a source of weakness, and of this truth in politics there is no better illustration than the relations between France and Spain in the eighteenth century. For centuries before, the nations had been on terms of chronic hostility. Frequent intermarriages had not checked national animosities nor interfered with national ambitions. Louis XIV, having a Spanish woman for his mother and another Spanish woman for his wife, devoted himself with pertinacity and success to filching the possessions of Spain for the aggrandizement of France. His policy was wise if not chivalric, and France profited largely by these acquisitions, while Spanish power continued the long decline which began under Philip II.

      In an evil day Louis abandoned a national policy for dynastic ambition: he resolved to place his grandson on the Spanish throne, and at once the European nations banded themselves together to oppose this action. The most sagacious statesmen saw in it grave danger to the balance of power and the liberties of Europe. William III declared that if a French prince should reign at Madrid, England and Holland were in great danger of total ruin. Louis himself believed that with the elevation of his grandson to the Spanish throne the Pyrenees would cease to exist. Both were mistaken. At the end of a long contest a French prince was recognized as king of Spain, but the influence of France in Europe was less after the War of the Spanish Succession than before it. Nor was this merely the result of the long and disastrous conflict; closer relations between the two countries proved an element of weakness to France, the assistance she obtained from Spain was of little value, the Spanish ships were usually rotten, their soldiers were ill equipped and ill disciplined. The alliance between France and Spain was regarded by the latter as existing solely for the benefit of Spain; the Spanish would do little to assist France, they expected the French to do everything to assist Spain.

      Three “Family Compacts” were signed by the Bourbon monarchs during the eighteenth century. As each was announced, statesmen grew pale and neighboring peoples anticipated calamity from the alliance of two great nations. But each of these compacts made France less dangerous to the rest of Europe, and procured little advantage for Spain.

      In 1733 the Treaty of the Escurial, the first of the Family Compacts, was signed between Louis XV and Philip V. It resulted in the establishment of the Bourbons as kings of Naples, where they reigned for over a century and a quarter, to the infinite harm of their subjects, and established one of the most retrograde and corrupt of European monarchies.

      In 1743, during the War of the Austrian Succession, a second Family Compact was entered into between Louis XV and Philip V. By it great possessions were to be obtained in Italy for the younger son of Philip, Gibraltar was to be captured from England, and the colony of Georgia was to be destroyed because it might be injurious to Florida. The endeavor to obtain for Spain what this treaty demanded prolonged the war for years, and cost France an infinite amount of blood and money. France won great victories during the war, but as a sagacious French minister said, her zeal for the welfare of Spain extended to the sacrifice of her own interests. “The Spanish alliance,” he laments, “is like a ball attached to the leg of a criminal. If the Spanish would only desert us, we might keep our acquisitions for ourselves.” All that France gained from the war was the recognition of a Spanish prince as Duke of Parma, where he and his posterity ruled for fifty years, without advantage to the people or glory to themselves, until the soldiers of the Revolution sent them adrift.

      In 1761 the third family alliance was formed, and this was still in force when the American Revolution began. Like the treaties which preceded it, it was fraught with disaster to both parties. Spain was too infirm to be of any assistance to France, and her scattered possessions afforded rich plunder for the English during the Seven Years’ War. When peace was made in 1763, the French King treated his Spanish relatives with a generosity that would have been admirable in a kinsman but was criminal in a ruler. Spain was forced to surrender to England Florida and her possessions in North America east of the Mississippi. As a compensation for this, France ceded to Spain the province of Louisiana, which included not only New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi, but a vague claim to territories which now contain more people and more wealth than the Kingdom of Spain (See the author’s France under Louis XV, i, 131-137, for an extended discussion of the effect upon France of her family relations with Spain.)

      The possible value of these possessions was realized by no one, but their ownership made Spain look with jealousy upon the growth of the English colonies in America, and no European nation was less inclined to assist the colonists in their struggle for independence. Most of the European powers regarded the question with entire indifference. A few desired the success of the colonists, not because it might help them, but because it would harm England. The English were not popular on the Continent; the growth and power of Great Britain excited the jealousies of less fortunate lands, and most of the European nations were quite willing that the United States should achieve their independence if they were able to do so. The feeling in Spain was different. No nation had so much reason to fear colonial revolts; if the English colonists were successful in throwing off the authority of the mother- land, this would be a dangerous example for Spanish colonies, which suffered from more unwise regulations than were ever devised by George III.

      There were other reasons why the cause of American independence aroused no sympathy in Spain. Not only did French statesmen see in the American war an opportunity to injure England and extend the influence of France, but popular sentiment was strong in compelling intervention. The sympathy of French society and French philosophy for the American patriots, the enthusiasm for the young republic, which pervaded the nation, compelled the interference of France in their behalf and helped to make it successful. Of such feeling there was in Spain absolutely none. The teachings of French philosophers found no entrance into the kingdom of Philip II. The enthusiasm of Parisian society for liberty and progress found no echo in the palaces of Madrid. There were no young Spanish noblemen eager to follow La Fayette and assist in securing the liberty of the young republic. The new wine of hope and progress which was making France drunk did not pass the Spanish frontier. When we compare the political beliefs and aspirations of the French under Louis XVI with those which found utterance under Louis XIV, we seem to have entered a now world. Doubtless the rule of Charles III, the best of the Spanish Bourbons, improved somewhat the condition of his country, but in religious or political or social beliefs and sympathies, it is hard to find any difference between Spain under Charles III and Spain under Philip II. Of the great literary activity in France there was no trace in Spain. There was no Encyclopaedia, and no Social Contract; neither disciples of Voltaire nor disciples of Rousseau. The influence of French thought seems to have been absolutely null upon the subjects of Bourbon kings who lived beyond the Pyrenees. In this also it was shown how unimportant was the result of the great war which placed a French prince on a Spanish throne.

      It was not, therefore, any interest in the cause of the thirteen colonies which led Spain to enter into the war against Great Britain. After the surrender of Burgoyne, Vergennes believed that the time had come to recognize American independence, and to promise the assistance of France. But the Spanish King was not ready for action, and was unwilling that France should take the decisive step. His counsels were disregarded, and in 1778 the treaty of alliance between France and the United States was signed. Though Vergennes had disregarded the advice of Charles III, he sought to induce him to accept the decision and assist in the war which was certain to ensue. His overtures were received with little favor. The Spanish King, so said Florida Blanca, his prime minister, was offended at the disregard with which France received his counsels. Regarding himself as the head of the Bourbon family, he was quick to resent any imaginary slight, and he now declared that he was treated like a viceroy of a French province, who must take up and lay down arms as be received orders (Montmorin to Vergennes, Aug. 18, 1778; Doniol, iii, 545.)

      But apart from Spanish irresolution and Spanish pride, there were deeper reasons for his unwillingness to act, and in view of subsequent history, we can hardly complain of them. The founding of a republic in America was necessarily repugnant to an illiberal and unprogressive monarchy. Moreover, even Spanish pride could not wholly disregard the growing weakness of a fossilized government, and to that effete power the establishment of a new and vigorous republic in the West seemed fraught with peril. Timidity gave the Spanish rulers a more intelligent foresight than they usually displayed; their apprehension of the future position of the American Republic was more correct than Vergennes’s prophecies. Undoubtedly Vergennes sought to minimize the dangers to be apprehended, in order to dispel the fears of a desired ally; but the United States proved to Spain as dangerous an enemy as Charles III and his ministers feared. Its example influenced the colonies of Spain in South America to throw off her yoke.

      The apprehensions of the Spanish were therefore well justified. “They do not view without inquietude,” writes the French ambassador, “the prosperity of the colonies, and fear they will prove to Spain an enemy far more dangerous than the English. They desire them to be so enfeebled by the war that they must accept the terms which Spain might dictate. These conditions would have kept them in anarchy, like Germany, and it is for this reason that the Spanish feel aggrieved towards us for treating with them.” Repeatedly the French ambassador wrote that an entire lack of sympathy with the American cause was the obstacle he met in his efforts to induce Spain to join in the war against England (Montmorin to Vergennes; Doniol, iii, 20.)

      Vergennes sought to allay these fears by reflections on the probable future of the new republic, which do not disclose any prophetic ken. Will not England be a more formidable neighbor, he writes, “than the United States for a long time and probably forever; left to themselves, and subject to the inertia which is the essence of all democratic institutions, it would be a mistake to be apprehensive of their future prosperity. I fear, rather, the anarchy into which the states may fall, when they enjoy the sweets of peace. It is enough to consider the extent of territory they occupy, the differences in climate, in industry, in soil, . . . to understand that their union will never be perfect even if they are not actually divided.” (Vergennes to Montmorin, April 3, 1778; Doniol, iii, 51.) “If we can believe Gerard,” he writes again, “it will be a long time, even centuries off, before this republic will have sufficient consistency to take any part in foreign politics.” (Same to Same, Oct. 30, 1778; Doniol, iii, 561.)

