Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution

A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution

Jonathan R. Dull
Copyright Date: 1985
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 236
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Diplomatic History of the American Revolution
    Book Description:

    This introduction to the diplomacy of the American Revolution presents a fresh, realistic, and balanced portrait of revolutionary diplomats and diplomacy.

    "The best single-volume introduction to the diplomacy of the American Revolution that we have." -H.M. Scott, University of St. Andrews, Scotland

    "This book certainly will become the new standard account of the subject….The book's many footnotes and its annotated bibliography provide a rich survey of research in the field. Specialists as well as students should profit from this work. Highly recommended for public and university libraries."-Library Journal

    "The book appears to be designed for use by students but most historians will find it thought-provoking."-Journal of the Early Republic

    "This will become the successor to Bemis'sThe Diplomacy of the American Revolutionfor at least as many years as that work has been the standard. Dull's writing is clear and often elegant, the positions are convincing, and the footnotes and bibliography are an important contribution in themselves."-Lawrence Kaplan, Kent State University

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16217-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. PART ONE Diplomatic Origins of the American Revolution

    • CHAPTER 1 The Prehistory of American Diplomacy
      (pp. 3-12)

      American diplomacy was formally established in a simple manner. Unwilling as yet to send ambassadors abroad, the Continental Congress on November 29, 1775 voted to appoint a committee to correspond with “our friends” in Britain and elsewhere.¹ On the following day the new Committee of Secret Correspondence notified Arthur Lee, a former colonial agent in London, of its appointment; ten days later Benjamin Franklin, one of the committee members, wrote a similar letter to one of his correspondents in the Netherlands.² These letters are the first official pieces of American diplomatic correspondence. American relations with Britain technically were still those...

    • CHAPTER 2 The European Balance of Power, 1763–1775
      (pp. 13-25)

      The “Balance of Power” is a theory of how independent states or countries conduct diplomacy. Because each state fears for its own security it theoretically will be impossible for any single state to dominate all the others; as soon as one state threatens to become too strong the others will combine forces to prevent its dominance. (This, of course, presumes that one state does not begin by being stronger than all of its rivals combined.) Supposedly the balance of power will confer a measure of security on even the weakest of states since it can call for help against a...

    • CHAPTER 3 The Failure of British Diplomacy after the Seven Years’ War
      (pp. 26-32)

      The virtues of King George III (1738–1820, reigned from 1760) were not dissimilar to those of Winston Churchill. Both these leaders were principled, courageous, indomitable, and supremely confident that their beloved country could overcome even the greatest of trials, if necessary by acting alone against all of Europe. Unlike Churchill, though, George for all his virtues proved the wrong man for his time, for his was an age of limited war, changing alliances, and shifting objectives. George was not well equipped for such a world, as he had the vices often found in those having his virtues—stubbornness, overconfidence,...

    • CHAPTER 4 French Foreign Policy during the Reign of Louis XV
      (pp. 33-40)

      Between 1689 and 1815 Britain and France fought seven wars. These wars, marked by naval battles and attacks on colonial possessions, tended to be similar, leading many historians now to see them as the inevitable result of France’s and Britain’s competition for colonial empire. This theory of inevitability, however, leaves unanswered the shift which occurred in 1815. Since that date there have been no wars between the two countries, even though they remained until the 1950s the world’s two greatest colonial powers. Indeed, they were allies (in spite of considerable reciprocal dislike and mistrust) in the First and Second World...

  5. PART TWO Responses to the Revolution

    • CHAPTER 5 British Reaction to the American Rebellion
      (pp. 43-49)

      The British government, blind to the danger of an American rebellion, failed to provide itself in advance with allies or to compromise with its enemies. It also failed to establish in America an effective military base of operations and sufficient troops to suppress a rebellion. In January 1775 it issued orders to arrest the leaders of the Massachusetts radicals; but to carry out its orders it had less than five thousand troops in the thirteen American colonies. Assuming that its problems could be restricted to Massachusetts, the preponderance of its troops were in Boston—nearly four thousand of them crowded...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Development of American Diplomacy
      (pp. 50-56)

      Bonvouloir’s arrival in Philadelphia could not have been more fortunately timed. The Committee of Secret Correspondence on December 12, 1775, requested Arthur Lee to ascertain the disposition of foreign powers toward America;¹ on the same day Franklin wrote the scholarly youngest son of King Charles III of Spain to thank him for the gift of a book he had translated and to suggest America’s desire for friendship with his country.² Within days the committee began a series of meetings with the newly arrived Bonvouloir, held secretly by night in Carpenters’ Hall. The committee asked if France were disposed favorably toward...

