The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America - Walter R. Borneman (2006)

BOOK THREE. Prelude to Revolution (1760–1763)

18. SCRATCH OF A PEN

When Vaudreuil signed the capitulation of Montreal and with it all of Canada, France was expelled from North America east of the Mississippi. As Francis Parkman so succinctly put it, “half a continent had changed hands at the scratch of a pen.” And Louis XV had fared no better on global battlefields. In Europe, Africa, India, and throughout the Caribbean—primarily because of the sea power that William Pitt had championed—Great Britain had picked one jewel after another from the French crown. Indeed, as the naval historian Alfred Thayer Mahan pronounced, with ample evidence, “at the end of seven years, the kingdom of Great Britain had become the British Empire.”1

But how—and even if—all these vast territorial gains were to be consolidated by Great Britain was a matter of great debate. Trading captured territories at the peace table was a time-honored ritual of European diplomacy. France had grabbed Minorca early in the current conflict in expectation of just such a round of trading. By 1762, a look at the globe showed that Minorca was about all that France had left to trade, but this did not keep the French minister of foreign affairs, Choiseul, from bartering for all he was worth. As it turned out, Choiseul’s best allies in the process proved to be Lord Bute and those in Great Britain who simply could not fathom the scope of Pitt’s victories. Surely, their argument ran, a return of at least some of France’s captured territories was essential to restoring some semblance of a balance of power in order to avoid another conflict.

While Pitt was still in power, he eschewed such talk of trades, but the great debate in England after Vaudreuil’s surrender nonetheless became whether Great Britain should keep Canada or Guadeloupe. Would it be land or sugar, land or trade? A flurry of pamphlets appeared on the subject, including one written anonymously, but not very secretively, by Benjamin Franklin: “The Interest of Great Britain, Considered with Regard to Her Colonies, and the Acquisitions of Canada and Guadeloupe.” Franklin argued for keeping Canada. Warming to his own reasoning, he later wrote that not only did “the foundations of the future grandeur and stability of the British Empire lie in America,” but also “if we keep [Canada], all the country from Saint Lawrence to Mississippi will in another century be filled with British people.”2

But the immediate financial rewards certainly seemed to argue for keeping Guadeloupe. Its trade and potential for tax revenues dwarfed Canada’s. Because of this, during the initial bargaining, Choiseul seemed as determined to keep Guadeloupe as Pitt was determined to acquire Canada. Those in Britain who argued for Canada, looking through less visionary glasses than Franklin’s, nonetheless saw owning it as a way to rid their North American colonies of a meddling neighbor once and for all. But then Dominica fell, and in February 1762—with Pitt now out of office—Martinique also fell. Suddenly the question was no longer Canada or Guadeloupe, but Canada or all of the French West Indies.3

Choiseul, who had finally managed to rise above the muddle of the French bureaucracy and consolidate the ministries of foreign affairs, war, and the marine into one portfolio, was all too pleased to negotiate with Bute rather than Pitt on this issue. Too late, France found the one firm voice that Great Britain had once had in Pitt, and Choiseul did his utmost to salvage a workable peace out of the disasters of the last few years. Not the least of his problems was his Spanish ally. “Had I known what I now know,” Choiseul sighed on the dismal failure of the Spanish war machine everywhere, “I should have been very careful to cause to enter the war a power which by its feebleness can only ruin and destroy France.” While Charles III of Spain still demanded British concessions, Choiseul made it his priority to end the conflict and save what was left of France.4

But France and Spain weren’t the only allies whose ties had been frayed by the course of the war. Great Britain had originally joined forces with Frederick the Great to support the balance of power in Europe generally, and King George II’s Hanoverian roots specifically. As to the latter, even without an English wife, George III was seeking to cut his ties to the old familial homeland and thereby save the annual subsidy to Frederick.

