Political Consequences in England of Cornwallis's Surrender at Yorktown
THE 20th of March, 1782, the day which witnessed the fall of Lord North’s ministry, was a day of good omen for men of English race on both sides of the Atlantic. Within two years from this time, the treaty which established the independence of the United States was successfully negotiated at Paris; and at the same time, as part of the series of events which resulted in the treaty, there went on in England a rapid dissolution and reorganization of parties which ended in the overwhelming defeat of the king’s attempt to make the forms of the constitution subservient to his selfish purposes, and established the liberty of the people upon a broader and sounder basis than it had ever occupied before. Great indignation was expressed at the time, and has sometimes been echoed by British historians, over the conduct of those Whigs who never lost an opportunity of expressing their approval of the American revolt. The Duke of Richmond, at the beginning of the contest, expressed a hope that the Americans might succeed, because they were in the right. Fox spoke of General Howe’s first great victory as “ the terrible news from Long Island.” Wraxall says that the celebrated buff and blue colors of the Whig party were adopted by Fox in imitation of the Continental uniform ; but his unsupported statement is open to question. It is certain, however, that in the House of Commons the Whigs habitually alluded to Washington’s army as “ our army,” and to the American cause as “ the cause of liberty ; ” and Burke, with characteristic vehemence, declared that he would rather be a prisoner in the Tower with Mr. Laurens than enjoy the blessings of freedom in company with the men who were seeking to enslave America. Still more, the Whigs did all in their power to discourage enlistments, and in various ways so thwarted and vexed the government that the success of the Americans was by many people ascribed to their assistance. A few days before Lord North’s resignation, George Onslow, in an able defense of the prime minister, exclaimed, “ Why have we failed so miserably in this war against America, if not from the support and countenance given to rebellion in this very House ? ”
Now the violence of party leaders like Burke and Fox owed much of its strength, no doubt, to mere rancorousness of party spirit. But, after making due allowance for this, we must admit that it was essentially based upon the intensity of their conviction that the cause of English liberty was inseparably bound up with the defeat of the king’s attempt upon the liberties of America. Looking beyond the quarrels of the moment, they preferred to have freedom guaranteed, even at the cost of temporary defeat and partial loss of empire. Time has shown that they were right in this, but the majority of the people could hardly he expected to comprehend their attitude. It seemed to many that the great Whig leaders were forgetting their true character as English statesmen, and there is no doubt that for many years this was the chief source of the weakness of the Whig party. Sir Gilbert Elliot said, with truth, that if the Whigs had not thus to a considerable extent arrayed the national feeling against themselves, Lord North’s ministry would have fallen some years sooner than it did. The king thoroughly understood the advantage which accrued to him from this state of things ; and with that short-sighted shrewdness of the mere practical wirepuller, in which few modern politicians have excelled him, he had from the outset preferred to fight his battle on constitutional questions in America rather than in England, in order that the national feeling of Englishmen might be arrayed on his side. He was at length thoroughly beaten on his own ground, and as the fatal day approached he raved and stormed as he had not stormed since the spring of 1778, when he had been asked to entrust the government to Lord Chatham. Like the child who refuses to play when he sees the game going against him, George threatened to abdicate the throne and go over to Hanover, leaving his son to get along with the Whig statesmen. But presently he took heart again, and began to resort to the same kind of political management which had served him so well in the earlier years of his reign. Among the Whig statesmen, the Marquis of Rockingham had the largest political following. He represented the old Whig aristocracy, his section of the party had been first to urge the recognition of American independence, and his principal followers were Fox and Burke. For all these reasons he was especially obnoxious to the king. On the other hand, the Earl of Shelburne was, in a certain sense, the political heir of Lord Chatham, and represented principles far more liberal than those of the old Whigs. Shelburne was one of the most enlightened statesmen of his time. He was an earnest advocate of parliamentary reform and of free trade. He had paid especial attention to political economy, and looked with disgust upon the whole barbaric system of discriminative duties and commercial monopolies which had been so largely instrumental in bringing about the American Revolution. But being in these respects in advance of his age, Lord Shelburne had but few followers. Moreover, although a man of undoubted integrity, quite exempt from sordid or selfish ambition, there was a cynical harshness about him which made him generally disliked and distrusted. He was so suspicious of other men that other men were suspicious of him; so that, in spite of many admirable qualities, he was extremely ill adapted for the work of a party manager.
It was doubtless for these reasons that the king, when it became clear that a new government must be formed, made up his mind that Lord Shelburne would be the safest man to conduct it. In his hands the Whig power would not be likely to grow too strong, and dissensions would be sure to arise, from which the king might hope to profit. The first place in the treasury was accordingly offered to Shelburne; and when he refused it, and the king found himself forced to appeal to Lord Rockingham, the manner in which the bitter pill was taken was quite characteristic of George III. He refused to meet Rockingham in person, but sent all his communications to him through Shelburne, who, thus conspicuously singled out as the object of royal preference, was certain to incur the distrust of his fellow ministers.
The structure of the new cabinet was unstable enough, however, to have satisfied even such an enemy as the king. Beside Rockingham himself, Lord John Cavendish. Charles Fox, Lord Keppel, and the Duke of Richmond were all old Whigs. To offset these five there were five new Whigs, the Duke of Grafton, Lords Shelburne, Camden, and Ashburton, and General Conway; while the eleventh member was none other than the Tory chancellor, Lord Thurlow, who was kept over from Lord North’s ministry. Burke was made paymaster of the forces, but had no seat in the cabinet. In this curiously constructed cabinet, the prime minister, Lord Rockingham, counted for little. Though a good party leader, he was below mediocrity as a statesman, and his health was failing, so that he could not attend to business. The master spirits were the two secretaries of state, Fox and Shelburne, and they wrangled perpetually, while Thurlow carried the news of all their quarrels to the king, and in cabinet meetings usually voted with Shelburne. The ministry had not lasted five weeks when Fox began to predict its downfall. On the great question of parliamentary reform, which was brought up in May by the young William Pitt, the government was hopelessly divided. Shelburne’s party was in favor of reform, and this time Fox was found upon the same side, as well as the Duke of Richmond, who went so far as to advocate universal suffrage. On the other hand, the Whig aristocracy, led by Rockingham, were as bitterly opposed as the king himself to any change in the method of electing parliaments ; and, incredible as it may seem, even such a man as Burke maintained that the old system, rotten boroughs and all, was a sacred part of the British Constitution, which none could handle rudely without endangering the country ! But in this moment of reaction against the evil influences which had brought about the loss of the American colonies, there was a strong feeling in favor of reform, and Pitt’s motion was only lost by a minority of twenty in a total vote of three hundred. Half a century was to elapse before the reformers were again to come so near to victory.
