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The final phase of the American revolution began with the surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781, of a British army under Lord Cornwallis to combined American and French forces commanded by George Washington. Yorktown followed the earlier defeat of a British fleet under Admiral Graves by French Admiral de Grasse on September 5. Thereafter the focus of the conflict shifted from the battlefield to peace negotiations conducted in Paris.

On the face of it, these battles were not conclusive. Britain lost an army at Yorktown but had the resources to replace it. British forces remained entrenched in New York, Charleston, and elsewhere along the Atlantic coast, while British naval forces reestablished their dominance in the Atlantic and defeated Admiral de Grasse in the Caribbean in April 1782. Nonetheless, Yorktown was the last real battle of the war, the decisive victory which, combined with domestic and political factors, dissuaded the British Government from pursuing the conflict. Yorktown demonstrated the capacity and determination of the new American nation and its French ally to remain in the field until independence was won. The battle of Yorktown changed the climate of opinion in America and in Europe and pointed the way to peace. The common perception of Yorktown as the pivotal battle of the American revolution reversed the dismal prospects which had existed before then and laid the foundation for the remarkable diplomatic maneuverings of the American commissioners in Europe-Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay. The final fruit of their efforts and the ultimate consequence of the battle of Yorktown was the peace treaty of 1783 which confirmed American independence.

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Les chances de conclure favorablement la révolte contre l’autorité britannique ne semblaient guère favorables au cours de l’hiver 1780 et du printemps 1781. Sur le front, Washington commandait une armée souvent dépourvue de solde, nourriture et vêtements adéquats. Les soldats s’engageaient pour de courtes périodes. Le risque de voir d’importantes portions de l’armée se dissoudre représentait une préoccupation constante. Pratiquement en faillite, le Congrès continental était contraint de s’en remettre à des prêts et à un appui financier incertains en provenance de l’étranger pour entretenir une armée en poste. Sur les océans,‘ la flotte continentale ne pouvait que talonner la flotte britannique.

La Grande-Bretagne, en revanche, contrôlait les eaux atlantiques. L’armée britannique affrontant Washington sous le commandement de Sir Henry Clinton à New York était bien retranchée et correctement ravitaillée. Au sud, le contrôle maritime conférait à l’armée britannique, opérant sous le commandement de Lord Cornwallis dans les Carolines, une certaine mobilité tout en lui offrant un ultime refuge. Cornwallis était le meilleur commandant britannique sur le terrain, et c’est à son instigation que Clinton prépara une attaque de Charleston en Caroline du sud qui déboucha le 12 mai 1780 sur la prise de la ville et sur la reddition par le général Benjamin Lincoln de trois frégates continentales et d’une armée de près de 5.000 hommes. Cette défaite désastreuse et humiliante souleva des doutes sérieux en Amérique et en Europe quant aux chances de poursuite de la révolution. Sur la lancée de la victoire britannique à Charleston, Cornwallis dirigea

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Eospects for a successful resolution of the revolt against British authority appeared bleak in the winter of 1780 and the spring of 1781. On the military front, Washington commanded an army which was often without pay, food, or adequate clothing. Recruits enlisted for short terms. The danger of the dissolution of significant portions of the army was a constant concern. Virtually bankrupt, the Continental Congress was forced to rely upon uncertain loans and financial support from abroad in order to keep an army in the field. On the sea the Continental navy could do no more than nip at the heels of the British fleet.

Britain, by contrast, controlled the Atlantic waters. The British army under Sir Henry Clinton opposing Washington in New York was well entrenched and well supplied. To the south, command of the sea gave mobility and ultimate refuge to the British army operating under Lord Cornwallis in the Carolinas. Cornwallis was the best British commander in the field, and at his instigation Clinton mounted an attack upon Charleston, South Carolina which led on May 12, 1781 to the capture of the city and the surrender by General Benjamin Lincoln of three Continental frigates and an army of nearly 5,000 men. This disastrous, humiliating defeat raised grave doubts in America and Europe about the revolution’s continued viability. In the wake of the British success at Charleston, Cornwallis led his army into the Carolinas in an effort to crush the revolution in the south. Outnumbered American forces under Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan resorted to a guerrilla campaign to counter the British threat. Ameri

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Benjamin Franklin n était pas un nouveau-venu dans les cercles diplomatiques lorsqu’il fut nommé le 26 septembre

I 7 76 à une commission tripartite chargée de la lourde responsabilité de gagner l’appuifrançais à l’indépendance américaine. Il avait déjà exercé en Grande-Bretagne lesfonctions de représentant de la Pennsylvanie entre 1757 et 1762, puis entre 1764 et 1775. Ses travaux scientifiques et littéraires avaient fait de lui le personnage le plus éminent de la société américaine de l’époque.