Lord Bute urged the young monarch in this direction and believed that since France had lost its worldwide empire, there was no longer any great advantage for Great Britain to distract France on the continent by continuing to support Frederick. On April 30, 1762, Bute’s cabinet narrowly voted to discontinue both the continental war and the Prussian subsidy, essentially clearing the way to make an independent peace with France. “The military and diplomatic partnership of Great Britain and Prussia was thus prematurely dissolved before the war had run its full course.”5

Somehow, Frederick the Great managed to survive what he considered a clear desertion by Bute by once again proving that, if nothing else, he had enormous staying power. Frederick got considerable assistance in this regard by the fortuitous death of Empress Elizabeth of Russia, one of the three European women who had been once arrayed against him. Elizabeth’s successor, young Peter III, immediately hailed Frederick as his “lord and master” and signed a peace treaty with Prussia that not only restored all of Russia’s territorial conquests, but also placed the Russian army at Frederick’s disposal.

Peter’s turnaround in foreign policy offended many in Russia, not least his wife, Catherine, who quickly acquiesced in her husband’s murder and ascended the Russian throne herself in June 1762, destined to become Catherine the Great. She deemed her future greatness to lie within Russia and was not interested in the renewal of a war against Prussia—and certainly not in a war against Austria for Prussian interests.

So, with France bloodied enough on the continent for one generation, Choiseul at last consolidated the power necessary to override the marquise de Pompadour’s influence, which had drawn France into this mess in the first place. Choiseul told Bute that France, too, would withdraw its troops from central Europe. This left Maria Theresa of Austria to face Prussia alone over the issue of Silesia that had simmered for almost a quarter of a century.6

On November 29, 1762, the final draft of the Treaty of Paris, principally between Great Britain and France, with Spain participating reluctantly, was read before both houses of the British Parliament. Its sweeping geographic terms underscored the global war it sought to end. All of Canada and all French claims east of the Mississippi were ceded to Great Britain, except the city of New Orleans. This presence aside, British subjects were guaranteed free rights of navigation on the entire length of the Mississippi. French fishing rights to cod in the Grand Banks, originally granted by the Treaty of Utrecht, were confirmed, and the two tiny islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off the southern coast of Newfoundland were given to France as commercial bases. Louisbourg, its military fortifications destroyed in 1760 under orders from Pitt, was to remain British.

In the Caribbean, three of the so-called neutral islands—Saint Vincent, Dominica, and Tobago—along with Grenada and the Grenadines were also to remain British. France, however, was restored to the possession not only of Guadeloupe but also of Martinique and Saint Lucia. (Land in North America and the security it seemed to promise the North American colonies had won out over sugar and trade.) In Africa, Great Britain retained Senegal, but the far more important trading station of Gorée was returned to France. In India, France was limited in its future activities to pre-1749 stations for trading purposes only. France also restored to Great Britain two trading posts on Sumatra.

In Europe, the main bargaining chip that France still held, Minorca, was returned to Great Britain in exchange for the naval base at Belle-Ile-en-Mer off the French coast that Pitt’s cross-Channel raids had finally captured. Last, both the British and the French withdrew from Hanover and from any military operations for or against Frederick.

And what of Spain? How had Charles III fared after his ill-advised rush to the Bourbon banner? Spain’s belated allegiance to France cost it dearly. Spain came out on the down side of all of its grievances with Great Britain and then some. Spain was not to participate in the cod fisheries; it must permit British logging rights in Honduras, albeit without fortifications; and all issues of Spanish ships seized by Great Britain before the declaration of war were to be decided in British admiralty courts. Finally, there was the matter of Havana. Great Britain would return Havana and the island of Cuba to Spain, but only in exchange for all of Florida. This gave Great Britain control of the North American coastline from the icy limits of Newfoundland to New Orleans.

