Edward Smith.

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WHEN this study was undertaken, there was little idea
in the mind of the author whereunto the thing would
grow. It is well known that a mysterious ignorance
broods over the British mind concerning our relations
with America during the past century. No history of
the period has ever attempted to deal in earnest with the
question. Either from fear of offending national sus
ceptibility, or on account of party shackles (and shackles
indeed they are ), few persons have ever dared openly to
assert the case for Great Britain as it is done in these

It has become The Case of Great Britain for the fol
lowing reason : As the study proceeded, it seemed over
whelmingly clear that the conduct of the successive gov
ernments of Great Britain was uniformly equitable,
candid, and conciliatory. The writer was thus unwit
tingly become in some sense an advocate, whose plea was
the justifying of English dealings with America, and
whose tendered proofs shewed that every effort had been
made to deserve well of that country. And, in truth, it
is difficult to find a wilfully unfair or unkind act toward
the United States, performed by any British government
since the Separation.

Several years have passed since the book was first
written, and many things have happened. Not the least
is the movement of latter days toward an Alliance, arising
partly from better international sentiment than was used
to prevail.

As these pages were based not upon second-hand infor
mation and opinion, but solely upon the letters and de
spatches of the actual persons who controlled events, there



is no alteration to be made because of the improved tone
and temper of the two nations. The more intimate the
relations between Great Britain and America become,
the more interesting and instructive will be the considera
tion of the misunderstandings, and the perils, and the
blunders, through which the two countries have passed
into a career of friendly cooperation.

E. &

LONDON, August, 1899.

























INDEX , .385


P. 11, 1. 14 et seq., v. Jefferson Memoirs II., 10, 11, 13.

12 7 L,245,342.

13 7 v. Adams s Works III., 386 et seq.
34 22 for Secretary of State read President.

74 20 et seq., cf. Listen to Grenville, 4 Aug., 30 Sept., 7 Oct., 4 Nov.,
30 Dec., 1799.

93, last 1. for were read was.

100, 1. 1 cf. Randall s Life of Jefferson II., 391.

105 1 cf. Henry Adams II., 356.

109 18 cf. A.S.P. II., 145 et seq.

110, Note cf. Foreign Office, America (33).

110, Note date of 23rd Nov., 1805.

144, 1. 10 after respect insert due.

156 2 for has read had.

183 7 for houses read Houses.

228, last 1. quotation mark after impressment instead of after


231, 1. 20 et seq., cf. Bagot to Castlereagh, 6 April, 1816.
232 cf. J. Q. Adams iv., 177, 181, &c.

247, Note for iii. read ii.

266, Note Add : Since the days of Lord Ashburton other maps

have been produced, with results confirmatory of
the British position.

305 It was believed at the time by many persons in England

that Russian instigation was at the bottom of this
Crampton affair. When G. F. Train was in London,
during the Civil War, he blurted it out as a positive

328 As late as 9th Nov., 1861, the " New York Tribune " said,

"the right to secede may be revolutionary, but it
exists nevertheless."

333, Note Add: See Parl. Papers, 1861, Ixi., 315, for case of the

" Atlantic " (otherwise " America "), wrecked near
Cay Lobos, Bahamas, with a cargo of slaves, about
December, 1860, having cleared from New York, as a
whaler, in the previous April.

355, 1. 18 For 10th read 20th May. The dispatch in question is

Adams to Russell, in correspondence respecting the
Shenandoah. Parl. Papers, 1866, Ixxv.

383 Principal Authorities, &c. Under Chapters vii. and viii.,

add Henry Adams : History of the U.S. during the
administration of Madison.



THE United States of America, thirteen in number,
were at length independent, in the sense of being no longer
colonial dependencies of Great Britain. Yet they had not
ceased to be partially dependent upon other countries for
the means of wealth. The natural resources of the States
were but scantily developed. Even if their populations
could raise sufficient supplies of food and clothing within
their own boundaries, they could not hope, for some years
to come, to raise themselves on a level with the nations of
the Old World. And nothing could restore to them the
privileges which had belonged to them as a part of the
British Empire.

Amid the joy and congratulations with which the young
confederacy stood alone, prepared for a glorious future,
there remained the anxious thought in the minds of far-
seeing Americans that one important matter required early
attention. The United States wanted, first of all, a stable
form of government, which should give cohesion to the
elements of the new republic, and enable it to present a
dignified front to the older countries of Europe. Credit
with Europe was of supreme importance to them. Escape
from faction at home was a matter of no less serious con
cern. The struggle for Independence had made them a
Union. But it seemed that, peace having relieved them
from the pressing need of coalition, the want of dignity and


sound authority in the government would sooner or later
end in anarchy and disruption. It was the greatest peril
to the confederacy that the several States were often un
willing to concur in measures of public utility could not
make the needful sacrifices for securing national stability.
Congress was powerless to enforce the provisions of the
treaty of peace. More than twelve months had elapsed
between the signing of the preliminary treaty and its final
ratification in January, 1784. Such was the apathy (per
haps mingled with distrust) which was shown by some of
the States, that many weeks elapsed before the attendance
of the required number could be procured, and then only
twenty-three members were present at the ratification.

