In the conduct of Vergennes during the negotiations there was little of which a reasonable man could complain. Adams's belief, that France nearly bankrupted herself in a Machiavellian scheme to save the colonies from utter overthrow, and yet keep them from becoming powerful or rich, might almost seem the product of a diseased imagination. Vergennes wrote La Luzerne, his representative in America, that the King would use his influence for the advantage of the United States, and if he did not succeed in procuring for them all that they desired, the fault would be not his, but that of the circumstances which controlled him (Doniol, v, 42.) There was nothing in Vergennes's conduct which did not correspond to this profession, and nothing to show that he was displeased at the success of the American plenipotentiaries in their demands; even when they agreed on terms with the English without consultation with him, he manifested only transient and not very strong annoyance. The diabolical ingenuity which Adams and Jay detected in the conduct of the French minister appears neither in his acts nor in his correspondence.
On the other hand, Vergennes was anxious, and, from the standpoint of French interests, justly anxious, that peace should be made. Prudent men like Turgot had advised the King that in the financial condition of the country it was perilous to incur the expense of a new war. But the desire to avenge past defeats and humiliate England, together with a sincere sympathy with the efforts of the colonists to achieve freedom, united in overcoming these prudent counsels. In 1775 the debt of France had reached over two milliards and the expenses exceeded the income by twenty million livres (Doniol, i, 282.) The cost of the war had been great (Gomel, Les Derniers Controleurs, i, 36.) Vergennes felt that it was important that France should have peace, and have it speedily. He had undertaken war to obtain the independence of the colonies, and that result was now secured. It was neither strange nor reprehensible that he did not desire to continue the war in order to secure advantages for his allies in which France felt no special interest.
Except so far as they might conflict with the desires of Spain, to which France was bound by closer bonds than to the colonies, Vergennes was willing that the Americans should make the best terms they could. He neither said nor did anything to interfere with the success of their negotiations, but he was exceedingly anxious that they should not protract the war over the question of their fisheries and their western boundaries, and thus involve France in further contest. Therefore it was that he desired that Congress should not put forward these demands as an ultimatum, but should so leave it that peace might he made, even if all the advantages desired were not obtained. And, therefore, he wished that, so far as possible, the American commissioners should consult with the French King; not that he might betray them, but that negotiations might be so guided that peace should be the sure result.
It is evident that Vergennes would have cared little about the form of the instructions adopted by Congress if the negotiations had been entirely in Franklin's hands. In his sagacity and fairness Vergennes had the utmost confidence, but he felt, and not unjustly, that Adams was hostile to France and himself. He wrote La Luzerne, expressing his pleasure at the action of Congress because, otherwise, Adams would have been free to follow or reject the advice of France. "It is sufficient to know the character and principles of Mr. John Adams to realize how dangerous such power would have been in his hands, and how we might have been exposed to scenes that would have been disagreeable and even scandalous." But now that "the ardor, the stubbornness and the roughness of Mr. Adams will be tempered by the calmness, the wisdom and the experience of Franklin," Vergennes thought that all would be well (Doniol, v, 43.)
Throughout the war France dealt liberally with the colonies. She had driven no hard bargain, when she promised them her aid; if it had not been for French assistance, the army of Washington would have disbanded because the states were unable or unwilling to raise the money to supply the needs of the soldiers; had it not been for the assistance of the French army and fleet, Yorktown would not have been taken. So when Adams called on the guilty records to blush and perish, because they instructed him and his associates to consult with the French King as to terms of peace, his emotions as well as his metaphors were somewhat exaggerated; and when he accused the French of acting from a malicious purpose to cripple the country they had befriended, the fact that he entertained such a belief is not creditable to his intelligence.
Such was the condition of affairs when the news of the surrender of Yorktown reached Paris. It was apparent that the war was practically ended, and the long endeavor of England to reduce the colonies to subjection must now be abandoned. George III indeed refused to recognize the situation; his indomitable stubbornness, if it had been attended by intelligence, would have made him almost a great man. "The getting a peace at the expense of separation from America," he wrote after the fatal news, "...is a step to which no difficulties shall ever get me to be, in the smallest degree, an instrument." (William B. Donne, The Correspondence of George III and Lord North, ii, 398.)
But even North would no longer heed the royal commands, and in the brief interval before his overthrow, he made some overtures for peace. Apparently his hope was to divide the allies, and by making terms with one, to gain the chance of obtaining better terms from, or of continuing the war against, the other. Secret emissaries visited both Franklin and Vergennes to see if either would consider separate action, but they met a similar rebuff from both.
In the choice of the agent sent to Franklin a stupidity was shown worthy of George III in his best days. A man named Digges, a Maryland merchant and a protege of Arthur Lee, had some dealings in relation to the American prisoners in England. Franklin, at various times, furnished money to relieve the needs of these unfortunate men, and a portion of this Digges received for distribution. Some four hundred pounds of it he misapplied to his own use. Such a dastardly theft, practised upon these unfortunates, excited the wrath of the benevolent philosopher. "What is he," he wrote, "who can break his sacred trust by robbing a poor man and a prisoner of eighteen pence given in charity for his relief, and repeat that crime as often as there are weeks in a winter . . . If such a fellow is not damned, it is not worth while to keep a devil." (Franklin to Hodgson, April 1, 1781; Writings of Franklin, Smyth's ed., viii. 231.)
