Military history




NEITHER THE ARMY’S sufferings nor Havana’s postconquest boom would be known in London until long after news of the victory ignited popular celebrations on September 29. What must have been clearest to Lord Bute as he listened to crowds huzzah their approval was how much this particular conquest had complicated the process of making peace. With the king’s knowledge, but without consulting the rest of the cabinet, Bute had continued negotiating secretly with Choiseul after the suspension of formal talks. By June they had sketched the terms of a settlement. What Bute promised France—to return Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia; to allow French fishermen to continue taking cod on the Grand Banks; and to grant them two small islands off Newfoundland’s south shore as places to erect drying stages—had prompted the French court to agree to exchange ambassadors plenipotentiary in September.

The rumor that preliminary understandings had been reached and the appointment of the outspokenly pacific duke of Bedford as emissary aroused a furor in imperialist circles. These, Pitt’s idolators, believed that Britain should dictate, not negotiate, a treaty, and that whatever peace was finally made must leave France incapable of rebuilding its naval strength. Bute understood only too well that once the terms to which he had assented became known in Parliament, there would be fierce opposition. The ministry itself was divided: Grenville (since May the secretary of state for the Northern Department) and even Egremont, once Bute’s tool, strongly disapproved of the terms and of the underhand way he had negotiated them. Now Bute worried that he would have to return Havana in order to induce Spain to make peace, for the French had been negotiating without consulting their ally and Spanish antagonism was therefore assured. Yet to return Havana without extracting some major concession, an “equivalent,” in exchange, would give Pitt all the fuel he needed to create a political firestorm.1

Bute and the king therefore tried to improvise a solution to the divisions within the cabinet. Grenville, who had announced his opposition to Bute’s peace overtures in no uncertain terms, would be deprived of the Northern secretaryship; that in turn would be bestowed upon Bedford’s ally, Lord Halifax, who believed in the necessity of making peace. Grenville’s alienation, of course, left no one to shepherd the proposed treaty through the House of Commons. Bute thought to solve that problem by offering the job of government leader in the Commons to Henry Fox, an acknowledged mastermind of parliamentary management. Yet Fox’s ambition, unscrupulousness, and greed were all so notorious that the solution threatened only to exacerbate the problem. In the end it was not these ham-fisted efforts, but French diplomatic ingenuity, that would save the day for Bute and George and deliver the peace treaty they desperately desired.2

Restoring peace required a diplomatic calculus complex enough to challenge even the duc de Choiseul’s subtle intelligence. The positive aspects of his position all derived from the draft treaty’s provisions, which he and Bedford had worked out along the guidelines suggested by Bute’s earlier, secret negotiations. Given France’s military impotence, these terms were almost incredibly favorable to the postwar recovery of French power. They would cost the Most Christian King most of his overseas possessions, it was true, but only the least profitable parts of the empire would in fact be surrendered: a Canada that had never been anything but a sinkhole of money and a set of East Indian and African trading posts that had never fully paid their way. The negative aspect of the equation was more complicated. Half of the problem there was Spain. King Charles III would never abandon Havana, nor would he sacrifice valuable New World territory in order to regain it; and he resented the high-handed way in which Choiseul had worked out the draft peace terms without consultation. The problem’s other half was the British Parliament, which would never accede to Bute’s generous peace unless Spain surrendered Havana or some comparable asset. If opposition in the House of Commons proved strong enough to drive Bute from power, only the recall of Pitt would calm the crisis—and everyone knew what kind of peace Pitt would demand.

Choiseul’s ingenious answer to this puzzle had three parts. France would give Spain its last remaining territory in North America, Louisiana; Spain would surrender Florida (that is, the territory from the Mississippi to Georgia) to Britain; Britain would return Havana to Spain. In this way Spain would lose its claim to a sparsely inhabited, commercially unprofitable coastal plain and recover the Key to the New World and its trade. As a reward for its cooperation Spain would gain title to the western half of North America, access to the continent’s interior via the Mississippi River, and possession of the valuable port of New Orleans. True, France would bid adieu to the rest of its North American holdings; but, as Choiseul understood, the colony of Louisiana had little population and no conceivable value to France if its destiny were to become a buffer between the demographically vital British colonies and the North American holdings of a disgruntled Spain. And Britain would gain undisputed control of the eastern half of North America—a prize glittering enough to satisfy even the most rabid imperialists in the House of Commons.

