Diplomacy in the American Revolutionary War
Diplomacy in the Revolutionary War had an important impact on the Revolution, as the United States evolved an independent foreign policy.
- 1 Colonial diplomacy
- 2 Conciliatory Resolution
- 3 Olive Branch Petition
- 4 Letters to the inhabitants of Canada
- 5 Envoys to France
- 6 Staten Island Peace Conference
- 7 Treaty of Fort Pitt
- 8 Treaty of Alliance with France
- 9 Carlisle Peace Commission
- 10 The Clinton-Arbuthnot Peace Declaration
- 11 Relations with Spain
- 12 Ragusa
- 13 League of Armed Neutrality
- 14 The Dutch Republic recognizes the United States
- 15 Morocco
- 16 Austria
- 17 Russia
- 18 Peace of Paris
- 19 Treaty of Paris
- 20 The agreement
- 21 Full texts (French and English)
- 22 Treaty aftermath
- 23 Subsequent events
- 24 References
- 25 Further reading
- 26 External links
Before the Revolutionary war, extra-colonial relations were handled in London. The colonies had agents in the United Kingdom, and established inter-colonial conferences. The colonies were subject to European peace settlements, settlements with Indian tribes, and inter-colony (between colonies) agreements.
Starting in 1772, several colonies formed Committees of Correspondence. Parliament enacted the Tea Act, in 1773, and after the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Port Act, Massachusetts Government Act, (or Intolerable Acts), in 1774. On November 27, 1775, the Continental Congress established a Committee of Correspondence, which in 1781, became the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Lord North took the uncharacteristic role of conciliator for the drafting of a resolution which was passed on February 20, 1775. It was an attempt to reach a peaceful settlement with the Thirteen Colonies immediately prior to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War; it declared that any colony that contributed to the common defense and provided support for the civil government, and the administration of justice (i.e. against any anti-Crown rebellion) would be relieved of paying taxes or duties except those necessary for the regulation of commerce; it was addressed and sent to the individual colonies, and intentionally ignored the Continental Congress.
Lord North hoped to divide the colonists amongst themselves, and thus weaken any revolution/independence movements (especially those represented by the Continental Congress).
The resolution proved to be "too little, too late", and the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington, on April 19, 1775. The Continental Congress released a report, (written by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Richard Henry Lee), dated July 31, 1775, rejecting it.
Olive Branch Petition
When the Second Continental Congress convened in May 1775, most delegates followed John Dickinson in his quest to reconcile with George III of Great Britain. However, a smaller group of delegates led by John Adams believed that war was inevitable (or had already started), but remained quiet. This decision allowed John Dickinson, and his followers to pursue whatever means of reconciliation they wanted: the Olive Branch Petition was approved. It was first drafted by Thomas Jefferson, but John Dickinson found Jefferson's language too offensive, and he rewrote most of the document, although some of the conclusions remained Jefferson’s. The letter was approved on 5 July, but signed and sent to London, on 8 July 1775.
Letters to the inhabitants of Canada
In 1774, the British Parliament enacted the Quebec Act, along with other legislation that was labeled by American colonists as the Intolerable Acts. This measure guaranteed (among other things) the rights of French Canadians to practice Roman Catholicism.
The Letters to the inhabitants of Canada were three letters written by the First and Second Continental Congresses in 1774, 1775, and 1776 to communicate directly with the population of the Province of Quebec, formerly the French province of Canada, which had no representative system at the time. Their purpose was to draw the large French-speaking population to the American revolutionary cause. This goal ultimately failed, and Quebec, along with the other northern provinces of British America remained in British hands. The only significant assistance that was gained was the recruitment of two regiments totalling not more than 1,000 men.
Envoys to France
Early in 1776, Silas Deane was sent to France, by Congress in a semi-official capacity, to induce the French government to lend its financial aid to the colonies. On arriving in Paris, Deane at once opened negotiations with Vergennes, and Beaumarchais, securing through Roderigue Hortalez and Company, the shipment of many arms and munitions to America. He also enlisted the services of a number of Continental soldiers of fortune, among whom were Lafayette, Baron Johann de Kalb, Thomas Conway, Casimir Pulaski, and Baron von Steuben.
