The United States could not have won its independence without the assistance of France and Spain, particularly because their combined naval power was always a threat to Britain’s trade and colonies around the world. After its defeat in the land phase of the war in North America, the fighting continued for the next two years, and the U.S. peace negotiators used the opportunity presented by Britain’s war weariness and desire to retain as much of its overseas empire as possible to extract highly favorable trade and territorial concessions.
Although Gen. Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown, the British army continued to occupy major cities. Why, then, did his surrender bring the war to an end?
After the surrender of Cornwallis, Britain still retained a large land army in North America, even though much of it was tied down in garrison duty, protecting vital ports like New York, Newport and Charleston. Throughout the war, the British army thought that naval superiority would always prevent its defeat and capture, although this did not happen at Yorktown in 1781. When Lord North heard the news, he understood that the war was over and his government collapsed in March 1782. It was replaced by the opposition Whig coalition led by Lord Rockingham, which had always opposed the war. Britain had no allies in Europe and was concerned about an invasion by France and Spain, as well as the loss of other colonies. Britain therefore preferred to end the American phase of the war quickly in hopes of defending its other maritime and colonial interests (Middlekauff, 2007, Chapter 22).
What was the role of the Tories in the last phase of the war (1780-1783)? How were they affected by the Treaty of Paris and the peace that followed?
Loyalists were about 16% of the total population, and were most numerous in the Middle Colonies of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In North Carolina, the Highland Scots remained loyal to Britain, and did many Quakers and colonists of Dutch and German descent. Very few Indians supported the American cause, and throughout the war, fighting in the western frontier regions was intense. Although every colony furnished Loyalist regiments, and Britain was particularly anticipating that the whites of Georgia and the Carolinas would return to their former allegiance, it never made effective use of the Loyalists in the war, and even in the South they were unable to survive without the protection of the British army. Over 80,000 were exiled to Ontario, Nova Scotia and the West Indies at the end of the war, and almost everywhere they lost their property and citizenship rights. All Indian land was given to the U.S. government after the Treaty of Paris as well, and neither Indian nor white Loyalists received the compensation which they had been promised under the Treaty of Paris (Middlekauff, Chapter 21).
How were French efforts to weaken the settlement (Treaty of Paris) frustrated by American diplomacy?
Spain and France had no natural interest in assisting colonial revolts anywhere or in helping to establish a new republic, but they were very much interested in weakening and humiliating the British Empire. For its efforts, France was to receive Senegal, Dominica, the Newfoundland fisheries and more territory in India. Obviously the U.S. was in no position to assist with any of these overseas imperial plans given its almost total lack of a navy, nor was any such help expected. Britain did not make serious attempts to negotiate with France and the U.S. until its position in North America had clearly become hopeless in 1781. By that time, the financial situation in both France and America was desperate and they were prepared to end the war once their minimal goals had been satisfied. Although John Adams, John Jay and the other American negotiators had instructions from Congress to follow the lead of France in all negotiations, they realized that Britain’s war weariness and France’s bankruptcy offered them unexpectedly favorable circumstances to win major concessions on trade and territories in the West (Middlekauff, Chapter 22).
How were Spanish claims in Florida and west of the Mississippi River settled?
France had agreed to all of Spain’s demands, including the control of Jamaica, Gibraltar, Florida and Minorca when their alliance was signed in April 1779. At no time was Spain allied with the United States, though, and sent no money, troops or supplies to aid the war effort there, but both Spain and France agreed that the war would not end until American independence had been secured. Britain was defeated on land in North America in 1781 and looking for a way to end that phase of the war. It was prepared to concede the independence of the United States but at the same time determined to defend its other colonies from France, Spain and Holland. Gibraltar remained under siege until 1783, while the Spanish also captured the island of Minorca, Baton Rouge and Natchez, Louisiana, West Florida and the important port of Pensacola, all of which it retained after the war. In the West Indies, the French and Spanish captured St. Kitts and were preparing an invasion of Jamaica, but were defeated at the battle of The Saints. Spain did not recognize U.S. claims to any of the southwestern territory it had captured during the war, and in 1784 closed the lower Mississippi to American navigation. It also attempted to induce American settlers to these regions to secede from the U.S., which seemed like a real possibility given the weakness of the federal government before 1790. In 1786, for example, Jay’s Treaty conceded Spain’s right to close off the Mississippi River for 25 years, but this was so unpopular with the Southern states that they blocked ratification in Congress (Middlekauff, Chapter 23). Ultimately, this issue was only resolved by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the conquest and annexation of Florida during and after the War of 1812.
Explain how the Treaty of Paris gave Americans almost everything they wanted except Canada.
The Treaty of Paris recognized American independence and granted the new nation control of all western lands up to the Mississippi River, although Britain retained its outposts in the northwest until the War of 1812. With the Northwest Ordinances of 1784 and 1787, Congress began to organize government and land sales north of the Ohio River and this region began to fill up rapidly with migrants. All British restrictions of western movement that had been in place since 1763 were removed, although this naturally resulted in intensified conflicts between Indians and white settlers. Since the U.S. had not been successful in its invasions of Canada during the war, that territory remained under British control, and so it remained after more failed invasion attempts during the War of 1812. American commerce also benefitted from the war since the Navigation Acts were no longer in effect, and even though U.S. ships were excluded from the West Indies, they were generally free to trade elsewhere as they pleased, at least until the Napoleonic Wars.
Middlekauff, R. (2007). The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. Oxford University Press.
Brown, R.D. (2012). Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution, 1760-1791, 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin.