Treaty of Alliance (1778)

Left: Original Franco-American treaty, signed February 6, 1778
Right: Text of the 1778 Franco-American treaty, in a 1782 publication.

The Treaty of Alliance with France or Franco-American Treaty was a defensive alliance between France and the United States of America, formed in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, which promised mutual military support in case fighting should break out between French and British forces, as the result of signing the previously concluded Treaty of Amity and Commerce.[1] The alliance was planned to endure indefinitely into the future. Delegates of King Louis XVI of France and the Second Continental Congress, who represented the United States at this time, signed the two treaties along with a separate and secret clause dealing with future Spanish involvement, at the hôtel de Coislin (4, place de la Concorde) in Paris on February 6, 1778.[2] The Franco-American alliance would technically remain in effect until the 1800 Treaty of Mortefontaine,[3] despite being annulled by the United States Congress in 1793 when George Washington gave his Neutrality Proclamation speech saying that America would stay neutral in the French Revolution.[4]

Background

When the thirteen British colonies in America declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, their most obvious potential ally was France, a long-time enemy of Britain and a colonial rival who had lost much of their lands in the Americas after the French and Indian War. France's leadership had been alarmed by Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War which had shifted the European balance of power and had been planning for a war of revenge since the Treaty of Paris that had ended the conflict in 1763.[5] The French foreign minister Choiseul had envisaged this taking place in alliance with Spain and involving a Franco-Spanish invasion of Britain.[6] Choiseul had been ready go to war in 1770 during the Falklands Crisis, but Louis XV had been alarmed by the British naval mobilization and instead dismissed Choiseul and backed down.

As a result, John Adams began drafting conditions for a possible commercial treaty between France and the future independent colonies of the United States, which declined the presence of French troops and any aspect of French authority in colonial affairs.[7] On September 25 the Continental congress ordered commissioners, led by Benjamin Franklin, to seek a treaty with France based upon Adams draft treaty that had later been formalized into a Model Treaty which sought the establishment of reciprocal trade relations with France but declined to mention any possible military assistance from the French government.[8] Despite orders to seek no direct military assistance from France, the American commissioners were instructed to work to acquire most favored nation trading relations with France, along with additional military aid, and were encouraged to reassure any Spanish delegates that the United States had no desire to acquire Spanish lands in the Americas, in hopes that Spain would in turn enter a possible Franco-American alliance.[7]

Despite an original openness to the alliance, after word of the Declaration of Independence and a British evacuation of Boston reached France, the French Foreign Minister, Comte de Vergennes, put off signing a formal alliance with the United States after receiving news of British victories over General George Washington in the New York and New Jersey campaign.[8] With the help of the Committee of Secret Correspondence, established by the U.S. Continental Congress to promote the American cause in France, and his standing as a model of republican simplicity within French society, Benjamin Franklin was able to gain a secret loan and clandestine military assistance from the Foreign Minister but was forced to put off negotiations on a formal alliance while the French government negotiated a possible alliance with Spain.[8]

Benjamin Franklin's celebrity-like status in France helped win French support for the United States during the American Revolutionary War.[8]

With the defeat of Britain at the Battle of Saratoga and growing rumors of secret British peace offers to Franklin, France sought to seize an opportunity to take advantage of the rebellion and abandoned negotiations with Holland to begin discussions with the United States on a formal alliance.[8] With official approval to begin negotiations on a formal alliance given by King Louis XVI, the colonies turned down a British proposal for reconciliation in January 1778[9] and began negotiations that would result in the signing of The Treaty of Amity and Commerce and The Treaty of Alliance.