To Thomas Jefferson October 1, 1800 No.1
To Thomas Jefferson, October 1, 1800
In the present crisis of politics a question naturally suggests itself, which is, whether in a treaty of peace with Austria, any measures should be taken, on the part of France, towards a peace with England? The answer to this question, in all its cases, is the monosyllable NO. But as a positive decision affirmative or negative, ought to be the result of all the reasons for and against, I go to give the reason for this decision.
Because it is evident from all the conduct of the British government that it pins itself for safety upon Austria, and therefore, if in the final event, a peace is to be concluded with England it can be done better when that country has no ally on the continent that whilst she has.
Because taking England into consideration as a party, at the time a peace is in treaty with Austria, will embarrass the peace with Austria. It is clear that the British makes use of Austria, at this moment, for no other purpose than to get terms for herself at the expense of Austria, and Austria is foolish if she does not see this.
But independently of these considerations the internal state of England, at this moment, is such, as makes it impolitic for France to press her on the subject of peace. There is, to my knowledge, a great change in the political principles of that country. Besides the aversion which many of them have to the Hanover family, there are much greater numbers who have an aversion to hereditary succession, and wish to establish government by representation. This idea never occurred to them before.
Another case is, a change in their system of finance. Ever since the Bank stopped payment in cash, because it had not cash to pay, there circulates in England nothing but paper, and as paper can be multiplied at pleasure the quantity is already too great. The nominal high price of the necessaries of life in England is owing to this excess of paper.
Mr. Pitt in making up his account of the revenue which was laid before Parliament 31 July (see Moniteur 23 Thermido) says, "Article 22: Supposing that the war should finish in 1800, that the lowest price of 3 per cent cons, should remain for three years after the peace at 80, and that in the end the income tax should produce 7 millions a year, then the capital of 56,444,000 sterling and the interest would be repurchased in the course of the year 1808."
The direct inference from this is, that as all hope of conquering France has vanished, Pitt is now amusing the nation with the prospect of peace this present year, to take off the impression which the idea of a separate peace with Austria would have upon his paper system. The credit of paper is suspicion asleep. When suspicion wakes the credit vanishes as the dream would do.
England never was before in the situation she is in today as to revenue concerns. The whole is paper. It used to be said in England that "money was the sinews of war;" but this cannot be said of paper, which resting altogether upon circumstance, accident, and opinion has no sinews. And as to commerce, of which Mr. Pitt boasts so much, there must be some- thing rotten at the center where a great commerce procures nothing but paper. The same case has happened at Hamburg. That place has been the center of commerce and is now the center of bankruptcy.
England has a large navy and the expense of it leads to her ruin. The profits of all the commerce of the world is not equal to the expense which such a navy costs. If the expense of protecting commerce is to be subtracted from the profits of it, it is evident that England loses by commerce because the expense is greater than the profits and the deficiency is filled up with paper.
As the finances of England are in the state I have described, I come to speak of the matters that will make the most impression upon this paper system, to which the British cabinet has retreated as its last resource, and beyond which it has not another.
It is evident from experience that no defeat of the Austrians that has yet happened, nor the defeat of the English at Helder, has made any, or not much, impression on this paper system. On the contrary I have often observed that it rose after such an event. It did so upon the defeat of Milas at Maring's, and the reason is, that as the Nation is tired of the war, and wishing for an end to it, and for peace, and as it feels from the temper of the parties that an end will not arrive 'till one or other of them on the continent be totally defeated (believing at the same time, its own- self secure, by its distance from the theatre of war, and its insular situation) it calculates upon defeat as it would upon victory.
It must then be something nearer home that will make any serious impression, and that something is within the power of France to do, or at least to make preparation for doing, and the preparation itself would have some effect.
The weak part of England is the coast on the North Sea from the mouth of the Thames to Scotland. It is this that makes the British cabinet so opposed to the union of Belgia to France. It is opposite to that weak part. Dunkirk which was formerly the most northerly port that France had on the North Sea, and it was thought important enough to the British cabinet to stipulate for the demolition of it in a former treaty of peace. It is not so much the quantity of Belgic territory that troubles England; it is the situation of it for as she cannot but know her own weak part, and that Belgia is opposite to it, she knows that it is from Belgia, and more so with the aid of Holland, that a descent upon England can best be made and that without a navy.
The English coast on the North Sea is not only weak but can never be made strong. The whole of its extent for about 120 leagues is a flat, clean, dry, sandy shore where a boat can land, and where a ship of the line cannot approach; neither is there a port in it where a ship of the line can enter.
A plan for a descent upon this coast was given to Boissy D'Anglas to be given to the Citizen Car not when he was president of the Directory. The same plan, in English, was given to Pravelliere Lepeaux (who understands English) when he was President of the Directory, after the Peace of Campo Tornaio. The Directory adopted the plan, but whether really or only as a feint to cover the expedition to Egypt, which was then preparing, themselves know best. The plan was to build a thousand gun-boats each carrying a 24 pounder in the bow, and about an hundred men and to be rowed by oars. The boats would not have cost more than four ships of the line would cost, and the British cabinet would apprehend more danger from them as to a descent, than from any navy that France can raise for many years to come. About 250 boats were built and the plan abandoned; since which the British cabinet has been under the apprehension of a descent and its paper credit has kept up in consequence of it.
It may he recalled that about a year and half ago the British made a descent at Ostine, where about 2000 of them were made prisoners. I doubt if the object of that expedition be known to the French government to this day. It was in search of the gun-boats and to cut the dykes to prevent their being assembled. I had this from the President of the municipality of Bruges, Joseph Vanhuile, an old acquaintance of mine when I was at Bruges last winter. Himself had it from the officers who commanded the expedition.
Whenever a descent be made upon England it must be from the Belgic coast to the opposite coast. It is an opportunity which the union with Belgia gives to France, and she must improve that opportunity as a substitute for the lo?s of her navy, which was always an expense without doing her any, or but little, service. It is the situation and natural condition of the two shores that point out the opportunity I am speaking of. Were the English shore on the North Sea as bold, and as capable of defence as the shore on the channel, and had ports in it, like Portsmouth and Plymouth, England would fear no more from Belgia than she now fears from Picardy, Normandy and Britainy.
Supposing then a peace to take place with Austria, leaving England out of the question, what are the means that France should employ to accomplish any object necessary to her safety against England? It will take many years to raise a navy and still more to rear up sailors to man it. A navy is a thing of slow growth, and that which France is something which can be done in a little time and at a small expense, and in which but few sailors are necessary. The most effectual plan therefore will be to go on with the plan of gun-boats and to complete the number first intended. There are but two ways to arrive in England. The one by defeating the English navy; the other by alluding it. The former is the business of ships of the line, the other of gun-boats, and the chance of the latter in the North Sea, is much greater than that of the former in the channel.
At the time the gun-boats are preparing to depart there should be an expedition from Brest, or better from Rochelle, having on board about 150,000 men. The expedition should stand out far to the west or south-west, then steering North, keeping far to the west of Ireland, and land in the north of Scotland. The French revolution has many friends in that country, and the destination will not be suspected. This is the only part of the plan that is necessary to keep secret. The descent that was made there in 1745 had nearly proved fatal to the Anglo-Hanoverian government of England. That small force, with its partisans penetrated to the center of England and then retreated.
If the descent by gun-boats and the expedition to Scotland do but arrive, the fate of the Government of England is decided.