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The French Objective in the American Revolution Author(s): Edward S.

Corwin Reviewed work(s): Source: The American Historical Review, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Oct., 1915), pp. 33-61 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the American Historical Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 23/01/2012 05:42
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THE majority of authoritieswould to-day, I believe, concede that but for our alliance with France the War of Independence would have ended withoutindependence;and that but for the aid which France lent us secretlyin the monthsprecedingBurgoyne's surrender Saratoga we should hardlyhave become allies of His at Most ChristianMajesty, at least on anything like termsof equality. To emphasizethe efficacy and indispensability French aid in the of Revolution is however only to throw into higher light its aspects of paradox: the oldest and mostdespoticmonarchy Europe makof ing commoncause with rebelsagainst a sistermonarchy;a government on the verge of bankruptcy deliberately invitinga war that, it to all appearances certainly, mighthave easily avoided! Ignorance of the risks involved mightconceivablyafforda partial explanation of the course taken by the French governmentin the years between I776 and I783, but in fact the explanation is little available. The possibilityof peril in promotingrebellion,albeit in another'sdominions,was clearly presentto Louis's mind,while of the unfitness the royal exchequer for the burdens of war was pressed upon him by Turgot with all possible insistence.

I. of Bancroftexplains French championship American independence thus: to Many causes combined producethe alliance of France and the harmoniall American republic;butthe forcewhichbrought influences of the ouslytogether, overruling timorous levity Maurepasand the dull of freedom.2 of reluctance Louis XVI., was themovement intellectual The important elementof truthin this theoryis unquestionable. estabof The directionand momentum French popular sentiment of the lished,to some extentcertainly, possibilitiesand limitations was in turn to no inconFrench official action, and this sentiment siderable extent the product of the liberalismof the age. Yet it
1 The followingarticle comprises the opening section of the writer'svolume entitledFrench Policy and the American Alliance, which is about to be issued fromthe Princeton UniversityPress. 2History of the United States (author's last revision), V. 256; see also pp. 264 ff. (33) AM. HIST. REV., VOL. XXI.-3.


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seems clear that the idea that France ought to intervene, opporif tunity offered, betweenEngland and her North American colonies, in behalf of the latter,came in the first instancenot fromthe salon but fromthe Foreign Office. And it is not less clear thatthe precise policypursuedby the French government toward the United States from 1776 on was shaped not by philosophersbut by professional diplomatists.3 then our attentionfromthe outset to the question of Confining what were the officialmotives of French intervention, have we naturally considerin the firstinstancethe Count de Vergennes's to attemptto represent programme, his which eventuallybecame that of his government, essentiallydefensive. Thus in his "Considas erations" of March, I776, which led directly the policyof secret to aid to the Americans,Vergennesurged upon the king and his associates the argumentthat, whetherEngland subjugated her rebellious colonies or lost them,she would probablyattack the French West Indies-in the one case in order to use the large forces she would have assembled,in the other,in order to indemnify herself.4 And in his " Memoire" of July23, 1777, urgingan early alliance with the Americans,he took much the same line: The policy of secret aid had been well enough in its day, but it had not secured the Americansfor France and Spain. If England could not speedily crushthe Americanrevoltshe mustmake termswith it. Those whom she had failed to retainas subjects she would make allies, in a joint assault upon the richesof Peru and Mexico and the French Sugar Islands.5 That there were facts tendingto give this line of argumenta certainplausibility may be admitted:the knownhatredof Chatham for the House of Bourbon, the supposed possibility(actually nil) would be called to power by George III. if Lord that Chathamn North failed,the lack of scruple that had been shown by England in beginning the Seven Years' War withoutwarningwhile negotiations were pending,the dissatisfaction a sectionof English opinof ion withthe termsof the peace of Paris.6 Also it may be admitted thatthe argument trulyrepresented considerations thathad measurable weightwith its author. For Vergennes was a cautious, even thoughambitious,statesman,and fond accordinglyof that line of
3 See infra,?? V. and VI. 4 Henri Doniol, Histoire de la Participation de la France a l'1tablissenient
des .8tats-Unis d'Ame~rique (Paris, 5 Ibid., II. 460, 462-463. i886-i892), I. 273-275.
6 Expressions of Vergennes's distrust of Chatham will be found in Doniol, I. 6i-62, 67-72. At the same time he admits in effect the unlikelihoodof George III.'s calling him to power, ibid., p. 62.

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persuasion to action which emphasizes the countervailing risks of inaction. When, however,the questionis fairlyposed whether this argumentthrowsany considerablelight upon the real objective of French intervention the Revolution,the answer is no in To begin with,thereis, to say the least, something an inconof sistencyin Vergennes'sbuilding an argumentfor an alliance with the Americans to protectFrench interestsin the Caribbean upon the increment danger resultingto those interestsfromhis own of policy of secret aid. And this inconsistency affordsclue to a yet more striking one. In the summerof I776, when he thoughtthat France could count on the active assistance of Spain, Vergennes definitely proposedwar withEngland and the proposition was tentatively ratifiedby the king and council.7 A little later, however, came the news of the fiascoon Long Island and Vergennesbeat a precipitateretreatfromhis own programme.8 In other words, it would seem that the danger which,by the argumentin the " Considerations would menace France if England should subjugate her ", rebellious colonies was one that could be safely awaited in quiet, but thatthe one threatening fromthe contrary contingency was one that mustbe met half-way. Yet it was the lattercontingency precisely which the policy of secret aid was designed to make sure!9 But again, while a Britishattackupon the Caribbeanpossessions would, of course, have forced France to come to their defense,it may be gravelydoubted whetherFrench official opinion held these possessionsafter I763 in sufficient esteemto have warranteda policy thatmaterially increasedthe likelihoodof a seriouswar of which their securitywould be the main objective.'0 Indeed, Vergennes himselfdeclaredon one occasion thatthe French West Indies could
de l'Angleterre dans la circonstance actuelle August31, ",
7 " Considerationssur le parti qu'il convient a la France de prendrevis-a-vis

Ibid., pp. 567-

8 Ibid., pp. 613-62I. A parallel case is furnishedby the French secretary's change of front on the question of the Englishman Forth's mission to Paris in the late summerof 1777. At firstVergennes found this episode to be portentous of war at an early date. When, however, shortly after, the news arrived of Burgoyne's capture of Ticonderoga and of other disasters to the American arms, his alarm diminishedperceptibly. Ibid., II. 526-529, 534-536, 539, 55I-555. 9 See the " Reflexions ibid., I. 247-248. ", 10 See the remarksof M. Abeille, quoted infra, ? V. In the same connection one should also recall the pacifist attitude of the French governmentearly in 1777 toward the question of defending Santo Domingo, the obvious explanation of it being the fear of arousing suspicion on the part of Great Britain that would prejudice the policy of secret aid. Doniol, I. 234-241, 253, 264-265, 272275. Still more to the point is the fact that during the peace negotiations of 1782, the French government was ready and willing to surrendertwo of its most valuable possessions in the West Indies, Guadeloupe and Dominica, to Great Britain in order to obtain Gibraltar for Spain. Ibid., V. 220.


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offer slighttemptation English cupidity, but to thatEngland already had enough such possessions.11 But finally, there is every reason to believethatbothFrance and Spain could at any timebefore I778 have obtainedfromEngland, in returnfor a pledge of neutrality, a specific guaranty of their American holdings, and in fact the programmeproposed by the Spanish governmentin I777 incorporated this very idea. Nor can there be any question that England would have hesitated to violate such a guarantyso long as peace continuedon the Continent Europe. None the less, Verof gennes fromthe firstconsistently repelledall such propositions.12 To no small extent certainly, Vergennes's attemptto give his programme defensivemask is to be accountedforby purelypropaa gandist reasons. He had before him fromthe beginningthe twofold necessity winninghis own king and the king of Spain to his of side. It is, therefore, circumstance no little significance a of that in the firstformulation his positiontoward the American revolt, of " in the " Reflexions preparedby his secretary Gerard de Rayneval in December, 1775, the notionof danger threatening fromEngland is distinctly subordinatedto what is throughout essentiallya programmeof aggression. But for this tone the king,despitethe missionary work of Beaumarchais,13 was, it would seem, hardly pre" pared; and in the " Considerations a few weeks laterthe conscientious scruples of His Most Christian Majesty and His Catholic Majesty are pointedto with some ostentation.14Moreover, in the " Considerations Vergenneswas confronted " with the task of demonstratingthe superior urgency of his diplomaticprogrammeto that of Turgot's programmeof financial retrenchment, and this war with England as task could onlybe performed representing by inevitable.15 virtually And unquestionably mustbe conceded thatthis sort of propait
11 Doniol, II. 643-644.
12 Both at the end of I776 and in the spring of I777, the British government suggested tentatively a common disarmament on the part of England, Prance, and Spain. Doniol, II. I45-I 54, 232. Vergennes however had from the first been averse to seeking any sort of understanding with England, ibid., I. 5 1-52. For Floridablanca's programme and Vergennes's attitude toward it, see See also Vergennes's argument against accepting the ibid., II. 264, 293-295. offer, apparently made by Forth, in August, I777, of a British guaranty of French and Spanish possessions, ibid., pp. 528-529. 13

See John Durand, New Materials for the History of the American Rev-

olution (New York, i889), pp. 44-86. 14 " Si les dispositions de ces deux princes etaient guerrieres, s'ils etaient disposes a se livrer a l'impulsion de leurs interets." Doniol, I. 275. 15 Ibid., pp. 280-284.

