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The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787

The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787

Jonathan R. Dull
Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 464
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    The French Navy and American Independence: A Study of Arms and Diplomacy, 1774-1787
    Book Description:

    Military history is an essential component of wartime diplomatic history, Jonathan R. Dull contends, and this belief shapes his account of the French navy as the means by which French diplomacy helped to win American independence. The author discusses the place of long-range naval requirements in the French decision to aid the American colonists, the part played by naval rivalry in the transition from limited aid to full-scale war, and the ways naval considerations affected French wartime diplomacy. His book focuses on military strategy and diplomatic requirements in a setting in which military officers themselves did not participate directly in decision-making, but in which diplomats had to take continual account of military needs.

    Since military action is a means of accomplishing diplomatic goals, even military victory can prove hollow. The author examines the American war not as a successful exercise of French power, but rather as a tragic failure based on economic and political miscalculations. Among the questions he asks are: What relationship did the war bear to overall French diplomacy? What strains did the limited nature of the war impose on French diplomacy and war strategy? How did the results of the war relate to the objectives with which France entered the conflict?

    Originally published in 1976.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6813-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. MAPS
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE 1774—The Inheritance of Louis XVl
    (pp. 3-15)

    Nine days after the death of Louis XV, the royal council of state heard a report prepared by a senior member of the ministry of foreign affairs. This report had been drafted to inform the new king, Louis XVI, of France’s diplomatic position. It began:

    Sire, I believe it is my duty to place under the eyes of Your Majesty the state of foreign affairs of your kingdom and its relations with foreign powers. It will be seen that they find themselves in a fortunate calm. No disagreement in fact menaces its [the kingdom’s] tranquility and neither the dignity of...

  7. CHAPTER TWO 1775—An Empire at Peace, An Empire at War
    (pp. 16-29)

    It is a measure of the lack of immediate danger from Britain that at the beginning of 1775 the French navy needed at sea or fitting for cruises only a single ship of the line, half a dozen frigates, and a small number of corvettes, transports, and storeships. These ships were assigned an area of responsibility from the English Channel and Bay of Biscay to the Caribbean, Eastern Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean. The first responsibility of the French navy naturally was the protection of France’s own coasts. During the last war the British had raided French seaports and in 1759...

  8. CHAPTER THREE 1776—The Beginning of Lhnited Intervention
    (pp. 30-65)

    Ironically, the first proposal for violating France’s “just and precise conduct” toward Britain came from Ambassador Guines. Near the end of July 1775, only ten days after giving this advice, he suggested sending an agent named Achard de Bonvouloir to make contact with the Americans. On 7 August, the very day Louis wrote Charles, “Perhaps there has never been an occasion when the likelihood of a war with England seemed less probable . . .”¹ Vergennes sent approval for Bonvouloir’s mission. He laid down three conditions: that attention be given so that Bonvouloir’s correspondence could not be captured as to...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR 1777—The Failure of Limited Intervention
    (pp. 66-94)

    BY the beginning of 1777 French naval rearmament had made significant progress, but the French navy was still far from being prepared for war. Although the amount of hemp had risen by 132 percent during 1776, the number of masts had risen only 18 percent and the amount of wood by only 14 percent.¹ There were 37 ships of the line in condition by 1 January, an increase of 14 over 1 January 1776 and of ten over 1 September 1776.² Nevertheless, as early as June 1776 the English had 82 ships of the line at sea or in condition...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE 1778—War without Spain
    (pp. 95-135)

    Vergennes took no action for a week after receiving the news of the Spanish refusal. He then received news from Montmorin which eliminated any hope that the Spaniards would by themselves reconsider their decision. Not only did Montmorin report that Floridablanca’s thinking on the matter was still the same, but he also reported a serious setback to the Spanish plans for a quick return of their treasure fleet. Its commander, Commodore de Ulloa, had been ordered by José de Gálvez, Minister of the Indies, to leave for Europe in October 1777. The Spanish court now learned that Ulloa, not knowing...

