The peace party and spirit in England increased month by month. Burgoyne's surrender had dissipated the hope of speedily suppressing the rebellion. And as the war dragged on and Englishmen by bitter experience came to realize the bravery, endurance, and national feeling of the Americans, the conviction spread that three millions of such people, separated from the mother-country by three thousand miles of boisterous ocean, could never be conquered by force.
Discouragement arose, too, from the ill conduct of the war. There was no broad plan or consistency in management. Generals did not agree or co-operate, and were changed too often. Clinton and Cornwallis hated each other. Burgoyne superseded Carleton, a better man. But for Lord Germain's "criminal negligence" in waiting to go upon a visit before sending the proper orders, Clinton might have met and saved Burgoyne.
There were enormous and needless expenses. By 1779 England's national debt had increased 63,000,000 pounds; by 1782 it had doubled. Rents were declining. The price of land had fallen one-third. Hence the war became unpopular with the landed aristocracy. British manufacturers suffered by the narrowing of their foreign markets. American privateers, prowling in all seas, had captured hundreds of British merchant-men. English sentiment, too, revolted at certain features of the war. Ravaging and the use of mercenaries and Indians were felt to be barbarous. Time made clearer the initial error of the government in invoking war over the doubtful right of taxing America. An increasing number of lawyers took the American view. Practical men figured out that each year of hostilities cost more than the proposed tax would have yielded in a century.
In February, 1778, Parliament almost unanimously adopted proposals to restore the state of things which existed in America before the war, at the same time declaring its intention not to exercise its right of taxing the colonies. Washington spoke for America when he said, "Nothing but independence will now do." The proposals were rejected by Congress and by the States separately.
England's difficulties were greatly increased by the help extended to America from abroad. France, eager for revenge on England, early in the war lent secret aid by money and military supplies. Later, emboldened by the defeat of Burgoyne, the French Government recognized the United States as an independent nation. By a treaty, offensive and defensive, the two nations bound themselves to fight together for that independence, neither to conclude a separate peace.
The benefit from this treaty was moral and financial rather than martial. At Yorktown, to be sure, the French forces rendered invaluable aid. Without De Grasse's French fleet at the mouths of the York and James rivers, the British might have relieved Cornwallis by sea. But Congress needed money more than foreign soldiers, and without France's liberal loans it is difficult to see how the government could have struggled through.
Spain, too, joined the alliance of France and the United States and declared war against England, though from no love for the young republic. This action hastened the growth of public opinion in England against the continuance of the American war. In the House of Commons, Lord Cavendish made a motion for ordering home the troops. Lord North, prime minister, threw out hints that it was useless to continue the war. But George III., summoning his ministers, declared his unchanging resolution never to yield to the rebels, and continued prodding the wavering North to stumble on in his stupid course.
It was struggling against fate. The next year saw Holland at war with England, while Catherine, Empress of Russia, was actively organizing the Armed Neutrality, by which all the other states of Europe leagued together to resist England's practice of stopping vessels on the high seas and searching them for contraband goods.
[Illustration: Portrait.] Lord Cornwallis.
England was now involved in four wars, without money to carry them on. North's majorities in Parliament grew steadily smaller. No doubt much of the opposition was simply factious and partisan, but it had, after all, solid basis in principle. England was fighting her own policy--economically, for she was destined to free trade, and politically, inasmuch as the freedom which our fathers sought was nothing but English freedom.
The surrender of Cornwallis tipped the scale. Lord North, when he heard the news, paced the room in agony, exclaiming again and again, "O God, it is all over!" The House of Commons, without even a division, resolved to "consider as enemies to His Majesty and the country" all who should advise a further prosecution of the war. North resigned, and Shelburne, Secretary of State in the new ministry, hastened to open peace negotiations with Franklin at Paris.
[Illustration: Portrait.] Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin, now venerable with years, had been doing at the court of Versailles a work hardly less important than that of Washington on the battlefields of America. By the simple grace and dignity of his manners, by his large good sense and freedom of thought, by his fame as a scientific discoverer, above all by his consummate tact in the management of men, the whilom printer, king's postmaster-general for America, discoverer, London colonial agent, delegate in the Continental Congress, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, had completely captivated elegant, free-thinking France. Learned and common folk, the sober and the frivolous alike, swore by Franklin. Snuff-boxes, furniture, dishes, even stoves, were gotten up a la Franklin. The old man's portrait was in every house. That the French Government, in spite of a monarch who was half afraid of the rising nation beyond sea, had given America her hearty support, was in no small measure due to the influence of Franklin. And his skill in diplomacy was of the greatest value in the negotiations now pending.