But Lord Rockingham’s weak and short-lived ministry was nevertheless remarkable for the amount of good work it did in spite of the king’s dogged opposition. It contained great administrative talent, which made itself felt in the most adverse circumstances. To add to the difficulty, the ministry came into office at the critical moment of a great agitation in Ireland. In less than three months, not only was the trouble successfully removed, but the important bills for disfranchising revenue officers and excluding contractors from the House of Commons were carried, and a tremendous blow was thus struck at the corrupt influence of the crown upon elections. Burke’s great scheme of economical reform was also put into operation, cutting down the pension list and diminishing the secret service fund, and thus destroying many sources of corruption. At no time, perhaps, since the expulsion of the Stuarts, had so much been done toward purifying English political life as during the spring of 1782. But during the progress of these important measures, the jealousies and bickerings in the cabinet became more and more painfully apparent, and as the question of peace with America came into the foreground these difficulties hastened to a crisis.
From the policy which George III. pursued with regard to Lord Shelburne at this time, one would suppose that in his secret heart the king wished, by foul means since all others had failed, to defeat the negotiations for peace and to prolong the war. Seldom has there been a more oddly complicated situation. Peace was to be made with America, France, Spain, and Holland. Of these powers, America and France were leagued together by one treaty of alliance, and France and Spain by another, and these treaties in some respects conflicted with one another in the duties which they entailed upon the combatants. Spain, though at war with England for purposes of her own, was bitterly hostile to the United States ; and France, thus leagued with two allies which pulled in opposite directions, felt bound to satisfy both, while pursuing her own ends against England. To deal with such a chaotic state of things, an orderly and harmonious government in England should have seemed indispensably necessary. Yet on the part of England the negotiation of a treaty of peace was to be the work of two secretaries of state who were both politically and personally hostile to each other. Fox, as secretary of state for foreign affairs, had to superintend the negotiations with France, Spain, and Holland. Shelburne was secretary of state for home and colonial affairs ; and as the United States were still officially regarded as colonies, the American negotiations belonged to his department. With such a complication of conflicting interests, George III. might well hope that no treaty could be made.
The views of Fox and Shelburne as to the best method of conceding American independence were very different. Fox understood that France was really in need of peace, and he believed that she would not make further demands upon England if American independence should once be recognized. Accordingly, Fox would have made this concession at once as a preliminary to the negotiation. On the other hand, Shelburne felt sure that France would insist upon further concessions, and he thought it best to hold in reserve the recognition of independence as a consideration to be bargained for. Informal negotiations began between Shelburne and Franklin, who for many years had been warm friends. In view of the impending change of government. Franklin had in March sent a letter to Shelburne, expressing a hope that peace might soon be restored. When the letter reached London the new ministry had already been formed, and Shelburne, with the consent of the cabinet, answered it by sending over to Paris an agent, to talk with Franklin informally, and ascertain the terms upon which the Americans would make peace. The person chosen for this purpose was Richard Oswald, a Scotch merchant, who owned large estates in America, — a man of very frank disposition and liberal views, and a friend of Adam Smith. In April, Oswald had several conversations with Franklin. In one of these conversations Franklin suggested that, in order to make a durable peace, it was desirable to remove all occasion for future quarrel ; that the line of frontier between New York and Canada was inhabited by a lawless set of men, who in time of peace would be likely to breed trouble between their respective governments; and that therefore it would be well for England to cede Canada to the United States. A similar reasoning would apply to Nova Scotia. By ceding these countries to the United States it would be possible, from the sale of unappropriated lands, to indemnify the Americans for all losses of private property during the war, and also to make reparation to the Tories, whose estates had been confiscated. By pursuing such a policy, England, which had made war on America unjustly, and had wantonly done it great injuries, would achieve not merely peace, but reconciliation, with America ; and reconciliation, said Franklin, is “ a sweet word.” No doubt this was a bold tone for Franklin to take, and perhaps it was rather cool in him to ask for Canada and Nova Scotia ; but he knew that almost every member of the Whig ministry had publicly expressed the opinion that the war against America was an unjust and wanton war ; and being. moreover, a shrewd hand at a bargain, he began by setting his terms high. Oswald doubtless looked at the matter very much from Franklin’s point of view, for on the suggestion of the cession of Canada he expressed neither surprise nor reluctance. Franklin had written on a sheet of paper the main points of his conversation, and, at Oswald’s request, he allowed him to take the paper to London to show to Lord Shelburne, first writing upon it a note expressly declaring its informal character. Franklin also sent a letter to Shelburne, describing Oswald as a gentleman with whom he found it very pleasant to deal. On Oswald’s arrival in London, Shelburne did not show the notes of the conversation to any of his colleagues, except Lord Ashburton. He kept the paper over one night, and then returned it to Franklin without any formal answer. But the letter he showed to the cabinet, and on the 23d of April it was decided to send Oswald back to Paris, to represent to Franklin that, on being restored to the same situation in which she was left by the treaty of 1763, Great Britain would be willing to recognize the independence of the United States. Fox was authorized to make a similar representation to the French government, and the person whom he sent to Paris for this purpose was Thomas Grenville, son of the author of the Stamp Act.
As all British subjects were prohibited from entering into negotiations with the revolted colonies, it was impossible for Oswald to take any decisive step until an enabling act should be carried through Parliament. But while waiting for this he might still talk informally with Franklin. Fox thought that Oswald’s presence in Paris indicated a desire on Shelburne’s part to interfere with the negotiations with the French government ; and indeed, the king, out of his hatred of Fox and his inborn love of intrigue, suggested to Shelburne that Oswald “ might be a useful check on that part of the negotiation which was in other hands.” But Shelburne paid no heed to this crooked advice, and there is nothing to show that he had the least desire to intrigue against Fox. If he had, he would certainly have selected some other agent than Oswald, who was the most straightforward of men, and scarcely closemouthed enough for a diplomatist. He told Oswald to impress it upon Franklin that if America was to be independent at all she must be independent of the whole world, and must not enter into any secret arrangement with France which might limit her entire freedom of action in the future. To the private memorandum which desired the cession of Canada for three reasons, his answers were as follows : “ 1. By way of reparation. — Answer. No reparation can be heard of. 2. To prevent future wars. — Answer. It is to be hoped that some more friendly method will be found. 3. As a fund of indemnification to loyalists.—Answer. No independence to be acknowledged without their being taken care of.” Besides, added Shelburne, the Americans would be expected to make some compensation for the surrender of Charleston, Savannah, and the city of New York, still held by British troops. From this it appears that Shelburne, as well as Franklin, knew how to begin by asking more than he was likely to get.