The provisions of the treaty included, among other
matters, a settlement of the boundaries. The property
of British subjects which had been confiscated was to be
restored to them if they had not borne arms against the
confederacy during the recent conflict. Creditors were to
meet with no legal impediment to the recovery of debts
incurred in either country before the war. The British
government undertook to evacuate every post still occu
pied by the King s forces.

It was soon perceived by the wiser heads in Congress
that America would owe much of her future welfare to
amicable and permanent foreign relations. The primary
cause of the war, viz., the interests of merchants and ship
pers, had been out of mind while the peace negotiations
were proceeding ; these reappeared in full urgency when
friendly intercourse was resumed and the pursuits of peace
came into question. The carrying trade of the North
American colonies had been extensive and remunerative.
But now that the States were independent and had become
a foreign country, their claim to a share in this trade
was reduced to very small proportions, unless by conces
sion from European powers. England, France, and Spain
held the greater part of this trade in their hands, and the


maritime restrictions of these countries were absolutely
prohibitory, in the West Indies and elsewhere.

This altered condition of things was unforeseen by the
American negotiators. On the other hand, the English
ministers knew as by instinct that the restoration of peace
would bring its own questions to the front, and that one of
the most urgent would be that of maritime rights. David
Hartley, who represented them in Paris, was instructed
that it was the King s desire to renew the intercourse and
commerce beneficial to both countries upon a just and
equitable footing. A plan of reciprocity was proposed, by
which the merchandise of either country could be admitted
to the ports of the other on the terms to which it was
formerly liable ; while the West India trade was offered
to the Americans as far as it concerned the produce of
their own country.

Nothing came of this proposal. The American com
missioners in Paris were unwilling, or unready, to commit
themselves to its consideration. The opportunity being
lost, however, it was very soon discovered that some policy
would have to be invented in order to protect and foster
the shipping trade of the States. The Americans found
themselves practically restricted to a home trade, except
ing that which could be carried on clandestinely. The
regulations of the time forbade any foreign vessel or
subject trading with the British colonies ; and the produce
of the United States could not be brought to England
except in British vessels. The French regulations, like
wise, were highly prohibitory. Under the circumstances
it was imperative for the merchants of the United States
to take some measures for opening the ports of the world
to their ships. At length it was resolved in Congress
(7 May, 1784) that it would be of advantage to the States
to conclude treaties of amity and commerce with the
principal European countries. With this end in view,
several appointments were made forthwith. Thomas


Jefferson was sent to the Court of Versailles, and John
Adams to that of St. James s.

Adams had had considerable experience in public affairs.
He was one of the leaders of the early opposition to the
fiscal demands of the mother country, and a member of
the sub-committee which drew up the Declaration of In
dependence. His diplomatic experience was at least as
extensive as that of any possible candidate for the mission
to London. He went to the Court of France in 1777 ; to
Holland in 1780 ; and again to Paris as one of the com
missioners to negotiate the peace of 1783, associated therein
with Franklin and Jay.

Adams did not like England. He held the inconsider
ate, the prejudiced, the low opinion of this country and
her people which belonged to most New Englanders. This
opinion was reflected in his idea as to the probable man
ner of his reception, and the perplexity, confusion, and
fatigue which awaited him. Such apprehensions proved
to be trivial. A little reassured, on the eve of his depar
ture, by courteous attention on the part of the British
ambassador in Paris, he is surprised at Dover by receiving
marks of particular respect. In London he finds the
ministers and secretaries extremely polite to him. From
private information given by semi-official personages who
called upon him, he learned that the King and the minis
try considered his appointment as a conciliatory movement,
and wished to receive him in all respects like the other
foreign ministers.

It was upon the first of June, 1785, that Mr. Adams
was presented by Lord Carmarthen to the King. The
occasion was unusually impressive. There was sufficient
reason for the new envoy to be gratified by the apparent
friendly disposition of every one toward him. . . . the
room was very full of ministers of State, lords, and
bishops, and all sorts of courtiers. . . . You may well sup-


pose I was the focus of all eyes. I was relieved, however,
from the embarrassment of it, by the Swedish and Dutch
ministers, who came to me and entertained me in a very
agreeable conversation during the whole time. Some
other gentlemen whom I had seen before came to make
their compliments, too, until the Marquess Carmarthen
returned and desired me to go with him to His Majesty.
... I was left with His Majesty and the Secretary of
State alone.

