What are the French gains after the American Revolutionary War

What are the French gains after the American Revolutionary War

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Did France gain anything significant (territories or other concessions) at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War? I tried to look up for it, but what I found were very minor (Senegal in Africa and the island of Tobago). This looked very minor for one of the major victors in the war and compared to huge French losses during the Seven Years War.

Did France receive other kind of compensation? If not, why did they receive so little gain as victor?

France in the 18th century often didn't seem to press its advantages at the negotiating table. The most notable example came after the War of the Austrian Succession (1744-48), when France gave back the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium) to Austria even though it had conquered it, and conquering Belgium had been a long-time goal of France's. Apparently this was done because France's Louis XV hoped to avoid overly antagonizing Britain, but if so, the plan failed because the two countries were at war just a few years later. This peace treaty was bitterly resented in France.

In the American Revolutionary War, France conquered several of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, but returned them all except Tobago. Why is not entirely clear. It may be that Louis XVI, like his grandfather, wanted to avoid making Britain thirst for revenge and another war.

Tobago was a fertile sugar-producing island and Senegal was a major slave-trading station, so they did bring some value - though not enough to offset France's enormous expenditures in the war, which eventually fueled the Revolution.

Britain, in contrast, seemed more eager to press its advantages, and after the Seven Years' War it managed to keep almost everything it had conquered. It must be noted though that France was fairly willing to let its North American colonies go, as it was tired of having to repeatedly defend them against their much more populous neighbors, especially when their only major export was furs.

There is the obvious geo-political gain of weakening their British enemies, who had seen such expansion in that theatre during the seven year war. Come the next war (Napoleonic, yes, unfortunately not so much of a gain for the Bourbons) the United states offered both trade to France and co-belligerency (1812 war). However, I get the feeling France expected more. Can't find a source for that right now though.

This is what wikipedia thinks by the way. They think France dropped the ball as well.

The general war was actually between Great Britain on one side, and France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the new United States on the other. However, only the French were acting as direct USA allies. (The Spanish, for obvious reasons, weren't real keen on the idea of helping colonies in the Americas revolt).

If this sounds complicated, it was, and the treaty negotiations to end it all were even moreso. For starters, France insisted on USA independence being recognized up-front, which is why the Treaty of Paris covered only that and not the grievances of the other parties.

If that sounds oddly like altruism on the French part, I can assure you it was not. They were purposely delaying negotiations this way so that they and the Spanish could try to take Gibraltar. Sadly for them, they failed miserably. As a result, all Spain managed to get was Florida (half of which they had conquered, and the other half they traded for the Bahamas) and Minorca. France, which was bankrupted by the war, did even worse. They essentially traded back everything they took from Britain for everything Britain took from them, with the exception of Tobago and a small bit of land in Africa which they got to keep.

The Dutch fared so badly in the war that they actually did pretty darn good just to get most of their prewar possessions back. The Brits only kept the parts that were in India proper.

France did make some important gains from the American Revolution, but they were mainly longer term.

The first was that she deprived Britain of what later became the United States. Britain lost not only the 13 Colonies, but also "East Louisiana," (the part of the country between the Mississippi River and Appalachians) to the new Republic, and "Florida" (including the Gulf Coasts of the future Mississippi and Alabama back to Spain. This paved the way for Spain's retrocession of the "Louisiana" (Purchase) to France, which France sold for $15 million in 1803.

More important benefits took place over a century later. In 1917, when France was allied with England and facing a new enemy, Germany, John J. Pershing, America's General of the Armies announced the arrival of war-winning American troops by reportedly saying, "Lafayette, we are here." American soldiers also landed at Normandy some 27 years later in 1944.

France got little or nothing for the war, hence the reason for the French revolution happening, Louie the VI bankrupted France fighting this war. So nice of the Americans, they left France completely out of the negotiations when dealing with England after the war. The least they could have done is give France back the province of Quebec. I guess they thought it was better to have English neighbors than French.

France go screwed by the colonist


The Role of France in the American Revolutionary War

After years of spiraling tensions in Britain’s American colonies, the American Revolutionary War began in 1775. The revolutionary colonists faced a war against one of the world’s major powers, one with an empire that spanned the globe. To help counter Britain's formidable position, the Continental Congress created the "Secret Committee of Correspondence" to publicize the aims and actions of the rebels in Europe. They then drafted the "Model Treaty" to guide negotiations of alliance with foreign nations. Once the Congress had declared independence in 1776, it sent a party that included Benjamin Franklin to negotiate with Britain’s rival: France.


