In France, enthusiasm for the American cause was high: The French intellectual world was it- self stirring against feudalism and




privilege . However, the Crown lent its support to the colonies for geo- political rather than ideological reasons: The French government had been eager for reprisal against Britain ever since France’s defeat in 1763 . To further the American cause, Benjamin Franklin was sent to Paris in 1776 . His wit, guile, and intellect soon made their presence felt in the French capital, and played a major role in winning French assistance .

France began providing aid to the colonies in May 1776, when it sent 14 ships with war supplies to America . In fact, most of the gunpowder used by the American armies came from France . After Britain’s defeat at Sara- toga, France saw an opportunity to seriously weaken its ancient enemy and restore the balance of power that had been upset by the Seven Years’ War (called the French and Indian War in the American colonies) . On February 6, 1778, the colonies and France signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce, in which France recog- nized the United States and offered trade concessions . They also signed a Treaty of Alliance, which stipu- lated that if France entered the war, neither country would lay down its arms until the colonies won their in- dependence, that neither would con- clude peace with Britain without the consent of the other, and that each guaranteed the other’s possessions in America . This was the only bi- lateral defense treaty signed by the United States or its predecessors until 1949 .

The Franco-American alliance

soon broadened the conflict . In June 1778 British ships fired on French vessels, and the two countries went to war . In 1779 Spain, hoping to re- acquire territories taken by Britain in the Seven Years’ War, entered the conflict on the side of France, but not as an ally of the Americans . In 1780 Britain declared war on the Dutch, who had continued to trade with the Americans . The combina- tion of these European powers, with France in the lead, was a far greater threat to Britain than the American colonies standing alone .

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