This extraordinary document is a working draft of a parliamentary speech articulating Great Britain’s global strategy for prosecuting the Seven Years’ War. The writer argues for massive financial support for Frederick II of Prussia, that he might occupy French attention, manpower and treasure on the Continent. This would enable the British to exploit their advantages in sea power and colonial population and roll back recent French gains in North America.
Note: a full transcript will be provided on request.
By early 1758 Great Britain found itself in a most difficult situation in its war with France in North America. Since 1755 its forces had experienced major reversals on the Appalachian frontier, on and around the Great Lakes and along the Hudson River-Lake George-Lake Champlain corridor. Its ham-handed attempts to impose a series of Commanders-in-Chief with viceregal powers to coordinate the war effort-most recently the administratively capable but diplomatically tone-deaf Lord Loudon-had only served to alienate the colonial governments. Without their willing contributions of men and material, successful prosecution of the war effort would be impossible.
Things were hardly better on the Continent. George II’s obsession with maintaining the sovereignty of his dominion of Hanover was drawing Britain into a very expensive alliance with Frederick II of Prussia against much of central and northern Europe. While English troops were not (yet) involved, England was subsidizing the armies of Frederick, Hanover and other German states, and George II had sent his son the Duke of Cumberland to command the Hanoverian army. In October 1757, however, Cumberland found his army trapped near the Elbe and in the Convention of Kloster-Zeven was compelled to cede much of Hanover to French occupation.
By bringing discredit to so many of his predecessors and rivals, these disasters gave the new Prime Minister William Pitt the political leeway to produce a decisive shift in the objectives of British policy and the strategies by which they were pursued. While continuing to support the King’s preeminent objective of protecting Hanover, in North America Pitt shifted from a defensive to an offensive posture: rather than merely resisting French encroachments, his declared intent was a major expansion of the British Empire at the expense of New France.
Key to achieving both of these ends was a massive-even reckless-commitment to a policy of subsidies. While its capacity to deploy troops in North America was relatively limited, and there was little political support for commitment of any forces on the Continent, what Great Britain could deploy was money and ships. In 1757-58, Pitt thus committed to compensating the American colonies for their contributions to the war effort; massively expanding the program of subsidies to Prussia, Hanover and allied German states; and blockading French ports, the Channel, and the approaches to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Pitt reasoned-correctly, it turned out-that with French troops, treasure and attention focused on Europe, New France would be left to wither on the vine. Without substantial reinforcements, its badly outnumbered, underfunded and undersupplied population would eventually be overwhelmed.
The manuscript offered here is a working draft of a Parliamentary speech in support of a key component of the Pitt program. No date is given, but the occasion seems to be a vote related to funding the second Convention of Westminster (signed April 11, 1758), which committed Great Britain to expand its subsidy to Prussia, while the latter engaged to reach no separate peace with its enemies. In a separate but related declaration, Great Britain committed to support a 50,000-man Hanoverian army in the field and to send its own troops to guard the port of Emden.
The speech is six pages long (plus two blanks), all in one hand. There are numerous deletions and insertions, also apparently in the same hand. It is alas unsigned, and the docketing indicates only “On our losses in America and the necessity of retrieving them.” It appears to have been written by or for a Patriot Whig (or, less likely, Tory) member for delivery in the Commons, but it has not been possible to identify the author.
The writer begins by laying out the dire situation facing Great Britain:
“I thought then the Peace of Aix  precarious, & insidious meant only a Snare & was to last no longer than you submitted to [France’s] continual encroachments in America. Seeing, or thinking I saw This, I thought it was more advisable to putt an End to [the Peace] while you were, as I thought, greatly superior, both at Sea & at Land, where the principal Seat of the War necessarily la.
“What I hoped & expected from it was to humble France, by destroying her Trade, distressing her in her Settlements, & checking the Growth of her Marine: I severely feel that these Expectations are disappointed” (p. 2)
In the writer’s view, the recent failures in North America present Britain with a long-term existential threat from France:
“from your Success in America every View of Interest, of Advantage, even your Safety depends. For if you suffer France to become formidable to your settlements, she will soon be so to your Trade, & to your Marine, & she once becomes Superior to your marine, there is an End of your Trade your Safety, & Independence” (p. 5)
Against this threatening backdrop, the second Convention of Westminster reflects the brutal calculus of Realpolitik:
“It is your interest to promote, rather than prevent Disturbances on the Continent; while you continue Masters at Sea, their Quarrels can never reach you, so as essentially to affect your Safety, Dominion or Commerce; ‘Tis your Interest, therefore, at as cheap a Rate as you can, to keep them in Agitation. Tranquillity will awaken Industry, Arts, Manufactures Commerce, a Rivalry in Commerce is to you, what a Rivalry for Power is to the Princes of the Continent.” (p. 2)
In particular, the writer recommends “a perpetual Attention to support & strengthen that Power or Powers whose Interest is the most invariably opposite to that of France, & whose safety will be the most essentially endangered by the Encrease of her Power.” Hence, “I, therefore, cheerfully concurr’d in the very great Subsidy lately granted [Frederick II of Prussia], & shall in this Vote which is to compleat the efficacy of it as a most expensive, dangerous, but absolutely necessary Expedient, for this Year only.” (p. 3)
It is anticipated that this financial support for Prussia, Hanover and other German powers will provide “Security at home,” “the Recovery, & Security of this Majtys. German Dominions” [i.e., Hanover], and “find your Enemy full Employment, this year, while you exert your full Force (& a very great one it is) in America.” (pp. 4-5)
The final paragraph appears to have been added at a later time and is intended as an optimistic peroration:
“As to America, what I have heard of the Greatness, & Efficacy of the Preparations destin’d to retrieve our Losses There, give me the greatest Consolation. I expect from them the best Consequences, & firmly hope that we shall demolish the French settlements on that Continent, this Campaign; or at least make so great, & irresistible a Progress towards it, that nothing but an equal, & honourable Peace this Winter, may afford a Probability of saving them from total Destruction, next Year. If it be an Illusion it is a pleasing one, I will enjoy it as long as I can.__ In the present State of things, I own America is my first Concern my warmest Wish. My Maxim is give all you can raise towards destroyg the French in America, & then, if there is any thing left, give all you can spare to distress her, everywhere.” (p. 6)
In all, the logic this apparently unpublished speech articulates clearly the dramatic shift imposed by Pitt’s expansionist policy in North America and links it to his global strategy for fighting the Seven Years’ War.
Background supplied primarily from Fred Anderson, The Crucible of War. Sources consulted in an attempt to identify the author and particular circumstances of the speech include the Lords and Commons Journals, the Newcastle Papers in the British Library, Cobbett`s Parliamentary History of England, and contemporary diaries.
Occasional ink smudging, some folds reinforced and outer edges trimmed close to text; but largely clean, bright and entirely legible. Covers somewhat scuffed.