Preliminary articles of peace were signed on November 30, 1782, and the Peace of Paris (September 3, 1783) ended the U.S. War of Independence. Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States (with western boundaries to the Mississippi River) and ceded Florida to Spain. Other provisions called for payment of U.S. private debts to British citizens, American use of the Newfoundland fisheries, and fair treatment for American colonials loyal to Britain.

In explaining the outcome of the war, scholars have pointed out that the British never contrived an overall general strategy for winning it. Also, even if the war could have been terminated by British power in the early stages, the generals during that period, notably Howe, declined to make a prompt, vigorous, intelligent application of that power. They acted, to be sure, within the conventions of their age, but in choosing to take minimal risks (for example, Carleton at Ticonderoga and Howe at Brooklyn Heights and later in New Jersey and Pennsylvania) they lost the opportunity to deal potentially mortal blows to the rebellion. There was also a grave lack of understanding and cooperation at crucial moments (as with Burgoyne and Howe in 1777). Finally, the British counted too strongly on loyalist support they did not receive.

But British mistakes alone could not account for the success of the United States. Feeble as their war effort occasionally became, the Americans were able generally to take advantage of their enemies’ mistakes. The Continental Army, moreover, was by no means an inept force even before Steuben’s reforms. The militias, while usually unreliable, could perform admirably under the leadership of men who understood them, like Arnold, Greene, and Morgan, and often reinforced the Continentals in crises. Furthermore, Washington, a rock in adversity, learned slowly but reasonably well the art of generalship. The supplies and funds furnished by France from 1776 to 1778 were invaluable, while French military and naval support after 1778 was essential. The outcome, therefore, resulted from a combination of British blunders, American efforts, and French assistance.

11h. The French Alliance

Nowhere was the victory at Saratoga more noted than in France, which had been tentative in its efforts to assist the Americans. France's interest in the American fight for independence stemmed from France's humiliating defeat during the Seven Years War at the hands of its ancient enemy, England.

As French historian Henri Doniol has put it, "Almost immediately after the peace of 1763, it (the French Government) sought in the tendency of the English colonies to revolt against their mother country the occasion by which we would avenge ourselves upon England and tear up the treaty of Paris".

Secret Emissaries

This Portrait of Vergennes by Antoine-François Callet now hangs in the palace of Versaille

As early as 1774, Vergennes , the French foreign minister, had sent secret emissaries to explore the American colonists' commitment to independence. In the spring of 1776, Congress dispatched Silas Deane to France as a secret commercial agent to see if he could make arrangements for the purchase of military supplies on terms of credit. Deane also made inquiries into possible French political and even military assistance.

Thanks to Benjamin Franklin's excellent diplomatic skills, a treaty was quickly signed between France and the United States in 1777, as seen in this picture.

The official attitude of the French government toward the American Revolution in 1776 and 1777 was essentially a recognition of belligerency. This was the case at the fall 1776 arrival of the Continental Congress's official diplomatic mission to Europe led by Benjamin Franklin.

Watchful waiting by French diplomacy came to an end when the news of the surrender of Burgoyne's army at Saratoga reached Paris on December 4, 1777. The American victory caused a reversal of British policy toward the Americans. Lord North's government immediately prepared to send to the America a mission with an offer of peace on the basis of home rule within the Empire &mdash something that the Colonies would have been only too glad to accept in 1775.

Don't Give Peace a Chance

The French and American armies weren't always on the best of terms. During the siege of Newport, Rhode Island, the French under the Comte d'Estaing were forced to seek shelter in Boston during a severe storm. The Americans were none to happy that the French abandoned their position.

This diplomatic move became known to Vergennes, and he became alarmed that a peace between the parent country and the American rebels might be a real possibility. Two Franco-American treaties were rapidly concluded. The first was a treaty of amity and commerce, which bestowed most-favored nation trading privileges and also contained cooperative maritime provisions.

The second was a treaty of " conditional and defensive alliance ." It provided, among other things, that in case war should break out between France and Great Britain as a result of the first treaty, France and America should fight the war together, and neither would make a peace or truce with the enemy without the formal consent of the other. Nor would they "lay down their arms until the Independence of the united states shall have been formally or tacitly assured by the Treaty or Treaties that shall terminate the War."

Excerpts from the Treaty of Alliance

If War should break out betwan france and Great Britain, during the continuance of the present War betwan the United States and England, his Majesty and the said united States, shall make it a common cause, and aid each other mutually with their good Offices, their Counsels, and their forces, according to the exigence of Conjunctures as becomes good & faithful Allies.