      Thus the French minister sought to allay Spanish apprehensions of the influence of the new republic, but Vergennes’s arguments did not excite in the Spanish court any sympathy with the American colonists or any desire for their independence. Neither among Spanish politicians, nor in Spanish society, nor in Spanish literature, did the struggle of the American people for independence arouse any sympathy. Vergennes realized that the widespread enthusiasm for the insurgents which existed in France was not to be found in Spain, and therefore he appealed, not to sympathy, but to greed; not to any desire to help the Americans, but to the hope of gaining advantages for herself, as a means of inducing Spain to join in the war against England. Here he struck the only chord to which the Spanish court would respond, and by such means he at last brought Spain into the contest.

      But we may wonder why a sagacious statesman should have thought it worthwhile to offer so great inducements in order to get such scanty assistance. He was not ignorant of the weakness of the Spanish navy, nor of the dilatory and inefficient manner in which Spain would furnish aid. He knew, or might have known, that she would be slack in supplying her quota, and only vigorous in demanding the advantages that had been promised. Her energy would be displayed, not in the prosecution of the war, but in the negotiations for peace. The French ambassador at Madrid truthfully described the hopeless and helpless condition of that effete monarchy. Her treasury was controlled by a minister who was true only to dishonest subordinates; the Minister of War had neither industry nor credit; in the navy one could trust neither officers nor soldiers. The magazines were poorly furnished and the navy yards were ill equipped (Report, Dec. 24, 1777; Doniol, iii, 35.)

      These gloomy pictures were verified when war was at last declared, and yet so strong was the glamour that clung about the Family Compact, that Vergennes thought it necessary to obtain the cooperation of Spain on almost any terms. He lived to see his mistake: the alliance with Spain was a detriment to the progress of the war, and her demands very nearly destroyed the possibility of making peace.

      It was at first suggested that the Family Compact bound Spain to come to the assistance of France. By the terms of that compact, Spain was to furnish France with ships when she was attacked, but it could not justly be said that this provision now applied. France had not, indeed, declared war on England when she recognized the independence of the United States and by a secret treaty agreed to go to their aid, but she deliberately placed herself in a position that made war certain. When the first encounter took place, Vergennes tried to show that the English had been the aggressors, that the war was made upon France and not by her, so that she was entitled to aid under the express terms of the treaty. But the Spanish King had no thought of risking his fleet in response to the demands of the Family Compact, unless he was promised some reward for his efforts.

      For months war between France and England was practically waging, and still the Spanish King sent neither arms nor fleets to assist his nephew of France. Instead of this, he assumed the role of arbitrator, and wished England and France to submit to his judgment the settlement of their differences. This proposed arbitration bade fair to put the French in a most embarrassing position. For them to decline the proffered mediation would be highly offensive, and might destroy any hope of retaining Spain as an ally if the endeavor for peace came to naught. Yet any suggestion of mediation would excite in America the suspicion that France was ready to abandon her ally, and such a fear would be increased by the knowledge that Spain was wholly indifferent to the fate of the thirteen states. In these negotiations Vergennes displayed that just regard for the obligations France had assumed which he always manifested down to the final treaty of peace. He said that the first and indispensable article in any treaty must be the absolute acknowledgment by England of the independence of the United States (Vergennes to Montmorin, May 1 and Oct. 17,1778; Doniol, iii, 63, 523. ” Bien entendu, que la reconnaisance de l’independance des Etats Unis sera la base de toute negociation.” “L’entiere independance politique et territoriale des Etats Unis en Ie premier article.”)

      But the Spanish King was not inclined to accept this as a basis for negotiations, and he suggested that instead of a recognition of American independence, there might be a long truce such as Spain had made with the United Netherlands in 1609. Such an expedient was sure to be unacceptable to the Americans, and Vergennes explained how different was their situation from that of the Dutch, who, two centuries before, had revolted against the authority of Spain. Charles brought the matter to a conclusion by notifying the English minister that he was ready to act as mediator upon the understanding that there should be an immediate suspension of arms, and that terms of peace should then be agreed upon at Madrid.