Arthur Lee, was appointed correspondent of Congress in London in 1775. He was dispatched as an envoy to Spain and Prussia to gain their support for the rebel cause. He was appointed co-commissioner to France, along with Deane and Franklin.
In December 1776, Benjamin Franklin was dispatched to France as commissioner for the United States. Franklin remained in France until 1785.
Staten Island Peace Conference
The Staten Island Peace Conference was a brief and unsuccessful meeting designed to bring an end to the American Revolution. The conference took place on September 11, 1776, on Staten Island, New York.
In early September 1776, after the British victory at the Battle of Long Island, Admiral Lord Howe, having been appointed Acting Peace Commissioner by King George III, met with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Edward Rutledge – to hold discussions. Lord Howe initially sought to meet with the men as private citizens (he knew Franklin prior to the war), but he agreed to the Americans' demand that he recognize them as the official representatives of the Congress. The Americans insisted that any negotiations required British recognition of their independence. Lord Howe stated he did not have the authority to meet that demand. The British resumed the campaign at the Landing at Kip's Bay.
The Commission was mandated by the Crown to offer the rebel Americans pardons (with some exceptions), to allow judges to serve on condition of good behaviour, and to promise to discuss colonial grievances (except the Quebec Act) in exchange for a cease-fire, the dissolution of the Continental Congress, the re-establishment of the pre-war (traditional) colonial assemblies, the acceptance of Lord North's Conciliatory Proposal and compensation for the Loyalists adversely affected by the war.
Treaty of Fort Pitt
The Treaty of Fort Pitt, also known as the Treaty with the Delawares (Lenape) or the Fourth Treaty of Pittsburgh, was signed on 17 September 1778 and was the first written treaty between the new United States of America and any American Indians—the Lenape in this case. Although many informal treaties were held with Native Americans during the American Revolution years of 1775–1783, this was the only one that resulted in a formal document. It was signed at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania, site of present-day downtown Pittsburgh. It was essentially a formal treaty of alliance. It was largely unsuccessful as the majority of Indian tribes sided with the British.
Treaty of Alliance with France
The Franco-American Alliance (also called the Treaty of Alliance) was a pact between France and the Second Continental Congress, representing the United States government, ratified in May 1778.
Franklin, with his charm offensive, was negotiating with Vergennes, for increasing French support, beyond the covert loans and French volunteers. With the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, the French formalized the alliance against their British enemy; Conrad Alexandre Gérard de Rayneval conducted the negotiations with the American representatives, Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee. Signed on February 6, 1778, it was a defensive alliance where the two parties agreed to aid each other in the event of British attack. Further, neither country would make a separate peace with London, until the independence of the Thirteen Colonies was recognized.
The French strategy was ambitious, and even a large-scale invasion of Britain was contemplated. France believed it could defeat the British within two years.
In March 1778, Gérard de Rayneval sailed to America with d'Estaing's fleet; he received his first audience of Congress on August 6, 1778, as the first accredited Minister from France to the United States.
Carlisle Peace Commission
In 1778, after the British defeat at Saratoga (concluded Oct. 17, 1777), and fearful of French recognition of American independence, Prime Minister Lord North had repealed (February 1778) the Tea Act and the Massachusetts Government Act. As far as the Americans were concerned, it was far too late.