The essential and direct End of the present defensive alliance is to maintain effectually the liberty, Sovereignty, and independance absolute and unlimited of the said united States, as well in Matters of Gouvernement as of commerce.

The Most Christian King renounces for ever the possession of the Islands of Bermudas as well as of any part of the continent of North america which before the treaty of Paris in 1763. or in virtue of that Treaty, were acknowledged to belong to the Crown of Great Britain, or to the united States heretofore called British Colonies, or which are at this Time or have lately been under the Power of The King and Crown of Great Britain.

If his Most Christian Majesty shall think proper to attack any of the Islands situated in the Gulph of Mexico, or near that Gulph, which are at present under the Power of Great Britain, all the said Isles, in case of success, shall appertain to the Crown of france.

In order to fix more precisely the sense and application of the preceding article, the Contracting Parties declare, that in case of rupture between france and England, the reciprocal Guarantee declared in the said article shall have its full force and effect the moment such War shall break out and if such rupture shall not take place, the mutual obligations of the said guarantee shall not commence, until the moment of the cessation of the present War between the united states and England shall have ascertained the Possessions.

The American war continued, as France desired. France and Britain drifted into hostilities without a declaration of war when their fleets off Ushant off the northwest coast of France on June 17, 1778. A French expeditionary force arrived in the United States in 1780. As was demonstrated at the Battle of Yorktown, the French alliance was decisive for the cause of American independence.

After the Revolutionary War: Becoming a Nation

Americans had longed for independence from Britain. After eight long years of war, they had finally achieved it. But what happened after the peace treaty was signed in 1783? Tough times weren’t over for the American people. They still had to figure out what democracy would look like. Many people disagreed about how much power states should have versus how much power a national government should have. Could they ever become united?

Facts about a Nation – Image of After Revolutionary War

  • The British government took two years to ratify the Treaty of Paris, a formal peace treaty. In it, Great Britain recognized the United States of America’s independence.
  • Originally, the nation’s boundaries stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River and from the Great Lakes to Florida.
  • The end of the Revolutionary War didn’t mean an immediate end to conflict. Native Americans, who had fought with the British, continued to fight against the colonists until 1795. Loyalists were poorly treated and most of them fled to Canada.
  • Soldiers felt resentful to colonists who hadn’t made the sacrifices they’d made for freedom.
  • Initially, the Continental Congress had very little power. The thirteen states had more individual power than the national government. States could make their own money and levy taxes. Imagine how confusing it would be to have thirteen different types of currency.
  • The states created governments with three branches: a legislative branch to make laws a judiciary branch to interpret the laws and an executive branch to manage government and uphold the laws. This was known as “separation of powers,” and is still the basis for our state and national governments. Separation of powers was designed to ensure that no one branch of government would gain too much power. The colonists had learned, for example, that a king with absolute power could become a tyrant.
  • Initially, the nation had only a single branch of government, Congress, which was supposed to settle conflicts between states over trade issues, as well as determine how new land would be divided.
  1. Democracy: a form of government in which leaders are elected by the people, or by representatives elected by the people.
  2. Ratify: Give formal approval and sign a treaty or political document.
  3. Tyrant: a ruler who uses power unfairly or cruelly.

Questions and Answers:

Question: Did the national government become more powerful?

How France Helped Win the American Revolution

Anton Hohenstein's painting of Benjamin Franklin's reception at the Court of France in 1776. Library of Congress

When 70-year-old Benjamin Franklin boarded the Continental sloop-of-war Reprisal in Philadelphia on October 26, 1776, for a month-long voyage to France, Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army was losing the American Revolutionary War.

Anton Hohenstein's painting of Benjamin Franklin's reception at the Court of France in 1776. Library of Congress

The hope and excitement spawned by the Declaration of Independence, announced just four months earlier, with Franklin among the signers, had been replaced by the dread of impending defeat in the face of the overwhelming military power of the British army.

Franklin knew his mission was straightforward, if not simple. He would use his intellect, charm, wit, and experience to convince France to join the war on the side of the fledgling United States of America. Franklin’s popularity, persuasive powers, and a key American battlefield victory were crucial factors that led France to join the war in 1778.

France provided the money, troops, armament, military leadership, and naval support that tipped the balance of military power in favor of the United States and paved the way for the Continental Army’s ultimate victory, which was sealed at Yorktown, VA, five years after Franklin embarked on his mission.

When British Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on Oct. 19, 1781, his vanquished troops marched through a corridor formed by the victorious forces. On one side were the Americans on the other side stood the French – a scene that mirrored how critical France’s support had been.

