November 9 1814: Wellington and America

On November 9 1814, the Duke of Wellington writes to Lord Liverpool to again advise that he does not think he should go to America. He proceeds to give his opinion on the American War.

 

Paris, November 9, 1814.

My dear Lord—The messenger for England was despatched so immediately after I received your letter of the 4th, that I had not time to write to you upon many of the points which occurred to me upon it.

My safety depends upon the King’s; and, although I hear every day of the discontents, and of their probable results, and I have reason to believe, from a communication I have had with the Duc d’Orleans, that Blacas is inclined to give more credit to both than he has ever acknowledged to me, and I do not see what means the King has of resisting the brisk attack of a few hundred officers, determined to risk every thing; yet I can scarcely bring my mind to give credit to so infamous a design. It is impossible, however, to conceive the distress in which individuals of all descriptions are.

The only remedy is the revival of Buonaparte’s system of war and plunder; and it is evident that that remedy cannot be adopted during the reign of the Bourbons. I am quite certain that the population of the country, and even of Paris, is favourable to the Bourbons: the discontented and dangerous classes are the reduced officers and employees civiles, particularly those returned from being prisoners of war; and of those the worst, particularly in hatred of the English, are those who have been prisoners in England.

I am quite clear, however, that, if you remove me from hence, it must be to employ me elsewhere. You cannot, in my opinion, at this moment decide upon sending me to America. In case of the occurrence of anything in Europe, there is nobody but myself in whom either yourselves, or the country, or your Allies, would feel any confidence: and yet, for a great length of time, he would have to operate upon a system which would be approved only because he who should carry it on would possess the public confidence.

If, therefore, you persist in thinking you ought to remove me from hence, you had better avail yourself of the pretence of the court-martial, leaving all my establishments, &c., here, and the period of my absence might easily be drawn on till the period at which you might see whether you could or not send me to America.

I have already told you and Lord Bathurst that I feel no objection to going to America, though I don‘t promise to myself much success there. I believe there are troops enough there for the defence of Canada for ever, and even for the accomplishment of any reasonable offensive plan that could be formed from the Canadian frontier. I am quite sure that all the American armies of which I have ever read would not beat out of a field of battle the troops that went from Bourdeaux last summer, if common precautions and care were taken of them.

That which appears to me to be wanting in America is not a general, or general officers and troops, but a naval superiority on the lakes: till that superiority is acquired, it is impossible, according to my notion, to maintain an army in such a situation as to keep the enemy out of the whole frontier, much less to make any conquest from the enemy, which, with those superior means, might, with reasonable hopes of success, be undertaken. I may be wrong in this opinion, but I think the whole history of the war proves its truth; and I suspect that you will find that Prevost will justify his misfortunes (which, by the by, I am quite certain are not what the Americans have represented them to be) by stating that the navy were defeated; and, even if he had taken Fort Moreau, he must have retired.

The question is, whether we can obtain this naval superiority on the lakes. If we cannot, I shall do you but little good in America; and I shall go there only to prove the truth of Provost‘s defence, and to sign a peace which might as well be signed now. There will always, however, remain this advantage, that the confidence which I have acquired will reconcile both the army and people in England to terms of which they would not now approve.

In regard to your present negociations, I confess that I think you have no right, from the state of the war, to demand any concession of territory from America. Considering every thing, it is my opinion that the war has been a most successful one, and highly honourable to the British arms; but, from particular circumstances, such as the want of naval superiority on the lakes, you have not been able to carry it into the enemy‘s territory, notwithstanding your military success and now undoubted military superiority, and have not even cleared your own territory of the enemy on the point of attack. You cannot, on any principle of equality in negociation, claim a cession of territory, excepting in exchange for other advantages which you have in your power.

I put out of the question the possession taken by Sir John Sherbrooke, between the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Bay. It is evidently only temporary, and till a larger force will ‘drive away the few companies he has lefi there ; and an officer might as well claim the sovereignty of the ground on which his pickets stand, or over which his patroles pass.

Then, if this reasoning be true, why stipulate for the uti possidetis? You can get no territory; indeed, the state of your military operations, however creditable, does not entitle you to demand any: and you only afford the Americans a popular and creditable ground, which I believe their Government are looking for, not to break off the negociations, but to avoid to make peace.

If you had territory, as I hope you soon will have New Orleans, I should prefer to insist upon the cession of that province as a separate article, than upon the uti possidetis as a principle of negociation.

I am sure that you will excuse the liberty I take in giving you my opinion on this subject, on which Government intends to employ me; but I do so only that we may thoroughly understand each other before I undertake the concern.

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