WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("Go:Washington") TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN in Paris; Headquarters [Verplanck's Point, New York], 18 October 1782. 3 pages, 4to (9¾ x 7 3/16 in.), expertly inlaid to a larger sheet, AUTOGRAPH ENDORSEMENT BY FRANKLIN: "G.Washington 8 Oct.1782." In very fine condition.
INTIMATIONS OF PEACE AND INDEPENDENCE: WASHINGTON ACKNOWLEDGES AMERICA'S "GREAT OBLIGATION" TO FRANCE, CONDEMNING KING GEORGE'S "PERSEVERING OBSTINACY" AND "THE WICKEDNESS OF HIS MINISTRY"
One year after the remarkable victory of a combined Franco-American campaign at Yorktown, military action on North American soil had been brought nearly to a halt while diplomatic overtures began in Paris. Washington writes to Franklin, American Commissioner in Paris charged with negotiating a peace settlement with the British government. In the wake of Yorktown, support in Parliament for the pursuance of the expensive war with America had rapidly eroded, and in spite of King George's desire to continue the war, Lord North was compelled to resign as minister in March and a new ministry was formed under Lord Rockingham (1730-1782), who, 24 years earlier, had been responsible for the repeal of the Stamp Act. But Rockingham's Secretary of Colonial Affairs, William Petty, Lord Shelburne (1737-1805), a staunch opponent of American independence, himself became Prime Minister upon Rockingham's death in July 1782. At Parliament's request, Richard Osborne, a merchant and slave-trader, was sent to France to open preliminary discussions with Franklin on the subject of peace, and, if possible, to separate America from her ally, France. Initially, little progress was made. Washington, like Franklin, remained skeptical that Britain would sign a treaty according independence to the colonies and advised that "the readiest way to procure a lasting and honourable peace, is to be fully prepared vigorously to prosecute war."
Here, the General writes that he has received two letters from Franklin, delivered by two French visitors, the Comte de Segur and the Prince de Broglie, and notes that their receipt "was rendered doubly agreeable, by the pleasure I had in receiving them from the hands of two such amiable and accomplished young Gentlemen. Independent of my Esteem for your Excellency, be assured Sir! That my Respect & Regard for the french Nation at large, to whom this Country is under so great obligations, as well as the very favourable Impressions I have conceived for their particular characters, will secure my warmest attention to the person of these distinguished young Noblemen."
Washington expresses renewed distrust of the British government, in spite of the upheavals in the ministry: "I am much obliged for the political information but feel myself much embarrassed in my wish to make you a return in kind. At the first of the Season, the expectations of America were much raised, in consequence of the Change of the British Ministry and the Measures of Parliament; but events have shewn, that their hopes have risen too high. The death of the Marquis of Rockingham [on 1 July], the Advancement of the Earl or Shelburn[e], and the delays of negotiation, have given us very different impressions from those we first conceived. We now begin again to reflect on the persevering Obstinacy of the King, the wickedness of his ministry, and the haughty pride of the nation, which ideas recall to our minds very disagreeable prospects, and a probable continuance of our present trouble. The military operations of the Campaign, are drawing to a close, without any important events," he adds, although they expect the British will soon evacuate Charleston, which would form a paragraph in the page of this year's history." Meanwhile, "the British fleet from the West Indies, still continues in N York. I have not yet been able to decide upon the Enemy's intentions there. It is generally thought that a detachment of their troops will sail with them when the fleet returns to the West Indies..."
Unknown to Washington, dramatic progress had been made in the previously sluggish negotiations in Paris. In late September, Oswald had received formal commissions empowering him to finalize a treaty with the Americans. The Shelburne Ministry fell unexpectedly and Oswald was replaced at the negotiating table by David Hartley (1732-1813), an old friend of Franklin's who was strongly in favor of independence. In their long negotiations, Franklin and his fellow Commissioners John Adams, Henry Laurens and John Jay, succeeded in obtaining nearly all of the terms they had been instructed to seek, and on 30 November, the negotiators signed Preliminary Articles of a treaty containing the critical clause recognizing the United States to be "free, sovereign and independent states." Ratification of the Definitive Treaty of Paris was finally completed nearly 10 months later, on 3 September 1783 (for a printed copy of the Treaty, see lot 8). The French foreign Minister, Vergennes, was so impressed by the concessions won by the American Commissioners, that he commented that Britain "had not made a peace," but had "bought one."
Published (from Trumbull's letterbook copy) in Fitzpatrick, 25:272-273.
Provenance: Anonymous owner (sale, Sotheby's, 31 October 1985, lot 204).