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Left image: Original Franco-American treaty, signed February 6, 1778 Full text.
Right image: Text of the 1778 Franco-American treaty, in a 1782 publication.

The Treaty of Alliance with France, was the defensive alliance between France and the America, formed in the midst of the American Revolutionary War, which promised military support in case of attack by British forces indefinitely into the future. Delegates of King Louis XVI of France and the Second Continental Congress, who represented the United States government at this time, signed the treaty along with The Franco-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris on February 6, 1778[1] formalizing a Franco-American alliance that would technically remain in effect until 1800, and the signing of the Treaty of Mortefontaine,[2] despite being annulled by the United States Congress in 1798[3] and the execution of King Louis XVI during the French Revolution.


When the thirteen British colonies in America declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, their most obvious potential ally was France, a long-time enemy of Britain and a colonial rival who had lost much of their lands in the Americas after the French and Indian War. France's leadership had been alarmed by Britain's victory in the Seven Years War which had shifted the European Balance of Power and had been planning for a war of revenge since the Treaty of Paris that had ended the conflict in 1763.[4] The French foreign minister Choiseul had envisaged this taking place in alliance with Spain and involving a Franco-Spanish invasion of Britain.[5] Choiseul had been ready go to war in 1770 during the Falklands Crisis, but Louis XV had been alarmed by the British naval mobilization and instead dismissed Choiseul and backed down.

As a result John Adams began drafting conditions for a possible commercial treaty between France and the future independent colonies of the United States, which declined the presence of French troops and any aspect of French authority in colonial affairs.[6] On September 25 the Continental congress ordered commissioners, led by Benjamin Franklin, to seek a treaty with France based upon Adams draft treaty that had later been formalized into a Model Treaty which sought the establishment of reciprocal trade relations with France but declined to mention any possible military assistance from the French government.[7] Despite orders to seek no direct military assistance from France, the American commissioners were instructed to work to acquire most favored nation trading relations with France, along with additional military aid, and also encouraged to reassure any Spanish delegates that the United States had no desire to acquire Spanish lands in the Americas in the hopes that Spain would in turn enter a possible Franco-American alliance.[8]

Despite an original openness to the alliance, after word of the Declaration of Independence and a British evacuation of Boston reached France, the French Foreign Minister, Comte de Vergennes, put off signing a formal alliance with the United States after receiving news of British victories over General George Washington in New York.[7] With the help of the Committee of Secret Correspondence, established by the U.S. Continental Congress to promote the American cause in France, and his standing as a model of republican simplicity within French society, Benjamin Franklin was able to gain a secret loan and clandestine military assistance from the Foreign Minister but was forced to put off negotiations on a formal alliance while the French government negotiated a possible alliance with Spain.[7]


Benjamin Franklin's celebrity like status in France helped win French support for the United States during the American Revolutionary War.[7]

With the defeat of Britain at the Battle of Saratoga and growing rumors of secret British peace offers to Franklin, Spain sought to seize an opportunity to take advantage of the rebellion and abandoned negotiations with Holland to begin discussions with the United States on a formal alliance.[7] With official approval to begin negotiations on a formal alliance given by King Louis XVI, the colonies turned down a British proposal for reconciliation in January 1778[9] and began negotiations that would result in the signing of The Treaty of Amity and Commerce and The Treaty of Alliance.

The agreement

The Treaty of Alliance was in effect an insurance policy for France which guaranteed the support of the United States if Britain were to break the current peace they had with the French, "either by direct hostilities, or by (hindering) her commerce and navigation,"[10] as a result of the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The treaty lays out the terms and conditions of this military alliance, establishes requirements for the signing of future peace treaties to end hostilities with the British, and provides a secret clause[7] which leaves open the possibility of Spain and other European nations, "who may have received injuries from England,"[10] to join the alliance.