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ganda proved,at criticaljunctures, extremely effective withLouis ;16 but thatthis circumstance, the otherhand, is not to be accorded on undue weightis proved by the countervailing one that the Spanish to government, whom the argumentwas also addressed,treatedit, once the danger that had at firstthreatenedof war witn Portugal was removed, with conspicuous levity-and this notwithstanding Vergennes's insistencethat Spain's empire in America furnished England tenfoldthe temptation thatthe meagreremnants French of holdings did.17 In short, while the argument that England designed to attack her Caribbean possessions assisted materiallyin bringingFrance into the Revolution by tending to minimizethe weightiest argumentagainst such a project,it does not followthat the defense of these possessions furnished principalpurpose of the French action. The centralcore of Vergennes's programmefrom the first was aid to the Americansin the achievement theirindeof pendence; and the prospect of American independencenecessarily broughtinto view objectives which far overshadowedthe security of the French West Indies, eithermomentary permanent. or French intervention the Revolution was in short determined in by motivesof "aggression" ratherthan of " defense"-at any rate in what used to be the accepted significance these terms,before of the presentwar had obliteratedso many distinctions. That is to say, France's main purpose was the upsettingof the status quo in certain particulars rather than its preservationin certain others. But in what particulars? That is to say, was her objective terrior tory or commerce, was it something less tangiblethan eitherof these? II. The possibility that it was territory raised by the contention is of ProfessorTurner that France hoped in the Revolutionto replace England in Canada and Spain in Louisiana. In support of this thesisProfessorTurneradduces, first, testimony Godoy," the the of
16 Especially after Saratoga. For the data which Vergennes broughtto bear upon the king to procure his decision for an alliance with the United States at this juncture, see Doniol, II. 625 ff.,717 ff. Rumors of impendingnegotiations between the American commissionersand the British representativesand utterances of British parliamentaryorators of the Opposition (see Parliamentary History, XIX. 662 ff.) were the principal items. Vergennes's manipulation of this evidence is palpably disingenuous, as I shall show elsewhere. The reaction of the king to ministerial alarmism, which was effectivelysupplemented by the similar efforts Beaumarchais, is indicated by Vergennes in a of despatch to Montmorindated January 8, I778, after the alliance had been determined upon: " Ce n'est point l'influencede ses ministresqui a decide le roi, c'est 1'evidence des faits, c'est la certitudemorale du peril." Doniol, II. 734. 17 Ibid., p. 643. Spain's attitude is shown by her course.


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Prince of Peace ", thatafterthe war was over,Vergennes,counting upon the close union between France and Spain, sought to induce the latter," already so rich in possessionsbeyondthe sea, to give to France her ancientcolony"; secondly,the fact that duringthe war Vergennes appeared anxious "to protectthe interestsof Spain in the countrybetween the Alleghenies and the Mississippi"; and thirdly, documentpublished in Paris in I802 under the caption a Historique et Politique sur la Louisiane par M. de VerMenmoire gennes.18 Upon closer scrutinyeach item of this evidence must for one of of reason or otherbe disallowed. The reliability the testimony Godoy, who did not come into power until six years after Vergennes's death, is in itself dubious, but even if it be accepted at face value it says nothingof Vergennes's intentionsbefore and during the Revolution. Vergennes's attitude during that period betweenthe Allegheniesand toward Spain's claims to the territory accounted for by his feeling that it the Mississippi is sufficiently interestsof the United was necessaryto harmonizethe conflicting States and Spain, each of whom was in alliance withFrance against England. The documentpublishedin I802, thoughit may possibly date fromthe Revolution,was not the work of Vergennes nor of that it any one who spoke for him. Not only does the programme to proposes directly traverse,in its reference Canada, the pledge of His Most ChristianMajesty in articleVI. of the treatyof alliance, renouncing" foreverthe possession . . . of any part of the con" tinent that had latelybelonged to Great Britain,but it materially conflicts withthe policy which Professor Turner himselfattributes to Vergennes of supportingSpain's claims in the region between the Allegheniesand the Mississippi. The latterpolicy was clearly designedto allay Spain's alarm at the prospectsof American independence. The programmeurged in the Memoire of I802 proposed the deliberateaggravationof this alarm as the easiest means hands of of inducingSpain to relinquishLouisiana to the stronger France."9
tributionof this documentto Vergennes or officialassociates of his are the following: It is to be noted that while the anonymous editor of the Memoire as" sumes to vouch for " the style,the thoughts of the documentas being those of the French secretary,he says nothing of a signature, nor does any appear in the published form. The Memoire is also devoid of certain distinctive marks of a French officialdocument addressed to royalty,the most obvious consisting in the failure of the writer (or compiler) ever to refer to France and Spain by the titles of their Bourbon rulers. If we are to rely upon the silence of the Inventaire Sommaire, no memoir
18 American Historical Review, X. 249 if. 19 See the Memoire, pp. 25-30. Other considerations that forbid the at-

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But if France's objectivewas not territory, perhaps it was commerce. Unquestionablythere was a wide-spreadbelief in France early in the Revolution,which was appealed to not only by the American envoys but by Vergennes himself on occasion, that if France assisted the United States to their independence, American
on Louisiana exists in the French archives of the date to which the Memoire published in I802 is assigned by its editor, though several are to be found there of an earlier date from which this one might have been fabricated,and to one of these the editor makes specific reference in a foot-note. Furthermore,the fact that the Memoire of I802 was, if at this point we are to follow the editor, found among Vergennes's own papers, of itself casts doubt on its ever having been presentedto the king. In connection with his statementthat "both French and American bibliographers have accepted " the " genuineness" of the Memoire, Professor Turner cites only the Voyage a la Louisiane of Baudry des Lozieres. Yet Baudry, while praising the Memoire for "plusieurs de ses vues qui sont tres-sages", directly challenges the assertion that it was the work of Vergennes. " If ", says he, " M. de Vergennes has any part in these memoires,it is only a very small part." But perhaps the most remarkable feature of the document under consideration is (assuming it to date frombefore 1783) the ignorance it discloses on the part of its author that by the treaty of 1763 Florida belonged to Great Britain (see 26 and 30). pp. The Duke of Newcastle is reported to have once addressed a despatch to "the Governor of the Island of Massachusetts". But Vergennes was neither a British peer nor a spoilsman in office, but a man noted among his contemporariesfor the range and accuracy of his information the field of diin plomacy. It may be safely assumed, therefore,that he was fully aware that France's closest ally had lost an extensive province by the peace of Paris and had been compensated by France herself with a still more extensive one. Besides, as is shown below, the MWmoire I802, considered as an entity, of must by any assumption date from a period later than early January,1778. Before this, however, Holker, in instructionsdated November 25, 1777, was informedby the French Foreign Officethat his government wished to see England left in possession of Florida, Nova Scotia, and Canada. Doniol, II. 6i6. Upon careful examination of it I am convinced that the Meinoire of I802 comprises two earlier documentsloosely joined togetherby the author of the short address " Au Roi ", chapterI., and certain paragraphs of chapter X., of the published document. The firstof these two earlier documents comprises most of chapters II.-X. of the M6moire of I802 and was writtenbefore the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, to refute Great Britain's claim to the region then in dispute between France and Great Britain. It closed with a plan -of compromisein the form of a proposed treatybetween the two nations, which plan is touched up at points by the compiler of the I802 document. The second of the earlier documents was written afterthe events described in pages I62 to I69 of the publishedvolume-i. e., about 1769-to protestagainst the then recent cession of Louisiana to Spain. The entire separatenessof the two documentsis attestedby the words with which the second one opens (" Ce memoirea pour but ", etc., p. II5), by the vastly different styles of the two documents,and by diverse spellings of certain proper names. (In the latter connection compare pp.- 57 and I50-I5I; also pp. 6i and 172.) When, then, was this compilation made? Dismissing the editor's assertion that the document was the work of Vergennes, but taking the document itself at face value, it was broughttogether after the outbreak of the War of Independence (chapters I. and X.), but before the treaty of alliance recognizingAmerican independence was known (the United States are always referredto as " colonies "


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to trade would turn forthwith French ports.20 Yet squarely confronted with the theorythat this belief had been materialin deterrejectedthe notion. Vergennesunqualifiedly mininghis programme, "They perhaps thinkat Madrid ", he wrote after the alliance had been determined upon, " that the interestof acquiringa new trade decided us." But he repelled the suggestionthus: had principally can be only a very feeble This n otive,assessed at its true worth, accessory. Americantrade,viewedin its entirety and subject to the a was monopoly the mother-country, untdoubtedlygreat object of of of interest thelattera id an, iriportant to soutrceof the growth her inthrown openas it is to be hencetrade, dustry power. But American and conwill be forFrance a verypetty of forth the avidity all nations, to

more than These words of Vergenneshave, however,something their merely negative value; they bring us in fact to the very about trade thinking of threshold the subject of our quest. Official in vast part, by the catein the eighteenth was moulded century, gories of what is called "the mercantilesystem", and it is the significanceof the words just quoted that they prove Vergennes to have been of this school. The salient features of mercantilism ratherthan of economics, mark it at once as a systemof state-craft at least in any modern sense of these terms. In the firstplace, with that form of it in which, in a period wealth was identified and of when the machinery public creditwas rudimentary the usual alliances was provided by cash subsidies, cement of international it was most available for political purposes. Again, the welfare to of the subject was assessed for its contribution the power of the state. Finally, the power of the state was evaluated in terms fuLrand "provinces " and on p. i8o the compilerspeaks of "strengtheningthe peace" between France and Great Britain); also during a warlike situation on the Continent (pp. 27 and 103, by the compiler). But this last condition can be satisfied,for the period between 1775 and I78I, only by supposingthe referencesjust cited to have been to the events leading up to the so-called War of the Bavarian Succession. If, then, the Mcmoire of I802 is to be assigned, as a whole, to the period of the American Revolution, it must be placed between late Januaryand the middle of March, 1778. We know that, in the months preceding France's and the to numerousmemoirswere transmitted the Foreign Office, intervention, of Memnoire 1802 may thereforerepresent one from a sheaf of similar productions. Doniol, I. 242, foot-note. Mr. Paul C. Phillips, on the other hand, conjectures plausibly that the document published in I802 owes its existence to an effortto bolster up Napoleon's then recent acquisition of Louisiana, The West in the Diplomacy of the American Revolution (Univ. of Ill., 194), pp. 30-32, foot-note. For Vergennes's appreciation that France must attemptno conquests on the North American continent,see Doniol, III. 570. 20 Deane Papers (N. Y. Hist. Soc. Colls., i886), I. I8I, 184 ff., 207; Doniol, I. 244.
21 Doniol, III. I40. Madrid received its impression from Aranda. Aranda to Floridablanca, JanuarY3I, 1778, the Sparks MSS., Harvard UniversityLibrary.

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nished by the doctrineof the "balance of power". But granting these premisesand it followed,first, that the principaladvantage to be soughtfromtrade was a balance payable in coin or bullion,and secondly,that the most desirable branch of trade was that which was most susceptibleof manipulation produce such a balanceto in other words, colonial trade. For subject as it was, withinthe laws of nature,to the unlimited controlof the mother-country, the colony could be compelledto obtain all its manufacturesfromthe and mother-country to returnthereforraw materials and a cash balance. At the very least, by furnishing mother-country the raw materials which she would otherwisehave to purchase from her political rivals, the colony could be made to contribute directlyto the maintenance a favorable balance of trade and, pro tantto, of to thatof a favorablebalance of power againstthose rivals.22
22 A good general account of the rise of mercantilism and of its principles is to be found in C. F. Bastable's Comiimerce Nations (I899), ch. IV. For of an admirable statementof the connection which mercantilisttheory and policy established between colonies and commerce,see Professor C. M. Andrews, Amit. Hist. Rev., XX. 43 ff. "During the greater part of our colonial period commerce and the colonies were correlative terms, unthinkable each without the other", ibid., p. 43. See also the same writer's article in Am. Hist. Rev., XX. "France and 539 ff.,entitled "Anglo-French Commercial Rivalry, I700-1750". England were fairly matched rivals, in that their policies were the same, to acquire colonies in the interestof trade, shipping,and manufactures, exclude the to foreignerfrom the colonial market,and to make the welfare and wealth of the mother state the firstand chief object of the efforts all, colonies and motherof country alike." Ibid., p. 546. It will be noted that Professor Andrews makes welfare the objective of the mercantilepolicy, but power would perhaps be the better word even for English mercantilism. Note the following passage quoted by Professor Andrews from Otis Little's The State of the Trade of the Northern Colonies Considered ( 1748), pp. 8-9: " As every state in Europe seems desirous of increasing its Trade, and the Acquisition of Wealth enlarges the Means of power, it is necessary, in order to preserve an Equality with them, that this Kingdom extends its Commerce in proportion; but to acquire a Superiority,due Encouragementought to be given to such of its Branches, as will most effectually enrich its Inhabitants. As trade enables the Subject to support the Administration of Government, the lessening or destroyingthat of a Rival, has the samlle as effect, if this Kingdom had enlarged the Sources of its own Wealth. . . But, as an Ascendancy is to be gained by checkingthe Growthof theirs,as well as by the Increase of our own, whenever one of these happens to be the Consequence of the otherto this Nation, its Figure and Reputationwill rise to a greater Height than ever." Ibid., p. 543, foot-note. In other words, the mercantilistlooked beyond the welfare of the subject to the power and reputation of the state, and these he measured by the standard set by the doctrine of the balance of power. The same point is also brought out by a passage from Postlethwayt'sBritain's Commercial Interest Explained and Improved (I757): "I next enter upon the general principles,whereon the balance of trade is founded . . . the consideration of which is earnestlyrecommendedto the public regard, in order to throw into the hands of Great Britain, as to put the the balance of trade so effectually constant balance of power in Europe into her hands." Ibid., II. 55I. See also " Now, that Money is the the Gentlemnan's Magazine, XII. 589 (November I742):


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to Applying,however,these considerations the case of French in intervention the American Revolution,we have at once to note that by the treatyof amity and commerceall privilegesof trade were to be " mutual" and none given France but what the United to States were leftat liberty grantto any othernation,while by the treatyof alliance, its " essential and direct end " was stated to be of the achievement Americanindependencenot only in mattersof but of commercealso.23 In other words, we discover government the motiveunderlying alliance was not the that the real commercial hope of buildingup French trade-which it was supposed could or hardlybe done effectively advantageouslywithoutthe machinery of monopoly-but the breakingdown of British trade at the point supported by at which., mercantilist premises,it miostiimmediately Britishpower. The commercialmotivemergesitselfwith a larger of politicalmotive: the enfeeblement England. triumph The lesson drawnby Englishmenfromtheirmagnificent in the Seven Years' War is to be found in the famous lament of Chathamon thenews of Saratoga: America " was, indeed,the founthe tain of our wealth,the nerve of our strength, nurseryand basis But what should be especiallynoted about of our naval power . these words is thattheyreferto the part of America then in revolt, is America. The circumstance one thatwould thatis to continental have been quite impossiblebefore I760, when the emphasiswas still British on colonies as sources of supply and when, consequently, opinion,in appraisingthe two portionsof BritishAmerica,gave the to invariablepreference the island and tropicalportion. The treaty of Paris, however,signalizes a new point of view. Not only had
Sinews of War, is become a proverbial Expression; and, with Respect to Great Britain, it is notorious we can do nothingwithout it. Almost all we did in the last Struggle with the Grand Monarch, was by the Dint of Money. If we had Numbers of Allies, we were obliged to pay them all; and whereas every other Power in the Confederacyrun into Arrears with their Engagements,we not only made good our Proportions, but often exceeded them. . . . But, to suppose, what is impossible,that we still roll in Riches, who is to join with us in this mightyEnterprise, of wresting the Balance of Europe out of the strong Hand that hath lately held it?" See furtherthe index of this same periodical under titles, "Balance of Power" and "France ", for other instructivepassages along the same lines, especially in the volumes covering the years from I737 to I742. Naturally in France, where the dynastic principle was the exclusive basis of the state, the political aspect of mercantilismwas predominant; see infra. 23 Treaty of amity and commerce,preamble; treaty of alliance, art. II. See also the American commissioners'letter of February 8, 1778, to the President of Congress, Wharton (I889), II. 490-491. 24Speech of November i8, I777, ParliamentaryHistory,XIX. 365, foot-note. Burke's speech of November 27, I78I, ibid., XXII. 72I-722. See to the same effect See also the opening paragraph of Deane's memoir on the Commerceof America and its Importance to Europe, cited above, Deane Papers, I. I84.