"Surrender of Lord Cornwallis" Oil painting by John Trumbull, 1820

Wars between the British and French kingdoms dated back to the 12 th century, and the conflicts intensified as England, France, and Spain established and expanded their colonial empires beginning in the late 15 th century.

France had suffered bitter defeat in the most recent conflict, the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), which included the French and Indian War in North America. It had lost most of its claim to North America, having been forced to cede to England most of its land there, including all of Canada.

As England’s American colonies became ever more rebellious in the 1760s and 1770s, France was naturally predisposed to favor the American revolutionaries and saw an opportunity to try to blunt the power of its longtime adversary. It began providing covert support – beginning with badly needed gunpowder – in the spring of 1776.

The Declaration of Independence was well received across France, and Franklin was warmly welcomed when he arrived in Paris in December. Franklin’s charm made him even more popular, and he became a celebrity as he labored to gain more support for the American cause.

In the face of the dreadful final weeks of 1776 – “the times that try men’s souls,” as Thomas Paine wrote – Washington scratched out miraculous victories at Trenton and Princeton that brought new life and hope to his ragged Continental Army. Covert support from France expanded to include field guns, arms, ammunition, money, and other assistance.

In France, the American fight for liberty struck a particular chord with aristocrat Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, who paid his way to America in 1777 to fight with distinction for the Continental Army, ultimately becoming a major general in Washington’s command.

When the Continental Army, commanded by Gen. Horatio Gates, defeated the British at the Battles of Saratoga on Sept. 19 and Oct. 7, 1777, it is estimated that as many as nine out of 10 American soldiers carried French arms, and virtually all had French gunpowder. French field guns also played a critical role in a decisive triumph that forced the historic surrender of British Gen. John Burgoyne and his entire army.

The American victory over British Gen. John Burgoyne’s army in the 1777 Battle of Saratoga marked a turning point in the Revolution. Pictured here is Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater, New York. American Battlefield Trust

The stunning success at Saratoga gave Franklin what he had been pleading for – explicit French support in the war. King Louis XVI approved negotiations to that end. With Franklin negotiating for the United States, the two countries agreed to a pair of treaties, signed on Feb. 6, 1778, that called for France’s direct participation in the war.

At Valley Forge that day, Washington’s army was suffering. More soldiers were dying or deserting with each new frigid winter day. The rest were just trying to survive. But by May 1, when Washington received word of the good news from Paris, the harsh winter was a bad memory. He assembled the entire army at Valley Forge for a martial celebration. The ceremony included Washington’s request that “upon a signal given, the whole army will huzza, ‘Long Live the King of France.’”

A French fleet conducted operations in America in 1778-79, but the support that made the difference came in 1780, when French Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau arrived in Rhode Island with more than 5,000 French soldiers.

Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau Wikimedia Commons

Though he spoke no English, Rochambeau hit it off with Washington. The two formed an effective team, and their combined forces became, as Washington put it, seemingly “actuated by one spirit.” In August 1781, they moved south into Virginia on the offensive with a plan to trap British Gen. Charles Cornwallis and his 8,000-man army encamped at Yorktown. Lafayette’s force was already there, blocking escape routes.

The plan’s success hinged on French naval support. Washington and Rochambeau had requested and received the assistance of the French fleet in the West Indies commanded by Admiral François Joseph Paul de Grasse, who was sailing to Virginia. If de Grasse could wrest control of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay from the British fleet protecting Cornwallis, the British army would be surrounded.

The Battle of the Capes in September 1781. Wikimedia Commons

On Sept. 9, 1781, in the Battle of the Capes, one of history’s most consequential naval battles, de Grasse defeated the British fleet, damaging it badly enough to force its withdraw to New York. Cornwallis was surrounded, and the Siege of Yorktown began. On Oct. 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered. His defeat broke the back of Britain’s war effort and led to the formal end of the war in 1783.

Lafayette was one of many French heroes in the Revolutionary War, but his name came to shine the brightest in the United States, especially after he returned to America for an enormously popular, 15-month, farewell tour in 1824-25. The aging commander visited all of the young nation’s 24 states and received a hero’s welcome at many stops. He was the last surviving French general of the Revolutionary War.

The French and Indian War (or Seven Years War)

The French and Indian War was a conflict between the American colonists and the French over control of the Ohio Valley and the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers—modern day Pittsburgh. It received its title because the war was Britain and its American colonies fighting against the French and their Indian allies.

It was known as the Seven Years War in Europe, where additional battles were fought between the English and French.

