France in the American Revolution 1776-1777





Let us see what was doing in the halls of legislation in 1776. France eagerly watched for rebellion in America from the days of the Stamp Act excitement, as a means for avenging the injuries she had received from Great Britain. We have seen how, from time to time, emissaries were sent to America by the French government, during the quarrel between Great Britain and her colonies, to ascertain the true state of public feeling here, with the hope of finding in the dissatisfied Americans powerful allies in her intended struggle to recover what "perfidious Albion" had taken from her. She was always saying pleasant things to the Americans, and trying to attract them to herself by professions of friendship and sympathy. This coquetry was taken seriously by the colonies, and when the "time that tried men's souls" arrived--when Great Britain had hired German soldiers to butcher or enslave her subjects in America, the colonies naturally turned first to the French to ask for aid in their struggle for freedom. Silas Deane was sent to France by Congress in the spring of 1776, as a commercial agent to obtain supplies for an army.

At that time, Beaumarchais, an irrepressible Frenchman, conspicuous in the literary and political world of Paris, was a secret agent of the French government in watching the course of the British ministry toward the colonies, and feeling the pulse of public opinion in England. He was in London in 1775, where he mingled freely with the politicians who hovered around Wilkes; and he became satisfied that civil war in England and success on the part of the Americans, then in open insurrection, were events not far in the future. He was convinced that the first reverse to British arms in America would be the signal for a revolution in London, and in this he saw the golden opportunity for France. Lord Rochford, North's minister for Foreign Affairs, had said to Beaumarchais: "I am much afraid, sir, that the winter will not pass without some heads being brought down, either among the king's party or the opposition." And John Wilkes (the leader of the British democracy) had boldly said to him, at the end of a public dinner: "The king of England has long done me the honor of hating me. For my part, I have always done him the justice of despising him. The time has come for deciding which of us has formed the best opinion of the other, and on which side the wind will cause heads to fall." These, and a hundred other seditious and revolutionary sayings, the ardent Frenchman repeated to Vergennes, the most energetic of the ministers of King Louis, and said in a formal letter: "The Americans will triumph, but they must be assisted in their struggle; for if they succumb, they would join the English, turn round against us, and put our colonies in jeopardy. We are not yet in a fit state to make war. We must prepare ourselves, keep up the struggle, and with that view send secret assistance in a prudent manner to the Americans." This was the key-note to the boasted "friendship" of his "Most Christian Majesty" - the prime motive for the "assistance" rendered by the king of France to the Americans during the war of the Revolution.



Arthur Lee (brother of Richard Henry Lee), an aspiring young barrister then in England, and whom Franklin had left in charge of the agency for Massachusetts when he returned to America, became acquainted with Beaumarchais's expressed desire to aid the Americans. Of this he gave information to the Congress, through his brother, who was a member of that body. They listened to Lee's reports secretly communicated, and became impressed with the idea that aid might be obtained from France and other European countries. In November, 1775, they appointed the famous "Committee of Secret Correspondence," with a deceptive announcement of their functions, having Dr. Franklin as their chairman. They were soon cautioned that Arthur Lee could not be trusted with important negotiations, and persuaded the Congress to send Silas Deane abroad for the purpose.

Lee was greedy for honors, and wished to win immortal renown by obtaining material aid for his countrymen from France, as speedily as possible. For that purpose he misrepresented Congress to Beaumarchais, and Beaumarchais and France to Congress. When Deane arrived, Lee regarded him as a rival; and when he found that agent and Beaumarchais making successful plans for obtaining supplies from France, he uttered such slanders concerning both, that the Congress withdrew their confidence from both. At that juncture, early in the autumn of 1776, the Congress sent Dr. Franklin as a Commissioner of the United States to the French Court, with Deane and Lee as his assistants. The Congress had elaborated a plan for a treaty with France, by which it was hoped the States would secure their independence. They wished France to immediately declare war against England, during which diversion they hoped to win their independence, when they would make valuable commercial and territorial concessions to the French monarch. The Congress was also to stipulate that the United States would never agree to be subject to the British crown, and that in case of war neither party should make a definitive treaty of peace without six months notice to the other. Improving the hint given to Vergennes by Beaumarchais, the Congress instructed the Commissioners in this wise: "It will be proper for you to press for the immediate and explicit declaration of France in our favor, upon a suggestion that a reunion with Great Britain may be the consequences of a delay." On the 4th of January, 1777, Dr. Franklin wrote to the Committee of Secret Correspondence from Paris: "I arrived here about two weeks since, where I found Mr. Deane. Mr. Lee has since joined us from London. We have had an audience of the minister, Count de Vergennes, and were respectfully received. We left for his consideration a sketch of the proposed treaty. We are to wait upon him to-morrow with a strong memorial, requesting the aids mentioned in our instructions. By his advice, we have had an interview with the Spanish ambassador, Count D'Aranda, who seems well disposed toward us, and will forward copies of our memorials to his court, which will act, he says, in perfect concert with this." So first began the Foreign Diplomacy of the United States.





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