the end of the french and indian war -- 3/13/23

Today's selection -- from West of the Revolution by Claudio Saunt. Amid parties and gambling, the wealthy representatives of Britain, France, and Spain negotiated the treaty to end the French and Indian War:
"While visiting Paris in 1763, a British traveler noted that the city contained two kinds of men. The men of letters passed evenings at home in 'agreeable and rational conversation' with a few friends, before retiring early. By contrast, the 'most fashionable,' who were privileged by birth and fortune, dined 'in numerous parties' and whiled away their time 'both before and after supper' playing games of chance. The aristocrats who gathered in Paris in February 1763 to divide up North America belonged to the gambling sort.

"[In 1754], a skirmish between France and Britain in the Ohio River Valley, famously involving a young and inexperienced offi­cer named George Washington, had exploded into a worldwide con­flict, retrospectively named the Seven Years' War or French and Indian War. The imperial powers attacked each other's colonies across the globe -- in the Americas, Africa, India, and, after Spain foolishly and belatedly joined as France's ally, the Philippines. By 1763, Britain had emerged victorious, if nearly bankrupt, and all that remained was to finalize a peace.

Political landscape of North America, with New France ceded to the British and the Spanish.

"Representing France was the Duc de Choiseul, whose magnificent residence on rue de Richelieu was barely a half mile from Louis XV's palace. Among his diversions: his 'delicious' mistresses and drinking with the Duc de Richelieu into the early hours of the morning. ('I like my pleasure like a twenty-year-old,' the middle-aged minister declared in 1760.) His residence was furnished with gaming tables, and during the last three months of 1762 -- as he was finalizing the treaty with Britain and Spain -- he lost over 8,000 livres at cards, more than one hundred times what he paid some of his servants over the same period.

"The Spanish ambassador, Jerónimo Grimaldi, may have rivaled his friend Choiseul in opulence. Because of the 'elegance of his person,' the former cleric from an illustrious Genoese family had earned the nickname 'the handsome abbot' in the court of Philip V, but he had long since abandoned the ecclesiastical habit and gone on to become one of the most powerful men in Spain. He kept an open house, wrote one visitor to Grimaldi's residence in Aranjuez, south of Madrid, and guests could always depend on 'meeting with numerous company, cards, and conversation.' In Paris, the 'magnificence' of his weekly parties was said to be exceeded only by their 'politeness & elegance.'

"By contrast, the Duke of Bedford was at a disadvantage, and not just because the fifty-five-year-old British emissary, sent across the English Channel in September 1762, had to rent and furnish a house in haste. The gout-ridden duke was said by one embarrassed Englishman to possess an unfortunate combination of stateliness and avarice. Though his residence included several gaming tables, he almost never kept a 'publick table' and was reportedly 'the joke of Paris.'

"In the course of the lengthy negotiations, the adversaries traded islands and continents like poker chips. Minorca for Guadaloupe and Goree; Louisiana for Martinique; Florida for Havana and the Phil­ippines; St. Lucia ('indispensable,' declared Choiseul) for Grenada, Tobago, and St. Vincent 'worth absolutely nothing,' groused Britain's secretary of state). Demands flew back and forth: evacuate Bunghun on Sumatra and Osrend and Nieuporr in the Austrian Netherlands; dis­mantle the logwood settlements on Central America's Gulf Coast; cede rights to Canada's cod fisheries. The emissaries bargained and plotted, deceiving their enemies as well as their allies.

"From the perspective of North Americans, the most important pro­vision of the treaty was the one that divided their continent between rival empires. Choiseul proposed 'an imaginary line' lying somewhere between the Mississippi and the Appalachians and 'capable of easy and clear execution.' The French minister pointed out that there were numerous precedents for a border defined by geometry rather than geography, including the meridian that had apportioned newly dis­covered lands between Spain and Portugal in 1494. (He chose a poor example. The meridian dividing Spanish and Portuguese possessions could not be precisely located, leading to lengthy disputes.) Unlike the Appalachians, which extended 'in a very irregular manner' and 'are ill represented on ordinary maps,' he said, an artificial line would 'leave no subjects for controversy,'

"Britain pushed instead to divide the continent along the Mississippi River for the same reason: with each nation 'keeping to its side,' the line would 'forestall all disputes.' The logic seemed faulty even to those who espoused it, for the river had multiple channels and its eastern bank was 'mix'd and complicated with certain Spanish settlements.' Britain won the day, however, and the Mississippi became the border, with the occupants of both sides having the right to navigate its waters. To obtain Spain's acquiescence, France's Louis XV gifted his portion of the continent to Charles III. 'I say, no, no, my cousin is losing altogether too much,' Charles is reputed to have said; 'I do not want him to lose anything in addition for my sake.' Despite his protestations, Charles accepted the present, some 820,000 square miles of prairies and forests that were the homelands of numerous Indian nations.

"In the evening of February 9, 1763, the ambassadors attended a ball at Grimaldi's palace that carried on through the night until ten o'clock the next morning. After recovering from the revelry, they reas­sembled in the evening at the Hôtel de Grinbergen, the Duke of Bed­ford's residence, and, under crimson draperies and a portrait of Britain's King George III, signed the 'definitive' treaty that shaped the fate of North America Before the war, France had claimed an immense domain stretching from the St. Lawrence to the mouth of the Missis­sippi; Spain had possessed the Southwest and greater Florida, which included present-day Alabama and Mississippi; and Britain had pre­sided over its Atlantic colonies. In the treaty's aftermath, the political geography was vastly simplified. Everything west of the Mississippi River belonged to Spain and everything east of it to Britain, with the important exception of New Orleans."



Claudio Saunt


West of the Revolution


W.W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2014 by Claudio Saint


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment