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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·The Diplomacy of the Revolution · Summary of the Revolutionary Period·»

Peace at Last

British Opposition to the War.—In measuring the forces that led to the final discomfiture of King George and Lord North, it is necessary to remember that from the beginning to the end the British ministry at home faced a powerful, informed, and relentless opposition. There were vigorous protests, first against the obnoxious acts which precipitated the unhappy quarrel, then against the way in which the war was waged, and finally against the futile struggle to retain a hold upon the American dominions. Among the members of Parliament who thundered against the government were the first statesmen and orators of the land. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, though he deplored the idea of American independence, denounced the government as the aggressor and rejoiced in American resistance. Edmund Burke leveled his heavy batteries against every measure of coercion and at last strove for a peace which, while giving independence to America, would work for reconciliation rather than estrangement. Charles James Fox gave the colonies his generous sympathy and warmly championed their rights. Outside of the circle of statesmen there were stout friends of the American cause like David Hume, the philosopher and historian, and Catherine Macaulay, an author of wide fame and a republican bold enough to encourage Washington in seeing it through.

Against this powerful opposition, the government enlisted a whole army of scribes and journalists to pour out criticism on the Americans and their friends. Dr. Samuel Johnson, whom it employed in this business, was so savage that even the ministers had to tone down his pamphlets before printing them. Far more weighty was Edward Gibbon, who was in time to win fame as the historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. He had at first opposed the government; but, on being given a lucrative post, he used his sharp pen in its support, causing his friends to ridicule him in these lines:

“King George, in a fright
Lest Gibbon should write
The story of England’s disgrace,
Thought no way so sure
His pen to secure
As to give the historian a place.”

Lord North Yields.—As time wore on, events bore heavily on the side of the opponents of the government’s measures. They had predicted that conquest was impossible, and they had urged the advantages of a peace which would in some measure restore the affections of the Americans. Every day’s news confirmed their predictions and lent support to their arguments. Moreover, the war, which sprang out of an effort to relieve English burdens, made those burdens heavier than ever. Military expenses were daily increasing. Trade with the colonies, the greatest single outlet for British goods and capital, was paralyzed. The heavy debts due British merchants in America were not only unpaid but postponed into an indefinite future. Ireland was on the verge of revolution. The French had a dangerous fleet on the high seas. In vain did the king assert in December, 1781, that no difficulties would ever make him consent to a peace that meant American independence. Parliament knew better, and on February 27, 1782, in the House of Commons was carried an address to the throne against continuing the war. Burke, Fox, the younger Pitt, Barré, and other friends of the colonies voted in the affirmative. Lord North gave notice then that his ministry was at an end. The king moaned: “Necessity made me yield.”

In April, 1782, Franklin received word from the English government that it was prepared to enter into negotiations leading to a settlement. This was embarrassing. In the treaty of alliance with France, the United States had promised that peace should be a joint affair agreed to by both nations in open conference. Finding France, however, opposed to some of their claims respecting boundaries and fisheries, the American commissioners conferred with the British agents at Paris without consulting the French minister. They actually signed a preliminary peace draft before they informed him of their operations. When Vergennes reproached him, Franklin replied that they “had been guilty of neglecting bienséance [good manners] but hoped that the great work would not be ruined by a single indiscretion.”

The Terms of Peace (1783).—The general settlement at Paris in 1783 was a triumph for America. England recognized the independence of the United States, naming each state specifically, and agreed to boundaries extending from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and from the Great Lakes to the Floridas. England held Canada, Newfoundland, and the West Indies intact, made gains in India, and maintained her supremacy on the seas. Spain won Florida and Minorca but not the coveted Gibraltar. France gained nothing important save the satisfaction of seeing England humbled and the colonies independent.

The generous terms secured by the American commission at Paris called forth surprise and gratitude in the United States and smoothed the way for a renewal of commercial relations with the mother country. At the same time they gave genuine anxiety to European diplomats. “This federal republic is born a pigmy,” wrote the Spanish ambassador to his royal master. “A day will come when it will be a giant; even a colossus formidable to these countries. Liberty of conscience and the facility for establishing a new population on immense lands, as well as the advantages of the new government, will draw thither farmers and artisans from all the nations. In a few years we shall watch with grief the tyrannical existence of the same colossus.”

North America according to the Treaty of 1783

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