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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

In a letter to Aranda in October


should defeat the colonists,

the latter would join with her in her wars as in the past, and the danger would be equally great. Thus Spain seemed to be between two horns of the dilemma. Up to this time she had been ready for a declaration of war whenever France should announce her willingness. Henceforth there was a more conservative note in Spain's attitude, while France, who had everything to gain and nothing to lose, threw off her former conservatism and became increasingly enthusiastic. Up to the close of the year 1776, however, Spain still leaned toward war, and France remained undecided as to the moment to strike. During this period Spain was influenced largely by the question with Portugal. In September, 1776, Vergennes informed Aranda that in his opinion the war ought soon to be begun, before England herself should declare it and make an attack on France and Spain. Spain's attitude was expressed by Grimaldi, the Spanish minister of state, in a letter to Aranda in October. The war was inevitable, he said, and it would be an advantage to begin it several months before England was ready to undertake it. Spain would leave it to the decision of France whether the declaration should be made at once. Incidentally, Spain hoped to conquer Portugal in course of the war. This frank statement found Vergennes less enthusiastic. Moreover, he objected to Spain's designs on Portugal, lest other European powers should be unfavorable to them. Once again the matter was dropped. Some of the higher Spanish officials were
disappointed over these continued refusals by France, but Charles III said that for his part he believed the right moment had not come. Meanwhile, since June, 1776, Spain had been aiding the Americans secretly with money, arms, and ammunition, much of which was made available through shipment to New Orleans by way of Havana, and thence to destination. Nevertheless, Vergennes' refusal, in November, to begin the war marked the turning point in the attitude of both France and Spain. The disadvantages, henceforth, loomed larger and larger in the eyes of Spain, while the successful resistance of the Americans to England made the way more and more easy for France.

[Sidenote: Spain's divergence from France over the American Revolution.]

The new attitude of Spain was represented by both Charles III and Floridablanca, who succeeded Grimaldi early in 1777. According to Floridablanca the most immediate advantages which Spain might hope to gain from the war were the recovery of Florida and the expulsion of the English from Honduras. War ought not to be declared, however, until both France and Spain should have considerable forces in the West Indies. Furthermore, if the rebellious English colonies should establish their independence, Spain ought to contrive to keep them divided in interests, so that there might not grow up a formidable power near Spanish America. Clearly there was no enthusiasm in Spanish governmental circles on behalf of the Americans. This appears also from the cold reception accorded Arthur Lee, the American representative, who at about this time arrived in Spain, but was not received by the Spanish court. The breach between the respective courses of France and Spain was still further widened as a result of Burgoyne's surrender to the Americans at Saratoga. The British government began to make offers with a view to conciliating the colonists. France acted quickly to prevent it, for it was believed that a reconciliation would mean a loss of the commercial favors France hoped to get and perhaps a war with England in which the colonies would join on the English side. In December, 1777, therefore, France declared herself ready to enter into a treaty of commerce and alliance with the American government, specifically stating that her willingness was due partially to a desire to diminish the power of England by separating her from her colonies. In February, 1778, a treaty was signed. All of this was done, in violation of the spirit of the Family Compact, without any official notification to Spain. Spain's opinion of this procedure was voiced by Floridablanca, who recommended to Charles III that Spain should continue her preparations, as if war were inevitable, but should avoid a declaration as long as possible, for under existing circumstances, one of which was the inconstancy of Spain's allies, the war could not result favorably for Spain. Henceforth, Spain pursued an independent policy. The English government was informed that Spain's attitude would depend upon England; Spain neither wished war nor feared it. France, meanwhile, had entered the conflict.


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