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I not only consider'd it as the cause of Honor, Virtue, and universal Happiness, but felt myself empressed with the warmest affection for a nation who exhibited by their resistance so fine an exemple of Justice and Courage to the Universe.
I schall neglect nothing on my part to justify the confidence which the Congress of the United States has been pleased to repose in me as my highest ambition has ever been to do everything only for the best of the cause in which I am engaged. I wish to serve near the person of General Washington till such time as he may think proper to entrust me with a division of the Army.
it is now as an american that I'l mention every day to congress the officers who came over with me, whose interests are for me as my own, and the consideration which they deserve by their merits their ranks, their state and reputation in France. I am sir with sentiments which every good american owe to you Your most obedient
the honorable Mr Hankok
president of Congress Philadelphia
servant the mqis de lafayette
After Burgoyne's surrender the French government concluded not only the "treaty of amity and commerce which the American commissioners had been seeking to gain for a year, but also a treaty of defensive alliance, February 6, 1778. This was the earliest recognition of the United States by a foreign power, and the only treaty of alliance we have ever made. The chief articles read as follows:
Article I. If war should break out between France and Great Britain during the continuance of the present war between the United States and England, his majesty [Louis XVI] and the said United States shall make it a common cause, and aid each other mutually with their good offices, their counsels,
and their forces, according to the exigence of conjunctures, as becomes good and faithful allies.
Article II. The essential and direct end of the present defensive alliance is, to maintain effectually the liberty, sovereignty, and independence absolute and unlimited of the United States, as well in matters of government as of commerce.
Article V. If the United States should think fit to attempt the reduction of the British power remaining in the northern parts of America, or in the islands of Bermudas, those countries or islands, in case of success, shall be confederated with or dependent upon the said United States.
Article VI. The most christian king renounces forever the possession of the islands of Bermudas, as well as of any part of the continent of North America which, before the treaty of 1763, or in virtue of that treaty, were acknowledged to belong to the crown of Great Britain, or to the United States, heretofore called British colonies. ... .
Article VII. If his most christian majesty shall think proper to attack any of the islands situated in the gulf of Mexico, or near that gulf, which are at present under the power of Great Britain, all the said isles, in case of success, shall appertain to the crown of France.
Article VIII. Neither of the two parties shall conclude either truce or peace with Great Britain, without the formal consent of the other first obtained; and they mutually engage not to lay down their arms until the independence of the United States shall have been formally, or tacitly, assured by the treaty or treaties, that shall terminate the war.
Article X. The most christian king and the United States agree to invite or admit other powers, who may have received injuries from England, to make common cause with them, and to accede to the present alliance, under such conditions as shall be freely agreed to and settled between all the parties. . . . Done at Paris, this 6th day of February, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-eight
C. A. Gérard
Thursday, August 6, 1778, M. Gérard, the French signatory of the above treaty, was presented to Congress as the first foreign minister accredited to the United States. He presented as his credentials the following letter from Louis XVI:
Very dear, great friends and allies:
The treaties which we have signed with you, in consequence of the proposals of your commissioners made to us in your behalf, are a certain assurance of our affection for the United States in general, and for each of them in particular, as well as of the interest we take and constantly shall take in their happiness and prosperity. It is to convince you more particularly of this that we have appointed the Sieur Gérard, Secretary of our council of state, to reside among you in the quality of minister plenipotentiary. He is the better acquainted with our sentiments towards you, and the more capable of testifying the same to you, as he was entrusted on our part to negotiate with your commissioners and signed with them the treaties which cement our union. We pray you to give full credit to all he shall communicate to you from us, more especially when he shall assure you of our affection and constant friendship for you. We pray God, very dear, great friends and allies, to have you in his holy and noble keeping.
Versailles, 28 March, 1778
Gravier de Vergennes
M. Gérard then made a short speech, to which the president of the Congress replied as follows:
SIR: The treaties between his most Christian majesty and the United States of America, so fully demonstrate his wisdom and magnanimity as to command the reverence of all nations. The virtuous citizens of America, in particular, can never forget his beneficent attention to their violated rights, nor cease to acknowledge the hand of a gracious Providence in raising them
up so powerful and illustrious a friend. It is the hope and opinion of Congress that the confidence his majesty reposes in the firmness of these states, will receive additional strength from every day's experience.
This assembly are convinced, sir, that had it rested solely with the most Christian king, not only the independence of these states would have been universally acknowledged, but their tranquillity fully established. We lament that lust of domination which gave birth to the present war, and hath prolonged and extended the miseries of mankind. We ardently wish to sheath the sword, and spare further effusion of blood; but we are determined, by every means in our power, to fulfil those eventual engagements which have acquired positive and permanent force from the hostile designs and measures of the common enemy.
Congress have reason to believe that the assistance so wisely and generously sent, will bring Great Britain to a sense of justice and moderation, promote the interests of France and America, and secure peace and tranquillity on the most firm and honorable foundation. Neither can it be doubted that those who adminster the powers of government within the several states of this union will cement that connection with the subjects of France, the beneficial effects of which have already been so sensibly felt.
Sir: From the experience we have had of your exertions to promote the true interests of our country as well as your own, it is with the highest satisfaction Congress receive as the first minister from his most Christian majesty, a gentleman whose past conduct affords a happy presage, that he will merit the confidence of this body, the friendship of its members, and the esteem of the citizens of America.
In Congress, August 6, 1778
France scrupulously fulfilled the treaty. Her aid was generous and timely. However, when the "essential and direct end" of the alliance, as expressed in Article II, was made possible by the surrender of the British Army
at Yorktown, it was so manifestly to the advantage of the United States to make peace with England, that Franklin and his colleagues at Paris began negotiations in spite of explicit instructions from Congress to respect Article VIII of the treaty. When the French minister Vergennes discovered this he wrote with pardonable indignation to Franklin.1
Versailles, December 15, 1782
. . I am at a loss to explain your conduct and that of your colleagues on this occasion. You have concluded your preliminary articles without any communication between us, although the instructions from Congress prescribe, that nothing shall be done without the participation of the King. You are about to hold out a certain hope of peace to America, without even informing yourself on the state of the negotiation on our part.
You are wise and discreet, Sir; you perfectly understand what is due propriety; you have all your life performed your duties. I pray you to consider how you propose to fulfil those, which are due to the King? I am not desirous of enlarging on these reflections; I commit them to your own integrity. When you shall be pleased to relieve my uncertainty, I will entreat the King to enable me to answer your demands [for money]. I have the honor to be, Sir, with sincere regards, &c.
Franklin's reply was a shrewd combination of flattery and finesse, by which, sailing dangerously close to sophistry, he was nevertheless able to pacify and satisfy Vergennes.
1 Four days later Vergennes wrote to Luzerne, the French minister in America: "If we may judge the future by what has passed here under our eyes, we shall be but poorly paid for all we have done for the United States, and for securing to them a national existence" (Works of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Smyth, Vol. X, p. 393). Franklin, Jay, and Adams narrowly escaped being recalled in disgrace, on the complaint of Luzerne to Congress.