[In Our Time] The Franco-American Alliance 1778

The Franco-American Alliance 1778

22/04/2021 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/122125967

Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p09f6lvq.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the treaties France entered into with the United States of America in 1778, to give open support to the USA in its revolutionary war against Britain and to promote French trade across the Atlantic. This alliance had profound consequences for all three. The French navy, in particular, played a decisive role in the Americans’ victory in their revolution, but the great cost of supporting this overseas war fell on French taxpayers, highlighting the need for reforms which in turn led to the French Revolution. Then, when France looked to its American ally for support in the new French revolutionary wars with Britain, Americans had to choose where their longer term interests lay, and they turned back from the France that had supported them to the Britain they had just been fighting, and France and the USA fell into undeclared war at sea.

The image above is a detail of Bataille de Yorktown by Auguste Couder, with Rochambeau commanding the French expeditionary force in 1781

With Frank Cogliano Professor of American History at the University of Edinburgh Kathleen Burk Professor Emerita of Modern and Contemporary History at University College London And Michael Rapport Reader in Modern European History at the University of Glasgow

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 11 June, 2021


  • More interesting than the Alliance itself was the tidbit that Benjamin Franklin was called as an expert witness in a Paris court case to sort out whether installing a lightning conductor in a house had led to damage… by a young lawyer named Robespierre!
  • Other standout ideas in the show- that French politicians and diplomats like to bring up the French American cooperation at the time of the revolution for its symbolic value, but it’s a feel good thing and the French – American relationship actually went quite badly a few years late, and never recovered. But every time a diplomatic point has been important, it’s their to draw upon. Hence, American generals invoking Lafayette when they entered WW1.
  • And even before the US formally entered the war, there was the Lafayette Squadron.
  • But to return to the larger theme, one of the points was that the American and British fought a war but ended up with a special relationship, and the American and French allied but ended up largely meh. With discussions about Charles de Gaulle feeling he needed to keep the Americans at bay – which then made me remember the old Art Buchwald collection of 1960s columns that Papa had lying at home.
  • Cha, no Kindle editions of Art Buchwald collections on either India or US Amazon.
  • Another interesting point: that the way the US Declaration of Independence was written, it showed the Americans were clearly setting out to become a nation with the right to sign treaties and conduct international trade.
  • Also one point about how Royal France was so pleased about the enemy of my enemy being my friend that they abandoned all prudence in supporting a bunch of republicans, and then had to face their own revolution some years later. Lyk dis if u crieverytiem.

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