While Oswald submitted these answers to Franklin, Grenville had his interview with Vergennes, and told him that, if England recognized the independence of the United States, she should expect France to restore the islands of the West Indies which she had taken from England. Why not, since the independence of the United States was the sole avowed object for which France had gone to war ? Now this was on the 18th of May, and the news of the destruction of the French fleet in the West Indies, nearly four months ago, had not yet reached Europe. Flushed with the victories of De Grasse, and exulting in the prowess of the most formidable naval force that France had ever sent out, Vergennes not only expected to keep the islands which he had got, but was waiting eagerly for the news that he had acquired Jamaica into the bargain. In this mood he returned a haughty answer to Grenville. He reminded him that nations often went to war for a specified object, and yet seized twice as much if favored by fortune; and recurring to the instance which rankled most deeply in the memories of Frenchmen, he cited the events of the last war. In 1756 England went to war with France over the disputed right to some lands on the Ohio River and the Maine frontier. After seven years of lighting she not only kept these lands, but all of Canada, Louisiana, and Florida, and ousted the French from India into the bargain. No, said Vergennes, he would not rest content with the independence of America. He would not even regard such an offer as a concession to France in any way, or as a price in return for which France was to make a treaty favorable to England. As regards the recognition of independence, England must treat directly with America.
Grenville was disappointed and chagrined by this answer, and the ministry made up their minds that there would be no use in trying to get an honorable peace with France for the present. Accordingly, it seemed better to take Vergennes at his word, though not in the sense in which he meant it, and, by granting all that the Americans could reasonably desire, to detach them from the French alliance as soon as possible. On the 18th of May there came the news of the stupendous victory of Rodney over De Grasse, and all England rang with jubilee. Again it had been shown that “ Britannia rules the wave;” and it seemed that if America could be separately pacified the House of Bourbon might be successfully defied. Accordingly, on the 23d, five days after the news of victory, the ministry decided " to propose the independence of America in the first instance, instead of making it the condition of a general treaty.” Upon this Fox rather hastily maintained that the United States were put at once into the position of an independent and foreign power, so that the business of negotiating with them passed from Shelburne’s department into his own. Shelburne, on the other hand, argued that, as the recognition of independence could not take effect until a treaty of peace should be concluded, the negotiation with America still belonged to him, as secretary for the colonies. Following Fox’s instructions, Grenville now claimed the right of negotiating with Franklin as well as with Vergennes ; but as his written credentials only authorized him to treat with France, the French minister suspected foul play, and turned a cold shoulder to Grenville. For the same reason, Grenville found Franklin very reserved and indisposed to talk on the subject of the treaty. While Grenville was thus rebuffed and irritated he had a talk with Oswald, in the course of which he got from that simple and highminded gentleman the story of the private paper relating to the cession of Canada, which Franklin had permitted Lord Shelburne to see. Grenville immediately took offense; he made up his mind that something underhanded was going on, and that this was the reason for the coldness of Franklin and Vergennes ; and he wrote an indignant letter about it to Fox. From the wording of this letter, Fox got the impression that Franklin’s proposal was much more serious than it really was. It naturally puzzled him and made him angry, for the attitude of America implied in the request for a cession of Canada was far different from the attitude presumed by the theory that the mere offer of independence would be enough to detach her from her alliance with France. The plan of the ministry seemed imperiled. Fox showed Grenville’s letter to Rockingham, Richmond, and Cavendish; and they all inferred that Shelburne was playing a secret part, for purposes of his own. This was doubtless unjust to Shelburne. Perhaps his keeping the matter to himself was simply one more illustration of his want of confidence in Fox ; or, perhaps he did not think it worth while to stir up the cabinet over a question which seemed too preposterous ever to come to anything. Fox, however, cried out against Shelburne’s alleged duplicity, and made up his mind at all events to get the American negotiations transferred to his own department. To this end he moved in the cabinet, on the last day of June, that the independence of the United States should be unconditionally acknowledged, so that England might treat as with a foreign power. The motion was lost, and Fox announced that he should resign his office. His resignation would probably of itself have broken up the ministry, but, by a curious coincidence, on the next day Lord Rockingham died ; and so the first British government begotten of Washington’s victory at Yorktown came prematurely to an end.
The old Whigs now found some difficulty in choosing a leader. Burke was the greatest statesman in the party, but he had not the qualities of a party leader, and his connections were not sufficiently aristocratic. Fox was distrusted by many people for his gross vices, and because of his waywardness in politics. In the dissipated gambler, who cast in his lot first with one party and then with the other, and who had shamefully used his matchless eloquence in defending some of the worst abuses of the time, there seemed as yet but little promise of the great reformer of later years, the Charles Fox who came to be loved and idolized by all enlightened Englishmen. Next to Fox, the ablest leader in the party was the Duke of Richmond, but his advanced views on parliamentary reform put him out of sympathy with the majority of the party. In this embarrassment, the choice fell upon the Duke of Portland, a man of great wealth and small talent, concerning whom Horace Walpole observed, “ It is very entertaining that two or three great families should persuade themselves that they have a hereditary and exclusive right of giving us a head without a tongue ! ” The choice was a weak one, and played directly into the hands of the king. When urged to make the Duke of Portland his prime minister, the king replied that he had already offered that position to Lord Shelburne. Hereupon Fox and Cavendish resigned, but Richmond remained in office, thus virtually breaking his connection with the old Whigs. Lord Keppel also remained. Many members of the party followed Richmond and went over to Shelburne. William Pitt, now twenty-three years old, succeeded Cavendish as chancellor of the exchequer; Thomas Townshend became secretary of state for home and colonies, and Lord Grantham became foreign secretary. The closing days of Parliament were marked by altercations which showed how wide the breach had grown between the two sections of the Whig party. Fox and Burke believed that Shelburne was not only playing a false part, but was really as subservient to the king as Lord North had been. In a speech ridiculous for its furious invective, Burke compared the new prime minister with Borgia and Catiline. And so Parliament was adjourned on the 11th of July, and did not meet again until December.
