The Duke of Wellington and British Foreign Policy 1814-1830
Univ. of East Anglia, 2016
This thesis is an examination of the diplomatic career of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington between 1814-30. The Duke’s significant contributions to foreign policy-making have been an area neglected by historians. Occupying a central position in British politics during this time, this neglect has distorted both assessments of his career and of the wider domestic and foreign contexts. There is nothing in the extant literature that offers a thorough analysis of Wellington’s diplomatic experiences and his role in the framing and executing of British foreign policy. This work fills that lacuna. It takes a wide look at Wellington’s involvement in the conduct of British diplomacy and highlights the crucial formative experiences during his time on the Continent 1814-18 and the impact these had for his future policies. By looking at the full scope of Wellington’s foreign policy for the first time, this thesis enables scholars to have a more comprehensive view of the conduct of politics during the tumultuous years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
One of his accomplishments, though some may not see it that way, is his 'hinting' that the negotiations at Ghent to end the War of 1812 be settled on the prewar US boundaries. His correspondence on that issue with Lord Liverpool is enlightening.
On 4 November 1814 because of the deteriorating British military position in North American, the American command was offered to Wellington by Lord Liverpool and he replied to him five days later on 9 November:
'I have already told you and Lord Bathurst that I feel no objections to going to America, though I don't promise myself much success there. I believe there are troops enough there for the defense of Canada forever, and even for the accomplishment of any reasonable offensive plan that could be formed from the Canadian frontier. I am quite sure that all the American armies of which I have ever read would not beat out of a field of battle the troops that went from Bordeaux last summer, if common precautions and care were taken of them. That which appears to me to be wanting in America is not a general, or a general officer and troops, but a naval superiority on the lakes.'
Wellington further commented on the current diplomacy between the US and Great Britain:
'In regard to your present negotiations, I confess that I think you have no right, from the state of the war, to demand any concession of territory from America...You have not been able to carry it into the enemy's territory, notwithstanding your military success and now undoubted military superiority, and have not even cleared your own territory on the point of attack. You cannot on any principle of equality in negotiation claim a cession of territory excepting in exchange for other advantages which you have in your power...Then if this reasoning be true, why stipulate for the uti possidetis? You can get no territory; indeed, the state of your military operations, however creditable, does not entitle you to demand any.'
The following might also be interesting:
From The War of 1812 by Henry Adams regarding the negotiations preceding the Treaty of Ghent of 24 December 1814:
The American response to British territorial demands and other negotiating points at Ghent, 24 August 1814:
‘They are founded neither on reciprocity, nor on any of the usual bases of negotiation, neither on that of uti possidetis nor of status ante bellum. They are above all dishonorable to the United States in demanding from them to abandon territory and a portion of their citizens; to admit a foreign interference in their domestic concerns, and to cease to exercise their natural rights on their own shores and in their own waters. A treaty concluded on such terms would be but an armistice.’-332
‘The London Courier of September 29 announced what might be taken for a semi-official expression of the Ministry:
‘Peace they (the Americans) may make, but it must be on condition that American has not a foot of land on the waters of the St. Lawrence…no settlement on the Lakes…no renewal of the treaties of 1783 and 1794;…and they must explicitly abandon their new-fangled principles of the law of nations.’-336
‘Liverpool, writing to Castlereagh September 23, said that in his opinion the Cabinet had ‘now gone to the utmost justifiable point in concession, and if they (the Americans) are so unreasonable as to reject our proposals, we have nothing to do but to fight it out. The military accounts from America are on the whole satisfactory.’-336
‘…the British demand, which had till then been intended to include half of Maine and the whole south bank of the St. Lawrence River from Plattsburg to Sackett’s Harbor, suddenly fell to a demand for Moose Island, a right of way across the northern angle of Maine, Fort Niagarra with five miles circuit, and the Island of Mackinaw. The reason for the new spirit of moderation was not far to seek. On the afternoon of October 17, while the British Cabinet was still deliberating on the basis of uti possidetis, news reached London that the British invasion of northern New York, from which so much had been expected, had totally failed, and that Prevost’s large army had precipitately retreated into Canada. The London Times of October 19 was frank in its expressions of disappointment:
‘This is a lamentable event to the civilized world…The subversion of that system of fraud and malignity which constitutes the whole policy of the Jeffersonian school…was an event to which we should have bent and yet must bend all our energies…The present American government must be displaced, or it will sooner or later plant its poisoned dagger in the heart of the parent State.’-338
‘The failure of the attempt on Baltimore and Drummond’s bloody repulse at Fort Erie became known at the same time, and coming together at a critical moment threw confusion into the Ministry and their agents in the press and the diplomatic service throughout Europe. The Courier of October 25 declared that ‘peace with America is neither practicable nor desirable till we have wiped away this late disaster;’ but the Morning Chronicle of October 21-24 openly intimated that the game of war was at an end. October 31, the Paris correspondent of the London Times rold of the cheers that rose from the crowds in the Palais Royal gardens at each recital of the Plattsburg defeat; and October 21 Goulburn wrote from Ghent to Bathurst:
‘The news from America is very far from satisfactory. Even our brilliant success at Baltimore, as it did not terminate in the capture of the town, will be considered by the Americans as a victory and not as an escape…If it were not for the want of fuel in Boston, I should be quite in despair.’-338
Wellington’s opinions have already been given regarding the military situation in North America as well as the political situation the British now found themselves in (Posting 41 in this thread). The following from Adams concludes the section of the chapter on Wellington’s input:
‘After such an opinion form the first military authority of England, the British Ministry had no choice to abandon its claim for territory.’-341
In conclusion, the British did have specific territorial demands on the Americans as has been shown and because of the British defeats at Plattsburg, Baltimore, and Fort Erie, those demands were abandoned. And the peace treaty was concluded on the basis of the pre-war territorial situation.