If Choiseul felt any remorse in forcing this last point on his weakling ally, he sought to appease Spain’s loss of Florida by conveying New Orleans and all of France’s remaining claims west of the Mississippi—a vague and unknown land called “Louisiana”—to Charles III. Choiseul considered this an empty gesture because Louisiana appeared almost worthless. Scarcely four decades later, however, Napoleon would bully Spain into returning the territory to France, so that France could in turn sell it to the young United States. The change in the perceived value of Louisiana occurred, in part, because, as Benjamin Franklin wrote prophetically in March 1763, “there appears everywhere an unaccountable penchant in all our people to migrate westward.”7

The terms of the Treaty of Paris were debated in the House of Commons on December 9, 1762. It was not a constitutional requirement that Parliament approve the treaty, but Lord Bute considered it a prudent political move, if for no other reason than to diffuse a storm of popular criticism against both the treaty and him personally. Indeed, the reaction of the majority of the common people was that the great victory won by their ardent champion Pitt was now being frittered away by Bute, who esteemed it far too cheaply. As the historian Walter Dorn characterized it, the Treaty of Paris was “widely condemned in Great Britain and so generally regarded by British historians as falling in its terms far below what their conquests gave Englishmen a right to expect.”8

Thus William Pitt was to have his valedictory. After some hours of debate that December day, the doors of the House of Commons opened to reveal the “great commoner” himself. Racked with pain, his gouty legs wrapped in heavy cloth, Pitt was carried to his seat, from which he proceeded to speak on the subject at hand for over three hours. His discourse was far-ranging, at times less than coherent, but the architect of empire summarized his vehement opposition in one sentence. The proposed treaty, Pitt declared, “obscured all the glories of the war, surrendered the dearest interests of the nation, and sacrificed the public faith by an abandonment of our allies.” Never had he, nor would he have, Pitt further avowed, “made a sacrifice of any conquest.”

Speaking in opposition to Pitt and in support of the treaty, the young earl of Shelburne told the House of Lords that Great Britain had not entered the war to conquer the territories of other nations. Its goal, Shelburne maintained, had been simply “the security of our colonies upon the continent of North America, threatened by French encroachments.” That issue having now been resolved and Great Britain “having made very large demands in North America, it was necessary to relax in other parts of the world.”9 How perceptions had changed!

Even the battered old duke of Newcastle, who had long been Pitt’s reluctant partner and who had finally resigned from Bute’s government in disgust, hoped that somehow Pitt would arouse enough opposition in Parliament to force a stiffening of terms. But that was not to be. At the end of a long day of speeches, the House of Commons voted 319 to 64 in favor of the treaty. In the House of Lords, the opposition was so weak that it did not even demand a division to the overwhelming voice vote in favor.

On February 10, 1763, the Treaty of Paris was officially signed. It was far different from what might have been brokered by William Pitt, and one could almost hear the sigh of relief escaping from the shrewd Choiseul. Five days later, Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa agreed to the separate Treaty of Hubertusburg between Prussia and Austria. As to all disputed territories between the two, it provided for a status quo ante bellum: each party would keep what it had in the beginning. In effect, Europe had finally worn itself out. During nine years of global conflict, the map of the world had changed considerably. The map of Europe had remained remarkably the same.10

Despite the global actions and the European feuds that had precipitated them, the greatest effect of the Seven Years’ War—the war that North Americans would call the French and Indian War and date as nine years in length, not seven—was to deliver Canada into the hands of Great Britain. The debate had once been Canada or Guadeloupe, but in retrospect it poses an interesting “what if?” Had Great Britain retained Guadeloupe and Martinique instead of Canada, might the trade from the sugar islands have paid for a sizable chunk of Great Britain’s war debt, thus avoiding the heavy taxation that would soon rile its North American colonies?

In many respects, these colonies had given their hearts and souls, as well as their purses, to His Majesty’s war efforts. The Carolinas and Georgia had always been more concerned with Indian and Spanish issues along their borders; others had frequently seemed aloof; but Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and New York in particular, with Pennsylvania and even Virginia close behind, had strongly supported the war effort. “Nothing,” said Governor Thomas Pownall of Massachusetts at the war’s closure, “can eradicate from the [English] colonists’ hearts their natural, almost mechanical affection to Great Britain.”11