A commission was sent to negotiate a settlement with the Americans, organized by William Eden, with George Johnstone, and headed by Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle. However, they left only after news of the Treaty of Alliance had reached London. Arriving in Philadelphia, the Commission sent a package of proposals to Congress. Among the terms of the Commission, it was proposed that,
More effectually to demonstrate our good intentions, we think proper to declare, even in this our first communication, that we are disposed to concur in every satisfactory and just arrangement towards the following among other purposes: To consent to a cessation of hostilities, both by sea and land. To restore free intercourse, to revive mutual affection, and restore the common benefits of naturalisation through the several parts of this empire. To extend every freedom to trade that our respective interests can require. To agree that no military force shall be kept up in the different states of North America, without the consent of the general congress, or particular assemblies. To concur in measures calculated to discharge the debts of America, and raise the value and credit of the paper circulation. To perpetuate our union, by a reciprocal deputation of an agent or agents from the different states, who shall have the privilege of a seat and voice in the parliament of Great Britain; or, if sent from Britain, to have in that case a seat and voice in the assemblies of the different states to which they may be deputed respectively, in order to attend to the several interests of those by whom they are deputed. In short, to establish the power of the respective legislatures in each particular state, to settle its revenue, its civil and military establishment, and to exercise a perfect freedom of legislation and internal government, so that the British states throughout North America, acting with us in peace and war, under our common sovereign, may have the irrevocable enjoyment of every privilege that is short of a total separation of interest, or consistent with that union of force, on which the safety of our common religion and liberty depends.
However, the British army left Philadelphia for New York, stiffening the resolve of Congress to insist upon recognition of Independence, which power was not given to the Commission.
The Clinton-Arbuthnot Peace Declaration
In December 1780 the Commanders-in-Chief of the Royal forces in North America, Sir Henry Clinton and Vice-Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot, were appointed as the Crown’s commissioners "for restoring Peace to the Colonies and Plantations in North America, and for granting Pardon to such of his Majesty’s Subjects now in Rebellion as shall deserve the Royal Mercy". The Patriots ignored it.
Relations with Spain
Spain was not an ally of the United States, (although an informal alliance had existed since at least 1776 between the Americans and Bernardo de Gálvez, Spanish governor of Louisiana, one of the most successful leaders in the entire war). In 1777, a new Prime Minister, José Moñino y Redondo, Count of Floridablanca had come to power, and had a reformist agenda that drew on many of the English liberal traditions. The French relied upon the Bourbon Family Compact, an alliance that had been in place since the Bourbons had become Spain's ruling dynasty in 1713. The Treaty of Aranjuez was signed on 12 April 1779; France agreed to aid in the capture of Gibraltar, Florida, and the island of Minorca. On 21 June 1779, Spain declared war on England.
Spain's economy depended almost entirely on its colonial empire in the Americas, and they were worried about the United States' territorial expansion. With such considerations in mind, Spain persistently rebuffed John Jay's attempts to establish diplomatic relations. They were the last participant of the American Revolutionary War to acknowledge the independence of the United States, on 3 February 1783.
Ragusa (present-day Dubrovnik, Croatia), a major city with historical and cultural ties to Italy on the Adriatic Sea, was interested in the economic potential of the United States learned by its diplomatic representative in Paris, Francesco Favi. He was in touch with Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany at the request of the scholar Giovanni Fabbroni. The United States were anxious to conclude trade agreements with foreign powers during this period of the revolution. The American diplomat Arthur Lee learned that Italian merchants wanted to trade with the Americans but worried about the risk of corsairs or privateers. Since 1771, hides were delivered from Baltimore, New York City and Philadelphia to Marseille in France by ships from Ragusa. Ragusa entered into a trade agreement with the United States, and the Americans agreed to allow their ships free passage in their ports.[page needed]
League of Armed Neutrality
The First League of Armed Neutrality was an alliance of minor European naval powers between 1780 and 1783 which was intended to protect neutral shipping against the British Royal Navy's wartime policy of unlimited search of neutral shipping for French contraband.
Empress Catherine II of Russia began the first League with her declaration of Russian armed neutrality on 11 March (28 February, Old Style), 1780, during the War of American Independence. She endorsed the right of neutral countries to trade by sea with nationals of belligerent countries without hindrance, except in weapons and military supplies. Russia would not recognize blockades of whole coasts, but only of individual ports, and only if a belligerent's warship were actually present or nearby. The Russian navy dispatched three squadrons to the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and North Sea to enforce this decree.