Yet Digges was sent to visit Franklin, and see if he would enter upon secret negotiations for peace between England and the colonies. Suggestions for a separate peace had been made before, but had received no encouragement from Franklin. "There is not a man in America, a few English tories excepted," he wrote his friend Hartley, a member of Parliament, who often suggested the desirability of a reconciliation, "that would not spurn at the thought of deserting a noble and generous friend for the sake of a truce with an unjust and cruel enemy . . . The Congress will never instruct their commissioners to obtain a peace on such ignominious terms, and though there can be but few things in which I should venture to disobey their orders, yet if it were possible for them to give me such an order as this, I should certainly refuse to act." (Franklin to Hartley, Jan. 15,1782; lbid., 358.) Digges was now informed that the American commissioners were ready to treat, but there could be no peace with America unless France were included.
Another emissary named Forth visited Vergennes and suggested the possibility of peace between France and England on terms favorable to the former country; but throughout all negotiations and suggestions for negotiations, Vergennes had one answer: that France would agree to nothing unless peace were made also with bey allies on terms satisfactory to them (Doniol, ii, passim.)
The situation was a complicated one. England had begun war with her revolted colonies alone, but there were now four nations in arms against her, and the field of hostilities extended from the banks of the James to the mouths of the Ganges. Hostile fleets met on the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific; while Washington was besieging Yorktown, the Spanish were besieging Gibraltar, and Dutch crews were infesting the British Channel and the North Sea. England's enemies were actuated by different purposes, and not all of them were even bound together by any formal alliance. France had made a treaty with the United States, in which she agreed to carry on war until their independence was secured. Spain had entered the contest somewhat later as the ally of France, but she was not an ally of the United States. Her action had been welcome, because it increased the difficulties England had to meet, and Spain and the colonies had, to a certain extent, acted harmoniously. Jay had been received as the American minister at Madrid, and the Spanish had furnished some money to the Americans, though very much less than had been asked.
But Spain was making war for her own hand: she had succeeded to the rights of France in the vague and vast possession which went by the name of Louisiana, and looked with jealousy on the desire of the United States to extend their western boundaries and share in the navigation of the Mississippi. Spain had taken part in the war, not from any desire to assist in procuring American independence, but because she hoped, as a result of the struggle, to extort advantages for herself. France and Spain were closely united by the Family Compact, and the French minister felt bound to obtain satisfactory terms for France's ally, the Spanish King, no less than for her other ally, the American colonies. From this came many of his embarrassments: neither wished to be sacrificed to the other, and their desires in some respects were likely to become antagonistic.
The French had not asked at any time any important advantages for their own country. It was believed that the independence of the American colonies would be a fatal blow to the mercantile supremacy of England, and the French anticipated sharing in the trade with the young and growing nation, which, in the past, had been monopolized by the English. Vergennes hoped also to secure for France some minor advantages in India, and some modifications in the ignominious treaty which had closed the Seven Years' War.
The States-General of the Netherlands had recently been forced into the war by the overbearing conduct of England, but they were not allies of any of the other three combatants, and only friendly feelings required them to be included in the negotiations for peace.
Such was the condition of the various belligerents when the prospect of peace began to assume practical shape. The efforts to induce either France or the colonies to desert their alliance, so that England might make terms with one and continue war against the other, had been made and had failed. The English ministry now proceeded in good faith to bring to an end a disastrous war, which had continued for seven years without advantage or glory. On March 20,1782, Lord North resigned, and the negotiations passed into the hands of the Rockingham ministry.
In the new administration Lord Shelburne was secretary of state for the colonies, and with him Franklin had been on friendly relations when in England years before. Franklin found an opportunity to send a note of congratulation, in which he expressed the hope that Lord Shelburne's return to power might lead to a general peace. In answer to this, informal negotiations soon began, which at last resulted in a formal treaty.
The first suggestion of the English was that the independence of the United States should be accorded, and that, in return for this concession, peace should be made between France and England on the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1763. But this involved the surrender of all the advantages France had gained in the war, in return for an acknowledgment of independence, which had been actually won. As Franklin said, "This seems to me a proposition of selling to us a thing that is already our own, and making France pay the price they are pleased to ask for it." (Franklin to Adams, May 8,1782; Writings of Franklin, Smyth's ed., viii, 487.)
In April, one Oswald, an amiable but not especially astute old gentleman, visited Paris, and received from Franklin a rough statement of the demands that would be made by the United States, and Fox, the secretary of foreign affairs, sent Mr. Grenville on a similar errand to Vergennes. In one of Grenville's interviews with Franklin he suggested that France might insist on conditions that were not provided for in the original alliance, and if so the Americans were not bound to continue the war in order to obtain them. But Franklin, during his years of residence at Paris, had learned the value of the assistance which France rendered the colonies, and was distressed by a suggestion that savored of scanty gratitude. "I told him," he writes, "I was so strongly impressed with the kind assistance afforded us by France in our distress, and the generous and noble manner in which it was granted, without exacting or stipulating for a single privilege or particular advantage to herself in our commerce or otherwise, that I could never suffer myself to think of such reasonings for lessening the obligation; and I hoped, and, indeed, did not doubt, but my countrymen were all of the same sentiments." (Franklin's Journal; Writings of Franklin, Smyth's ed., viii, 499.)
The attitude of France was the same. The credentials of Grenville authorized him to treat with the French; but either from accident or design their allies were omitted. But Vergennes repeated what he had so often said, - that France would enter into no negotiations unless her allies were included in them (Conference, May 26, 1782; Doniol, v, 113.)
