« PreviousContinue »
DEATH OF ROCKINGHAM.
he should be recalled, and the duty assigned to some person of high rank to conduct the whole negotiation.
Fox was exceedingly indignant at this intelligence. For the first time he had been informed of the paper placed by Franklin in Oswald's hands, and he was ignorant of the intention on the part of Shelburne to invest Oswald with full powers, although Franklin had been made acquainted with it. This proceeding he regarded as a direct interference with Grenville's mission. Franklin has recorded, on Oswald's authority, that when the cession of Canada had been mentioned to Fox, he was entirely opposed to it; and it had been advanced in Franklin's paper as a basis of negotiation. Fox communicated his views to Rockingham, Richmond, and lord John Cavendish, and they agreed with him that the negotiations should be conducted by Grenville.
The matter was brought before the cabinet. Rockingham was then dying, and in his absence the members were equally divided. At the first meeting, Fox's motion for the recall of Oswald was refused, the reason assigned being that there was cause for disbelief in de Vergennes' sincerity, and the expectation that a separate peace might be negotiated with the United States, so that England, freed from operations in America, would be able to cope with the powers in Europe hostile to her. Fox determined to make a last effort to assert his position, and on the 30th of June moved that the independence of the United States should be unconditionally acknowledged, arguing that the minute which had been passed was virtually to this effect. The motion was opposed by Shelburne, for assent to it would have taken the negotiations entirely out of his hands, and have placed them with Fox as foreign secretary. The cabinet was equally divided, but Conway voted with Shelburne. Fox immediately stated his determination to resign, and it was only from the extreme illness of Rockingham that he did not so act. Rockingham died the succeeding day. Rockingham's death was followed by an effort on the part of the members of the cabinet who sided with Fox, to place the duke of Portland at its head.
With this view they proposed his name to the king. The king without delay answered that he had appointed Shelburne first lord of the treasury. Fox immediately resigned. The only member of the cabinet who accompanied him was lord John Cavendish. The duke of Portland, Burke, Sheridan, Althorpe, with some others not in the cabinet, took the same course. On July the 11th, parliament was prorogued and did not meet again until December.
The negotiations were now carried on entirely by Shelburne, and for the next two months little progress was made. France and Spain were waiting to see the result of the operations against Gibraltar, in the hope that their success would enable them to wrest that fortress from England. Shelburne was prepared to cede it, and the king attached little value to it, provided he could obtain some equivalent to satisfy the national feeling. Great Britain was really desirous of peace; it was, however, the general sentiment that in recognizing the independence of the United States, the country was making great sacrifices, and was conceding the principle to attain which the war had been begun. The United States were obtaining the object of their contention, and were equally desirous that hostilities should cease. Whatever bold face they assumed in Europe after Cornwallis' surrender, it was felt in the provinces which were the seat of the war that the cause was still desperate. The navy no longer existed. Of the thirteen vessels ordered to be constructed by congress, not one remained. Two had been destroyed on the Hudson, three on the Delaware, and the remainder, with those which had been bought, had been taken or burned at Charleston, Penobscot or at sea. One vessel, the "America," had been presented to the king of France. The debt had become immense for the confederacy, and the continental paper had ceased to have value. Congress was destitute of money, and the several states, as they now claimed to be, paid nothing into the treasury as they had been assessed. Recruiting for the continental army had almost ceased. What additions to the force were made, were levies raised for a few months' ser1782]
CONDITION OF UNITED STATES.
vice by the different states. Congress, nevertheless, remained a name which had great weight, and every step was taken to increase its importance. Meetings were held with closed doors; no reports of debates were permitted ; and the whole proceedings, with the jealousies, differences, and disputes accompanying them, remained concealed. It is now known that the numbers present were often below thirty. When they met it was for the transaction of business. There were no speeches delivered, the discussion was in the tone of men familiarly dealing with the matters to be transacted. The want of money was the burden terribly felt, and it was on this point France really rendered assistance.
In the last year
of the war, although the rulers of France saw that bankruptcy was sure to overtake their own country, nevertheless, they lavishly subsidized the United States, from the knowledge that the revolutionary movement must otherwise have collapsed.
This condition of the United States at that time being now known, it is impossible to refuse our sympathy to the constancy of purpose, and the perseverance which dictated the continuance of the contest. The feeling was strong, with those who knew precisely the condition of the country, that it would be impossible to keep an army in the field for another year. No new men could be obtained. The interest of the debt remained unpaid. Congress endeavoured to introduce a customs act, levying five per cent. on imports. It met so much opposition, especially in Virginia and Massachusetts, that it was abandoned. Hancock, the governor of Massachusetts, vetoed the act, and Virginia protested against it as injurious to its sovereignty, and destructive of liberty.
The United States negotiators at Paris had no illusions regarding the absolute necessity of peace, and were desirous of concluding the war on the best conditions they could obtain. They distinctly saw that France was actuated by no such view ; on the contrary, that she desired to prolong the war for her own ends, and would assent to peace only on the conditions desired by herself. This feeling was the more embarrassing to the United States, that they were forced to renew their application for assistance, for the war could only be carried on by money furnished by France.
Another difficulty had shewn itself in the attitude of Vermont. Dissatisfied with the treatment which refused recognition of her existence as a state, in deference to New York and New Hampshire, the leading men had entered into negotiations with Clinton and Haldimand for the separation of Vermont from the federation, and for union with Canada. I have related the history of these transactions, and it is plain that had it been to the interest of Vermont to abandon the cause of congress, that course would have been followed.
The greatest dissatisfaction existed in the army. The men who had fought the battle of congress had been treated with harshness and wrong, the payment owing them had been evaded, and there was a common sentiment in all ranks that when their service was no longer needed, they would not even receive what was due to them, and would certainly be cast aside without consideration or care for their future. A promise of half pay had been given by congress the preceding year; but there was in New England extreme hostility to the measure as non-republican. The spirit, which in the first years of the troubles had created the difficulties with the mother country, was now prepared to reassert itself in opposition to the officers by whom their independence had been won, in setting aside their claim to be paid what was their due, and in refusing to extend them honest treatment.
On September the 13th the attack on Gibraltar was vigorously made by the combined fleets of France and Spain, aided by a land force of 40,000 men. By the morning of the 14th they had experienced an overwhelming defeat. The battery vessels specially constructed, from which so much had been expected, had been entirely destroyed. The fleet was driven off with a loss of 2,000 men, and the attack failed in every respect. In the weeks which followed, lord Howe 1782]
VICTORY AT GIBRALTAR.
succeeded in amply supplying the fortress with provisions, and thus this memorable siege ended.
There could now no longer be delay; the negotiations had to be determined in one form or another ; there was either to be a cessation of hostilities, or war had to be continued with increased activity. Great Britain had arisen from the feeling of depression. The victory of Rodney, and the defence of Gibraltar by Elliott, had awakened the national spirit. France and Spain had, at least, been humbled; and if the prosecution of the war was still unavoidable, the power of endurance, which marks the British race, asserted itself in its full ancient strength to meet the trials of the future, whatever aspect of danger they might present.