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Happy France Recognition Day

As @JamesMLindsay, the Twitter feed of my old CFR colleague Jim Lindsay, reminds us today, this is the anniversary of the day on which Louis XVI, the Most Catholic King of France, recognized the United States of America as a sovereign nation in 1777.

Without that decision, American independence might have come much later if at all. French aid kept the rebellion going and provided the money and supplies without which George Washington’s ragtag army could not have survived.

It was not the most brilliant foreign policy decision in the history of the French monarchy.  While the war of the American Revolution ended in a French victory over the UK, partially avenging the defeat of the Seven Years’ War, the victory was Pyrrhic.  The US did not become a strategic ally of France in its long and losing contest with Britain, and the costs of the American Revolution would ultimately force Louis XVI to convene the Estates General meeting that launched the French Revolution.

Be that as it may, it was a decisive moment in American and world history.  Most historians believe that it was the US victory at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777 that led Louis to conclude that the time had come for recognition.  If so, that makes Saratoga one of the most important battles of all time.

Thanks, France, for the help.  Britain was our mother country, but you were the midwife of our independence, and without you, we might not be here.  You have often wondered since whether helping us was the right thing to do, but the chances are that if you ever really need us again, we will be there.


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  • Luke Lea

    And thanks, Benjamin Franklin, for some great diplomacy.

  • gs

    …the chances are that if you ever really need us again, we will be there.


    Well said. As long as the French persist in acting French (and they show no sign of letting up), such reminders are appropriate from time to time.

    Though one might not…seek out…the company of certain relatives and old companions, one would of course succor them at need.

  • peter38a

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for aaying all that. And we of course returned the favor.

  • Kris

    Aha! I thought that vaguely hexagonal shape looked familiar.

  • Perry

    Oui, merçi, mes amis. It seems that all ideas flow through Paris.

    At the same time it might be helpful to remember that France charged the colonies usurious interest rates, that were paid in full. It was also Machiavellian for France to support us, because our strength diverted King George’s attention and resources away La Place de la Concord and its environs.

    Those two facts might have contributed to our reluctance to be a strategic ally.

    Mais, assez. Mr. Franklin had a gas in Paris for years, so all’s well that ends well. Thanks, all you Frenchie LeBeaus!

  • Kris

    La faillite, nous voici!

  • Walter Sobchak

    After Normandy, I would mark that one paid.

  • Cheves


    Our differences may be real, but we owe you still. Long live France! And may she contribute as much as she has in past decades tomorrow …

  • Micha

    If it weren’t for America, the French would be speaking German.

    If it weren’t for France, Americans would be speaking English.

  • dearieme

    American manners toward France leave a lot to be desired. Even by you, sir: you might have mentioned that it was the French who won at Yorktown.

  • Benjamin Land

    Just to be nitpicky, but the King of France was “His Most Christian Majesty”, not Catholic. “Catholic Majesty” refers to the King of Spain.

  • Gary L

    This might be a good occasion to insert a plug for a masterpiece of alternate history, Robert Sobel’s For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga (1973). At first glance, this book seems to be a standard academic history – it has a half dozen footnotes on every page, a 20-page bibliography, numerous tables of population growth, election results, economic progress, etc. But all the scholarly apparatus is entirely fictional: in Sobel’s narrative, Burgoyne is the victor at the battle of Saratoga, meaning that France withholds her support from the American rebels, and Britain quickly crushes the rebellion. Although a few revolutionary leaders (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, etc) are executed, the British offer a generous peace to the colonies, establishing the semi-autonomous Confederation of North America (CNA). However, disaffected rebels desert the colonies, make their way to the area we now call Texas to establish the Republic of Jefferson, which later intervenes in the Mexican revolt against Spain to emerge as the United States of Mexico (USM). Sobel’s narrative describes the fractious rivalry between the two North American nations, the CNA & the USM (sort of like Canada on flower hyperpower v. Mexico on Montezuma overdrive).

    Sobel does not neglect Europe in his narrative: A revolt breaks out against the French monarchy in 1789 but is quickly crushed with only several thousand causalities. France then embarks on the Trans-Oceanic War with Britain in 1795, and then – well, consult Sobel to learn what happens next, all the way up to 1972… (and by the way – you will never guess who first acquires nuclear weapons……..)

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