    • CHAPTER 7 France Offers Secret Aid
      (pp. 57-65)

      Bonvouloir’s mission was a turning point in French as well as American diplomacy.¹ As soon as Vergennes received the report of Bonvouloir’s meetings with the Committee of Secret Correspondence, he proposed a major shift in French policy toward the American Revolution. He presented to King Louis XVI a memoir, labeled “Considerations,” warning that Britain and America might end their war and then attack the French West Indies and proposing that France provide secret arms aid to the rebels in order to keep the Revolution alive for another year.² This would give France and Spain time to strengthen the defenses of...

    • CHAPTER 8 The Revolution’s Impact on Europe
      (pp. 66-72)

      Until the conclusion of the 1778 Franco-American alliance, the impact of the American Revolution on continental Europe was slight. This is true of its political, cultural, and economic impact, as well as of its diplomatic impact.

      Knowledge of the Revolution was largely limited to the minority of Europeans who could read; probably only in France, where Franklin’s presence publicized it, and perhaps in the Netherlands, did interest in it spread beyond a small number of intellectuals, noblemen, bourgeois, and clerics. Even in France support for the Revolution was based more on hatred of Britain than on any real understanding of...

  6. PART THREE The Franco-American Alliance

    • CHAPTER 9 America’s First Diplomatic Mission
      (pp. 75-81)

      On December 21, 1776, Benjamin Franklin arrived in Paris with two of his grandsons, seven-year-old Benjamin Franklin Bache and sixteen-year-old William Temple Franklin. The next day Arthur Lee, summoned from London by Silas Deane, joined his fellow commissioners.¹

      Lee and Franklin were old acquaintances, if somewhat less than friends. When Franklin returned to America in March 1775, Lee remained in London to represent the interests of the Massachusetts and New Jersey assemblies. The young Lee (1740–92) had tried a variety of careers—physician, lawyer, author on political subjects, colonial agent, and intelligence source for the Committee of Secret Correspondence—...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Commissioners Discredited
      (pp. 82-88)

      The use of French ports by warships of the Continental navy and by American privateers (privately owned warships sanctioned by Congress) posed more than an annoyance to the French government. Once King Louis XVI’s opposition had been overcome, Naval Minister Sartine’s rearmament program proceeded briskly, but not until 1778 were the navy’s dockyards filled with supplies and its ships in condition to fight.¹ Had a war broken out before then, the navy would easily have been crushed by the British or blockaded in port. While in the long run tension with Britain helped Vergennes prepare the king and country for...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Making of the Alliance
      (pp. 89-96)

      According to popular belief, the American victory at Saratoga was responsible for the French decision to enter the war. Supposedly, the victory convinced them that the United States would be a reliable ally while simultaneously prompting them quickly to conclude an alliance before the Americans could reach a compromise peace with Britain and perhaps attack the French West Indies.¹

      This explanation presents some logical contradictions. If the Americans were militarily successful on their own, why would either France or the United States want an alliance? How could the Americans be such desirable allies if they were contemplating a reconciliation with...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Outbreak of Hostilities
      (pp. 97-104)

      The French had good diplomatic and military reasons for insisting that they preserve their option when to enter the war. They hoped they could maneuver the British into declaring war on them, or at least into appearing to have started the war. This would assist the Dutch in evading compliance with their treaty of defensive alliance with Britain, which only applied if one of the parties was attacked. More importantly, if it could be made to appear that France was being attacked, she could call for assistance under the terms of her own defensive alliance with Austria. Doubtless Austria would...

  7. PART FOUR The Coalition against Britain

    • CHAPTER 13 The Franco-Spanish Alliance
      (pp. 107-113)

      The French hoped to win the war in a single campaign by capturing or destroying Admiral Howe’s fleet and blockading New York into surrender. Admiral d’Estaing failed to do either. Frustrated by Howe’s skillful defense of New York harbor, the French admiral switched his attack to Newport, Rhode Island, where a smaller British garrison was besieged by an American army commanded by Generals Sullivan, Greene, and Lafayette. Again, d’Estaing failed and was forced to flee to Boston when naval reinforcements finally began reaching Howe. Finally, in November he sailed for the Caribbean, having failed to capture or destroy a single...