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continental America made directcontributions the military to forces of the mother-country the course of the war just closed, but its in increasing importationof British manufacturesin exchange for raw materialsnow netted a favorable balance that quite eclipsed the calculable benefits fromthe West Indian trade. Furthermore, inasmuch as the colonial trade had always been regarded as the essentialmatrixof Britishnaval strength, popular esteemnaturally turnedincreasingly that branch of this trade which promised a to progressiveextension. The upshot of these developments to be is seen in the decision of the British government, registeredin the treatyof Paris, to retain Canada instead of Guadeloupe and Martinique fromits French conquests. No doubt the decision was in part motivatedby a desire to meet the demands of New England; but the discussion that attendedit proves that it is also to be regarded as a deliberatere-appraisement England of the relative by value of the two sectionsof her westernempire.25 The reactionof France, in turn,to the lesson of the treatyof in Paris was conditioned the first instanceby the plain impossibility of further competition with Great Britain in the fieldof colonizaremainedpredomition, at least so long as British naval strength nant. On the otherhand, however,the doctrineof the balance of power which,as I have already pointed out, was the political obverse of mercantilism, emphasizedthe notion that the grand desideratumfor a state was not so much a certainabsolute quantumof power as a certain rank of power in relation to other states, and those states which it counted its usual rivals-that, in particularly short,power was relative. But this premise assumed, the opportunity presentedFra'nceby the Americanrevoltwas a deductionat once inevitableand irresistible. Choiseul's early perceptionof it, is we shall note presently. At thisjunctureour interest in the point of French intervention. of view of Vergennes,the official sponsor Fortunatelyit is attestedboth in his despatches and in his more formal memoirs again and again: England was France's ancient and hereditary enemy. The essential basis of English power was and English naval strength. The mostimportant English commerce source of these, in turn,was England's colonial empire,and especially her holdingsin North America. The disseveranceonce and for all'time of the connection between England and her rebellious provinceswould depriveher of the greatestsingle source of power and, by the same token,elevate the power of the House of Bourbon rival. To achieve that againstits most dangerousand unscrupulous
25 For the matter of this paragraph, see George Louis Beer, British Colonial (New York, 1907), ch. IV. Policy, 1754-1765


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would be worth a war otherwise"somewhat disadvantageous.26 Moreover there would also be certain collateral benefits. For one thing,frombeing an ever-availablebase of operationsagainst the French West Indies, the new nation would be convertedinto " Again, frombeing a beneficiary ".7 theirjoint protector forever and so a prop to those rules of naval warfare by which Great both of her eneBritainbore so hard upon the commercialinterests mies and of neutrals,the new nation would be pledged to a more liberal system.28 Yet again, by leaving England her non-rebellious and provincesin North America, a certainportionof her strength divertedfromthe European balance would be permanently attention of to the maintenance a minorbalance in the WesternHemisphere.29 However, these considerationstoo connectthemselves,and rather directly,with the logic of the doctrine of the balance of power. Thus the real question raised by our search for the main objective in of French intervention the Revolutionbecomes the question of of the main objectivein the thinking French statesmenof a balance of power favorableto France. The answer to thatquestionreveals of the thirddimension French diplomacyof the Old Regime-a certain dynastictradition. III. The diplomatic object of thiscrownhas been and will alwaysbe to whichaccordswithits antiquity, enjoyin Europethatr6leof leadership to to powerwhichshallattempt and its worth, its greatness; abase every or to by to superior it,whether endeavoring usurpitspossessions, become or by pre-eminence, finally seekto by arrogating itselfan unwarranted of and its ing to diminish influence creditin the affairs the worldat

penned in I756 to In these words of the French Foreign Office, justifythe DiplomaticRevolution,is sketchedthe picturethat domthe inated French diplomacythroughout decliningyears of the Old Regime. In "the fair days of Louis XIV." the picturehad been a reality,which,however,that monarch'slater aggressionshad gone far to shatter. Then Cardinal Fleury had come forwardwith his
" 26 See especiallythe followingpassages: the " Reflexions of December, I775, " the " Considerations of November 5, 1776, ibid., pp. 686Doniol, I. 243-244; in 687; the "Memoire" of January7, I777, referredto briefly the text, ibid., II. of of ii8; thedespatch MarchII, 1777, ibid.,II. 239; thedespatch May 23, 1777, ibid., p. 295; the " Memoire" of July23, 1777, ibid., p. 46I; the despatch of December 13, I777, ibid., pp. 643-644. 27 Treaty of alliance, art. XI. 28 Treaty of amity and commerce, arts. XV. ff. 29 Doniol, III. I56-I58, 557; IV. 74. 30 Recueil des Instructions donntjesaux Ambassadeurs et Ministres de France les Traites de Westphalie juisqu'a la Revolution Fran!raise, I., Autriche, depuis p. 356; see also p. 383.

French Objectivein the American Revolution


Systetme Conservation which France pledged Europe that in de by returnfor influenceshe would forego extensionof dominionand that she would devote the influence vouchsafedher on these terms to the cause of Europe's peace.3' The success of the Systemfor France's diplomaticpositionwas astonishing. On the eve of the War of the Austrian Succession the elder branchof the House of Bourbon,the protector Chrisof tian interests the East, of Poland, Sweden, Turkey,Saxony, Sarin dinia, the Germanprinces,of Don Carlos of Naples, of the emperor himself, and the ally of the maritime powers and of Spain, was the nodal point of every combinationof powers in Europe. At the same time His Most ChristianMajesty's servicesas mediatorwere sought,now by Austria and Spain, now by Russia and Turkey, now by Austria and Russia, now by Spain and Portugal, now by England and Spain.32 "Thanks to Cardinal Fleury", exclaimed the advocate Barbier, " the king is the master and arbiter of Europe . The aged Fleury himselfcomplacently compared the positionof France to what it had been " at the most brilliantepoch of Louis XIV.'s reign . FrederickII., just ascendingthe throne of Prussia, found "the Courts of Vienna, Madrid, and Stockholm " in a sort of tutelage to Versailles.35 The Sultan's ambassador at the coronation Charles VII. apostrophized of Louis XV. as " Grand " King of Christian Kings ", " Emperor of the Monarque ", Franks ".3G The enemies of Walpole, who, in returnfor commerconnived in the extensionof cial favors to England, had willingly French influence, declared that England had been made a cat's-paw of of, thatthe House of Bourbon was at the summit power,thatthe balance of power was at an end.37
31 M. de Flassan, Histoire General et Raisonniee de la Diplomatie Francaise depuis la Fondation de la Monarchie jusqu'a la Fin du Rkgne de Louis XVI. (second ed., Paris, i8II, 7 vols.), V. i67 ff. On the general principles and outlook of French diplomacyfollowingthe death of Louis XIV. and the orientation of Vergennes's policy in these, see Albert Sorel, L'Europe et la R4volution Frangaise, pt. I., Les Maurs Politiques et les Traditions (third ed., Paris, 1893), expressions of the For some excellent eighteenth-century pp. 331-336, 297-304. '"'Traditionof Grandeur", datingfromLouis XIV., see Abbe Raynal's Philosophical etc. (trans. by Justament, London, I777), and Political History of the Settlements, IV. 506 ff.; V. 457 ff.; also Anquetil's Motifs des Guerres et des Traiths de Paix de la France (Paris, 1797), pp. I87 ff. 32 For these data see Lavisse and Rambaud, Histoire G'neirale, VII. II9-I60. 33 Ibid., p. I 58. 34 Recueil des Instructions, 246. I. 35 Posthumous Works of Frederick II. (trans. by Holcroft, London, I789), I. i6. 36 Gentleman'sMagazine, XII. 54 (1742). 37 See the "Debate in the Lords on Carteret's Motion for the Removal of Sir Robert Walpole , especially Carteret's own speeches. Parl. Hist., XI.

I 047 ff.


E. S. Corwin

Nor did the War of the AustrianSuccession,risinglike a drama thoughobviously of to its climax in the stage-triumph Fontenoy,38 of signify any lessa defeatfor salientprinciples Fleury's System,39 of in on eningof France's influence the Continent the estimate those who thenguided her destinies. Foremostof these was the Marquis d'Argenson,who became in 1744 the king's secretaryof state for foreignaffairson a platform,so to say, interpreting r6le of the, France among nations in the light of the rising philosophyof the age. The period of conquests,Argenson declared-though unhappily not of war-was at an end, and France especiallyhad reason to be contentwith her greatness. Those thereforewho spoke of perfectingthe boundaries of France or formingleagues for her to defense were ill advised. " Our neighborshave everything fear fromthem." The onlyalliances whichFrance fromus-we nothing should form should be " for the purpose of repressingthe ambitious", and should be made only with lesser states," such as Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Venice, Modena, Switzerland, Bavaria, Prussia, Saxony, etc." In brief,France was in the position to give the law to Europe, so it be a just law. Let her, then, "sustain the feeble and oppressed" and in her part as "{paternal In 1748 " protector "arrest disorders for many centuries ", France, by the treatyof Aix-la-Chapelle,restoredher conquests of the war just closed. Sinful Paris pronouncedit " a beastlypeace ". His Most Chrison The royalministers, the otherhand, contrasting tian Majesty with those rulers who were forced by necessityto and were ever maskingselfish seek only theirown aggrandizement designs with a pretendedsolicitude for the balance of power, defended the treatyas markingpreciselyFrance's station and magnanimity.41
38 See Voltaire's descriptionin his " Precis du Siecle de Louis XV.", Oeuvres Note especially his words on p. 148: " Ce Complets (Paris, I792), XXI. I29-148. qui est aussi remarquable que cette victoire, c'est que le premier soin du roi de France ffitde faire ecrire le jour meme a 1'abbWde la Ville . . qu'il ne demandait pour prix de ses conquetes que la pacificationde l'Europe." 39 For the policy of a friendly understandingwith the maritimepowers and Austria. In his instructionsof December II, I737, to the Marquis de Mirepoix, between the Houses of Bourbon and a Fleury suggests definitely rapprochement Hapsburg. Recueil des Instructions,I. 245-246. du 4OlJournl et Mle'moires Marquis d'Argenson (ed. Ratheray, Paris, 1859), I. 325-326, 371-372; IV. I3I ff. See also Sainte-Beuve, "Argenson", Causeriesdu Lundi. The idealistic, not to say sentimental,character of Argenson's point of view is illustratedby his " maxim , le roi aime mieux etre trompe que de". tromper 41 For the Parisian estimate of the peace, see Lavisse and Rambaud, op. cit., VII. 204. Argenson testifiesto the popular criticismevoked by the peace, thus: " Le franqais aime la gloire et l'honneur,de sorte qu'apres les premiersmoments