Indian Involvement

Many Indian tribes became involved. The main tribes at this time were the Shawnee, Sandusky Seneca, Wea, and Kickapoo on the French side. The Cherokee, Seneca, Mohawk, Montauk, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Creek, Chickasaw, and Tuscarora were fighting with the American-British forces.

Indian from Death of General Wolfe painting by Benjamin West in 1770 | Public domain image

The reason the Indians were involved in the French and Indian War was because the British were taking control over their land. They were upset that the Americans were listening to British orders and giving them less and less land to live on. French major Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal realized the potential of having Indian allies. He strengthened ties with Indian forces by dressing himself as one of them and learning their language.

The Indians were very enthusiastic to be on the French side, since Vaudreul-Cavagnal gave them free reign to attack the British settlements and obtain free weapons.

This led to disagreements, however, when Indians wanted the personal possessions of British and American prisoners, which the French would not allow them to take. After a capture at Fort William Henry, they killed hundreds of surrendered British soldiers and civilians in a rage, because they were forbidden to loot them.

When other French officers realized how much of a problem this was becoming, they complained. Nonetheless, the Indian rioting was only settled when the treaty of Paris was signed in 1763.

American Involvement

After constant fighting over who had control over the Ohio Valley and much more, the Virginia government saw that something must be done to take down French forces hiding out in the woods.

They decided to send Major George Washington, later president of the United States, to do the job.

General Edward Braddock falls at the Battle of Monongahela

He arrived with a party of six to inform the French general to get off British land. He was told, however, that the French were not only determined to take the rest of the land which they felt was theirs, but that they are going to occupy the entire Ohio Valley.

Washington returned to Virginia in winter weather, disappointed, but he had noted that the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers (modern day Pittsburg) would be an excellent place to build a fort.

In April of 1754, George Washington returned to build the fort. But this, too, was unsuccessful. The French found out, seized the place, and named it Fort Duquesne.

Washington, greatly annoyed, planned a surprise attack on a French camp nearby. He and his forces killed ten men. It is said to have been the first blood spilled during the whole French and Indian War.

Later, though, he was forced to surrender when he encountered their main force. The French, in return for letting Washington’s army leave, made him promise that Virginia would not build any forts in Ohio for one year.

In February of 1755, Britain sent General Edward Braddock and an army of 14,000 men to accompany George Washington in taking Fort Duquesne back.

They were defeated yet again by a French and Indian ambush in July, and Braddock was killed.

Washington returned to Virginia having been ineffective once again. Nonetheless, his courage on the battle field was noticed, and he was promoted to the rank of Colonel and made Commander-in-Chief of Virginian troops.

Britain Declares War

Amazingly, despite these battles, war was not officially declared until 1756, which is how the 9-year French and Indian War could also be known as the 7 Years War.

Things did not go well. With Indian support, they captured several forts along the Pennsylvania and New York frontier.

In 1758, Brigadier General John Forbes led a large British force in a multi-pronged attack on the Atlantic coast, in New York, and on the Canadian border.

Death of General James Wolfe by stray cannon shot at Battle of Quebec in 1759 painted by Benjamin West in 1770

Forbes’ attack was a brilliant success for one reason. He called a council of Indian tribes at Ft. Bedford and got the tribes to agree to support the British.

The French, realizing their strongest allies were gone, abandoned Ft. Duquesne and pulled back to Canada. Without Indian support, they could not hold even Canada, and it took only two years for the British to completely drive them from North America.

In 1763, the French and Indian War finally ended when three representatives from Spain, Great Britain, and France gathered to sign the Treaty of Paris.

The French and Indian War Leads to the Revolutionary War

The French and India War helped lead to the Revolutionary War in two ways.

First, funding this war led to an immense national debt for Great Britain, which they felt the Americans should help pay.

Parliament decided to service the debt by passing the Stamp Act, a terrible failure which angered citizens on both sides of the Atlantic and began the rift between Britain and its colonists.

Second, the French, driven from North America during the French and Indian War, supported the effort for American independence with money and supplies, then gladly joined the fray after the Battle of Saratoga gave them hope that the Americans might actually win.

A replica of the French tall ship that aided the U.S. in the Revolutionary War makes a big splash in Virginia

People watch the arrival of the replica of the French frigate Hermione as it sails into Yorktown, Va. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

YORKTOWN, Va. — Like an apparition, the 17-story ship glided through the cool morning mist, its towering skeleton of masts and two sternward flags — one French and one a 13-starred American — all that were visible from shore.

Forty-eight days after the start of its voyage, and 237 years since its story began, the French tall ship Hermione maneuvered into the York River on Friday morning, and as its gilded-lion figure­head came into full view, hundreds of people on the beach waved and cheered.

