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Staten Island Peace Conference

Engraving by Alonzo Chappel depicting the conference

The Staten Island Peace Conference was a brief meeting held in the hope of bringing an end to the American Revolutionary War. The conference took place on September 11, 1776, at Billop Manor, the residence of Colonel Christopher Billop, on Staten Island, New York. The participants were the British Admiral Lord Richard Howe, and members of the Second Continental Congress John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge.

Since Lord Howe's authority was, by design, extremely limited, the Congressional delegation was pessimistic about the meeting's outcome. The conference, held in the days after the British capture of Long Island, lasted just three hours and was a failure. The Americans insisted on recognition of their recently declared independence, and Howe's limited authority was inadequate to deal with that development. After the conference, the British continued their military campaign for control of New York City.

Contents

  • Background 1
  • Meeting 2
  • Effects 3
  • References 4

Background

Admiral Lord Richard Howe proposed the conference and represented the British.

When British authorities were planning how to deal with their rebellious taxation without representation or the so-called Intolerable Acts. As a consequence, the Howes were only granted the ability to issue pardons and amnesties, but not to make any substantive concessions.[1] The commissioners were also mandated to seek dissolution of the Continental Congress, re-establishment of the pre-war colonial assemblies, acceptance of the terms of Lord North's Conciliatory Resolution regarding self-taxation, and to promise a further discussion of colonial grievances. No concessions could be made unless hostilities were ended and colonial assemblies made specific admissions of Parliamentary supremacy.[3]

Benjamin Franklin and Lord Howe had previously discussed colonial grievances.

After the fleet arrived in July 1776, Admiral Howe made several attempts to open communications with

  • McGuire, Thomas J. (2011). Stop the Revolution: America in the Summer of Independence and the Conference for Peace. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.  

Further reading

  • Anderson, Troyer (1936). The Command of the Howe Brothers During the American Revolution. New York and London: Oxford University Press.  
  • Edgar, Gregory T (1995). Campaign of 1776: the road to Trenton. Heritage Books.  
  •  
  • Fiske, John (1891). The American Revolution, Volume 1. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin.  
  • Gallagher, John (1999). Battle of Brooklyn 1776. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.  
  • Gruber, Ira (1972). The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution. New York: Atheneum Press.  
  • Isaacson, Walter (2004). Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York: Simon and Schuster.  
  • Morris, Ira K (1898). Morris's Memorial History of Staten Island, New York, Volume 1. Memorial Publishing Co.  
  • Morton, Joseph C (2003). The American Revolution. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.  
  • Trevelyan, Sir George Otto (1903). The American Revolution: 1766-1776. London & New York: Longmans, Green.  
  • "About Conference House Park". New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  • "National Historic Landmark Listing for Conference House". National Park Service. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  • "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  

Sources

  1. ^ a b Fischer, p. 73
  2. ^ Fischer, p. 74
  3. ^ a b Reich, Jerome R. (1998). British friends of the American Revolution. pp. 65–68.  
  4. ^ Gallagher, pp. 65–66
  5. ^ Isaacson, p. 316
  6. ^ a b c Isaacson, p. 317
  7. ^ a b c Trevelyan, p. 261
  8. ^ Fischer, p. 98
  9. ^ Fischer, p. 99
  10. ^ Gruber, p. 117
  11. ^ Trevelyan, p. 258
  12. ^ a b Gruber, p. 118
  13. ^ Anderson, p. 158
  14. ^ Trevelyan, p. 259
  15. ^ Fiske, p. 213
  16. ^ a b Morris, p. 144
  17. ^ Isaacson, p. 319
  18. ^ a b Isaacson, pp. 319–320
  19. ^ a b c Morris, p. 145
  20. ^ a b Gruber, p. 119
  21. ^ Edgar, p. 171
  22. ^ Edgar, p. 170
  23. ^ Gruber, p. 120
  24. ^ Edgar, p. 174
  25. ^ Fiske, p. 214
  26. ^ Morton, pp. 94–95
  27. ^ About Conference House Park
  28. ^ NHL Listing for Conference House
  29. ^ National Register Information System

Notes

References

The house where the conference took place is now preserved as a museum within Conference House Park, a city park.[27] It is a National Historic Landmark, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[28][29]

Parliamentary debate over the terms of the diplomatic mission and its actions prompted some opposition (Whig) members to essentially boycott Parliamentary proceedings.[3] The next major peace effort occurred in 1778, when the British sent commissioners led by the Earl of Carlisle to occupied Philadelphia. They were authorized to treat with Congress as a body, and offered self-government that was roughly equivalent to modern Commonwealth status. This effort was undermined by the planned withdrawal of British troops from Philadelphia and by American demands that the commissioners were not authorized to grant.[26]