Shelburne and Fox were distrustful of each other, and played at cross-purposes. Fox desired that the independence of the United States should be at once acknowledged. Perhaps his desire was the stronger, because negotiations with the United States as a foreign power would come within his province, and Shelburne, as secretary for the colonies, could then have no pretence for interfering in them. Shelburne, on the other hand, thought that the acknowledgment of independence should be left for the treaty, and that he should remain in charge of the matter. The quarrels of the ministers in London found their echo in the reports of the envoys at Paris. Grenville complained to Fox that Oswald seemed the favorite channel of communication, and that when he sought to learn from Franklin the views of the American commissioners, he encountered an impenetrable reserve.
Fox soon quarrelled with Shelburne and resigned, and the negotiations were left entirely in the hands of the latter. In April, 1782, the Comte de Grasse suffered a crushing defeat in the West Indies, and both Vergennes and Franklin feared that this disaster might check the anxiety of the English to end the war. Apparently it had no such effect; the English minister was still ready and anxious to make peace, if it could be obtained on reasonable terms. So far as the United States were concerned, the defeat of de Grasse proved in no way prejudicial to their interests. The war in North America had practically ceased, and, as a result of this disaster, France and Spain were less apt to delay peace by demanding advantages which the English would not grant.
Accordingly Oswald was selected to treat with the American commissioners, while Grenville was replaced by Fitzherbert in the negotiations with Vergennes. The choice of Oswald to continue the work he had begun must have been satisfactory to Lord Shelburne, and it was certainly very agreeable to Franklin. The Scotsman seems to have been one of the most amiable of men, and one of the poorest of diplomats. He was, as Shelburne truly said, "a pacifical man," while Franklin styled him "a very honest, sensible man." The American commissioner might well have thought Oswald sensible, for whatever Franklin advanced Oswald regarded as worthy of serious, if not of favorable, consideration; and by his plaintive eagerness to obtain peace at any price, he encouraged the American representatives to insist upon their demands, when their antagonist was plainly ready to concede everything. Oswald said, indeed, that the English were ready to carry on war, if France demanded humiliating terms of peace. But as a means of raising supplies, he could only suggest they might follow the example of Charles II, shut up the exchequer, and default on the payment of interest on the public debt.
If only in this way could England raise money to carry on the war, Franklin felt that her enemies need not be afraid. Accordingly he suggested to Oswald that if England wished to make reparation for the harm she had done, and avoid future trouble, she had best cede Canada to the United States. This he said would really be a reconciliation, which, he added, "is a sweet word." To obtain Canada was a favorite scheme of Franklin's, and if it had been insisted upon as strenuously as the American right to the fisheries, possibly it might have been granted. "Her chief advantage from that possession," said Franklin, "consists in the trade for peltry "; and this was not seriously contested (Lord Edward Fitzmaurice, Life of William Earl of Shelburne, iii, 180 -182.)
The complacent Oswald, if we can trust Franklin, liked the idea, and said that, while England was too much straitened to make reparation in money, he would try to persuade the minister to offer it in this form. But Shelburne did not view the proposition with favor, and New England and its representatives were more interested in the banks of Newfoundland than in the farms of Canada. So Franklin's favorite scheme came to naught, though the acquisition of Canada would have been worth more to our country than all the cod in the sea.
The United States were a small and poor people dealing with a rich and powerful monarchy, yet they had an advantage of position in these negotiations which their representatives used to the utmost. As it was certain that the independence of the colonies must be recognized, Shelburne now desired to restore, so far as possible, friendly relations. If the Americans were to be no Ionger English colonists, there was no reason why they should not remain England's customers and furnish an important outlet for English trade. The long war had embittered their feelings, and Shelburne feared lest this might divert from hostile England to friendly France a great portion of their valuable commerce; therefore he wished to make peace promptly, and was willing to concede liberal terms.
There was, however, delay over the preliminaries. The powers granted Oswald authorized him to treat with the thirteen colonies or plantations. As it was understood on all sides that recognition of the absolute independence of the United States would be the first article of any treaty, any preliminary acknowledgment was a matter of form rather than of substance. So at least it seemed to Franklin, who was anxious to proceed, so that terms might be agreed upon before Parliament met on the 26th of November. The condition of Shelburne's ministry was one of unstable equilibrium, and both the minister and Franklin desired that an agreement between England and the United States should be presented to Parliament at its opening as an accomplished transaction, and beyond the power of parliamentary interference.
But John Jay arrived in Paris in June, and he soon became the leading actor in these negotiations. Franklin was not well and much of the time was confined to his bed. Jay was young, ambitious, and vigorous, and, after two years of uselessness at Madrid, he naturally yearned for a field where something could be accomplished. He at once declared that he would not proceed with the conferences unless the independence of the United States was first formally acknowledged.
If the English had desired delay, this furnished them with abundant pretext for it; but Shelburne wanted peace, and was ready to please the Americans in every respect. He had cherished the dream of a federation between the mother country and the American colonies, a vision which, applied to other colonies of England, still allures the English statesman. In his instructions to Oswald he suggested the possibility of some plan of federal union, and wished Franklin to consider the suggestion; but he was soon convinced that the day for this had gone by. For political reasons of his own he did not desire delay, and he was willing to grant favorable terms in the hope of preserving for the mother country a liberal share in the trade with the new nation. These considerations made him ready to yield on debated questions, and accordingly the instructions were modified to meet Jay's requirements. Oswald was authorized to treat with the commissioners of the thirteen United States, and their existence as a nation was formally acknowledged at the beginning of the negotiations.
