« PreviousContinue »
making a trip to London and wrote to Franklin * that as he would be asked regarding the disposition towards peace, he wished to be informed if the view he had taken was correct that "you (the United States) seek only your independence, and that this country (France), were that secured, will be moderate in other matters." Franklin's reply was, "I think the language you mention very proper to be held, as it is truth.”
Alexander was the bearer of a letter to Hartley in acknowledgment of a plan of Hartley to secure buildings against fire. Franklin, in writing his acknowledgment, had said, “What are the lives of a few idle haunters of play houses, compared with the many thousands of men and honest industrious families butchered and destroyed by this devilish war.
Oh, that we could find some happy invention to stop the spreading of the flames and put an end to so horrid a conflagration." Hartley replied on the end of December that he heartily joined in the wish to stop the "devilish war," and that the communication received from Alexander had revived the hopes of peace.
Hartley proceeded to say that Alexander had told him that late events (the surrender of Cornwallis) would make no difference in the opinion expressed, that America was disposed to enter into a separate treaty, and that her allies would consent to this course. Hartley added that the unfortunate union of America and France had for the last three years turned aside the wish of the people of England for peace. t "I verily believe,” he added, "so deep is the jealousy between England and France, that this country would fight for a straw to the last man and the last shilling, rather than be dictated to by France. I therefore consider this to be the greatest rub out of the way." With these views, through the earl of Guildford, lord North's father, Hartley placed himself in relation with lord North. He drew up a paper, which he called “Conciliatory Propositions,” to which
* (15th December, 1781. Franklin, Vol. IX., p. 111.) t[Franklin's works, IX., p. 119.)
he obtained Alexander's concurrence, and it was placed by him in the minister's hands. Lord North asked who was authorised to treat, for it was necessary, before submitting any proposition to the council, to know that it came from responsible and authorised parties. These facts were communicated to Franklin, who answered,* that the desire of America to enter into a separate peace was entirely devoid of foundation ; and after stating that America spurned the thought of deserting a noble and generous friend, he requested Hartley to inform lord North that “the whole has been a mistake.” He gave the names of the commissioners appointed to open negotiations for peace, “it must be understood, in conjunction with our allies.” Some other letters followed. On the 20th of March lord North resigned.
In March Franklin met lord Cholmondeley at Passy. It is difficult to discern by Franklin's account under what circumstances; but Cholmondeley's note, given by Franklin in his journal, suggests that it was written owing to some previous communication. Franklin availed himself of the opportunity to write a few words to lord Shelburne, in which he spoke of his personal respect for his “talents and virtues," and congratulated him on the good disposition shewn to America in the votes of the house of commons, with the hope they would tend to a general peace. Rockingham's administration, of which Shelburne was a member, had then been formed. Shelburne acknowledged the letter, adding, nineteen years ago he had discussed with Franklin the means of promoting the happiness of mankind, a subject “much more agreeable to my nature than the best concerted plans for spreading misery and devastation.” He had therefore sent over Mr. Oswald, with whom he had had a longer acquaintance than with Franklin. He had consulted "some of our common friends;" this might mean the members of the cabinet, or it might not. He had thought Oswald a fit man to send, and full credit could be given to him.
Mr. Richard Oswald, thus selected by Shelburne as * [15th January, 1782. Franklin's works, p. 141.]
negotiator, was a Scotch merchant in London. During the seven years' war he had been an army contractor, and had subsequently acted as commissary general to the duke of Brunswick. He had made a large fortune in the war, and had purchased the estate of Auchencruise in Ayrshire. By his marriage he had obtained large estates in the American provinces and the West Indies. In 1777 he had visited Paris and had become known both to de Vergennes and Franklin. He had been introduced to Shelburne by Adam Smith, whose “Wealth of Nations" had been published in 1776. Shelburne had been one of the first to recognise the force of the argument of this work, and as Oswald also held these views, it was a recommendation to Shelburne's notice. He must have been well advanced in life, for Laurens writes that he had known him for thirty years. He was the bearer of a letter from Laurens, then a prisoner on parole in London.* The introduction must have been suggestive of Oswald's simplicity of character, and Franklin, of all people in the world, was the one to profit by the information.
