How did the French help win the American Revolution?
How important were the French in helping the colonists that American Revolution?
An iconic oil painting of the British surrender in Yorktown, which is now hanging in the US Capitol rotunda, perfectly captures the partnership. As the grim, resigned British general in the center of the picture prepares to hand over his sword, he is flanked on one side by a row of Americans, under a waving Stars and Stripes Flag – and on the other hand of French officers and volunteers, under the white and gold banner of the French Bourbon monarchs.
Artist John Trumbull’s decision to portray the two armed forces as equal fighters against the British signals how much America’s founding fathers owed the French in their struggle for independence. The decision of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (better known as the Marquis de Lafayette) To leave France and join George WashingtonHis powers are known to many. But Lafayette was just a prelude to massive French support, the forerunner of a deep relationship that proved critical to the success of the revolution. Here are five ways the French helped Americans gain their freedom.
1. They provided ideological foundations.
“Give me freedom or give me death!” Patrick Henry‘s strong statement before the Second Virginia Convention in March 1775 proved to be a turning point and convinced his delegates – including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson– to vote to engage Virginian troops in the impending revolutionary battle. Henry’s rhetoric echoed the writings of the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who opened his influential work of 1762. The social contract, with the words “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”.
In the 1760s, the founding fathers and their colleagues eagerly devoured French political philosophy. “It has become almost a patriotic duty for colonists to admire France as a counterbalance to an increasingly hostile England,” wrote Kent State University historian Lawrence Kaplan. The British may have militarily triumphed over their French rivals in the global conflict known as Seven Years War. But America’s future founders despised the way the British (in their eyes) had trampled on their own constitution and instead turned to France for new ideas about freedom and independence.
Rousseau spoke, for example, of the sovereignty that belongs not to a monarch but to the people as a group, and of the need to work out laws for the common good. The rhetoric of Thomas Jefferson (Including “All men are created equal”) to be indebted to Rousseau. The authors of the US Constitution possibly most inspired by Baron de Montesquieu, who argued in his treatise The spirit of the law that avoiding despotism required a government of checks and balances.
Without the ideas of these French philosophers, who inspire them in difficult times, a success of the revolution is hard to imagine.
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2. They posed a major geopolitical threat to Britain.
Still pained by its defeat in the Seven Years’ War and the loss of colonies around the world, including much of Canada, France saw America’s rebellion as an opportunity to revenge – and to restore part of its own empire at Britain’s expense. The cunning Comte de Vergennes, France’s foreign minister, asked Louis XVI. to support the Americans, arguing that “Providence marked this moment for the humiliation of England”.
French involvement turned an otherwise one-sided colonial rebellion into a major war with the potential to become another global conflict. It turned out that the British had little appetite for this – especially when other European powers like Spain and the Dutch Republic agreed to support the colonists. The geopolitical calculation made it difficult for British lawmakers to accept the prospect of a protracted, costly and global struggle.
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3. They provided covert assistance.
One evening in December 1775 Benjamin Franklin, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress – and a member of its secret correspondence committee that handled foreign communications – sneaked silently into Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia with four of his colleagues to commit what the British would no doubt consider treason. They had come to meet Julien-Alexandre de Bonvouloir, a secret envoy from the French regime. The secret meeting laid the seeds for a strong covert relationship between the revolutionaries and France that preceded the formal treaties between the two in 1778.
Bonvouloir’s reports back to France were delighted. “Everyone here is a soldier,” he said of the colonies. Franklin’s negotiating team sent Silas Deane to Paris under the guise of a merchant looking for goods for resale to Native Americans. Deane’s actual search was very different: he was looking for military engineers, as well as clothing, weapons, and ammunition for 25,000 soldiers. Oh, and credit from the French to pay for it all. He had what he wanted within two weeks of his arrival and France had become a secret supporter of the revolution.
When Benjamin Franklin himself traveled to Paris in November 1776, much of the secrecy of the negotiations with France fell away. But Franklin’s popularity with everyone from the aristocracy (he encouraged Lafayette to volunteer) to the general public put more pressure on the French regime to continue to support its new allies – even amid reports of American casualties and their terrible ones Winter at Talschmiede.
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4. They shared money, men, and material.
Big ideas can wither and die without the capital to support them. And from the outset, America’s insurrection depended on the French willingness to provide perpetual loans that would enable Deane and his partners to replenish the beleaguered revolutionary forces. Ultimately, France provided around 1.3 billion livres of much-needed money and goods to aid the rebels. It is estimated that when the colonists were victorious in October 1777 Saratoga, a turning point in the war, 90 percent of all American troops carried French weapons and were completely dependent on French gunpowder.
This triumph prompted the French to open their coffers further. Once the relationship has been formalized in Twin agreements In early 1778 (the treaty of alliance and the treaty of friendship and trade), supply flows soared, along with the number of soldiers and sailors who crossed the Atlantic to fight for the American cause.
About 12,000 French soldiers served the uprising along with about 22,000 marines on board 63 warships. Lafayette was one of the earliest – and most prominent – officers to join him. The Comte de Rochambeau, commander in chief of all French armed forces, played a decisive role in containing the English fleet and in the last campaigns. The Comte de Grasse reinforced the revolutionary forces in Virginia with French troops from Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) in the Caribbean and inflicted a decisive defeat on the British Navy in the Battle of Chesapeake in 1781. It would be an army led by Washington, Lafayette, and Rochambeau that would deal the decisive blow Yorktown.
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5. They gave the emerging colonists political legitimacy.
Without the help of France, the American revolutionaries could only have been viewed by other great powers as treacherous subjects rebelling against their rulers. The willingness of the French to negotiate with Deane, Franklin, and their successors gave American leaders legitimacy. The Treaty of Friendship and Trade of 1778 officially recognized the United States as an independent nation and paved the way for further international trade for Americans. Over time, France enlisted the help of other major European powers (Spain allied with the United States in 1779) while sidelining others such as Austria, which never entered the war but made it clear that it was France in any major one Would support conflict.
After the surrender of Yorktown, France’s diplomatic assistance (and one more loan) proved crucial in bringing the conflict to a formal end in 1783 Paris Agreement. Both the French and the Americans turned down British offers for separate peace deals, and French Foreign Secretary Vergennes played a key role in brokering the treaty. It was not until Britain and France settled their differences that the Americans finally signed the Paris Treaty.