Source Problems in English History


World History


Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox.

Edited by Lord John Russell. Vol. I.

p. 345. [Cabinet Minute.1 April 23, 1782.]

Present—Lord Chancellor, Lord President, Duke of Richmond, Marquis of Rockingham, Duke of Grafton, Lord Ashburton, Lord John Cavendish, Lord Keppel, General Conway, Mr. Fox, Lord Shelburne.

It is humbly submitted to his Majesty that Mr. Oswald shall return to Paris, with authority to name Paris as the place, and to settle with Dr. Franklin the most convenient time for setting on foot a negotiation for a general peace, and to represent to him that the principal points in contemplation are—The allowance of independence to America upon Great Britain’s being restored to the situation she was placed in by the treaty of 1763, and that Mr. Fox shall submit to the consideration of the King a proper person to make a similar communication to Mons. de Vergennes.

p. 351. [Cabinet Minute. May 18, 1782.]

Present—Lord Chancellor, Lord President, Duke of Richmond, Lord Rockingham, Lord Shelburne, Lord John Cavendish, Lord Keppel, Lord Ashburton, General Conway, Mr. Fox.

It is humbly submitted to your Majesty, that your Majesty will be pleased to direct Mr. Fox to order full powers to be given to Mr. Grenville to treat and conclude at Paris, and also to direct Mr. Fox to instruct Mr. Grenville to make propositions of peace to the belligerent powers upon the basis of independence to the thirteen colonies in North America, and of the Treaty of Paris; and in case of such proposition not being accepted, to call upon Monsieur de Vergennes to make some proposition on his part, which Mr. Grenville will, of course, report to Mr. Fox:

p. 357. [Cabinet Minute. May 23, 1782.]

Present—Lord Chancellor, Lord Privy Seal, Lord Rockingham, Lord Shelburne, Lord John Cavendish, Lord Keppel, Lord Ashburton, General Conway, Mr. Fox.

It is humbly recommended to your Majesty to direct Mr. Fox to instruct Mr. Grenville to propose the independency of America in the first instance, instead of making it a condition of a general treaty.

p. 359. [Grenville to Fox. Paris, June 4, 1782.]

. . . Recollect always that this letter is written in that confidence, and I am sure I never can repent of having sent it. You will easily see from the tenor of the correspondence we have hitherto had, that what little use I could be of to you here, appeared to me to be in the communication that I had with Franklin. I considered the rest of the negotiation as dependent upon that, and the only possible immediate advantages which were to be expected, seemed to me to rest in the jealousy which the French court would entertain of not being thoroughly supported in everything by America. The degree of confidence which Franklin seemed inclined to place in me, and which he expressed to me, more than once, in the strongest terms, very much favoured this idea, and encouraged me in wishing to learn from him what might be, in future, ground for a partial connection between England and America; I say in future, because I have never hitherto much believed in any treaty of the year 1782, and my expectation, even from the strongest of Franklin’s expressions, was not of an immediate turn in our favour, or any positive advantage from the Commissioners in Europe, till the people of America should cry out to them, from seeing that England was meeting their wishes. It was in this light, too, that I saw room to hope for some good effects from a voluntary offer of unconditional independence to America: a chance which looked the more tempting, as I own I considered the sacrifice as but a small one, and such as, had I been an American, I had thought myself little obliged to Great Britain in this moment for granting, except from an idea that, if it was an article of treaty, it would have been as much given by France as by England.

