Choiseul, French statesman, and his role in the American Revolution



It is instructive to consider the feelings and ideas of the French cabinet during the years before the American Revolution, concerning the Americans--a cabinet composed of changing materials which, as we have observed, played an important part in the struggle of the colonists for their independence. We have already noticed the hopes of Choiseul, the French minister, that an open rupture between the American colonies and Great Britain would speedily occur, and inflict a severe blow upon the strength of the latter. He was then supporting the decaying French empire with wisdom and energy. Ten years before, he had become the favorite and chief minister of the profligate Louis the Fifteenth through the influence of Madame Pompadour, who really ruled that monarch. Choiseul had been created a duke, and was regarded as the foremost living statesman of France. He was watching the course of political events in England and her American colonies with intense interest; and in the attitude of the latter toward the former in the summer of 1768, he saw a reason for expecting an almost immediate outbreak of rebellion in America. This expectation was confirmed by a long conversation with an intelligent American, who gave him a clear insight of the resolution of the colonies to resist oppression, and their temper. He immediately wrote to the Count du Chatelet, then the French ambassador in London, that facts and not theories must control the actions of France, and saying:

"My project, which is but a dream perhaps, is to consider the possibility of a commercial treaty, both of importation and exportation, the obvious advantages of which might attract the attention of the Americans. Will it not be possible to show them, at the moment of a rupture, an interest sufficiently powerful to detach them at once from their chief government? According to the predictions of some sensible men who have had opportunities to study the character of the Americans, and to comprehend their progress every day in the spirit of independence, this separation of the American colonies from their parent government must come sooner or later. The plan I propose will accelerate its consummation. It is the true interest of the colonies to forever secure their whole liberty, and establish their direct commerce with France and with the world. The main business will be to engage their neutrality. That will necessarily secure a treaty of alliance with France and Spain. They may not have confidence in the strength of our navy; they may suspect our fidelity to our engagements; they may fear the English ships-of-war; they may indulge a hope of success against the Spaniards and ourselves. I perceive all these difficulties, and do not hide their extent; but I perceive, also, the controlling interest of the Americans in profiting by the chance of a rupture to establish their independence. This cannot be done without risks; but he that halts at difficulties will never attempt anything. We firmly believe and hope that this government will so conduct itself as to widen the breach, not to close it up. It is true that some persons of sagacity think it not only possible but easy to reconcile the interests of the colonies and the parent country, but I can see many obstacles lying in the way. I meet too many persons who think as I do. The course pursued thus far by the British government seems to me to be completely opposed to what it ought to be to effect a reconciliation."

Choiseul had to wait full seven years for the gratification of his wish which was father to his thoughts, and then, through the operations of a faction, he had been dismissed from office.





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