Les aristocrates et les intellectuels français voyaient en Franklin l’incarnation du savoir. Son portrait apparut bientôt sur des médaillons, bagues, montres et coffrets à tabac, tandis que les élégantes adoptaient une coiffure à la Franklin imitant le chapeau de fourrure qu’il portait en guise de perruque. Sa popularité focilita la reconnaissance par la France de l’indépendance américaine et la conclusion des traités d ’alliance et de commerce de 1778.

Nommé ministre auprès de la France le 14 septembre 1778, Franklin présenta ses lettres de créance le 23 mars 1779, devenant ainsi le premier ministre américain reçu par un gouvernement étranger. Son

domicile de Passy devint le centre de l’activité diplomatique américaine en Europe. F ranklin fit ensuite partie avecjohn Adams et john jay de la Commission plénipotentiaire qui négocia le traité de paix avec la Grande-Bretagne.

Lorsque Thomas jefferson succéda à Franklin en 1785, le ministrefrançais des affaires étrangères, Vergennes, prononça ces paroles: “Est-ce vous, Monsieur; qui remplacez Monsieur F ranklin?". A quoi jefferson répondit: "Personne ne peut le remplacer, Monsieur; je ne suis que son successeur". (Photographie fournie par le Département d ’E tat)

Benjamin Franklin was no stranger to diplomacy when he was appointed on September 26, I 7 76 to a three-man commission charged with the critical task of gaining French support for American independence. He had already served in Great Britain as an agent for Pennsylvania between 1757 and 1762 and again from 1764 to I 775. His scientific and literary endeavors had made him the most distinguished American of the age.

French aristocrats and intellectuals saw Franklin as the Enlightenment personified. His picture soon appeared on medallions rings, watches, and snuffboxes, while fashionable ladies adopted the coiffure a la Franklin in imitation of the fur cap which he wore instead of a wig. His popularity prepared the way for France to recognize American independence and to conclude treaties of alliance and commerce in 1778.

Appointed Minister to France on September 14, 1778, Franklin presented his credentials on March 23, 1779, becoming the first American Minister to be received by a foreign government. His home at Pussy became the center of American diplomatic activity in Europe. Franklin then served with john Adams and john jay on the Plenipotentiary Commission that negotiated the peace treaty with Great Britain.

When Thomas jefferson succeeded Franklin in 1785, the French Foreign Minister, Vergennes, said: “It is you, Sir; who replace Dr. F ranklin?" jefferson replied, “No one can replace him, Sir; I am only his successor.” (Department of State photo)

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can forces enjoyed some success in battles fought near Kings Mountain, South Carolina and at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, but when Cornwallis marched into Virginia in May 1781 he was virtually unopposed. On july 20, Cornwallis received an instruction from Clinton to prepare a base at Yorktown for expanded naval operations in the south.

BtI‘lot hopes for a reversal of the momentum British forces enjoyed during the spring of 1781 rested to a considerable extent upon the landing at Newport, Rhode Island in july 1780 of the French army of 5,500 troops commanded by General de Rochambeau. Those hopes were colored by the fact that Rochambeau’s army was pinned down by the British and forced to spend the winter at Newport. Unless and until Rochambeau could join Washington and coordinate efforts to challenge Clinton in New York or Cornwallis in Virginia, military prospects were limited. And any hope of forcing a decisive engagement with British forces backed up to the sea depended upon the unlikely prospect of gaining mastery of the sea.

Prospects on the diplomatic front were equally clouded during the difficult year before Yorktown. During the 5 years since independence, the United States had sought recognition and support from all of the major powers of Europe but had succeeded only with France. The remaining European powers, to which representatives of the new nation had been dispatched, had responded, at best, with studied indifference. Great Britain was a principal player upon the European stage with a predominant fleet. Although many in Europe were pleased to see Britain discomfited by a revolt within its empire, few were prepared to join the French in courting British wrath by endorsing the revolt.

The American diplomatic representatives sent to Europe by the Continental Congress to chip away at the generally icy response to U.S. overtures were of mixed ability and effectiveness. Some were awkward and ill at ease in the courtly world of 18th century diplomacy. Others confounded their efforts through an inflated sense of self-importance and revolu

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