In October Adams arrived from Holland and assumed his duties as one of the commissioners. In his diary he expressed his opinion of his associates. "Between two as subtle spirits as any in this world, the one malicious, the other I think honest, I shall have a delicate, a nice, a critical part to act. Franklin's cunning will be to divide us; to that end he will provoke, he will insinuate, he will intrigue, he will maneuver. My curiosity will at least be employed in observing his invention and his artifice." (Works of John Adams, ill, 300.)
Such was Adams's judgment upon one who had done as much to secure the success of the colonies in Europe as Washington had done in America. It is sad that a man who was honest, able, and patriotic could view no one who obtained a larger degree of popular favor than himself except with a malevolent jealousy that blinded his judgment and lessened his usefulness.
Whatever lack of harmony existed among themselves, the American plenipotentiaries were now ready to proceed, and the question arose as to how far they should confer with their French allies. Jay, as well as Adams, had little love for France. "Mr. Jay likes Frenchmen as little as Mr. Lee and Mr. Izard did," writes Adams; "he says they are not a moral people; they know not what it is; he don't like any Frenchmen. The Marquis de La Fayette is clever, but he is a Frenchman." (lbid., 303.) Jay's dislike of the French prepared him to distrust their policy, and he soon formed the opinion that Vergennes was secretly manoeuvring against the interests of the United States. These suspicions became certainties in his mind when he discovered that one Rayneval had been sent on a secret mission to London. His object, so Jay was convinced, was to tell Shelburne that France disapproved of the American demands in reference to the fisheries and the boundaries, and would not support them.
Both Americans and Frenchmen may feel some interest as to the justness of this suspicion. The French did so much for our ancestors that it is unpleasant to believe that at the last they acted in bad faith, and looked with ill-favor upon demands that were important to the young republic. The entire record is before the world; we can read the instructions of Vergennes to La Luzerne, the reports of Rayneval, all that was said and done in the negotiations carried on between France and England, and nothing can be found which shows any endeavor on the part of the French to prevent the entire success of their American allies. Even if Vergennes was not anxious that all their demands should be granted, he did nothing and said nothing which could be criticized as in any way showing bad faith.
It is indeed certain that Vergennes did not wish to continue an expensive war in order to secure for the United States either fisheries or enlarged boundaries; in the matter of the Mississippi Valley he probably would have been glad to see an agreement reached that might be satisfactory to Spain. But in this there was no ground for complaint, and when it came to the actual negotiations, Vergennes's course was consistent and upright. He repeatedly informed the English that France had no authority to treat for the United States, and in no way did he interfere with the success of their negotiations. The history of the Rayneval mission can be studied in the records of the French foreign office; it is honorable both to Shelburne and to Vergennes (Doniol, v, chap. 4.) It was on account of this mission that Jay and Adams decided that the French were acting in bad faith, and it is worthwhile, therefore, to give a brief account of the transaction.
In April, 1782, the unfortunate Comte de Grasse was defeated by Rodney, and he was made a prisoner and carried to England. In August, he was released, and Lord Shelburne availed himself of this opportunity and sent by de Grasse a secret message assuring Vergennes of his sincere desire for peace, and suggesting that the French despatch a special envoy to London. Accordingly, early in September, RaynevaI was sent to confer with the English minister; but if Adams and Jay could have read his instructions and reports, they would have found in them no guilty secrets. There was, indeed, very little said about the United States. The instructions given Rayneval contained but one article on the subject, and in this it was stated that absolute and unconditional independence must be accorded to the colonists, while the envoy was to inform the English minister that it was the unalterable resolution of France to make peace only in connection with her allies. In the treaty between France and the United States it had been agreed that war should be continued until their independence was recognized. This demand and this alone, in behalf of the United States, France presented; this only was she bound by her treaty to obtain for her ally. All other questions that might arise were left for the English and the Americans to settle between themselves. On the other hand, the demands to be made in behalf of France and Spain were practically in the hands of the French. On these points Rayneval had full instructions; these and these alone he was sent to discuss; these and these alone he did discuss. The restoration of some of the West India islands to France, her rights in the Newfoundland fisheries, and advantages to be secured for her trade in the East Indies were matters he was to debate, while, on behalf of Spain, he was to insist upon acquisitions for her in the Gulf of Mexico, and the restoration of Gibraltar (Doniol, v, 104-105,143.)
The interviews between Shelburne and Rayneval were satisfactory; on both sides there was a desire for peace, and a readiness to agree on terms that should be just and honorable. The articles concerning France and Spain were debated at length and on most points with a reasonable prospect of agreement. Shelburne met the question of peace with France in a spirit far different from that which actuated Chatham at the close of the Seven Years' War, and he seems honestly to have desired unity of action between the two great powers in the affairs of Europe. "Let us change our mistaken principles," he said; "let us act in accord, and we can furnish the law for the rest of Europe." (Conference of Sept. 18; Doniol, v, 128.)
Like a true disciple of Adam Smith, Shelburne was ready to consider propositions of commercial freedom that would have been regarded as ruinous by most Englishmen. "I regard a commercial monopoly," he said, "as an odious thing, and a device to which the English nation is especially inclined . . . My ideas are exactly opposed to the catechism of the English merchants." (Report, Nov. 11; Doniol, v, 128.)
The suspicion that Rayneval was sent to assert the claims of Spain on the Mississippi Valley, which also haunted Jay, proved to be entirely without foundation. Indeed, only once were the affairs of America discussed at all, and then in a very cursory manner. Shelburne said that he anticipated much trouble with the Americans on the subject of the fisheries, and he hoped the French would not support their demands. But the cautious emissary replied in diplomatic language that doubtless the French King would desire the Americans to restrain their demands within the bounds of justice and reason. And when his own opinion was asked on the question of the fisheries, he said that he was not familiar with the subject. An inquiry on the subject of the western boundaries was no more successful: the envoy neither supported nor denied the American demands, although Shelburne declared that the pretended charts, on which they were based, were mere folly. Shelburne closed the interview by saying that the revolt in America was really the work of France; but Rayneval justly replied that the English should charge this lamentable result to the folly of their own ministers (Doniol, v, 133.)
The report of Rayneval convinced Vergennes that the English were ready to make peace on fair terms, while the interviews persuaded Shelburne that the requests of France and Spain would contain nothing on which an agreement could not be reached except, possibly, the demand for Gibraltar. "Gibraltar," said the English minister, "will be as formidable a rock in these negotiations as it is in the sea." (Doniol, v, 126.)
Shelburne's inquiries as to the support France would give the American demands were apparently intended to gratify an idle curiosity, for the English had already practically decided to grant them. Possibly the English minister thought be could assume a more determined air with the American commissioners if the French intimated any ill-will towards the attitude of their allies; but if he entertained any such purpose he got no encouragement, and the negotiations with the United States continued their placid course.
But Jay's suspicions of the Rayneval mission led him to a step which might be justly criticized. Convinced that Rayneval was occupied in evil devices, he himself sent an emissary to London, whose instructions could not have been made public without injury. He selected one Vaughan, whose commission was to suggest to Shelburne that now was the time for England to choose between France and the United States, and by granting the demands of America, to secure the future good-will of their country. It is hard to say what effect this message had on the English minister. Certainly if Vergennes had adopted a similar measure, he would be denounced as a false ally by every American writer.
Another incident led Jay and Adams to distrust Vergennes, and with somewhat better reason. One Marbois was secretary of the French legation at Philadelphia, and in March, 1782, he sent a letter to Vergennes criticizing the position taken by the Americans in reference to the fisheries, and suggesting that the French King should declare that their contention was ill founded and would receive no support from him. This letter was intercepted by the English, and they sent a translation of part of it to the American commissioners, with the laudable desire of exciting irritation between the allies (Wharton, v, 238.)
Assuming that the letter was correctly translated, which Franklin seemed to question, it was a stupid, injudicious, and unfriendly message, which showed that Marbois was a very poor man for his place. Apparently the letter never reached Vergennes, and certainly the advice was not heeded; for the French King never intimated that he would not support the Americans in their demand for participation in the Newfoundland fisheries. The English minister, Vergennes wrote some months later, sent the American commissioners a letter from Marbois, "in order to make them suspicious of our attitude on the fisheries . . . There is a brief reply to this; the opinion of the Sieur du Marbois is not that of the King and his Council, and Congress knows well that the steps indicated in that despatch were never taken." (Doniol, v, 297.)
In view of all this, the American commissioners had to decide how far they would confer with Vergennes in their negotiations with England for peace. Their decision created much ill-feeling at the time, and is still a subject for complaint by French historical writers. Upon this point the instructions of Congress were specific: the commissioners were to undertake nothing without the knowledge of the French King, and were to govern themselves by his opinion and advice. But the commissioners were reluctant to comply with these instructions, specific as they were. Jay distrusted Vergennes and wished to proceed with the negotiations without conferring with him. If the French minister was hostile to the demands made in behalf of the United States, the less he knew about them the better; and if he should advise against pressing them, their position would become embarrassing. On the other hand, Franklin had confidence in the friendliness of their allies, and probably had still more confidence in his own ability to induce Vergennes to agree to whatever he recommended. The question was settled by Adams, who arrived in October and at once cut his vote with Jay. Franklin acquiesced in the view of his associates without further debate, and the commissioners proceeded with the negotiations, asking Vergennes neither for assistance nor for counsel.
The importance of this action has been exaggerated both by those who approved and by those who condemned it. If the commissioners had obeyed their instructions, consulted regularly with Vergennes, and yielded entire respect to his opinions, the final treaty would have been the same. Doubtless, if the English had been obstinate in refusing any of the American demands, and there had been danger that the negotiations would fail, Vergennes would have been anxious that his allies should yield and peace be insured. But no such contingency arose, and considering the pacific mood of the English minister and the pacific character of the English negotiators, there was little danger of a breach. The conduct of the English would not have been different had full reports of the conferences been daily transmitted from Franklin's house in Passy to Vergennes's apartment in the Louvre. Nor would Vergennes have been so obtuse as to advise the Americans to yield what it was evident the English were ready to grant. No one knew better than he that such advice would not be followed, and that it would prejudice France with the country whose gratitude and whose trade he greatly desired to obtain.
On the other hand, there was no special reason why the French should have complained of the conduct of their American allies, nor did they complain very strenuously. As to any violation of the instructions of Congress, that was for the commissioners to settle with their own government. Jay said he would break them as readily as his pipe, which he forthwith proceeded to smash. In the outcome, while the action of the Americans possibly interfered with some of the aspirations of Spain, a country to which we were bound neither by treaty nor by gratitude, it was indirectly of service to France, as the history of the negotiations will disclose.
