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   Chapter 46 1782). No.46

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 6002

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Instructions of 1779.]

[Sidenote: Instructions of 1781.]

Thus the settlement of the final terms of peace fell to the new government, but rather as a heritage than as a new task. Instructions issued by Congress in 1779 had insisted, as a first essential, on an acknowledgment by Great Britain of the independence of the United States. Next, adequate boundaries were to be provided; the United States must extend as far west as the Mississippi, as far south as the thirty-first parallel, and as far north as Lake Nipissing. The third desideratum was undisturbed fishery rights on the banks of Newfoundland. Finally, it was expected that a treaty of commerce would be yielded by Great Britain after the peace was made. In 1781 Virginia, alarmed by Cornwallis's invasion, succeeded in carrying a very different set of instructions. The only essential was to be the substantial admission that America was independent; in all else the treaty was to be made in a manner satisfactory to the French minister of foreign affairs.

[Sidenote: The king consents to peace.]

[Sidenote: Independence.]

[Sidenote: Boundary.]

[Sidenote: Instructions ignored.]

Before peace could be reached it was necessary to break down the iron opposition of the king. On Feb. 28, 1781 Conway's motion, looking to the cessation of the war, was adopted by Parliament. "The fatal day has come," said the king. It was not merely his American policy which had failed; the party of the "King's Friends" was beaten; North resigned; and after twelve years of strenuous opposition, the king was obliged to accept a Whig ministry, which he detested, and to let it negotiate for peace. A part of the ministry still cherished the delusion that the Americans would accept terms which did not leave them independent. The firmness of the American envoys was effectual; a royal commission was at last addressed to Oswald, authorizing him to treat with "the commissioners of the United States of America" in Paris. Then came the important question of boundary. Without the thirteen colonies the possession of the Floridas was of little value to England, and they had been reduced by a Spanish expedition in 1781; they were therefore returned to Spain. For a long time the English insisted that a neutral belt of Indian territory should be created west of the mountains. That point was finally waived; the Americans withdrew their pretensions to the territory north of Lake Erie; and the St. Lawrence River system, from the western end of Lake Superior to the forty-fifth parallel, was made the boundary. From the forty-fifth parallel to the sea, the boundary was described as following the "highlands which divide those rivers that empty themselves into the St. Lawrence from those which fall into the Atlantic Ocean." The country was little known; the commissioners were probably confused; and the ground was thus prepared for a dispute which lasted fifty-nine years. In the course of the negotiations the American amb

assadors, Jay, Adams, Franklin, and Laurens, became suspicious of the French court. There is now some reason for believing that Vergennes, the French minister, had dealt honorably with the American interests, and could have secured excellent terms. "Would you break your instructions?" asked one of the fellow-commissioners of Jay. "I would," he replied, "as I would break this pipe." Thenceforward the Americans dealt directly and solely with the English envoys.

[Sidenote: The Mississippi.]

[Sidenote: The fisheries.]

The next question to be settled was the claim of the English to the navigation of the Mississippi, which was supposed to reach northward into British territory. It was yielded; the Americans, however, received no corresponding right of navigation through Spanish territory to the sea. Next came the fisheries. As colonists the New Englanders had always enjoyed the right to fish upon the Newfoundland banks, and to land at convenient spots to cure their fish. Adams, representing New England, insisted that "the right of fishing" should be distinctly stated; he carried his point.

[Sidenote: Loyalists.]

[Sidenote: Debts.]

[Sidenote: Slaves.]

[Sidenote: Treaty signed.]

The main difficulties disposed of, three troublesome minor points had to be adjusted. The first was the question of loyalists. They had suffered from their attachment to the British government; they had been exiled; their estates had been confiscated, their names made a by-word. The British government first insisted, and then pleaded, that the treaty should protect these persons if they chose to return to their former homes. The Americans would agree only that Congress should "earnestly recommend" to the thirteen legislatures to pass Relief Acts. Then came the question of private debts due to the British merchants at the outbreak of the Revolution, and still unpaid. Some of the American envoys objected to reviving these obligations; but Adams, when he arrived, set the matter at rest by declaring that he had "no notion of cheating anybody." Finally came the question of the treatment of the slaves who had taken refuge with the British armies; and the English commissioners agreed that the British troops should withdraw "without causing any destruction or the carrying away any negroes or other property of the American inhabitants." On Nov. 30, 1782, a provisional treaty was signed; but it was not until Sept. 3, 1783 after the peace between France and England had been adjusted, that the definitive treaty was signed, in precisely the same terms.

With great difficulty a quorum was assembled, and on Jan. 14, 1784, it was duly ratified by Congress. The treaty was a triumph for American diplomacy. "It is impossible," says Lecky, the ablest historian of this period, "not to be struck with the skill, hardihood, and good fortune that marked the American negotiations. Everything the United States could with any show of plausibility demand from England, they obtained."

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