The Franco-American Alliance

On February 6, 1778, France and the fledgling United States of America signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and the Treaty of Alliance in Paris, France. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce recognized the United States as an independent nation and promoted trade between France and the United States. The Treaty of Alliance created a military alliance against Great Britain, stipulating American independence as a condition of peace. The treaty also required France and the U.S. to concur in any peace agreement.

The two contracting Parties shall each on its own Part, and in the manner it may judge most proper, make all the efforts in its Power, against their common Enemy, in order to attain the end proposed.

Treaty of Alliance, Article Three, signed February 6, 1778, in Paris, France.

The Signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce and of Alliance between France and the United States. Photograph of a painting by Charles E. Mills. c[between 1900 and 1920]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division
Benjamin Franklin. Photograph of a painting. c[between 1900 and 1920]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Secretly aiding the American colonies since  1776, France’s helpfulness was spurred by resentment over the loss of American territory to Britain in the French and Indian War. In 1776, the Continental Congress sent diplomats Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane, and Arthur Lee to secure a formal alliance with France. American victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga convinced the French that the Americans were committed to independence and worthy partners to a formal alliance. Over the course of the war, France contributed an estimated 12,000 soldiers and 32,000 sailors to the American war effort.

U.S. Capitol Paintings. Lafayette in House Chamber. Theodor Horydczak, photographer, ca. 1920-1950. Horydczak Collection. Prints & Photographs Division

The Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat, arrived in Philadelphia in July 1777 and offered his services to the Continental Army. Serving as a major general in the Continental forces, he quickly forged a life-long friendship with American commander in chief George Washington. Back in America by April 1780, Lafayette returned to the business of war, playing a key role in securing victory over British commander Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown in late July.

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