The task of making a treaty of peace was simplified both by this change of ministry and by the total defeat of the Spaniards and French at Gibraltar in September. Six months before, England had seemed worsted in every quarter. Now England, though defeated in America, was victorious as regarded France and Spain. The avowed object for which France had entered into alliance with the Americans was to secure the independence of the United States, and this point was now substantially gained. The chief object for which Spain had entered into alliance with France was to drive the English from Gibraltar, and this point was now decidedly lost. France had bound herself not to desist from the war until Spain should recover Gibraltar; but now there was little hope of accomplishing this, except by some fortunate bargain in the treaty, and Vergennes tried to persuade England to cede the great stronghold in exchange for West Florida, which Spain had lately conquered, or for Oran or Guadaloupe. Failing in this, he adopted a plan for satisfying Spain at the expense of the United States; and he did this the more willingly as he had no love for the Americans, and did not wish to see them become too powerful. France had strictly kept her pledges; she had given us valuable and timely aid in gaining our independence ; and the sympathies of the French people were entirely with the American cause. But the object of the French government had been simply to humiliate England, and this end was sufficiently accomplished by depriving her of her thirteen colonies. The immense territory extending from the Alleghany Mountains to the Mississippi River, and from the border of West Florida to the Great Lakes, had passed from the hands of France into those of England at the peace of 1763 ; and by the Quebec Act of 1774 England had declared the southern boundary of Canada to be the Ohio River. At present the whole territory, from Lake Superior down to the southern boundary of what is now in Kentucky, belonged to the State of Virginia, whose backwoodsmen had conquered it from England in 1779. In December, 1780, Virginia had provisionally ceded the portion north of the Ohio to the United States, but the cession was not yet completed. The region which is now Tennessee belonged to North Carolina, which had begun to make settlements there as long ago as 1758. The trackless forests included between Tennessee and West Florida were still in the hands of wild tribes of Cherokees and Choctaws, Chickasaws and Creeks. Several thousand pioneers from North Carolina and Virginia had already settled beyond the mountains, and the white population was rapidly increasing. This territory the French government was very unwilling to leave in American hands. The possibility of enormous expansion which it would afford to the new nation was distinctly foreseen by sagacious men. Count Aranda, the representative of Spain in these negotiations, wrote a letter to his king just after the treaty was concluded, in which he uttered this notable prophecy : “ This federal republic is born a pygmy. A day will come when it will be a giant, even a colossus, formidable in these countries. Liberty of conscience, 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 this same colossus.” The letter went on to predict that the Americans would presently get possession of Florida and attack Mexico. Similar arguments were doubtless used by Aranda in his interviews with Vergennes, and France, as well as Spain, sought to prevent the growth of the dreaded colossus. To this end Vergennes maintained that the Americans ought to recognize the Quebec Act, and give up to England all the territory north of the Ohio River. The region south of this limit should, he thought, be made an Indian territory, and placed under the protection of Spain and the United States. A line was to be drawn from the mouth of the Cumberland River, following that stream about as far as the site of Nashville, thence running southward to the Tennessee, thence curving eastward nearly to the Alleghanies, and descending through what is now eastern Alabama to the Florida line. The territory to the east of this irregular line was to be under the protection of the United States ; the territory to the west of it was to be under the protection of Spain. In this division, the settlers beyond the mountains would retain their connection with the United States, which would not touch the Mississippi River at any point. Vergennes held that this was all the Americans could reasonably demand, and he agreed with Aranda that they had as yet gained no foothold upon the eastern bank of the great river, unmindful of the fact that at that very moment the fortresses at Cahokia and Kaskaskia were occupied by American garrisons.
Upon another important point the views of the French government were directly opposed to American interests. The right to catch fish on the banks of Newfoundland had been shared by treaty between France and England ; and the New England fishermen, as subjects of the king of Great Britain, had participated in this privilege. The matter was of very great importance, not only to New England, but to the United States in general. Not only were the fisheries a source of lucrative trade to the New England people, but they were the training-school of a splendid race of seamen, the nursery of naval heroes whose exploits were by and by to astonish the world. To deprive the Americans of their share in these fisheries was to strike a serious blow at the strength and resources of the new nation. The British government was not inclined to grant the privilege, and on this point Vergennes took sides with England, in order to establish a claim upon her for concessions advantageous to France in some ether quarter. With these views, Vergennes secretly aimed at delaying the negotiations ; for as long as hostilities were kept up, he might hope to extort from his American allies a recognition of the Spanish claims and a renouncement of the fisheries, simply by threatening to send them no further assistance in men or money. In order to retard the proceedings, he refused to take any steps whatever until the independence of the United States should first be irrevocably acknowledged by Great Britain, without reference to the final settlement of the rest of the treaty. In this Vergennes was supported by Franklin, as well as by Jay, who had lately arrived in Paris to take part in the negotiations. But the reasons of the American commissioners were very different from those of Vergennes. They feared that, if they began to treat before independence was acknowledged, they would he unfairly dealt with by France and Spain, and unable to gain from England the concessions upon which they were determined.
Jay soon began to suspect the designs of the French minister. He found that he was sending a secret emissary to Lord Shelburne under an assumed name; he ascertained that the right of the United States to the Mississippi valley was to be denied ; and he got hold of a dispatch from Marbois, the French secretary of legation at Philadelphia, to Vergennes, opposing the American claim to the Newfoundland fisheries. As soon as Jay learned these facts, he sent a messenger to Lord Shelburne to put him on his guard, and while reminding him that it was greatly for the interest of England to dissolve the alliance between America and France, he declared himself ready to begin the negotiations without waiting for the recognition of independence, provided that Oswald’s commission should speak of the thirteen United States of America, instead of calling them colonies and naming them separately. This decisive step was taken by Jay on his own responsibility, and without the knowledge of Franklin, who had been averse to anything like a separate negotiation with England. It served to set the bail rolling at once. After meeting the messengers from Jay and Vergennes, Lord Shelburne at once perceived the antagonism that had arisen between the allies, and promptly took advantage of it. A new commission was made out for Oswald, in which the British government first described our country as the United States; and early in October negotiations were begun and proceeded rapidly. On the part of England, the affair was conducted by Oswald, assisted by Strachey and Fitzherbert, who had succeeded Grenville. In the course of the month John Adams arrived in Paris, and a few weeks later Henry Laurens, who had been exchanged for Lord Cornwallis and released from the Tower, was added to the company. Adams had a holy horror of Frenchmen in general, and of Count Vergennes in particular. He shared that common but mistaken view of Frenchmen which regards them as shallow, frivolous, and insincere; and he was indignant at the position taken by Vergennes on the question of the fisheries. In this, John Adams felt as all New Englanders felt, and he realized the importance of the question from a national point of view, as became the man who in later years was to earn lasting renown as one of the chief founders of the American navy. His behavior on reaching Paris was characteristic. It is said that he left Count Vergennes to learn of his arrival through the newspapers. It was certainly some time before he called upon him, and he took occasion, besides, to express his opinions about republics and monarchies in terms which courtly Frenchmen thought very rude.
The arrival of Adams fully decided the matter as to a separate negotiation with England. He agreed with Jay that Vergennes should be kept as far as possible in the dark until everything was cut and dried, and Franklin was reluctantly obliged to yield. The treaty of alliance between France and the United States had expressly stipulated that neither power should ever make peace without the consent of the other, and in view of this Franklin was loath to do anything which might seem like abandoning the ally whose timely interposition had alone enabled Washington to achieve the crowning triumph of Yorktown. In justice to Vergennes, it should be borne in mind that he had kept strict faith with us in regard to every point that had been expressly stipulated ; and Franklin, who, moreover, understood Frenchmen much better than his colleagues, was naturally unwilling to seem behindhand in this respect. At the same time, in regard to matters not expressly stipulated, Vergennes was clearly playing a sharp game against us; and it is undeniable that, without departing technically from the obligations of the alliance, Jay and Adams—two men as honorable as ever lived — played a very sharp defensive game against him. The traditional French subtlety was no match for Yankee shrewdness. The treaty with England was not concluded until the consent of France had been obtained, and thus the express stipulation was respected ; but a thorough and detailed agreement was reached as to what the purport of the treaty should be, while our not too friendly ally was kept in the dark. The annals of modern diplomacy have afforded few stranger spectacles. With the indispensable aid of France we had just got the better of England in fight, and now we proceeded amicably to divide territory and commercial privileges with the enemy, and to make arrangements in which the ally was virtually ignored. It ceases to be a paradox, however, when we remember that with the change of government in England all the conditions OI the case were changed. The England against which we had fought was the hostile England of Lord North ; the England with which we were now dealing was the friendly England of Shelburne and Pitt. For the moment, the English race, on both sides of the Atlantic, was united in its main purpose and divided only by questions of detail, while the rival colonizing power, which sought to work in a direction contrary to the general interests of English-speaking people, was in great measure disregarded.