And this was Mr. Adams s excellent first speech to King
George III. :

4 Sir, the United States of America have appointed me
their minister plenipotentiary to your Majesty, and have
directed me to deliver to your Majesty this letter which
contains the evidence of it. It is in obedience to their
express commands that I have the honour to assure your
Majesty of their unanimous disposition and desire to cul
tivate the most friendly and liberal intercourse between
your Majesty s subjects and their citizens, and of their
best wishes for your Majesty s health and happiness and
for that of your Royal Family. The appointment of a min
ister from the United States to your Majesty s court will
form an epoch in the history of England and of America.
I think myself more fortunate than all my fellow-citizens,
in having the distinguished honour to be the first to stand
in your Majesty s royal presence in a diplomatic char
acter; and I shall esteem myself the happiest of men,
if I can be instrumental in recommending my country
more and more to your Majesty s royal benevolence, and of
restoring an entire esteem, confidence, and affection, or
in better words, the old good-nature, and the old good-
humour, between people who, though separated by an
ocean, and under different governments, have the same
language, a similar religion, and kindred blood. I beg
your Majesty s permission to add that, although I have
some time before been entrusted by my country, it was


never in my whole life in a manner so agreeable to my

The King replied to him : * Sir, the circumstances of
this audience are so extraordinary, the language you have
now held is so extremely proper, and the feelings you have
discovered so justly adapted to the occasion, that I must
say that I not only receive with pleasure the friendly dis
positions of the United States, but that I am very glad
the choice has fallen upon you to be their minister. I
wish you, Sir, to believe, and that it may be understood
in America, that I have done nothing in the late contest
but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do, by
the duty which I owed to my people. I will be very frank
with you. I was the last to consent to the separation ;
but the separation having been made and having become
inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would
be the first to meet the friendship of the United States
as an independent power. The moment I see such senti
ments and language as yours prevail, and a disposition to
give to this country the preference, that moment I shall
say : let the circumstances of language, religion, and blood,
have their natural and full effect.

On the 9th June, Adams was presented to the Queen,
to whom he likewise made a speech of fine words ; recom
mending to Her Majesty 4 a rising empire and an infant
virgin world. He is a little impatient of these and other
grand formalities, and is tempted to remark (as he wrote
to John Jay) that the essence of things was lost in cere
mony in every country of Europe. He is, however, toler
ably well reassured as to the character of his reception in

The real business of the mission began, a few days
later, with a private interview between Mr. Adams and
Lord Carmarthen. After mutual assurances of cordiality,
their conversation entered upon the grievances complained
of by the Americans : the outlying posts within the limits


of the United States which were still held by British
garrisons ; the restoration of negroes and other Ameri
can property which by the seventh article of the treaty
of peace were not to be exported; the tendency of the
restrictions on American trade to incapacitate their mer
chants in making remittances ; the losses of merchants on
both sides if they were unseasonably pressed for the pay
ment of debts contracted before the war ; the decision of
questions of capture made after the armistice of January,
1783 ; and the liquidation of the charges of prisoners of
war. To all these was to be added the great question
of the commerce between the two countries.

An opportunity occurred for a conference with Mr. Pitt
on the 24th August. Mr. Adams found this minister
much more open toward him than he had expected.
Their conversation became sprightly and good-humoured.
That the treaty engagements should be observed was
readily admitted. With reference to the debts, Mr. Pitt
maintained that wars never interrupted the interest nor
the principal of debts, and he did not see any difference
between this war and any other, nor did the lawyers re
cognize any. Adams replied that the American lawyers
made a great difference ; they contended that the late war
was a total dissolution of all laws and government, and,
consequently, of all contracts made under those laws ; that
it was a maxim of law that a personal right or obligation,
once dissolved or suspended, was lost for ever ; that the
intervention of the treaty and the new laws was necessary
for the revival of those ancient rights and obligations ;
that these rights were in a state of non-existence during
the war, and no interest during that time could grow
out of them. He proceeded to remark upon the difficulty
of paying the debts at all, arising from the restrictions
on American trade ; and the conversation then passed to
the question of a treaty of commerce between the two


The envoy was unable to say what terms exactly would
be agreeable to the States, but he hinted at the advan
tages which might belong to the Americans through a
navigation act of their own. The right of every nation
(he said) to govern its own commerce, its own exports
and imports, could not be questioned ; . . . Our ability
to build the ships, and our abundance of materials, could
not be doubted. Nobody would pretend that our produce
would not find a market in Europe in our own ships, or
that Europeans would not sell us their manufactures to
carry home in them. Even England, if she should make
ever so strict laws to prevent exports and imports in our
own bottoms, would still be glad to receive and consume
considerable quantities of our produce, though she im
ported them through France or Holland ; and to send us
as many of her manufactures as we could pay for, through
the same channels.