Vergennes had repeatedly said that the conditions of peace between the English and the Americans must be settled between them, and he had no concern in the matter, except that none of the allies should conclude a treaty until all had obtained satisfactory terms (Doniol, v, 86, and passim.) He knew of the progress of the negotiations, and if he was not informed of the details, he made no complaint. The commissloners were daily conferring in Paris, and it was easy for him to get whatever information he desired as to their progress. Even to his representative at Philadelphia he expressed his discontent at the conduct of the American commissioners in very mild and guarded terms. He wrote, in October, that Jay and Franklin preserved a strict reserve, and suggested that Livingston, if he thought proper, might write reminding them of their instructions; but he added, "you will be very careful not to present this as a complaint, and ask Mr. Livingston not in any way to reprove Mr. Franklin and Mr. Jay . . . It is enough that he will excite them to show us the confidence which they have been directed to give." (Doniol, v, 139.) Nor, when terms had been agreed upon without consultation, did Vergennes manifest anything more than a little not unnatural pique, except when, for a brief period, he feared that this action might result in the failure of his own negotiations, and prolong the war.
Vergennes repeatedly notified the English that he had no authority to treat with the United States, and it was agreed on all hands that the negotiations for each country should proceed separately. Doubtless, Vergennes expected that the American commissioners would confer with him as the matter progressed, but at no time did he show any desire to interfere in their negotiations. The statement he sent to La Luzerne was entirely correct. "If the American commissioners are exact in the reports they send, they will not complain that we seek to influence them or to hinder their negotiations. I receive what they see fit to tell me. They know that when needed, I would render them all the good offices in my power, but I do not put myself in the way of knowing more than they are disposed to disclose." (Doniol, v, 177.)
Doubtless, Vergennes feared that some of the requests made by the Americans might be stubbornly refused by England, and hostilities be indefinitely continued for this reason. He had repeatedly sought to moderate the demands of his allies, not because he was hostile to their success, but because he feared they would be unsuccessful, and peace be postponed. He was far from realizing the willingness of the English to yield all that was asked, and he did not foresee the easy victory which awaited the American representatives. In the same letter to La Luzerne, he adds: "Despite all the cajoleries which the English ministers shower upon the Americans, I do not think they will be facile upon the fisheries nor upon the boundaries as the American commissioners understand them." And he foresaw yet more difficulty in the matter of the loyalists, whose claims, he said, the English could not decently abandon and the Americans were resolved not to concede (Doniol, v, 177.)
Having determined to act without Vergennes's counsel, the American commissioners proceeded resolutely and successfully in their work. Practically all that the Americans asked, the English conceded, and naturally this facilitated the progress of the negotiations. There had been associated with the amiable Oswald a Mr. Strachey, who was supposed to be deeply versed in the matter of the fisheries. He was a man of little diplomatic experience and very moderate ability. It is strange that when the United States were represented by diplomats such as Franklin, Adams, and Jay, the interests of England should have been intrusted to men who were alike mediocre and obscure. But Shelburne wished for peace, and as apparently he was willing to grant whatever was asked, it made little difference what manner of men were chosen as negotiators,
The first question that arose was as to the fisheries, and Adams presented the American case with great ability, fully justifying the confidence placed in him by his New England constituents, to whom the question of the fisheries seemed of the highest importance. Jay was equally successful in the far more important question of the western boundaries, and the Mississippi Valley east of the river was ceded to the United States. Apparently the desire of Franklin for Canada was not shared by his associates. Probably it would not have been agreed to, and still it is possible that Canada might have been obtained, as Franklin suggested, by satisfying the demands made in behalf of the American Tories. At this price it would have been as good an investment as the purchase of Louisiana.
The English commissioners yielded easily on the right of fishing and the western boundaries, but they were strenuous in their demands in behalf of the American loyalists. This was regarded as a point of honor, and on this Shelburne said they could not yield. Vergennes seems, also, to have felt that some satisfaction might properly be given the loyalists, though it is hard to see that it was any business of his. But Franklin was strenuous in his opposition, and at last the English yielded on this also. As a solace to their pride it was agreed that Congress should recommend legislation by the states for the restoration of the confiscated property of British subjects; but both sides knew that this meant nothing. On November 30, 1782, the articles were signed, with an agreement that they should not go into effect until peace was made between France and England.
Certainly it would have been courteous to notify Vergennes of the agreement before the American commissioners set their hands to it. The two nations had been allies in a great war, and the law, as well as good manners, forbade either partner making a secret bargain for his own advantage. But the breach was one of manners rather than of substance. It had been left to the American commissioners to make their own bargain with England, and they had done so. It would have been absurd for Vergennes to object to the terms that had been agreed upon, when they in no way affected the interests of France. If he had objected, he would have put himself in so false a position that the American commissioners would have signed without his approval, and the French minister made no blunders of that sort. He might, indeed, have asked them to withhold their signatures until the French had made terms with England, and they might properly have acceded to his request; but their agreement did provide that it should only become operative when France also had made peace. So far as the moral effect was concerned, it would have been the same whether the document was formally signed or was merely waiting for signature.