Denmark and Sweden, accepting Russia's proposals for an alliance of neutrals, adopted the same policy towards shipping, and the three countries signed the agreement forming the League. They remained otherwise out of the war, but threatened joint retaliation for every ship of theirs searched by a belligerent. When the Treaty of Paris ended the war in 1783, Prussia, the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Ottoman Empire had all become members.
As the British Navy outnumbered all their fleets combined, the alliance as a military measure was what Catherine later called it, an "armed nullity". Diplomatically, however, it carried greater weight; France and the United States of America were quick to proclaim their adherence to the new principle of free neutral commerce. Britain—which did not—still had no wish to antagonize Russia, and avoided interfering with the allies' shipping. While both sides of the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War tacitly understood it as an attempt to keep the Netherlands out of the League, Britain did not officially regard the alliance as hostile.
- Russia's declaration of Armed Neutrality—from a Russian naval history
The Dutch Republic recognizes the United States
In 1776, the United Provinces were the first country to salute the Flag of the United States, leading to growing British suspicions of the Dutch. In 1778 the Dutch refused to be bullied into taking Britain's side in the war against France. The Dutch were major suppliers of the Americans: in 13 months from 1778 to 1779, for example, 3,182 ships cleared the island of Sint Eustatius, in the West Indies. When the British started to search all Dutch shipping for weapons for the rebels, the Republic officially adopted a policy of armed neutrality. Britain declared war in December 1780, before the Dutch could join the League of Armed Neutrality. This resulted in the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, which diverted British resources, but ultimately confirmed the decline of the Dutch Republic.
In 1782 John Adams negotiated loans of $2 million for war supplies, by Dutch bankers. On March 28, 1782, after a petition campaign on behalf of the American cause organised by Adams and the Dutch patriot politician Joan van der Capellen, the United Netherlands recognized American independence, and subsequently signed a treaty of commerce and friendship.
Sultan Mohammed III of Morocco declared on 20 December 1777 that American merchant ships would be under the protection of the Sultan of Morocco and could thus enjoy safe passage. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship in 1786 became the oldest non-broken U.S. friendship treaty.
Austria attempted to act as a mediator between France and Great Britain during the American Revolution, although it was Austria's revenge against France. John Adams traveled to Vienna in 1781 to lobby for American independence.
Peace of Paris
The Peace of Paris was the set of treaties which ended the American Revolutionary War. In June 1781, the Congress appointed Peace commissioners to negotiate with the British. On 30 November 1782, preliminary Articles of Peace are signed by Richard Oswald, with representatives of the United States of America.
The path to negotiation
News of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown reached Britain late in November 1781, shortly before Parliament was due to debate the military spending estimates for the following year. The hastily revised plan was to retain forces in America at their existing level, but to abandon the policy of "offensive" war, in favour of a new approach, of defense against French and Spanish attacks in the Caribbean, and Gibraltar.
The negotiation process
Therefore, the decision was made to build on the "no offensive war" policy, and begin peace talks with the Americans. First, the stated aim of the 1778 Treaty of Alliance between the United States and France was specifically to maintain the independence of the United States. Second, for well over a year, informal discussions had been held with Henry Laurens, an American envoy captured on his way to Amsterdam and imprisoned in a small two-room suite at the Tower of London. The British negotiator sent to Paris was Richard Oswald, an old slave-trading partner of Henry Laurens, who had been one of his visitors in the Tower of London. His first talks with Franklin led to a proposal that Britain should hand over Canada to the Americans.
British government changes again
On 1 July Lord Rockingham, the figurehead leader of the government, died, so Lord Shelburne was forced to take over, which led to the resignation of Fox, and a massive split in the anti-war Whig party in Parliament. Regardless of this, the remainder of the negotiations would be carried out under Shelburne's devious leadership. For example, he took advantage of the great delay in trans-Atlantic communication to send a letter to George Washington stating that Britain was accepting American independence without preconditions, while not authorising Richard Oswald to make any such promise when he returned to Paris to negotiate with Franklin and his colleagues (John Jay had by this time returned from Spain).