      Vergennes was appalled at this announcement; it was not only that Spain declared with how little interest she viewed the interests of the colonies, – of this there had long been no concealment, – but either France must offend Charles by refusing to accede to such terms, or she must stand convicted of manifest bad faith. Such a truce would have left Rhode Island, New York, and many other places in the possession of England. “America will justly believe that she is abandoned by us,” he wrote, “and believe that she is free from all obligations. I fear she will return to the leading strings of England.” (Doniol, iii, 768.)

      From this embarrassment the French were saved by the stubbornness of their opponents. George III refused to proceed, even on the terms suggested by the Spanish King. England, he replied, would accept Charles as a mediator, if France would first withdraw her fleet from America and cease furnishing aid to the American colonies.

      Such an answer closed all efforts at mediation, and the Spanish now began to consider how large a bid for their assistance could be obtained from France. The peculiarities of the monarch, said his minister, rendered it important that the bid should be high. “It is necessary,” he writes, “to calm the scruples of a conscience that is so delicate and so timid.” (Doniol, iii, 643.) It could only be quieted, like many another delicate and timid conscience, by the prospect of large and substantial advantages. “To ask everything and grant nothing is their desire with us,” wrote the French ambassador. Spain was playing with an eager suitor, and could safely practise the arts of a greedy mistress. “The King is no longer young,” said his minister; “he has been pious all his life and his scruples beset him.” The recollection of past defeats had made him timid; all these things concurred to make him wish to avoid war. “But,” he added, “I know him: though devout, the love of glory will affect him”; and therefore he asked the French ambassador to put in writing the advantages that Spain would gain if she became the ally of France. “In order to get Spain to declare herself,” wrote Montmorin, “we must agree not to make peace until she has received Gibraltar, Florida, and Jamaica.”

      It was not precisely in this form that France made her bid, but it was suggested that for Spain should be procured Mobile and Pensacola, the expulsion of the English from the Bay of Honduras, and the revocation of their right to cut wood in the Bay of Campeachy, and, lastly, the restitution of Gibraltar. The Spanish meditated long on these propositions, and when they appeared in the form of a proposed treaty, they had gained in vigor and dimensions.

      First and most clearly was it declared that his Catholic Majesty should obtain by the future treaty of peace the restoration of Gibraltar. For seventy years they had sought to recover this fortress, with a tenacity of purpose that would be entitled to respect if it had been accompanied by any display of ability in the effort. But to wrest this impregnable rook from England was an enterprise the hopelessness of which soon became evident, and over the agreement so lightly given to procure Gibraltar for Spain the negotiations for peace at the end of the war nearly came to shipwreck. In addition to this Spain was to have, as fruits of the victory, Mobile and all Florida; the English were to be expelled from the Bay of Honduras, and should no longer cut wood on the Bay of Campeachy. Last of all, the island of Minorca was also to be recovered for Spain (Convention of April 12, 1779 ; Doniol, iii, 760.)

      While the Spanish demanded more than Vergennes had offered, they would not agree to furnish the American colonies even the moderate assistance which the French minister had asked. His draft of the proposed treaty read: “The independence of the United States of North America being the basis of the engagements which his Majesty has contracted with them, the two powers agree that they will not lay down arms until this independence has been recognized by the English King.” It was a very different condition to which the Spanish were willing to agree. After reciting this article as proposed by France, the treaty prepared by them proceeded to say that the Catholic King wished to please his nephew and procure for the United States the advantages they desired, but as he had as yet made no treaty with them, he reserved this question for the future. In other words, Spain would not promise any aid to the United States; she would not wage war to insure their independence, and to that decision she religiously adhered.

      Such was the treaty proposed by Spain. By its terms France assumed serious obligations, some of which she was finally unable to perform. She incurred the possibility of unpleasant complications growing out of the conflicting demands of her American allies and her Spanish allies; having begun war to secure the independence of the United States, she involved herself in further obligations to continue it until Spanish ambition should be satisfied. And for all this she received nothing but promises of assistance, the small value of which had been proven by the experience of half a century. But alliance with Spain was deemed the corner-stone of French policy; the French had a wholesome fear of the power of England on the seas, but with the aid of the Spanish navy they believed that victory could be assured. It was only a few years since the alliance of Spain in the Seven Years’ War, instead of securing victory to the French, had resulted in more disastrous defeats than they had suffered when they were carrying on a naval war with England alone. But the teachings of experience are as little heeded by nations as by men. In the seventeenth century France grew great by the spoils of Spain. It might have been some consolation to a vindictive Spaniard that in the eighteenth century France exposed herself to constant defeat by allying herself with Spain. Spain was to France a valuable enemy and a costly friend.

      In April, 1779, the convention between France and Spain, which had been the constant object of Vergennes’s diplomacy for more than a year, was at last signed (Found in Doniol, iii, 803-810.) The terms of the treaty were kept secret, but the fact of the alliance was at once proclaimed. Though the United States had not gained a new ally, the English had another enemy, and the action of Spain excited much enthusiasm in America as well as in France. Washington hoped soon to have the pleasure of sending thanks to the King of Spain and the Two Sicilies, as the ally of the United States, but this hope was not realized.

      It was not strange that the Spanish King was unwilling to bind himself to the American colonies, for nothing would have been more agreeable to him than their return to their former allegiance. The arguments of Vergennes did not overcome the just apprehensions of the Spanish as to the outcome of the establishment of a free and independent government on American soil, whose political and religious traditions would be at variance with the principles of government dear to Spain, and would be fraught with danger to the vast possessions of that country in America. While Charles and his ministers did not venture to oppose the fixed resolution of France to secure independence for the American colonies, they were full of projects that might cripple the growth and power of the new republic.

      The treaty made by France with America, so Florida Blanca declared, was worthy of Don Quixote; certainly his countrymen did not resemble that hero in their dealings with the thirteen colonies. Canada, they insisted, must be left to England, that the seeds of division and jealousy might remain between the United States and the mother country. The Americans, so Florida Blanca declared, were in sore need of France, and they must agree to such terms as France and Spain should dictate. Only thus, he continued, could the colonies be kept in a sort of dependence which would leave them in constant need of the assistance of the two crowns.

      These ungenerous suggestions found no response from French diplomats. If Adams and Jay could have had access to the Spanish State Papers, they would have found in them no proofs of that jealousy of American growth which they erroneously attributed to Vergennes. Neither he nor his associates received with favor suggestions of that character. “I observe with some pain,” writes the French ambassador at Madrid, “that the Spanish are in singular dread of the prosperity and progress of the Americans . . . To me it appears that the danger which may some day result from the prosperity of the United States is very distant.” (Montmorin to Vergennes, Oct. 19, 1778; Doniol, iii, 658-559. “It is plain that Spain regards the United States as soon to become her enemy and . . . will spare nothing to keep them remote from her possessions and especially from the Banks of the Mississippi” [Doniol, iii, 576]. “They wish to render access to their colonies forever impossible to the Americans” [Doniol, iii, 585].)

      However, it was almost certain that the independence of the United States would be acknowledged, and the Spanish were ready to make terms with the new republic if they could obtain much and give little. These endeavors were not successful. Family affection and political traditions induced the French to accede to almost all that Spain demanded; but while the colonists were eager to obtain a new ally, they did not propose to check the future development of their country. The Spanish desired Florida, and for this the people of the United States had then no special longing, but the question of western boundaries was more difficult. Louisiana was now the property of Spain, the free navigation of the Mississippi was contrary to the precepts of Spanish colonial government, and the extension of the American Republic westward was abhorrent to Spanish prejudice.

      The vast territories that were covered by the name of Louisiana were not indeed growing in wealth and population; they added little, if at all, to the resources of Spain; but the Spanish were jealous of any interference with their possessions, even if these were inhabited only by Indians and wild beasts; they wished no boat to float down the Mississippi bearing the American flag, even if the Spanish flag was rarely seen upon its waters.

      But the extension of her western boundaries and the right to the navigation of the Mississippi were indispensable to the development of the United States, and no one was inclined to barter such advantages for the uncertain aid that could be expected from Spain. Little progress, therefore, was made towards a treaty between the two nations, and in truth the Spanish had no desire for such a treaty. They took part in the war, allured by the hope of important gains from England; they had no thought of assisting the American colonies; their troops and fleets they wished to use exclusively in quarters where Spain could gain advantages for herself. And they wished also to be free from any embarrassing alliance with the United States, so that when the time of peace-making came, they could endeavor to keep the English colonists as far removed as possible from their own possessions.

      Feeble as was the Spanish rule, it extended over larger portions of North and South America than in the days of Charles V or Philip II. In addition to the South American territory, Mexico, Cuba, and large portions of the West Indies were still subject to the Spanish crown, and to these had been added Louisiana, with vague claims over the Valley of the Mississippi and the Pacific slope of North America. Spain’s foreign empire was probably a source of weakness rather than of strength. Her rule bore so hardly upon the inhabitants of scattered lands and islands that the home government could derive small profit from them; they were so rigorously excluded from dealing with other nations, that they could not increase in wealth, and there was little to be gained, even by the Spanish who held the monopoly of their trade.

      But these vast possessions gratified national pride, and the thought of losing them was bitter. Moreover, if they did not add materially to the national wealth, they furnished an opportunity for many favored individuals to acquire riches. If the natives were overtaxed and the merchants so burdened by restrictions that they could make no profit, the viceroys, the governors, the host of lesser officials, often reaped gains as liberal as they were illegitimate. Many an impoverished nobleman replenished the family coffers as president or corregidor in Peru or Mexico or Cuba. Many a needy adventurer purchased official protection, and returned to Spain having accumulated in a few years more than he could gain in a lifetime in Madrid or Cordova. At all events, the Spanish regarded as of vast importance the preservation and extension of their foreign empire, though it was a curse to the subject peoples and of no real advantage to the governing state.

      Such were the relations between France and Spain when the question of peace with England became a practical one. The demands made by France for herself were simple and were soon disposed of. She had begun the war largely influenced by a desire to weaken the power of England, and largely influenced also by a sincere sympathy for the colonists in their struggle for independence; there had been no expectation of reaping great advantages for herself. But she had bound herself to obtain much for her ally, and the bond was held by a creditor that would yield nothing from its terms. Some of the requests advanced by Spain were agreed to, but the demand for Gibraltar seemed, as Shelburne had prophesied, the rock upon which the negotiations might suffer shipwreck. For years the forces of France and Spain had been engaged in the siege of the fortress; the soldiers and ships which Spain promised the alliance had been used almost exclusively in the effort to capture Gibraltar for her own use.

      There was now no hope of recovering the fortress except by negotiation, and the Spanish court declared that the restoration of Gibraltar was their ultimatum. To Spain the French were so bound by treaty and by family ties that Vergennes felt that he must support this demand, even if it resulted in a continuation of the war. But to surrender Gibraltar by treaty, after the heroic defence of it by English soldiers and sailors, was sure to be in the highest degree unpopular, and the Cabinet was divided on the question. Shelburne apparently contemplated the possibility of granting the request if it were necessary for peace, but he insisted that England must have compensation in territory elsewhere.

      The Spanish King proposed that the French cede Corsica to England; but devotion to the Family Compact had not prepared the French King to surrender this great island in order to buy a fortress for another country (Doniol, v, 210.) Shelburne then suggested, as a compromise, Guadeloupe and Dominica, or Martinique and Sainte-Lucie, and Vergennes felt that, if necessary, France, though at the end of a successful war, must sacrifice her own possessions in order to satisfy her ally. It was decided that the French would cede Dominica and Guadeloupe, if England would restore Gibraltar to Spain. “France will suffer a substantial loss,” said Vergennes, “but this consideration . . . will not prevent the King from contributing a reasonable proportion towards the establishment of peace . . . He will make a sacrifice worthy of his magnanimity.” (Fitzmaurice, Life of Shelburne, iii, 302-315; Doniol, v, 219.)

      Rayneval thought that the English had decided to accept this proposition, but it is by no means certain that they would have done so. The possessions to be ceded by France were indeed valuable and important. But, as Shelburne said, Gibraltar was dear to the English nation, and it had been further endeared by a heroic and successful defence. Even if an advantageous exchange had been offered, it is doubtful if Shelburne would have faced the English Parliament with the announcement that the Union Jack was no longer to float over the rock of Gibraltar. At all events, when Vergennes thought that peace was about to be made with the surrender of the fortress as one of its conditions, the news reached London that preliminary articles with the United States had actually been signed. Whether this was the cause or the pretext, the proposed agreement as to Gibraltar was rejected. Five members of the Cabinet, so Shelburne told Rayneval, now wished to break off negotiations with France, and only by incredible effort, so he said, did he check this newly excited enthusiasm for a continuation of the war (Doniol, v, 229.) If the question of Gibraltar were to be further considered, Shelburne declared that they must have more in exchange, and he now suggested la Trinite or Sainte-Lucie. “See the result of the secret signature by the Americans,” says a French historian, speaking of the relations between our country and France. “It saved Gibraltar to England by allowing her to raise the price and making it impossible for us to reduce it . . . Jay and John Adams unknowingly made a gift of Gibraltar to the enemy of their country . . . And they prevented our paying the debt contracted to Spain.” (Doniol, v, 230.)