French Objeclivein the American Revolution


And thus niuch for the successfulaspect of Fleury's System: it in gave France for the timebeing the preponderance Europe and it accustomedher statesmen claim for her in relationto the minior to statesof the Continent generalthe r6le whichthe treatyof Westin phalia had conferredupon her in terms,in relation to the lesser membersof the Germanicbody.42 Unfortunately System had the its Achilles's heel, to wit, its indifference the decline of French to sea-powerand to the rise of English sea-power. The earliest protest against an attitudeso obviouslydefiantof the tenets of mercantilismcame from Fleury's own associate, the young Count de the Marine. Now in an official reporton the state of the marine, now in a letter purporting emanatefromthe shade of Louis XIV., to now in a memoir on the condition of French commerceabroad, Maurepas reiteratedagain and again the favoritepremisesof his school and their obvious deductions for France: Commerce that kept gold at home and drew it fromabroad was a source of public greatness. Foreign trade was the essential root of naval strength. Against no two states in the world could France so profitably turn her arms as against Holland and England. The latter moreover was an active menace to Bourbon interests all parts of the world. in It behooved His Most Christian Majesty " to put to flightthis usurpingrace" and to curtailthe commerce whichalready rendered "these ancientenemiesof his crown almost the mastersof the fate of Europe".4 It is not impertinent recall that at the outbreak to of the American Revolution the author of these words was His Most ChristianMajesty's chief minister. The warningthus sounded was soon re-echoedby others. In a council of ministers shortly before France's entranceinto the War of the Austrian Succession,the Duke de Noailles opposed this step withvigorand insight. England's system, said he, is obvious. " It is to arrive at supremepower by superiority wealth,and Amerof ica alone can make smooththe road for her." It could be predicted at the outsetthat His BritannicMajesty would not waste his subbut would seize the opportunity stance in Germany, affordedby a war on the Continent wage war forhis own purposesin America. to France's real concernshould be for her colonies,and only motives of vainglory could distract attention the empire.44 Two years her to
de joie de la paix conclue, tout le public est tombe dans la consternationde la mediocritedes conditions." For the ministerialview-point,see Recueil des Instructions, 286 ff., 3I0 ff. I. 42 On France's guaranteeship of the treaty of Westphalia, see ibid., p. 208. 43 Maurepas, Memoires (ed. Soulavie, Paris, I792), III. 93 ff.,i6i ff., 194 f., especially 205-206 and 24I. 44Anquetil, Motifs des Guterres, 376. p.

Maurepas, who between I730 and I740 headedthe Department of


E. S. Corwin

later Deslandes's Essai sutrla Marine et le Commerce appeared, addressed to "those at the Helm". In these pages one will find proclaimedthe theory be made familiarto us a hundredand fifty to years later throughAdmiral Mahan's famous work, that fromthe beginnings historythe marine has been a decisive factorin the of rise and fall of states. And particularly, Deslandes went on to argue, had the greatnessof France always restedon a strongnavy. The restoration the marinewas therefore first of the dutyof French statesmen. Its neglectcould lead only to calamity.45 The mercantilist propaganda, aptly confirmed the events of by the War of the Austrian Succession, began moreoverin time to show promise of fruition. Even Argenson, despite his general complacency, yet gave warning that English ambition,fraud, and in aggressiveness the way of trade,and the prosperity the Engof lish colonies, menaced Europe with the prospect of British dominion " of the seas and of all the commerce in the world".46 who became secretaryof state for foreignaffairsin Saint-Contest, wvas like opinion,holding that, on account of her naval I75I, of strength, England even thenexerteda greaterinfluence European in concernsthan France. At the same time he contendedthat naval strength was a highlyvulnerable sort of strength, and that, with prudent measures, it would be easy for France to reduce Great Britain to her proper rank.47 Meantime in I749 Rouille had beconme ministerof the marine. Under his administration and that of his successorMachault the navy was broughtto comparativeefas ficiency, was attestedby the capture of Minorca in June, I756. the Seven Years' War, thus auspiciouslybegun Unfortunately for France, was not long to remainpredominantly war with Enga land, to be waged on the sea for commerce and colonies. The simple fact is that with the haute noblesse the army was popular and the navy, for all the zeal of the mercantilists, was not. The prejudices of the nobles moreoverfell in with the pique of the king at what he considered the ingratitudeand faithlessnessof his the prote'ge', King of Prussia, in making a defensivealliance with England. In vain was it urged upon Louis thatthe treatyof Westfar minster, fromimplying on hostility Frederick'spart toward His Most ChristianMajesty, was really a matter for thanksgiving, in that it guaranteedpeace on the Continent and, by the same sign, a
45 Op. cit., passiml. See also the same writer'sEssai sur la Marine des Anciens et Particulieremnent str letrs Vaisseaux de Gterre (Paris, I748). Curiously enough Admiral Mahan seems not to have been aware of Deslandes's works. 46 Journal et M'roires, I. 372. 47 Flassan, op. cit., VI. I4-I6; Recneil des Instructions, XII.2 (Espagne, pt. III.), pp. 298 if.

Revolution French Objectivein the Amnerican


freehand for France in India and Anmerica. By the firsttreatyof Versailles, of May I, 1756, the famous Diplomatic Revolutionwas effected a defensivealliance betweenFrance and Austria. Even by so, the general opinion at firstwas that this arrangement also was calculated to conservethe peace of Europe. On August 29, I756, however,Frederickinvaded Saxony and the war thus precipitated spee(ily became general. By the second treatyof Versailles,May i, I757, the resources of France were placed at the disposal of the House of Austria.48 IV. The fortunesof the ensuing war it is, of course, unnecessary for us to follow furtherthan to note that for France they were wisf ortunes. These were the days when Mme. du Deffand rechristenedFrance " Madame Job". Cardinal Bernis, ministerof foreignaffairsand so official sponsor for the Austrianalliance,was soon in the depths. " Everythingis going to pieces", he wrote. " No sooner does one succeed in proppingthebuildingat one corner than it crumblesat another." France " touchesthe verylast period of decay". She " has neithergenerals nor ministers "Ah that ". God would send us a directing will or some one who had one! I would be his valet if he wished it, and gladly! "49 In Choiseul, who succeeded Bernis in November, I758, the directingwill was foundand the mercantilist point of view again assured utterancein the royal council. It is true that Choiseul's first official was to renew with the empressthe oinerous act engagements of his predecessor, but to this he was fairlycommitted the cirby cumstancesin which he had taken office.50Presentlywe findhim declaringto the Austriancourtwithentirecandor thatthe war with England involvedFrench power and honor more directlythan did the struggleon the Continent. Indeed, he proceeded,the interest of Austriaherselfdemandedthe preservation France's sea-power. of For "this it is", said he, "which enables His Majesty to sustain numerousarmies for the defense of his allies, as it is the maritime power of England which to-day arms so many enemies against them and against France ".5' And the same point of view again court,theking's ambassador at Stockholm.

in foundexpression his despatch March 2I, of


to Havrin-

48 Lavisse and Rambaud, op. cit., VII. 2I7-220; Richard Waddington, Louis XV. et le Renversemnent des Alliai ces (Paris, I896), pp. 249-262, 358-5I7. 49 Lavisse and Rambaud, op. cit., VII. 244-245; Richard Waddington, La Guerre de Sept Ans, II. 432-433; Sainte-Beuve, "Bernis ", Causeries du Lundi. 50 Waddington, op. cit., vol. II., ch. VIII., and III. 452-454. 51 "Instructions to the Count de Choiseul ", June, 1759, Recteil des Instructions, I. 386. AM. IIIST. REV., VOL. XXI.-4.