I repeat this only to remind you that, from these considerations, the whole of my attention has been given to Franklin, and that I should have considered myself as losing my time here, if it had not been directed to that subject. I believe I told you in my last that I had very sanguine expectations of Franklin’s being inclined to speak out when I should see him next; indeed, he expressly told me that he would think over all the points likely to establish a solid reconciliation between England and America, and that he would write his mind upon them, in order that we might examine them together more in order, confiding, as he said, in me, that I would not state them as propositions from him, but as being my own ideas of what would be useful to both countries. (I interrupt myself here, to remind you of the obligation I must put you under not to mention this.) For this very interesting communication, which I had long laboured to get, he fixed the fourth day, which was last Saturday [June 1st]; but on Friday [May 31st] morning Mr. Oswald came, and having given me your letters, he went immediately to Franklin, to carry some to him. I kept my appointment at Passy the next morning, and in order to give Franklin the greatest confidence, at the same time, too, not knowing how much Mr. Oswald might have told him, I began with saying that, though under the difficulty which M. de Vergennes and he himself had made to my full power, it was not the moment as a politician, perhaps, to make further explanations till that difficulty should be relieved; yet to show him the confidence I put in him, I would begin by telling him that I was authorized to offer the independence in the first instance, instead of making it an article of general treaty. He expressed great satisfaction at this, especially, he said, because, by having done otherwise, we should have seemed to have considered America, as in the same degree of connection with France, which she had been under with us, whereas America wished to be considered as a power free and clear to all the world; but when I came to lead the discourse to the subject which he had promised four days before, I was a good deal mortified to find him put it off altogether till he should be more ready; and, notwithstanding my reminding him of his promise, he only answered that it should be in some days. What passed between Mr. Oswald and me will explain to you the reason of this disappointment. Mr. Oswald told me that Lord Shelburne had proposed to him, when last in England, to take a commission to treat with the American ministers; that upon his mentioning it to Franklin now, it seemed perfectly agreeable to him, and even to be what he had very much wished, Mr. Oswald adding that he wished only to assist the business, and had no other view; he mixed with this a few regrets that there should be any difference between the two offices, and when I asked upon what subject, he said owing to the Rockingham party being too ready to give up everything. You will observe though—for it is on that account that I give you this narrative—that this intended appointment has effectually stopped Franklin’s mouth to me, and that when he is told that Mr. Oswald is to be the commissioner to treat with him, it is but natural that he should reserve his confidence for the quarter so pointed out to him; nor does this secret seem only known to Franklin, as Lafayette said laughingly yesterday, that he had just left Lord Shelburne’s ambassador at Passy. Indeed, this is not the first moment of a separate negotiation, for Mr. Oswald, suspecting by something that I dropped that Franklin had talked to me about Canada (though, by the by, he never had), told me this circumstance as follows:—When he went to England the last time but one, he carried with him a paper intrusted to him by Franklin under condition that it should be shown only to Lord Shelburne and returned into his own hands at Passy. This paper, under the title of %#180;Notes of a Conversation,%#180; contained an idea of Canada being spontaneously ceded by England to the thirteen provinces, in order that Congress might sell the un-appropriated lands and make a fund thereby, in order to compensate the damages done by the English army, and even those, too, sustained by the royalists. This paper, given with many precautions for fear of its being known to the French court, to whom it was supposed not to be agreeable, Mr. Oswald showed to Lord Shelburne, who, after keeping it a day, as Mr. Oswald supposes, to show to the King, returned it to him, and it was by him brought back to Franklin. I say nothing to the proposition itself, to the impolicy of bringing a strange neighborhood to the Newfoundland fishery, or to the little reason that England would naturally see, in having lost thirteen provinces, to give away a fourteenth; but I mention it to show you an early trace of separate negotiation which perhaps you did not before know.

Under these circumstances, I felt very much tempted to go over and explain them to you viva voce, rather than by letter, and I must say, with the farther intention of suggesting to you the only idea that seems likely to answer your purpose, and it is this: the Spanish Ambassador will, in a day or two, have the powers from his court; the Americans are here, so are the French; why should you not, then, consider this as a Congress in full form, and send here a person of rank, such as Lord Fitzwilliam (if he would come), so as to have the whole negotiation in the hands of one person? You would by that means recover within your compass the essential part, which is now out of it; nor do I see how Lord Shelburne could object to such an appointment, which would, in every respect, much facilitate the business. . . . I must entreat you very earnestly to consider this, to see the impossibility of my assisting you under this contrariety; to see how much the business itself will suffer, if carried on with the jealousy of these clashing interests; and to see whether it may not all be prevented by some single appointment in high rank, as that I mentioned. . . . Once more I tell you, I cannot fight a daily battle with Mr. Oswald and his secretary; it would be neither for the advantage of the business, for your interest or your credit or mine, and even if it was, I could not do it.

Concluding, then, the American business as out of the question, which personally I cannot be sorry for, you surely have but one of two things to do; either to adopt the proposition of a new dignified Peer’s appointment, which, being single, may bring back the business to you by comprehending it all in one; or Lord Shelburne must have his minister here, and Mr. Fox his; by doing which, Mr. Fox will be pretty near as much out of the secret—at least, of what is most essential—as if he had nobody here, and the only real gainers by it will be the other ministers, who cannot fail to profit of such a jumble. . . .

