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The war between Great Britain and her ancient colonies, had now continued for six years; and, in its progress, enemy after enemy had been added to the combination against her, until she might be said to be contending with the open or secret hostility of all Europe. Her fleets and armies were making successful head against France, Spain, and Holland, while a more extensive confederacy of all the maritime States, except Portugal, were under the countenance of the formidable Empress of Russia, prepared to attack her naval superiority with their joint fleets. These hostile demonstrations were all subsequent to the American Revolution, and had their origin in that momentous event. It was not that revolutionary governments had found real favour in the eyes of these nations, or that any real sympathy was felt, beyond the bosoms of a few gallant individuals, for the oppressions or principles of the colonies. It was that the occasion was favourable for weakening the power of Britain, which, since the peace of 1763, had been the object of universal dread and jealousy. France and Spain, in particular, besides the ancient hostility of the House of Bourbon to England, and their national dislike of the English, had lost by the preceding wars, a vast extent of territory, and numerous valuable islands. Pride and interest had been deeply wounded. The immense fleets of Britain rode triumphantly, and, it
be added, with offensive arrogance in every sea, and gave her commerce a superiority which provoked the secret dislike of every maritime
Until the rupture with the colonies, so unwisely aggravated by the weak, and at the same time overbearing, policy of the ministry, the power of Britain was universally conceded; and though the object of suspicion and dread, met with no serious or concerted hostility. Nothing but opportunity, however, was necessary to develope the secret anxiety of her ancient rivals and enemies, to check her aspiring ambition, and diminish her overshadowing superiority. That opportunity was afforded by the civil dissensions between her and her American provinces; a portion of her empire regarded with particular interest, not only from its intrinsic value as a great and growing country, but from its peculiar situation with regard to the possessions of other nations, especially the French and Spanish dependencies. The progress of the rupture was watched with the keenest anxiety, but with an evident desire to cripple the power of England, as much as possible, with as little encouragement to the principles and views of the Americans as was compatible with this leading purpose. It has been seen, in the course of this narrative, that state policy retarded all public expressions of favour to the American cause, even in France, the most zealous and interested rival of England, until they became necessary to her own particular views. Two years of obstinate warfare, amidst sufferings and reverses of most disastrous omen, had not obtained for the Americans the countenance of the French government, until the capture of Burgoyne, on the one hand, and the altered tone of the British ministry on the other, displayed two alternatives as to the issue of the conflict, either of which would have baffled the wishes of France. A reconciliation with the parent country on terms of liberal compromise, or the achievement of independence, without French succor, would have placed the Americans entirely out of the reach of French influence. The result was the alliance of February, 1778, and the French war against England. The private views of France were postponed to the emergency of the crisis, but immediately renewed. Spain was made the agent for putting forward the same pretensions, as the price of her alliance, which had been advanced by France in her nego tiations. Independence, which had been fully recognised by the French, was to be reduced in all other foreign recognitions, and made as little valuable as possible to the Americans, by limiting their territory within the narrowest possible limits. The proffered mediation of the Spanish Court, in 1779, disclosed a concert of action on these points, between, the two courts. Their intrigues to deprive the United States of the Eastern Fisheries, and the Western Territory, so as "to coop us up," in the language of Franklin, "within the Alleghanies," were prosecuted with pertinacity, and only foiled in the end by the steady firmness and sagacity of the American negotiators. The refusal of Congress to make these sacrifices was so displeasing to the Spanish Court, that they declined acceding to the treaties between France and the United States; and, though waging war against Great
Britain, in common with the Allies, neither acknowledged the independence of the States, nor furnished them aid. On the contrary, when applied to by Mr. Jay for assistance in discharging the bills drawn upon him by Congress, they demanded as a condition the acknowledgment of these claims. Upon these selfish views they insisted to the last, and stubbornly refused to acknowledge the New States, except at a cost to which they would in no event consent.