E. S. Corwin

We must not deceive ourselves. The true balance of poweerreally resides in commerceand in America. The war in Germany,even though

it shouldbe waged withbetter successthanat present, not prevent will the of theevilsthatare to be fearedfrom greatsuperiority the English on the sea. The kingwill take up arms in vain. For if he does not not have a care,he will see his allies forced become, the paid auxilito aries of England,but her tributaries, France will need many a and in Richelieu and Colbert recover, theface of herenemies, equality the to whichshe is in perilof losing.52 In Octobercame the news of the fall of Quebec. "The balance of power", wrote Choiseul to Ossun, the king's anmbassador at Madrid, "is destroyedin America, and we shall presently possess thereonlySanto Domingo. France, in the actual postureof affairs, cannotbe regardedas a commercial power,whichis to say that she cannotbe regardedas a power of the first order."53 Choiseul now set himselfthe task, failinga peace with England on reasonableterms, restoring the war its originalcharacterof of to a contest with that power for commerce,colonies, and naval supremacy. Auspiciouslyfor his purpose,Don Carlos, a much better Bourbon than Ferdinand VI. had ever been, was now Charles III. of Spain. In negotiationsduring the summer of I76I between France and England Choiseul seized the opportunity championof ing certain claims of Spain against His BritannicMajesty, which however were rejected by Pitt in terms that aroused not only Charles's indignationbut positive apprehensionsfor his own colonial empire.54 The resultwas thaton August I5, I76I, the second Family Compact,making France and Spain practicallyone power for all warlikepurposes,was signed at Paris. The intention [runs the preambleof this document]of His Most Christian Majestyand of His CatholicMajesty,in contracting enthe gagements whichtheyassume by this treaty, to perpetuate their is in descendants sentiments Louis XIV. of gloriousmemory, the of their common augustancestor, and to establish forever solemnmonument a of reciprocal interest whichshouldbe the basis of the desiresof their courtsand of the prosperity theirroyalfamilies. of The treatyitselfannouncedits basic principleto be that " whoever attackedone crown,attackedthe other". Thus, when at war againstthe same enemy, both crownswere to act in concert. When eitherwas at war, offensively defensively, was to call upon or it the other for certain forces-Spain, upon France for i8,0oo in6ooo cavalry, 20 ships of the.line, and 6 frigates; France fantry,
52 53 54

Flassan, op. cit., VI. Ibid., p. 279.


Recueil des Instructions,XII.2 (Espagne, pt. III.), p. 338.

Waddington, op. cit., III.


and IV. 428-437,




FrenclhObeclive zn Iie Amnerican Revolulion


upon Spain, for the same naval forces, io,ooo infantry, and 2000 cavalry. The Bourbon holdings in Italy were guaranteed absolutely. On the other hand, Spain was excused from assisting France in the guarantyof the peace of Westphalia unless a maritime power should take arnms against the latter. Each power extended to the subjects of the other the commercialprivilegesof its own subjects in its European dominions.55 The renewal of the Family Compact was Choiseul's greatest achievement and is to be regarded,moreover,as the starting point of the restoration France's position in Europe. At the outset, of however,it broughtonly freshcalamitiesand new losses. In October Pitt fell from power for urging a declarationof war upon Spain. None the less, the declarationfollowed in January. The English and provincial forces now turned from the capture of France's West Indian islands to thatof Havana, which fell in July. But Choiseul, his eyes fixed on remnoter developments, was determinedthat Spain should not suffer her devotionto the Bourbon for cause. On Novenmber 1762, accordingly, 3, France ceded to Spain New Orleans and all of Louisiana west of the Mississippi,an arrangement which permitted latterto exchange the Floridas for the Havana. The ensuing February IO the peace of Paris was signed. By it France ceded to Englaladthevast partterritorially what was of still left of her colonies. Of the great empire that had once comprised half of North America and the richest of the American islands,and that had given fair promiseto include eventually India and the West African coast, she retained Goree on the African coast; Santo Domingo, which,tlhanks English diversionagainst to Havana, her forces still held; Guiana, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Lucia, and their dependencies; the small fishingislands St. Pierre and Miquelon, off Newfoundland; and a few factoriesin with the islands of France and Bourbon,which she India, together mustnot fortify, also she nmust the fishing as not stations."G we Nevertheless, mustbe on our guard against exaggerating the merelymaterialaspect of the losses wroughtFrance by the Seven Years' War. On the map, no doubt, Canada and Louisiana comprised an impressivedomain,but regarded fromthe point of view of commerceand trade balances they were essentiallyworthless, Louisiana being practicallyuninhabitedand Canada hardly returning the cost of administration. Onithe otherhand,Guadeloupe and in Martiniqute, place of which England had finallyand sonmewhat

G. F. de Martens, Recueil de Traitvs . . . des Puissances et stats Presemt (G6ttingen, i817), I. i6-8. . . .depuis I76I jusqu' Lavisse and Rambatud, op. cit., VII. 256-257. 56 Ibid., pp. 104-I20;



E. S. Corwin

of consentedto take Canada, were commercially great reluctantly value.57 France's real loss, apart fromthe enormousoutlay of the war, was in prestige. Her armies had been defeated, her fleets her allies disappointedand disgruntled. The treatyof annihilated, most graphicallyby renewpeace itself signalized her humiiliation ing the defunct provisionsof the treatyof Utrechtagainstthe fortification Dunkirk,to whichwas later added provisionfor an Engof lish commllissioner that port, "without whose consentnot a pier at could be erected,not a stone turned". And not less ominous was the sort of demand that now began to be made by His Britannic at Majesty's diplomaticrepresentatives various courts,that in view of the outcomeof the war theywere entitled the precedenceover to His Most Christian-Majesty's representatives. French pride could not have been more directly flouted.58 Hlow then was France to recoverher prestigeand the influence thatthisassured her upon Continental affairs? This was the question that addressed itself,and in termsever more poignant,to the guardians of her diplomacyin the period between the treaty of Paris and thedeathof Louis XV. And the answersreturned this to question by all schools of opinion on questions diplomaticcarried at with themthe implication least thatbefore France could hope to regain her station in Europe, English power must be diminished. The storyhoweveris one that should be told in more detail,and in connection withit I desireto draw particularattention two highly to important documents:Choiseul's Mexnoire February,I765, which of comprisesa general defense of his policy,59 and Broglie's ContjecturesRaisoili&?' of 1773, whichvoices the views at that date of an s a(lherent the more narrowlyContinental of pointof view.00 V. Choiseul begins his exposition of the fundamentals French of diplomacyby tracingthe calamities of the late war to one cause: the factthatthe Austrianalliance was allowed to convert"the war on the sea and in America, which was the true war ", to a purely
On these points, see Flassan, op. cit., VI. 480 ff. VI. 183-187; VII. 26-27. 59 Soulange-Boclin, La Diplomratie de Loutis XV. et le Pacte de Famzille (Paris, 1894), pp. 236-253. 63 " Conjectures Raisonnees sur la Situation actuelle de la France dans le Systeme Politique ", etc., " Oeuvre dirige par De Broglie et ex6ecte par M. Favier", dated April I6, I773, and comprising the latter third of volume I. and all of volunme II. of Segur's Politiqtte de Tolls les Cabiniets (third ed., Paris, " C'est Favier critique par un disciple de Vergennes ", Sorel, I. I80I, 3 vols.). 308, foot-note. The " Conjectures " are also to be found in Boutaric's Correspon dai.ce Secrete de Louis XV. (Paris, i866).

58 Ibid.,

French Objectivein the American Revolution


thatthe Austrianconnection land war. Also it is admitted was one. Nevertheless, is insisted, it alwaysboundto be a precarious it was of value as tending conserve peace on the Continent, the to for whichreasonit shouldbe continued long as it exactedno so further material sacrifices France. And the historical connecby be tionswiththeprinces theEmpireshould viewedin thesame of in light. The old policy paying of subsidies advanceshould disbe continued.The Englishsystem was to pay for services rendered and thishad provedmuchmoreeffectual.But the one indispensablealliance His MostChristian of Majestywas withHis Catholic Majesty. The foremost preceptof His Majesty'spolicyhenceforth mustbe, accordingly, managewiththe niostscrupulous "to attention system alliancewithSpain,to regard Spanish his of the power a power as necessary France Norwouldthis difficult, to be ". fortheKingof Spainwas "just, firm, oneuponwhom and youcan count evenbeyond point which France herself the at wouldfailyou". The Memoire concludes for thus:"It remains me to speakto Your Majestyof the maritime powers. Englandis the declaredenemy of yourpower and of yourstate, shewillbe so always." Many and with ages mustelapse "beforea durablepeace can be established thisstate, which in looksforward thesupremacy thefourquarto tersof theglobe. Onlytherevolution whichwill occursome day in America, though shall probably see it, will put England we not backto that stateof weakness which in Europe will have no more to fearof her." Thus the Me'moire closedon something a noteof despair. like Despair, however, notChoiseul's was normal attitude. Even a year before he this, had sentan agentnamedPontleroy British to North America report to uponits resources the strength thelines and of it connecting withthemother-country,61 now in I766, withthe and newsof theAmerican outbreak against StampAct at hand,the the results Pontleroy's of investigation their and significance France for becamethesubjectof activecorrespondence between Choiseuland His Most Christian Majesty'srepresentatives the courtof St. at James.
fromthe small number arrangements Judging of withreference to colonial possessionsin America [Durand wrote Choiseul in August, 1767], Europehas onlylately begunto sensetheirimportance.England herselfhas discovered with surprisethat theyare the sourcesof the powerwhichshe enjoysand thatthesegreatobjectsof powerand am61 C. De Witt, Thomas Jefferson: etude Historique sur la Democratie Americaine (third ed., Paris, i86i), p. 407. Most of the citations to this work are to the documentsin the appendixes, pp. 393-559. See also F. Kapp, Life of Kalb (New York, I870), pp. 43-44.


