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The American Revolution
Revolutionary War: The Turning Point, 1777-1778
Washington's Reaction to Lord North's Peace Proposal, Spring 1778

In late 1777, the British Prime Minister, Frederick Lord North, secured Parliament's enactment of a proposal to negotiate peace with the Americans. In the documents below, what views does Washington express about the peace proposal? What dangers does he perceive? Why does Washington support the publication of Lord North's peace proposal?

View the original documents by clicking on the links below. The documents are from the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

Washington to Bryan Fairfax, March 1, 1778

Dear Sir: Your favor of the 8th. of Decr. came safe to my hands after a considerable delay in its passage. The sentiments you have expressed of me in this Letter are highly flattering, meriting my warmest acknowledgements, as I have too good an Opinion of your sincerity and candour to believe that you are capable of unmeaning professions and speaking a language foreign from your Heart. The friendship I ever professed, and felt for you, met with no diminution from the difference in our political Sentiments. I know the rectitude of my own intentions, and believing in the sincerity of yours, lamented, though I did not condemn, your renunciation of the creed I had adopted. Nor do I think any person, or power, ought to do it, whilst your conduct is not opposed to the general Interest of the people and the measures they are pursuing; the latter, that is our actions, depending upon ourselves, may be controuled, while the powers of thinking originating in higher causes, cannot always be moulded to our wishes.

The determinations of Providence are all ways wise; often inscrutable, and though its decrees appear to bear hard upon us at times is nevertheless meant for gracious purposes; in this light I cannot help viewing your late disappointment; for if you had been permitted to have gone to england, unrestrained even by the rigid oaths which are administred on those occns. your feelings as a husband, Parent, &ca. must have been considerably wounded in the prospect of a long, perhaps lasting seperation from your nearest relatives. What then must they have been if the obligation of an oath had left you without a Will? Your hope of being instrumental in restoring Peace would prove as unsubstantial as mist before the Noon days Sun and would as soon dispel: for believe me Sir great Britain understood herself perfectly well in this dispute but did not comprehend America. She meant as Lord Campden in his late speech in Parlt. clearly, and explicitly declared, to drive America into rebellion that her own purposes might be more fully answered by it but take this along with it, that this Plan originating in a firm belief, founded on misinformation, that no effectual opposition would or could be made, they little dreamt of what has happened and are disappd. in their views; does not every act of administration from the Tea Act to the present Session of Parliament declare this in plain and self evidt. Characters? Had the Comrs. any powers to treat with America? If they meant Peace, would Lord Howe have been detaind in England 5 Months after passing the Act? Would the powers of these Comrs. have been confined to mere acts of grace, upon condition of absolute submission? No, surely, No! they meant to drive us into what they termed rebellion, that they might be furnished with a pretext to disarm and then strip us of the rights and privileges of Englishmen and Citizens. If they were actuated by principles of justice, why did they refuse indignantly to accede to the terms which were humbly supplicated before hostilities commenced and this Country deluged in Blood; and now make their principal Officers and even the Comrs. themselves say, that these terms are just and reasonable; Nay that more will be granted than we have yet asked, if we will relinquish our Claim to Independency. What Name does such conduct as this deserve? and what punishment is there in store for the Men who have distressed Millions, involved thousands in ruin, and plunged numberless families in inextricable woe? Could that wch. is just and reasonable now, have been unjust four Years ago? If not upon what principles, I say does Administration act? they must either be wantonly wicked and cruel, or (which is only anr. mode of describing the same thing) under false colours are now endeavouring to deceive the great body of the people, by industriously propagating a belief that G. B. is willing to offer any, and that we will accept of no terms; thereby hoping to poison and disaffect the Minds of those who wish for peace, and create feuds and dissentions among ourselves. In a word, having less dependance now, in their Arms than their Arts, they are practising such low and dirty tricks, that Men of Sentiment and honr. must blush at their Villainy, among other manoeuvres, in this way they are counterfeiting Letters, and publishing them, as intercepted ones of mine to prove that I am an enemy to the present measures, and have been led into them step by step still hoping that Congress would recede from their present claims. I am, etc.