Franklin became ill with gout towards the end of summer, but when John Jay learned in September of the secret French mission to England, by Joseph Matthias Gérard de Rayneval, and the French position on the fisheries, he sent a message to Shelburne himself, explaining in some detail why he should avoid being influenced too much by the French and Spanish. At the same time Richard Oswald was asking if the terms of his commission to negotiate with the Americans could be slightly reworded to acknowledge that the 13 so-called colonies referred to themselves as "United States", and about 24 September, the Americans received word that this had been done.
Britain's response to the deal
The terms of the peace, particularly the proposed treaty with the United States, caused a political storm in Britain. The concession of the Northwest Territory and the Newfoundland fisheries, and especially the apparent abandonment of Loyalists by an Article which the individual States would inevitably ignore, were condemned in Parliament. The last point was the easiest solved—-British tax revenue saved by not continuing the war would be used to compensate Loyalists and many received free land in Nova Scotia. Nevertheless, on 17 February 1783 and again on 21 February, motions against the treaty were successful in Parliament, so on 24 February Lord Shelburne resigned, and for five weeks the British government was without a leader. Finally, a solution similar to the previous year's choice of Lord Rockingham was found. The government was to be led, nominally, by the Duke of Portland, while the two Secretaries of State were to be Charles Fox and, remarkably, Lord North. Richard Oswald was replaced by a new negotiator, David Hartley, but the Americans refused to allow any modifications to the treaty— partly because they would have to be approved by Congress, which with two Atlantic crossings, would take several months. Therefore, on 3 September 1783, at Hartley's hotel in Paris, the treaty as agreed to, by Richard Oswald the previous November, was formally signed, and at Versailles, the separate treaties with France and Spain were also formalised.
Treaty of Paris
The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, ratified by the Congress of the Confederation on January 14, 1784 and by the King of Great Britain on April 9, 1784 (the ratification documents were exchanged in Paris on May 12, 1784), formally ended the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the United States of America, which had rebelled against British rule starting in 1775. The other combatant nations, France, Spain and the Dutch Republic had separate agreements; for details of these see Peace of Paris (1783).
The treaty document was signed at the Hôtel de York – which is now 56 Rue Jacob – by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay (representing the United States) and David Hartley (a member of the British Parliament representing the British monarch, King George III). Hartley was lodging at the hotel, which was therefore chosen in preference to the nearby British Embassy – 44 Rue Jacob – as "neutral" ground for the signing.
On September 3, Britain also signed separate agreements with France and Spain, and (provisionally) with the Netherlands. In the treaty with Spain, the colonies of East and West Florida were ceded to Spain (without any clearly defined northern boundary, resulting in disputed territory resolved with the Treaty of Madrid), as was the island of Minorca, while the Bahama Islands, Grenada and Montserrat, captured by the French and Spanish, were returned to Britain. The treaty with France was mostly about exchanges of captured territory (France's only net gains were the island of Tobago, and Senegal in Africa), but also reinforced earlier treaties, guaranteeing fishing rights off Newfoundland. Dutch possessions in the East Indies, captured in 1781, were returned by Britain to the Netherlands in exchange for trading privileges in the Dutch East Indies.
The American Congress of the Confederation ratified the treaty of Paris on January 14, 1784, and copies were sent back to Europe for ratification by the other parties involved, the first reaching France in March. British ratification occurred on April 9, 1784, and the ratified versions were exchanged in Paris on May 12, 1784. It was not for some time, though, that the Americans in the countryside received the news due to the lack of communication.
Based on preliminary articles made 30 November 1782, and approved by the Congress of the Confederation on 15 April 1783, this treaty was signed on 3 September 1783, and ratified by Congress on 14 January 1784, formally ending the American Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the thirteen former colonies which on 4 July 1776 had formed the United States of America.