As soon as the problem was thus virtually reduced to a negotiation between the American commissioners and Lord Shelburne’s ministry, the air was cleared in a moment. The principal questions had already been discussed between Franklin and Oswald. Independence being first acknowledged, the question of boundaries came up for settlement. England had little interest in regaining the territories between the Alleghanies and the Mississippi, the forts in which were already held by American soldiers, and she relinquished all claim upon it. The Mississippi River thus became the dividing line between the United States and the Spanish possessions, and its navigation was made free alike to British and American ships. Franklin’s suggestion of a cession of Canada and Nova Scotia was abandoned without discussion. It was agreed that the boundary line should start at the mouth of the river St. Croix, and, running to a point near Lake Madawaska in the highlands separating the Atlantic watershed from that of the St. Lawrence, should follow these highlands to the head of the Connecticut River, and then descend the middle of the river to the forty-fifth parallel, thence running westward and through the centre of the water communications of the Great Lakes to the Lake of the Woods, thence to the source of the Mississippi, which was supposed to be west of this lake. This line was marked in red ink by Oswald on one of Mitchell’s maps of North America, to serve as a memorandum establishing the precise meaning of the words used in the description. It ought to have been accurately fixed in its details by surveys made upon the spot; but no commissioners were appointed for this purpose. The language relating to the northeastern portion of the boundary contained some inaccuracies which were revealed by later surveys, and the map used by Oswald was lost. Hence a further question arose between Great Britain and the United States, which was finally settled by the Ashburton treaty in 1842.
The Americans retained the right of catching fish on the banks of Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but lost the right of drying their fish on the Newfoundland coast. On the other hand, no permission was given to British subjects to fish on the coasts of the United States. As regarded commercial intercourse, Jay sought to establish complete reciprocal freedom between the two countries, and a clause was proposed to the effect that “ all British merchants and merchant ships, on the one hand, shall enjoy in the United States, and in all places belonging to them, the same protection and commercial privileges, and be liable only to the same charges and duties as their own merchants and merchant ships; and on the other hand, the merchants and merchant ships of the United States shall enjoy in all places belonging to his Britannic Majesty the same protection and commercial privileges, and be liable only to the same charges and duties as British merchants and merchant ships, saving always to the chartered trading companies of Great Britain such exclusive use and trade, and the respective ports and establishments, as neither the other subjects of Great Britain nor any the most favored nation participate in.” Unfortunately for both countries, this liberal provision was rejected on the ground that the ministry had no authority to interfere with the Navigation Act.
Only two questions were now left to be disposed of, — the question of paying private debts, and that of compensating the American loyalists for the loss of property and general rough treatment which they had suffered. There were many old debts outstanding from American to British merchants. These had been for the most part incurred before 1775, and while many honest debtors, impoverished during the war, felt unable to pay, there were doubtless many others who were ready to take advantage of circumstances and refuse the payment which they were perfectly able to make. It was scarcely creditable to us that any such question should have arisen. Franklin, indeed, argued that these debts were more than fully offset by damages done to private property by British soldiers : as, for example, in the wanton raids on the coasts of Connecticut and Virginia in 1779, or in Prevost’s buccaneering march against Charleston. To cite these atrocities, however, as a reason for the non-payment of debts legitimately owed to innocent merchants in London and Glasgow was to argue as if two wrongs could make a right. The strong sense of John Adams struck at once to the root of the matter. He declared “ he had no notion of cheating anybody. The question of paying debts and compensating Tories were two.” This terse statement carried the day, and it was finally decided that all private debts on either side, whether incurred before or after 1775, remained still binding, and must be discharged at their full value in sterling money.
The last question of all was the one most difficult to settle. There were many loyalists in the United States who had sacrificed everything in the support of the British cause, and it was unquestionably the duty of the British government to make every possible effort to insure them against further injury, and, if practicable, to make good their losses already incurred. From Virginia and the New England States, where they were few in number, they had mostly fled, and their estates had been confiscated. In New York and South Carolina, where they remained in great numbers, they were still waging a desultory war with the patriots, which far exceeded in cruelty and bitterness the struggle between the regular armies. In many cases they had, at the solicitation of the British government, joined the invading army, and been organized into companies and regiments. The regular troops defeated at King’s Mountain, and those whom Arnold took with him to Virginia, were nearly all American loyalists. Lord Shelburne felt that it would be wrong to abandon these unfortunate men to the vengeance of their fellow countrymen, and he insisted that the treaty should contain an amnesty clause providing for the restoration of the Tories to their civil rights, with compensation for their confiscated property. However disagreeable such a course might seem to the victorious Americans, there were many precedents for it in European history. It had indeed come to be customary at the close of civil wars, and the effect of such a policy had invariably been good. Cromwell, in his hour of triumph, inflicted no disabilities upon his political enemies: and when Charles II. was restored to the throne the healing effect of the amnesty act then passed was so great that historians sometimes ask what in the world had become of that Puritan party which a moment before had seemed supreme in the land. At the close of the war of the Spanish Succession, the rebellious people of Catalonia were indemnified for their losses, at the request of England, and with a similar good effect. In view of such European precedents, Vergennes agreed with Shelburne as to the propriety of securing compensation and further immunity for the Tories in America. John Adams insinuated that the French minister took this course because he foresaw that the presence of the Tories in the United States would keep the people perpetually divided into a French party and an English party ; but such a suspicion was quite uncalled for. There is no reason to suppose that in this instance Vergennes had anything at heart but the interests of humanity and justice.
On the other hand, the Americans brought forward very strong reasons why the Tories should not be indemnified by Congress. First, as Franklin urged, many of them had, by their misrepresentations to the British government, helped to stir up the disputes which led to the war; and as they had made their bed, so they must lie in it. Secondly, such of them as had been concerned in burning and plundering defenseless villages, and wielding the tomahawk in concert with bloodthirsty Indians, deserved no compassion. It was rather for them to make compensation for the misery they had wrought. Thirdly, the confiscated Tory property had passed into the hands of purchasers who had bought it in good faith and could not now be dispossessed, and in many cases it had been distributed here and there and lost sight of. An estimate of the gross amount might be made, and a corresponding sum appropriated for indemnification. But, fourthly, the country was so impoverished by the war that its own soldiers, the brave men whose heroic exertions had won the independence of the United States, were at this moment in sore distress for the want of the pay which Congress could not give them, but to which its honor was sacredly pledged. The American government was clearly bound to pay its just debts to the friends who had suffered so much in its behalf before it should proceed to entertain a chimerical scheme for satisfying its enemies. For, fifthly, any such scheme was in the present instance clearly chimerical. The acts under which Tory property had been confiscated were acts of state legislatures, and Congress had no jurisdiction over such a matter. If restitution was to be made, it must be made by the separate States. The question could not for a moment be entertained by the general government or its agents.
