Franco‐American Alliance

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Franco‐American Alliance (1778–1800).In 1778, Benjamin Franklin and France's foreign minister, the comte de Vergennes, signed two documents—a Treaty of Amity and Commerce, and a Treaty of Alliance—midway through the American Revolutionary War. They expressed realpolitik for both parties. Vergennes hoped to weaken the British, make France the Americans' primary trade partner, and contain U.S. expansion. American leaders had hoped to achieve independence without a binding military alliance, but after the battlefield setbacks in 1776, they saw the treaty as the only way to overcome the British forces. Britain's willingness to negotiate after the American victory at the Battles of Saratoga in October 1777 convinced Vergennes that only a “permanent” alliance could prevent American‐British rapprochement. Hence, he proposed preferential Franco‐American commercial ties, French recognition of U.S. independence, renunciation of any French claims to Canada, military cooperation against Britain, and a U.S. guarantee of France's Caribbean holdings. French recognition helped legitimize the American Declaration of Independence, and French military and financial aid contributed decisively to U.S. military victory, particularly in the decisive Battle of Yorktown (1781).

As peace approached, American leaders lost interest in the alliance. In 1782, Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay began peace negotiations with Britain, without consulting the French. After independence in 1783, many Americans increasingly viewed the French alliance as a dangerous foreign entanglement, particularly after the French Revolution led to a new Anglo‐French war in 1793. President George Washington declared America's neutrality despite the alliance and even allowed Jay to sign a favorable commercial treaty with Britain in 1794. French efforts to bring a more friendly American government to power led Washington to warn against “entangling Alliances” in his farewell address (1796)—words that became the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy until the twentieth century. The alliance proved an embarrassment in the Undeclared Naval War with France (1798–1800) and was ended with the 1800 Convention of Morfontaine, when Napoleon Bonaparte's government signed it away in return for economic concessions. The United States would not sign another peacetime military alliance until the NATO pact of 1949.


Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert, eds., Diplomacy and Revolution: The Franco‐American Alliance of 1778, 1981.
Lawrence S. Kaplan , Entangling Alliances with None: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Jefferson, 1987.

Jeffrey G. Giauque