Mr. Pitt smiled assent to these observations. But
he pointed out to Mr. Adams that the English people were
much attached to, and bound up with, their navigation.
The latter rejoined that the navigation act, if carried into
execution against America, would drive their trade to
other countries.

Mr. Jefferson, who was in Paris at this time, seems to
have stood in the position of prompter to Adams, with
respect to a commercial treaty. But some of his argu
ments were rather more vigorous than the latter could
make use of in .negotiation ; as, unless Great Britain made
a treaty, no consul of hers could be received in the States,
and no protection could therefore be given to her ship
ping, and so forth. It was one of Adams s surprises when
in London, that anything like menace was thrown away
upon the British government. To do him justice, there
does not seem to be reason for supposing that any im
prudence of his own revealed this unto him. A sounder


reason for concluding a treaty was offered in pointing out
that the commerce of the United States with those coun
tries not under treaty was liable to capricious varieties of
treatment, as being under the jurisdiction of each State
separately ; while that of the countries under treaty was
mainly under the jurisdiction of Congress.

With all Adams s endeavours, he found little progress
could be made with the English Cabinet on the questions
at issue. At his pressing request, Jefferson came to
London early in the year 1786, but without any satis
factory result. This may be accounted for, perhaps, by
Jefferson s avowal of his belief of their aversion to
having anything to do with us, and by some exhibitions
of animosity and impracticableness which he was unable
or unwilling to conceal, when they had a joint interview
with Carmarthen. Seven weeks were fruitlessly passed
in an endeavour to have their plans discussed, at the end
of which time Jefferson returned to his post in Paris.

These things were reported to Congress. And the
reason for the deadlock was plain enough. The British
government admitted there were infractions of the treaty of
peace, on both sides, and was prepared to perform its part
in the solution of affairs. But the American Congress
was powerless to enforce the full execution of the treaty,
on the part of the United States. Resolutions had been
passed, exhorting the individual States to repeal all laws
which might be repugnant to the compact. Circulars to
the several governors were issued. But all was unavail
ing, to call the repudiating States to their duty, to the
deep mortification of those who wished to respect the char
acter of the nation. Washington was bitterly annoyed
when the real truth of the matter came home to him.
4 What a misfortune it is (he exclaimed) that the British
should have so well-founded a pretext for their infractions ;
and what a disgraceful part, out of the choice of difficulties,
are we to act !


Thus, the absence of a truly national feeling, embracing
rational responsibilities, on the part of separate individual
States, essentially hindered the attainment of that dignity
and credit which must necessarily form the basis of ami
cable relations with the rest of the world.

Mingled with the unhappy animosity of American
statesmen toward England was an almost complete igno
rance of her status among the nations of the world, of her
relative moral and political greatness, of her immense
resources. At the period in question, it was an openly
expressed opinion that England was surely at the begin
ning of her decline. Both friends and foes were apt to
fall in with the idea that, with a swelling national debt,
and with the loss of her American colonies, the sun of
Great Britain was far past the meridian. John Adams
perceived one gleam of hope for the old country : he con
fided to his friends that she could only be redeemed from
speedy and total destruction by securing the real friend
ship of America. And it is a constant wonder to him
that so few Englishmen hold similarly gloomy views of
the future of their country. They do not dream of im
pending disasters and doom. If they have any such
apprehensions, they conceal them, and behave as if they
thought America of small importance.

This apparent absence of deep concern as to the doings
of the American people lay at the root of much of their
dislike, and the same underlies a good deal of the animus
of after years. Mr. Adams well represented the public
feeling of chagrin at finding that Great Britain did not
consider her late colonists indispensable to her. He com
plained that the policy of England, in consulting first
her own prosperity, was selfish and unsocial, almost hos
tile. He was unable to dissociate his concern for the
prospects of American traders from the direction taken
by his solicitude for the future welfare of Great Britain.


But he was unreasonable in this that, in common with
the rest of his colleagues among the American leaders,
he omitted to notice that this country was full enough of
her own affairs, entering upon one of the most perilous
periods of her history. France, Holland, Spain, Den
mark were, one and all, ready to take advantage of any
false step made by England. Domestic politics, and the
wild strife of parties, combined with the embarrassing
state of her foreign relations to make the task of guiding
and governing one of unparalleled difficulty.

This displeasure, this tendency to new estrangement
through finding Great Britain too absorbed in her own

Online LibraryEdward SmithEngland and America after independence; a short examination of their international intercourse, 1783-1872 → online text (page 1 of 33)