      It is by no means certain that this is correct, or that the English would have brought themselves to the point of surrendering Gibraltar, no matter what they got in exchange; but if it were correct, the French had every reason to feel grateful to the American commissioners for their action. The possession of Gibraltar by Spain was of no advantage to France, and yet to obtain this for her ally, France was asked to surrender valuable islands in the West Indies. Her obligation was a foolish one to assume, and she was fortunate to be relieved of it. If Jay and Adams saved Guadeloupe and Dominica for France, they did her a friendly turn, and certainly there was no reason that the Americans should have sacrificed anything to assist Spain. Spain had no claims on the United States; she had wished ill to the cause of American independence and had done nothing to further it; her policy had been selfish and she could not ask for generosity; there was no reason that the people of the United States should sacrifice one cod on the Newfoundland Banks or one acre of land in the Western Reserve to obtain Gibraltar for Spain. It was more fitting that this fortress should remain the possession of a power that was able to protect it, and certainly its ownership by England could do America no harm.

      But no such considerations lessened Vergennes’s anxiety when Rayneval forwarded the last demand of the English Cabinet. It was manifest that the English were resolved to ask a price for Gibraltar to which the French could not agree, while on the other hand, the Spanish King kept himself aloof in sulky state, declaring that Spanish honor could accept no peace without Gibraltar. “I dropped my arms when I read your despatch,” Vergennes wrote Rayneval; “Porto Rico, Sainte-Lucie, la Trinite, do they think we do not know the value and importance of those possessions? . . . The King desires peace, . . . but this desire is a virtue and not a weakness. They are mistaken in England if they believe it is only necessary to inflate their demands in order to obtain them . . . If it is necessary to prolong the calamities of war, his Majesty will submit with resignation.” (Doniol, v, 234-235.)

      The negotiations for peace could not be conducted with entire secrecy, and from every side came voices of disapproval. There was a party in France eager to continue the war, and still more eager to discredit Vergennes. They declaimed in all the antechambers of Versailles against a policy that at the end of a successful war would sacrifice valuable possessions – the fair islands of Guadeloupe and Dominica and la Trinite – in order to gratify Spanish pride.

      There was also a strong party in England eager to continue the war and overthrow Shelburne, and they could make their sentiments known in Parliament and in the press. They declaimed against the ignominy of surrendering Gibraltar, which had been won and held by the expenditure of so much British blood, the possession of which was part of the heritage of British glory. “There is a great deal of bitterness and a great deal of indecency in the House of Commons,” wrote Rayneval (Rayneval to Vergennes, Dec. 4, 1782; Doniol, v, 251), to whom, naturally, the usages of a free government and criticisms of the ministers of the crown seemed very insolent. Nor were the opponents of the proposition consoled by the islands that were to be received in exchange. Spain might compensate France for her generosity by ceding to her the Spanish portion of San Domingo, and then France, said the English merchants and planters, as the owner of San Domingo would furnish sugar to all the markets of the world.

      So the French decided to continue the war, if England refused to cede Gibraltar, and Spain would not make peace without it. Such a decision showed the fidelity with which France kept her agreements with her allies, but it was not creditable to the wisdom of her rulers. If they had made an agreement which would involve the country in the evils of further warfare, for an object in which France had no interest, their only course was to break the agreement. Their highest duty was to their own country, they had no right to sacrifice the welfare of their people in an attempt to execute unwise compacts. Fortunately, they were saved the necessity of having to carry on a costly war, or to break a foolish bargain.

      The English now proposed that Florida and Minorca should be ceded to Spain instead of Gibraltar. Vergennes submitted the proposition to the Spanish minister at Paris, expecting the usual response, that the surrender of Gibraltar was the ultimatum of Spain. To his amazement, he was told that the Spanish King would accept the offer. Even now it is difficult to see what led to this change of heart. Possibly the ambassador’s instructions bade him say that Spain would never abandon Gibraltar so long as there was a chance of getting it; but when he saw that this determination would result in a continuation of the war, he was to admit that he had used the expression in a diplomatic sense.

      The decision was as grateful as it was unexpected. Vergennes was filled with joy that France had saved for herself the valuable islands which she had been ready to sacrifice in order to satisfy the demands of her ally. With Gibraltar still English, Shelburne believed he could present the treaty to Parliament without fear of disaster.

      There was now no obstacle to an agreement, and in January, 1783, the preliminaries between France and Spain were signed. “It is with the sweetest satisfaction,” writes Rayneval to Vergennes on January 20, – that after the trials of four months of negotiation, I inform you that the preliminaries of peace have been this day signed.”

      On September 3, 1783, the formal treaty of peace was signed by the representatives of the four nations which had been at war. In view of all that had gone before, the American commissioners, at Vergennes’s request, executed a declaration that in signing the preliminary articles they had no object but to facilitate the progress of the negotiation, and that their act was in no wise to be regarded as an abandonment of their engagements with France. “We hope this treaty will dispel suspicion and show that the young republic places above all else fidelity and constancy in its engagements.” (Doniol, v, 277. Jay was absent, but Franklin and Adams executed the paper.)

      I have endeavored to give some account of the aid furnished by France to our ancestors in the war for national existence. It is difficult to surmise what might have been, but apparently it would have been impossible to bring the war to a successful termination if France had not interfered in our behalf. Possibly, if the states had been forced to rely entirely on their own resources, assistance would have been given more freely to the general government, taxes would have been voted, money raised, troops enrolled, clothed and fed. But if the colonies unaided had done no more for themselves than they did when they had France as an ally, the Continental Army sooner or later would have disbanded. Resistance could only have been carried on by guerilla warfare, and inasmuch as a considerable proportion of the population were not zealous in the cause, it is doubtful if guerilla warfare could have been continued indefinitely.

      At all events, the new nation owed a heavy debt of gratitude to France for assistance in the hour of need. The obligation was fully recognized, and a strong feeling of affection for our allies long prevailed in this country; it was sufficiently active to be an important factor in our politics when the French Revolution threatened to involve us in dangerous complications.

      Yet the union between the two countries proved less durable and less important than was anticipated in the first fervor of their alliance. Gratitude does not often continue indefinitely as an active force, and untoward events hastened the chilling process which the years in due time would have produced. France as a republic was less agreeable to deal with than France under the old regime. However much our ancestors sympathized with efforts to establish political freedom, it was more difficult to agree with the citizens of the new republic than with the servants of an absolute king. The French Republic treated America with the same inattention to established usage that it showed towards European governments, and the antics of such representatives as Genet caused our ancestors to regard the Frenchman with a very chastened affection.

      The Napoleons discarded many of the traditions of the old regime, and certainly they did not inherit its friendship for America. The first Napoleon, in his dealings with this country, showed his customary disregard for the rights of others; as a result of his arbitrary action, we found ourselves in war with England and narrowly escaped war with France. After the Napoleonic era France was regarded by the average American in the same light as any other nation; our relations were friendly but there was no pretence of effusive affection. Louis Napoleon increased the ill-feeling which his uncle had aroused. If Napoleon Ill could have had his way at the time of our Civil War, France would have done what she could to destroy the nation which she had helped to create. It is doubtful whether the Emperor in his intrigues represented the French people, whom he governed so poorly and injured so greatly. But as a result of the ill-feeling which his policy created, most Americans sympathized with Germany rather than with France when their final struggle came.

      While the War of the Revolution decided the fate of the American colonies, it was only an incident in the long record of French warfare. France had the satisfaction of humiliating an ancient rival, but the expectation of materially weakening England’s power was disappointed. England was as important a factor in European politics after the loss of her American colonies as she had been before.

      The influence of the American alliance upon France was of a character that no one had anticipated. The power of England was not broken, France gained no monopoly of the trade with America and not even any important part in it; if the irritation caused by the disasters of the Seven Years’ War was somewhat allayed by England’s defeat, yet the position of France on the Continent was not materially strengthened by the American Revolution. The important effect was on the French people themselves: the success of the American colonists in establishing a free government had a great influence upon the French mind during the years before their own Revolution.

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