These were necessarily long and tedious, but Jay, Franklin's colleague, made them needlessly so by his finical refusal to treat till England had acknowledged our independence by a separate act. This, indeed, jeopardized peace itself, since Shelburne's days of ministerial power were closing, and his successor was sure to be less our friend. Jay at last receded, a compromise being arrived at by which the treaty was to open with a virtual recognition of independence in acknowledging Adams, Franklin, and Jay as "plenipotentiaries," that is, agents of a sovereign power. Boundaries, fishery rights, and the treatment of loyalists and their property were the chief bones of contention.
As the negotiations wore on it became apparent that Spain and France, now that their vengeance was sated against England by our independence, were more unfriendly to our territorial enlargement than England itself. There still exists a map on which Spain's minister had indicated what he wished to make our western bound. The line follows nearly the meridian of Pittsburgh. This attitude of those powers excused our plenipotentiaries, though bound by our treaty with France not to conclude peace apart from her, for making the preliminary arrangements with England privately. At last, on November 30, 1782, Franklin, Jay, and John Adams set their signatures to preliminary articles, which were incorporated in a treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States, France, and Spain, signed at Paris on September 3, 1783. David Hartley signed for England. Our Congress ratified on February 14, 1784.
The treaty recognized the independence of the United States. It established as boundaries nearly the present Canadian line on the north, the Mississippi on the west, and Florida, which now returned to Spain and extended to the Mississippi, on the south. Despite the wishes of Spain, the free navigation of the Mississippi, from source to mouth, was guaranteed to the United States and Great Britain. Fishery rights received special attention. American fishermen were granted the privilege of fishing, as before the war, on the banks of Newfoundland, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and in all other places in the sea where the inhabitants of both countries had been accustomed to fish. Liberty was also granted to take fish on such parts of the coast of Newfoundland as British fishermen should use, and on the coasts, bays, and creeks of all other British dominions in America. American fishermen could dry and cure fish on the unsettled parts of Nova Scotia, Labrador, and the Magdalen Islands. America agreed, for the protection of British creditors, that debts contracted before the war should be held valid, and should be payable in sterling money. It was also stipulated that Congress should earnestly recommend to the several States the restitution of all confiscated property belonging to loyalists.
[Illustration: Image of treaty signatures.] "Done at Paris, this third Day of September, In the Year of our Lord one thousand and seven hundred & eighty three.--D. Hartley, John Adams, B. Franklin, John Jay" Facsimile of Signatures to Treaty of Peace
Peace came like a heavenly benediction to the country and the army, exhausted by so long and so fierce a struggle. No general engagement took place after the siege of Yorktown; but the armies kept close watch upon each other, and minor skirmishes were frequent. Washington's 10,000 men were encamped near the Hudson, to see that Clinton's forces in New York did no harm. In the South, Greene's valiant band, aided by Wayne and his rangers, without regular food or pay, kept the British cooped up in Charleston and Augusta.
Congress in due time declared cessation of hostilities, and on April 19, 1783, just eight years from the battle of Lexington, Washington read the declaration at the headquarters of his army. The British had evacuated Charleston the previous December. In July, Savannah saw the last of the redcoats file out, and the British troops were collected at New York. On November 25th, Sir Guy Carleton, who had superseded Clinton, embarked with his entire army, besides a throng of refugees, in boats for Long Island and Staten Island, where they soon took ship for England. "The imperial standard of Great Britain fell at the fort over which it had floated for a hundred and twenty years, and in its place the Stars and Stripes of American Independence flashed in the sun. Fleet and army, royal flag and scarlet uniform, coronet and ribbon, every sign and symbol of foreign authority, which from Concord to Saratoga and from Saratoga to Yorktown had sought to subdue the colonies, vanished from these shores. Colonial and provincial America had ended, national America had begun."
The American troops took possession of New York amid the huzzas of the people and the roar of cannon. On November 25th, Washington with his suite, surrounded by grateful and admiring throngs, made a formal entry into the city whence he had been compelled to flee seven years before.
The time had now come when the national hero might lay down the great burden which he had borne with herculean strength and courage through so many years of distress and gloom. On December 4th he joined his principal officers at the popular Fraunces's Tavern, near the Battery, to bid them farewell. Tears filled every eye. Even Washington could not master his feelings, as one after another the heroes who had been with him upon the tented field and in so many moments of dreadful strife drew near to press his hand. They followed him through ranks of parading infantry to the Whitehall ferry, where he boarded his barge, and waving his hat in a last, voiceless farewell, crossed to the Jersey shore.
Arrived at Annapolis after a journey which had been one long ovation, the saviour of his country appeared before Congress, December 23d, to resign the commission which he had so grandly fulfilled. His address was in noble key, but abbreviated by choking emotion. The President of Congress having replied in fitting words, Washington withdrew, and continued his journey to the long-missed peace and seclusion of his Mount Vernon home.