Adieu. Let Lord Fitzwilliam answer my letter.


p. 366. [Fox to Grenville. St. James’s, June 10, 1782.]

I received late the night before last your interesting letter of the 4th, and you may easily conceive am not a little embarrassed by its contents. In the first place, it was not possible to comply with your injunction of perfect secrecy in a case where steps of such importance are necessary to be taken, and therefore I have taken upon me (for which I must trust to your friendship to excuse me) to show your letter to Lord Rockingham, the Duke of Richmond, and Lord John, who are all as full of indignation at its contents as one might reasonably expect honest men to be. We are now perfectly resolved to come to an explanation upon the business, if it is possible so to do without betraying any confidence reposed in me by you or in you by others. The two principal points which occur are the paper relative to Canada, of which I had never heard till I received your letter, and the intended investment of Mr. Oswald with full powers, which was certainly meant for the purpose of diverting Franklin’s confidence from you into another channel. With these two points we wish to charge Shelburne directly; but pressing as the thing is, and interesting as it is both to our situations and to the affairs of the public, which I fear are irretrievably injured by this intrigue, and which must be ruined if it is suffered to go on, we are resolved not to stir a step till we hear again from you, and know precisely how far we are at liberty to make use of what you have discovered. If this matter should produce a rupture, and consequently become more or less the subject of public discussion, I am sensible the Canada paper cannot be mentioned by name; but might it not be said that we had discovered that Shelburne had withheld from our knowledge matters of importance to the negotiation? And, with respect to the other point, might it not be said, without betraying anybody, that while the King had one avowed and authorized minister at Paris, measures were taken for lessening his credit, and for obstructing his inquiries, by announcing a new intended commission, of which the Cabinet here had never been apprized? Do, pray, my dear Grenville, consider the incredible importance of this business in every view, and write me word precisely how far you can authorize us to make use of your intelligence. It is more than possible that before this reaches you, many other circumstances may have occurred which may afford further proofs of this duplicity of conduct, and if they have, I am sure they will not have escaped your observation. If this should be the case, you will see the necessity of acquainting me with them as soon as possible. You see what is our object, and you can easily judge what sort of evidence will be most useful to us. When the object is attained, that is, when the duplicity is proved, to what consequences we ought to drive, whether to an absolute rupture, or merely to the recall of Oswald and the simplification of this negotiation, is a point that may be afterwards considered. I own I incline to the more decisive measure, and so, I think, do those with whom I must act in concert. I am very happy indeed that you did not come yourself; the mischiefs that would have happened from it to our affairs are incredible, and I must beg of you, nay, entreat and conjure you, not to think of taking any precipitate step of this nature. As to the idea of replacing you with Lord Fitzwilliam, not only it would be very objectionable on account of the mistaken notion it would convey of things being much riper than they are; but it would, as I conceive, be no remedy to the evil. Whether the King’s minister at Paris be an Ambassador Extraordinary, or a Minister Plenipotentiary, can make no difference as to the question. The clandestine manner of carrying on a separate negotiation, which we complain of, would be equally practicable and equally blameable if Lord Fitzwilliam was Ambassador, as it is now that Mr. Grenville is Plenipotentiary. I must, therefore, again entreat you, as a matter of personal kindness to me, to remain a little longer at Paris; if you were to leave it, all sorts of suspicion would be raised. It is of infinite consequence that we should have it to say that we have done all in our power to make peace, not only with regard to what may be expected from America, but from Europe. . . . In this instance the mischief done by intercepting, as it were, the very useful information we expected through you from Franklin, is, I fear, in a great degree irremediable; but it is our business, and indeed our duty, to prevent such things for the future. . . .

1 These minutes are taken from Fox’s papers.


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Chicago: Lord John Russell, ed., "Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox.," Source Problems in English History in Source Problems in English History, ed. Albert Beebe White and Wallace Notestein (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915), 317–328. Original Sources, accessed December 1, 2022,

MLA: . "Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox." Source Problems in English History, edited by Lord John Russell, Vol. I, in Source Problems in English History, edited by Albert Beebe White and Wallace Notestein, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915, pp. 317–328. Original Sources. 1 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox.' in Source Problems in English History. cited in 1915, Source Problems in English History, ed. , Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York, pp.317–328. Original Sources, retrieved 1 December 2022, from