Franklin informed Vergennes that the articles had been signed, and that experienced diplomat evidently realized that if the Americans were new to diplomacy they understood the art of attending to their own interests. But he received the information calmly, and on December 4 be wrote Rayneval, who was then at London: "You did not suppose when you left us that the negotiations of the Americans were almost concluded. Yesterday I received a letter from Franklin announcing that everything was agreed upon and about to be signed. . . . The translation of the preliminaries which I enclose saves my entering on any detail. You will remark that the English buy a peace rather than make one. Their concessions on the boundaries, the fisheries and the loyalists, exceed all that I believed possible . . . I said to Mr. Franklin that notwithstanding the provision that these articles should not take effect until peace was agreed upon between France and England, their signature was none the less premature." (Doniol, v, 188.)
Vergennes also wrote La Luzerne, enclosing a copy of the preliminaries: "You, as well as I, will surely applaud the extensive advantages which our allies, the Americans, have obtained by the peace, but certainly you will not be less surprised than I was at the action of the commissioners. According to the instructions of Congress, they were to do nothing without our participation. I informed you that the King would not seek to influence the negotiations, except so far as his good offices were necessary for his friends. The American commissioners will not say that I have sought to interfere, and still less that I have wearied them with my curiosity. They held themselves carefuIly aloof from me ... You can judge of my surprise when on November 30 Mr. Franklin informed me that the articles were signed. The reservation made in regard to us does not prevent this being an infraction of the promise to sign jointly. I owe Mr. Franklin the justice to say that he sent a copy of the articles on the next day. He will not complain because I received them without any demonstrations of sensibility. It was not until he came to see me a few days later that I showed him how hastening their signatures was not an obliging proceeding towards the King. He appeared to see this and excused himself and his colleagues as best he could. Our conversation was amicable . . . I accuse no one; I do not blame even Mr. Franklin. He yielded perhaps too easily to the impulses of his colleagues, who affect to ignore the rules of courtesy . . . If we can judge the future by what we have just seen, we shall be poorly repaid for what we have done for the United States of America." (Doniol, v, 192.)
Though Adams and Jay regarded France as a poor friend, Congress still turned to that country for the money which could not be obtained at home. Upon Franklin the duty of making requests for money was always imposed, and certainly no one else could have been so successful in obtaining it. "Dr. Franklin," so Adams wrote, "who has been pliant and submissive in everything, has been constantly cried up to the stars, without doing anything to deserve it." Only the extraordinary combination of tact, courtesy, and social charm which Franklin possessed could have procured, year after year, from a bankrupt treasury, the money necessary for the success of the American cause. If Adams had been our minister at Paris, France would probably have left us to our fate long before Yorktown was captured.
And now, by an unhappy combination, hardly had Franklin performed the disagreeable duty of notifying Vergennes that the American commissioners had signed articles of peace without the cooperation of France, than he was required to follow this errand with a request for more money. The necessity of obtaining financial aid from France and the frequency of the calls might properly have modified the severity of Adams and Jay towards our ally. It is not altogether in place to assume the dignity of a hidalgo towards a man from whom you have just borrowed five dollars, and of whom you are about to ask ten more. The applicant who receives a loan with a haughty expression and refuses to degrade himself by saying thank you, may save his face, in Chinese phraseology, but after all his attitude is not heroic. Such was never the position which Franklin assumed. He asked many favors from the French, but he always insisted that it was both good policy and good manners to be thankful for them.
On November 30, Franklin notified Vergennes of the signature of the articles. A very few days later the doctor again visited the minister and asked him to lend the states twenty million francs. Certainly it was an unfortunate time for such a request. Even the mildest of men, when still smarting from a snub, does not receive with enthusiasm a request for a loan, and this demand came when it seemed that the snub might do serious injury. When the Americans signed the articles with England, though Vergennes was annoyed, he evidently regarded their act as an offence against manners rather than a serious political blow. But at that time the terms of peace between England, France, and Spain seemed to be agreed upon by the apparent willingness of England to restore Gibraltar. Now the English said they would not surrender Gibraltar, and the Spanish said they would make no peace unless it was restored to them; as a result there seemed a possibility of the continuance of the war, and Vergennes naturally attributed the change in the English position to the fact that they had agreed with the United States and regarded that country as practically off their hands.
Another incident increased the irritation of the French minister. Franklin told him that he was about to send the preliminaries to the United States in a ship under English safe conduct. This was natural enough, but Vergennes was alarmed at the condition of negotiations in London, and feared that when Congress and the American people found that terms satisfactory to them had been agreed upon, they would drop out of the contest, and France might be left to carry on the war with only Spain as an ally. And now on top of all this, came a request for a further loan of twenty million francs!
On December 15 Vergennes sent Franklin a note expressed with unusual acerbity. "I am embarrassed," he wrote, "to explain your conduct and that of your associates . . . You agreed on preliminaries without conferring with us, though Congress instructed you to take no step without the participation of the King. You are going to excite in America the belief that peace is assured, without even informing yourself what progress we are making in our negotiations. You are wise and discreet, you know what is fitting, you have performed your duty all your life; do you think you satisfy the obligations which bind you to the King? . . . When you can solve my doubts on this subject, I will ask his Majesty to satisfy your demands." (Doniol, v, 191.)
Such a letter would have discouraged most applicants for money, but nothing discouraged Franklin. He at once presented his apologies in the best form in which they could be put. "Nothing," he wrote, "has been agreed in the preliminaries contrary to the interests of France, and no peace is to take place between us and England until you have concluded yours. Your observation is, however, apparently just, that, in not consulting you before they were signed, we have been guilty of neglecting a point of bienseance. But, as this was not from want of respect for the King, whom we all love and honor, we hope it will be excused, and that the great work, which has hitherto been so happily conducted, is so nearly brought to perfection, and is so glorious to his reign, will not be ruined by a single indiscretion of ours. And certainly the whole edifice sinks to the ground immediately, if you refuse on that account to give us any further assistance." (Franklin to Vergennes, Dec. 17, 1782; Writings of Franklin, Smyth's ed., viii, 642.)