The Congressmen returned to Philadelphia and reported that Lord Howe "has no propositions to make us" and that "America is to expect nothing but total unconditional submission."[21] John Adams learned many years later that his name was on a list of people specifically excluded from any pardon offers the Howes might make.[22] Congress published the committee's report without comment. Because Lord Howe did not also publish an account of the meeting, the meeting's outcome was perceived by many as a sign of British weakness; however, many Loyalists and some British observers suspected the Congressional report misrepresented the meeting.[23] One British commentator wrote of the meeting, "They met, they talked, they parted. And now nothing remains but to fight it out."[20] Lord Howe reported the failure of the conference to his brother, and they then made preparations to continue the campaign for New York City.[24] Four days after the conference, British troops landed on Manhattan and occupied New York City.[25]

Effects

For most of the meeting, both sides were cordial. But when Lord Howe expressed that he would feel America's loss "like the loss of a brother", Franklin informed him that "we will do our utmost endeavors to save your lordship that mortification."[18] Lord Howe unhappily stated he could not view the American delegates as anything but British subjects, to which Adams replied, "Your lordship may consider me in what light you please, [...] except that of a British subject."[19] Lord Howe then spoke past Adams to Franklin and Rutledge, stating, "Mr. Adams appears to be a decided character."[19]

The meeting lasted three hours, and the two sides were unable to find any common ground.[18] The Americans insisted that any negotiations required British recognition of their recently declared independence. Lord Howe stated he did not have the authority to meet that demand.[19] When asked by Edward Rutledge whether he had the authority to repeal the Prohibitory Act (which authorized a naval blockade of the colonies) as had been claimed by Sullivan,[12] Howe demurred, claiming Sullivan was mistaken. Howe's authority included the ability to suspend its execution, provided the colonies agreed to make fixed contributions instead of the taxes Parliament had levied on them. None of this could be done unless the colonies first agreed to end hostilities.[20]

The house of Christopher Billop on Staten Island was selected to be the meeting place. It had been occupied by British troops for use as a barracks and was in filthy condition, but one room was cleaned and prepared for the meeting.[16] The arrangements included one British officer to be left on the American side as a hostage during the meeting; the Congressional delegation, rather than leaving him behind the American lines, invited him to accompany them. On arrival, the delegation was escorted past a line of Hessian soldiers and into the house, where, according to Adams, a repast of claret, ham, mutton, and tongue was served.[17]

John Adams did not believe the conference would succeed.

Meeting

Lord Howe initially sought to meet with the men as private citizens, since British policy did not recognize the Congress as a legitimate authority.[14] In order that the conference might take place, he agreed to the American demand that they be recognized as official representatives of the Congress.[15][16]

In the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, British forces successfully occupied western Long Island (modern Brooklyn), compelling Washington to withdraw his army to Manhattan.[8] General Howe then paused to consolidate his gains, and the brothers decided to make a diplomatic overture. During the battle they had captured several high-ranking Continental Army officers, including Major General John Sullivan. The Howes managed to convince Sullivan that a conference with members of the Continental Congress might yield fruit, and released him on parole to deliver a message to the Congress in Philadelphia,[9] proposing an informal meeting to discuss ending the armed conflict between Britain and its rebellious colonies. After Sullivan's speech to Congress, John Adams cynically commented on this diplomatic attempt, calling Sullivan a "decoy-duck" and accusing the British of sending Sullivan "to seduce us into a renunciation of our independence"; others noted that it appeared to be an attempt to blame Congress for prolonging the war.[10][11] The Congress did however agree to send three of its members – Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Edward Rutledge – to a conference with Lord Howe.[7] They were instructed "to ask a few Questions and take [Howe's] Answers", but had no further authority.[12] When Howe learned of the committee's limited authority, he briefly considered calling the meeting off, but decided to proceed after discussion with his brother.[13] None of the commissioners believed the conference would amount to anything.[7]

"Some think it will occasion a delay of military operations; which we much want. I am not of that mind. Some think it will clearly throw the odium of continuing this war on his Lordship and his master. I wish it may. Others think it will silence the Tories and establish the timid Whigs. I wish this also, but do not expect it. All these arguments, and twenty others as mighty, would not have convinced me of the necessity, propriety, or utility, if Congress had not determined on it. I was against it from first to last. All sides agreed in sending me. You will hear more of this embassy. It will be famous enough."

John Adams to James Warren, September 8, 1776[7]

[6] Howe was apparently somewhat taken aback by Franklin's forceful response.[6] He also pointed out to the admiral that "you once gave me expectations that reconciliation might take place."[6] to deluge our settlements with blood."foreign mercenaries, and is even now bringing and our slaves to murder their masters to massacre our peaceful farmers, excited the savages, [...] burnt our defenseless town After Franklin read the letter in Congress on July 30, he wrote back to the admiral that "Directing pardons to be offered to the colonies, who are the very parties injured, [...] can have no other effect than that of increasing our resentments. It is impossible we should think of submission to a government that has with the most wanton barbarity and cruelty [5] Lord Howe then sent a letter to Benjamin Franklin detailing a proposal for a truce and offers of pardons.[4]

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