E. S. Corwin

bitiondraw in theirwake the balance of powerin Europe. In brief, to has of money becomeso necessary the sustenance a government that no to without commerce state has the wherewithal upholdits dignity and independence; commerce and woulddryup if it were notsustained in by thatbranchof it whichtraffics the products America. It is of therethatEnglandfinds outletfor her manufactures, to what the and dimensions wouldthesebe reducedif theysupplied of onlythe markets Europe at a timewhen everynationis endeavoring make its own to resourcessuffice to prevent the departure specie fromits teranld of

This, of course, is all in the best strain of the extremestmercantilism. Nevertheless, professingto fear the American colonies morethanEngland herself, Durand advised against fomenting revolutionamong them,since to do so "might have the result of handing over the other colonies of Europe to those who by their excessive energy and strengthhad detached themselves from the parent stem".63 Durand's successor, Chatelet,on the other hand, was strongly the opinionthat Fralnceought to seize the first of opof intervening America. in portunity and GreatBritain, couldFrance and Spain remainidle spectators an of
opportunity which in probabilitywould never occur again? . . . Before

In thecase of a rupture inquired Choiseulearlyin December, [he of

even were it an open and premature one, between the colonies

six months have elapsed Americawill be on fireat everypoint. The thenis whether colonists question the have themeansof feeding withit outthe aid of a foreign war,and whether France and Spain shouldrun the riskof taking activepartin fomenting conflict making an the and it inextinguishable whether wouldbe moretheirpolicyto leave it to or it itselfat the riskof its going out for want of fuel and the means of spreading.64 As a matterof fact,Choiseul had already taken a definite step toward interesting government the American situation. On in his April 22, I767, he had despatched Kalb, who was later to distinin guish himselfas a major-general Washington'sarmy,to Amsterdam, there to inquire into "the rumors in circulationabout the English colonies" and, should these be well founded,to "make for preparations a journeyto America". In conformity withthese and furtherinstructions, Kalb finally sailed for Amnericafrom Gravesendon October4, arrivingin PhiladelphiaJanuary2, 1768.65 In essence,the deductionshe arrived at fromhis inquiriesinto the
02 De Witt, pp. 420-42I. See also to same effectpp. 427-428. Choiseul's viewpointwas precisely the same, ibid., pp. 47-5I. 63 Ibid., p. 52. See also, to same effect, pp. 432-433. 04 Ibid., pp. 56-57, foot-note. Choiseul regarded these views as "profound", ibid. For further correspondence to the same effect,see ibid., pp. 433-455. 65 F. Kapp, Life of Kalb, pp. 45-5I.

French Objeclivein IlkeAmerican Revolut>on


Americansituationwere: that the momenthad not yet arrived for France to embroil herself with her neighbors; that while the repopulation from their central governmoteness of the Amnerican ment made them " free and enterprising",at bottom they were "but little inclined to shake off the English supremacywith the aid of foreignpowers"; that "such an alliance would appear to danger to their liberties"; that "a war them to be fraughtwvith with us would only hasten their reconciliation",so that "on the footingof restoredprivileges,the English court could even direct all the troops,resourcesand ships of this part of the world against our islands and the Spanish Main ".Y in There can be littledoubt that these observations, the general squared with the assessment they made of American sentiment, facts,but that was small consolationto Choiseul, who in his disapand propointmentpetulantlycharged Kalb with superficiality nounced his labors useless.7 The result however was that now, in abandoningany idea of actuallyinterfering America,the French a plan whereby France and Spain ministerbegan to formulate in should indlirectly fosterdiscontent the English coloniesby throwing open the ports of theirown colonies to the productsof North America."8 This was on the basis of the theorythat while the of the Englishcoloniesaugmented strength England,thoseof France weakened her. "The thing to be aimed at ", therefore,in the of words of M. Abeille, Choiseul's secretary-general conmmerce, the artificial of England and to relieve strength was "to diminish of Franlceof the burdensthat obstructthe development her native strength".9 Indeed M. Abeille was for grantingthe French colonies their independence. But these views naturallyencountered some oppositionat Madrid; and in I770 Choiseul fell frompower. VI. of partition Poland, all things Two years later occurredthe first the most humiliating, considered, episode fromthe French point of view in the historyof French diplomacy. Poland had been for the ally and protegeof centuries,with a fair degree of constancy, France. Sinlce1745 moreoverLouis himselfhad been endeavoring, channels of the Secret dit Roi, which inthroughthe subterranean deed he had created for the purpose, to secure the succession of the House of Conti to the Polish throne.70 The project of the
66 67 68 69

Ibid., pp. 53-70 pasSimn. Ibid., p. 7I. De Witt, op. cit., pp. 60-63. Ibid., pp. 6i-62. Lavisse and Rambaud, op. Cit., VII.



E. S. Corwin

royal brigands however was never known to His Most Christian Majesty's agents till it was fait accompli, and thus the most importanttransfer territory of since the peace of Westphalia, involving ultimately the extinctionof the greatest state territorially in westernEurope, was effected onlywithout consentbut withthe not out the knowledgeof France. But worst of all, France's own ally Austria was particepscrirniniis the act, even thougha reluctant to one at first. "She wept but she took", was the adequate account that Frederickgave of the empress's part in the transaction. Her course published to the world at large, in a way that tears more copious and more sincere than hers could not obliterate, that the desires of France no longergreatlycountedin Europe.7 "The Tragedy of the North" it was that incited Broglie, the principalaorent the Secret du Roi, to the composition, collabof in oration with the versatile Favier, of his elaborate Cowlnjectures Raisonnees, referredto above. "One would wish in vain ", this documentbegins, "to conceal the rapid degradation of the credit of France in the courts of Europe, not only in considerationbtnt even in dignity. From the primacyamong great powers she has been forcedto descend to a passive r6le or that of an inferior."72 Putting then the question as to the cause or causes of this unhappytransformation, Broglie first assailed " the change of systemproducedby the treatyof Versailles The preponderancein Europe was the rightfulpatrimony of the French crown: this was a dognma consecratedby a thousand years.74 But the treaty of Versailles had accustonled Europe "to regard France as . . . . subject to orders fromii Austria". To the same cause was it due that France had abanidoned her ancientallies Sweden, Poland, Turkey,and the Germanprinces; and worse still,thatshe had been made to fillthe r6le of dupe in the recentdevelopments Poland and Turkey,the resultof whichwas in her own reductionto the fourthgrade of powers.75 The Family Compact of T762, too, had had the worstpossible effect upon European opinion,sinceby it Spain was adrnitted virtualequalitywith to France. "France for the firsttime admittedthe equality of anotherpower."76 Thus far spoke the critic and rival of Choiseul. The longest sectionof the Conjectureshoweverdeals withEngland and the tone

and Rambaud, VII. 503-511. S6gur, Politique de Tous les Cabinets, I. 212. 73 Ibid., pp. 2I2-2I3. 74 Ibid.,p. 229. 75 Ibid., Pp. 2I3, II. 33-34, 64, 88-92. 258-264, 303-304; 7'; Ibid., I. 229-230.



French Objectivein Ihe Ainerican Revolution


here is significantly harmoniouswith that of Choiseul's Memoire. The attitudeof England toward France was that of ancientRome toward Carthage. England of course did not expect to wipe out the French monarchy; her inferiority land forbade the idea. on But she had adopted the principleof keeping the French marine reduced, "of watchingour ports,of surveyingour dockyardsand arsenals,of spoilingour projects,our preparations, our least movements". Her policy in this respectwas to be explained in part by thatspiritof rapinenativeto the English people,but also in part by the knowledgeof the English ministers that the edificeof English power was still supportedby factitiousresourcesand forcedmeans and that its naturaltendency, face of the approachingdanger of in a schismbetweenthe mother-country her colonies,would be to and crumbleand dissolve. In short,it was fear that determined England's policytowardFrance, thougha fear thatknew how to choose its weapons. In view of this fact, France should know her real strength, should know that her industry, resources,patriotism, and intelligencewere sufficient overturn" the colossus of English to power", could she once restoreher marine. She should know too that the feebleline of conducttaken with England in the immediate past had but nourished English pride and disdain an-dthat what was needed was a firmline of conduct. France's militarysystem and her diplomaticpolicy alik-emust sustain the dignityand preeminenceof the crown of France on sea as well as on land.77 The influenceof the Con,jectures Raisonnees upon those who were interested France's diplomaticposition is beyond all quesin tion,and the same is true of Abbe' Raynal's contemporaneous Histoire des Ifdes.78 "The marine", declared this writer,"is a new kindof powver whichhas given,in some sort,the universeto Europe. This part of the globe, which is so limited, has acquired, by means of its fleet,an unlimitedempire over the rest so extended." Yet the benefit this controlhad passed, in effect, one nation alone, of to England, and with it had passed the balance of power. Such had not always been the case. In the days of Louis XIV. France had given the law to Europe, and the basis of her greatnesshad been her marine. Unfortunately, the excesses of this monarch,while the alliance of the maritimestates against France, had cementing also turnedthe martial energiesof the latter fromthe fleetto the army; and so French power had been doubly undermined.]9 The


Ibid., pp.


op. cit., I. 304-3I0. "La doctrine de Favier se ram&ne a une proposition essentielle: 1'an6antissemnent de l'Angleterre ", ibid., p. 306. 79Histoire des Indes (Paris edition, I781), V. 203; VII. 208 Hf.; IX. 88 ff., 2I9 ff.; and especially, X. I36 ff.