The much-anticipated vessel — which took 17 years and nearly $30 million to build — fired its unarmed cannons as it neared shore. A flurry of red, white and blue fireworks exploded in the air as the ship touched the dock. Even reenactors dressed in period clothing broke character and snapped photos, unwilling to miss the moment.

“Welcome to America!” one woman bellowed, as six crew members balanced on the ends of crossbeams that extended from the ship’s three Oregon pine masts.

The original Hermione (pronounced “err-me-own,” unlike the Harry Potter character) carried the Marquis de Lafayette across the Atlantic Ocean more than two centuries ago with a message that would change this nation’s destiny: France was sending critically needed soldiers and ships to support the American Revolution.

The replica is among the most authentic in the world, and its voyage is a source of immense national pride in France, where President François Hollande personally bid it bon voyage in April. A small horde of French media covered Friday’s festivities.

“Look at her,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said, grinning, as he and his entourage briskly walked past the official George Washington reenactor on their way to the gangplank.

The French ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, was also among the dignitaries who attended the welcome, which was held in Yorktown because both the original ship and its most famous passenger were involved in the operation there that led to British Gen. Charles Cornwallis’s momentous surrender in 1781.

The tall ship is expected to draw huge crowds in coming weeks as it travels to Alexandria, Annapolis and Baltimore, then up the East Coast.

It is a marvel of intentionally unmodern engineering, which is why the vessel took so long to build its makers used 18th century techniques to construct it.

Hoping to boost tourism in the once-thriving shipbuilding coastal town of Rochefort, France — where the original was manufactured in just four months — the project’s leaders began construction in 1997.

They scoured France for 3,000 mature oaks that had just the right bend to fit the ship’s hull.

Its 26 cast-iron cannons were fashioned by the same company that made the originals in the 1700s. Its 19 linen sails, adorned with 4,250 handmade eyelets, are large enough to cover five NBA courts. Its quarter gallery, a section on the stern, required
3,000 hours of labor to complete — about three times longer than it took the ship to cross an ocean.

“At every point, people have said this was mad,” recalled Miles Young, president of Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America. “That it was crazy.”

The modern features were few and mostly mandatory for safety purposes: fuel tanks, generators and a pair of engines metal bolts instead of wooden dowels electric winches to hoist the 3,300-pound anchors rather than the arms of
60 crew members.

“What you have,” said Young, chairman and CEO of public relations giant Ogilvy & Mather, “is a tall ship that’s pretty honest to the core.”

Even commands made on board are done so using 18th century terminology.

The Hermione’s evolution has generated intense interest in its homeland, where 4.5 million people visited the ship during construction. At the 2012 launch of its hull, which included a jet flyover, a woman wearing a white dress dangled in a harness above deck as she tossed flower petals into the wind. Hollande described the 216-foot craft as a “masterpiece.”

Its voyage to the United States has been repeatedly called a reminder of France’s integral and supportive role in American history.

“I am honored to join in commemorating the journey of the Hermione,” President Obama wrote in April, “and in celebrating the enduring bonds of friendship and solidarity that bind our nations together.”

But like many extended long-distance relationships, the bond between France and the United States is an imperfect one.

In 2003, France opposed the U.S. plan to invade Iraq so, in a form of schoolyard payback, congressional lawmakers changed the name of their cafeteria French fries to “freedom fries.”

Years before that, “Simpsons” character Groundskeeper Willie referred to the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys,” a phrase that became so popular it was later included in the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations.

France’s help in the Revolutionary War was, in fact, critical. Two decades later, its leaders sold the United States the Louisiana Territory for four cents an acre in one of the sweetest real estate bargains in history. And in the 1880s, the French gave the United States the Statue of Liberty, one of the country’s most significant symbols of freedom.

America, for its part, deployed 73,000 troops onto Normandy’s beaches in 1944.

And yet, a perplexing tension has existed from the start.

Many of the French who volunteered to help in the War of Independence came from prestigious families who brought with them a sense of entitlement that annoyed the American patriots.

Lafayette was also of noble birth, but he displayed a sincere passion for the American cause. He had grown up in a rural area of France and lost both of his parents early, which left him without the polish and sophistication valued by French aristocracy.

“He was very frank and open and honest,” said Laura Auricchio, author of “The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered.” “All of these things were a detriment at Versailles, but when he got to America, people thought he was amazing.”

So amazing that, after the war, he took a “13-month triumphal tour of every state in the Union” (as Auricchio put it) during the 1820s. Dubbed “The Nation’s Guest,” he was welcomed with parades and the ringing of bells almost everywhere he traveled.

