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[Detail] Vue de Quebec, capitale du Canada. 1755.

France and the United States Following the Revolution

Following the American Revolution, trade between France and the United States increased, and many French men and women visited the United States. While some stayed,particularly during and immediately after the French Revolution,others observed American life before returning to their home country. Their writings about the United States became popular reading in France. Read an excerpt from "Travels in North-America, In the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 by the Marquis de Chastellux," in which he draws a distinction between Europe and the new American republic.

Some political writers, especially the more modern, have advanced that property alone should constitute the citizen. They are of opinion that he alone whose fortune is necessarily connected with its welfare has a right to become a member of the State. In America, a specious answer is given to this reasoning: amongst us, say they, landed property is so easily acquired, that every workman who can use his hands, may be looked upon as likely soon to become a man of property. But can America remain long in her present situation?

From "Travels in North-America, In the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 by the Marquis de Chastellux," Volume 2 pages 345-346

Read more of the Marquis’s views on American democracy and consider the following questions:

  • What did Chastellux think about the relationship between property ownership and citizenship?
  • What evidence can you find in Chastellux’s writing of the differences between European and American attitudes toward class?
  • Chastellux says that to understand a nation, one must look at not only "its actual legislation, but the oppositions which may exist between the government and prejudices, between the laws and habits." What do you think he meant by this? Do you agree or disagree with his point?

Research Franco-American diplomatic relations from the beginning of the French Revolution through Spain’s surrender of Louisiana to France in 1802.  Napoleon’s assumption of control over Louisiana threatened to nullify a recent U.S. treaty agreement with Spain guaranteeing that the United States would have free access on the Mississippi River and the right of deposit in New Orleans.  Berquin-Duvallon, in "Vue de la Colonie Espagnole du Mississipi,"  wrote of a revived French empire in America and urged French planters ousted by the slave uprisings in Saint-Domingue to emigrate to Louisiana.  Napoleon’s failure to put down the Haitian revolt ended his dream of a new empire and opened the way for the United States to purchase the Louisiana territory. 

  • What accounts for the change in U.S. foreign policy toward France after the American Revolution?
  • How did France respond to the U.S. Neutrality Act of 1793?
  • What problems were created by the "Citizen Genet Affair" (1793) and the XYZ Affair (1797)? 
  • How were Franco-American relations affected by the resumption of French control over Louisiana in 1802?

Read the memorial presented to the United States Congress in 1804 from the inhabitants of Louisiana.  Although expressing support for annexation and gratitude that they were offered full citizenship, subscribers to the memorial voiced opposition to restrictions on slavery and the slave trade and their desire to keep their language and customs.

WE THE SUBSCRIBERS  Planters, Merchants and other Inhabitants of Louisiana respectfully approach the Legislature of the United-States with a Memorial of our rights, a remonstrance against certain Laws which contravene them and a petition, for that redress to which the laws of nature, sanctioned by positive stipulation have entitled us.

From "Mémoire présénté au Congrès des États-Unis d'Amérique par les habitans de la Louisiane."

  • What nineteenth-century problems does this memorial foreshadow?
  • What evidence can you find in other sources that the French citizens of Louisiana were able to maintain their language and culture?