Benjamin Franklin was received by Louis XVI in 1778 and won the military support of France. That support later led to the signing of the American Declaration of Independence in Versailles in 1783.
Ever since the disastrous Treaty of Paris in 1763, which notably entailed the loss of Canada and the Indies, France had been seeking revenge against England. The American War of Independence, led by the English colonies in America, was the perfect opportunity to do so, and on 4 July 1776 the colonies unilaterally declared their independence. War broke out with England, which set out to crush the rebellion. Despite some early success the insurgents, led by General Washington, soon needed serious military support. An answer was given by General La Fayette, who had arrived in America to support their cause in June 1777. He had become a close friend of Washington and his brilliant successes on the battlefield had earned Washington’s confidence. Washington succeeded in persuading the American Congress to send a delegation to Versailles.
On 3 December 1777 three American plenipotentiaries arrived in France: the renowned statesman and physicist Benjamin Franklin and the diplomats Silas Deane and Arthur Lee. The official reception was held at Versailles on 21 March 1778, although a treaty of alliance had already been negotiated with Vergennes, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and had been signed on 6 February 1778. This treaty marked France’s entry into the war against England. The three men’s simplicity won over not only the French diplomats, but also the hearts of the French people. They were hero-worshipped in Paris and Versailles.
After waiting in the Bull’s Eye Antechamber, Franklin and his friends were introduced into the King’s Great Chamber by Vergennes. Louis XVI presented them with a note of goodwill for the Congress. The king sent a considerable amount of military assistance in the form of 6,000 men under the command of Rochambeau. This assistance contributed to the defeat of the English at Yorktown on 17 October 1781. The battle was a deciding one, and the peace treaty was signed in Versailles at the Hôtel des Affaires Etrangères (in the current Rue de l’Indépendance américaine) on 3 September 1783.
The three men’s simplicity won over not only the French diplomats, but also the hearts of the French people. They were hero-worshipped in Paris and Versailles.
Reign of Louis XVI