    • CHAPTER 14 The American Consensus Disintegrates
      (pp. 114-120)

      Admiral d’Estaing’s abrupt departure from Newport in August 1778 greatly disturbed the commanders of the Continental army units there, who had to abandon their siege and flee for safety. None was more distressed than the marquis de Lafayette. D’Estaing was not only a fellow Frenchman but also a distant relative. Rather than sharing in his glory, Lafayette now had to defend him from American criticism. Lafayette soon wrote the admiral to suggest ways of erasing the memory of the defeat. Among his ideas was that a corps of six to ten thousand French troops might permit a joint Franco-American attack...

    • CHAPTER 15 British Wartime Diplomacy
      (pp. 121-127)

      The states of Europe being indifferent or hostile, British diplomats faced problems that proved beyond their ability to solve. Even new leadership was insufficient to devise ways of ending Britain’s isolation. Two-thirds of the initial secretarial trio of Suffolk, Weymouth, and Germain were replaced in 1779. Suffolk, now deceased, was succeeded at the northern department by Viscount Stormont, while the inept Weymouth resigned and was replaced at the southern department by the earl of Hillsborough (1718–93).¹ The new secretaries of state were experienced enough; Stormont had been ambassador to Saxony-Poland, Austria, and France, while Hillsborough had served as secretary...

    • CHAPTER 16 Russian Diplomacy during the American Revolution
      (pp. 128-134)

      In spite of the Turkish war and the partition of Poland, Russian foreign policy during the first eighteen years of Catherine’s reign (1763–81) generally was defensive rather than aggressive. During this period Count Nikita Ivanovich Panin (1718–83) served as Russia’s foreign minister.¹ Panin’s diplomacy, often referred to as the “Northern system,” considered France and her ally Austria as potential threats to Russian security. Panin sought to protect Russia by linking the powers of northern Europe. He hoped to make alliances with Prussia, Denmark, and Britain and to maintain Sweden and Poland as Russian “client states” (that is, states...

  8. PART FIVE The Making of Peace

    • CHAPTER 17 The Opening of Negotiations
      (pp. 137-143)

      In March 1782 Lord North’s government was replaced by a government headed by the former Opposition leader, the marquis of Rockingham (1730–82).¹ Rockingham had had previous experience in pacifying the Americans; he had headed the cabinet of 1765–66 that repealed the Stamp Act. He was no more forceful a chief minister, however, than North had been; like his predecessor, he left foreign affairs to the secretaries of state. Theoretically it should have been easier to achieve a unified foreign policy than had previously been the case. The old northern and southern departments were combined, so that Britain finally...

    • CHAPTER 18 The Americans Reach Agreement
      (pp. 144-151)

      Shelburne as chief minister exercised direct personal control of the negotiations with both France and the United States. His secretary of state for home and colonial affairs, Thomas Townshend (1733–1800), played a relatively minor role in the American negotiations. To deal with France Shelburne chose two professional diplomats, Baron Grantham (1738–86) as his secretary of state for foreign affairs and Alleyne Fitzherbert (1753–1839) as his representative at the French court; but here as well the chief minister himself guided policy.¹ He retained Oswald as his representative with the Americans, although he also sent a mutual friend, Franklin’s...

    • CHAPTER 19 The European Settlement
      (pp. 152-158)

      As we have seen, Shelburne moved at the end of July 1782 to reach a settlement with the United States. Within the next two weeks he also moved to unfreeze the negotiations with France. He met with Admiral de Grasse, who had been sent to England as a prisoner of war after the Battle of the Saintes. According to the admiral’s later testimony, Shelburne announced to him that he was willing to grant unconditional independence to the United States, to refrain from further conquests from the Netherlands and satisfy her wishes by accepting the principles of the League of Armed...

    • CHAPTER 20 The Final Treaties and Their Consequences
      (pp. 159-164)

      The peace agreement Shelburne had constructed against great opposition proved politically fatal to him. By a narrow majority the House of Commons in mid-February 1783 voted to censure the agreement. Shelburne resigned as chief minister, never again to serve in a British government.¹ He was succeeded by a strange coalition government formed by Lord North and Charles James Fox.

      Although the new administration did not repudiate the preliminary peace agreements, Shelburne’s fall doomed any chances that the final peace treaty would incorporate better terms for the United States, such as privileges for her trade. Although Fox appointed as British negotiator...

  9. APPENDIX 1 The Franco-American Treaty of Alliance
    (pp. 165-169)
  10. APPENDIX 2 Preliminary Terms of Peace between Britain and The United States, November 30, 1782
    (pp. 170-174)
    (pp. 175-218)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 219-229)