As the other European nations joined in the general confederacy against Britain, the same disposition to limit the extent and power of the United States was constantly manifested. The armed neutrality of 1780, was followed
by another proffer of mediation between the belligerents. The Empress of Russia, the head of that coalition, offered herself as the mediatrix, and the Emperor of Germany was associated in the mediation. The offer was accepted by the belligerents in Europe, and Vienna appointed for the meeting of the Congress. The views of France were communicated to Congress in May, 1781, by the Chevalier de la Luzerne; and his communications manifested the continued eagerness of his court to have entire control of these American questions. The result of his representations to Congress had an important bearing on the final negotiations of peace at Paris, in 1782, to be related hereafter. The mediation failed, because of the refusal of Great Britain to admit of the representation of the United States at the Congress, in any other character than that of revolted subjects ; in which opinion the imperial courts sided with the British cabinet. The Marquis De Verac, French Minister at Petersburgh, made known the determination of the courts to Francis Dana, the American Envoy at Petersburgh, in September, 1781. “The mediating powers understand," said he, that your deputies shall treat simply with the British ministers, as they have already treated in America with the Commissioners of Great Britain, in 1778—that the conclusion of their negotiations shall teach the other powers upon what footing they are to be regarded, and that their public character shall be acknowledged without difficulty, from the moment when the English themselves shall no longer oppose it.”
The appointment of Mr. Dana to Petersburgh, had given displeasure to the Empress, who declined receiving or recognizing him. Mr. Adams, to whom the principal share in these negotiations had been committed, peremptorily insisted, from the first, upon a preliminary admission of American Independence, by the Congress, and as peremptorily refused to appear there in any other character than as the Minister of a free and sovereign people. Thus terminated, in 1781, this second European mediation. All parties except France, who was committed by her treaties, insisted on treating the Americans as lawful colonies of Great Britain, depending on her consent for their admission into the rank of independent nations.
The Dutch, though by their commercial pursuits and their form of government, most disposed to form connexions with America, were, if not equally reluctant, not more prompt in their co-operation than the Spaniards. War was proclaimed by Great Britain against Holland, on the 20th of December, 1780. Mr. Adams, who, on the capture of Mr. Laurens, had proceeded to Holland, to complete the pending negotiations, was unable, for a long time, to obtain a decisive answer.
In April, 1781, he drew up a memorial to the States General, representing the condition and views of the American States, and the high inducements which existed for forming a political connexion between them and the Provinces of Holland. This memorial the States General declined receiving in an official manner, but the substance was communicated to the Provinces for decision. No answer was returned. Mr. Adams repeated his application in August, and at the suggestion of the French minister, proposed a triple alliance between France, Holland, and the United States, all then at war with England, of which the acknowledgment of the independence of the States by Holland was to be a preliminary condition; and one of the articles was to be a joint stipulation not to lay down arms until it should be also acknowledged by Great Britain. The States General were still unprepared for this step, and their hesitation continued during the whole year. Not until the favourable change in America, by the campaign of 1781, the victories of Greene, and the capture of Cornwallis, was known in Europe, and the movements of party in England manifested an admission of the hopelessness of recovering America, did even the Dutch add their public recognition of the American Independence to that of France.
Such was the relation of the American States to their associates in the war, at the period of the surrender of Yorktown. One month before, Great Britain had haughtily re
fused to allow of any interference by other powers
between her and her “rebel subjects.” That pretension had been admitted by all the European powers, not at open war with her, and was heartily discountenanced by none, except France. In the condition of their affairs, it was undoubtedly believed, that while they could not be conquered, nor persuaded to return to a connexion with Great Britain, they would be content with a limited territory and such a quasi independence as the Swiss cantons enjoyed. The great point of dismembering the British Empire being gained, each of her rivals looked to securing his peculiar share of the spoils. The imposing position which the triumph at Yorktown enabled the Americans to assume, changed this aspect essentially. We shall shortly see, that with the prospect of peace which immediately followed, the acuteness of the American diplomatists enabled them to foil the intrigues of their allies, while the successes of their arms by bringing the British to terms, enabled them to use for their own benefit, the same national rivalries which had influenced the policy of the Bourbons. English jealousies of France and Spain were successfully employed to prevent any aggrandisement of these powers, at the expense of the new States. These important changes in the relative position of the belligerent parties, followed soon after the victory at Yorktown. The immediate effects upon the British, by which their subsequent policy was shaped, were the weakening of the ministry of Lord North, its final overthrow, and the formation of a new administration upon the avowed principle of hostility to any further prosecution of the American war.
A new parliament was opened on the 27th of November just after the intelligence of the defeat and capture of Cornwallis had been received in London. The King's Speech showed no symptom of faltering in the determination to carry on hostilities for the recovery of America; and the "unfortunate” fate of the “army in Virginia” was announced as giving additional proof of the necessity for " “а further vigorous, animated, and united exertion.” The plan of opposition was not yet settled in the new House, and the customary vote of thanks was adopted. The downfall of the ministry was, however, nigh; and the first attack was made on the 12th of December. A motion, introduced by Sir James Lowther, proposing to declare that “the war in North America had been hitherto ineffectual to the purposes for