Articles 1 – 4: Terms of the defensive alliance

The first articles of the treaty establish that in the case that war were to break out between France and Britain, during the continuing hostilities of the American Revolutionary War, a military alliance would be formed between France and the United States which would combine each respective military forces, and efforts for the direct purpose of maintaining the " liberty, Sovereignty, and (independence) absolute and unlimited of the said united States, as well in Matters of (Government) as of commerce."[10]

Articles 5 – 9: Terms and conditions of peace treaties with England

This portion of the treaty is used to preemptively divide up any lands obtained from England due to successful military campaigns or concessions made by Britain in peace treaties to end hostilities with the signing nations. The United States is effectively guaranteed control of any land it is able to gain possession of in North America, besides the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon which France had retained possession of after the Seven Years War, and of the Islands of Bermuda due to King Louis XVI of France, renouncing "for ever the possession of the Islands of Bermudas as well as of any part of the continent of North america which before the treaty of Paris in 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, or which are at this Time or have lately been under the Power of The King and Crown of Great Britain."[10] In return the King is guaranteed " any of the Islands situated in the (Gulf) of Mexico, or near that (Gulf)" which France is able to gain possession of. Additional clauses insure that neither France nor the United States will seek to make any additional claims of compensation for their services during the conflict, and that neither side will cease fighting, nor sign a peace treaty with Britain, without the consent of the other nation and insurances that the independence of the United States will be recognized by Britain.[10]

Article 10: Open invitation to other nations

Article 10 of the treaty, although largely directed to Spain, invites any other nations "who may have received injuries from England"[10] to negotiate terms and conditions for joining the alliance.

Article 11: Pledge to honor land claims

Article 11 pledges to honor the lands claims of both nations forever into the future with the United States guaranteeing full support of France's current land claims, and any lands they may acquire during the war, against all other nations, and France in turn pledging support for the United States land claims and guaranteeing to help preserve the country's "liberty, Sovereignty, and Independence absolute, and unlimited, as well in Matters of Government as commerce."[10]

Article 12 – 13: Effective dates of the treaty, ratification, and signing delegates

Article 12 establishes the agreement as a conditional treaty which will only take effect upon a declaration of war between France and Britain, and further makes the land, and diplomatic guarantees laid out in the treaty dependent upon the completion of The American Revolutionary War and a peace treaty which formally establishes each nation's land possessions.[10]


Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown by John Trumbull, 1820.

On March 17, 1778, four days after a French ambassador informed the British government that France had officially recognized the United States as an independent nation with the signing of The Treaty of Alliance and The Treaty of Amity and Commerce, Great Britain declared war on France, thereby engaging that nation in the American Revolutionary War.[9] French entry into the war would lead to further escalation of the war when Spain entered the fight against England as France's ally, after the signing of the Treaty of Aranjuez on April 12, 1779, and again in December 1780 when England declared war on the Dutch Republic after seizing a Dutch merchant ship they claimed was carrying contraband to France during the Affair of Fielding and Bylandt.[11] After the signing of the treaty French supplies of arms, ammunition, and uniforms proved vital for the Continental Army,[7] while their increased presence in the West Indies forced Britain to redeploy troops and naval units away from the North American colonies to secure their holdings in the Caribbean.[9] French involvement in the war would prove to be exceedingly important during the Siege of Yorktown when 10,800 French regulars and 29 French warships, under the command of the Comte de Rochambeau and Comte de Grasse respectively, joined forces with Gen.George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette to obtain the surrender of Lord Cornwallis's Southern army, and effectively bringing an end fighting on the North American mainland for the remainder of the war. Despite efforts by Britain to negotiate separate treaties with their opponents in the American Revolutionary War, Spain, France, and the United States held together during their negotiations with England and concluded hostilities by signing the 1783 Treaty of Paris.[7]