Washington to John Bannister, April 21, 1778

The necessity of putting the Army upon a respectable footing, both as to numbers and constitution, is now become more essential than ever. The Enemy are beginning to play a Game more dangerous than their efforts by Arms, tho' these will not be remitted in the smallest degree, and which threatens a fatal blow to American Independence, and to her liberties of course: They are endeavouring to ensnare the people by specious allurements of Peace. [Washington refers here to a new proposal for peace offered by Lord North.] It is not improbable they have had such abundant cause to be tired of the War, that they may be sincere, in the terms they offer, which, though far short of our pretensions, will be extremely flattering to Minds that do not penetrate far into political consequences: But, whether they are sincere or not, they may be equally destructive; for, to discerning Men, nothing can be more evident, than that a Peace on the principles of dependance, however limited, after what has happened, would be to the last degree dishonourable and ruinous. It is, however, much to be apprehended, that the Idea of such an event will have a very powerful effect upon the Country, and, if not combatted with the greatest address, will serve, at least, to produce supineness and dis-union. Men are naturally fond of Peace, and there are Symptoms which may authorize an Opinion, that the people of America are pretty generally weary of the present War. It is doubtful, whether many of our friends might not incline to an accommodation on the Grounds held out, or which may be, rather than persevere in a contest for Independence. If this is the case, it must surely be the truest policy to strengthen the Army, and place it upon a substantial footing. This will conduce to inspire the Country with confidence; enable those at the head of affairs to consult the public honour and interest, notwithstanding the defection of some and temporary inconsistency and irresolution of others, who may desire to compromise the dispute; and if a Treaty should be deemed expedient, will put it in their power to insist upon better terms, than they could otherwise expect. . . .

I have sent Congress, Lord North's Speech and two Bills offered by him to Parliament. They are spreading fast through the Country, and will soon become a subject of general notoriety. I therefore think, they had best be published in our papers, and persons of leisure and ability set to Work. to counteract the impressions, they may make on the Minds of the people. . . .

Washington to John A. Washington, June 10, 1778

Dear Brother . . . We have been kept in anxious expectation of the Enemy's evacuating Phila. for upwards of fourteen days; and I was at a loss, as they had Imbarked all their Baggage, Stores, &ca. on Board Transports, and had passed all those Transports (a few only excepted) below the Cheveaux de Frieze, to acct. for their delay; when behold on Friday last the additional Commissioners, to wit, Lord Carlisle, Govr. Johnson, and Mr. Willm. Eden arrived at the City; whether this, heretofore, has been the cause of the delay I shall not undertake to say, but, more than probably, it will detain them for some days to come; they give out, as I understand, that we may make our own terms provided we will but return to our dependance on Great Britain; but, if this is their expectation, and they have no other powers than the Acts (which we have seen) give them, there will be no great trouble in manageing a negotiation; nor will there be much time spent in the business I apprehend. They talk, as usual, of a great reinforcement; but whether the situation of affairs between them and France will admit of this, is not quite so clear. My wishes lead me, together with other circumstances, to believe that they will find sufficient employment, for their reinforcements at least, in other Quarters; time however will discover, and reveal things more fully to us. . . .

The extreme fatigue and hardship which the Soldiers underwent in the course of the Winter, added to the want of Cloath, and, I may add, Provisions, have rendered them very sickly, especially in the Brigade you have mentioned (of No. Carolina); many deaths have happened in consequence, and yet the Army is in exceeding good Spirits.

You have doubtless, seen a publication of the Treaty with France, the Message of the King of France by his Ambassador to the Court of London, with the Kings Speech to, and addresses of, Parliament upon the occasion. If one was to judge of the Temper of these Courts from these documents, War I should think must have commenced long before this; and yet the Commissioners (but we must allow them to lye greatly) say it had not taken place the 28th. of April, and that the differences between the two Courts was likely to be accommodated; but I believe not a word of it; and as you ask my opinion of Lord Norths Speech and Bills, I shall candidly declare to you, that they appear to me, to be a compound of Fear, art, and villainy, and these ingredients so equally mixed, that I scarcely know which predominates.
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View the original documents by clicking on the links above. The documents are from the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.