Thus ingenuity and guile restored peace, at last, to Europe. On November 3, 1762, the emissaries of Britain, France, and Spain signed the preliminary articles of the Treaty of Paris. Simultaneously, by the Treaty of San Ildefonso, France ceded Louisiana to Spain. In London, given the public furor that accompanied the submission of the treaty to Parliament for approval, one might almost have thought the treaty’s provisions confirmed Britain’s defeat rather than the most far-reaching conquests in its history. On December 9, at the conclusion of the Commons debates, William Pitt ordered his servants to carry him from his sickbed to the House, where for three and a half hours he denounced the articles as a betrayal of Britain’s faithful German allies, a wanton sacrifice of the national interest, and a travesty of his own glorious achievements. At the division, however, it was clear that neither the London mob nor the disapproval of the Great Commoner would be sufficient to deter approval of the treaty. In the end only sixty-four M.P.s voted to reject the preliminary articles, against an approving majority of 319. In the House of Lords, Newcastle failed so miserably to organize an opposition that the treaty passed on a voice vote.3

The contents of the Definitive Treaty of Peace, as implemented on February 10, 1763, convinced everyone except William Pitt and his diehard followers that France had indeed been humbled in the dust. France surrendered to Great Britain all territories and claims in North America east of the Mississippi River except New Orleans and guaranteed the unrestrained navigation of the river to all British subjects. The West Indian islands of St. Vincent, Dominica, Tobago, Grenada, and the Grenadines were all secured to Great Britain, along with Senegal in West Africa. France returned Minorca as well as two East India Company posts in Sumatra captured during the war. France also surrendered all fortifications built and all territories occupied in India since 1749; renounced all claims to compensation for shipping seized by British privateers and naval vessels since 1754; agreed to level its fortifications at Dunkirk; restored all territories still under its army’s control in Hanover, Hesse, and Brunswick; and evacuated the Rhineland possessions of the king of Prussia. Spain turned over Florida to Great Britain, renounced its claims to participation in the Newfoundland fishery, sanctioned the continued cutting of logwood by British subjects along the coast of Honduras, and agreed to allow British admiralty courts to adjudicate all disputes concerning Spanish vessels seized by Britain during the war. In return for all these concessions, Great Britain restored the islands of Belle-Île-en-Mer, Goree, Martinique, and Guadeloupe to France, along with the flyspeck islands of St. Lucia in the West Indies and St.-Pierre and Miquelon in the Gulf of St. Lawrence; permitted the French to resume fishing in the waters off Newfoundland and to trade in India at the posts it had acquired before 1749; returned Havana to Spanish control; and promised Spain that British logwood cutters would not erect fortifications in Honduras.4

That the Peace of Paris was a phenomenal diplomatic coup for Britain can best be seen in light of the contrasting provisions of the Treaty of Hubertusburg, which Prussia and Austria concluded on February 15 at a hunting lodge in Saxony. Despite the vigorous maneuverings of Frederick the Great and of Maria Theresa’s representative, Count von Kaunitz, Hubertusburg concluded the Austro-German war on the basis of the status quo ante bellum. This meant, in effect, that Frederick kept Silesia and renounced his desire to retain Saxony while Maria Theresa kept Saxony and gave up her wish to regain Silesia. Both king and empress-queen pledged an undying friendship and agreed to promote trade between their realms; Frederick promised to vote, as elector of Brandenburg, for Maria Theresa’s son, Archduke Joseph, in the next election for Holy Roman Emperor. Otherwise—apart from the fact that Saxony received no compensation for the taxes and soldiers that Frederick had drained out of her since 1756—no strategic or financial assets changed hands. Beyond the inevitable adjustments in the way diplomats would think of Prussia as a player in European politics, six years of heroic expenditure and savage bloodshed had accomplished precisely nothing.5

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