A lot has been said about the French involvement in the American Revolution, but just how crucial were they to helping the Independence happen as it did? Setting aside the unexpected bravery of French aristocrat and one of France’s wealthiest men at the time, Marquis de Lafayette, there is more to the story. Here are five ways the French helped make the American Revolution happen.
1. The French First Lent Their Political Philosophy
By the mid-1760s, the majority of founding fathers were eagerly consuming French political philosophy, including Rousseau and Baron de Montesquieu. These philosophers argued that the sovereign power of a state should reside with the people rather than a monarch and that a government of checks and balances is how you keep things fair and non-despotic. Many argue that without the ideas of these bright French minds, the revolution may never have been inspired to take place.
2. Britain Was Their Enemy Too
Still bitter from its defeat to England in the Seven Years’ War, France saw an opportunity in America’s rebellion to seek revenge, and not seek it alone. Some say that it wasn’t until the Americans won the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 that the French were convinced the rebellion had a chance of succeeding. France’s support transformed what might have been a dubious colonial rebellion into a significant war.
3. The French Practically Paid for the American Revolution
Although the formal treaties between the rebels and France weren’t made until 1778, an informal one was made early on. One night in December 1775, Benjamin Franklin slipped into the Philadelphia’s Carpenters’ Hall to meet Julien-Alexandre de Bonvouloir, the secret envoy sent from France. Their meeting marked their unofficial partnership. Franklin’s team would later send Silas Deane to France to find military engineers as well as clothing, arms, and ammunition for 25,000 soldiers which France paid for.
4. They Shared Material, Money & Soldiers
Great ideas and long wars aren’t won without the continuous support of someone with money. That’s what France did for the rebellion. According to estimates, the French provided around 1.3 billion French livres of money and goods to support the war. In the notorious victory at Saratoga, more than 90% of all American soldiers were carrying French arms and using French gunpowder. In addition to that, France sent over 12,000 soldiers, together with 22,000 naval personnel. That’s a lot of help right there.
5. They Gave Rebels Political Legitimacy
If it weren’t for France, the majority of world powers would have seen the American revolutionaries as treasonous subjects rebelling against The Crown. France’s willingness to negotiate with Franklin, Deane, and their successors conferred legitimacy to them as American leaders. The Treaty of Amity and Commerce they signed in 1778 paved the way for Americans to trade internationally, and it formally acknowledged the US as an independent nation.