Upon these points the American commissioners were united and inexorable. Various suggestions were offered in vain by the British. Their troops still held the city of New York, and it was doubtful whether the Americans could hope to capture it in another campaign. It was urged that England might fairly claim in exchange for New York a round sum of money wherewith the Tories might be indemnified. It was further urged that certain unappropriated lands in the Mississippi valley might be sold for the same purpose. But the Americans would not hear of buying one of their own cities, whose independence was already acknowledged by the first article of the treaty which recognized the independence of the United States; and as for the western lands, they were wanted as a means of paying our own war debts and providing for our veteran soldiers. Several times Shelburne sent word to Paris that he would break off the negotiation unless the loyalist claims were in some way recognized. But the Americans were obdurate. They had one advantage, and knew it. Parliament was soon to meet, and it was doubtful whether Lord Shelburne could command a sufficient majority to remain long in office. He was, accordingly, very anxious to complete the treaty of peace, or at least to detach America from the French alliance, as soon as possible. The American commissioners were also eager to conclude the treaty. They had secured very favorable terms, and were loath to run any risk of spoiling what had been done. Accordingly, they made a proposal in the form of a compromise, which nevertheless settled the point in their favor. The matter, they said, was beyond the jurisdiction of Congress, but they agreed that Congress should recommend to the several States to desist from further proceeding against the Tories, and to reconsider their laws on this subject; it should further recommend that persons with claims upon confiscated lands might be authorized to use legal means of recovering them, and to this end might be allowed to pass to and fro without personal risk for the term of one year. The British commissioners accepted this compromise, unsatisfactory as it was, because it was really impossible to obtain anything better without throwing the whole negotiation overboard. The constitutional difficulty was a real one indeed. As Adams told Oswald, if the point were further insisted upon, Congress would be obliged to refer it to the several States, and no one could tell how long it might be before any decisive result could be reached in this way. Meanwhile, the state of war would continue, and it would be cheaper for England to indemnify the loyalists herself than to pay the war bills for a single month. Franklin added that, if the loyalists were to be indemnified, it would be necessary also to reckon up the damage they had done in burning houses and kidnapping slaves, and then strike a balance between the two accounts ; and he gravely suggested that a special commission might be appointed for this purpose. At the prospect of endless discussion which this suggestion involved, the British commissioners gave way and accepted the American terms, although they were frankly told that too much must not be expected from the recommendation of Congress. The articles were signed on the 30th of November, six days before the meeting of Parliament. Hostilities in America were to cease at once, and upon the completion of the treaty the British fleets and armies were to be immediately withdrawn from every place which they held within the limits of the United States. A supplementary and secret article provided that if England, on making peace with Spain, should recover West Florida, the northern boundary of that province should be a line running due east from the mouth of the Yazoo River to the Chattahoochee.
Thus by skillful diplomacy the Americans had gained all that could reasonably be asked, while the work of making a general peace was greatly simplified. It was declared in the preamble that the articles here signed were provisional, and that Lhe treaty was not to take effect until terms of peace should be agreed on between England and France. Without delay, Franklin laid the whole matter, except the secret article, before Vergennes, who forthwith accused the Americans of ingratitude and bad faith. Franklin’s reply, that at the worst they could only be charged with want of diplomatic courtesy, has sometimes been condemned as insincere, but on inadequate grounds. He had consented with reluctance to the separate negotiation, because he did not wish to give France any possible ground for complaint, whether real or ostensible. There does not seem, however, to have been sufficient justification for so grave a charge as was made by Vergennes. If the French negotiations had failed until after the overthrow of the Shelburne ministry ; if Fox, on coming into power, had taken advantage of the American treaty to continue the war against France ; and if under such circumstances the Americans had abandoned their ally, then undoubtedly they would have become guilty of ingratitude and treachery. There is no reason for supposing that they would ever have done so, had the circumstances arisen. Their preamble made it impossible for them honorably to abandon France until a full peace should be made, and more than this France could not reasonably demand. They had unquestionably played a sharp game, but a sharp game is not necessarily a dishonest one. They had kept to the strict letter of their contract, as Vergennes had kept to the strict letter of his, and beyond this they meted out exactly the same measure of frankness which they received. To say that our debt of gratitude to France was such as to require us to acquiesce in her scheme for enriching our enemy Spain at our expense is simply childish. Franklin was undoubtedly right. The commissioners were guilty of a gross breach of diplomatic courtesy, but nothing more. Vergennes was sarcastic about it, but the cordial relations between France and America remained undisturbed.
The course of the Americans produced no effect upon the terms obtained by France, but it seriously modified the case with Spain. Unable to obtain Gibraltar by arms, that power hoped to get it by diplomacy ; and with the support of France she seemed disposed to make the cession of the great fortress an ultimatum, without which the war must go on. Shelburne, on his part, was willing to exchange Gibraltar for an island in the West Indies ; but it was difficult to get the cabinet to agree on the matter, and the scheme was violently opposed by the people, for the heroic defense of the stronghold had invested it with a halo of romance and endeared it to every one. Nevertheless, so persistent was Spain, and so great the desire for peace on the part of the ministry, that they had resolved to exchange Gibraltar for Guadeloupe, when the news arrived of the treaty with America. The ministers now took a bold stand, and refused to hear another word about giving up Gibraltar. Spain stormed, and threatened a renewal of hostilities, but France was unwilling to give further assistance, and the matter was settled by England’s surrendering East Florida, and allowing the Spaniards to keep West Florida and Minorca, which were already in their hands.
By the treaty with France, the West India islands of Granada, St. Vincent, St. Christopher, Dominica, Nevis, and Montserrat were restored to England, which in turn restored St. Lucie and ceded Tobago to France. The French were allowed to fortify Dunkirk, and received some slight concessions in India and Africa ; they retained their share in the Newfoundland fisheries, and recovered the little neighboring islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. For the fourteen hundred million francs which France had expended in the war, she had the satisfaction of detaching the American colonies from England, thus inflicting a blow which it was confidently hoped would prove fatal to the maritime power of her ancient rival; but beyond this shortlived satisfaction, the fallaciousness of which events were soon to show, she obtained very little. On the 20th of January, 1783, the preliminaries of peace were signed between England, on the one hand, and France and Spain, on the other. A truce was at the same time concluded with Holland, which was soon followed by a peace, in which most of the conquests on either side were restored.