Today, 181 years after his death, at least two universities, 80 schools and dozens of towns are still named for him, and in Washington, where nearly every patch of grass honors an important historical figure, the Frenchman’s square claims the most prestigious plot in town: directly in front of the White House.

The ship’s sun-baked crew of adventure-seekers understood the greater significance of their journey. Manon Muret, dressed in a ruffled white shirt and shin-length maroon trousers, is from Rochefort. Now 22, she built a miniature model of the ship at age 3. While at sea, she hasn’t missed Facebook or computers or even her cellphone.

“It’s not important,” she said, “when we are here.”

Loic Baillard, 29, relished the crew’s mid-Atlantic swim and the sunset dance parties, but their arrival in Virginia, where his generation’s ancestors died for an American rebellion, gave the trip a deeper meaning for him.

“Until now,” he said, “we were just on a ship, sailing.”

And while he had long looked forward to reaching Yorktown because of the achievement’s larger importance, America’s coast offered something else almost as meaningful, though perhaps a bit less grand: the chance to drink a cold beer.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect date for Lafayette’s tour of the United States.

Franco-American Alliance

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Franco-American Alliance, (Feb. 6, 1778), agreement by France to furnish critically needed military aid and loans to the 13 insurgent American colonies, often considered the turning point of the U.S. War of Independence. Resentful over the loss of its North American empire after the French and Indian War, France welcomed the opportunity to undermine Britain’s position in the New World.

Though maintaining a position of neutrality from 1775 to 1777, France was already secretly furnishing the American colonists with munitions and loans. As early as 1776, the Continental Congress had established a joint diplomatic commission—composed of Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee—to seek recognition and financial aid from the Bourbon monarchy. The colonists’ victory at the Battle of Saratoga (Oct. 17, 1777) was the show of strength needed to convince France that the revolutionaries would pursue the war to final victory. Hastening to act before the British peace overtures of the Carlisle Commission could tempt the colonists, the French foreign minister, the comte de Vergennes, succeeded in concluding the alliance the following February.

Overview of the American Revolutionary War

John Trumball’s famous painting “The Surrender of General Burgoyne” at Saratoga resides at the U.S. Capitol.

For the better part of the 17th and 18th centuries, the relationship between Great Britain and her North American colonies was firm, robust, and peaceable. The colonies enjoyed a period of “salutary neglect” meaning that the colonial governments were more or less able to self-govern without intervention from Parliament. This laissez-faire approach allowed the colonies to flourish financially, which in turn proved profitable for the mother country as well. However, this period of tranquility and prosperity would not last.

Great Britain had amassed an enormous debt following the French and Indian War so, as a means to help alleviate at least some of the financial burden, they expected the American colonies to shoulder their share. Beginning in 1763, Great Britain instituted a series of parliamentary acts for taxing the American colonies. Though seemingly a reasonable course of action – considering the British had come to the defense of the colonies in the French and Indian War – many colonials were livid at the levying of taxes. From 1763 to 1776, Parliament, King George III, royal governors, and colonists clashed over regulations of trade, representation, and taxation. Despite the growing unrest, many Americans perceived war and independence as a last resort.

By 1775, however, tensions reached a boiling point. Both sides prepared for war as negotiations continued to falter. Fighting began outside of Boston in the spring of 1775 during a British raid to seize munitions at Lexington and Concord. British regulars arrived on the Lexington Green early on the morning of April 19 and discovered the town’s militia awaiting their arrival. The “minutemen” intended only a show of force, and were dispersing, when a shot rang out. The American War of Independence had officially begun.

The militia harassed the British all the way from Concord to Boston, and then surrounded the city. In an attempt to drive the colonials away from the city, British forces attacked the Americans at Breed’s Hill on June 17th, resulting in heavy casualties for the redcoats in the war’s first major battle. George Washington arrived that July to assume command of the American forces, organized as the Continental Army. Washington then forced 11,000 British soldiers to evacuate Boston the following March, when Henry Knox successfully led 12 artillery pieces from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights overlooking the city below.

By the early spring of 1776, the war had expanded to other regions. At Moore’s Creek in North Carolina and Sullivan’s Island at Charleston, American forces stopped British invasions. After initial successes, particularly the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York, an American invasion of Canada stalled and ended in failure at the end of the year. As 1775 rolled into 1776, the British rapidly built up forces in New York and Canada to strike back.