Full texts (French and English)
- Jenkinson, Charles A Collection of All the Treaties of Peace, Alliance, and Commerce Between Great Britain and Other Powers vol. 3, pages 334 onward. London, Debrett (1785), via Google Books— accessed 2008-01-03
Privileges which the Americans had received from Britain automatically when they had colonial status were withdrawn, (including protection from pirates in the Mediterranean that led to the First Barbary War and the Second Barbary War). Individual states ignored Federal recommendations, under Article 5, to restore confiscated Loyalist property, and also evaded Article 6 (e.g. by confiscating Loyalist property for "unpaid debts"). Some, notably Virginia, also defied Article 4, and maintained laws against payment of debts to British creditors. Individual British soldiers ignored the provision of Article 7, about removal of slaves. The real geography of North America turned out not to match the details, given in the Canadian boundary descriptions. The Treaty specified a southern boundary for the United States, but the separate Anglo-Spanish agreement did not specify a northern boundary for Florida, and the Spanish government assumed that the boundary was the same as in the 1763 agreement, by which they had first given their territory in Florida to Britain. While that dispute continued, Spain used its new control of Florida to block American access to the Mississippi, in defiance of Article 8. In the Great Lakes area, the British adopted a very generous interpretation of the stipulation that they should relinquish control "with all convenient speed", because they needed time to negotiate with the Native Americans, who had kept the area out of United States control, but had been completely ignored in the Treaty. Even after that was accomplished, Britain retained control as a bargaining counter in hopes of obtaining some recompense for the confiscated Loyalist property. This matter was finally settled by the Jay Treaty in 1794, and America's ability to bargain on all these points was greatly strengthened by the creation of the new constitution in 1787, and victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
In 1784, the British allowed trade with the United States but forbade some American food exports to the West Indies, while British exports to America reached £3.7 million, and imports only £750,000. This imbalance caused a shortage of gold in the U.S. In 1784, New York-based merchants opened the China trade, followed by Salem, Boston, Philadelphia. In 1785, John Adams was appointed first minister to the Court of St James's (Great Britain), and Jefferson replaced Franklin as minister to France. In 1789, the Jay–Gardoqui Treaty granted Spain the exclusive right to navigate the Mississippi River for 30 years, but was not ratified because of opposition from Western states.
In 1793, a worldwide war erupted between Great Britain and France, and their respective allies. In April, George Washington issued a proclamation announcing the neutrality of the United States in the conflict among the belligerent nations of Europe. America remained neutral until 1812, did business with both sides, and was harassed by both sides. George Washington appointed John Quincy Adams United States Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1794, and to Portugal in 1796. In 1795, the United States signed the Jay Treaty with Britain which averted war, and led to a decade of peaceful trade, but failed to settle neutrality issues. The British eventually evacuated the Western forts, with boundary lines and debts (in both directions), settled by arbitration. The treaty was barely approved by the Senate (1795) after revision, and was intensely opposed. It became a major issue in formation of the first party system.
The Treaty of Madrid established boundaries between the United States and the Spanish colonies of Florida and Louisiana, and guaranteed navigation rights on the Mississippi River. In 1797, the United States signed a peace treaty with the Barbary state of Tripoli. However, this treaty was violated in 1801 by the Basha of Tripoli, which led to the Tripolitanian War. Also in 1797, the XYZ Affair erupted, with the humiliation of the United States government by French diplomats, leading to the threat of war with France, and ultimately the Quasi-War, an undeclared naval war from 1798 to 1800.
John Adams in 1797 appointed his son John Quincy Adams as Minister to Prussia. There, Adams signed the renewal of the very liberal Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce after negotiations with Prussian Foreign Minister Count Karl-Wilhelm Finck von Finckenstein.
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- Kenneth D. Hartsoe. "Commerce and Diplomacy The First Year of American Foreign Policy 1775–1776".
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- Text of the Treaty of Paris (without Delaware)
- Treaty of Paris, 1783 U.S. Department of State summary
- A Select Bibliography of Diplomacy in the War of American Independence compiled by the United States Army Center of Military History