A second English ministry was now about to be wrecked on the rock of this group of treaties. Lord Shelburne’s government had at no time been a strong one. He had made many enemies by his liberal and reforming measures, and he had alienated most of his colleagues by his reserved demeanor and seeming want of confidence in them. In December several of the ministers resigned. The strength of parties in the House of Commons was thus quaintly reckoned by Gibbon: “Minister 140; Reynard 90 ; Boreas 120 ; the rest unknown or uncertain.” But “Reynard” and “ Boreas ” were now about to join forces in one of the strangest coalitions ever known in the history of politics. No statesman ever attacked another more ferociously than Fox had attacked North during the past ten years. He had showered abuse upon him ; accused him of “ treachery and falsehood,” of “ public perfidy,” and “ breach of a solemn specific promise; ” and had even gone so far as to declare to his face a hope that he would be called upon to expiate his abominable crimes upon the scaffold. Within a twelvemonth he had thus spoken of Lord North and his colleagues: “ From the moment when I shall make any terms with one of them, I will rest satisfied to be called the most infamous of mankind. I would not for an instant think of a coalition with men who, in every public and private transaction as ministers, have shown themselves void of every principle of honor and honesty. In the hands of such men I would not trust my honor even for a moment.” Still more recently, when at a loss for words strong enough to express his be-lief in the wickedness of Shelburne, he declared that he had no better opinion of that man than to deem him capable of forming an alliance with North. We may judge, then, of the general amazement when, in the middle of February, it turned out that Fox had himself done this very thing. An “ ill-omened marriage,” William Pitt called it in the House of Commons. “ If this in-omened marriage is not already solemnized, I know a just and lawful impediment, and in the name of the public safety I here forbid the banns.” Throughout the country the indignation was great. Many people had blamed Fox for not following up his charges by actually bringing articles of impeachment against Lord North. That the two enemies should thus suddenly become leagued in friendship seemed utterly monstrous. It injured Fox extremely in the opinion of the country, and it injured North still more, for it seemed like a betrayal of the king on his part, and his forgiveness of so many insults looked mean-spirited. It does not appear, however, that there was really any strong personal animosity between North and Fox. They were both men of very amiable character, and almost incapable of cherishing resentment. The language of parliamentary orators was habitually violent, and the huge quantities of wine which gentlemen in those days used to drink may have helped to make it extravagant. The excessive vehemence of political invective often deprived it of half its effect. One day, after Fox had exhausted his vocabulary of abuse upon Lord George Germaine, Lord North said to him, “You were in very high feather to-day, Charles, and I am glad you did not fall upon me.” On another occasion, it is said that while Fox was thundering against North’s unexampled turpitude, the object of his furious tirade cosily dropped off to sleep. Gibbon, who was the friend of both statesmen, expressly declares that they bore each other no ill will. But while thus alike indisposed to harbor bitter thoughts, there was one man for whom both Fox and North felt an abiding distrust and dislike; and that man was Lord Shelburne, the prime minister.
As a political pupil of Burke, Fox shared that statesman’s distrust of the whole school of Lord Chatham, to which Shelburne belonged. In many respects these statesmen were far more advanced than Burke, but they did not sufficiently realize the importance of checking the crown by means of a united and powerful ministry. Fox thoroughly understood that much of the mischief of the past twenty years, including the loss of America, had come from the system of weak and divided ministries, which gave the king such great opportunity for wreaking his evil will. He had himself been a member of such a ministry, which had fallen seven months ago. When the king singled out Shelburne for his confidence, Fox naturally concluded that Shelburne was to be made to play the royal game, as North had been made to play it for so many years. This was very unjust to Shelburne, but there is no doubt that Fox was perfectly honest in his belief. It seemed to him that the present state of things must be brought to an end, at whatever cost. A ministry strong enough to curb the king could be formed only by a coalescence of two out of the three existing parties. A coalescence of old and new Whigs had been tried last spring, and failed. It only remained now to try the effect of a coalescence of old Whigs and Tories.
Such was doubtless the chief motive of Fox in this extraordinary move. The conduct of North seems harder to explain, but it was probably due to a reaction of feeling on his part. He had done violence to his own convictions out of weak compassion for George III., and had carried on the American war for four years after he had been thoroughly convinced that peace ought to be made. Remorse for this is said to have haunted him to the end of his life. When in his old age he became blind, he bore this misfortune with his customary lightness of heart; and one day, meeting the veteran Barre, who had also lost his eyesight, he exclaimed, with his unfailing wit, “ Well, colonel, in spite of all our differences, I suppose there are no two men in England who would be gladder to see each other than you and I.” But while Lord North could jest about his blindness, the memory of his ill-judged subservience to the king was something that he could not laugh away, and among his nearest friends he was sometimes heard to reproach himself bitterly. When, therefore, in 1783, he told Fox that he fully agreed with him in thinking that the royal power ought to be curbed, he was doubtless Speaking the truth. No man had a better right to such an opinion than he had gained through sore experience. In his own ministry, as he said to Fox, he took the system as he found it, and had not vigor and resolution enough to put an end to it; but he was now quite convinced that in such a country as England, while the king should be treated with all outward show of respect, he ought on no account to be allowed to exercise any real power.
Now this was in 1783 the paramount political question in England, just as much as the question of secession was paramount in the United States in 1861. Other questions could be postponed; the question of curbing the king could not. Upon this all-important, point North had come to agree with Fox ; and as the motive of their coalition is thus sufficiently explained, the historian is not called upon to lay too much stress upon the lower motives assigned in profusion by their political enemies. This explanation, however, does not quite cover the case. The mass of the Tories would never follow North in an avowed attempt to curb the king, but they agreed with the followers of Fox, though not with Fox himself, in holy horror of parliamentary reform, and were alarmed by a recent declaration of Shelburne that the suffrage must be extended so as to admit a hundred new county members. Thus while the two leaders were urged to coalescence by one motive, their followers were largely swayed by another, and this added much to the mystery and general unintelligibleness of the movement. In taking this step Fox made the mistake which was characteristic of the old Whig party. He gave too little heed to the great public outside the walls of the House of Commons. The coalition, once made, was very strong in Parliament, but it mystified and scandalized the people, and this popular disapproval by and by made it easy for the king to overthrow it.
It was agreed to choose the treaty as the occasion for the combined attack upon the Shelburne ministry. North, as the minister who had conducted the unsuccessful war, was bound to oppose the treaty, in any case. It would not do for him to admit that better terms could not have been made. The treaty was also very unpopular with Fox’s party, and with the nation at large. It was thought that too much territory had been conceded to the Americans, and fault was found with the article on the fisheries. But the point which excited most indignation was the virtual abandonment of the loyalists, for here the honor of England was felt to be at stake. On this ground the treaty was emphatically condemned by Burke, Sheridan, and Wilberforce, no less than by North. It was ably defended in the Commons by Pitt, and in the Lords by Shelburne himself, who argued that he had but the alternative of accepting the terms as they stood, or continuing the war; and since it had come to this, he said, without spilling a drop of blood, or incurring one fifth of the expense of a year’s campaign, the comfort and happiness of the American loyalists could be easily secured. By this he meant that, should America fail to make good their losses, it was far better for England to indemnify them herself than to prolong indefinitely a bloody and ruinous struggle. As we shall hereafter see, this liberal and enlightened policy was the one which England really pursued, so far as practicable, and her honor was completely saved. That Shelburne and Pitt were quite right there can now be little doubt. But argument was of no avail against the resistless power of the coalition. On the 17th of February Lord John Cavendish moved an amendment to the ministerial address on the treaty, refusing to approve it. On the 21st he moved a further amendment condemning the treaty. Both motions were carried, and on the 24th Lord Shelburne resigned. He did not dissolve Parliament and appeal to the country, partly because he was aware of his personal unpopularity, and partly because, in spite of the general disgust at the coalition, there was little doubt that on the particular question of the treaty the public opinion agreed with the majority in Parliament, and not with the ministry. For this reason, Pitt, though personally popular, saw that it was no time for him to take the first place in the government, and when the king proceeded to offer it to him he declined.
