2. In accordance with his instructions from Vergennes of 26 Oct. 1778, Conrad Alexandre Gérard had on 9 Feb., for the first time, informed the congress of the Spanish offer to mediate between France and Great Britain and requested that the congress develop a set of peace ultimata for use in possible negotiations (Gérard to the president of the congress, 9 Feb., Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev.
, 3:40–41; Gérard, Despatches and Instructions
, p. 355–362). The “private audience,” in which Gérard explained in some detail the French view of what would be desirable in the way of ultimata, took place on 15 Feb., and its substance was recorded in a memorandum by William Henry Drayton (
, 13:184; Burnett, ed., Letters of Members
, 4:69–71). Gérard analyzed the political situation in Great Britain and noted Britain's unsuccessful efforts to secure allies in her struggle with America. In the French view it was an appropriate time for the United States to moderate its terms for peace; British recognition of independence would alone be sufficiently debilitating. Gérard discussed the position of Spain, most notably its opposition to the territorial claims of the United States and to free navigation of the Mississippi River, and disclosed its desire to regain possession of the Floridas and its willingness to pay the United States a subsidy to mount an expedition against the Floridas on condition that the conquered territory be returned to Spain.
Ostensibly a proposal to promote a quicker and easier peace, Gérard's message was in fact an attempt to limit American objectives in order to bring them more into line with the aims of France, particularly that of bringing Spain into the war. On 9 Feb., Gérard did not disclose those portions of his instructions in which Vergennes indicated his opposition to any effort by the United States to conquer Canada or obtain a share of the Newfoundland fishery. The French position on such acquisitions became clear only with Gérard's letter of 22 May to the president of the congress in which he declared that France was committed only to the achievement of American independence and would not continue the war for objectives not specifically mentioned in the Franco-American treaties (Wharton, ed., Dipl. Corr. Amer. Rev.
On 23 Feb. a draft set of peace objectives was reported to the congress. For the next six months, largely because of sectional differences and the difficulty of reconciling French and American objectives, an often acrimonious debate raged, culminating on 14 Aug. in the adoption of instructions to a yet unnamed commissioner charged with negotiating treaties of peace and commerce with Britain (
, 13:239–244; 14:956–966; see also Gregg L. Lint, “Preparing for Peace,” in Ronald Hoffman and Peter Albert, eds., Peace and the Peace Makers
, Charlottesville, Va., 1986, p. 30–51).