78 Sorel,


E. S. Corwin

connection betweenEngland's greatnessas a colonial power and her influence amongthe statesof the world and the memory France's of greatnessunder Louis XIV. are constantlyreiteratedthoughtsin Raynal's pages, and the course to which theyincitedFrench sentiment,both official and unofficial, plain. "Favier ", writesSorel, is "made disciplesand Raynal proselytes."80 Finally, we recur once more to the point of view of the real architect French intervention the AmericanRevolution. Able, of in ambitious, conservative, vast experience, not a littlepedantic, of yet in Vergenneswas thoroughly indoctrinated the traditional objectives of French diplomacy and thoroughlytrained in its traditional methods. Needless to say, he shared the resentment all Frenchof men at the positionof France in I774. Condescend, Sire, [he wrotethe king in 1782] to consider situthe ation of France relativeto the otherpowers of Europe when Your and Majestytookthe reinsof governmenit did me the honorof puttinig me in chargeof the Department Foreign Affairs. The deplorable of of peace of 1763, the partition Poland, and yet othercauses equally had unfortunate impaired consideration Your Crown the due most deeply. France,but latelythe object of the fearand jealousy of otherpowers, excitednow quite the oppositesentiment: reputedthe first power in Europe,one could scarcelyassign her a place even amongthe secondrate.8'

But these words are valuable not only as reminiscence but because they indicate Vergennes's appraisal of the results of the Revolution from the point of view of the French crown; for the inferenceis clear that the hour of humiliationwas now regarded as having passed. Vergennes's theoryof the rightful position of the French crown in Europe is stated in the Me'noire which he presentedto Louis in April, I778, on the approach of the emperor's visit to Paris, with a view to instructing young king as to his the proper demeanoron the occasion. "France, placed in the centreof Europe ", he wrote,"has the right to influenceall great affairs. Her King, comparable to a supremejudge, is entitledto regard his throneas a tribunalset up by Providencein order to make respectedthe rightsand properties of sovereigns."82
Sorel, op. cit., I. 309. 81Ibid., p. 300. To like effectbut couched in somewhat stronger terms is the minute on which the Menoire of I782 is based, Doniol, I. 2-3. See also Vergennes's Memoire of March, I784, Segur, La Politique de Tous les Cabinets, III. I96 ff. "La France . . . n'a besoin ni d'agrandissenient,ni de conquetes. Toutes ses vues et toute son influencedoivent donc etre dirige'esau maintien de l'ordre public et a prevenirque les differens pouvoirs qui composent l'6quilibre de l'Europe, ne soient point detruits." Ibid., pp. 200-20I.
80 82

Flassan,op. cit.,VII.


French Objectivein thle AmtericanRevolution


His moresystematic expositions his system theoutsetof of at his takingoffice to of show Vergennes have been something an eclectic. FromtheSyste'me Conservation inherited idea de he the thatFrancehad no needof further but expansion couldwellremain content herexisting with resources wealth population.From of and Argenson derived, way of Broglieand Favier,the idea that he by France's Continental was primarily role thatof defender the of smaller he fry. FromChoiseul derived belief the thattheAustrian alliance was tobe cherished making Continental as for peaceso long as it exactedno further sacrifices the partof Franceand that on the FamilyCompact withSpain was France'smostvaluableasset abroad. Fromall sourceshe tooktheconviction thegreatest that menaceto France's dignity and even security was Englishseapower.83Fromthevery beginning histenure of exerted Vergennes an ever increasing influence over the king,who,ignorant and at bottom indifferentFrance'sinternal to condition, wellinformed was and intensely interested diplomatic in affairs, which,he judged, touchedthe honorof his house. Nor was this attitude without somejustification fact. Among peopleso fondof glory the in a as French vrery the security theCrowndemanded thedishonor of that whichit had suffered abroadin the detested latter yearsof Louis XV. shouldbe wipedaway as speedily possible.84 as France'sintervention the American in Revolution oftendeis scribedas an act of revenge. The description less erroneous is than incomplete, whileit calls to mindthe fact thatFrance for had humiliations be redressed, failsto indicate evenmore to it the important thatshe had also a roleto be retrieved.Furtherfact moreit leavesentirely of account logicby which, an Age out the in of Reason,thepurpose either of revenge restoration brought or was intorelation witha concrete situation. The line of reasoning by whichFrance was brought into the AmericanRevolution comprisedforthemostpartthe following ideas: thatFrancewas en83

and his elaborate "Instructions " to Baron de Breteuil of December 28 of the same year, Recuteildes Inistructions, Auttriche, 456-522. I., pp. See also note 8i. 84" Or la France, passionnee comme elle etait pour la gloire, et qui aurait excuse bien des fautes du gouvernementinterieur,ne pardonna pas au Roi son humiliation." Lavisse, Histoire de France, VIII.2 4II. It is interestingto note that as early as November, I775, Burke had predicted French intervention. "He observed, that from being the first,she was, with regard to effectivemilitary power, only the fifthstate in Europe. That she was fallen below her formerrank solely from the advantages we had obtained over her; and that if she could humble us, she would certainly recover her situation." Parl. Hist.,
XVIII. 967.

cinctsur la SituationPolitiquede la France", etc., of

The documentssupportingthese deductions are Vergennes's " Expose sucI774,

Doniol, I.



E. S. Corzuzn

to intitledby her wealth,power, and history, the preponderating affairs; that she had lost this positionof influencein Continental that fluencelargely on account of Great Britain's intermeddling; Great Britain had been enabled to mingle in Continentalconcerns her commercialprosperity, by virtue of her great naval strength, and her preparedness to maintain Continentalsubsidiaries; that these in turn were due in great part to her American colonial emher trade therewith; pire and especiallyto the policies controlling would be an almost total loss that America, become independent, from the point of view of British interests;that this loss would diminution Britishpower; that since the of mean a correspondingtwo were rivals,whateverabased the power of Great Britainwould the elevatethepowerof France. This, from pointof view of France's chief objective in intervening the Revolution,fromthe point of in view of the greatestadvantagewhichshe hoped to obtain fromsuclh but therewere also supa course,was the main chain of reasoning, portingideas that should not be lost to view. For one thing,it or she was by no means impossible thatwhether intervened notinbehalf of the American rebels, France would findherself,sooner or later, at war with Great Britain in defense of the French West Indies. Again, it had for centuriesbeen France's r6le to back the smaller fryagainst her greaterrivals. Again, it was generallyfelt that, formidableas it was at the moment,British power was in developrealitymoreor less spurious. Yet again, recentdiplomatic intervenpaved the way for Fretnch mentshad most miraculously tioinin North America. The withdrawalof France from Canada had leftAmerica nlo reason to fear her; the Family Compact guaranteed the assistance of the Spanish marine; the Austrian alliance constituted reasonable guarantyof peace on the Continent. Fia nally, it was felt to be not only allowable but right for France to seize so auspicious an opportunity tear down a power that had to been used so outrageouslyas England had used her power on the sea. In the end, the project did not lack some of the aspects of a crusade. of The primaryrequisiteto a real understanding Louis XVI.'s espousal of the cause of Americanindependenceis that due weight be given the fact that Europe was still organized on the dynastic in and to the further fact,especiallynoteworthy the case principle, of the elder'branchof tlle House of Bourbon,that positionand influencewere the essential objectives of diplomacy,even in the age of "Benevolent Monarchy". To-day, with the voice of the common man dominantin the directionof society,historicalinvesti-

French Objeclive t/ieAmerican Revolution in


gators are apt to give too slighting attention all but bread-andto butterinterests interpretative the conductof states. But this as of is plain anachronism. The doctrineof the equalityof men was indeed a tenetof the schools in I776, but it had made littleheadway among the professionaldiplomatists, who still assessed the general by welfare in termsfurnished the competition for station of rival reigninghouses.