It illustrates the uniform generosity shown by France to her American allies that, notwithstanding Vergennes's temporary irritation, he soon acceded to Franklin's request for more money. "I will add nothing," he wrote La Luzerne, after referring to this action of the American commissioners, "in respect to the demand for money which has been made upon us. You can judge if conduct like this encourages us to new demonstrations of liberality." But he did not execute the threat which he made in his irritation. The United States needed money, as they always did, and Vergennes was ready to assist them, as he always was. To furnish the entire amount of twenty millions was indeed impossible. The French treasury was in sore need, and Vergennes could truthfully have said that her own financial distress left France in no condition to be generous. But if the King did not supply the twenty millions, he did what he could, and lent the United States six millions at five per cent, when he was himself paying seven per cent on borrowed money.
Such proof of honest friendship cannot be overthrown by the jealous suspicions of Adams or the unfounded apprehensions of Jay. "I pressed hard, therefore," said the indefatigable Franklin, "for the whole sum demanded, but was told it was impossible, the great efforts to be made . . . and the enormous expense engaged in, having much embarrassed the finances." (Franklin to Morris, Dec. 23, 1782; Wharton, vi, 159.) And he adds the just reflection: "Our people certainly ought to do more for themselves. It is absurd, this pretending to be lovers of liberty while they grudge paying for the defence of it."
Similar complaints are often found in Washington's and Franklin's correspondence, and they suggest some reflections on American character and patriotism as they were displayed at the time of the Revolution and in the Civil War of the following century. Certainly it does not reflect unfavorably on the men of the Revolution if we find progress in succeeding generations. It would be a poor commentary on the liberty they established and the government they founded, unless their fruits were shown, not merely in growth of population and increase of wealth, but in the development of national and individual character. The patriotism and devotion displayed by many in the Revolution must not blind us to the fact that many others showed little desire to devote themselves, and still less willingness to devote their money, to their country's cause.
It was the remissness of the states in furnishing money, as well as the difficulty in raising troops, which rendered the aid of France so indispensable to success. Doubtless there were many reasons which explained in part the scanty pecuniary assistance which the people of the thirteen states were willing to give to the cause of their independence.
The inability of Congress to impose taxes aggravated the situation; a strong central government could have adopted some system of taxation, and to this most would have submitted, peacefully if not cheerfully. The states themselves, if their legislators and their people had been actuated by a generous patriotism, could have done much to remedy the condition. But not only was each state unwilling to contribute more than its share; few showed any strong desire to contribute even so much. Undoubtedly, a large part of the population were not eager for separation from England, and if they acquiesced in the revolutionary movement, it was more from the fear of offending others than from any zeal in the cause. Naturally they did as little as they could without incurring the illwill of their neighbors, and those most indifferent to the success of the revolutionary cause were found largely among the prosperous members of the community. The well-to-do are rarely eager for radical political change, and many were bound by religious, pecuniary, and social ties to the old country.
It is sometimes said that the poverty of the colonists rendered it impossible for them to raise the funds necessary to carry on the war, but this apology does not seem well founded. The financial needs of the Revolution were insignificant when compared with the wars of to-day. The English had no more than thirty thousand soldiers in America at any one time. It did not require a great army to contend successfully with such a force, and the colonists, though their wealth was insignificant compared with our present standards, were a prosperous and not a poor people. Issuing paper money that soon depreciated was an act of folly that brought ruin to many honest people and aggravated the difficulties of the situation. But to some extent Congress was driven to this measure because it was impossible to raise money in any way except by the printing press; and while paper money brought ruin to some, it furnished to others an opportunity for the rapid accumulation of wealth. The prosperity which had prevailed in America prior to the Revolution did not entirely vanish after the war began. On the other hand, there were displays of wealth and luxury which had formerly been infrequent.
It is impossible not to contrast the niggardliness shown, not by all, but by a considerable proportion of the population, with the extraordinary liberality with which the entire community met the calls of the government when our national existence was in peril during the Civil War. There are abundant explanations of the contrast, and an undue reverence for the past should not lead us to overlook them. It would be sad, indeed, if a century of liberty and prosperity had not developed a broader and deeper patriotism. At the time of the Revolution there was no country with great traditions to which patriotism could strongly cling; the new Confederacy was an experiment, whose workings at the beginning were far from satisfactory. The United States of 1861 had a stronger hold on the love of its citizens than the Confederacy of 1776.
Moreover, the traditions of American life during two generations, the activity of business, the opportunities for the rapid accumulation of wealth, had fostered the willingness, which is so strong in element in American character, to spend money without limit, when the end is worthy of the expenditure. No people has acquired wealth with such success, no people expends it with such readiness. The energy with which Americans accumulate money has led to the erroneous belief that they are, above other peoples, worshippers of the almighty dollar. The worshipper of the dollar is the man who will not spend it for a good cause, and no people deserve so little to be reproached for that offence. Our ancestors had not yet developed that liberality of expenditure which is now an element of American character. They had not learned that the value of money consists in the ability to do something with it. But if these qualities were not largely developed in the thirteen colonies in 1775, they can claim the glory of founding a nation whose people have shown their willingness to give their money freely for a good cause and to sacrifice their lives to save the republic.