Deteriorating relations

Almost immediately after the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Americans began to question whether the failure of the treaty to note an end date of the military alliance meant that the treaty continued indefinitely into the future, and in effect created a perpetual alliance between the United States and France.[12] Those Americans who disliked the proposition of being eternally tied to France, most notably the Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and his supporters in the Federalist Party, seized on the French Revolution as a chance to officially nullify the treaty.[12] Despite a consensus of European monarchs who considered the treaty nullified by the execution of King Louis XVI during the French Revolution, President George Washington sided with his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and declared the treaty would remain in effect, despite the regime change in France.[7]

Although the Washington Administration had declared that the treaty remained valid, President Washington's formal Proclamation of Neutrality, and the subsequent Neutrality Act of 1794, effectively invalidated the military provisions of the treaty and touched off a period of increasingly deteriorated relations between the two nations. The efforts of the new French Minister Edmond-Charles Genet to raise militias and privateers to attack Spanish lands and British warships, during the Citizen Genet Affair, despite Washington's pledge of neutrality turned public opinion against the French and led to the resignation of Thomas Jefferson, a longtime supporter of the French cause, as Secretary of State.[12] In turn, the signing of Treaty of London of 1794, or Jay's Treaty, convinced many of the French people that the United States were traitors who had surrendered to British demands and abandoned them, despite the assistance they had provided the United States in their own fight for independence during the American Revolutionary War.[12]

The alliance was further attacked in President Washington's Farewell Address, in which he declared that the United States was not obligated to honor the military provisions of the treaty, and furthermore warned Americans of the dangers of the same kind of permanent alliances that the United States was currently engaged in with France, as a result of the Treaty of Alliance. The growing public sentiment against the treaty culminated during the Presidency of John Adams, in the official annulment of the treaty by the United States Congress on July 7, 1798.[1] after the refusal of France to receive American envoys, and normalize relations, during the XYZ Affair.[12] The waging of an undeclared war against France, known as the Quasi-War, by the Adam's Administration in retaliation for French seizures of American naval vessels during the French Revolutionary Wars, effectively made the Treaty of Alliance a mockery, as it represented an official declaration of military alliance, maintained solely by the French government, between two nations who were unofficially at war with each other.

The end of the Treaty of Alliance

Despite the deteriorated relations, and the previously stated official and mutual public sentiment against the alliance, it would not be until September 30, 1800, that the treaty would officially be absolved by both signing parties with the signing of the Treaty of Mortefontaine, or Convention of 1800, and the Franco-American Alliance that began in 1778 was ended.[7]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The United States Statutes at Large". Retrieved January 27, 2012. 
  2. The XYZ Affair and the Quasi-War with France, 1798–1800[dead link]
  3. "A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875". Retrieved January 27, 2012. 
  4. Simms, Brendan. Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire. London, 2007. pp. 502–31
  5. Longmate, Norman. Island Fortress: The Defense of Great Britain, 1604–1945. Pimlico, 1991. pp. 183–85
  6. Model Treaty (1776)[dead link]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 French Alliance, French Assistance, and European diplomacy during the American Revolution, 1778–1782[dead link]
  8. Model Treaty (1776[dead link]
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "Perspective On The French-American Alliance". Retrieved January 27, 2012. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 "Avalon Project: Treaty of Alliance Between The United States and France; February 6, 1778". Retrieved January 27, 2012. 
  11. Edler 2001, pp. 163–166
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "French-American Relations in the Age of Revolutions: From Hope to Disappointment (1776–1800)". Retrieved January 27, 2012. 

Further reading

  • Hoffman, Ronald; Albert, Peter J., eds. Diplomacy and Revolution : the Franco–American Alliance of 1778 (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1981); [ISBN 978-0-8139-0864-9].
  • Ross, Maurice. Louis XVI, Forgotten Founding Father, with a survey of the Franco–American Alliance of the Revolutionary period (New York: Vantage Press, 1976); [ISBN 978-0-533-02333-2].
  • Corwin, Edward Samuel. French Policy and the American Alliance of 1778 (New York: B. Franklin, 1970).

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