  11. CHAPTER SIX 1779—War at the Center
    (pp. 136-172)

    Vergennes hoped to bring Spain to declare her price for entry into the war. He also sought to minimize the dangers and cost of attacking the center of the British Empire by shifting the target from England to Ireland and by forcing Spain to provide half the troops. He was soon frustrated in both aims even though his plan of operations generally met with Spanish approval.

    Montmorin reported on 12 January 1779 the Spanish response to Vergennes’ communications of the previous month.¹ Floridablanca reiterated Charles’ intention that Louis determine the objectives of the war for both parties, although Floridablanca hinted...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN 1780—War at the Periphery
    (pp. 173-210)

    On New Year’s Day of 1780, Vergennes sent to Spain the most serious piece of intelligence yet.¹ According to this information, Rodney had already sailed from England with 24 ships of the line, of which 22 were for Gibraltar, including 7 which would thereafter proceed to the West Indies. Vergennes claimed that the council in response had suggested that every ship at Brest sortie to intercept Rodney but that Sartine had rejected the proposal as impractical (as indeed it was, although I doubt the proposal was ever seriously made). Instead, Gaston’s squadron, reinforced by 4 French ships of the line,...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT 1781—The “Annus Mirabilis”
    (pp. 211-261)

    The British instigation of hostilities against the Netherlands on 20 December 1780 preceded by two weeks the signature of the Convention of Armed Neutrality by the Dutch plenipotentiaries in Saint Petersburg.¹ To insure, nonetheless, that their action would not be considered grounds for war with the League of Armed Neutrality the British could not merely rely on the technically accurate claim that the Dutch had not entered the league as a genuine neutral. The British resorted to a feat of diplomatic legerdemain which accomplished their goals but enormously complicated their future diplomacy, just as in a similar manner they complicated...

  14. CHAPTER NINE 1782—Disintegration and Reprieve
    (pp. 262-335)

    Within the first few days of 1782 the council learned the extent of the damage to de Guichen’s convoy.¹ Kempenfelt had captured over 1,000 soldiers and about 20 ships,² but ever greater disruption had been done by the storm. Most of the damaged ships could be repaired in 15 days, although theBretagneandInvinciblewere forced to enter drydock for repairs. It was of greater importance that virtually all the convoy and its escort had been forced to turn back. Only theTriomphantandBraveand 18–20 of the convoy continued with Vaudreuil to the Antilles (he could...

  15. CHAPTER TEN 1783–1787—Epilogue
    (pp. 336-344)

    The five years between the end of the American war and the resignation of Castries resemble somewhat the last years of Louis XV’s reign. Both were a period of naval re trenchment following a period of naval expansion and a period of crisis. There were, however, important differences. The mismanagement of the navy by Louis XV’s last naval minister, Bourgeois de Boynes, partially endangered the navy's ability to fulfill its legitimate diplomatic role as a guarantor of the state’s ability to defend itself and its vital interests. This is not to criticize Louis XV’s decision to subordinate all other considerations...

  16. APPENDIX A: The Naval and Colonial Budget, 1776–1783
    (pp. 345-350)
  17. APPENDIX B: Ships of the Line, August 1774
    (pp. 351-351)
  18. APPENDIX C: Ships of the Line, Changes, 1775–February 1783
    (pp. 352-355)
  19. APPENDIX D: Frigates
    (pp. 356-358)
  20. APPENDIX E: Order of Battle, 1 July 1778
    (pp. 359-360)
  21. APPENDIX F: Order of Battle, 1 July 1779
    (pp. 361-364)
  22. APPENDIX G: Order of Battle, 1 July 1780
    (pp. 365-368)
  23. Appendix H: Order of Battle, 1 April 1781
    (pp. 369-372)
  24. APPENDIX I: Order of Battle, 1 April 1782
    (pp. 373-376)
  25. APPENDIX J: French Troops Sent to the Western Hemisphere, 1774–1782
    (pp. 377-377)
  26. APPENDIX K: Ships of the Line, 1 January 1787
    (pp. 378-378)
    (pp. 379-424)
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 425-437)
  29. Back Matter
    (pp. 438-438)