After a series of five consecutive defeats for Washington’s army at Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, Fort Lee, and Fort Washington, the British captured New York City in the summer of 1776. Following the capture of the city, the British drove Washington’s army across New Jersey, winning several additional battles along their advance. That winter, however, Washington revived the American cause by winning spirited victories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey.

In 1777, the British launched two major offensives. In September, General William Howe captured Philadelphia, winning battles at Brandywine and Germantown. Despite the losses, the inexperienced soldiers of the Continental Army performed well and gained a measure of confidence, believing that they could very well stand up to the British. Then, in October, British General John Burgoyne invaded upstate New York via Canada, winning several initial victories. Later, however, his army became bogged down thanks in part to efforts of American militia units at Oriskany, Fort Stanwix, and Bennington. Then, after a stunning defeat in an open battle, Burgoyne surrendered his entire field army at Saratoga, New York.

The American victory at Saratoga was a turning point of the war, for it convinced the French monarchy that the Americans could actually defeat the British in battle. As a result, a formal military alliance was signed between the French and American governments in 1778, which entailed increased financial and military support. The alliance had even more positive implications for the Continental Army, because it forced the Parliament to funnel manpower and resources to fight the French across the globe, rather than sending them to North America.

That same winter, a few months prior to the formal signing of the alliance, Washington’s army retired to Valley Forge, not far from the British garrison in Philadelphia. While arriving rather disheveled, disheartened, and largely undisciplined, the army underwent a rigorous training program under the direction of Baron von Steuben. He instilled in the soldiers a sense of pride, resilience, and discipline, which transformed the army into a force that was capable of standing toe-to-toe with the British.

In 1778, the British consolidated their forces in New York and Canada and prepared to launch an invasion of the South. In the meantime, in the west, American forces under George Rogers Clark captured several British posts, culminating with a victory at Vincennes, Indiana, and the surrender of a much larger British force.

To the North, the British abandoned Philadelphia for New York with Washington hot on their heels. His army caught up to the redcoats at Monmouth, New Jersey, where an intense battle ensued. After arriving late to the battle and rallying his wavering troops, Washington made several defenses and counterattacks against the surging British force. Though inconclusive with no clear victor, the battle demonstrated the growing effectiveness of the Continental Army. Upon finally reaching New York, British forces never again ventured far from their secure base there.

In 1779, with fighting on a global scale and a stalemate developing in the North, the British began to focus their efforts on conquering the South, in hopes of quelling the rebellion once and for all. That autumn, British forces captured Savannah and Charleston and smashed General Gates’ army in Camden, South Carolina, forcing his army’s surrender. However, the Continental Army won battles at King’s Mountain and Cowpens, stemming the tide of British advance. Undeterred, the British army under General Charles Lord Cornwallis then moved across North Carolina before fighting its way into Virginia.

While General Cornwallis fought his way into Virginia, a brutal civil war erupted among the civilian population of the Carolinas. General Nathanael Greene recaptured most of South Carolina, fighting battles at Ninety Six, Hobkirk’s Hill, and Eutaw Springs. While Greene lost most of the battles in which he fought, he skillfully used his mixed force of militia and Continental regulars to maneuver the British out of the Carolinas' interior, forcing them toward the coastal cities and towns.

By the summer of 1781, Virginia was ablaze with battles along the colony’s coast and across its center. As General Marquis de Lafayette doggedly forced Cornwallis toward the coastal defenses around Yorktown, Virginia, he persuaded Washington to move the Continental Army from Connecticut to Virginia. Washington, along with a French fleet and army commanded by General Rochambeau, arrived in Virginia on September 19th, 1781, effectively sealing shut any escape route for Cornwallis. Following a siege and a series of attacks on the British position, Cornwallis surrendered his army to Washington.

"Surrender of Lord Cornwallis" Oil painting by John Trumbull, 1820

Following Yorktown, both sides consolidated their forces and waited while peace negotiations took place in Paris. There were many small actions near New York City, in western Pennsylvania, and along the Carolina coast, but large-scale fighting had ended. At the time that the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, ending the war in favor of the American colonists, the British still controlled Savannah, Charleston, New York, and Canada.

The War of Independence is forever ingrained within our American identity and provides all Americans a sense of who we are, or, at the very least, who we should be. Our forefathers fought for liberty, freedom, and republican ideals the likes of which had never before been seen in any style of organized government preceding them. In many ways then, the American Revolution was an experiment: an experiment which overthrew the rule of a foreign power an experiment which defeated the world’s most powerful military and an experiment which laid the groundwork for a nation attempting to create itself. The low din of battle, fought all those years ago, continues to echo the hearts and minds of Americans to this very day.