From Rufus King
London Aug. 6 [–10] 1797
No satisfactory Opinion can yet be formed concerning the termination of the negotiations for Peace. Even those who are supposed to have the best information are without confidence—on the one Hand peace may be concluded sooner than any one thinks probable, on the other the negotiations at Lisle1 and montebello2 may be suddenly broken off, and France again engaged with austria as well as England. A great Struggle in which all Europe think themselves interested, exists between the two Councils and a majority of the Directory, for it is well understood that almost every question is decided in this latter Body by three against two.3 If the councils prevail, peace is believed to be more probable—if the war continues Denmark, and the neighbouring free Cities, Portugal, perhaps Switzerland, and even Greece4 as well as the whole of Italy will be revolutionized. I wish I could write to you with the same freedom as we could converse: how far the new order of things is to extend, which are still to be overturned, and who are to be spared, is a subject concerning which we may amuse ourselves with Conjectures; it would be a consolation, could we any where discover a mind of adequate foresight and authority, to influence, combine, and apply to their proper and legitimate uses, the dispositions, and the means, which unquestionably exist, to resist and baffle the monstruous Force, which overturns, and will continue to lay waste every Country against which it bends its energies—paradoxical as it may appear, the People are less wrong than their Governments, which every where seem to be destitute of both wisdom and courage. I cannot except even the Government of this Country, which possessing the command of the Resources of the Richest nation in Europe, with a clear and distinct view of the total insecurity of any compromise with their Enemy, still dismount and lower the national Spirit and Courage by fruitless and repeated Efforts to restore Peace. Men are mortal, and by a Law to which they are subject, can exist but for a limited time. Societies are exempt from this Law, and there is nothing in their nature that limits their improvement, or Duration; still the Analogy is but too strict, and we seem to be doomed to witness, if not to suffer in, the Dissolution of the present social organization.
Farewell, when I am able to give you a gayer prospect, I will write to you again.
Yours very sincerely
PS. 10 Aug. a very short time will ascertain who are to rule in Fr—the armies are loud and publish their sentiments with great Boldness5—it wd. not be surprizing shd. they try their hands and give another Constitution to the imperishable Republic. The negotiations at Lisle are suspended in Effect (tho in form they continue) and will continue so till the Parties decide which shall govern.6
AL[S], Hamilton Papers, Library of Congress.
2. After the conclusion of preliminaries for a peace between France and Austria at Leoben on April 18, 1797 (see King to H, April 29, 1797, note 4), Napoleon established himself at Mombello (Montebello), near Milan, and began negotiations for a treaty. Early in July the negotiators moved to Udine. Determined to extend the French possessions beyond the limits established at Leoben, Napoleon demanded that France be granted the left bank of the Rhine as its eastern frontier and that Austria, in exchange for Salzburg, Passau, and the city of Venice, move its southwestern boundary from the Oglio to the Adige so that Mantua would be included in the new Cisalpine Republic. The Austrians procrastinated throughout the summer and finally accepted Napoleon’s terms on October 17, 1797, at the Treaty of Campo Formio.
4. After the fall of Venice in May, 1797, Napoleon sent forces to occupy the Venetian islands of Corfu, Zante, and Cephalonia.
5. On July 14, 1797, Napoleon read a proclamation to the army of Italy warning it of a possible royalist plot and urging it to swear loyalty to the enemies of the Republic. In response to an appeal from the Directors, he sent one of his generals, Pierre François Charles Augereau, to Paris. Augereau, who arrived on August 5, 1797, made a public show of belligerence toward the royalists and was immediately created head of the Paris military division.
6. On August 6, 1797, James Harris, first earl of Malmesbury, wrote to Lord Grenville: “Had I no other grounds at this moment to form an opinion but the conduct of the Directory, I should look upon the negotiation as in a very precarious state, and apprehend its breaking up to be a very near event. But, if what I hear … can be relied on, I must hold a contrary belief; I must suppose the French will contend only for terms and give way in substance, and that they will affect to perform their engagements (real or supposed) in appearance, but break them in fact.…
“From every thing you read and hear to-day you will, I am sure, be confirmed in your opinion that on the upshot of the present contest at Paris depends the fate of the treaty.…” (Dropmore Papers description begins The Manuscripts of J. B. Fortescue, Esq., Preserved at Dropmore (Historical Manuscripts Commission, Vol. 30), I–IV (London, 1892–1905). description ends , III, 345.) See also Malmesbury’s dispatch of the same date giving an account of the negotiations at Lille from July 31 to August 6, 1797 (Dropmore Papers description begins The Manuscripts of J. B. Fortescue, Esq., Preserved at Dropmore (Historical Manuscripts Commission, Vol. 30), I–IV (London, 1892–1905). description ends , III, 347–52).