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North America Titles:
America and Great Britain: Diplomatic Relations 1775-1815

ISBN: (13) 9781139976398
Extent: 9 volumes, 7000 pages

Editor: A. L. P. Burdett
ISBN: (10) n/a
Published: 2016
Paper: E-book only
Binding: n/a
See sample pages: not available

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America & Great Britain: Diplomatic Relations, 1775-1815: British Documents provides 7000 pages of primary material, charting the emergence of an independent America. The set is made up of the diplomatic, official correspondence between America and Britain and gives an extraordinary insight into the shaping of a nation, from America being referred to as “our Colonies and Plantations in North America” by King George the Third to its recognition as the “United States” by Britain in 1782.

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Historical Overview

The era under review in this set of documents spans forty years in the political and diplomatic maturing of the newly-formed United States of America as it developed from a British colony to a nation, then to an international partner; and it traces the fledgling establishment of USA foreign relations to a level of international recognition and acceptance as a significant power on the global stage. The documents actually begin in 1768 with a short review section of documents outlining deteriorating relations between America and Great Britain, and gaining momentum, in terms of the number of documents, towards 1775. It is also a crucial period for Great Britain,opening with the broadside of the humiliating loss of the American colonies and the ensuing tangle of the American Revolutionary Wars, before becoming engulfed by the Anglo-French Wars, 1793–1815, the events of which necessarily informed the diplomatic relations between the USA and Britain.

The earliest formal negotiations  between “America” and Great Britain, from late 1781, illustrate a cumbersome diplomatic machine: confusing dual-level meetings were required in France, entailing much correspondence with Benjamin Franklin, and were conducted between Richard Oswald, as assigned by the British Home Secretary - since legally and technically Britain was still dealing with the 13 colonies and not with an independent state - and the American negotiators, but at the same time Thomas Grenville was sent to France to negotiate separately with the European powers.

Events span: the early rumblings of discontent and then the explosive rebellion resulting in the  eventual achievement of legal independence from Great Britain, 1768–1781; the aftermath of claims and settlements arising as in the work of the Peace Commissioners; a negotiated revised Anglo-American treaty and its amendments 1793–1796 [popularly known as Jay’s Treaty, 1794,after its lead American negotiator, chief justice John Jay]; and desultory negotiations over neutrality, blockades, naval law, concomitant with the issue of impressment of Americans in the Royal Navy from the late 1790’s to 1811. All of which led to a second conflict – the War of 1812, with the USA emerging victorious, and the legacy of a lasting peace negotiated at Ghent in 1815.

Nevertheless, it was ultimately a successful epoch for both states, ending, on the one hand, in the seminal British-led attainment of peace in Europe: checking the expansion in Europe of revolutionary France, and, on the other, ending in an acknowledgment of the USA’s de facto and de jure right to neutrality.  The period also witnessed the expansion of British hegemony in India, the Middle East and the West Indies, with a major contributory factor to the successful resolution of these events being the establishment of the Foreign Office itself in 1782. The new department,replacing the old “Southern Department” at Westminster, was tasked with co-ordinating international diplomacy, giving impetus and form to the practicalities of achieving British foreign policy objectives. 

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Documentary Importance

Although these documents are British-generated, and the perspective is derived from British policy and Whitehall’s legal or legislative responses to the seismic shift in relations with America,they are rounded out by the practice of attaching pieces of in-coming correspondence and documents from American diplomats and political figures for forwarding on to London, or from London to Washington.  There is extensive reference made to American responses, accounts of talks with various presidents and secretaries of state.The correspondence between American diplomats in London (sometimes  blunt and frequently exasperated) with the foreign secretary of the day, the stern (and often obfuscating or legalistic)  responses of several presidents as sent directly to the British ambassador are added to the mix of formal notes verbales and despatches.  Additionally, conflicts arising over trade, defence and diplomacy between America and Great Britain were bound up with both countries’ changeable relations with pre-revolutionary and revolutionary France and these records depict this complex triumvirate.  Moreover, these documents are a testament to an era of modernization of diplomatic practices, moving away from the age of the aristocratic amateur to one more tightly controlled, with servants of the Crown filing regular despatches to a set procedure, affiliated to the expansion and dominance of the Foreign Office within the British administration.

The amazingly vivid,lively and occasionally lengthy, verbatim accounts which were reported to a level of considerable detail, of audiences, conversations, formal meetings,letters, despatches, notes verbales and legal instruments provide an astonishingly accessible glimpse  into eighteenth- and nineteenth-century  diplomatic practices, customs, and powers (or lack thereof) afforded to both British and American diplomats.  Much information on British policy is to be found in the instructions from the Foreign Secretary to newly-appointed emissaries and plenipotentiaries. In one instance in July 1809, George Canning felt obliged to set out no less than eight separate specific guides on policy issues to Francis Jackson, the new Plenipotentiary to Washington.

In identifying and selecting these documents the objective was to compile all available official British documents which illuminate late eighteenth–early nineteenth-century diplomatic procedures, insofar as it is possible to trace the evidence-trail of policy and rationale arrived at by both sides. Included are not only those demonstrating measured and considered evaluations and actions, but the often emotive, hasty and perhaps ill-judged reactions on the part of key players, richly illustrating the  developing diplomacy and statecraft in a broad and colourful historical context through the words of the contemporary participants.

The documents included were drawn from the Colonial Office archives for the period 1768–1781, and from 1782, chiefly from the newly created Foreign Office [United States Correspondence;  France; and Treaty Papers. There are references from State Papers (for the earlier period when Franklin was resident in France) and Admiralty records.Excluded are: duplicates; drafts, unless considerably different from a final version; documents relating to trade issues and statistics and administrative matters (pay and allowances of appointees, for instance) and other mundane issues;copies of American newspapers forwarded; copies of the Congressional Record and similar materials broadly available in US archives.

This set does not generally include the unofficial or private papers of those involved – other than materials archived within the National Archives - nor documents pertaining to military and naval actions, although there is coverage of the issues arising from these. Nor are there segues into related issues such as resolution of the Loyalists Claims, following the Peace Treaty of 1783, which documents would form a substantial publication in themselves, though the issue is very adequately covered here.

This collection is almost entirely manuscript but, where available, contemporary published versions have been included. In the late-nineteenth century typewritten transcriptions of many of the key series held at the Public Record Office, London[1]  were made by American and Canadian archivists.However, on close scrutiny, these are of varying quality and usefulness, often excluding marginalia and reducing some documents to précis, so these have been included additionally but only occasionally. Subsequently these transcripts were microfilmed, and often it is these microfilms which must be consulted - for example, at the National Archives of Canada - so access to the original papers in this collection must be a welcome asset.

This is the first full colour Cambridge Archive Editions E-collection. Presenting these documents electronically and in colour allowed us to reproduce much older documents than is customary in a printed set of papers because the lack of contrast between the copperplate handwriting, often in a brown-based ink, on sepia coloured stock, problematic for print, is shown to best advantage in full colour images;and the enlargement possible via creating scalable images makes even the most spidery hand accessible.

[1] Now The National Archives, London.

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Arrangement of volumes

VOLUME 1: 1775–1781

VOLUME 2: 1781–1782

VOLUME 3: 1783–1791

VOLUME 4: 1792–1794

VOLUME 5: 1794–1799

VOLUME 6: 1800–1805

VOLUME 7: 1806–1808

VOLUME 8: 1809–1812

VOLUME9: 1812–1815

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Contents Outline

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Key documents

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Editor's Introduction

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