1778-1783 Versailles and the United States
21 March 1778 - 3 September 1783, from Franklin to the Treaty of Paris
Received in 1778 by Louis XVI, Benjamin Franklin secured the military support of France. This eventually led to the signing of the Treaty of Paris recognising the independence of the United States in 1783 in Versailles.
Since the calamitous Treaty of Paris in 1763 which notably ratified the loss of Canada and its territories in India, France had dreamed of getting its revenge on England. The war of independence of the English colonies in America offered it an opportunity. On 4 July 1776, they unilaterally proclaimed their independence. A war began with England which intended to crush the rebellion. In spite of their successes, the rebels led by General Washington needed military support. General La Fayette, who arrived in America in June 1777 to back their cause, was to provide it. After winning the friendship of Washington, he managed to convince the American Congress to send a delegation to Versailles. His brilliant success on the battlefield had earned him its trust.
On 3 December 1777, the three American plenipotentiaries arrived in France: the celebrated statesman and physicist Benjamin Franklin, the revered inventor of the lightning conductor, accompanied by Silas Deane and Arthur Lee. Although they were officially received in Versailles on 21 March 1778, they already have negotiated an alliance treaty with Vergennes, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Signed on 6 February 1778, this treaty marked the entry of France into the war against England. The three men conquered not only the French diplomatic corps but also the hearts of French people by their simplicity. They became the idols of Paris and Versailles.
After waiting in the “Bull’s-eye” salon, Franklin and his men were led by Vergennes into the grand bedchamber of the king. Louis XVI gave them a letter of friendship for the Congress. The king subsequently sent a significant military detachment of 6,000 men commanded by Rochambeau. This assistance led to the English defeat at Yorktown in October 1781. England’s fate was sealed. The definitive Peace Treaty was signed in Versailles, in the Foreign Affairs building, on 3 September 1783. France recovered some of the colonies lost in 1763 as well as its prestige. But at a price! These 5 years of war left a deficit of a billion livres which was to seal the fate of the monarchy. The events of 1789 had begun to take shape…