Threatened Invasion - Subsequent Events

For some time an invasion of Britain had been threatened by France and, sacred as the land had been for centuries from the touch of a foreign enemy, the successes of the republicans had hitherto so greatly exceeded all previous calculation, that the execution of their design did not appear improbable. Just as the inteference of the neighboring powers had, in 1792, roused the energies of the French, so did this proposed invasion stimulate the spirit of the British people. The clamors of reformers, and of those who were friendly to France, were now lost in an almost universal zeal for the defense of the country; and not only were volunteer corps everywhere formed, but the desire of prosecuting the war became nearly the ruling sentiment of the nation. The ministers, perceiving the advantage which was to be derived from the tendency of the national spirit, appeared seriously to dread an invasion, and thus produced an unexpected and very distressing result. The credit of the Bank of England was shaken; a run was made upon it for gold in exchange for its notes, which it could not meet. On the 25th of February 1797, therefore, the Bank was obliged, with the sanction of the privy-council, to suspend cash payments that is, to refuse giving coin on demand for the paper money which had been issued. This step led to a great depreciation in the value of Bank of England notes; and was followed by a very serious derangement of the currency for a number of years.

In April, a new alarm arose from the proceedings of the seamen on board the Channel fleet, who mutinied for an advance of pay, and the redress of some alleged grievances. A convention of delegates from the various ships met in Lord Howe's cabin, and drew up petitions to the House of Commons and the Board of Admiralty. Upon these being yielded to, order was restored; but the seamen on board the fleet at the Nore soon after broke out in a much more alarming revolt; and on the refusal of their demands, moored their vessels across the Thames, threatening to cut off all communication between London and the open sea. The reduction of this mutiny appeared at one time as if it could only be effected by much bloodshed; but by the firmness of the government, and some skillful dealings with the seamen, a loyal party was formed, by whom the more turbulent men were secured, and the vessels restored to their respective officers. The ringleaders, the chief of whom was a young man named Richard Parker, were tried and executed.

The same year was remarkable for several victories gained by the British fleets. A Spanish fleet of twenty-seven ships was attacked by fifteen vessels under Admiral Jervis (February 14), off Cape St. Vincent, and completely beaten, with the loss of four large vessels. A fleet under Admiral Harvey, with a military force under Sir Ralph Abercromby, cap tiered the island of Trinidad, a Spanish colony. In October, a Dutch fleet, under Admiral De Winter, was attacked off the village of Camperdown, upon their own coast, by Admiral Duncan, who after a desperate battle, captured nine of the enemy's vessels. These naval successes compensated in some measure for the many land victories of the French, and served to sustain the spirit of the British nation under this unfortunate contest.

In 1798, the French overran and added to their dominions the ancient republic of Switzerland, which gave them a frontier contiguous to Austria, and enabled them eventually to act with increased readiness and force upon that country. In this year, the directors of the French Republic, beginning to be afraid of the ambition of their general, Bonaparte, sent him at the head of an expedition to reduce and colonize Egypt, intending from that country to act against the British empire in the East Indies. The expedition was successful in its first object but the fleet which had conveyed it was attacked in Aboukir Bay, by Admiral Nelson (August 1), and almost totally destroyed or captured. While so much of the strength of the French army was thus secluded in a distant country, the eastern powers of Europe thought they might safely recommence war with the republic. Austria, Naples, and Russia, formed a confederacy for this purpose and Britain, to supply the necessary funds, submitted to the grievance of an income tax, amounting in general to ten per cent., in addition to all her previous burdens.

The new confederacy was so successful in 1799, as to redeem the greater part of Italy. A Russian army, under the famous Suwaroff, acted a prominent part in the campaign but, in the end, attempting to expel the French from Switzerland, this large force was nearly cut to pieces in one of the defiles of that mountainous country. In August of the same year, Great Britain made a corresponding attempt to expel the French from Holt land. Thirty-five thousand men, under the Duke of York, formed the military part of the expedition. The fleet was successful at the first in taking the Dutch ships, but the army, having landed under stress of weather at an unfavorable place for their operations, was obliged,, after an abortive series of skirmishes, to make an agreement with the French, purchasing permission to go back to their country by the surrender of 8000 prisoners from England.

The reverses which France experienced in 1799, were generally attributed to the weakness of the Directory a council of five, to which the executive had been intrusted. Bonaparte suddenly returned from his army in Egypt, and, by a skillful management of his popularity, overturned the Directory, and caused himself to be appointed the sole depositary of the executive power of the state, under the denomination of First Consul. He immediately wrote a letter to King George, making overtures of peace, but was answered, by the British secretary, that no dependence could be placed by Great Britain on any treaty with France, unless her government were again consolidated under the Bourbons. Bonaparte, having much reason to wish for peace, made a reply to this note, vindicating France from the charge brought against her, of having commenced a system of aggression inconsistent with the interests of other states, and asserting her right to choose her own government a point, he said, that could not decently be contested by the minister of a crown which was held by no other tenure. But the British government was at this time too much elated by the expulsion of the French army from Italy, and the late changes in the executive, which, in their estimation, betokened weakness, to be immediately anxious for peace.

The events of 1800 were of a very different nature from what had been calculated upon in England. Sir Sidney Smith, who commanded the British forces in Syria, had made a treaty with the French army after it had been left by Bonaparte, whereby it was agreed that the French should abandon Egypt, and retire unmolested to their own country. The British government, in its present temper, refused to ratify this arrangement, and the consequence was a continuance of hostilities. The French overthrew a large Turkish army at Grand Cairo, and made themselves more effectually than ever the masters of the country, so that Britain was obliged to send an army next year, under Sir Ralph Abercromby, to accomplish, at an immense expense, and a great waste of human life, what the French had formerly agreed to do. In Europe, the presence of Bonaparte produced equally disastrous results. By one of his most dexterous movements, he eluded the Austrians, led an army over the Alps by the Great St. Bernard into the Milanese, and having gained a decisive victory at Marengo (June 14), at once restored the greater part of Italy to French domination. Contemporaneously with Napoleon's movements, Moreau led another army directly into Germany, overthrew the Austrians in several battles, and advanced to within seventeen leagues of their capital, Vienna. These reverses obliged Austria next year (1801) to sue for and conclude a peace, by which France became mistress of all continental Europe west of the Rhine and south of the Adige.