For more than five weeks, while the treasury was nearly empty, and the question of peace or war still hung in the balance, England was without a regular government, while the angry king went hunting for some one who would consent to be his prime minister. He was determined not to submit to the coalition. He was naturally enraged at Lord North for turning against him. Meeting one day North’s father, Lord Guilford, he went up to him, tragically wringing his hands, and exclaimed in accents of woe, “Did I ever think, my Lord Guilford, that your son would thus have betrayed me into the hands of Mr. Fox?” He appealed in vain to Lord Gower, and then to Lord Temple, to form a ministry. Lord Gower suggested that perhaps Thomas Pitt, cousin of William, might be willing to serve. “ I desired him,” said the king, “ to apply to Mr. Thomas Pitt, or Mr. Thomas anybody.” It was of no use. By the 2d of April Parliament had become furious at the delay, and George was obliged to yield. The Duke of Portland was brought in as nominal prime minister, with Fox as foreign secretary, North as secretary for home and colonies, Cavendish as chancellor of the exchequer, and Keppel as first lord of the admiralty. The only Tory in the cabinet, excepting North, was Lord Stormont, who became president of the council. The commissioners, Fitzherbert and Oswald, were recalled from Paris, and the Duke of Manchester and David Hartley, son of the great philosopher, were appointed in their stead. Negotiations continued through the spring and summer. Attempts were made to change some of the articles, especially the obnoxious article concerning the loyalists, but all to no purpose. Hartley’s attempt to negotiate a mutually advantageous commercial treaty with America also came to nothing. The definitive treaty which was finally signed on the 3d of September, 1783, was an exact transcript of the treaty which Shelburne had made, and for making which the present ministers had succeeded in turning him out of office. No more emphatic justification of Shelburne’s conduct of this business could possibly have been obtained.
The coalition ministry did not long survive the final signing of the treaty. The events of the next few months are curiously instructive as showing the quiet and stealthy way in which a political revolution may be consummated in a thoroughly conservative and constitutional country. Early in the winter session of Parliament Fox brought in his famous bill for organizing the government of the great empire which Clive and Hastings had built up in India. Popular indignation at the ministry had been strengthened by its adopting the same treaty of peace for the making of which it had assaulted Shelburne; and now, on the passage of the India Bill by the House of Commons, there was a great outcry. Many provisions of the bill were exceedingly unpopular, and its chief object was alleged to be the concentration of the immense patronage of India into the hands of the old Whig families. With the popular feeling thus warmly enlisted against the ministry, George III. was now emboldened to make war on it by violent means ; and, accordingly, when the bill came up in the House of Lords, he caused it to be announced, by Lord Temple, that any peer who should vote in its favor would be regarded as an enemy by the king. Four days later the House of Commons, by a vote of 153 to 80, resolved that “ to report any opinion, or pretended opinion, of his majesty upon any bill or other proceeding depending in either house of Parliament, with a view to influence the votes of the members, is a high crime and misdemeanor, derogatory to the honor of the crown, a breach of the fundamental privileges of Parliament, and subversive of the constitution of this country.” A more explicit or emphatic defiance to the king would have been hard to frame. Two days afterward the Lords rejected the India Bill, and on the next day, the 18th of December, George turned the ministers out of office.
In this grave constitutional crisis the king invited William Pitt to form a government, and this young statesman, who had consistently opposed the coalition, now saw that his hour was come. He was more than any one else the favorite of the people. Fox’s political reputation was eclipsed, and North’s was destroyed, by their unseemly alliance. People were sick of the whole state of things which had accompanied the American war. Pitt, who had only come into Parliament in 1780, was free from these unpleasant associations. The unblemished purity of his life, his incorruptible integrity, his rare disinterestedness, and his transcendent ability in debate were known to every one. As the worthy son of Lord Chatham, whose name was associated with the most glorious moment of English history, he was peculiarly dear to the people. His position, however, on taking supreme office at the instance of a king who had just committed a most outrageous breach of the constitution, was extremely critical, and only the most consummate skill could have won from the chaos such a victory as he was about to win. When he became first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer, in December, 1783, he had barely completed his twenty-fifth year. All his colleagues in the new cabinet were peers, so that he had to fight single-handed in the Commons against the united talents of Burke and Sheridan, Fox and North ; and there was a heavy majority against him, besides. In view of this adverse majority, it was Pitt’s constitutional duty to dissolve Parliament and appeal to the country. But Fox, unwilling to imperil his great majority by a new election, now made the fatal mistake of opposing a dissolution ; thus showing his distrust of the people and his dread of their verdict. With consummate tact, Pitt allowed the debates to go on till March, and then, when the popular feeling in his favor had grown into wild enthusiasm, he dissolved Parliament. In the general election which followed, 160 members of the coalition lost their seats, and Pitt obtained the greatest majority that has ever been given to an English minister.
Thus was completed the political revolution in England which was set on foot by the American victory at Yorktown. Its full significance was only gradually realized. For the moment it might seem that it was the king who had triumphed. He had shattered the alliance which had been formed for the purpose of curbing him, and the result of the election had virtually condoned his breach of the constitution. This apparent victory, however, had been won only by a direct appeal to the people, and all its advantages accrued to the people, and not to George III. His ingenious system of weak and divided ministries, with himself for balancewheel, was destroyed. For the next seventeen years the real ruler of England was not George III., but William Pitt, who, with his great popular following, wielded such a power as no English sovereign had possessed since the days of Elizabeth. The political atmosphere was cleared of intrigue ; and Fox, in the legitimate attitude of leader of the new opposition, entered upon the glorious part of his career. There was now set in motion that great work of reform which, hindered for a while by the reaction against the French revolutionists, won its decisive victory in 1832. Down to the very moment at which American and British history begin to flow in distinct and separate channels, it is interesting to observe how closely they are implicated with each other. The victory of the Americans not only set on foot the British revolution here described, but it figured most prominently in each of the political changes that we have witnessed, down to the very eve of the overthrow of the coalition. The system which George III. had sought to fasten upon America, in order that he might fasten it upon England, was shaken off and shattered by the good people of both countries at almost the same moment of time.