Franklin received Oswald with kindness. He explained that his negotiations could only be carried on in connection with those of France, and that he himself must await the arrival of the other commissioners. He, however, introduced Oswald to de Vergennes. Although Franklin declared himself to be without authority to act alone, he discussed the situation with Oswald, and quickly gauged the character of lord Shelburne's negotiator. He expressed the desire for a real reconciliation, and, in order that it should be attained, he was of opinion that reparation should be made to the United States for the injuries done to the towns by the British and their Indian allies. Franklin affected great
One passage of the letter was as follows: “Some people in this country who have too long indulged themselves in abasing everything American, have been pleased to circulate the opinion that Dr. Franklin is a very cunning man; in answer to which, I have remarked to Mr. Oswald, “Dr. Franklin knows very well how to manage a cunning man, but when the Doctor converses with men of candour, there is no man more candid than himself.” [Franklin's works, IX., p. 240.]
moderation, and we may learn from his career, that he was never so much in pursuit of his purpose as when he took this tone of simplicity. He could not tell if demands for this reparation would be made, but it would be an act of wisdom to offer it. His proposition was, that, in order to obtain peace, Canada and Nova Scotia should be ceded to the United States, and the unceded land sold to indemnify the Americans who had suffered in the war for their losses and the loyalists for their confiscated estates.
While expressing these views Franklin referred to a paper which he says he frequently looked at. He describes this document as prepared from some loose thoughts to serve as a niemorandum, without a fixed intention of shewing it. It is so carefully written, that there can be little doubt that it had been prepared to be placed in Oswald's hands if expedient. The bait took, Oswald found that nothing could be clearer, more satisfactory and convincing that it was a right and proper thing to give over Nova Scotia and the loyalists to the mercy of congress, and that Canada, which, whatever sympathy it felt for France, had shewn none for congress, except with some few score contemptible intriguers, should be also abandoned. He asked for the paper to be shewn to lord Shelburne. Franklin coyly hesitated, but at last consented, adding a note in writing, that the subject named had been a mere matter of conversation. He further gave a note to Oswald for Shelburne, in which he requested that Oswald should be the only person with whom he should negotiate.
Well might he do so. Great Britain had not always been represented by wise men in her treaties. Royal favour, family relations, and political influence have on occasions placed in important positions many who have performed these duties discreditably, but the most inefficient representative of British interests as a diplomatist by whom it was the national fate to suffer was Mr. Richard Oswald. He was possibly honest and desirous of performing his duty, but he was incapable to the last degree. There is one more such character in this history of British America that can compete
with him in this negative pre-eminence, lord Ashburton, whose name to this day is never uttered in Canada without a feeling of contempt and shame.
There is no reason to doubt Franklin's narrative of these meetings. During the negotiations Oswald informed Franklin that the British ministers were, he thought, too elated by Rodney's victory of the 12th of April ; that peace was absolutely necessary to Great Britain ; that the nation had been foolishly involved in four wars; that money could not be found to carry them on; that if the war was persevered in, it would be necessary to stop payment of the interest due on the national debt; that the enemies of Great Britain had the ball at their feet,* and that the hope was, that they would use the power with moderation and magnanimity; and that in this desperate situation the people of England looked upon Franklin as the means of extraction from ruin.
Is it a wonder that, with such a representative of British interests, the United States commissioners obtained nearly all they desired ?
The letter of Franklin was submitted to the cabinet, but not the notes of the conversation, which were immediately returned to Paris, after having been shewn only to lord Shelburne. As Franklin's letter shewed a willingness to consider the conditions of peace, Oswald was sent back to France authorized to name Paris as a place of meeting. Fox was instructed to submit the name of a person to conduct the negotiations with de Vergennes. He selected Thomas Grenville, the son of George Grenville. The latter arrived in Paris on the 8th of May, four days after Oswald.
Oswald was the bearer of a private letter from Shelburne to Franklin. At the same time he received written instructions, evidently written to be produced on some future occasion, if necessary, for Shelburne's justification. Did they really represent Shelburne's views? It is doubtful. Of his ability there can be no question, but the impression that he regarded artifice as praiseworthy has survived him. Belief in
The italics are Franklin's.