The SAR Magazine

Summer 2018

The SAR MAGAZINE is the official quarterly publication of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution published quarterly.

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20 SAR MAGAZINE King's College London Partnership By Gabriel Paquette I had the honor of serving as SAR visiting professor at King's College London for the 2017-18 academic year, and I am profoundly grateful to the SAR for this tremendous opportunity. How many historians can claim that they walked up to the gate of Windsor Castle and were granted full access to George III's personal correspondence, including that with a shadowy network of spies? As a historian of international relations and empire in the 18th century, I went to the Royal Archives to learn more about the international history of the American Revolution; that is, how the alliances forged by both the Patriots and the British government influenced the outcome of the war. As a scholar of the Spanish Empire, I am particularly interested in Spain's role in the American Revolution. Historians tend to emphasize the importance of the French alliance, and for good reasons. We recall the role of Lafayette and the formal alliance that the French government offered to the Patriots, then engaged in an unprecedented struggle to create a new state in the bowels of a crumbling empire. But focusing on the French contribution to independence can cause us to lose sight of the key roles played by European states, notably Spain, which affected the outcome of the American Revolution. Take, for example, the siege at Yorktown and the French Navy's famous contribution to preventing Cornwallis from receiving aid and reinforcements by sea. The French presence was only possible because France and Spain coordinated their operations. The Spanish Navy protected French colonies and shipping in the Caribbean while the French fleet concentrated its forces on the eastern seaboard of the soon-to-be USA. The French Navy also brought with it a crucial monetary donation from Cuba, then part of Spain's empire, supplying Washington with hard currency just when the Patriots' supply had reached dangerously low levels. The Revolution, then, was one aspect of a larger, world-spanning war among rival empires, the results of which was the birth of our nation. Ours is a nation bequeathed by the Revolution, but the Revolution itself was forged in the crucible of a war among European powers that competed for dominion across the globe. American independence would have been impossible without Spain's involvement, but Spain was not a direct ally of the American Patriots. This statement might appear contradictory and therefore deserves a word of explanation. In 1779, France realized that it needed another European ally in order to defeat Britain. Spain and France signed a treaty by which Spain agreed to enter the war and not make a separate peace with Britain, or to make peace at all, until American independence was secured. This treaty is the closest Spain came to an alliance with the revolutionaries. It really was a treaty with France to support its alliance with the American revolutionaries against Britain. France, in return, agreed to support Spain's long-sought objectives: first, recovering Gibraltar and Minorca, which were then occupied by Britain; and, second, to the extent possible, reducing the threat Britain posed to Spain's empire in the Americas. In the short run, France gained access to Spain's navy. The combined Franco-Spanish navy in 1779 had 121 ships-of-the- line, compared to 90 for Britain; in 1780, it had 117 such ships to Britain's 95; and in the decisive year of 1781, the Franco- Spanish navy had 124 ships-of-the-line versus Britain's 94. Historian Larrie Ferreiro, in his splendid recent book, Brothers at Arms, has captured the shortsighted nature of Britain's policy with regard to Spain: "In the space of just one year, Britain had gone from fighting what it thought was a minor civil war in a distant colony to waging a full-scale world war against its two mightiest adversaries. By rejecting Spanish mediation, Britain had in effect sacrificed the American Colonies for that pile of rocks called Gibraltar." Given the disadvantages of Spain's involvement, why would Britain cling so intransigently to Gibraltar and not do everything possible to remove Spain from the conflict? This is one of the questions that I wished to answer as SAR visiting professor. I went to Windsor Castle to search for an answer in George III's personal papers. There was nothing inevitable about Spain's involvement. Many leading British Carlos III by Anton Rafael Mengs. Carlos III was King of Spain during the American Revolution. He formed an alliance with his cousin Louis XIV of France, the "Bourbon Pact," and supported the American rebels, although, unlike France, Spain did not recognize the independence of the United States.

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